I Gather a Letter of Love (Happy Birthday, Jimmie)

Dear Jimmie,

Today is your birthday.  You are 32 and I realize that I have spent over half of my life loving you.  I can’t remember the exact moment I fell in love, but I remember whispering to a friend at such a young age, “I will marry him.”

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The road hasn’t been easy.  Not by any means.  You comforted me through the greatest loss I faced at 16.  You patiently waited while I searched for something or someone to fill up that hole in my heart.  Had I only paid attention from the start, I would have realized that your unselfish love always pointed me to the only one who could fill that void.

We were too young.  Of course we were.  And yet I knew, I knew, I KNEW… God had sent you into my life.  He sent me into yours.  I had lost the man I loved all of my childhood, and God sent you to me early…. a precious gift.  I would never trade even one of those early years.  Married at 19 simply means we have had more years to love each other.

I haven’t forgotten.  The day you forgave… instantly… my transgressions with a gracious embrace that turned me toward the light and freedom of love.  That is who you are.  One who forgives.

The rocky road we walked, recognizing that His strength is made perfect in our weaknesses.

We had weaknesses, let’s not forget.

And then we had the kind of new beginning that only a resurrected Savior can offer.  You loved me through those times and I will never forget.   You chose me over and over again, demonstrating the kind of love that has no boundaries, made possible only by your continual choice to be a vessel of the Holy Spirit.

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I witnessed as you and I propelled, as the minister prophesied…. propelled into a ministry that was more terrifying and rewarding than I ever could have imagined.  We walked those dusty streets in the tropical sun, and were reborn again.  Reborn into a purpose beyond anything we could ask or think.  I watched you transform into an empty, willing vessel.  And I was proud.

Despite your youth, you proclaimed the gospel, stood for justice and mercy, held your ground, and poured yourself into people and purpose.  Your compassion and love for humanity poured from you, in prayers, lifestyle and conversation.

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I will never forget what it felt like to be united for a common purpose in a strange land that somehow felt like home…. away from everything and everyone familiar, we walked hand-in-hand through the new terrain. Our marriage and our love were reborn and we have never been the same.

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Some people have us all wrong, thinking I am strong because I communicate more.  Or thinking I am the forgiving one because I put on a smile in the midst of heartbreak and anger.

But you…. you exude strength.  You are filled with the strength that comes only from having an unquestionable purpose.  You work and pray and work and pray to see the Kingdom come.  You forgive freely, praying earnestly for your enemies.  You are so filled with the love of God that it spills out into all aspects of your life.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.

When I interject my name in the place of “love” in this passage from Corinthians, I feel like a liar.  When I interject your name, Jimmie, I feel like I am accurately describing so many aspects of your personality.  You have loved me patiently, in spite of my irritability and stubbornness.  You are kind to all.  On and on it goes.  You endure all things.  Your love never ends.

You are the human face of God’s love in my life.  You love me enough to call me out on my nonsense.  You love me enough to make space for my gifts and callings.  You love me enough to forgive, time and time again, no matter how great or small the offense.  You love me enough to pull me up when I’m sinking.  You love me enough to point me to Jesus…. every time.

rachael

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I have never gushed about you in public like this.  I know you prefer to fly under the radar.  I know you never want people to see you, only Jesus.  But today you are 32 and I celebrate you.  I honor you.  And I can only hope to love you the way you love all.

Happy Birthday.

Yours,

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Gathering Self Control (and an announcement)

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It was one of those rare days when I went to bed having accomplished all I wanted to accomplish during my day.  I spent time with an old friend, played with my kids, read scripture, spent time in prayer, connected with my husband, cooked a healthy dinner and walked/jogged over three miles.  I felt healthy, happy and connected to God and his purpose for me.

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When I gave up sweets for Lent, I lost 9 lbs.  After a few days of serious withdraws, it was smooth sailing.  I didn’t crave sweets anymore, and I naturally started making healthier food choices.  My head felt clearer, my body lighter and my spirit edified.

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Yesterday I had a talk with Ava about spiritual growth.  We discussed how once you have been filled with the Holy Spirit, it is our responsibility to nurture the spiritual man in order to experience spiritual growth.  We talked about the fruit of the Spirit being evidence of that growth.  We pulled out a list of the fruits of the Spirit and I asked her to mark the three she felt she needed to work on developing with the help of God.  #1?  Self-control.

Join the club, sister.

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Last year I was talking with my pastor-brother about how I struggle with discipline.  His response was basically something along these lines….. “Rachael, the root of the majority of our problems is lack of discipline and self-control.  Join the club.”

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I think of Paul’s words to the Romans…..

“For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.  For I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate……. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members…..”

I highly recommend studying Romans chapter 7.

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So, here I am, making a declaration.  I know that my works do not save me, as I know that my righteousness is as filthy rags before a holy Savior.  However, I also know that there is something powerful in denying the flesh and feeding the spiritual man.

