I Invite YOU ...

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Okay, Friends, here we go!

For the purpose of sending my debut novel, Something I Am NotOUT into our noisy world with some oomph and flair, I’m formally inviting you to join my launch team! I have reached half my goal of 100 teammates!

If you’d like to be part of the team, reply in the comments below and I’ll hook you up with an application and add you to our secret launch group Facebook page.

Basically, I”m looking for folks who are so excited about my book they’re willing to read it ahead of time, to write a review of it for Amazon and Goodreads, to hop on the social media campaign we’re planning, and to pre-order their very own copy!

Whether you join the team or simply remain one of my treasured readers, I want to thank you again for your interest and your continual encouragement—none of this would be happening without you!

Oh! And the publication date is officially set for January 25th!

Launch Team Forming Soon!

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Six years in the making!
Four years of writing in the desert ... Two years critiquing until my fingers could fall off ... a publishing contract with LPC Books ... a big win at the Genesis Award in Nashville ... and the love and support of all of you bringing my book to life and launching it into the adventure of a lifetime! Only two months away!!!
YOU are my inspiration and determination!
THANK YOU!!!


AUTHOR PICK FOR FAVORITE QUOTE:

 #somethingiamnot #chergatto

#somethingiamnot #chergatto

Are you interested in being a part of my launch team forming soon?

Look for more information in our next email!

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Not Our Own

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 As parents, one of the hardest battles we face is in our own minds. Our own struggle as parents to make the best decisions for our kids. To lead them and guide them in the right direction. We wrestle with the thought: Did my decisions, the choices I made for my child … did they help him … or did they hurt him? Have I enriched his life by my decisions, or have I scarred him? Is he better for it? Or worse off?

When we left for Mexico thirteen years ago, we took our five children out of the comforts of life in the states. The stability of dear friends, family close by, strong community of faith. At first, we thought, “This is great. Our kids will have the opportunity to grow up in another culture. To learn a new way. Another language. They’ll live in simplicity, without the bombardment of materialism.” They were young. And, of course, they had no choice but to follow. And it was great. And we were changed—all of us— from the inside out.

 But when they became teenagers, they struggled a bit. Each one in their own way. And some harder than others. They felt manipulated, forced to give up their friends and family and life back home. Their relationships were fleeting because people always came and went on the mission field. They learned to say good-bye easier than hello because no one stayed long enough to go deep with. Our homeschool was touch and go because of the demands from the ministry and I often wondered if I had failed them in their academics and stunted their future. Our lives were chaotic and rarely at rest.  

 For the last couple of years since we’ve been back and our kids have re-entered life in the states and tried to find their way, I’ve battled with the question of our decisions. Did we do the right thing? Are our kids going to be okay? Did they miss out on years of friendships and learning and stability. My mind is never quite free from the doubts.

 This morning as I sat here at my desk, I happened upon an Instagram post my middle child wrote last night. The tears still stream down my face as my mommy-heart encounters healing.

 My son was responding to a picture someone posted of our ranch in the middle of the desert. The one he forfeited ten years to— according to my doubt. In response to the picture, and to the person who posted it, my son said this:

 “I see the rainbow, and I remember that place.”

 I see the rainbow and I remember that place. How profound and beautiful.

 And here is where the healing begins …  our children are not our own. Our precious ones belong to the Lord. To the Maker of heaven and earth. He gave them breath and has a plan for their lives. We might fail them. And we often do. But every day … every single day, He is molding them and making them into His own image. His fingerprint is on their lives.

 And here is the greatest thing … He is using moments—many we don’t even recognize— to impress His rainbow on their hearts.

 


I would love to hear from you … What ways have you seen God’s hand in your own children’s life? Where has he taken you in understanding Him?

Name *
Name

 

The Hunt

 Photo by Antonio Castelo from Pexels

Photo by Antonio Castelo from Pexels

Now, on to the hunt … because if there are lures in life—those dangling distractions that offer a superficial allure, an attractive promise of all we need (read here)—we better remember that at the end of each lure is the kill. And if our enemy is a crouching lion waiting to devour us, we better know something about the hunt.

Predator versus prey. Have you seen it? On National Geographic, at least? How does the gazelle escape the lion? And what are the sure-fire tactics of the predator to ensure his meal?

Once again, in their most simplistic form, here are a few:

 

1. The predator knows the prey.

He knows where to go to find them. Where they eat and hang out. Where they relax and feel safe. Where and when they let their guard down. He’s studied their behavior and can predict their movements. What becomes a habit for the prey, an ordinary pathway given little heed, a rut in the mind or in the attitude, is a calculated and observable pattern by the enemy. What’s your tendency? Where does your mind easily regress? Do you avoid? Shut down? Do you become critical of others? Angry? Do you busy yourself to escape? Be wary. Know your hazards. Because the enemy knows them too.

 

2. Go for the vulnerable.

Attack the one who hasn’t yet developed his combat skills. He’s exposed, without defense. Trusting his own instincts. His own resources. He doesn’t know the signs of danger or the mark of approaching peril. He can be the newest member or the oldest. Because even the one who’s been in it so long can forget why he’s in the game. He can become comfortable in his complacency. His lethargy. His skills have dulled. His senses have blurred. He is no longer keen and sharp to the hazards before and behind him. Although he’s been around and thinks he has it all together, he’s as susceptible as the newly born.

 

3. Get him alone.

The lion knows there is safety in numbers. He knows the strength of community. The power in the multitude. When the group is watching, when it knows the weaker points in its members, each one is guarded with dedication and passion. The others surround the struggling one until the danger clears. Until he’s up on his feet and ready to move with grace and speed. But circumvent that community. Isolate the one. Keep him from the power of the herd, and he’s easy prey.

 

4. Remain in hiding until the right moment.

The predator avoids giving away his position too soon. He crouches, drawing nearer, evading the obvious until the last second. It’s a slip. A slide in. A blending in the activity. He never races in with screaming colors to send the targets fleeing. He creeps ever closer in the tall grass.

Have you ever watched a white-tailed deer grazing in an open field? You might think she swats at annoying insects with her tail, but the flicks are actually a warning signal. A white flag. She does it randomly because she’s not sure, but the message to the predator is clear: “I already see you, even though you’re at a distance. Your sneaky tactics have been found out. And I will outrun you if you go for the chase.” And the law in nature is “Don’t expend unnecessary energy.” In other words, if the chase is a wash, if it will fail in its goal, why bother? Go back to crouching and waiting until the prey is once more oblivious of the danger.

Why bother? There is no use to attack now. That's what we want to hear. That the enemy has given up the pursuit because the one he had been stalking has figured him out. He has been on guard and is surrounded by too great a fellowship.

Do we know our own vulnerabilities? Our tendencies that draw us into complacency? Oblivion? When the predator moves in, do we know it? Are we isolated? Tired? Have we lost our focus or direction? Have we decided to go it alone?

Or, are we as calculated in watching the predator as he is in watching us? Can we sense the prowl, the slide in, the blending, before the moment of launch?

Know these things. Know who you are and where you belong. Understand the tools and power you’ve been given. And know the strength and purpose of those in your life.

Because without it, the odds are for the predator.

 

The Al-lure

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I spent several afternoons on vacation watching the fishermen on a pier in Naples, Florida. I’m not into fishing, or boxing, yet both seem to take up space in my novels. Besides the wisdom from a questionable man who boasted of wrestling a 30-foot shark up the side of the 40-foot pier, here’s what I have learned about lures.

