A Beautiful Day

Seven years ago, Will’s cousin invited us to the U2 concert in Nashville. We were about to leave town when we got the call that his wife was in labor. And it was not going well. They were headed to Vanderbilt Hospital and said we could come pick up the tickets from them and head over to Vanderbilt stadium.

Should we still even go? With mixed emotions, we hit the road to Nashville anxious to see them in person.

When we got to the hospital, we exchanged hugs as the doctors came up with a plan. Things were unsettled. The elevator doors closed as we parted ways with Will’s cousin, also a physician, who said, “it’s not good.”

With heads hung low, just steps away from that hospital room in the stadium, we waited for U2 to start in silence. Oh, how we wished the seats beside us were filled by the faces we had just seen. We felt guilty for being there and worried. We were waiting for news and praying while trying to make sense of the turn of events. The atmosphere shifted as U2 came on stage and played “Beautiful Day”.  At the exact time the song began, we got the text that baby Dylan had arrived and that momma and baby were healthy and doing great. With happy tears we sang the song at the top of our lungs and texted them a video of Bono’s words echoed by thousands of voices just steps away from that baby boy’s first cry. After the show we got to meet our baby nephew and rejoice in that oh so beautiful day!

It is one I will never forget!

Will and I had tickets to see U2 in Nashville again last night. I woke up thinking about that memory and song. I envisioned a picture of us there steps away from the band with a hashtag #beautifulday. We were ecstatic! Before leaving town, we swung by the pool for a quick dip with our kids. Long story short, Anna (our two-year-old) stepped into a pile of fire ants, and moments later her face was swollen and her throat was closing. We gathered our wet kids and bits and pieces of our stuff and found ourselves speeding to the ER, our whole world spinning, shaking out of control. We held our little girl and prayed to God to keep her alive as she lost her ability to speak.

In just a moment, our universe turned upside-down. The previous script of our day was thrown out the window as we held tightly to our baby girl wanting nothing more than moments with one another. There was something beautiful in that crazy moment of knowing that nothing else mattered. The cares that had previously consumed our morning were gone. We were fully present with each other and with God in the eye of that storm.

As Will rushed Anna into the ER, I parked the car with Mary and John, and a crocodile tear rolled down John’s cheek. “I was really hoping Anna was gonna get to turn 3 and get bigger.” It was, as Will’s cousin had said those seven years ago in front of another set of sliding doors, “not good.” Anna received excellent care and breathing treatments as the adventure continued in an ambulance ride to another hospital where we spent the night in the ICU.

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It was a nightmare in the middle of a summer day and all we knew to do was hold tightly to each other and claim God’s promises for our girl. We are so thankful for the love from our family and sweet friends who happened to be there in the moment to help and pray.

As it turns out, my childhood friend who lives in Nashville was able to go to U2 in our place. She texted me this video of that all too familiar song.

The words reminded me of the picture we had seen just hours earlier over the Emergency Room reminding us that God was with our little girl:

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“After the flood, all the colors came out…it was a beautiful day!!!”

As I held Anna in that hospital bed, I was overcome with the same feeling Will’s cousin had 7 years before.

Indeed it was.

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Anna is doing great and got to eat Skittles for breakfast this morning. She was discharged in hot pink style with an epipen and charge to always wear shoes outside. We have a cautious road ahead, but she’s a happy girl with an even happier momma!

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God, thank You for Your mercy. Thanks for waking us up and reminding us of the miracle of life. May we love well, live with purpose, keep perspective, and hug our family. Thanks for the joy in those anticipated moments on our highlight reel that are extraordinary. Thanks also for those unexpected moments we would never write into our script that send us to our knees and reframe the ordinary as beautiful days. In Jesus’ Name we thank You. Amen.

Receiving!

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Is there anything like watching a little kid open a present? This was my four-year-old opening a package sent from his grandmother this week.

 

Oh, the joy!

During the Christmas season we often teach our children about giving, but I believe we have much to learn from our children about receiving.

Because somewhere along the way, as we grow older, we lose the art of it. In the moment John received his power ranger, he didn’t think a minute about paying his grandmother back. He knows he can’t! And I’m pretty sure he didn’t envision writing her a thank you note later like I did. None of that crossed his mind. He was completely fixated on the gift that was now his! And nothing delighted his grandmother more.