I am cutting out sweets and soda for the remainder of the year as a small part of my plan to deny my flesh and feed my spirit.  

I am doing this for many reasons.  I am a sugar-addict.  I want to be healthier and I want my family to be healthier.  Cutting out sweets has proven to radically change my diet for the better.  Cancer and heart disease run in my family.  Diabetes runs in Jimmie’s family.  I am reading more and more about the long-term dangers of drinking soda.  My friend just had a baby and is attempting to lose the extra baby weight and I want to be supportive.

Mostly, I am doing this to deny my flesh, making room for my spiritual man to grow.  Through prayer and fasting, I want to be an example to my daughter of what the fruit of self-control looks like when developed.  I fear I have been a poor example to her.

So far I have five other adults joining me.

I am making a little wiggle room, in order to remain flexible.  I will allow myself one day a month to eat sweets if I so desire, mainly for the purpose of enjoying holidays (4th of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas).  I will occasionally use sugar in my coffee, I will allow myself to occasionally eat Nutella and syrup on my pancakes and I will use honey to sweeten smoothies and such on occasion.  Otherwise, no soda, cookies, candy, cakes, shakes, pies, ice-cream (yikes!), cupcakes, and anything else obviously considered to be dessert.

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Does anyone want to join me?  Maybe for you giving up sweets wouldn’t be difficult or meaningful.  Maybe it is television, social media time, potato chips, smoking, alcohol, inactivity, or something else entirely.  But maybe you feel a nudge to deny the flesh and feed the spirit?  I would love to have others on this journey with me.

Even if you don’t join, would you mind sharing what you would give up IF you participated?  I think it would be a positive activity for me and all of my readers to identify some of the areas in our lives where we lack self-control.

And forgive me in advance if you cross my path in the next week or two.  This fast starts tomorrow.

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What I Gather About Roads

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I’m one of those people who allows my mind to wander when I’m alone.  I sometimes spend an excessive amount of time pondering some kind of meaningless topic.

This happened yesterday in the car.  I was driving to Castleton to pick up something at a craft store.  I was flying down I-69 and started thinking about how the roads I use most have drastically changed since I moved.

When I lived in Castleton, 96th Street and Allisonville were my lifelines.  They got me everywhere.  When we lived in Westfield, I traveled by US 31, Keystone, and Rangeline.  Now that we live in Noblesville, I find myself using SR 37, I-69 and 146th street to get me nearly everywhere.

As I thought about this, I realized that many of my destinations are still the same.  I still visit Mom or the in-laws in Westfield.  I have been driving into Carmel to tutor at the library.  I am in Castleton at least once a week for Ava’s violin lesson.  I sometimes visit the malls in either Castleton, Keystone, or downtown.  I shop at Goodwills all over north Indy.

Can you see what I’m talking about?  Spending so much time pondering a useless subject?

Then I had my come-to-Jesus moment, right there in the car.  His presence swept over me, tears filled my eyes, and I was overwhelmed to have one of those moments when you feel God is giving you just-a-little-glimpse into what his plan is for your life….

God has transplanted me.

Hear me out.  I’m not talking about moving away from Christ Jesus as the rock on which I stand, abandoning all of the old paths, or compromising on unchanging truths.  In that regard, I pray I am a tree, planted by the water that shall not be moved.

Yet in a spiritual sense, I have been uprooted and planted someplace new.  Therefore the roads I travel have changed as well.

The simple revelation that swept over me in the car was that while the roads I travel have changed, MY DESTINATION IS THE SAME! I haven’t taken some detour resulting from my own poor navigational skills.  God prodded and poked, made the nest uncomfortable and practically pushed me over the edge until I complied and made my home in a new place.

The roads I travel look a bit different.  The scenery is unfamiliar and I’m learning my way around.  However, some things are recognizable.  I see God’s beauty and hand at work everywhere I look, just as I did before.  Jesus is still the rock on which I stand, my firm foundation in my new home.  My ultimate purpose, the Great Commission, has not changed…. although the roads getting me there are a bit new to me.

Some days I miss my old home, that place of comfort where I learned and thrived.  I miss the old roads I traveled to arrive at my destination.  They were familiar and beautiful and holy.  Yet I feel a sense of adventure in this moment, knowing my new home was not a place of my choosing, nevertheless is exactly where I am meant to dwell.

So I move forward, praying to my navigator, determined not to get lost, and anticipating the final destination with great joy.

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Tell me about times in your life God has transplanted you?  What was difficult about those times?  What was exciting?  How did you know you were in the place God wanted you?  Did it take prodding to get you there?  I would love to hear your feedback!

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What I Gather About…. the View

Five Minute Friday

It’s that time again… time for Five Minute Friday. I am joining with lots of other bloggers who will write for five minutes about one word. Today’s word… VIEW. For more information, to participate, or to read lots of great writing, check out Lisa-Jo Baker’s site.

