Thursday, December 31, 2015

His Joy Comes in the Morning

The year comes to an end, and in some ways, I feel 2015 is closing as 2014 did. We end again with loss and grief and hope deferred.

My family was discussing this recently—and noting that these last four years have been some of our hardest, maybe ever. My parents lost parents—and I have no more blood grandparents (thank God for two grandmothers by marriage or a whole generation would be gone completely). 
We’ve been through breast cancer and heart surgery at the end of a year of chemo and radiation. We’ve watched hair fall out and heads shaved while hearing ‘negative’ 14 times from the fertility office. My parents have six grandbabies in Heaven. Six. Who can endure four years of that?

But as I sit here this morning, when my heart could be sick from hope deferred, I am reminded of the choice before me: I choose joy and peace and gratitude. I choose to be content and to see the blessings.

We’ve faced a lot as a family since 2011.

But we’ve conquered a lot, too. And we’ve laughed a lot. And we’ve witnessed all the good.

Two weddings and a precious baby boy.
New houses, new jobs.
Dreams come true, and new dreams to come.
A cancer-free report again, and again, and again.

At the end of 2015, we still have each other: wonderful parents, in-laws, and siblings; blessed marriages, houses, and cars; and an 18-month-old, who is our hope and joy and light in the midst of what sometimes feel dark and painful.

On January 1, 2015, Howell and I made the decision to do nothing this year but live life. No more fertility treatments. No more adoption classes. Nothing.

Because after four tough years, we needed 12 months of each other.

And I’m thankful on December 31, 2015 for the memories we made.

Three ski trips, a half-a-dozen lake trips, eight days in San Diego, weekends away—in Dallas, in Santa Fe, in any place that was within six driving hours and had a king-sized bed. 

We’ve logged thousands of miles in the car this year—just us or with our fur-babies—and with every click forward on the odometer, the grief in our hearts is wiped away.

When Brad Paisley’s voice fills the cab of Howell’s truck with questions of how the love for his spouse could be more today than way back then, I smile because I feel it too.

I wish at the close of this year, I could announce a pregnancy with something clever like a third stocking, an unopened present, or a new year’s surprise, but while I still carry my dreams, I keep them securely placed in my Father’s chest, and every time I want to take a quick peek, he reminds me that I can trust His heart.

If I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that my Father loves me more than I can comprehend. It’s something fierce and powerful, and it cannot be undone.

He can’t un-love me; neither can He love me more.

His love is immeasurable and complete.

When I doubt His plans for me, I doubt how great His love is.

When I feel hopeless, I’ve misplaced His great love, trading it for my plans, which pale in comparison.

His love is no longer cliché to me. It’s my security and my peace, my comfort and my hope.

When I believe His love is enough, I know I’m enough.

And when I’m less concerned with whether I’m enough, I can see others who need to know they are enough too.

I can tell that struggling college student, I know what it’s like—and you can overcome. This too shall pass. 
I can tell my struggling mom-friend, I see you, and I’m sorry for the hard days. They are real, and it’s okay to feel it.

When I believe how much He loves me, I can trust His heart. And I am set free.

Free to be me. Free to run in my lane and live in my margin.

I don’t have to compare or contrast.

I can empathize from my lane without bitterness or jealousy. I can be thankful and grateful in my lane without losing compassion for those in another lane.

The desire to be a mom is no less today than last year, but an amazing thing happened over these last 12 months: I learned life in my lane is pretty great too.

I can play with my nephew—who has my heart and my love in a way I’ve never known. I can take the pictures and sing the silly songs and treasure those sweet moments of hugs and snuggles.

But I can also sleep 9 (ish :)) hours without the interruptions—the runny nose and fever, the 2 a.m. throw up. I can take trips when I want to or randomly plan a date night in Amarillo or drop everything to see a movie and eat popcorn for dinner.

Don’t get me wrong—I still long for the day when my margin is expanded and a new mom-column is added, but this lane has its own perks. And I can see them when I’m not trying to run in someone else’s lane.

I’ve also learned this year that it’s okay to feel all the feels, as my good friend Jen Hatmaker would say. And it’s okay to be vulnerable.

When I’m hurting, it’s okay to tell someone. Text those friends I trust the most. Ask for prayers. Let someone else speak truth when I cannot.

It’s okay to ask for help. This is sometimes the most courageous thing I can do—and it’s worth it every time.

This year—more than any other—I’ve not only been okay with me, I’ve been okay with letting others see the real me. (She’s pretty awesome.)

And finally, I’ve learned that while emotions lie, His word never does. I can tuck His word deep into my heart, and it stands. Forever. Eternally true.

Not that this post has to be advicey, but if there’s advice to be offered, it’s this:

Pain and suffering is inevitable in this life; even Jesus said so. But joy is our choice, and it’s worth it.