There’s a reason families arrange travel plans to be wherever the kids are on Christmas morning. We’ll do anything to be able to see those faces the moment they are overcome by surprise and wonder! We don’t want credit for the gifts; sometimes we even attribute them to a man in a red suit. It’s not about keeping score. We plot and plan and spend without counting the cost because…it’s a joy like none other to watch a child receive a gift.

We love it because, in many ways, we’ve lost it. As adults, we have a harder time receiving. We feel awkward accepting a compliment. We feel uncomfortable when someone gives us a gift and we can’t repay them. We feel unworthy. We’d rather earn it.

We focus our attention this season on giving. And giving is an incredibly beautiful thing. But, as children of God, the birth of Jesus is perhaps more of a time for us to receive. A time to receive a gift with wonder and awe that’s impossible to pay back. A time to receive a love that pursues us relentlessly despite how short we fall. A time to see that we are indeed unworthy, but accepting that somehow we’ve been miraculously—chosen. A time for us to become as Jesus said, “like little children.” (Matthew 18:3)

The birth of Jesus into our lives is a time when our Heavenly Daddy gets to see those of us who know we’ve been tragically naughty receive the gift of extravagant grace with the same foot-stomping excitement that John received his power ranger.

The joy is ours.

The joy is His.

Let earth receive her King!

 

Dear Lord,

Thank you for the precious joy we get to see in little children this time of year. Please help us learn from them how to anticipate with great hope and how to receive in exuberant joy. Please open our hearts by the power of Your Holy Spirit to receive the extravagant gift of Your Son. Thank you for joyfully receiving us as Your children. May the miracle of grace fall so fresh on us that we can’t help but dance a jig!

Amen.

 

Christmas in June

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We hear a lot about baby Jesus in December, but not much this time of year, so I wanted to share this little heartwarming moment today. We love to read children’s Bibles with our kids, and it is neat see each child identify with the stories. John’s favorite is David and Goliath and every time Goliath dies, John slaps the book as hard as he can and roars. It usually scares his sisters, but he is a precious little warrior. Mary’s favorite stories include the Marys; Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany and Jesus’s momma all captivate her because she shares their name.

But Anna, at age (almost) 2, usually just wiggles around and tries to eat the books. She has just started talking more and wanting to read books by herself, so I handed her the Jesus Storybook Bible the other night. There was one (and only one) person she wanted to find:

“Oh baabeee Jeeee-Zus….Where are euuu?

She flipped and flipped and flipped the pages until she found Him lying in a manger, and then her face lit up with joy.

“Der’s baby Jeeee-Zus!” she squealed with joy when she found him.

It blows my mind that the One who made the gigantic sun became as tiny as a baby. The One with all Heavenly power arrived powerless. The One who can hold all creation in His hands needed His mother to hold Him.

The Living Word had to learn how to talk just like Anna. And so she, one of the the least of these, can relate to Him! I find it incredible that we don’t have to change and grow to get close to God, but that He changed and became small to grow close to us. What a beautiful upside-down Kingdom; what an amazing love!

As Anna was pointing to baby Jesus in glee, I asked her if she remembered his momma’s name.

“Mar-wee!” she said with excitement.

“That’s right! And what about his daddy?” I asked.

“Moses!” she said confidently.

I chuckled. Anna may not know Jesus’s earthly father’s name yet, and she may not know His Heavenly Father either. But…He knows little Anna. And He loves her so much that He made Himself small so that she could know Him too. She may be little, but she matters in a big way to that baby Jesus.

And that is worth a joyful squeal!

Possess the Gates

Hi Friends,

Today, I wanted to say how much I appreciate you as someone who reads my blog. Thank you for sharing life with me! I hope your Valentine’s Day was filled with extraordinary love. Today’s post is on OurCityOnAHill. Please click below to read. YOU OWN THOSE GATES! Read, and you’ll see what I mean!

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As a mom at Christmas, I write a script in my mind for how the magical moments of this season should unfold. I have these special memories of Christmas as a child; they were probably messy and chaotic, but when looking at frozen pictures of the past, they appear to be Norman Rockwell esque. So as I prepare meals, shop for gifts and make plans, I envision these magical moments with my family. The script in my mind is perfection.

But…for some reason, it doesn’t usually play out that way. This happened last week. Mary asked for an experience for Christmas this year…an ice skating date with mommy. Then dinner at her favorite pizza place right next to the rink, a cozy restaurant below the art museum that looks at the tinsel trail of trees. You can imagine the visions I had of gliding on the ice together while Christmas music played and then nestling in at that special restaurant in the middle of the park.