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The view from the roof was always my favorite.  I loved sitting up there on our plastic chairs, seeing the Cuban countryside and the rooftops of my temporary neighbors.  I loved the sun shining down on my as I hung the clothes on the line to dry in the bright, hot sun.

That view meant the world to me.

Especially the day I spoke a new language.  Oh yes, I had been learning and practicing Spanish for years… but on that day, with a rooftop view, I had the conversation that would change my life.

I spoke with my Cuban brother, Pastor Juan.  I can’t remember what we spoke about.  All I remember is that after 15 minutes or so of conversation in Spanish, I realized not one English word had passed through my head.

It was the first conversation in Spanish that flowed… no interruptions to translate from English to Spanish.

I remember being astounded.

Looking out, over this land… this country that I loved, I lifted my face to the sky and praised God.  For I had all I desired in that moment.  I was in Cuba.  I was with my Cuban friend in our Cuban home.  And finally, after so many years of books and teachers and studying and class, I spoke the language of my heart freely and without hesitation.

In that moment, I was home.  And the view was spectacular.

STOP

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What I Gather About Myself as Mom

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I laughed a little as I wrote that title, for several reasons.  Do any of us really have all of the answers about motherhood?  And if anyone does have all of the answers, surely it isn’t this 32-year-old with two children under the age of ten.

And yet the subject of motherhood has been on my mind a lot lately.  I recently spent a week away from my family, returning just in time for Mother’s Day.  I must confess, I felt a little torn while I was away.  I missed my girls every day, but I also felt an overwhelming peace, just having some time to myself, some time to breathe.  And that feeling of peace, having space and time to breathe?  It made me feel a little guilty.  Upon some self-reflection, I came to two conclusions about Rachael as mom that I will reluctantly joyfully share with you.

1.  Rachael is selfish.  Motherhood has a way of showing me 1,000 times a day, in ways both small and large, just how selfish I am.  Many days, my first thought is of how I wish my kids had slept longer so I could sleep myself.

When I want to write, Isabel wants to play with me.  When I am reading, Isabel needs her 13th drink of the day.  When I am taking a bath, Ava bangs on the door.  When I want to go out on a date with Jimmie, I can’t because there isn’t anyone to watch the kids.  I want to go hang out with friends but Isabel has to get in bed.  And on and on and on and on it goes.  

Let me just be straight with you.  My kids are six years apart for a reason!  I loved being a mom from the start, but I also daily got a glimpse into my own selfishness when I had Ava.  I was young, clueless and ALWAYS FELT INCONVENIENCED.  That’s not easy to admit, but it is the truth.  So I waited until Ava was fairly self-sufficient before I considered bringing another demanding human being into the world.

Let me try to make that last sentence sound better…. Because of my awareness of my own selfish inclinations, I felt it would be best for any future children to not have my attention constantly pulled in two directions.  Better?

Before I draw some conclusions about my selfish nature, let me get into the second conclusion about myself as mother…..

2. Rachael loves fiercely.I fell in love with both of my babies the moment I laid eyes on them.

With Ava, I have always been amazed at her outgoing nature, leadership abilities and her brain.  I stare in wonder at her face, amazed that God allowed us to be the parents of such an exceptional human being.

Isabel has always been my baby, my baby, my baby.  I hold her close, remembering that God promised her to me.  She is a gift, heaven-sent, to bring joy and love into our home and the world.

They are my girls and I love them the way only a mother can.  You better believe that if someone tries to hurt them I will throw rocks at them show up to defend my babies.  My love for them is constant.  It surges in unexpected ways that astound me.

And so I am confronted with this dichotomy of selfish Rachael and loving Rachael on a daily basis.

Until I realize that God is in it all.

God knows my innermost being.  There is no character flaw that is hidden from his probing gaze.  He knows the deepest, darkest places of my heart.  And yet…. he sent these children into my life, knowing that in spite of my humanity and selfishness, I would love them unconditionally.  This very combination of selfishness and love is what transforms me into a better mom and ultimately a better person.

I am selfish but I love my children.  In order for me to demonstrate that love effectively, I must confront my selfish nature daily.  I must allow the Holy Spirit to illuminate the darkest places of my heart so that the heart I show my girls is full of love and the light of a savior.

Jesus uses me as an instrument to point my girls to him.  Jesus also uses my girls as an instrument to point ME to him.

There are days motherhood brings out the worst in me.  I find myself yelling or grumpy or angry or resentful.  I’m sorry to say these days happen in my house.  However, I see how over time, God has chipped away at my selfishness and I am transforming into a more giving, generous, loving, forgiving, graceful and compassionate person.  Motherhood has been that vehicle of transformation and I thank God that in his grace, I am slowly becoming the kind of mother my girls deserve.

