Tag Archives: Church family

Lights.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

–Jesus said that in Luke 4:18-19. He really did. It shocked the crap out of all the haters. Which is awesome because who doesn’t love to shock a hater?

This morning I snarfed croissants and enjoyed stimulating conversation with a friend of mine. This chica is super thoughtful and edgy and honest; she really inspired me and my brain is still churning hours later. Seriously, you can probably smell the smoke.

So here it goes:

Church.

Church and Christianity.

Church vs. Christianity.

Christians in the Church.

True faith. True love. Honest motives. Unselfish behavior.

Family. Friends. Sacrifices. Giving. Prayer.

How does it all fit together? What does it look like to really be in love with the Lord? How much of what comes out of people’s mouths is true? Why are so many “Christians” such jerks about Jesus? What’s with those people who are really “shining”–and how the hell do they do that?

Years ago I wrote a post about why church in general is awesome and why I love and need the people in it. I will not back down on the points I made.

Here’s what I am to understand:

Church is a coming together of believers, so we can spur each other on, and keep each other accountable.

And also roll up fatties of fellowship and fun.

Church is supposed to be a powerhouse, a place where we come and gather strength and encouragement and inspiration, so that we can go back out into the world proclaim good news and junk.

In theory. That’s what we’re supposed to do. And hopefully, in general, that’s what the church does do.

But I know there’s a growing number of people who are not convinced–and not impressed. They look at us “Christians” and the only things they know about us as a group are 1. That we don’t cuss or drink as much, at least not in public, 2. That we quote the Bible when it suits our purposes, and 3. We think Obama is pretty much the antichrist.

(I do not think Obama is the antichrist.)

I’ve heard people say “I love God, I love Jesus; I just hate the church. The people there are hypocrites. Church is pointless. I can watch church on TV. I can worship God on my own.”

I get it. I’ve said that myself once upon a time. And I was asked, at that time, “If you love Christ, and Christ loves the church, then how can you hate the church?”

The church was not designed to be a bunch of meanies that stand around judging everybody. The church wasn’t meant to be a place where a bunch of self-righteous rich people come to feel good about themselves once a week. It wasn’t meant to be a place where teenagers go on Wednesday night to eat pizza, listen to a rock band, and then talk about Jesus for 2 minutes in between gossip sessions.

People are not perfect. Christians are not perfect. But God’s love IS perfect.

The church is meant to be the hands and feet of Jesus here on earth. The church is meant to be good news to the poor.

We can’t do that if we’re focused solely on ourselves 95% of the time.

And I certainly need the accountability that being actively involved with a group of fellow believers brings. I need the encouragement. I need the wisdom and advice of those who are strong in the faith and more knowledgeable than me about the teachings of the Bible.

And the church needs me. It needs me to be part of “the team”. The “team” has goals: Love others. Bring the good news. Be lights in a dark place.

I can’t bring sight to the blind or freedom to the oppressed all by myself.

I can’t even make a dent.

It’s soooo not about not drinking or cussing or bible-thumping, or even Obama.

Guys–if you love Jesus, then the church is a team you want to be a part of. You gotta get in on this. It needs you and all your spunk and talents and hopes and dreams and even your heartaches and disappointments. If you think the team sucks, well by all means, please–come help make it better.

Humanity is one hot mess. We’re warm-blooded, quick-tempered, impulsive, emotional drama-queens who strive painfully for perfection but time and time again we fail epically. But Jesus loves us, and He loves His church.

And sometimes we do get it right.

It’s about reaching out, and helping people. Feeding the hungry. Clothing the naked. Taking care of the orphan and the widow. Loving the unlovable.

Even more than all that, it’s about being human and banding together to help accomplish the task of spreading hope. And I can think of no greater hope than Jesus.


word on the street

Here was soccer practice last night: my team was running around like lunatics while they waited for their turn to shine under the bright team-portrait lights. I stood idly by watching the madness, and I guess I just look like the kind of girl to chit-chat with, and you know, share a life story–complete with political views and spiritual struggles–with.

People talk to me. Well, I talk to people. Well, actually I more or less run my mouth until I look like a total jackass, and then people feel comfortable talking to me since they figure they can’t possibly look any stupider than I just did.

It’s a gift.

Really.

I enjoy talking to people when I’m not totally wigging out (’cause I got the anxiety!) As I listened to some of these ladies talk, I realize that every person has so much baggage. We all struggle and strain and fight the work that God wants to do in our lives. Sometimes, if we’re particularly feisty by nature, we create our very own custom-made hell-on-earth.

It’s not just me.

The thought is both relieving and sad.

I’ve been there. I’ve been too tired to go to church. I’ve been so lonely I could just die. I’ve had the knock-down drag-out fights with my husband and I’ve screamed at my kids for a week straight.

I’ve also drank myself into a stupor every day by 3:00 in the afternoon for a good solid 3 years. I’ve cried in my closet partly because I was ashamed of being drunk and partly because I was too drunk to do anything else. I’ve given precious pieces of my heart and body to people who didn’t love or respect me. I’ve brought down mad dishonor on my parents. I emotionally neglected my daughter and I flat-out ignored God, saying things like “I’m just not into Jesus right now.”

