What I Gather about Chelsea

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Becoming an aunt at age 11 has some advantages. Sadly, having nieces and nephews in my life now, while preoccupied with my own marriage, children, home and job, often means I don’t spend much time with them. Chelsea was a different story. I had always been the baby of the family, so when Chelsea was born, I was beyond thrilled to lavish my attention and affection on her. I mean, how cool is it to have a niece at age 11? We were always pretty close. I loved her from the start.

In November of 2011, Chelsea was coming back from a three-month stay with missionaries in Poland. She was 19 and not quite ready financially to get her own place, yet felt too old to move back into her parents’ house. Naturally, loving her the way I do, I offered her a room in our house. Thus began the 16 months of living with Chelsea.

On Sunday I am driving her across many states so she can start a life in Jersey City. It has been sad watching her pack and make plans for a life that won’t include me as much. I have grown accustomed to our chats, laughs, outings and fun. So today, in honor of Chelsea, I present to you….. WHAT I GATHER ABOUT CHELSEA.

1. Chelsea is fun. Maybe that sounds generic to you, but it means a lot to me. I take myself way too seriously most days and Chelsea has, well, helped me to lighten up. She is always smiling and laughing. There is no human on earth I would rather watch a funny movie or TV show with. She laughs from her heart, abandoning all self-awareness in whatever comedic moment is happening. Don’t underestimate this quality. I wish I had it. She brings genuine light and laughter to any situation. I would say this quality will serve her well in the harsh realities of life.

2. Chelsea is kind. I’m not turning a blind eye to her faults, people. She can be judgemental. Just ask her about our “red light” game sometime. However, I truly believe she has a kind and loving nature. I have witnessed this most when watching her interact with my children. Chelsea has lots of friends and social engagements, but when Ava or Isabel ask for one-on-one attention from her, she gives it freely. I have watched the way she whole-heartedly loves my kids and the kids at the preschool where she works. She doesn’t with-hold her love, but gives affection freely.

3. Chelsea listens. This one was a struggle for us. Chelsea came into our home with some questions and let me just say it, some issues. It hasn’t always been a smooth road for us, but once I recognized that my approach mattered in dealing with Chelsea, we crossed some pretty monumental barriers. When I approach Chelsea in love, she listens to what I have to say, even if she doesn’t agree with me. We have had so many long talks late into the night, discussing God’s plans for her future. Those talks, though not always easy, always left me feeling encouraged about her destination. Her path may not be the path I would have chosen, but I believe her destination will be the right one for her.

4. Chelsea dreams. Sometimes I have been the reality check for Chelsea with her big dreams, but I don’t ever want to stifle this part of her nature. If she is able to season her dreaming nature with responsibility and hard-work, there is no telling what dreams can come true for this girl. I think so often we are so full of reason that we talk ourselves out of the beauty of our dreams. Chelsea has huge hopes when it comes to her relationships, working in foreign places, seeing the beauty of the world and her walk with God. I believe this explains the spark in her eye and the joy that radiates from her. Her dreams are big and beautiful.

5. Chelsea loves God. I have never doubted this about Chelsea. This is a credit to her parents, her upbringing at a great church and to a God who is relentless in his pursuit of Chelsea. She has hit some rough spots along the way. She has had opportunities to lose faith and turn her back on God, but she never has. She has served in her church from a young age, and even now she is planning how she can serve in the church in Jersey City. I don’t know where Chelsea will end up (hopefully close to me!), but I believe with all my heart she will spend her life loving and serving God.

I will stop my list at 5 today. If I’m honest, there are days when I worry about Chelsea. I worry about her heading off to a big city on her own. I wonder if she has all of the tools she needs to thrive and make a life for herself. Yet, right now, when I look at this list, I feel peace flood my mind.

