10 years, Baby! and a whole lot of whittling…

My six-year-old talks about the New Earth daily.  While we have tried hard to drive eternity home in her heart, we find ourselves often having to remind her that the Kingdom is coming in and through Jesus-followers.  She has a part in bringing the New Earth here.

E: “Mama, don’t you want to go to the New Earth now…like today…”

(She often goes here when things get hard.)

Me: “No, Em. I actually kind of like it here. I believe that you and me being here together right now was always part of God’s plan. Remember, we are here {for now} so that we can be a part of the Kingdom coming now.”

E: “Yeah. I guess.”

She is often disappointed by the things of this world. Just the other day she reminded me once again that there would be no hospitals, no police officers and no firefighters in the New Earth. “You and Daddy won’t have a job, Mommy.”  AMEN, sister!

I don’t know if other families talk about Heaven and eternity as often as we do, but it’s a daily (sometimes multiple times a day) conversation over here.  There is a longing for Kingdom, but we are indeed here {for now}.


Several years ago I saw this incredible couple in the Target parking lot.  (This story was always going to be in my book, but I’m going to tell you part of it now.) They were probably in their mid-eighties.  They parked and walked in hand in hand.  I remember telling the Lord that I wanted to grow old like that.  I want that to be my story.  I want to live as long as possible with my husband right next to me. I want us to experience life and death simultaneously, really. I’ve wrestled with that moment off and on for years now.  What is God’s will? Will that be my story?  There are so many other ways that story could go.

Ross and I celebrated 10 years of marriage on the 4th. I have always thought that marrying upped the risk factor of life by a ton and having kids is just about the riskiest thing you could ever do in life.  The amount of love and life poured out for other people is overwhelmingly scary and risky.  If my heart spends too much time thinking about it, I will cry myself to sleep.  But how does the saying go? “It’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.”  I don’t know…the jury is still out. (just kidding)  But it’s HARD on my heart.

The night Ross and I went on our first date, it was unlike any first date ever. I cleared the air and broke the ice at the dinner table by asking Ross his intentions. There was much at stake for me in even being there, and I wasn’t messing around. He clearly stated that he wanted to date to me. The night was full of deep, full, and giddy conversation.  I left that night knowing that I was going to marry him. We hugged goodbye and the Holy Spirit fell. We both lost our breath and knew that this was the beginning of a holy journey.

Ten years later, it has been just that. A holy journey. Sanctification is ultimately always producing something beautiful.  But it would be foolish to say that it always looks or feels beautiful.  It reminds me of whittling wood.  You know something is happening…the finished product will be a masterpiece; but the shavings and the in-between state are uncomfortable and frustrating at times.  The difference in today and ten years ago is that I feel like I have a vision for the masterpiece.  I used to have no idea what the hell was happening.  It used to feel like sharpening a pencil over and over again and it keeps breaking and the lead falls out.  (I HATE THAT!)  In the beginning marriage felt like we were traveling the same mountain road, dying there and getting back up and traveling it again.  It was exhausting, and I could not have told you that for sure a masterpiece was being produced. Again, it felt like a crappy pencil. But now, I feel like I have tasted and seen the masterpiece, and it is good.  I could literally whittle all day.  Bring on the whittling!

Honestly, I’ve simply learned to savor and hold tight the moments.  I feel like, when I take a moment to breathe, every moment with Ross is a holy moment.  It is righteous, sanctifying, and beautiful. And it’s sobering to think that the moments don’t last forever…

We spent our 10th anniversary on our last full day in Lake Tahoe.  It began with a melt down from our girlies that lasted all morning and consequently made us late to lunch and missing beach time with the family.  It was hard. It still brings tears to my eyes. Whittling is hard work and now we have added other pieces to the masterpiece that have to be whittled too. But there was something deeply peaceful and holy about those moments.  I wasn’t disappointed that we spent our anniversary morning like that, just sad at the intensity of brokenness in the here and now.  I was honestly honored that the Lord chose us for this risky business of parenting and grateful that we could do it together that day.  Deeply grateful that I’m not alone in it.