But the whole time, Jesus? Was very much into Toni McClung. And He pursued me super-duper hardcore and He fought for me and when I was at my rockest bottom, He walked right in, paid the price for everything that I had done, and everything that I would do and everything that I haven’t even done yet. He redeemed me.

Say that with me: redeem.

I am worth something to Him. I don’t deserve it, I don’t fully understand it, but He calls me His own. He calls me Daughter.

I see these people, these moms and dads and these children out there on the soccer field and they talk to me and my heart hurts for them. It literally hurts, and I could cry over their pain. I know.

I know loneliness and fear and panic and anxiety and desperation and hunger and sadness and despair and depression and anger and rage and hurt and pain and loss. I know the frustration and the impatience and the feeling of being overwhelmed and powerless, and I have had the shakes for something that never fixed anything–only made it all worse, worse than I could ever imagine. Sometimes I still get the shakes, actually.

I always had trouble understanding that church term: my chains are gone. I used to think: “Chains? Really? My life is good. Really good.” (a Nacho Libre quote for the win!)

But I get it now. My alcoholism, my laziness, my pride, my sins: it was absolute slavery. Jesus wanted me to be free. And though those very human feelings still come up and temptations still rear their ugly heads, they don’t own me and they don’t define me, because He calls me Daughter.

It’s not about church or church activities or church people or the church building. It’s not about things I do or do not do or about acting right and avoiding wrong. It’s about loving Jesus with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength because He first loved me; He died for me and for all people.

And that’s…awesome. Awesome is what it is.


We’re In It Now

I’m doing some deep breathing today as my insides have a hissy fit (thank you, parents of the 2 and 3 year-old children of our church–turns out that stomach bug you casually mentioned when you dropped your kids off with me this past week was a lot worse than you made it sound. I’m just kidding–I love your kids. Actually I’m not kidding, but I do love your kids, and my guts are exploding and I blame you.)

Also I am deep breathing because my husband and I–wait for it–are taking steps that will probably put us in Oklahoma until we die–God willing–in our sleep, of old age.

When we moved here from Pensacola in December of 2004, Caleb and I both fully expected to be back home in Florida within 2 years. It was winter; Oklahoma was flat, and brown, and depressing. Mia didn’t even have teeth yet. We bought a house that we could sell in a heartbeat for a profit, in a growing town with good schools. It wasn’t where we thought we would be 8 and a half years later–in more ways than one.

Life 14 hours away from mom and dad was really horrible. Our first years as a married couple were rough. Being parents to 3 kids was (and still is) hard. Facing issues like alcoholism, depression, and anxiety was all but impossible–and truth be told, Caleb and I would be divorced today if we’d never left Florida. Divorced, I tell you. And probably drunk.

We found our way to a church. Actually, God pinched our heads like Wii Miis and plunked us in a church. He gave us a good hard swift kick in the pants. He spoke to us and directed us and corrected us and loved us.

Here is where Caleb and I finally grew up. Here is where we found our way. Here is where we’ve built our lives, where we’re raising our children, and where we lost our babies. Here is where we’ve had our knock-down drag-out fights, cried our hardest tears, and been the happiest we’ve ever been, ever.

Oklahoma has charmed us. The people here are more genuinely friendly than anywhere else in the entire country. And, my gosh: the sky–the sunrises and the sunsets; the clouds before a big storm; the rolling fields, the country roads…we have fallen in love with this state.

For the first time in my life, I know what it feels like to have roots in a place. And though we do miss our parents and our brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews, we have family here.

And this is home.

field

This is just some random beautiful field in Oklahoma.


My Dog and Art Students and A Visitor

Today Merrick stood at the back door yelling out Darcy’s name about 3 times before he realized she wasn’t out there. When it him, his shoulders slumped and his eyes filled with tears, and we’re going on day 3, folks.

We had to put sweet Darcy down. In the 5 days it took for the vet to get back to us with her initial test results, Darcy went from a vague health issue, to complete and total shutdown mode. Her lymph nodes were rock-hard and ridiculously swollen. Poor little thing couldn’t bark, couldn’t eat, couldn’t go to the bathroom. She didn’t feel like moving much and it was getting tougher and tougher for her to breathe. Her cancer just ate her up. I was doubtful that she’d make it through the weekend. So we took pictures:

Our best friend.

Our best friend.

The sweetest dog in the world.

The sweetest dog in the world.

Our family dog.

Part of our family.

So fluffy and beautiful! So loving and wise!

So fluffy and beautiful! So loving and wise!

Definitive proof that Noah came from outer space.

Also, definitive proof that Noah is a freaking alien.

And we said our good-byes.

Darcy, in happier, healthier times--in front of the house that didn't exist yet.

Darcy, in happier, healthier times–in front of the house that didn’t exist yet.

Wednesday night was hellacious. Merrick was beside himself: “I can’t sleep when Darcy’s not alive!” This morning he insisted on paying tribute to Darcy, in the form of vocalized song. “Okay,” I said. “What song shall we sing?” thinking he’d choose something amazing, like Kenny Loggin’s “Meet Me Halfway”, his current favorite.

Instead we sang 50 choruses of “You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful” to our dead dog.

It was less than epic.