CHELSEA IS FUN
CHELSEA IS KIND
CHELSEA LISTENS
CHELSEA DREAMS
CHELSEA LOVES GOD

She will be the first to tell you she is not perfect, but I don’t know if she could be better equipped than she is with these five qualities. She often jokes that her time in our home should be teaching me how I DON’T want my girls to turn out. Really, though, I would be a proud mom if Ava and Isabel walk into their adulthood with the qualities Chelsea possesses.

So, Chelsea, know that you are loved by the Rennards. I wouldn’t trade this year and a half for anything. You have been like a sister to me a friend. You have opened yourself up to learn the lessons you were intended to learn while living here, and I have learned from you. You will be missed. Not the messes you leave everywhere you go, I won’t miss that. But I will miss your laughter, your sincerity, your big dreams and your love. Please know that you will always have our love and support and can always consider our house a second (or third) home.

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A Gathering of Links IX

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Happy Monday to you all!  It is a beautiful, warm, sunny day in central Indiana and I couldn’t be happier about it!  We have a lot going on in our world.  Friday we had a Mad Men themed going away party for my niece, which was a blast.  We had a huge turnout for the community garden workday last week.  Ava is taking ISTEP this week and Isabel is at a campground with my mom.  I am trying to soak in all the time I can with my niece before she (*tear) moves out.

I have lots of great links to share with you today, but first I want to share some exciting news….

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Agnes has a sponsor! A huge THANK YOU to the special family who will be making an impact on this precious girl’s life. I can’t thank you enough. I had hoped to have more sponsors by now, but I believe the seed has been planted and we will see more of these kids sponsored very soon! (If you are interested and missed our big promotion, please see this SPONSOR AN ORPHAN link)

Also, I want to express my sincere gratitude for the way all of you received my most popular post of the week, A (Re)Gathering of Faith.  It was my most popular post in the history of Rachael Gathers, thanks to all of your shares.  I was so moved by the comments and messages I received from so many of you responding to my story.  Sometimes I hesitate before I hit “publish” on personal stories, but the feedback from you reminded me that we all struggle and we can draw strength from the testimonies of one another.

So, let’s get to it!  Grab a cup of coffee or tea, sit back and check out some of the best links from the WWW this week!

Spiritual Inspiration:

From Winn Collier, Revolutionary Shepherd.

At Mary DeMuth, Candace’s Crazy Beautiful Story of Healing.

From A Deeper Church, Not Just Bread, Not Just Wine.

From Narrow Paths to Higher Places, On Loving Well: A Stone’s Throw Pt. 1.

At A Holy Experience, 6 Books When You’re Looking for Change.

From Sarah Bessey, In Which We Need to Ask Questions that Have No Answers.

Food Love:

At A Cozy Kitchen, The Best Tabbouleh Salad.

For Laughs:

At It Just Gets Stranger, Dear Vague Facebook Status Poster.

And my very favorite post of the week, beautiful and challenging and straight from the Bible:

From Brian D. McLaren, a compilation of “one another’s” in the New Testament.

What have you been into this week?  I would love your comments about your favorite blogs, books, TV shows, movies or activities these days.  Have a blessed week!

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A (Re)Gathering of Faith

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At a time when I should have been praying about petty fights with friends or asking God for a pony, I was interceding for my dad’s life.

As hard as I try, I can’t seem to remember pre-cancer days. I have scattered memories of short-lived remission days. Mostly, though, I remember the days of cancer. Lymphoma was an integral part of my childhood vocabulary, along with chemotherapy, radiation and phrases like “two months to live.”

And oh, the prayers.

Maybe there was a night here and there when I didn’t pray for healing and health for my dad, but I don’t remember those carefree nights. In the forefront of my mind are the nights of pleading and begging, with a voice or in a whisper, with dry sleepy eyes or with the tears of a child.

There are so many stories to tell of those nights. Stories of angels in my room or the closeness I felt to my comforter. Stories of loneliness and fear, intermingled with stories of faith and hope.

But the story in my heart today is the story of the after. The story of a prayer unanswered and a father buried along with the faith of his daughter.