Maybe I will get there before they move out.

What about you?  What has motherhood taught you about yourself?  If you don’t have children yet, what scares you about motherhood? What vehicle, other than motherhood, has God used to transform you?  I welcome your feedback and HOPE I’m not alone here!

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Gathering My Thoughts on Man in 8D

I have been absent from the blog world for over a week now and have MISSED IT!  I drove my niece to New Jersey and spent the week getting her settled in her new home.  You will hear more about my trip when I have more time, but for now, I want to share with you a letter to the man I sat next to on my flight home.  Do you ever have a simple interaction with someone and leave feeling you somehow had an interaction with Jesus?  That happened to me on the plane and I wanted to share my experience with you.

Dear Man in 8D,

I must admit that I smirked at your visor.  Who wears visors anymore, anyway?  It made me smile.  You were all distinguished looking, all business in your khakis, pressed dress shirt, well-groomed hair…. then… visor.

You make the customary small talk.  “Travels going well today?” or something of the sort.

I see you, 8D.

Maybe you are tired from your long business trip, but you help me with my bags, smile genuinely and ask where I am headed.

“You like Francis Chan?” you ask when you see his name on my book.

I see you, 8D, the way you perk up, the way the light turns on when you have an open door to talk about your faith.

8D, you travel the world.  You seem to have an important job and money, but I see Jesus in your eyes.

I see Jesus in your eyes when you tell me about the sunrise over Jerusalem.  How you only had a few hours, but you rented that car, watched the sun shine its light over the city that changed our destinies.  I see how moved you were at that holy place, that sacred moment.

You seem important, 8D, but you humbly tell me about serving on the board at an inner-city mission.

I see you, 8D.

I see you when we talk of Cuba and you tell me, ever so concerned, about your friend’s daughter.  How she struggles, how she is going to Barbados on a mission and I see your hope that she will return forever changed.

You ask what I do and you respond something about “important work.’  We both work at things.

We both know which of those things are the important ones, 8D.

You tell me about Tim Keller, an author who changed your life.  I see your hunger.  I see that you are a seeker.

As the plane descends, I look out in wonder at such beauty.

I see you., 8D.

You help me with my bag again and wish me safe travels.  I wish you safe travels, too, and I like to think we both mean it in a way that goes beyond our journeys today on this plane.

I see you, 8D.

I see you and I am reminded that you are my brother.  I am reminded that you and I are just two in a kingdom full of 8Ds or 8Fs.  I forget sometimes, but you remind me that people everywhere are going through their lives, doing their best to help others with their bags, lighten the loads of others…. follow Jesus.  Thank you for that reminder, 8D.  I needed it today.

Sincerely,

Woman in 8F

What I Gather About $5,200 and Braces

I am ruined.

I think that phrase probably merits an explanation, so here goes.

A few months ago we took Ava to the orthodontist for a free consultation, knowing braces were in her future.  Sure enough, we were told Ava has a particularly serious lack of space in her mouth, not to mention a major cross-bite.  The cost for an expander and two years of braces?  $5,200.

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I am ruined because in the months since realizing we would spend $5,200 on braces, my brain has been thinking of all the things we could do with $5,200.

We could buy a church in Cuba.

We could sponsor 12.38 orphans in Uganda for a year.

We could sponsor one orphan in Uganda for 12 years.

We could help our friends in Cuba improve their home, or just buy them a new one.

We could pay for a family we know to get caught up on their house payment and not lose their home.

We could buy 346 chairs for churches in Cuba in need of seating.

We could surprise my cousin’s church in Jersey City with an offering.

We could buy a couple mopeds for pastors in Cuba without transportation.

I could give an offering to a friend wanting to adopt.

My friends, I am ruined.

It has been a process getting to this place of ruin.  My dad was always generous with his money, supporting missionaries all over the world.  I have seen poverty in Cuba.  I know how $5,200 can bless a Cuban church.  I have talked to my friend Linda about the starvation of kids in Uganda.  I gave up shopping for a year.  The Holy Spirit nudges me nearly every time I find myself thinking I “need” something.  I am ruined.

On top of all of that, I am uncomfortable with the societal pressure to look perfect.  I don’t want to send the message to Ava that she isn’t good enough, that her appearance is so important to us that we will spend more money than we spend on practically anything on “fixing” it.

And yet… I don’t want her to go through life judged negatively because of a not-perfect smile.  Girls and especially teenage girls in the U.S. face enough pressure as it is.  I certainly don’t want to contribute to what will surely be feelings of inadequacy in her teenage years by not getting her braces.