And, as we walked up to the rink in our three pairs of socks, two coats, and two pairs of pants in the surprise record low temperatures that hit on the date we chose, we saw the hip hop radio station’s van. Rather than Christmas music, we heard the bop of the nnst, nnst, nnst. As we walked up, they were blasting a song about “dropping your a..” at full blast, and we could hardly hear each other. Perhaps fitting for what was happening on the ice, but not fitting for the precious Christmas experience I envisioned with my five year old. Oh dear. Maybe we should come back another night. But then I remembered the efforts of stuffing our three-socked feet into our boots and zipping up all our zippers. There was no turning back!

At check in, Mary proudly told the woman how this was her Christmas gift. We stuffed our feet into the heavy skates and bravely made our way onto the ice. It was quite hard. As soon as our skates hit that awaited ice, the dj in charge told everyone to clear off for their game of turkey bowling. Clear the ice. We just got on. The woman in charge saw the looks on our faces and quietly told us that we could stay.  So, we had the entire ice rink to ourselves which, for safety reasons, was very helpful. While the dj manned the turkey bowling game, the Christmas music resumed. It was fabulous! But not exactly the gliding together I had envisioned because Mary was determined to skate without a helping hand from me. We laughed as she fell about forty times, and thankfully didn’t hit her hard little head. It was wet ice mixed with crashes and cold wind. But she loved it. She would not quit until she did a whole loop by herself. It looked like a painful disaster to me, but Mary was thrilled. And she finally did it!

Then we walked to the pizza restaurant, starving. It was full of people and the hostess greeted us with the news it was closed for a private party. What in the world?! On our night?! This was absolutely not part of the plan. Rather than head home, where my numb feet wanted to go, I drove Mary to a little place down the road that I hoped would still be open. It was empty and they told us we could sit anywhere. Mary chose the bar, the high seats, of course. She ordered sweet potato fries that came with a chocolate dipping sauce – something, Mary told me, is only at fancy restaurants. This was way better than pizza.

As the wait staff gathered around us and rolled silverware, Mary told them all about her ice skating adventure. They were thoroughly entertained by their small visitor. She told them all about her excitement for Christmas and her love for baby Jesus, a topic that was warmly welcomed out of the mouth of Mary. Wine was poured, Christmas was celebrated, more stories were told, and laughs lingered as we all embraced our unexpected, warm moment before braving the cold again. Mary did about eighty percent of the talking and beamed with glee as the center of attention. As the ice melted off my legs, I looked around at our new friends and at her windburned, laughing face with chocolate all over it…somehow the magic I was hoping for found its way to us.

I made this picture into an ornament as a gift to Mary to remember the gift of her experience.

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But really, it is a gift to me. It’s a reminder that in our failed quest for perfection, sometimes we find ourselves enveloped by a better storyline…that in the midst of unexpected cold, hard falls, closed doors, and moments we’d never put on the script, perfection makes its way to us. And that is the great joy of Christmas.

Move On

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“Are you sure Mary can wear her princess dress to school?” my husband asked before they walked out the door.

“Yes! I’m positive.” I explained how a second grader had told me all about “gold day” and how there was a concert, and the girls were supposed to wear gold princess costumes. Lucky for us, we have Belle’s beautiful gold dress in our playroom ready for such a day. Mary goes to a Christian school where the children wear uniforms, but today was different.

As he pulled up to the school for drop off, Will called me. “Are you sure? It doesn’t seem like anyone else is wearing a princess dress.”

Just to be sure, I texted the teacher. I told her that Mary had on a gold princess dress for the concert like she was supposed to, but that for PE she had on a yellow shirt and khaki skirt underneath. See, I think of everything.

As they were pulling up, she texted back.

“What concert?”

Big gulp. What in the world? I recalled my source. A precious second grader. I flipped to the newsletter and read about the day. It was not a concert, but rather a prayer gathering around the flagpole and the children were to wear the color gold to support childhood cancer. No concert. No costumes. Huge gulp.

I felt terrible. How could I have missed the details of such an important day for such a worthy cause SO badly? And, I had actually read the newsletter yesterday!