 

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My brother became the pastor of the church when Dad died. A revival had been scheduled before his death and it was decided to move forward with the special guest speaker. Evangelist S. was a friend of my father, of our family and of our church. My guess is that in the midst of church-wide grief, the leadership was desperate for healing and hope. So he came. And this 16-year-old was there.

It was surreal walking into those church doors those first few months. I saw Dad everywhere. The church building was my preferred context in which to place my dad (beats a hospital any day) and the building of that church had been his life’s work. Yet, in I walked, sitting as though I hadn’t been shaken to my core.

That minister preached a masterpiece of a sermon. He remains the most captivating storyteller I have ever heard. As was customary for this particular minister, he began to pray for people after his sermon. I am Pentecostal, and it is not uncommon for Pentecostal preachers to call someone out for prayer in front of the congregation. He asked if anyone was sick and began laying hands on people to pray for them.

I don’t quite know how to describe how I felt in those moments. Just try to imagine with me….

*16 years old
*Father was just buried
*9 year battle with cancer
*Thousands of prayers for healing
*Sitting in father’s church
*Minister praying for the sick

A flood of grief enveloped me. A cloud of sadness rested on me. An anger burned inside me.

And then it happened. A kid from our youth group had raised his hand, saying he was sick with a cold and had a terrible sore throat. Evangelist S. called my name, staring me down with penetrating eyes. Our conversation went a little something like this:

S: Rachael, stand up.
(I stood, tears already flowing)
S. Rachael, do you believe God is a healer?
(My world is shaking under my feet. I don’t know what I know. I don’t know how to respond. I don’t know. I want to scream. I want to run. I sob)
Rachael: (through broken sobs) Yes.
S: Rachael, do you believe God can heal Alex RIGHT NOW?
Rachael: Yes.
S: Rachael, I want you to step out of your seat, lay your hands on Alex and pray for healing.

I know what some of you are thinking. I have thought it myself. What Evangelist S. did could have been considered cruel. He could have inflicted further damage on an already broken girl.

And yet….

I stepped out, laid my hands on Alex and prayed. I prayed for healing and Alex said his pain vanished immediately.

Evangelist S. is one of my heroes. Yes, what he did that night could have been cruel. But that is where the HOLY SPIRIT comes into play.  Imagine with me for a moment what he must have felt in that moment, when the Holy Spirit led him to call me out, a girl he knew and loved in a deep ocean of fresh grief.  Imagine what faith and trust he must have had in God to obey in that moment.

The reality is that I was at a crossroads that night. I was on the verge of losing faith. My father died and I felt something had died in me. My father was buried and I felt my former life had been buried with him.

But hear me now….

My father had been resurrected to be with Jesus and I had to experience a resurrection.  I was confronted with the most basic and yet the most important of all questions….

Do you believe God is who he says he is?

The question was posed and I answered from the deepest, truest place of my being.

Yes, God is healer.  Yes, I believe.

My journey didn’t end that night.  I continued to deal with overwhelming grief and still have days when grief overcomes me.  But from that night forward, I knew what I knew.

I know God loves.  I know God heals.  I know God is worthy of my trust.  I know God is who he says he is.  I know it today.  I have never forgotten.

Evangelist S., I thank you for listening and responding to the Holy Spirit.  I thank you because it was a pivotal moment in my life and I took a step in the direction of faith and have never looked back.  I thank God for his abundant love, reaching out to me at my point of desperation…. posing the most difficult yet most essential question of my life.  My answer was, is and will continue to be a resounding “YES!”

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Me, with my Dad, not long before his death.

Much Love,

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A Gathering of Links VIII

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Have you subscribed to Rachael Gathers yet?  If not, please do so HERE.  You will get an e-mail updating you of new posts and can even read the blog right in your inbox!

This week the big focus on Rachael Gathers is the Helping Hands sponsorship program for orphans in Uganda.  If you aren’t quite sure about making the commitment to sponsor an orphan, let me just say it has made such a positive impact on our family and of course makes a tremendous impact in the life of a hungry child in Uganda.