Then I think of Sarai, Ava’s friend in Cuba.  She is one month older than Ava and just as precious to God and almost as precious to me.  I think of what Sarai worries about.  Sarai deals with an empty belly when her parents are low on money.  Sarai has a lymphatic problem in her leg which causes it to swell 2-3 times the normal size.  Sarai rarely has shoes that are comfortable for her to wear on her long walk to and from school.  Should Sarai have a severe toothache, her tooth would most likely be pulled.  She has no hope of a perfectly straight, gleaming white smile.  Yet Sarai is happy, content, loved and secure.  Sarai loves and is loved by God.  For Sarai, perhaps that is enough.

Sarai

Yes, I am ruined, but I don’t want to be any other way.  I never want to go back to my calloused indifference.  I never want to go back to thinking that where my money goes doesn’t represent where my heart is.  It matters how our family spends $5,200, and at the end of the day, I have to give an account to God in prayer for the kind of steward I am.  If I want to be held accountable for every dollar I spend, I certainly must be held accountable for spending 5,200 of them.  Ava has her braces, but the money was not spent lightly.

Oh, I recognize the risk I take saying this out loud.  It is a risk because I am setting myself up to be judged.  Every new outfit, every car, every home, every purchase I make has the potential to be judged by those around me.  Yes, this makes me uncomfortable.  But surely I must recognize that God sees every purchase I make, whether you do or not.  His opinion matters and let me just say it, matters more than yours.

I am ruined and that is because children are dying of starvation.  I am ruined because all people do not have access to clean water and medical treatment.  I am ruined because my brothers and sisters in Christ suffer.  I am ruined because people are dying without hearing the good news of Jesus Christ.  I am ruined because people in my own city are going to bed hungry.  I am ruined because someone I know may lose their home.  I am ruined because a friend lost their job and doesn’t know how they will pay their bills.  I am ruined because the gospel message has not been preached to every tribe and tongue.

And ruined I will remain.

What about you?  Have you had any experiences that have left you more aware of how you spend your money?  What process do you go through when spending large amounts of money?  Is prayer involved?  What is the most rewarding thing you have done with your money?  I would love to hear your feedback!

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What I Gather About… Brave

Five Minute Friday

Today is 5 Minute Friday!  The word of the day:  BRAVE!  Check out more fantastic writing on Lisa-Jo Baker’s blog!

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Some days I feel brave.  In front of me I see wide open spaces, lots of sunlight flooding green fields full of life.  I’ve walked this path long enough to know that while I may see wide open spaces in front of me, it’s just the view he is letting me enjoy.  The path he lays out before me is always a narrow one.  I’m accustomed to and comforted by the gentle prodding when I get off track.

I have felt brave before.  I think of the journeys I have been on, led by one who seems to take delight in keeping my future a secret from me.  That’s okay.  Everywhere I have been with him has been rich and full and beautiful.  Hard, oh yes.  That doesn’t scare me anymore.

Okay, okay.  Sometimes I’m scared out of my mind, not of what’s hard but of the unknown.

Not today.  I am brave and looking ahead and feel thrill. THRILL!  I never use that word, but it seems fitting.  I have the tools I need, won by conquered battles and the equipping of the Holy Spirit.  What more could I need?  I have laborers alongside me and I will not look back.  I press toward the mark, he is my prize.

Yes, I am brave today.  I have been afraid and paralyzed at times but today I am brave and I choose to take a step.

(STOP)

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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 (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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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 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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What I Gather About…. Here

 

Five Minute Friday

Today’s 5 Minute Friday prompt is HERE.  To participate, check out Lisa-Jo Baker’s page here.  How we do it?  Set a timer for 5 minutes and write… no over-thinking or editing.  This is what I gather about here.

(GO)

When I think about our here, I think about the there that got us here.  Those months spent in the tropical sun, fighting with mosquitoes and fire ants.  Figuring out how to stay cool and keep our girl safe.

I think about meetings making decisions that were way too big for us to make and the threat of being followed.  That there, in Cuba, is what I think about.

I think about the late nights with no TV or entertainment, when we were forced to talk well into the night, find our joy in simply being in each other’s company.  I think about how we were forced to grow spiritually together, in order to be able to help those we were sent to help.  I think about the heat, the challenges of living without conveniences, the long walks on dusty roads, the table games for entertainment.  I think of meeting person after person who didn’t speak our language, either verbally or culturally.

That there is what got us here.  That was the preparation for this rocky road we have walked, hand in hand.  The there, getting to know you and lean on you and learn you is what got me here.  And here we are, with wide spaces in front of us.  We are here because of the there and for that I will always be grateful.

Maybe one day our here will be in the tropical sun again.  For now, my heart is at rest, here with you by my side.  I have learned, because of the there, that my here is wherever you are.

(STOP)

A Gathering of Goodwill Finds: Dress Edition

Anyone who knows me well knows my obsession addiction love for Goodwill.  A few weeks ago I posted some of my favorite Goodwill finds for my kitchen and got a lot of positive feedback.  So this week I thought I would share with you some of my favorite dresses from Goodwill.