When I told my six-year-old that I kind of like it here, I do.  These moments are making masterpieces.  We are all a work in progress and I can’t think of four people (and a dog) that I would rather be in process with.  Cheers to 10 years, 1 dog, 3 girls and a LOT of whittling!!!

He is indeed making diamonds out of us.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9OEe6INe1k

 

 

 

Process to Peace

I was leaving a Voxer message for my dad while trudging through Costco with just my littlest love in the cart. I was about to wrap up my thoughts on surrender and hanging in the tension.  I just finished telling Dad that Jesus just hung there on the cross, and that I believe, while the ascension is primary to the Gospel, the Cross is the most sacred part.  Jesus hung there.

Then I saw her ~ this precious little girl around 8 or 9 years old.  She had a look of sheer horror on her face.  She was whispering to herself, “Granny, where are you? Please help me find you, Granny.  Where are you?”  Her face was all that was distorted at this point but her fear was visibly rising.  She was looking all around and beginning to pick up her pace.  I tried to stop her in the midst of the Voxer to my dad.  She wouldn’t stop.  I put down my phone and looked around for the whomever this girl could possibly be missing.  I started asking Holy Spirit to help me help this little girl.

I saw a random woman walking out of the cold room with her hands full of grapes, lettuce and other large items.  She didn’t appear to be missing anything or looking for anyone, but the Holy Spirit prompted me to ask.  “Ma’am, do you have a grand-daughter with you today?”  “Yes, I do.”  At this point the little girl was in an all out sprint in the bread and wine section.  All the people surrounding saw her and a few of the intuitive ones were beginning to put the pieces together.  “She is looking for you and she is pretty scared.  She went this way…”

I began to look for her pushing my basket leading the grandma.  Someone said she ran back towards us but on the other side.  I dashed away from the basket hoping to catch her because Grandma had her hands full.  I realized I darted away from my littlest.  I turned around and this precious grandad is standing next to the basket.  “I thought I should probably stand next to her so she wouldn’t be alone.” “Yes! Thank you!”

At this point the grandma and little girl were reunited in a huge embrace.  My heart was racing, and I spent the rest of my Costco trip blinking back tears and swallowing the lump in my throat.  I could feel her fear deep in my bones.  I know what it’s like to be lost.


Peace is a gift.  You know this if you have ever been without it.  It’s a deep feeling.  It is unexplainable when it’s from Him. Peace that passes understanding.  I have definitely had peace bestowed instantaneously in a time of chaos, but often my experience is that peace involves a process.

We have been in a space lately where we have felt no peace in regards to one part of our lives.  Our hearts have been jumbled and heavy and at times numb.  We had a moment just recently where were sitting together in church.  Just getting to sit together is a part of the process because for over 9 months one of us has been out of the sanctuary with our littlest. Ross looked at me, and I looked at him.  We were feeling the same thing ~ peace.  We were a little confused because peace has been such a foreign feeling, and we were beginning to think that we were never know this peace again in this space. There was a sigh of relief in the moment, a breath of Heaven touching our souls.  We didn’t say anything in the moment, but the minute we got in the front seat of the van, we looked again at each other. “I felt peace today,” he said.  “Me too. Deep peace.”  We really didn’t have much else to say other than to acknowledge its presence. We were grateful, but cautious.  Our hearts have been grieving, and grieving hearts are cautious.

I have felt like that little girl in Costco so often in the last year.  I have been composed just begging the Lord to show His face. “Where are you, Lord? Help me find you, Lord.” I have been the one in a panicked, full-out sprint looking for Him and grasping at all the places He could be.  I have ignored the help and comfort along the way that may get me back to Him.  I have been completely unaware of the community that is surrounding the others that are a part of my process (like the grandfather that stood next to my basket with my littlest).  And now that I’ve found Him, my heart is beating so fast from my panic, that I can’t believe that he is there and really meeting me.  It’s hard to believe I’ve found Him.  And if I really have found Him, will I ever lose Him again?

This is grief.  It’s a process.  You aren’t sure where you will land once the peace is found again, but you know the cycle to be so intense that you can’t imagine that you will ever let this happen again.  Then you remember we are in this world; in this world, you will have troubles.