Thanks to all of you, my most popular post this week was Gathering at a Garden.

There is lots happening in the Rennard house!  Jimmie has been focused on the community garden.  Our niece who lives with us is getting ready to move to New Jersey, but also just had a pretty serious car accident.  So we have been occupied with trying to sort out insurance issues while also getting her packed up.  Ava is ready for school to be out and Isabel is in a tap-dancing stage.

Here are my favorite links from this past week.  I hope you enjoy them!

Spiritual Insight and Inspiration:

From Guy at A Deeper Family, on sadness.

From Sarah Bessey.  Yes to this!

This inspired me…. over at Sarah Markley.

For the Home:

From A Beautiful Mess, I really love this gallery wall.

I absolutely love this home.  I think I could move in tomorrow and not change a thing… from Design Mom.

Marriage Talk:

Honest Talk About Marriage in the Middle of Life by Sarah Markley.

Food Love:

Over at Simple Bites… empanadas.  Because one of my earliest memories is making empanadas with a visitor from Colombia.

Just Because:

This video over at Design Mom is beautiful and moving.

Over at Oprah, the best novels of 2012.  Has anyone read any of these?

Instagram’s Envy Effect by Shauna Niequist

I will leave you with my favorite Instagrams from the week.  Have a fantastic week!

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My Friday babysitting charge… so precious.
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Hanging out on the dining room table!
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Spring. Lovely.

Gathering Smiles (Guest Post by Linda Burke)

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(Linda at Hope Refuge School in Uganda)

I want to introduce you to a very special woman in my life, Linda Burke.  I grew up being close friends with Linda’s daughter, but as time passed I developed a special friendship with Linda as well.  My friendship with Linda has been a blessing from God.  I have learned that true friendship crosses age barriers.  Beyond that, I look to Linda as an example of dedication and passion for God’s children.  She has traveled with us to Cuba several times, and I have witnessed her compassion and love for the poor firsthand.

More recently, Linda has traveled to India with a dental team, cleaning teeth and doing dental work  in impoverished villages.  She has most recently stepped into the call of God, finding sponsors for starving orphans in Uganda.  I have witnessed her eyes well up with tears on numerous occasions while talking about the burden God has placed on her to help these children.  She is a mother figure to them all.  She spends her own money traveling every year to run the Helping Hands project and devotes countless hours to seeing it grow and run smoothly.  I have lost count of how many orphans she personally sponsors.  Please take a moment to read her story and consider sponsoring an orphan yourself.

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My first trip to Uganda was in July, 2011.  Since that first trip my life has forever changed.  My heart was captured by 1,100 children at the orphanages in Kachamo and Kenkebu.  This October will be my 5th trip and each time I am grieved by the poor living conditions, non-existent health care and lack of food.  In spite of these conditions, when we arrive at the orphanage we are met with singing, waving of branches and big smiles.  A thousand faces looking up at you with those beautiful smiles, putting their hand in yours wanting to be your friend.  It doesn’t matter that their shirt is threadbare or their stomachs empty, they always have a big smile on their face.  As they gather around you, hundreds of hands are reaching towards you, wanting your attention, wanting a hug, wanting to be loved.

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Before I leave for home I try to gather all these smiles so when I close my eyes I can see their beautiful, smiling faces.  Gathering their smiles keeps me from being overwhelmed by the despair these children experience.  The needs are so great and you feel that you can never do enough.  It is also difficult when you are told that some of the children you met on a previous visit have died from disease and hunger.

Since that first trip God placed such a burden on my heart for these children and a desire to make a difference in their lives.  The large number of children is overwhelming.  Where do you start?  My friend Rachael made it easy.  She told me to start with 50.  So that is what we did!  On my next visit we took photos of 50 children and began getting sponsors for them.  We called the program “Helping Hands.”  The program is growing thanks to God’s direction and the help of many friends!  We currently  have 80 sponsors!  Our goal for this year was 100 but by faith I believe we will surpass that goal.  Our desire is to have sponsors for all 1,100 children.