*Novice warning: This is NOT a fishing lesson, as I know absolutely nothing about fishing. However, after being on this journey for half a century, I know a little bit about lures

Here is my simplified version:

1. Lures are shiny. They are attractive and get our attention. The lighting enhances their features, and their dance beckons the onlooker. Some flit and flop and become loud in our heads. Others wait patiently, quietly, remaining an unobtrusive, ever-present appeal, anticipating the very moment our defenses are down.  

2. Lures are chosen with great care to catch just the right fish. One lure might draw you in. A different one me. You might need a minnow. I may need a worm. The avid fisherman knows exactly which one. And the careful choice will incorporate just the right shape and size and color to be the most effective in the right moment.

3. Re-casting again and again allows the lure to be placed both in front and behind the eye of the beholder. Forward and back, glamorizing what’s ahead and also what’s behind. How we relish in and dream of the “what could be’s,” the possibilities and prospects of the unknown, while we repaint and redecorate the “what has been” until it gleams brighter than ever and calls us back to the ghosts of our past. Ah, those were the days. If only …

4. Lures masquerade as something we truly need. In fact, we question whether we can live without them. Believe me, that fish does NOT need a mouthful of plastic gunk with a hidden death hook. Yet, he goes for it, time and time again. Why? Because it LOOKS like just what he needs. It mimics the true thing. The real nourishment that will satisfy all of his hunger.

5. And lastly, lures in life are crafted and used by the wrong hands. So, never would you see the Fish Hatchery Executive Manager—the one sworn to fish birth and growth and all good things fishy—never would you see him at the end of the pier trying to snatch his little ones. No, you see the fisherman, whose desire is to catch, kill, and eat. That’s his job. That’s his determination. How many fish do you know that have been caught at the end of a line to find the reality of all their dreams come true? And yet, so often we trust it. We believe the lie. Biting “hook, line, and sinker” (pun intended) into the lure that will lead to death.

"Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8).

Now, possibly not in fishing, but certainly in life, the Master Fisherman—the True Fisher of Men—needs no lures or hooks. His gentle voice and scarred hands are enough. No lies or empty promises. In fact, if you see them, you can be sure He is not holding the pole.

He is the real thing. Not the fabrication. Only He can truly meet the craving in our hearts and the longing in our soul.

I pray today you find Jesus, the Master Fisherman, to be everything you need.

 

Tell me what you think. I'd love to hear your comments:

Reaching Back to Give Forward- Are You Ready?

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Driving with my mom on my way to Penn State my sophomore year (back in the 80s-- the LATE 80s!)) I decided to get honest. To open up and tell her all the things I had done in high school that she was unaware of. All the times I lied, or sneaked out, or told her I was going someplace else- other than the party I was headed for (black sheep spoiler!) After a good amount of shock story-telling, I turned to her with a grin and said, “And someday, I’ll tell you what I’m doing now!”

My life is obviously way different these days and I have many more redemptive stories to share. Which I do, without question. Without hesitation. But when it comes to my abilities, my skills, my know-how, or the gifts I have been entrusted with, I am a lot less prone to step out. My thoughts take this turn: When I’m a professional, I’ll have something important to say. I really have nothing to give until I’ve reached this milestone. Or this expertise. Or this mastery of whatever it is I am passionate about. In fact, there are a gazillion people more knowledgeable. I’ll leave it to them.

I don’t know about you, but I can be frozen by this idea. I walked into the local library the other day to set up a book signing. I walked out before I had the nerve to say anything to anyone because, well, I'm only pretending to be an author!

How can I teach others to take the next step—to construct, to write, to paint—when I have so much still to learn? But what have I gained along the way? The ability to pick up the brush, to hold it properly. To mix colors. To choose a medium. The ability to write a novel—with 57 chapters and 125,000 words. Or convince a publisher to take me on.

Where was I two years ago? Five years? Ten?

Everyone else is somewhere along that continuum. Some I can teach. Many I can learn from. If we wait until we get to the ever-chasing obscure point in the future when we have truly “arrived”, we will never get there at all. Because the treasure is found in the journey not in the destination. You will not get THERE … ever.

So, give back. Now. While it is still called today.

I went to a writer’s conference this last weekend, and this truth came alive for me. At the lunch table, one of my friends asked how I made a One-Sheet (a visual summary of my book to catch an editor’s attention). I explained it, step-by-step. Then how I set up my webpage. Half-way through the discussion, I glanced up to see others had joined in to listen. It seemed the whole table wanted to know as well. I had something to give back … something before I published 20 books. Before I became a NY Times Best Seller. Before I had a story go to Hollywood to become a movie smash. Those things may never come to pass, obviously, but today I have something to give.

Whatever it is. Whatever you do. You have something powerful to share. Something to teach. And someone, somewhere will take a step they have not yet taken … because of your journey.

YOU make a difference! Give back.

What If ...

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My neighbor died last week. He was an older gentleman who lived across the street. I didn’t know him, so his death, in and of itself, left little impact. I’m sorry for your loss. That’s sad. Must have been his time—kind of impact.

But I’ll never forget it.

The day he died, he had been mowing his front lawn with a push mower. I suppose the strain was too much for his heart and it had quit. The mower’s track—the diagonal stripes, perfectly spaced and perfectly even, stopped half way through the yard. One side neat and trimmed. The other unfinished.

Uncompleted.

The gentleman had started the yard that morning assuming he would finish it. Get the house ready for his grandson’s graduation party. Do some mowing then run to the store for the lemonade and bag of ice. Maybe get some time later to read the New York Times chucked at the end of the drive.

But time ran out. His name in the Book of Life had been on that page.

In the Bible, James says: Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes (James 4:13-14).

Oh, the best laid plans in the face of time.

It’s natural to plan. We all do it. It is not a bad thing to order our days. Think ahead. Set goals and move toward them. But here is where the danger lies. Where it deceives and distorts. Where it robs us of the very minutes and seconds we have been given …

When we are apt to live our lives in the “plan” and miss today.

This is my admonishment for myself. I am a dreamer. I live, not in the moment, but in the potential. The what could be. I see myself there, somewhere in a hazy future that may never come to pass. The when’s take over … When I get there, when I have this, when I …

Harry Potter’s Dumbledore said it this way: “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”

Because the when’s and what if's of the future propose only air. Nothing I can truly grab onto.

But today??? Today offers the sustenance of life.

What does your day look like? Is it filled with work due tomorrow? Worry for next week? Next month? Next year?

Those thoughts and plans and ideas may be important, but don’t live there. Don’t sacrifice what is right in front of you-- A sweet time with your Creator. An hour with your child, just the two of you. A walk with a loved one. A hand to someone in need. A kind word to a hurting soul--for the vapor of a what if.

You see, tomorrow will wait. It has to. But today will not. Grab onto those cherished moments that will carry on after the mist fades.

For two days, the grass tracks from my neighbor's mower remained, until someone finished the job.

Someone else.

But the tracks left an indelible imprint on my mind—a forever reminder that I have only today to make a difference.

My days are like the evening shadow; I wither away like grass (Psalm 110: 11).

 

Lessons From a Mother Goose

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A busy country road. My car was one in a line of cars. A mother goose visiting from Canada cared for her goslings off to the side. Green grass. A small pond. Insects galore. Everything they needed was there with her. But something had gone wrong and the three down-covered babies were veering for the road. 