I teach and talk to people about grief a lot.  A little while back, a dear sister shared this particular image with me about grief.  It is by far the most accurate image I’ve seen.

 

Grief is just this.  It is not linear.  The moments loop around, and you can experience them over and over sometimes.  This process can be quick just like the little girl in Costco, but this process can also take much, much longer.  Honestly, life is just one big grieving process if you think about it, but He is promised to us. He is here, and there is more.  Eternity and perfect peace are coming in full.  Just like that Grandma was there the whole time, He is always with us.  Peace is here.  It’s just a process to experience it.

I am embracing the process, believing that the process is just as holy as the peace itself.

2 Corinthians 5:

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

 

The Middle of the Story

Holy Week…Good Friday…Easter. My body seems to fail me in one way or another around this time.  Two years ago I had a horrible stomach bug and started bleeding while throwing up not long into my pregnancy with Maelee. I was convinced that night that I was losing her.

There was no way that the kind of blood that was shed would possibly mean life was still in me.

It was the beginning of sonograms and labs and tests and more sonograms all to find out that she was indeed alive and well and fine.  I remember thinking over and over and telling the midwives over and over that there was no way that much blood could be okay.  And in that time the Lord reminded me of a Bible song from my childhood…

I’ve got river of life

Flowing out of me,

Makes the lame to walk

And the blind to see;

Opens prison doors,

Sets the captives free,

I’ve got a river of life

Flowing out of me.

 

Spring up, O well

Within my soul,

Spring up, O well

And make me whole.

Spring up, O well,

And give to me

That life abundantly.

That quickly led me to a verse that played an intimate part in naming Maelee Bethany ~

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. – Psalm 46:4

It’s a long story about getting to her name, but the short of it is that Easter two years ago was hard and life still came from the shedding of blood.

This year my body seems to be failing again.  This time the days of Holy Week were filled with an urgent care visit, an MRI on my shoulder, an ortho appointment, a round of steroids, not being able to get out of bed on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, not being able to breathe or walk on Easter followed by another ER visit on Easter Sunday. I have extreme myopathy and myositis from what the doctor believes is a negative, almost toxic reaction, to the steroids.  So while my arm wasn’t working well 2 weeks prior and we discovered a deltoid tear and bursitis, my proximal muscles completely stopped working.  I made it to church Easter Sunday morning, but when I came home things began to get worse. I went to work but then my muscles were spasming so much in my back and chest that I could not catch my breath. I hobbled to the ER  from work.  I started with a muscle relaxer on Sunday night and continued into Monday.  I had extensive labs on Wednesday to find extreme inflammation in my body. My levels were 3.5 times what they should be. Monday I couldn’t walk.

 

My doctor looked me in the eyes on Wednesday and promised I would get better.  This is like the cardinal sin in healthcare.  You never, ever promise that someone is going to get better.  But he did…multiple times.  I wept when he looked in my eyes.  I could barely walk down the hallway, or sit in the chair.  A beautiful, slender 85-year-old woman helped me out the door and down the stairs.  She put her hand on my shoulder, and I wept.  I got in my car and couldn’t stop weeping.  I’ve cried a lot through all of this.

 

This morning in the shower, I broke down again.  The Lord reminded me of the above song.  Makes the lame to walk…sets the captives free…Spring up oh well (gush, gush, gush, gush) and make me whole…  I sang it over my body and my heart and my spirit this morning with the tears mixing in with the shower water.

 

On Good Friday I had a massage.  I sat in the car alone thinking about Jesus…I thought about Him hanging.  I thought about him begging the Lord for another way.  And I thought about Him enduring the pain.  I thought about Him knowing that enduring the pain meant that life was coming.  He had to drink this cup now.

 

I texted two of my closest this morning and told them I wasn’t afraid of dying anymore.  I am sure that I would not feel so confident given my death bed, but the pain has shown me that He is close even here.  And people endure so much more than what I have endured with this…People do this for so much longer…  I would prefer the Second Coming and seeing Him come in all of His glory on a white horse…that I would love. My oldest keeps on saying, “Mommy, it’s not like this in the New Earth.  This stuff won’t happen there.  You won’t be hurting.” She will write a book about Eternity one day I’m certain of it. My second is my prayer warrior.  She prays so much for healing.  She has prayed every day. My left shoulder has begun to hurt the last couple of days, and you could just see her little spirit was crushed when she saw the ice on both shoulders.  But she has just kept praying.