In October we will be returning to Uganda to begin helping with some of the basic medical needs of the children.  Thanks to the many sponsors, we are making a difference one child at a time!

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If you are moved by Linda’s story, please visit our SPONSOR AN ORPHAN page.  The program is run through Live the Way, an official not-for-profit.  Your donations are tax exempt as a charitable contribution.  You can comment on this blog or e-mail me at rachael@wearegathering.org.  Just let me know which child you want to sponsor and we will get your packet and photo mailed to you this week.  Let’s join together and make this happen!

For further reading on Hope Refuge Schools, please refer to the following links:

What I Gather from the Death of Namuda

Gathering Hope

Live the Way

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Gathering Hope

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My very first post on Rachael Gathers was What I Gather About the Death of Namuda.  It was written after learning that the orphan our family sponsored had died.  Since then, I have been working more with my good friend Linda to promote the Helping Hands Project, finding sponsors for the hundreds of orphans at Hope Refuge Schools in Uganda.  (You will hear more from Linda on Rachael Gathers soon!)

Their situation is dire.  The staff at the orphanage estimates that approximately 50 orphans in their care (out of about 1100) are dying each year, due to malnutrition and preventable/treatable diseases.  They are eating one bowl of rice a day.  Many of the older kids skip their bowl of rice so the younger children can eat.  Fifty orphans a year comes out to about one child a week, dying on my watch.  I know there are those of you who will say I shouldn’t carry that kind of load.  Let me ask… if I don’t, who will?  Yes, there are others working diligently to get help to this orphanage.  Josh Wilson, Faith Apostolic Church and the Assemblies of the Lord Jesus Christ have raised thousands of dollars for buildings, to build a well and for immediate needs.  Refuge Ministries has purchased land and is working on farming initiatives.  Linda Burke, at an age when many are nearing retirement, is spending thousands of her own dollars each year to get to Uganda and run the Helping Hands Project, not to mention the countless hours she volunteers here at home.

Yes, these people are carrying the load and thank God they are.

But their activism does not give me the right to remain inactive.  I must do what I can so that no more Namudas lose their precious life on… yes… MY watch.

When I wrote about Namuda, I was moved by the response.  We didn’t get a lot of sponsors from that blog post, but I was moved by the compassion of those who did respond.  An acquaintance from high school who lives in another city contacted me, and had this to say….

“I find this project very inspiring and I am very touched and affected by these children and this woman, Linda, who you have described as being so dedicated.  Maybe it is recently becoming a mother myself and thinking of orphaned children who have no food, starving, dying with no loving arms to hold or comfort them.  I don’t know what it is.  I am moved.  I have just been very inspired by you, Rachael, and I feel very compelled to help.  I hope that at some point we can give more than $35 but for now we’ll do our best.  We are just so conditioned as Americans to be skeptical of these type of efforts (or at least I am…there are a lot of people out there claiming to help and not really living up to their promises) and I really trust and believe in you when you say the money helps these children.  I wish there was more I could do.  So thank you for bringing attention to this project.  Sleep well tonight knowing you have inspired one cold-hearted skeptic, haha! 

That being said, can I help you advertise?  Post some info on FB?  Word of mouth to family and friends?  And if I get some interest, can I direct them to you?”

These are the kinds of people who are going to change the world, one child at a time.  These are the people who don’t just think “I should do that someday” but dive in and HELP!  I am thankful beyond belief to have these kinds of people in my life.

I’m not very outgoing, I don’t have a lot of pull with a lot of people.  I don’t have lots of money to offer or know executives with influence and funding.

What I do have is a God who has placed a burden on my heart…. and I have a blog with some pretty fantastic readers.  So, I’m using Rachael Gathers to try to find 10 SPONSORS.  I believe we can do it, and as a sign of my faith in and commitment to this project, our family is going to sponsor the first of the ten.  This is the second orphan we are sponsoring.  His name is David (just like my dad) and you can see his photo when you follow the link below.