Other than us adjusting to life without Darcy, things around here are good. Caleb and Mia are at camp. Cheyenne is still in Maryland. And I am giving art lessons like a fiend:

This little thunderbolt forced me to learn how to draw sharks.

This little thunderbolt forced me to learn how to draw sharks.

IMG_1387 These cousins were dead set on trees and sunsets.

And I’m having a blast. I hope the kids are, too. My Thursday girls went home and put on an impromptu painting party of their own:

Behold these gems: the kids in my town are going to put me out of business.

Just look at these gems. The kids in my town are going to put me out of business.

I love it. This was my wildest dream: kids spreading art around. They did it! It happened! It worked!

Shut up.

Nobody will ever know how much these children bless me.

And speaking of being blessed, I had the privilege of spending time with a beautiful young woman who came to stay with me yesterday. This girl had a sparkle in her eye and a permanent smile on her face, even though this year has been so tough for her. We talked about loneliness and making mistakes and helping others and loving God. Her take on these things brought tears to my eyes; I tried to come up with advice but everything I said felt miserably short of anything remotely wise. I searched for words of encouragement, but my mind mostly drew blanks. I had paid my dues in high school, but maybe I was just too old and too far removed from the life of a modern teenage girl to be able to relate much.

Last night, I read this in Angie Smith’s I Will Carry You:

“We aren’t going to feel whole in this life, and we will long for something we don’t have. Something that will fill the nagging void that intermittently stings and knocks us to our knees. And all the while, Satan taunts us, telling us our faith is small. To hurt so deeply is a sign that we live in a fallen world, not that we serve a small God.”

…and I almost leaped out of bed at 11:30 p.m. to share it with her. But I didn’t because I am restrained like that, so I’m sharing it now.

I’m still reading books about miscarriage and death. That’s my pain right now. I am so, so lonely for my baby and it still hurts. I have so many questions. I doubt myself. But I do serve a God who is big and in charge; I’ve got to remember to turn to Him in my loneliness.

We might think we’re oddly matched up with random people for no apparent reason, but there’s always a purpose. This sweet girl did much for me yesterday, and I hope that she realizes how special she is and how much God loves her.


Fun with Salvation.

Day…11?…without Cheyenne. She’s not at a sleepover. She’s not at a band function and I’m not going to pick her up in a couple hours. She’s actually gone. And I miss her. I miss having my buddy. I miss our jokes. Not everyone gets my jokes–especially not Caleb or the under-9 crowd that lives in my house. Things are weird around here. July 27th is an unfathomably long way off.

On a happy note, Mia got saved. My Catholic peeps might boo-hiss at that word, but all it means is that what Jesus did for us finally sunk in; she’s at an age where it’s all starting to make sense, and for the first time, it hit her right smack in the guts. She wants to give her heart to God. I have no doubt that He speaks to people of all ages, and it’s a wonderful thing being able to slow down long enough to listen–and grasp what’s being heard–at 8 years old.

(*Please know that in the following paragraphs, I am mainly addressing the concept of salvation alone–I know there’s a difference between becoming  a Christian and being a Christian, but I feel the need to write mostly about this particular part for right now.*)

When I was 14 I met some friends that asked me if I was saved. I had no freaking clue what “saved” meant, so they explained:

Them: “Do you believe that everyone is a sinner including you?”

Me: “Uh, yeah.”

Them: “Do you believe that Jesus is the son of God and that He died for your sins?”

Me: “Duh.”

Them: “Will you pray a prayer with me right now and ask Jesus to come into your heart and change your life (right before we go smoke pot behind the gym)?”

Me: “I find that highly unneccessary. I’ve only been praying to Jesus and thanking him for all kinds of crap, for 14 years–that’s like, my whole life.”

Them: “Then have you followed the Lord in Believer’s baptism?”

Me: “WTF does that even mean? I’ve been baptized–twice. I know you think I’m a clueless Catholic, but I think I got this, thankyouverymuch.”

It almost seemed to me that everyone who claimed to be Christians were some of the meanest, snidest, greediest, sinningest people I’d ever met.

inigo montoya inigomontoya

We’re sinners and Jesus died for us because God loves us. Isn’t that what we’re all taught in church before we’re old enough to walk? Wasn’t that the general message of any church? I knew the facts; I read them in the bible, I heard them in Sunday school, and I could tell strangers if they asked me. I had it all down pat on an intellectual level. I’d get sentimental about Jesus on the occasional Sunday during mass, and once for several months after a church retreat to Assissi, Italy, where I became fascinated with the life and times of St. Francis.

I thought about the concept of salvation more and more as the years went on. I tried to listen harder during mass to see if I was missing anything. I participated in the Sacrament of Confirmation–which is basically the Catholic Church equivalent of saying “Alright you’ve been learning this stuff for years–are you in or out?” Of course I was in. I didn’t want to be out. My parents would kill me.

I continued to pray. I had conversations with all kinds of people. It seemed like my head just stayed filled with thoughts of Jesus and sin and forgiveness and love.

And then one night, it all went from my head to my heart. I was overcome with guilt and sorrow over my sins. And I wanted more than anything to truly belong to the kingdom of God, and to make Jesus the single more important thing in my life–or as Mia puts it, “the boss of my life”.