I practically live in dresses.  In the winter I pair them with sweaters and boots.  In the summer they are perfect with sandals and help me stay cool in the summer heat.  The dresses in this post aren’t my only dresses purchased at Goodwill, they are just a handful of my favorites that aren’t stored away.  I would also like to mention that all of these dresses were purchased for either $6.99 on a normal day or (most of them) for $3.49 of half-off day.  No wonder I have issues shopping at normal stores these days!

IMG_2760This is one of those great little black dresses.  It’s comfortable and I especially love the buttons.  I have dressed it up with leopard print heels.  I have worn it to everything from funerals to church services to conferences.  I tried to find a comparable price if this had been purchased new, but the company, LAYERS clothing doesn’t have a website that I can find.

IMG_2762This is a navy Tommy Bahama dress, which would retail around $90-$100 new.  It has been in storage and is need of some ironing, but the quality is obviously high.  I love this dress for summer.  I have paired it with short-sleeved cardigans of many colors… yellow, white, red, red striped, etc.  It is so versatile.  I am a recent convert to navy.  When I was a teenager someone told me blue wasn’t my color, so I didn’t wear blue or navy for a long time.  Now I love it and have a lot of navy in my closet.

IMG_2764This is one of my favorite go-to dresses.  It is a Tommy Hilfiger dress, and would retail well over $50.  The fit and length are perfect.  It has pockets, which I love and obviously can be worn with anything.

IMG_2766This is one of my all-time favorite finds at Goodwill.  I bought it for my niece, but took it back after noticing she never wore it.  It is a Free People crocheted dress.  Similar Free People dresses retail anywhere from $100-$300.  This is a really fun dress to wear to parties (obviously with something underneath) and I have also dressed it up a lot with red heels.  I love it because it is so unique.  I have received more compliments on this dress than any other item of clothing in my closet.

IMG_2768The detail is gorgeous and my iPhone photos don’t do it justice!

IMG_2769I love the Indy Goodwills because they get tons of new items straight from local Targets.  This is a Merona dress from Target.  It still had tags on it and was originally about $30.  I love maxi dresses.  To me, nothing is more comfortable than a long maxi dress.  I don’t wear purple much, but really liked this print.  I think I will get a lot of use out of it this summer.

IMG_2771This is another denim dress from Isaac Mizrahi for Target.  I can’t emphasize enough how cute this dress is on a body!  It is so flattering and I love the collar.  My niece Chelsea wanted this for herself, but I selfishly claimed it as my own.  I have already worn it with a cute coral sweater and brown sandals.  This would retail at Target for about $35-$40.

IMG_2773This dress is in serious need of ironing!  It is one of my favorite dresses for lots of reasons.  I love the comfy t-shirt material at the top.  The color is my all-time favorite, hands down.  The fit is perfect and I can’t wait to wear it out this summer!  It is from Gap and would retail around $50.  I would say my $3.50 was a steal!

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I hope you have enjoyed seeing some of my favorite dresses from Goodwill. How about you? Do you shop at Goodwill? Does it gross you out buying used clothing? What are some of your best finds? Which of these dresses in my post is your favorite? I would love your feedback!

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What I Gather About…. After

 

Five Minute Friday

I have been reading Lisa-Jo Baker’s Five Minute Friday posts for several weeks now, and just this week got the guts to participate.  Basically, she gives you a word, you write for five minutes, then link up on her website.  Today’s word is AFTER.  Feel free to check out her site here and participate with me!

(START)

My mind instantly races to the “after” of all the bad moments of my life.

After he died.

After the mess my marriage was in.

After I made that huge mistake.

On and on.  I wonder now why my mind goes there.  I think I have always had an easier time with the guilt-part of my faith.  The self-reflection while looking in the mirror of the Word of God, as says the book of James.

I have had a much harder time with the joy-part of my faith.  My celebrations are few and far between, always interrupted by recognizing my flaws and wanting God to CHANGE ME, PLEASE.

Yet I know there is are so many joyful afters.  I just have to make my mind work harder to see them.

After I met Jesus.

After I healed.

After my wedding.

After my bundle of Ava.

After my sweet Isabel.

After I learned to live in community.

After I took that step of faith.

After God gave me the answers I was searching for.

After I gave up  trying to reach perfection.

Wow.  Writing out the positive afters was actually easier than writing out the negative ones.  Maybe that’s a clue for us all…. we can find the joy and reason to celebrate if we simply LOOK.

(STOP)

What I Gather About… The Walk to Golgotha

The road is dusty.  My gaze is fixed on him.  His eyes pierce through the layers and see my soul.  We walk.  The pace is slow.  The crowds line the road.  I know his load is heavy, but I focus on his eyes.

“Why are you showing me this, Jesus?  You know I appreciate the load you carried for me.  Do I need to appreciate it more?  Is that what this journey is about?”