Hope deferred happens—for whatever reason—to everyone, but His love is never deferred. It is ever-present to comfort and secure.

Comparison is a trap (don’t we all know it?), but life is great when you live with gratitude in your own lane.

The end of 2015 really has been hard, but I feel like the Lord has asked me not to throw away all of 2015 because of that. 

I believe 2016 is going to be a great year. This year we will see prayers answered and dreams accomplished. God is going to pour out blessing on our family—so much that we cannot contain it. I can’t wait to see how He chooses to unfold these gifts before us. Already, today, my cup runs over.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Merry Christmas... Break!

We decided to take a little break for the holidays, so we won't be blogging for a few weeks. We hope you enjoy your time with your families while we enjoy ours.

In the meantime... Catch up on our old posts, and we'll see you back on January 4!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Lessons from Another #NaNoWriMoFail

NaNoWriMo ended Monday, and I can safely put another #NaNoWriMoFail in the books. 

But before you stop reading, this is not a self-deprecating post. I made it to almost 11,000 words, and I’m proud of that accomplishment. I spent the first 10 days of the month stressed out because I started out behind, and then the Lord, ever so gently, asked me who I was performing for. Ouch

I stayed behind for the rest of the month, but it wasn’t about competing, or proving, or performing anymore. The goal was to write, and I did—when I could.

NaNoWriMo has this mantra that one should write 50,000 words—regardless of whether they are ‘good’ words or not. Just get them down. Just. Write. Write. Write.

I’m not necessarily opposed to this exercise in writing, but for me, I decided to make the month about being diligent to my writing—and for me, being diligent about writing means I don’t waste words for the sake of a word count. I’m a thoughtful writer—and, as I’m learning, that makes me a slow writer. I imagine scenes in my head for days before I write them down. When I write, I write a lot at once—but I can’t keep that up every day. It’s too much.

One of the big takeaways I had from the ACFW conference this year was creating a writing plan or a writing schedule. I talked to one person who told me Frank Peretti writes 250 words a day. That’s not much—and seems so do-able—and it allows for 90,000 words a year: a book-length manuscript.

Others, I learned, try to write 3,000 words a week; some even said 5,000 words a week.

I wrote almost 11,000 words in a month, and I feel good about that—it’s slightly less than 3,000 a week, and it’s slightly more than 250 words a day.

And you know what else? I wrote. I worked. I thoughtfully considered my new story plot and my characters and my scenes and my dialogue. And I wrote some more.

I was reading Rachelle Gardner’s post about rejection this morning. I especially like reading the comments section on the B&S blog, and I was reminded that if I genuinely feel called to write, if I feel like it’s the gift He’s given me, then I can’t quit—regardless of the rejection I might face. By the same measure, I can’t make writing about me—my success or promotion.

In For the Love, Jen Hatmaker says it like this: “Run your race. Maybe you need to invest in your gifts. Take a class. Go to a conference. Sign up for a seminar. Start that small business. Put that website up. Build in some space. Say yes to that thing. Work with a mentor. Stop minimizing what you are good at and throw yourself into it with no apologies. Do you know who will do this for you? No one. You are it. Don’t bury that talent, because the only thing fear yields is one dormant gift in a shallow grave” (p. 33). 

NaNoWriMo is over, but my story is not complete. That status for my first manuscript is still uncertain, but I am not done.

Being a writer is about more than writing. And writing a novel is about more than one month of the year.

I’ve said before—I’m willing to work, to edit, to take the hard words and the real truth and criticism, to collaborate, to re-do, and to listen.

My part, for now, is to write. To do anything else is to bury the talent.

 What gift has God given you to steward? Do you need to resurrect the talent from a shallow grave?  [Click to Tweet!]

Writer-friends:  Advice for me? What's your writing plan? How do you keep your "I won't quit" attitude? [Click to Tweet!]

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Habits of Marriage: Establishing a Prayer Time

We said last Monday that we wanted to share five good habits for your marriage. A habit should be a regular practice, something you naturally do. While some habits might be developed subconsciously (biting your nails, for example), a good habit usually has to be fostered, developed, cultivated. In short, good habits come from intentional choices we make every day. 

Today I want to post about establishing a prayer time with your spouse. 

For some, this topic might sound challenging. You might think: We’re too busy; our schedules are off—I’m coming when he’s going; and by the time we get to the end of the day, I’m too exhausted to pray. If that’s you—I have some encouragement…

But others of you (wives, especially), might think the idea sounds amazing and spiritual—and now if only I could get my husband to participate, right? 

For our wedding, someone gave us a devotional book for married couples. I thought that sounded fantastic—Yes, let’s do devotions and hold hands and pray together, every. night. forever. 