Will did what any good husband would do and called me after the awkward drop off. He was rightfully frustrated. He took this time to vent a few other things that had frustrated him lately, a few other balls I had dropped, and suggestions for how we (and he meant we) could do better. Will and I have very different personalities, which makes us work so well. He never misses a detail and I miss a lot from big picture land. In these conversations, sometimes the enemy has a way of making me think there is something wrong with me. The “I’m not good enough” lie has a way of getting through to me, of no fault at all to my gracious husband.

While we were having this challenging conversation, my one-year-old climbed on a chair and started eating the jewelry on my dresser. Gold earrings were being shoved into her mouth at warp speed. Did I feed her breakfast?  My three-year-old son was running around in his new batman cape crying because I wouldn’t let him watch the superhero show on Netflix. Not just a cry, but an all-out fit the neighbors could probably hear. I glanced at the clock, twenty minutes till we were supposed to be out the door to Bible Study, and I had not showered. No time to defend myself, I told Will I had to go.

I need a break. I need a day off. I am just not good at this. I cannot seem to get it all together. I keep forgetting things. I bet other moms don’t do this.

As I was putting on the kids’ shoes to get out the door, John cried about leaving the glow-in-the-dark spiders we had just gotten for Halloween. We had actually bought the spiders for other little kids we were “booing” in hopes of making them feel special by anonymously dropping off a pumpkin of candy with a sign. A sweet gesture, but as I looked at the spiders, I recalled a recent message relating spiders to sin. Maybe I am just spreading darkness to my kids and others with these silly candy buckets.

It’s crazy, isn’t it?! Insane!  But if you’re a mom, you’ve walked through this mommy condemnation. It comes straight from the pit. You take one wrong turn and suddenly everything you do is seen through the microscope of that cloak of shame labeled “bad mommy.” It spirals out of control so fast! As crazy and silly as these thoughts are, when you’re in them, they are real.  

Shame led to self pity as I crashed into a full mommy meltdown. You may know the kind. I texted my husband to tell him I was sorry for everything. I added, “I’m just tired of being me.” It was exactly how I felt. Maybe someone else would be better at this. Tears welled up as I looked at the clock and saw how late we were. I gave up. We won’t go to Bible study. We won’t go anywhere today. We’ll just sit here. I thought of Mary and her princess dress and how silly I made her look for such a respectable cause and I cringed.

And then, the next thought came. Maybe I should just go back to work. I was good at that. If I missed details there, it was all on me, not on my poor 5-year-old and husband. I got a paycheck, people told me I was good, and while I know God clearly called me out of that into thisthis is HARD. Maybe I should just go back to that.

And in my pity party on the floor, in the chaos of John and Anna running circles around a crying mommy holding their little shoes, I heard the Holy Spirit whisper these two powerful words: “MOVE ON.” Earlier I had read those very words in the story of the Red Sea crossing in Exodus. While I’ve read it many times, it’s as if a divine highlighter showed me those words and said, “these are for you, sister.”

And I pray that by sharing this raw moment that they might be for someone else too. They come when the Israelites are about to cross the Red Sea. We know that, but of course, they don’t. All they can see are the 600+ chariots of Egyptians coming after them.  They are terrified and cry out to God, “what have you done to us…it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert.” (Exodus 14:11-12) Oh, how I get them! Oh, how I just said “it would be better if I just went back to work.” That plan when someone else owned my time was so much easier than this crazy plan!

Moses encourages them to trust God and then God says these powerful words, “Tell the Israelites to MOVE ON.” (Exodus 14:15 NIV) The ESV version says “tell the people of Israel to GO FORWARD.” He doesn’t address their questions or complaints in that moment. He just says “MOVE ON.”

I sometimes hear and say “move on” in a condescending way, implying the things to move on from are not a big deal and should be forgotten. But I don’t believe the Lord has that tone or that this isn’t a big deal. Also, I don’t believe He is ever condescending to His people. I hear His words more as a loving and very firm command: MOVE ON.

Because in order for them to be delivered into freedom, they had to participate. He was doing the AMAZING miracle of parting the red sea and drowning their enemies, but they HAD to move forward for this to happen. They had to stop staring at the Egyptians in terror, turn the other way and take a step forward.  

Those words fell on me like a waterfall in my puddle of self pity on the floor. I can either stay here or I can follow His instructions to move on and go forward…both in my mind and my day.