I see the sweat on his brow, the anguish of the cross he does not deserve to carry.  His gaze never leaves me. We walk.

“Jesus, you know I will walk with you.  I know the price to follow is high.  I have counted that cost and here I am.  So why are you showing me this?”

And then I hear it. In all my time as a follower, I had never thought of the sounds he endured on that walk.  At first the sounds were in the background.  As my ears were opened, the voices were magnified.

Slander.  Accusations.  Hate.  Lies.  Rage.  Mocking.

Looking into the face of love, the origin of love, I am overwhelmed by the sounds.  He doesn’t deserve it.  “He is innocent!” I want to scream.  I want to silence the shouts, the screams, the laughter.  His piercing eyes tell me he feels the pain inflicted by those cries.  Yes, he is God, but he is also man and his heart breaks.

“Jesus, why am I hearing this?  What are you trying to tell me?”

When you walk with me…. when you take up your cross and follow me… you will hear what we are hearing now.  It is part of the cost of walking this road to Golgotha. 

The truth of his words penetrate into the deepest, darkest places of my heart.  Those places that are too tender to touch and so are buried in a dark corner.  Those wounds inflicted by sharp words that cut me to the core, making me question my worth and my purpose.  Those lies that I struggle not to believe about myself.  Those wounds that caught me so off guard, coming at times from my people.

But these people I hear now, on this road, these people taking aim and firing words of accusation at love himself… they are his people.  They are his family, his town.  They are the ones he talked with in the synagogue.  The ones who heard him explain the kingdom on that mountain.  They go back generations, with heritage, history, in covenant together.  The very same ones…. these are the ones I hear, even now.

We walk.  My tears blur the view of my savior’s face, but I know his gaze hasn’t left me.  I thought I had counted the cost.  Now I count again.  Is it worth it?  Accusations and lies hurt.  But if I don’t ever hear them…. am I following?  Am I on that path with my savior, walking to the crucifixion of my own flesh?

And in that moment I know, as I knew before.  No cost is too high.  If walking with him means enduring the vile sounds of the crowds, I must endure.  I must endure, for there is no walk I would rather be on than this one.  There is no company I would rather keep than my present company.  There are no eyes I would rather focus on during this journey.  There is no gaze I would rather have on me.  And so, with a heavy cross on my back, I follow him.  I follow to my death and therefore to my life.

*Disclaimer:  the previous is a conversation based on something that I saw and felt in prayer one day when I was really struggling.  I have added details for the sake of telling a story, which I hope will strengthen and encourage someone.  I am in no way saying that God and I had this word-for-word conversation.  I would also like to emphasize that I believe in spiritual authority and accountability.  The “voices” in this story are not the voices of spiritual leadership in my life.

What I Gather About Layers, Life and Spring

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It should be expected, where I live.  First day of spring and all I see is grey, all I feel is cold.  But something about this season is different.  I need the sun.  I need to feel warmth on my skin and the sun on my face.  I need to smell the grass mixed with dew when I wake.  I need to breathe warmth into my lungs and know life is on the way.

I ask, “Why the cold?”

I want all of the layers peeled back.  I need to see what’s left there, underneath the layers, after this long, dark and ever-so-cold winter.  The winter of ice and snow and storms that made me want to hibernate, head buried in a warm blanket and never come out.  Is there heat left in me?  Is the fire out?  Is there still flesh under these layers?  Am I calloused beyond recognition?

Are my protective layers ready to be shed?  Will I survive without them?

Dear God, tell me you have been doing something underneath it all.  Am I a frozen wasteland, too damaged by environment and the elements to see a resurrection of sorts?

Then the thought enters my mind… could it be?  Have those elements… that ice, that snow that felt so bitterly cold against my flesh and bone… so cold I thought I’d never survive it…. have those very same elements become my water supply underneath the surface?  Have those cold waters melted into this soil of my heart, of my life?

I can’t escape the hope, the feeling in my gut that under all the layers…. as I peel them back, slowly but deliberately, I will find something fertile, something green.  I expect tender spouts, starter plants of a new variety.

All things new?  That sounds familiar.  Something beautiful?   I have heard that somewhere.

Yes, I expect life and growth and green.  I suspect seed has taken root and sprouted, ready to grow and thrive, with help from the spring rain, sun and warmth… with help from the giver of life.

After all, this is the season of hope and anticipation.

People thought all hope had been lost, didn’t they?  In that cold, dark season of the grave, when the sky darkened and lovers of you wept for loss and death and darkness.

Yet something stirred, something green and new.  Something that looked, sounded and even smelled of life surfacing once again… and the world was never the same.

What I Gather About Comparison

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I have heard this quote numerous times throughout my life and hadn’t really considered it until fairly recently.  During a trip to Cuba, my husband preached a message about comparing ourselves with one another based on 2 Corinthians 10.  It was such an eye-opening sermon.  I realize now that this is an area of weakness for me.