But, like most of our first few years of marriage, myexpectations were ridiculous and unattainable (even for myself). I had a picture of what spiritual looked like, and we hardly measured up. 

For one, I could never get Howell to lead, no matter how much I nagged. What I didn’t know then is that my husband didn’t lead because I was busy playing boss. What I also didn’t know then is that he felt inadequate to lead because when I “reprimanded” him for being such a “terrible spiritual leader,” I was actually reinforcing what he already believed about himself. 

I thought having a prayer time with your spouse meant hours of praying together, praying in the spirit, pouring our hearts out. If the prayer time wasn’t long and if it wasn’t emotionally satisfying, then it was not enough

No wonder we weren’t consistent. No wonder Howell felt defeated. Who can perform like that every single day? 

I use the word perform intentionally—what I was looking for in Howell, and what I was doing, was in fact a performance. 

You see, the first step to establishing a prayer time with your spouse is establishing your own GENUINE, personal prayer time. 

And the first step to establishing your own personal prayer time is receiving by faith your status as a son or daughter, your righteousness, your new identity in Christ. 

When you see yourself as He sees you, you don’t have to perform for Him. Your works don’t please Him. Jesus already did that—on the cross; it’s a finished work. He’s already pleased. 

When you see yourself as He sees you, you don’t have to earn His love. Your works don’t increase His love for you; neither does your lack of devotion—the missed bible study, the forgotten prayer time—diminish His love for you. His love is immeasurable and complete; it already IS.

For Howell and I both, when we began to realize who we are in Christ, our righteousness, our status in His Kingdom, His love for us—then the way we approach Him changed, too. 

Prayer becomes a conversation, not a duty. 

Prayer becomes a way of life, not a task list. 

And a prayer time becomes less about an hour of our day and more about the daily seconds of each hour.

Dear friends—whether you’ve been married a long time or not, you won’t create a genuine habit of praying with your spouse until you have first created a habit of spending time with Your Father, Your Savior, and Your Helper. 

Not only did my personal prayer life change from performance to genuine connection, but also I stopped putting expectations on what Howell’s prayers should “look like.” As I began to encourage him, to praise him when he led us, to thank him when he prayed over me, he began to grow in confidence to lead. The problem was never Howell’s ability to lead; the problem was I needed to get out of the way if I wanted him to step into his God-given role. When I did, he did. 

And as he grew in learning who he is in Christ, he grew in leading our family. I didn’t do that. God did it in him. 

So if the first step is developing your own personal prayer time, then the next challenge might be to create time to pray with your spouse too. 

I understand busyness. I really do. You have to find what works for you and your partner. If you are both up in the mornings, pray together then—before the kids get up, before you go to work, before the craziness sets in. If you have different morning routines, then pray together at night—after the kids are in bed, after you’ve finished your day. 

Personally, we have different morning routines. We spend time with the Lord on our own in the mornings. And we pray together at night before we go to bed.

Some nights we pray longer. We share what God’s doing in our hearts. We press into where His Spirit is leading us. We desperately listen for Him to respond. 

But some nights, we don’t. Some nights we pray for less than a minute, and some nights, we forget to pray. (That’s okay, too! ;-))

Praying together doesn’t have to be dramatic—as I once thought it did. :) It doesn’t have to take a long time either. 

In fact, my busy-friend, my prayer is that if you put expectations on yourself for what praying together should look like, or if you feel burdened by praying together because you already feel like a failure—ask your Father to show you how He sees you, how He sees your marriage. I promise you’ll find that He’s pleased with you because of Jesus, and He is FOR you and your marriage. He’s not disappointed in you, and praying together or not praying together does NOT increase or diminish His love for you in any way. 

Let that be established in your heart! A good habit is not about fueling works righteousness. 

But we wouldn’t be emphasizing this topic if we didn’t deeply feel that it matters, so here are four reasons praying with your spouse is a good habit to cultivate: 

  • When you pray with your spouse, it’s hard to hold on to any unforgiveness or bitterness that is poisoning your marriage.  
  • When you pray with your spouse, you confirm the hedge of protection that God places around you to protect your marriage from the enemy.
  • When you pray with your spouse, you connect your hearts on a spiritual level.
  • When you pray with your spouse, your prayers of agreement move mountains in the Spirit realm. 

Creating the habit of a prayer time looks different for everyone, so don’t put yourself or your marriage in a box. And you or your spouse may be at different places spiritually—that’s okay too. Don’t put your spouse in a box either.

But when you can come together and pray—if not daily, then weekly or monthly—I promise you’ll see God move in your heart and move in areas of your life where you seek Him. 

We’ve said, commitment plus consistency equals results. Practicing this first habit will produce positive results in your marriage.

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