I read an Ann Voskamp quote a couple of days ago:

Faith thanks God in the middle of the story. 

I thought to myself that I wasn’t sure I would be thankful til this was OVER…til I could walk again without dragging my feet or move my hands without breathing deep.  I am not thanking You, Lord, til I can get out of bed in less than 45 minutes. I am not thanking You, Lord, til I can turn my head and bend over. I thought, “Lord, I am not thanking you now.  I don’t have my miracle yet.”  Some people never get their miracle… I will thank you when I know the ending…

 

But I do know the ending.  It may not be what my doctor promised.  It may not be in two weeks.  But my hope is not in the next two weeks…my hope is in the Cross.  It is in the blood and pain of the Cross of Christ and what is coming.  The stone was rolled away.  He was raised from the dead.  He is preparing a New Earth. He is always good.  He is always here.  He always gives and brings life. Eternity is still coming, and it’s here.  And blood shed and pain felt, endured, and known is the Cross that paid for Eternity.

 

So here {for now}, I will endure this.  And I will continue to see the glimpses of Eternity here…the people bringing meals, sitting at my feet and praying, weeping with me, the Dr who looks in my eyes and promises, the husband that does all the things I can’t do, the mom and dad that sacrifice their days for me, my beautiful girls that comfort and love and believe…

 

May He be seen and known and felt and believed in the midst of my pain and suffering. May this be all for Him and for His glory.  There are still tears here, still pain, still massive weakness.  But there is also Him.  And He is good.

And life will most definitely still come from this pain. 

Life On Earth

She died.  I got a text this morning from a friend (life-long friend) that lost a co-worker and friend to an aggressive brain cancer.  Tears welled up in my eyes as I texted her back.  So much loss here.  This precious life just affected my life, my view of my God, my eternity.  And I have never met her.  But I prayed for her and her circle, and I won’t stop.  Because other lives, other’s eternity is being affected here.  She deeply affected the life of one of my closest friends, and I know that there is an opportunity for an entire school of teachers and kids to see eternity because of this one life. Just this weekend I helped a family of a precious little one who is the same age as one of my girlies with legacy building. Aggressive cancer came into his life a few short months ago, and his body had lost the battle against it.  As I sat with the mom creating lasting legacy items for her and her family, she said over and over, “He is perfect. He is perfect.”  He is.  That is eternity…that is the Kingdom coming.  That was a holy moment for me.

This [here] is not it.  There is more. A lot more.  The summer of 2004 was a life-changing summer for me.  The reality of eternity began to blossom in my heart.  I was a nanny for a family with seven kiddos who ministered to families through family camp at Pine Cove. I mostly spent my time with the youngest four. Their mom ministered to me all summer.  She has no idea the impact she had on my life, but I hope she is reading along to know that it was life-changing. 🙂 One day she asked me to do an activity with the kids about eternity.  We took a toilet paper roll out to the back yard, and we unrolled it all the way.  Then we ripped off one square, and it represented our entire life.  One square.  The rest represented eternity.  This is a blip, y’all.  This life.  And we are literally only getting glimpses of what is to come.

Another thing that she taught that summer and said to me was a quote that led to the title of my very first blog.  She said, “Life on earth is not about life on earth.”  My first blog was entitled Ashley’s Life On Earth.  These moments (all of them…hard and beautiful) are intended to give us glimpses to eternity ~ it’s really, really not about us.  Eternity is here, but not completely.

God led me to my current church the fall of 2005.  One of the most profound things that I have gained in my 12 years at this church is the reality of the Kingdom coming and it’s also here now (in part).  My pastor illustrates this intersection between life here and eternity. He often uses his arms to show this kind of tie between the two…

I am so grateful for his illustration and constant reminder that Heaven is not his far off place to hope for. My pastor often reminds us that eternity lives in us, and that we are carriers of the Kingdom come.

Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done… Matthew 6:10

I began praying the Lord’s prayer daily about a decade ago.  Andrew Murray has written many books, but With Christ In The School of Prayer has been the most life-changing as it taught me how to pray through the Lord’s Prayer.  We pray it every day on the way to school.  May we know and understand that the Kingdom is coming to us…He is coming again.  But He is also here.  We can see Him and eternity through each other.  We can be a part of showing someone else a glimpse of eternity.  Yes! How beautiful is that.  Every moment is an opportunity for someone to know that this is NOT IT.

Your love is better than life… Psalm 63:3

This scripture is easy when we are talking about life in relation to death and the hard, unwanted pieces of this life.  But if you are like me, there is much of this life that you love and you never want it to end…romance, mountaintop views, babies learning to walk, kids learning to read, and on and on.  We love so much of this life here.  We love it sometimes more than we love Him.  And we forget that there is more.  There is more coming.  This is not the way it ought to be.  The things that are wrong in this world, where the Kingdom and Him feel so very distant, those moments are there saying, “This is NOT IT…”  More is coming.  More beauty. All things made right.  ALL THINGS the way they ought to be.

We are Kingdom-bearers.  We are where He dwells to bring His Kingdom here.  We bring Eternity here. He has put eternity in the hearts of men.  We CANNOT FATHOM what God is doing from beginning to end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

We cannot fathom it, y’all. But we are a part of it. He chose us to reveal it. We get the most incredible tastes of eternity in some of the holiest, happiest, hardest moments of life.  And they are nothing compared to what we will experience.

When you choose to be here ~ really here ~ especially here with Christ in you, you have so many opportunities to see and to show the glimpses of eternity and really know that the more that is to come is indeed so good and so real.  So when all my friend’s friends and co-workers come together this afternoon to talk about how to move forward…when they hold hands and grieve…when they serve one another because of the hard day….when they encourage each other with words and Scripture and hugs…they will see eternity.  Where the Holy Spirit is moving, He is displaying eternity.  Be here, really here {for now}.

Because this life on earth has Eternity written all over it. 

 

Here

I am an Aggie.  In Texas this is a big deal. Honestly, it’s a big deal around the world, but in Texas it’s a really big deal…to Aggies.  Texas A&M is full of tradition and symbolism.  It is one of the many reasons I’m proud to be an Aggie. I wear my Aggie ring daily because it connects me to strangers often.  Every once in while, I still get into a good Aggie football game.  But one of the traditions that still sets my heart proud year after year is Muster.  Aggie Muster is a tradition when Aggies come together on April 21 all over the world, and wherever two or more Aggies are, they remember the fallen Aggies, specifically from the past year.  You are in a room with all your comrades and when a name is called from someone that you knew, you answer “here.”

Softly call the Muster, Let comrade answer, “here”….

Dr. John Ashton, 1946, Class of 1906

I have had the privilege to answer “here” many times for fellow Aggies.  The most important “here” was for my grandmother years ago.  But one of the most significant parts of Muster is how many people say “here” at the same time.  Maybe it sounds weird to some, but it is incredible to honor and recognize someone’s presence HERE.  We carry people with us, and they are here even when they are gone.  We affect others. Being HERE matters, now.  Being here now means you may be part of someone else’s here later.

For the last decade or longer, I have wrestled with HERE.  A lot happens here.  And a lot more happens when you are really here.  And then there’s the hereafter.  What about that?

The hereafter, eternity, Heaven, the New Earth…it’s real.  It’s coming. It’s now, in part.  But it’s real.

But we’re here.  Our lives are not a mistake.  We were meant to be here.  Being here is part of the hereafter.  You have to be here, first.

And being here is hard…messy…sad sometimes. It’s also beautiful…inspiring…breathtaking sometimes. And there’s more.

I’ve gone from wondering how eternity could really be better, to knowing that it is better, to wanting to be there now, to realizing that the here right now matters. It’s not only necessary, it’s predestined.

So I’m here and you’re here. So let’s really, really be here {for now}.