The mama, sensing the danger, came running from behind, wings spread in utter fear. She flapped vigorously to stop her children’s deadly flight. She knew. She understood. Whether she grappled the fullness of the danger. The cars. The tires. The rush. She understood enough for it to strike fear in her heart.  

But as she squawked and flapped in a frenzy to warn her babies of the coming danger, they became confused and ran closer to the edge of the grass, closer to the edge of safety. The babies, sensing their mother’s panic, misread the flapping wings and ran in the wrong direction. Instead of drawing her babies away from the danger, the mama bird was driving them into it. 

My car passed, forced by the traffic to drive on. I strained to see them through my rearview mirror, but I never knew the outcome for that little family. However, I thought about that mother goose throughout the day. How her actions had the opposite effect she had intended. And how her driving fear and panic became a sure shot for devastation. 

Would it not have been better, I thought, had she walked herself away from the danger and allowed the train of goslings to follow? For that is what goslings are apt to do. If she had chosen, herself, to travel closer to safety, closer to the provisions already before her, they would have joined her there.

I thought about my own children. And I thought about me. I considered the confusion squawking and flapping often brings in my own life and for my own little flock. How my quick reaction can often lead to a failure to assess, to listen, and to understand fully the heart needs of my child. The chaos takes over. The desperation to act on impulse. And in the end, my own anxiety can often create the exact opposite response from my children. That instead of protecting them, I might be pushing them away. 

But the dangers around them are so real. So crushing at times, like the wheels on a ton of metal. Panic is natural, especially when our little goslings become juveniles with a propensity to wander. 

But are we leading or are we driving? 

Are we pushing them toward danger rather than from it with our tactics of parenting? Our panic. Our quick reaction. Our flapping wings. The warning signs of danger should be there—they have purpose—but, like that mama goose, not all responses are profitable. 

Driving can often be more dangerous than trusting they will follow our own steps if we lead in the right direction.

Where are we walking? Close to the edge? Mingling with the traffic? They will follow. And when our flapping and squawking begins they will say, “but you brought me here.” 

But if we show the way to life and hope and peace, if we fix our eyes on those things that are true, noble, pure, and lovely, and walk in them ourselves, our children will follow even when they stray.

 

Just a Few Inches

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Teenage angst. If you have one in your house—a teenager, that is—you understand.

My youngest, my baby, turned fourteen this year. In just a few short months, he grew taller than me, his voice changed, and he stepped out of his boyish charms and into young manhood seemingly overnight.

We’re close, he and I, and I think that makes it even harder to watch the changes because a big part of me is not ready. Not ready to let go. Especially with my last—the one I want to cling to for eternity.

Lately, my little guy’s been more on edge. A little prickly. A little more argumentative than I’m used to from him. He’s no longer crazy about the food I make or the opinions I hold. He went through his first crush—through and out the other end—with only a handful of words to me, though I knew it rocked his world.

Maybe I’m not as full and center in his life right now as I’d like to be. He no longer seems to need a band aid, a tissue, or even a hug. If I steal one anyway, there are a few inches in between that weren’t there before. The child who used to run to me, and only me, who sat on my lap and played with my hair, who searched for my face first in the crowd, now goes somewhere else.

He’s pulling back, pulling away. Not that he loves me less, he just might not need me as much.

So, with all this prickling, I can get a little snappy myself. I can feel injured, disrespected, or unloved very quickly. And out of that, I can respond before I’ve processed it through the right filters that say, this too shall pass. And how quickly it will.

I had a dream last night that I wanted to share. It’s meaning was for me—and for him. And, I don’t know, maybe for you too.

In this dream, something strange happened and Noah, my fourteen-year-old, suddenly became eight. Some wizard or something had transformed him in the blink of an eye. He had hit a 6-year replay button, and I had unexpectedly been given the gift of time. I had all those years to relive. All those moments to gain back. Strangely, I remember in the dream that the most important thing I wanted to tell my now 8-year-old was what an amazing young man he would be at fourteen. “Just wait until you see!” I said. “I can’t wait to get there together.”

Yet, while I was still locked in the same dream, my now eight-year-old became three. Wow! Three. Now I had eleven years to relive! To do it all again. To change any mistakes I made as a mom. To turn back the hands of time and defy the years. I had them all back once more.

But when I tried to talk to Noah, to tell him how excited I was to watch him grow again and what this could mean for us, he just smiled blankly and wanted to play. He had no use for my philosophical pondering. No use for big words or lost dreams. He was three. And I was his world once again.

But suddenly I noticed his blond hair was lighter than I knew it to be. His eyes, a little darker. His laughter off just a bit.

And then, as I held my three-year-old version of Noah, it hit me. And it hit me so hard, had I been awake, I know it would have knocked my breath out. I realized then that his experiences as we relived them would be different than they had been the first time around. They would form him and mold him. They would change him. That although he would still be Noah, by the time he reached fourteen, he would be different. Not exactly the same. Not my Noah.

I had no control to go forward. To jump to the future. To change my mind. And somehow in wanting to relive his life, I had lost him.

In my dream, I cried a heart-wrenching cry and mourned deeply the loss of my boy.

When I woke, I was still crying. It was that kind of dream you can’t escape. It hangs tight.

I found Noah—my Noah, my fourteen-year-old beautifully angsty teenager—and held him in my arms without the inches between us. Through a choking sob that shook me from the inside out, I shared the dream with him. I told him what I tried to tell him at eight and at three. That I loved him with all my heart. That I was amazed at the young man he had become. And how, no matter what, I would never want him any other way. Ever.

My fourteen-year-old—he’s not without fault, but he is perfect. Right now. Right always.

And this year—this precious, jarring, tousled year of fourteen—I’ll never have back again. Ever. So, I don’t want to miss a moment of it—the first time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Eyes Are the Window to the Soul

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William Shakespeare coined that, and I have seen it. Poverty can change a man’s eyes—all forms of poverty. And it can change all of creation.

A horse ministry to work with the poor is hard to start without a horse. So, that was my first step in my new world—finding a horse in a foreign land I didn’t know, in a language I barely understood. But I was persistent. I followed a great lead down in Cabo San Lucas, rallied both a trailer and my husband, and headed two hours south for my first horse. The owner had apparently had a car accident and was no longer able to drive—or ride. He was selling his “fabulous” horse at a steal—“dos mil quinientos dolares.” My new-to-Spanish brain calculated … dos mil is 2000 … quinientos is 500 … 2500 in pesos meant 250 in dollars. Perfect. I could scratch that together. The man repeated it several times over the phone to make sure I understood. “Yes,” I said. “I understand.”

The trailer we borrowed could barely fit a goat, let alone a horse. But, with the rusted-out bottom and the bald tires, we set out on our journey from La Paz to Cabo. Excited, I could barely contain myself. The doors were opening. Our dream was about to begin!

The horse was kept at a rodeo—a charro—and we drove up in the fading afternoon. A weathered man met us at the gate and brought us to the horse. I’ll never forget it. The bony dapple gray stood in a dusty corral alone. His neck hung low as though he was sleeping—or near death. It appeared as though nothing was left. I thought to myself the horse must be much older than the man had said, maybe close to the end of his life. But the cowboy reassured me he was only twelve.

As I walked up to the horse, his expression never changed. He never woke up. His dull eyes never flickered to acknowledge I was even there. The light never switched on. I brushed my hand down his neck and spoke to him in soft tones … but nothing. No spark. No response. I had never known such emptiness in the eyes as I had seen that day.

The man threw a saddle over the horse’s back. “Do you want to ride him?” he asked.