If you’re interested in the cut-and-dry Protestant version of salvation according to the Holy Bible, here it is:

  1. Every human is a sinner. Romans 3:23 says “All have sinned and are not good enough to share God’s divine greatness.”
  2. God’s penalty for sin is death. Romans 6:23: “When people sin, they earn what sin pays—death. But God gives his people a free gift—eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
  3. In His great love, God has made provision for the salvation of sinners. Romans 5:8: “But Christ died for us while we were still sinners, and by this God showed how much he loves us.”
  4. Each person must put his trust in God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Romans 10:9-13 says “If you openly say, “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised him from death, you will be saved. Yes, we believe in Jesus deep in our hearts, and so we are made right with God. And we openly say that we believe in him, and so we are saved. Yes, the Scriptures say, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disappointed.” It says this because there is no difference between those who are Jews and those who are not. The same Lord is the Lord of all people. And he richly blesses everyone who looks to him for help. Yes, “everyone who trusts in the Lord will be saved.”

It’s more complicated than that, but it isn’t. We’re all guilty. We all sin. No one is exempt from this. Our sin demands payment–we deserve death. I got stuck on this the most: “Eternity in hell? Surely I’m not that bad, am I?” Truth is that yes I am. There’s good in everyone, yes. But there’s also bad: we are greedy, quick-tempered, spiteful, judgemental. The list goes on. I fight these things on a daily basis and I always will because I’m human and I’m just not holy by nature.

That badness in our hearts separates us from God. But God, being our loving creator and father, gives us an undeserved gift: He sent His perfect son Jesus, who never sinned, to pay for our sins–He lay down his life willingly–to die in our place on the cross. We cannot earn this gift and we can never repay it. No catch–this salvation is free stuff.

And here’s the actual dirt: There’s nothing textbook about salvation.

“Getting saved” is not so much an ultimate moment in time that caps off a several-year period of learning. “Getting saved” is hopefully not the greatest spiritual experience you will ever have. “Getting saved” is only the beginning of a looonnnng, and probably bumpy, journey–with God as your guide.

Being “saved” is personal. Being “saved” doesn’t make you better than everybody. It doesn’t make you perfect and it doesn’t automatically make you even “good”. But following Jesus Christ, and knowing that your soul belongs to God forever, should fill you with a peace and a love that just cannot be known outside of Him.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. We don’t stop at salvation. We can begin to develop a deep relationship with God which involves so much more than reading a couple key verses out of Romans. This relationship is knowledge. It’s a feeling. It’s action. It’s unconditional love. It’s time spent. It’s physical and mental energy. It’s our purpose and our focus.

We live in human bodies that get tired and cranky and hungry and scared; we live on earth, a place that is often times hard and mean and unfair. The road is rough. There’s so much work to do and we can’t just sit at home and fluff our pillows and send our kids to college so that they, too, can afford to sit at home and fluff their pillows.

Our paths are all unique, and we can’t compare ourselves to others–but what we can compare ourselves to is the person God wants us to be, and God? Is unconcerned with wealth and success and wordly wisdom. Christians are called not only to love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength; we are called to be lights in this dark, broken world–to be the hands and feet of Jesus, who was loving, and compassionate, and giving, and merciful; who came to serve and not to be served.

My hope for my children, and my friends, and my whole family, (and for anyone reading this!) is for each person to come to know and love Jesus; to reconcile themselves with God and to make Him the center of their lives; and to reach their full potential as one of His children. Mia’s simple prayer last night was one of the sweetest things I’ll ever hear. That prayer was the start of something crazy awesome and I just know she will do amazing things for God.


Being Not Afraid

I was 15 when I had Cheyenne. Mind blowing, is it not? Because two years before that, I had just stopped playing with Barbie dolls. (Whatever, ok? It wasn’t so much the dolls as it was building houses for them out of tall picture books and arranging their furniture just so.)

At that age, my narrow mind could not comprehend the possibility of a future that didn’t involve crazy amounts of shame and suffering. I didn’t need anyone to make me feel bad about my situation; I branded myself with a big fat scarlet letter.

Being well on the other side of what I thought was the end of my life, it would be so neat to have the opportunity to reassure my teenage self that life would eventually turn out okay. Not picture-perfect all the time, but okay–good, even. I would say things like:

  • This baby that you’re having? She’s going to be smarter than the smartest person you’ve ever met in your whole life. Freaking valedictorian material. And you’ll burst into tears at the thought of sending her off to college. And she’ll be witty and hilarious and beautiful and you will love her to death even when she’s bucking the rules with all she’s got. She will be your absolute heart.
  • Also: you’ll have some more kids. This is an insane thought what with your current lack of patience and common sense but bear with me: A little girl with giant chocolate-chip eyes, and freckles sprinkled across her nose. Super-athletic with your strong legs. Little softball player, this one. And sweet and sensitive and gentle; ridiculously kind and caring. She loves some stupid British boy-band and she wants a guinea pig with every ounce of her being, but you won’t let her have one. She’s doing extra chores to prove she’s responsible enough.
  • But you’re not budging.
  • Remember that.
  • A little boy who looks just. like. you. and who loves to be outside, riding bikes and hiking and playing ball and mowing the lawn and getting into the mud and finding bugs and frogs. He lives to make you laugh and he’s mischievous and playful. His blue eyes stare right into your very soul. He’s so loveable you could just die.
  • Your husband is top-notch. Best there ever was. When you meet him–and you haven’t yet–you need not look any further. But you’ll know that immediately, and you won’t.
  • You live in Oklahoma of all places, and the decision to move there was voluntary. Contrary to what you think now, it’s not some barren, desolate, tornado-ridden wasteland…although sometimes your yard does look like a cross between Afghanistan and the surface of the moon. You have not seen one twister. You’re even thinking about raising chickens.
  • You have friends there that would cut off their arms for you if you needed one.
  • Go ahead and forget that dream of being some sort of underwater geologist. Face it: the only reason you really want to do that is so you can drive a bubble car around the ocean. Instead, you should paint more. Like, a lot more. Because you love it and you’ve got good ideas.
  • Be nice to your parents and your sisters. They’re going to help you in more ways then you’ll be able to count, and they’ll love you, as they do now, more than you’ll ever know.
  • This is not the only hard thing you’ll ever go through. In fact, in comparison to the rest of your life, this whole time will seem like cake-walk. But I guarantee you’ll get through it. It’s alright to scream and cry. I suggest prayer–and lots of it.
  • It’ll be okay.
  • Really.
  • Promise.

Now. If only I had 50-year-old Toni to pay me a reassuring visit, I’d be all set.

Today before Sunday school, we teachers talked about this morning’s lesson: Those gosh-darn walls of Jericho. What even is that all about? There’s this city, surrounded by strong brick walls, and God’s people are supposed to take it. God gives them these crazy directions like “walk once around the city every day for 6 days. And then on the 7th day, walk around the city 7 times. And then blow your trumpets and make a junkton of noise. It’ll be so great; I promise.”

I’ve always looked at this story as cute; a fun lesson to teach, perfect for 2 and 3 year-olds: they can build block towers and knock them down like miniature bosses. They can for darn sure make a lot of noise. Not a whole lot of takeaway on my end, unless you maybe count a growing desire to take trumpet lessons as a takeaway.

Our children’s ministry leader said that maybe the Israelites must have been all: “This is some bull. Why are we doing this? It’s the sixth day already and still–nothing. Pointless. My feet hurt. The city is ginormous. Walking is getting us nowhere. God, give us something here. This is hard and ridiculous.”

The funny thing is that my class takes this story to heart. They find no flaws in God’s directions. I have a feeling these kids would put me and the Israelites to shame: “God says seven times? Well then, by cracky, we march 7 times!” No questions asked.

I am of course going to relate this story now to just listening to God through life’s struggles. I find myself asking “What’s the point, God?” so many times, especially over the last few weeks. It may be a while before I see reasons or results, but the best plan is always trusting in God’s plan.

Oh man, that I would have these kind of guts. Everything in me wants to take all matters into my own hands. That something can only be okay after I understand it fully. God is a light in a long dark tunnel, but it’s still a long dark tunnel. And it’s not so easy to have the courage and obedience of Joshua. And some days I’m lacking in the endurance department, and I’m tired of walking. And I want an explanation, or a time frame…or both.

And I have to pray that God gives me the heart of a child so that I can have  unwavering faith and total dependence on Him that I need to get through some of the hard parts–so that when they’re over, God can receive the credit He deserves. There is so much I cannot do by myself.

What I can do is believe what God promises. And God promises that even though there’s no future me to visit present-day me, things will be okay.

isaiah


Overwhelmed.

I’m having a little trouble processing–not only what happened at the hospital today–but the sheer uplifting kindness we have received from people who we now consider to be straight-up family. I’m going to brag on my church peeps right now: Caleb can send a simple 2-worded text to a single person, and within 60 seconds, our immediate needs are met by about 25 people, right along with 100 other needs we didn’t even know we had.

No words of gratitude can express how we feel:

  • for the e-mails, texts, messages, phone calls, visits, and prayers.
  • for the cookies (oh the glorious cookies!) and the Shari’s Berries (oh the glorious Shari’s Berries!) and the Easter dinner and the lasagna and Texas Toast and pie and Cafe’ Du Monde Coffee.
  • for the books, music, jewelry, flowers…and picture text of a grown man (who shall remain anonymous) hamming it up in some poor little kid’s ex-pajamas.
  • Wow.
  • I needed that laugh like you wouldn’t believe.
  • for the offers of meals, of babysitting, of kid picking-up/dropping-off; for the offers to clean our house (you know not what you say), to take us out to breakfast/lunch/dinner/coffee/shopping/walking/ridiculous you people, just ridiculous.
  • And perhaps most touchingly of all, for the offer of a dear, dear friend to come out and plant something for me–flowers, a tree–whatever I’d like–in my yard. This beautiful wonderful woman can at times barely walk without assistance. I would be so lucky if I ever learned a smidge of anything at all from her.

I’ve left out about 3 million people who God has surely used to help heal our broken hearts, mainly because it’s 10:00 p.m. and I’m highly doped up.

But I thank you all, so so much.