By the grace of God, I got everyone’s shoes on and we made it to Bible Study. Wednesdays are some of my favorite days with my kids and it was great! I was able to hear another mom share about not feeling good enough. I was able to laugh about my morning. My kids learned about the Gospel of John and sang songs. We enjoyed a lunch outside with friends. It was a life-giving time I would have missed had I not chosen to move on. That territory was mine today, but I had to step forward into it.  

I believe I have been delivered, and that God has freed me from the bondage of sin once and for all. I believe that when I received Jesus Christ as my Savior, I was rescued from my sin, past, present and future, and that I became a new creation. Deliverance has happened in my life, praise the Lord.

But I also believe that the Lord delivers me every day. Today was a big one. The mommy condemnation is a big one. My thought process can spiral into defeat and I need deliverance. I need freedom. I need to get to other side of that sea and I need the voices that drag me into the slavery of shame again to be drowned.

I believe the key to it is in those two very powerful words tucked away in this grand story. When we are in the pit, we can stay there or we can do as God says, “MOVE ON, GO FORWARD.” He is ready to do a big work. He is ready to do the miraculous. The sea is ready, the plan is unfolding, but we have got to turn direction and take a step forward. That’s our role to play. I pray someone out there needs to hear those powerful words as much as I did today. Whatever your pit, whatever your bondage, whatever your crazy…maybe you find these two firm words spoken from the heart of a loving Father who longs to deliver you to freedom as life-giving as I do: move on.

 

The Wonder of New

This summer, our family of five embarked on a great adventure! I like to call it “camping without the tent.” It was Will’s idea to take us to the Marriott in Muscle Shoals, and we were thrilled for the kids to experience their first night in a hotel.

As we packed, I said to them, “Now, this is something very special, so I want you guys to be nice to each other and do what mommy and daddy say, okay?!”

They nodded with wide eyes.

John kept asking if they had an indoor pool in the car. We told him we would see. As our minivan pulled around the circle at the grand entrance to the Marriott, John said, “Ohhhh noooooo, mommy.”

“What baby?” I asked.

“There’s other kids here!”

When I described the hotel and showed him pictures online, he thought we’d be the only people in the whole place. Bless him!

His sadness melted away when we walked into the lobby. One look at the grand fountain in the entryway and he was squealing.

“They do have an indoor pool, mommy! They do! Put my bathing suit on!”

I had to pull his little arms out of the fountain and steer him to the elevator. He and Mary were completely enthralled with the elevator and gold luggage rack and bellman. When we opened the door to our room, Will and I were a bit surprised. We had gotten the last room in the place which, it turns out, had just one queen bed. We remarked about this to each other and Mary, who had never heard beds described in sizes, picked up on one word; “queen”.

“We get to sleep in a queen’s bed! John, we get to sleep in a queen’s bed with mommy and daddy!”

Poor baby Anna was irate not to be included in the queen’s bed. We woke up to her greeting us from her adjoining pack n play letting us know she wanted in. It was 6am. Will called down to the desk to ask what time the pool opened and the woman told us 7. Lucky for us! The pool actually opened at 8 and we were thrilled and shocked to be the only ones there. It is a huge pool with no entry, a real waterslide, bridges and fountains. We had the entire thing to ourselves, much to the surprise of everyone who got the memo it opened at 8. This was totally in line with John’s grand vision!

And then we discovered the hot tub. Mary and John had never seen one and thought it was amazing. When asked what her favorite part of the trip was, Mary said “the hot pool.”

The kids had never seen a breakfast buffet either and could not believe all of the options under those golden covers. They piled a massive amount of sugary cereals, pancakes and syrup onto their plates, and tried a few new foods too. It was like a royal feast for those of us who slept in the queen’s bed.

We have been blessed to travel to some neat places this summer, but Mary and John agreed going to the Marriott was their favorite thing. Will and I cherish the memory and hold it dear. There is nothing more precious than seeing a familiar experience made new through the eyes of child!

Lord, open our eyes to see the wonders of your world every day. Awaken us to see the blessings You give us with child-like appreciation. Captivate us with how You transform the ordinary into brand new. May we learn from our children to appreciate this amazing life, and appreciate You, our Amazing Daddy. Thanks for making us royal. Amen.

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“For an answer Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, and said, “I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God’s kingdom. What’s more, when you receive the childlike on my account, it’s the same as receiving me.”
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭18:2-5‬ ‭MSG‬‬