“No,” I said. “Let’s just load him up.” Let’s get him out of here. I need to save this horse. Something has gone very wrong in this animal’s life.

But the man was insistent. “Let me show you what he can do.” He wanted to seal the deal. He finished cinching up the girth, brought the horse into the arena ignoring my feeble protest, and climbed on himself. For the next ten minutes, my heart slammed into my chest as the man galloped that horse in circle after circle around me. Spinning. Twisting. Running at a full gallop and skidding to a dead stop. All to prove to me the horse’s obedience. Yes, he was obedient, and I wanted to drop to my knees and sob right there in the dirt. Finally, when I could not bear it one second longer, I yelled out, “Stop. Stop. I’ve seen enough.”

The man brought the horse to me and handed me the reins with a wink. Then he walked away to “do business” with my husband. I held the reins in shaky hands and touched the animal’s sweat-drenched flank. The gray’s legs trembled uncontrollably, barely able to hold himself up. Or take another step. I looked into his dead eyes, his broken soul, and whispered, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Jesus once said, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:22)

Slowly we walked back together toward the borrowed trailer and I loaded him up, ready to get that horse out of there and salvage whatever was left in this animal. Ready to erase all the pain and heartache and abuse he had experienced. My husband was at the back-end of the trailer arguing with the man in broken Spanish. He approached me and said, “We have a problem.” Dos mil quinientos dolares was NOT in pesos. It was in dollars. The man wanted $2500 for the horse. Expensive even from a U.S. standpoint. My heart sank. I didn’t have that, nor could I scrape it together with any amount of effort.

We bargained and negotiated to the point of pleading, but the man would not budge. I had to walk away. To unload the horse, put him back in the lonely corral and leave him behind. I was devastated ... and powerless to save him.

But I saw those eyes many, many times after that. Not just in the animals, but in the people around me. The deadness that comes from too many years of being beaten and broken. When all life is sucked out and nothing is left. If then, the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

It’s all around us. Every day. Even when we don’t stop long enough to see it. In the man … in the teen … in the child. A world alone. Broken. Apart from the Light of the world. You may not see it in physical poverty where you live, but it wears many faces. And truly, it is not the poverty of the world, but the poverty of the soul, that truly blinds.

And sometimes it seems too costly to intervene. Too out of your control. Too messy. Maybe it’s just easier to walk away. And to forget the vacant eyes. But, if you are a child of God, you—my friend—carry the match.

And there is only one spark that conquers that kind of darkness.

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

We may not have the power to light someone's soul, but we can show them who can.

 

What Question Would You Ask Jesus ... If You Could?

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What would you ask Him if you had the chance?

When will I die? What will eternity look like? Will I be with you? My loved ones?

The disciples had a chance. More than one. They could have asked Him all kinds of things. Mysteries of the world. Unending revelation. Unfathomable wisdom. But they chose to ask Him this: “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

Do you think they wanted to know really who was the greatest … or do you think they wanted to know: “How could I be the greatest? Tell me, Lord, what is the pathway to greatness? For I think I would like to be on it.

Wouldn’t we all?

No matter how we dice it, the desire for greatness is in all of us. We want purpose. We want to have an impact. To make a difference. It’s at our core, as humans. Right? This ongoing, unstoppable striving to be greater. We’ve all known it. We’ve all tasted it. And… we’ve all abandoned the joy of a milestone, even an amazing one, solely to reach the next goal. And the next. And the next.

To make our mark. Our fingerprint. Our legacy.

Is there ever an end? Do we ever stop striving? And how, then, will we know when we get there? How will we reach our “greatest” point?

Jesus answered the question for the disciples ... and for us. He said, “Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 18:3)

What did He mean? Become like children? For even a young child strives, doesn’t she? “Look at me,” she says on the swing. “I can go higher. I can swing upside down. I can jump off. Watch. Wait. That wasn't right. Watch me again.”

Even in our youth, it seems, the striving is within us. From the beginning. The need to be better. To climb higher. To run farther. So, what exactly does a child have that we might not? What is it within her that is different. What is that thing we are missing as adults? That path to greatness?

Knowing we needed more explanation, Jesus continued, “Whoever than humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 18:4)

Hmm … humility. That was the difference. That was the dividing line to greatness.

Is it the same for us? My mind can be quite convincing that I’ve already got it--this humility thing. Easy. I know I’m no better than the next guy. Yet, often times, my cloak of humility hides the core of pride. I am no good… but please tell me how great I am! I couldn’t have done it without you… but did you see how I could have!  Pride says the things that go right in my life are because of me and the things that go wrong are because of something or someone else.

True humility shines in the absence of pride.

The heart of a child says, “Show me. Teach me. I want to learn from you.” Always looking up, he is eager to follow. To learn. To explore new ways of doing something. And at his core ... at her core is trust. She climbs into the vagrant's lap and says, "Teach me to whistle." He stops the old man, bent and withered, and says, "Show me that card trick." I have something to learn from you.

How different do we approach life? How sure of ourselves and our own way of doing things. How we can delight, not in what others bring to our lives, but how much we bring to theirs. Or how much higher than them we can climb. Others become not handholds to offer support, but footholds to launch us higher. And if our boot puts them under foot, so be it.

Here is the challenge ... a challenge to myself. A challenge to look into the eyes of the next person I see, the very next person God brings into my life, knowing that I have something—something incredible—to learn from them. Whoever they are. May I look up, rather than down. And declare… “Show me. Teach me. I want to learn from you.”

That's how we find greatness. It was hidden this whole time in the heart of a child!

 

 

 

The Shadows Call

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There have been many different creative expressions (obsessions) in my life. From sketching to drafting dog farms. From quilting to scrap-booking (how many of us got sucked into that one!) From writing one poem (and only one) to a 400-page novel.

And I think there are life lessons hidden in each one if I were to look hard enough. But the one that stands out to me the most comes from a very, very brief stint with watercolors. I hated them in high school and I still hated them when my mom (an amazing watercolorist) forced my hand at it (lovingly, of course).

I worked on the painting for days … weeks. I threw it away and drew it back out of the trash. Then, threw it away again. It was awful. But it was awful, not because it was truly bad, but because I couldn’t see the finished piece. And here’s why…

If you’ve ever painted at all, you know that with oils and acrylics, you can pick a spot on your canvas and paint exactly how you see something—with all its shadows and highlights, right from the start. All its depths and heights. But not in watercolors. With that medium, you start with your lightest wash and build up layer after layer after painstaking layer.

And the lesson … it’s impossible to see depth without shadow.

The painting was flat and lifeless until the very end. I couldn’t see it. Not at first. Not until the final brush strokes of the darkest layer. And then, and only then, did the painting reveal itself. When the brush strokes of shadow went deeper and brought out the contours of the image, the painting had life. Real, authentic life.

I didn’t realize it then, but I have determined it since. That watercolors are a lot like real life.

When my first child was born two months early at 2 ½ pounds and we fought for her life for six months in the NICU the Lord said, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble. I will deliver you and you will glorify Me” (Psalm 50:15). All of His promises were right there. He was all I had to hold onto. And I clung with all my might.

The brush stroke of shadow contoured my life, and I went deeper.

When the Lord called us out on the mission field to the desert of Mexico, I left my home, my family, my friends, my language, my country. Everything that grounded me. The Lord said, “See I am doing a new thing. Now it springs up. Do you not perceive it? I am making rivers in the desert, streams in the wasteland to bring drink to my people … that they would praise my name” (Isaiah 43:18-21). He called. I followed in obedience because I knew there was no greater, no safer, no better calculated place to be, then in the center of His will.