I will spare the long dramatic version of today and instead tell you what I know. Our baby died at 13 weeks. We found out last Thursday. We scheduled a D&C so that my body wouldn’t go all chainsaw-massacre at home in front of my kids. It’s supposed to be a simple procedure and we expected to be in and out of there before 10 a.m., settling into our weekend early with a day or two of little-to-no light spotting.

Call me Bad Luck Brian.

Or we could legitimately go with "Tough Sh#! Toni". Clearly. Word to your mother.

Or we could clearly go with “Tough Sh#! Toni”. Clearly. Word to your mother.

We came. We saw. We got IV’d. And truthfully I spent the next 8 hours sleeping and/or feeling sloppy drunk (and loving it). Caleb? Not so much.

According to my poor traumatized husband, I bled, and bled and bled. And then I bled some more. And I had a fever. And this was apparently cause for great concern. And I didn’t even realize that something might be wrong until a wicked nurse came in and shot me square in the thigh with a needle the size of friggin’ Saskatchewan, which I did not like one single bit.

And I got admitted to the hospital for real, and I got a bigger room with a comfy bed, and a cable tv which was not too shabby for Toni.

And then I dreamed that a bunch of old men in clackety shoes were praying for me–loudly, and all at the same time. And then my husband left my side for a minute to go find food for the first time since yesterday afternoon. And I made one loopy phone call to my mom to tell her everything went fine.

And then suddenly, everything was fine.

And I got home at 5:30, took some drugs, and ate some cookies.

And that is my version of how it went.

But you guys: my husband is shell-shocked, bless his heart. His eyes tonight looked so tired that I wanted him to lay down and go to sleep, so I could just rescue him by handling everything else. I still don’t know all the details and that’s probably for the best. But the most important thing I know is this: we were so loved, and cared for, and watched over.

People ask me how I can be so calm; they are saying things like “I would lose it, I would fall apart; I hate that you are going through this, it must be awful”. And yeah–it’s awful. All I can say is that when you are walking with God, you don’t have to wait for the light at the end of the tunnel to appear. God is your light, all the way through the longest and darkest of tunnels. This has never been truer for me and I hope for my husband and children as well.

Please continue to pray for us as we rest up this weekend. Though I am feeling super-awesome physically in comparison to the last week, I now know better than to assume there’s nothing else that could possibly come up. Plus, it might just be time to consider that certain body parts are on the fritz; Well done, good and faithful uterus! You have served me well:

Yay.

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Emotional Ramble About Hard Stuff.

Last night I had a nightmare that Beautiful Mom came and took my baby. Just walked right into my hospital room, and whisked that little one from my arms.

Beautiful mom is taller than me. She is prettier than me. She is skinnier than me. Beautiful mom has long straight silky hair instead of the rat’s nest that lies on my head. Her hands are soft and she does not bite her nails. Beautiful mom went to college for 100 years and she’s a doctor with a side degree in business, and a booming career in modeling for toothpaste commercials. Beautiful mom never loses her temper, never burns dinner, and never forgets a load of towels in the washing machine for 3 days.

Okay, 4 days.

I know it was just a dream, but I woke up with slight feelings of guilt and inadequacy. Did I do something wrong? It’s hard to get past this; especially after I read things like “with late miscarriage, the health of the mother is most often to blame,” in popular pregnancy books. What–did I not eat enough broccoli?

I quickly talked myself down from that cliff. I trust God; and for reasons that I might never understand while I live on this earth, He called our baby up. He or she will only know happiness and joy, forever. He or she will never ever suffer, not even a little bit. I’m glad for our sweet baby, who is safe in heaven with my grandparents and my dog. (Say what you will about pets not having souls–I will call you a bold-face liar. And then I’ll probably punch you in the face.)

I am honestly okay. I am sad, and I am hurting, but I have a great peace about this whole thing–more peace than can possibly be natural during a time like this. I can only attribute that to the prayers that have been sent our way. I truly believe that God knew best in this situation. He takes what was meant for bad and uses it for God. He keeps His promises.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

–2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Months ago when I said that God was on-board with making our family more awesome: He has done that. We have pulled together and leaned on each other over the past week; we’ve talked about the hard things and we’ve laughed over the little things and I have treasured every minute of it.

Months ago when I said I would be content no matter my circumstances: I am content. I trust God. This doesn’t mean I am not sad or that this doesn’t hurt–because it does hurt, more than anything. But we have not been wronged or cheated; our lives are far from wrecked.

Months ago when I said God performed a miracle by giving us a heartbeat on a day when I had nothing but my small prayer to believe in: that miracle has not been taken away. It happened. We promised God we would be grateful and we would love the life He had trusted us with–even if we only got to keep it for another week, or several more months, or many, many years. We are grateful because it was a life and it was beautiful, and it changed us.

Our faith has grown even in this short period of time. My relationship with my husband has strengthened. We have gotten closer to our church family. I’ve been able to have meaningful conversations with Mia about Jesus and trust and salvation–all subjects that may have taken years to bubble up inside her questioning young mind.

God is fair. Even last Thursday, that terrible day, God was taking care of us: Caleb wasn’t supposed to be in town–he decided not to leave. He wasn’t supposed to accompany me to what I felt was a bullshit appointment–but he decided to come anyway. We were going to take separate cars, but at the last minute we felt like riding together. We almost refused the ultrasound because we felt it was unneccessary and expensive; the doctor’s staff talked us into it. And together we learned of our baby’s passing, by the gentle explanation of a kind doctor in the quiet darkness of a private room–and not through a traumatic bloody midnight visit to the ER.