Do you think we can make this happen?  I am daring to hope that we can cover all ten orphans and more after that!  Will you join me?

If you are interested, please go to the Sponsor an Orphan link here.  There are ten photos, nine of them available for sponsorship.  You can contact me directly or simply comment on this post who you would like to sponsor, and we will get the information out to you right away.  And remember, 100% of your donations go directly to the Helping Hands Project and your donation is tax exempt as a charitable donation.

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Gathering at a Garden

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My husband has been working tirelessly to get a community garden off the ground in our city.  He is a recent convert to gardening, but has been a huge proponent of initiatives to develop community as long as I can remember.  His passion and vision are contagious, and he has been rewarded for his efforts with grants and a lot of community support.

A few weeks ago, when it felt like winter would never end, he was talking about his anticipation to get out and work in the garden.  His comments were met with hesitation and overall lack of enthusiasm on my part.  I was all for the garden IN THEORY, but have never been the outdoorsy type and have killed basically every living thing I have ever planted in the ground.  Then my husband said something that made me laugh.

“There’s something inherent in all of us that wants to get our hands in the soil and work the land.  God put it there.”

I know, I know.  I shouldn’t have laughed, but I did.  I wasn’t buying it, not for a moment.  Yet, in an effort to show my support for my husband and the IDEA of a community garden, I volunteered to go out and help on a beautiful spring day.

It seems like I have been saying this a lot on my blog lately…. but…. my husband was right.

I loved being out there.  I spent about four hours digging trenches, preparing to lay cement blocks for raised beds.  The whole family was there, along with some lovely people who are helping in the endeavor.  Isabel ran around, picking up rocks and running through the open fields.  Ava worked and worked HARD.  As we dug the trenches, she pulled up the heavy sod.  For hours.  That child has some drive in her. (Where did she get THAT?)  Jimmie and his dad laid out the garden plots.  We found worms, got some sun, and made some serious headway.

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Jimmie and his dad, laying out the lines for the beds.
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 Ava, carrying a heavy clump of sod.  This girl loves to be outside and works hard.
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 Isabel and Ava, working with David.  Those girls love their Pa-Pa.
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I enjoyed it so much that I tagged along again last weekend.  This time, we evened out the trenches to lay the cement blocks.  I measured, added soil where needed, dug out more where needed, tamped, carried 35 pound cement blocks and got a substantial sunburn.  I still don’t regret it, even after days of sore muscles and sunburn.

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I loved meeting Audrey.  She is a master gardener and did a fantastic job getting the blocks level!
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Our friends Matt and Thomas, working on gluing the blocks with Jimmie.  It was funny seeing them in this context. 
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We met some really friendly and hard-working people out there!  I hope to see more of them this spring and summer.IMG_2822
My brother Michael, tamping the ground to make it level.

There’s just something about being outside.  I have neglected God’s creation for too long, preferring instead the luxuries of climate controlled houses and ever-present technological “connectedness.”  I trade a nice, long walk through trails for TV time.  Instead of eating meals outdoors in wide, open spaces, we huddle around our kitchen table.  In place of spending time on our front porch in the evenings, meeting neighbors, we hole up in our individual rooms, doing our own thing.  Instead of appreciating the beauty of God’s creation, I surround myself with the not-so-impressive creation of man.

I’ve had enough.  Something is awakening inside me.  Even as I read scripture, I am noticing just how much of ALL THE AMAZING THINGS happened outside.  I see Jesus calling his disciples while they are fishing.  I see a pretty special sermon happening on a hill.  I read some of the most powerful moments of prayer in the life of Jesus taking place in a desert or in a garden.  I see miracles happening while on the sea.

So while I may never be a master gardener or have the green thumb of my mother, I am making an effort this season to not only get outside with my girls more, but to spent a substantial amount of time at the community garden… tilling soil, planting, weeding, watering, harvesting….. making connections with people in my community….. and getting in touch with my Creator and his creation.