And I went deeper.

When I was diagnosed with colon cancer at 42 years old, my doctor said if it had moved to my liver, I would have six weeks to live. Six weeks. “Indeed we had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us. He on whom we have set our hope” (2 Corinthians 1:9-11). Ten years later, I remain cancer free. But in that trial, in that moment of staring death in the face, I knew where my hope came from.

The shadow deepened and the girl grew in faith.

You see, with every brush stroke of our lives, every high and every low, every highlight and every shadow, we have the opportunity to go deeper. To experience the grace of God more fully. More completely.

My friend, if you are in a shadow of life, know this for certain …

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And remember … remember this most of all … It’s not easy to see the Master’s work of art because it is not finished. There may still be shadows and contours to reveal in the greater masterpiece.

 

The Weapons Fashioned Against Us

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Some of us might not be jumping into the new year with all the muster and excitement that others seem to be. Maybe you aren’t looking forward to 2018 because 2017 is still a mess. Did the hopes and dreams of last year fail you? Maybe your finances or relationships aren’t where they should be. Maybe your home is upside down. Maybe you lost someone. Maybe you struggled with anxiety, depression, or fear. For many of us, what lies ahead seems only to make worse what we left behind.

The enemy has a lot of tools in his tool chest. But the one he wields with the sharpest, finest point, is discouragement. With merely the scratch of the blade, often painless, it goes unrecognized until it festers. Until it infects and spreads.

Discouragement is an unwanted guest. It creeps in. Finds the back door. Does not introduce itself loudly, but blends in with the furniture so well, it is never asked to leave. Never barely noticed. But it is not dormant. It is active and alive, feasting on our fears and our doubts.

A wise friend once told me, and I have never forgotten it, that in truth the enemy cannot steal the heart of God from us. He cannot take away the hope and the future we have in Him. He cannot dismantle the plans and the path God has set before us. Nor thwart the ministry and the calling God has placed on our lives. But the enemy can wield the blade of discouragement. And when he does, when it has its victory, we offer those things up willingly. We give in. We give away. We open our hands and let go of the treasures we value most. Just like that. Without a fight.

Be wary of discouragement today, my friend. I cannot tell you what it wears when it comes to your door. For only you know when you have let it in. But I can tell you that it is a liar and a thief. It comes bearing gifts of comfort and solace. Of wallowing in our own rights or our own resentments. Of feeling good about feeling bad. It plays the old songs of failures and disappointments. The ruts that tell half-truths of who we were or who we aren’t or who we’ll never be. But it purposely forgets to remind us the truth of who we are.

Discouragement is a crafty guest who will not leave on its own accord. Watch for it… for our struggle, our true struggle, is not against flesh and blood. It’s not our husband or our wife. It’s not our kids or our co-worker. It’s not even life’s expectations that have failed us. It’s the thief that came in the back door and found a home in our hearts. Watch out for him.  

And in watching, don’t forget that you are not left unarmed when the thief comes. You are not defenseless to protect yourself. But rather, my friend, you have the might of heaven behind you!  So, put on the full armor of God.

The belt that fastens around our waist—the belt of truth. The part that holds all the other pieces in place. Pay attention to what stories you are telling yourself. The stories about yourself, about others, and about God. Are they true? Do they line up with who you are in Christ? “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). Discouragement says you are worthless, hopeless, without a future. Truth says you have been set free from the power of sin and death. You are a new creation. The old is past, the new has come.

The breastplate of righteousness- The guardian of our heart and soul. For out of it flows the well-springs of life. As the Lord wraps around you the gift of His own righteousness, press into Him. Press close, for He is “a stronghold in the day of trouble.” (Nahum 1:7). 

The shoes ready with the gospel of peace. Ready. Prepared. That means kick off those slippers and lace up the Reeboks. The enemy will put obstacles in your path to bring you down. To alter your course for the Lord. May His word be a light to your path. May your feet be ready to go where He leads. And remember, Discouragement is the great stealer of peace, so do not pack him for your journey. “May the peace of God that passes all understanding guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

The shield of faith- The most powerful defense you have to extinguish the fiery darts of the enemy is your faith. The question of faith is a question of trust. Whatever measure of faith you have today, build it, develop it until it becomes a shield. “We do not lose heart when we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:8-18).

The helmet of salvation- The helmet protects the seat of our thoughts. Most assuredly, the greatest battleground we will ever know. And it is here that discouragement festers. When we have knowledge of who we are and who we belong to, we cannot be shaken by the enemy’s deception. Remember who you are. And who the Lord is. You are His. Has the small stuff become too big and the big stuff too small? “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

And the sword of the Spirit—the weapon in our hand—His word. “…Living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12).

Have you picked up your sword today? I dare say, I may have forgotten. And I may have left the back door open.

Put on His armor. Put it on and stand! Because, dear friend, we will not fight this battle lying down.

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GOMER

 What it means to be wholly broken and wholly embraced.

What it means to be wholly broken and wholly embraced.

Submitted by a dear friend, Olivia Ciotta. A deep reflection on Gomer.


Gomer

For the cruelest joke was what they named me.

For though my name means “complete,”

Believe me,

I have never felt like enough.

For the love that they offered was counterfeit

And you had to jump through hoops to earn it.

So, it isn’t any wonder that I never felt worth it,

Because I could never jump very high.

And I can’t deny that I longed for their acceptance

The way a starving, stray cat longs for tables scraps no matter how disgusting.

And in trusting them for my affirmation,

I merely opened my heart up to the laceration of their rejection

Because I was an addict

And their abuse was my heroine.

Even when I drained the cup of their approval

Their removal from my life was not an option,

Because I needed their flattery to breathe

Even if it left my throat dry.

 

And I... all I wanted was to be pretty.

But they told me that “pretty is as pretty does”;

So, beauty became a touch not a word,

And I became their puppet.

I told myself I loved it.

You’re surprised?

For although they called me “whore”

What more could I want than to be idolized?

But I recognized the lies I whispered in my head

As I slept in the beds of strangers.

And my tears hit the ground with a sound

So silent,

Not even I could hear my sorrow.

I had long tuned out my pain.

For to name it was to claim it as mine,

And damage doesn’t sell as well as apathy.

 

But in time, my numbness became my ecstasy.

And while they touched me with their bodies,

There was only so much they could take.

But my mistake was believing that I held the high card.

For their disregard for my heart was higher than I expected.

And to be unaffected by such a wound

Would mean to be entombed with a beating heart run through completely.

“Completely”-that of all things-

Is what they named me.

Gomer- a misnomer really.

The only complete thing in me was the degree to which I’d been broken.

 

I’ve spoken openly with You.

You, who claim to love me.

As You can see from my story,

I’m a skeptic.

So, forgive me if I don’t believe You.

Truth is not a category I possess

And I guess neither is love.

So, get rid of this notion that You have something I need.

Because emptiness only requires space to breathe

And as for me, I don’t trust You.

What does trust even mean?

Your eyes are too clear to blame it on drink

So, I think You’re just crazy to say that You love me.

 

See, I cringe at the thought that love can be given,

But not bought at a price I could afford.

Who are You to give so freely,

And neatly

To one such as I?

Whose stomach is swollen with all the lies I have been forced to swallow.