Maybe there was something wrong. Maybe our baby was terribly sick. Maybe our baby wouldn’t have made it to September. Maybe this pregnancy was meant to teach us a valuable lesson. Maybe this experience was meant to push us in another direction.

We just do not know yet.

I’ve been reading a wonderful book called “Kisses From Katie”, by Katie Davis. It’s about a teenager that moved to Africa and ended up adopting 13 kids and staying there forever. One particular quote stands out to me and I have to share it, because it fits so perfectly not just with what I’m going through but with everyday things:

“I believe that God totally, absolutely, intentionally gives us more than we can handle. Because this is when we surrender to Him and He takes over, proving Himself by doing the impossible in our lives.”

I have never, never thought about that before, but it makes so much sense. This suck-fest that is late miscarriage is most certainly not in my power to endure, at least not with any amount of calmness. God is giving me more than I can handle, way more. But He’s also provided me with about a hundred people who have enough wisdom and enough love to see our family through it. I have to choose to thank Him for what He is doing in our lives–because I know without a doubt that our future holds something more wonderful than I could plan or imagine.


The worst day.

Yesterday was not real. I never actually woke up, in a great mood, feeling frisky and looking fly. I did not go to the doctor on a sunny morning with a skip in my step and a song in my heart.

I am so tired but my heart is screaming and I feel like I am walking around in a dream. Today I hear thunder, loud and rumbling and it is going to rain so hard.

Our baby died.

At 13 weeks–one week ago today. The odds of a 2nd trimester miscarriage are slim to none.

I had only gone to this high-risk pregnancy doctor just as a precaution, because of silly things like craniosynostosis, and this was just a getting-to-know-you visit. But within 20 minutes I wanted to shout at him, I wanted to plead with him to check the ultrasound just one more time: “Are you sure? Positive? You do know we are here for just a check-up right? If my baby has ‘passed away’, as you call it, then how come I can see its head? Its little belly, little legs and arms…how come I can count its ribs?

“If my baby died, then how come I don’t feel awful and crampy and bleedy? How come I am still fat and sassy, pregnant 14 weeks tomorrow? Don’t you know that I just heard its heartbeat last week at my regular doctor’s appointment? Don’t you know that I talk to this baby everyday all day, and I take my prenatal vitamins every night? I pray, and I thank God. And we were supposedly ‘out of the woods’ at this point. How did this happen? How can you tell for sure?”

I wasn’t angry, with him or with anybody.

But I am shocked.

I don’t know why it happened so far along, I don’t know how. I just want one more picture.

I can’t tell you how thankful we are for our family and friends right now. I could say words like supportive and sympathetic, helpful or kind, but words can’t describe how cared for we are by our church family. Well, maybe a few words: bear hugs and tears from the biggest and strongest of grown men. Choked-up condolences from my sweet, sweet friends. A small group of beautiful 3rd-grade girls surrounding and praying for my 8-year-old daughter as she cried. The same people who held their breaths as we went through that first trying month of pregnancy, the same people who celebrated our good news–those same people were truly grieving right long with us last night.

I’ve never felt more loved yet broken at the same time. Last night was some serious church.

I’m thankful for the comfort that they gave us; I wish there really were a bible verse or a hug that would take it all away and make it even a little easier.

But it’s just not.

Not at bedtime, when I go back and forth, from child to child, cradling them and soothing them and praying with them as they cry themselves to sleep.

Not when I wake up in the morning and put on maternity pants, and stare at a pile of donated baby toys.

Not when I see my husband cry and make a fist at the steering wheel in the car.

You guys this is so hard and horrible. I know people go through worse things and I know there are starving children and people who need Jesus’s love and life goes on and there’s work to do.

Time has just stopped at my house.

But I know it will get better.

Caleb, in an attempt to speak words of wisdom to Mia this morning, quoted one of my favorite poems–the one about footprints in the sand. During times of troubles, our Father carries us. And so I think of Him, and I think of how much no parent likes to see their children hurting. We just want to scoop them up and carry them and dry their tears and make everything better. Their pain is our pain. And for God, nothing could be more true–He knows what it’s like to lose a child.

Because Jesus was His baby.

His precious, precious son; and God had to watch Him suffer, and He did that because of me and for all of us.

And I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is cradling our baby right now, and that one day we will get to scoop up all our children and kiss their faces.

Caleb and I just want to thank everyone for…everything. It means so much to have your love and support and that we’re not alone. And we’ll be okay.


Have You Asked Jesus To Wreck Your Life?

Friends, correct me if I’m wrong: when Jesus has really, truly come into your life, is it not like someone is stabbing you repeatedly in the heart? Like there’s a giant sharp knife caught right in your chest? And you can’t pull it out, and occasionally the knife twists deeper–sometimes a little, sometimes a lot?

Some things just aren’t funny anymore. Some people just aren’t as cool as you once thought they were. Some foods don’t taste quite as good. Some songs don’t speak to you like they used to.

Sad things are sadder and you’re a lot more sensitive than you used to be.