How do you make the most of the outdoors?  What are your favorite outdoor activities?  Do you garden?  Do you feel more connected to God when you are outside?  Tell me your stories!

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Gathering Strength from Psalm 42

IMG_2846 As a deer pants for flowing streams,

so pants my soul for you, O God.

My soul thirsts for God,

for the living God.

When shall I come and appear before God?

My tears have been my food day and night,

while they say to me all the day long,

“Where is your God?”

These things I remember,

as I pour out my soul:

how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise,

a multitude keeping festival.

Why are you cast down,

O my soul,

and why are you in turmoil within me?

Hope in God;

for I shall again praise him,

my salvation and my God.

My soul is cast down within me;

therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.

Deep calls to deep

at the roar of your waterfalls;

all your breakers and your waves have gone over me.

By day the LORD commands his steadfast love,

and at night his song is with me,

a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God, my rock:

“Why have you forgotten me?

Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?”

As with a deadly wound in my bones,

my adversaries taunt me,

while they say to me all the day long,

“Where is your God?”

Why are you cast down,

O my soul,

and why are you in turmoil within me?

Hope in God;

for I shall again praise him,

my salvation and my God.

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Yesterday before I heard the news from Boston, I was sitting on my front porch reading the Bible.  I came to Psalms 42 and was overwhelmed by the beauty of the words and the presence of God.  I couldn’t take my eyes off this psalm.  It brought comfort and strength.

Later, after hearing about the tragedy in Boston, I re-read it and it brought strength again.  Sometimes I have nothing to say, because the Word of God says it all.  I hope someone finds peace and strength in this passage.  Join me in praying for those impacted by the tragedy in Boston yesterday.

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A Gathering of Links VII

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I hope wherever you are, you are taking in spring and the glory of God’s creation.  We had a beautiful time of worship with some friends last night and spent the majority of our day at the community garden.  It has been so good for my soul to be outside, surrounded by new life.  I am reminded of new life in Christ Jesus.

Thanks to all of you for making my most popular post What I Gather About…. Here.  It was dedicated to my husband.  I hope you could tell how great he is from the way I gushed!

Here are my favorite links from the last week.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

Parenting:

From Lisa-Jo Baker, when you’re wondering if you can face another week of the same routine.

Food:

From Jerusalem Greer, because bread pudding is one of my favorite foods ever.

From A Cozy Kitchen, because who doesn’t love spaghetti and meatballs?

For Inspiration:

An interview with Sarah Bessey.

Please take a moment to look through these breath-taking photos from Smithsonian Magazine.  God’s beauty is all around.

Have you subscribed to A Holy Experience yet?  Take my word and do yourself the favor.  I am weekly amazed by the beauty and depth of Ann Voskamp’s words.  It is so hard to choose a favorite to share with you, so read them all!  My favorite this week was this…. When Life Burns, What We Could Do For Each Other.

I also want to share a quote with you that I read from Rachel Held Evan’s blog.  It was spoken by Brennan Manning, who recently passed away.  I didn’t know who he was, but this quote has been in my mind an on my heart all week.

“The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creation. Not to make people with better morals but to create a community of prophets and professional lovers, men and women who would surrender to the mystery of the fire of the Spirit that burns within, who would live in ever greater fidelity to the omnipresent Word of God, who would enter into the center of it all, the very heart and mystery of Christ, into the center of the flame that consumes, purifies, and sets everything aglow with peace, joy, boldness, and extravagant, furious love. This, my friend, is what it really means to be a Christian.” ― Brennan Manning

I hope you enjoy my favorite links from the week.  I will leave you with my Instagrams from this past week.

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Gathering In Close

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When I was 19 and in college, I started working at a preschool at a church in Indianapolis.  I have worked there off and on ever since.  My boss and co-workers are great.  They have been flexible with the birth of both of my girls and our travel to Cuba, hiring me whenever I need a job and they have an opening, and letting my sub when they don’t have an opening and I need some extra money.  They have graciously let me take both of my girls to their preschool program for free while I work.  It’s a job made in heaven for this mom.