Who is hollow like a honeycomb

Licked bone dry by the greedy tongues of ones who come out only at night.

What light can You shine on such sinister places?

What water can cleanse faces so sullied with shame and regret?

Can You forget all of who I am

And still claim to love me?

I’m too filthy to wear white.

A whore can hardly be a bride.

And I’ve been touched too many times to ever be considered pure.

There’s no cure for my condition of faithlessness.

 

But You care less from my diagnosis of being beyond repair.

And Your stare tears asunder my walls of self-protection.

And I am left in an ocean of a feeling I can’t identify.

But Your eyes speak of safety

Amidst waves I can’t control.

You hold my heart of barbed-wire

In hands that have scars of their own.

And this imperfection makes You seem much more perfect-

A defect that reflects my shattered soul.

And a love that hung on to make me whole.

The shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.

And in Your love,

Gomer is made wholly complete.

 

DON'T LET THEM IN!

 Please, Stay on the Path!

Please, Stay on the Path!

We’ve been to many places. On many journeys. Our family enjoys hiking. And together, we’ve been on miles of trails. But two in particular stand out in my life.

We often visited Arizona while we lived in Mexico. We vacationed there. Regrouped there. And shopped at Target to remember what it was like to be American. We also hiked with our kids. Phoenix has a popular hill (which felt more like a mountain to me) that we always visited on our trips. Unlike the rough terrain of living in the Baja desert, the path up the mountain was manicured with precision. A perfect foot path with perfect boundaries. In fact, signs posted at exact intervals reminded the hikers to “stay on the path.” To keep everyone safe and the environment pristine for the next person. And when we strayed, when we let our kids taste for only a moment the freedom to hop up on one rock and return quickly, the signs would remind us. And the frowns would compel us to obey.

STAY ON THE PATH.

When we moved to Colorado, however, things changed. The paths were still pristine, much more fun to walk on than traipsing through the cactus underbrush of the desert. Groomed and manicured and free from garbage. But the terrain was wide open for exploration. No signs. No boundaries. Enjoy! Take a deep breath and explore everything!

My youngest was not sure what to do with this. He stepped off the path at my urging, saw a stranger, and returned to my side quickly. “It’s okay,” I said. “It’s allowed. You can climb that rock. You can swing on that branch.” He tentatively tried it, but when he saw someone else, he shot back to me and glued himself to my side on the path. It took several nudges and assurances for him to find the freedom to explore without the guilt or shame of stepping over the line.

The distinction is poignant in my life. And with it, I come to the church. The way of the “straight” path. The signs. The markers. The defined boundary. The pressure to hold onto what we love. What we cherish. Because it needs to be here for the next guy. It needs to stay perfect and unmarred from all the footprints that can muddy it up.

So, staying on the path looks like this:

            Do not steal

            Do not covet

            Do not kill

            Do not lie

            Do not drink

            Do not curse

            Do not…

Rules are often good, right? They are meant to keep us on the path. To keep us from marring the way for others. But what did Jesus say?

He said two things were most important. Not ten. Not twenty. Just two:

            Love your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.

            And love your neighbor as yourself.

See, Jesus knew it was not about the boundary. But about the heart. If our heart was bent on loving Him with everything we are and loving those around us with the same passion for which we love ourselves, the rest would fall in line. We would seek the abundance of being with Him, not because someone told us to, but because there was no greater joy. The heart came first.

Why did the woman caught in adultery want to turn from her sin? Why did she want her life to change? Because of her guilt at being caught? Her shame at being dragged out in public? Because the stones hurt?

No. She wanted to be free from sin because she met JESUS.

Church, I fear we have cast the safety net. We have believed in the boundaries that offer the human ideal to preserve, to protect what we have. To treasure what we need by keeping it safe from the muddy footprints. Safe from the ones who might abuse it. Who might not appreciate all the work we put in to make it perfect.

HEY YOU! How did YOU get in here? Can’t you read the sign? No sin allowed. No footprints on the King.

But how can we horde God’s love. How can we put Him, the greatest joy of all, behind the signs… and too often behind the frowns… and keep people out? When it's Him we need most of all. Each and every one of us.

Did we miss something? Something big? Something that is a matter of the heart? Did we jump to the list, the boundary, and forget the King’s declaration? The declaration that He so loved the world in all its twisted mess that He gave, gave freely without bounds or limits, His ONE AND ONLY SON. And that WHOEVER believes in Him shall not perish, but live with HIM forever.

Did we forget that? Do we forfeit the greatest wonder by hording the treasure for those who already have it? We can't lose it. It is bigger than any of us and not here by our own merit. Open the gates and let them in.

I thank God, every day, that when I danced on the rock of the King the signs did not keep me out!

Bicycle in a Box: Receiving Criticism Without Losing Myself

A bicycle comes in a box. A big brown box. When it’s emptied, the pieces scatter the drive. The bolts and screws and mini-wrenches fill the crevices. You wait patiently for your father to put it together. As he does, he explains everything to you, as fathers do. It is his job to impart wisdom. You cannot stop him from it. So, he says, “See how the chain circles around the gears? And when you change the gears on the handle bars, the chain switches from here to there and lightens the load, making it easier to pedal. The larger gear works in conjunction with the smaller gear to…” And you think… How do I remember that? My hand, the switch, the chain, the pedal… The escalating dread takes over your breathing. When the moment comes that the bike is supported in his hands and he coaxes you to climb into the seat and be propelled across the drive. You take a few steps back. Uncertainty turns to doubt. Doubt to fear. And you say, “I’m okay… where’s mom!”

Life can be like that. Instructions can overwhelm. The excitement of trying a new thing can be squelched before it can fly. Those inner voices of uncertainty, doubt, fear… failure can steal the delight of the experience very quickly. And we forfeit the joy.

As a writer, this happens daily. When I began to write, no one knew. My fingers flew over the keys creating a world all for me. Creativity flew. Characters breathed. Life came to life on the pages, and I soared with it. Until my first critique group: “You write in fragments. Get rid of passive voice. Use action beats more. Nice alliteration.” Alliteration?

Instruction is good, right? That’s how we grow. We weave the vine and prune the orchard. We teach, train, model, coach, tutor, and direct. We can be on the giving end, or on the receiving. Sometimes, unfortunately, what is meant to encourage and move us forward, finds a chink in our armor and can wound us, and we slink back.

Generally, It’s not the instruction that is the problem (at least not always). The problem is me. Sometimes I hear it and say, “Okay, that’s helpful. I’ll take that piece and apply it where it fits, where I can grow from it.” Other times, and more often than not, the instruction comes the exact way, yet I say to it, “I have failed. I am not good enough to do this. I will never measure up to that.”

The instruction hasn’t changed one jot or stroke, but the message has. And in that message, we stumble and sometimes we fall and never get back up. We forfeit the joy in the shadow of self-condemnation and fear.