Taking it further, you don’t have to have that expensive pair of shoes. You don’t need to see that movie on opening night. You don’t care what kind of car you drive, so long as it gets you from place to place in a reasonably reliable way.

It doesn’t matter to you when your highlights are more than 3 months old. Wal-Mart make-up is a-okay. You clean up for church but you still feel slightly grubby (in your last-season-everythings) compared to everyone else, and it doesn’t bother you as much as it once did. You’re just glad to be forgiven and free, and you love being with your new family in Christ.

But it gets worse.

Your eyes start opening up. For me, it was like God was having to pry them open a little at a time, because I was so afraid of what I might see. And then when your eyes do open up, you throw your hands over them because you are scared to death of change–or worse, a call to action.

For a while, you pretend that just about everything Jesus says in the Bible only applies to other people–nuns or missionaries or college students with dreadlocks. That your calling is to live a Godly life (see also: less cussing) right inside your cozy bubble with a select group of friends and family members.

You read the Bible and almost nothing in your world sits right anymore. Not the amount of money you spend on food, clothing, and entertainment. Not the amount of time you spend at the ballpark, or jacking around on websites like Pinterest and Polyvore. So-called “normal, everyday stuff” (see also: typical day-to-day life in the U.S.A.) seems like a waste of time.

A giant, soul-sucking, waste of time.

And then someone tells you that those new shoes? Worth more than a year’s worth of schooling for a half-dozen girls in Uganda. The impact an education would have on the lives of these sweet children who God loves? Would last a helluva lot longer than the crappy new shoes.

And you will never buy shoes again.

Well, not any pair that costs more than $10.

(I will not even discuss the guilt-fest that my long-time dream of granite counter-tops has induced.)

You read the Bible and you get a cold feeling in your guts because “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God,” according to Mark 10:25, and? Newsflash: we are so rich, it’s ridiculous.

The world will tell you to chill out. The world will tell you that you’re more than good enough already, and that you’re taking this faith thing too far, and that you’ve been riding the Jesus train a little too long. The world might even get pissed when you don’t agree–and this world includes Christians and non-Christians alike.

You read the Bible and everything convicts you. Occasional emotional outbursts and temper-tantrums, overly self-indulgent shopping trips, big fat meals every night, little white lies everyday–all things that your mom or your best friends would excuse, all the things that society encourages–become to you what they really are in God’s eyes: sin. Sin, sin, sin.

Then God tells you to deal with this sin. He tells you to own up to it, ask forgiveness, and repent of it–which means you have to stop it, which means you have to stop other things that lead to it. Some of it is easy. And some of it is really difficult and you are forced to stop being proud and self-reliant. And you beg tearfully for God’s help.

Some days your heart is absolutely soaring on a Jesus high. And on those same days, you will have an anxiety attack from hell and you’ll want a drink so bad, and you can remember the smell, and the taste, and the feel of beer in your mouth. You will long for the buzz and the numbness it brings. You’ll cry because you know it is no good for you or for the people around you; and you’ll actually be so bold as to be mad at God for showing you the light.

Sometimes you will consumed with a sense of urgency, all kinds of on fire to tell your old friends or family about Jesus and how He works in your life these days. And when you do actually have time to talk with them, you chicken out and say a cussword or two just so they won’t think you’re one of those Crazy Christians.

Sometimes you will be overwhelmed with the desire to help the poor. And later on that afternoon, you will physically recoil at the sight of a homeless man on the street. You’ll purposefully retreat to your area of serenity, be it your room, or your house, neighborhood, or in my case–your entire town. But you’ll know it’s wrong, and that there’s still work to be done and there’s still people left to love.

And you will once again ask God for forgiveness, and direction, and courage.

And He actually gives it to you.

Along with patience. And hope. And joy. And love. More than you could dream of containing all at once in your own little human body.

And people who used to make you angry? They don’t make you so angry anymore.

And people who you used to avoid? You seek them out–and you find them.

And people who you never thought would want to talk about God with you? They bring up the Bible on their own.

And a wiser, older man calls you one day out of the blue to tell you a story that brings tears to your eyes and renews your hope and purpose.

And you attend a conference or you hear a radio sermon that tells you you’re not alone in your thinking.

Happy things are happier. Forgiveness is greater and love is deeper. Little blessing are huge deals. Everything has meaning and everyone has purpose. Life isn’t as terrible as you thought it was, and dying isn’t a scary thought anymore. The shedding of this earthly body, with all its shortcomings and mistakes; the leaving behind of this world, with all its pain and drama and uncertainty; and the being united with our loving Father in Heaven–that is how you view death now, and that is why it is exciting.

But during our time here, however long or short it may be, we are called to love God’s people; and since He created you and me and all the bazillion members of Earth’s population and He knows each hair on each person’s little head, I can only assume we are not to hold back with anyone. We’re not necessarily meant to be well-liked and popular in this world. We might not be meant to be comfortable and safe here. We’re definitely not meant to stay here at all.

I am so, so, glad–that no matter what happens to me here–Jesus has overcome this world. In this place I will struggle and my heart will break, and I will get so many things wrong. Oh, but because of Easter…the cross, the resurrection…we will see Him again.

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” –John 16:33


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