Currently I work two days a week.  I leave with Isabel about 7:15, before Ava wakes up for school.  Jimmie gets Ava on the bus, then I am home by the time she gets off the bus at 3:45.  It has been a pretty good system for us.

Recently, though, Ava has been complaining about me going to work.  Many nights throughout the past eight months we have dealt with supposed stomach-aches, tears, and guilt-trips.  Our typical conversation has gone something like this:

Ava:  Are you working tomorrow?

Me:  Yes, Ava, I work every Monday and Thursday.  You know that.

Ava:  I don’t WANT you to go to work tomorrow!

Me:  Ava, you know Daddy will be here with you in the morning.  I already laid out your clothes.  He will get you on the bus.  It will all be fine.

Ava:  But I don’t WANT Daddy to get me on the bus.  I want YOU to get me on the bus.

So the conversation goes.  This has been a little unusual for Ava, considering she has always been a Daddy’s girl and most days would choose her dad in a flash!  I have tried to comfort her, reminding her that many kids don’t have the luxury of having parents home to get them on OR off the bus.  I have talked to her about what a blessing my job is to our family and how good it is for Isabel to go to school, just like she was able to go to that preschool.  I have prayed with her, hugged her extra tight.  I have tried waking her up before I leave for work, just to say goodbye.  I have tried sending her morning texts before I clock in at work.  I have even talked to her on the phone before she gets on the bus.  None of it worked.  The complaining had been getting worse and worse.

Fast forward to this past Monday.  She begged me to wake her up before I left for work.  When I did, she opened her eyes, looked at me, and started sobbing.  I eased her back to sleep.  That night at the dinner table, we had a discussion.  It went something like this:

Me:  Ava, we really need to talk about how you react to me going to work.  I feel like you are trying to make me feel really guilty and I don’t understand why.

Ava:  (tearing up)  I just want you home in the morning.

Me:  Ava, Daddy is always here with you.  We never leave you alone.  I just don’t understand.

Jimmie:  (thank God for Jimmie)  Ava, does it bother you that Mommy isn’t close to your school during the day?

Ava cried, nodding her head.  Thanks to Jimmie’s probing question, the reality of what she was feeling hit me hard.  I work 35 minutes away.  Jimmie works 45 minutes away.  Ava has been worried all this time that if something happened at school, Mom and Dad wouldn’t be close.

We went on to have a conversation about what would happen in an emergency.  We eased her fears by letting her know we both always have our cellphones and that our neighbor and friend Tasha is almost always home during the day.  She relaxed and didn’t say anything about me going to work on Thursday.

As I have thought this week about Ava’s internal struggle, I have had great empathy for her feelings.  I have recognized a similar longing inside of me.  It has been a prayer, a stirring in my soul for as long as I can remember.  I have cried it out.  I have worried about it, whispered it as a prayer in the middle of the night.  It has been the plea of my heart and will continue to be as long as I live.  It is the cry of a vulnerable child to a loving parent.

God, just let me know that you are close.

Lord, no matter what path you have placed me upon, let me feel your presence near. 

Be close enough that I may hear your still, small voice.

Be present in my life, that I may see your beauty in the many moments of my day.

When I cry, send comfort.

When I am broken, mend the pieces of my life.

When I find myself in the mire, lift me out with your ever-present hand.

When I call upon your name, come to my rescue as only you can.

Jesus, just let me know that you are near.

“It is the LORD who goes before you.  He will be with you; he will not leave or forsake you.  Do not fear or be dismayed.”  (Deuteronomy 31:8)

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalms 46:1)

Have any of you had any similar experiences with your children?  Can you relate to my prayers?  Do you feel God near?  Do you worry when you don’t feel him close or can you rest in knowing he is there whether you feel him or not?  I would love your feedback!

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