How do we do it then? How do we receive instruction or criticism without losing ourselves in it? If you are like me, it can be a daily, moment by moment challenge. But here is what I’ve learned: 

1. Understand the Informant

Not all of us have passed Critiquing 101. Not all of us have learned to sandwich the tidbit of negative inside the hoagie roll of positive. Some of us give “constructive feedback” 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s what we do, or think we need to do. Sometimes this feedback flows from a jaded heart, or a broken esteem. It is less about the receiver than about the giver. The message is not pure. It has been tainted. The challenge for all of us is never to use criticism of others to find value in ourselves. But many of us do that, right? If you are a little stupider, I’m a little smarter! It has a funny way of building us up. If we’re on the receiving end, this can be confusing, can’t it? We take in a person’s judgment without boundary. Without examination. Carte Blanche. The whole shebang. And we allow it to have great impact. Fair warning… minus scripture, the instruction may be flawed. Not all together wrong, necessarily, but a little bent. Which leads me to point number two…

2. Extract the Useful

As they say in writing, “Chew the fat, leave the bones.” That always provokes too much imagery for me, but its message is good. Take what works, leave the rest. Sometimes that’s hard when one negative can undo ten positives. When that one plays over and over in our mind and it’s all we hear. Wrong thing to chew on, right? But we all do it. And worse, we give it the power to define us.

We need to remember that people come from many journeys. These journeys have challenged them, grown them, distorted them, molded them to see things just a little bit different than we might see them. This is good. We learn from each other. But it can also be difficult. The shoes they’ve worn cannot be worn exactly by someone else. Each voice is unique. In writing, we call this the author’s voice (makes sense ;). My voice is my own. So, give me feedback, and I will strive to hear what will help me grow without changing my voice. Without changing those things that make me uniquely me. Which leads to my third point... and the most important one...

3. Find Your Value’s Source

If my value comes from others, I will never be grounded. I will be tossed back and forth, up and down, shaken by the mere breath of criticism, and never find my foothold. And often, for me, unfortunately, that is exactly where it comes from. I win an award and I am feeling very good about myself. I can do this. I’m okay… In fact, I’m more than okay, I’m great! (cue in Frosted Flakes jingle). I send out proposals of my work because who would not want it… and I wait… and I wait. And a few say, “Nah.” And I’m crushed. I’m not just crushed I’m defeated… at the core. I’m not any good. Who did I think I was… Stephen King? Get out of the Big League, kid. You’ll never measure up. Now I start thinking I can’t even write. AT ALL. By whose merit? Whose yard stick? Someone who rummaged through 200 manuscript ideas before 8:15 that morning with a hangover (who knows... but we'll give him one on principle). That person determines my value? Yes, when I let him.

However, if my worth is grounded on more. If it never changes. If it doesn’t fluctuate with the tide, or is up for grabs in the stock market. If, on the other hand, I am rooted and established in love, I will stand firm. I will know that I am eternally loved, crafted to do great things, and a vessel where the God of the universe dwells. Though I may never “make it” as a writer, I am a child of the King. And my worldly success can never hold a candle to who I really am.

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:17-19) (emphasis mine).

The bike is already put together. No need for assembly. It came right from the trunk and onto the drive. Before the excitement falters, get on the seat. Before the doubt sets in, pedal. Before the fear has time to grip, travel down the hill and back up again, knowing that you are fearfully and wonderfully made. And you, child of the King, keep pedaling on... because you were made for so much more!

A Mom's Journey in Letting Go

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To all those out there who have known the trial of parenting. Who have experienced the excitement and the pain, the hope and the sorrow, the sleepless nights, the burdens and the unfathomable joy of loving a child through brokenness. This is for you.

One of my best friends from childhood, who has walked this parenting journey with me, shares her heart and her battle to "let go" when everything within her, within us, wants to "hold on." May you find a piece of hope and encouragement as she allows me to reproduce part of her journey here:


It will be hard to understand my peace and my serenity unless I tell you of my nightmare.

Our eldest son was a senior in high school when he had a terrible accident that left him with a shattered ankle. A metal plate and nine screws later, he was on the road to healing. At least that is what we thought.

Coming from a family, and marrying into a family with a long line of the disease of addiction, I was well aware of the dangers of pain medication, and how quickly someone can become dependent. So, I became the pain killer police. Strictly following the doctors orders. Unfortunately, my son's disease was shaken awake.

For the next ten years, we lived in hell. Our son's addiction put a terrible strain on our marriage. It dissolved his relationships with his siblings and friends. It dismantled his self-confidence.

I would attend different meetings. I would speak with other parents in similar situations. One resounding commonality kept coming through to me... "LET GO-- AND LET GOD." Not an easy action for this mother. Because-- I got this. I can help him through this. After all... he's my flesh and blood.

I have always been a firm believer in Jesus Christ. But I couldn't imagine in my wildest dreams that He would know what was best for my child. So... I held on tight. Really tight. Yes, I prayed. Yes, I begged for help and guidance. But I wouldn't release. All along, losing hope that someday my handsome son would return to us.

Everyday, God brought another chance to let go. Another crisis would arise. One needing immediate attention-- or so I thought. I would leap right in, and "come to the rescue"... again. Rescuing my son from his "pain"-- from himself. And again, prolonging the lesson God had in store for him. I felt I couldn't trust God with this one. Because... I just couldn't face what the Almighty may have planned.

He blessed me with this child. Could He possibly take him away from me?

No! I wouldn't allow that. I was fighting drug addiction... and Jesus! And THAT, my friends, is a very tiring thing. I guess I thought I was all that... and a bag of chips, too... didn't I?

After many sleepless nights... after I completely drained myself and exhausted every option... I finally heard God's words: GET OUT OF MY WAY. THIS IS MY CREATION. HE IS MINE. I LOVE HIM-- EVEN MORE THAN YOU DO.

Imagine that... God had this all along.

So... I did it. I let go. I fearfully pried my fingers off. I kissed and hugged him and told him I loved him dearly. But I would not watch him destroy himself. I asked him to leave our home.

This began the beginning of the end. With every day, I felt stronger in my decision to hand him over to God. Trusting and growing stronger in HIS master plan for our son. Praying, day into night. Night into day.

Then one day, it finally happened. Our son called and asked for help. He said he missed us. He said he was tired. Finally, our son was ready for recovery. He entered a very structured program, and is enjoying his life again. Learning to live without drugs. Learning to cope with life's ups and downs. He is celebrating ten months clean. Ten months out of the darkness.

We finally have our beloved son back, and God protected us from a tragic ending.

We live in a world filled with sin. We live in a world where I truly believe Satan is gathering souls. That is reality. I will continue to fight for the health and well-being of myself and all I love. But... I now know... I am not alone. I have the BEST FATHER standing next to me, giving me the strength to enjoy this beautiful life He's lovingly created for me. All I need to do, each day, is trust Him fully.

Through the Eyes of a Child

   Slow my heartbeat, Lord, today… until I have seen You with child eyes.

Slow my heartbeat, Lord, today… until I have seen You with child eyes.

Three times in my life I have had a vision of heaven. All three times, my eyes took in the scene around me as if I were a child. A child with unrestrained, abandoned faith. Nothing between me and Jesus. No agenda. No shame or guilt. No need to prove myself or be anything but me.  

On one occasion, I was in a meadow of tall grass. The warm breeze bent the blades and the bright sun bathed me in shifting light through the leaves of a sprawling oak. I lay on my back, gazing upward. Though I did not see the Lord’s face, I felt His presence. He was there. Close. An uncontained joy bubbled up in my heart like the giddiness of a child. So full, I nearly burst with it. As a little girl would in a field of grass, I encircled my arms about me and kicked my legs in complete abandon.

Then, enraptured with that joy, I asked Him, “What can I do for you now?”

I do not remember an answer… because the moment was not for the question. But for the joy of being with Him.

Ahh, but to live, not just through a glimpse, but my everyday through the eyes of that child. The one that is in me still, in all of us, hungry for more of Him. To throw off the burdens, the temptations, the things that wear us down and pause in our pressured pursuit of naught. To see life… to see Him… with reckless abandon.

I recently came across a quote from G.K. Chesterton that resonated with my heart. He was speaking on the joy of a child and the joy of our God…

Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never gone tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.

My prayer today is that I would see the treasures around me… those that are new, and those that have grown too common for me to care. That I would see them, not as a sinner grown old, but with the appetite, the devotion, the reckless abandon of a child. To ask-- not with another task to check off or rung to climb-- but with the pure delight of being with Him. “Oh Lord, what can I do for you now?”

Slow my heartbeat, Lord, today… until I have seen You with child eyes.

“…Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.” Luke 10:21

 

The End

  The fight was nearing its end. And we were losing.

The fight was nearing its end. And we were losing.

For six months, we had been in the hospital. In the NICU. Christmas was just around the corner. Snow fell on Morristown square. And baby Meagan had undergone a surgery as a last-ditch effort to save her life. But the surgery had failed. She was on maximum life support, and the doctors had come to the end of their abilities. They ushered us into their office and told us they could do nothing more for her. That Meagan would not make it through the weekend. They wanted us to prepare for the worst. The worst. Imminent death. The loss of our child.

The fight was nearing its end. And we were losing.

My life was out of control. So, I tried to find some control wherever I could. I fixated on the machines and found hope in small increments of change, then defeat in the reverse. I studied the schedule of doctors and nurses, hoping for the ones that would bring life, those who became our favorites and our forever friends. I took notes on the medications, the doses, the ups and downs of her progress searching for some pattern, some upward change for the better. Anything to hold on to. But it was fleeting. Control was a façade. I had none.

As I drove to the hospital one morning over that dreaded weekend that I thought would be our last, I turned to my mom and said, “I need to pray something. Something I haven’t been able to pray. Until now. Would that be okay?” And I began…

Lord Jesus, I understand the truth now. I understand that she is your little lamb. And that You love her even more than I do. As her mommy, this is so hard for me, because I love her with everything in me... everything I am. But You… You love her even more. And because of that, I give her to You, Jesus. I trust her into your hands. She is yours. And whatever happens with her… if You choose to take her, or let her stay… I trust You. I let go…

The hands opened. The one's clutching everything I held dear. Opened in abandoned trust for a love so much greater. The tears poured down my face. Healing tears. Trusting tears. For I was not in control... but He was. He who loved her... and loved me... even more.

When I got to the hospital and sat at her bedside, everything had changed. It didn’t matter what the machines said. What the noise said. It didn’t matter what doctor was on call, or what nurse was treating her. It didn’t matter that all things pointed to death. Oblivious to the swirling chaos, I sat with her... I held her little hand in mine and sang.

A few days later, on Christmas Eve, Jesus healed her.

My baby came home. But it could have gone either way. We never know.

If you, my friend, are in a place of suffering today, sorrow that feels so out of control. If you are struggling to find purpose in the pain, joy in the heartache, I tell you this from the depths of my heart: He loves you even more... even more than you could ever fathom.

And I'll tell you this...

As much as I would never want to relive one moment, one day in the NICU… when my soul, my very being, broke so completely…

I never walked closer to Jesus than in those hours.

Watch Her Arm!

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I tend to be a skeptic… or at least lean toward it. When someone tells me a story… an incident… especially the miraculous or mind-boggling type, my brain automatically searches for the obvious. For the not-so-miraculous that maybe they missed or overlooked. The explanation. The natural likelihood.

I’ve always identified with the disciple, Thomas, in the Bible. He needed to touch the wounds on Jesus to believe it was truly Him.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in the miraculous, and in a very big God. I have faith in Him. But I have less faith in us and in our ability to interpret Him. Our tendency to over-spiritualize everything. Maybe the light turned green right at that moment because… well, it’s on a timer! You know what I mean.

Knowing this about me, my skeptical side, will help you understand why the next part is… well… mind-blowing.

Back to the NICU… for I have so many lessons there. This one, in particular, was one of the biggest. One month in, my daughter, Meagan, had lost the ability to move her arm. I had seen it days before, known it deep down as a mom knows things. I told the nurse and the doctors and they offered excuses. “No, Mrs. Gatto, she is not moving her arm because it’s tired.” (tired?) or “It has an IV board strapped to it and it just looks like she can’t move it.” (really?) or “Well, we can’t pull the line from that arm because it’s too hard to get another in.” (Oh)

Three days later, they pulled the line. But it was too late. The damage had been done and her arm was paralyzed. A team of neurologists confirmed it. No movement. And never will there be.

Over the next month as the atrophy set in, the discussions increased. Should we leave her arm or amputate it?

My baby’s arm? You want to cut it off? No!

But nothing changed, and it only deteriorated with each day. Shrinking. Dying.

Life took a new turn toward the incomprehensible. My daughter’s situation worsened. Not only with her arm, but because of the line that had done the harm, the dominoes fell. The damage inside her body became as evident as the damage outside. Her systems shut down. Her lungs collapsed. And she was back on life support.

One roller coaster lift up… one plummet down.

It was during those bleak days my husband found me face down on the kitchen floor. I had given up. I could not go on. The pain was too deep. The heartache too consuming. He lifted me off the ground and handed me the scripture pack (Remember the one I spoke of twice before?) Peter said, “You need Him now more than ever.” But I was angry with God. Angrier than I had ever been. All those prayers. All those times crying out. And where was He? Why was He so silent?

But I took a card anyway. And read… “Call upon Me in the day of trouble and I will deliver you.” (Psalm 50:15). The same message. The third time.

The phone call said Meagan had taken a turn for the worse. I had better get to the hospital right away. Another day. The same pain. The same heartache. Day after day. Week after week. Month after month.

I sat by her bedside and screamed out to God in my heart. It was a wretched cry. A defeated cry. One difficult to come back from.

You promise us in your Word that you won’t put us through more than we can handle without giving a way out. Well, I can’t handle it anymore! I am at my end. I cannot go through this one more day. WHERE ARE YOU???

 And then He spoke. As clear as I could ever hear. A voice, not my own, inside my chest. He said…

Watch her arm.

Watch her arm? Her arm? Her arm hasn’t moved in two months. Nothing. It is dead. And you want me to sit here and watch her arm? Fine. I’ll watch it. Because I have NOTHING ELSE TO DO!

So, I sat. And watched. One minute. Two. Ten minutes passed. Ten minutes… and the miracle happened. That baby lifted her arm off the bed. I straightened… and rationalized. She must have moved her body and her arm moved with it. It only looked like she moved it on its own. Then it happened again. And again. And I watched before my very eyes God breathe life into my daughter’s arm.  

Life from nothing. Life from death.

The power of God poured out in an earthly vessel. A miracle.

But the miracle for me resided also in the intimacy unveiled. The doubting Thomas within me that says: Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe. You see, had He not spoken first, I would have trusted in science more than miracles. I would have said the nerves were finally regenerating. It was part of the process. But no. He told me before it happened so I would know for sure it was Him.

Jesus found Thomas after His death and stood before him. “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus found me that day and said, I know your doubt. I know your uncertainty. But watch her arm, my child, for I am about to do something great.

His love, so infinite and so finite, in one breath. The God of the universe whispering to the heart of a broken soul.

Then He said to Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:24-29)

Where are you today? Are the miracles real around you? Or are you struggling to see? Are you doubting His presence or His love for you? Are you turning away? Or filled with doubt? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed! Hang on to Him. Believe even when you cannot see.