I am competitive, goal-oriented and persistent.  I tell myself that I have a realistic perception of my strengths and weaknesses (doesn’t everybody?).  Basically, I want to be the best, and I know when I’m not.  I find myself comparing Rachael to the kind of people who I am sure you would find amusing.  Let me just give you some examples.

Funny Rachael

I am not funny and I know this.  Yet, somehow I have this idea in the back of my head that buried somewhere deep down is a comedian, that I SHOULD be funny.I have a handful of friends who should be comedians by profession.  On that rare occasion when I make any of those friends laugh, I am caught so off guard that I literally have to take a moment, rewind, and figure out WHAT IN THE WORLD JUST HAPPENED?  I am no comedian, but there are times I want to be like those people who are.

Singer Rachael

I’ve been singing since I was old enough to carry a microphone and carry a tune.  School concerts, college choirs, solos at church, camps, conferences, in my car, in my kitchen.  You name it.  I love it and I realize I have a decent voice.  But let me assure you, I am my own worst critic.  Instead of comparing myself to the worship leader down the road, I compare myself to Mariah Carey.  Or Kari Jobe.  Or any other professional out there who is better than me.

Mom Rachael

I frequently compare myself to those moms who get up at 5 a.m. just to prepare a hearty breakfast for their kids and have a 30 minute devotion before school.  I compare myself to crafty mom, home-school mom, patient mom, mom of 5, athletic mom, chef mom, spiritual giant mom, birthday party mom… you name the type, at times I think I should be all of those moms wrapped into one package.

Writer Rachael

I have always enjoyed writing.  I excelled in writing sociological papers in college, probably because my writing is so straight-forward and lacks flourish.  Yet when I sit down with a Barbara Kingsolver book, I want to weep at my moron-self, incapable of painting a vivid picture with the most beautiful strand of words.  When I read the poetic Sarah Bessey, I want to give up on blogging all together.  When I read David Platt, I grieve that I can’t express my passion the way he does.  Give up, I say.

Spiritual Rachael

My Dad wrote me a letter before he died.  In it, he named a few women who are spiritual giants of the faith.  He told me to be one of those women.  I know his intentions were good, and I must say that his life and ministry lit a fire in me that has never died.  Yet often I compare myself to these women… the women who travel the country speaking at conferences.  I compare myself to the missionary you hear about who prayed and saw someone raised from the dead.  I compare myself to the women who get up to pray and study every morning without fail.

Physical Rachael

I would love to report to you, dear reader, that I am above this type of comparison.  While I have improved greatly, I still find myself looking in the mirror some days, unhappy with everything I see.  Frizzy hair, freckles, 25 extra pounds, flat nose, crooked teeth, boring clothes.  I see those women who weigh nothing running down the street in their workout clothes and kick myself for not having more discipline.  I get on the scale, hoping to have lost just one more pound so I can look just a little more like the images that bombard my mind of the “perfect woman.”

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Even now, writing all of this so honestly, so openly, saddens me greatly.  I think Teddy Roosevelt was onto something.  What possible chance do I have at joy when I compare myself to someone who IS NOT ME?  After all, I can never be anyone other than the person God made me.  Sure, I can grow, set goals and reach them, push myself, have more discipline… but at the end of the day I am Rachael.  I’m pretty sure Rachael needs to shut up and stop listening to what Rachael says about Rachael.  Rachael needs to start listening to what God says about her.  What might that be?  I love what David had to say about God’s view of him:

You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.  My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.  How precious to me are your thoughts, O God. (From Psalms 139)

I am his creation.  He delights in me.  He saw enough value in me to pay the ultimate price…. just so I could know him.  He calls me friend.  He wants to walk with me, faults and all, in the cool of the day.  He knows my name.  He has the hairs on my head numbered.  He loves me just as I am.

And who are these people I’m comparing myself to, anyway?  Do I truly know any of them?  I guarantee that if I got to know them, I would realize that each and every one of them has struggles and shortcomings just like I do.  Do we realize that when we compare ourselves to someone, we are comparing ourselves to an idolized persona?  We are comparing ourselves to the voice, not the human.  We are comparing ourselves to the body, not that heart.  We are comparing ourselves to the works, not the soul.  We compare ourselves to some kind of facade.  We are trying to become more like someone rather than becoming more of ourselves in Christ Jesus.  He is the one we look to for the answers to who we are and who we are to become.  I want to be wrapped up, tied up and tangled up in Jesus, joyfully drawing strength and self-worth from the fact that I am loved by the King.

Do you struggle with comparison?  Does comparison rob you of your joy?  In what areas of your life do you find yourself comparing?  Please speak up so I know I’m not alone!

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What I Gather About Snares

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If it had not been the LORD who was on our side – let Israel now say -

If it had not been the LORD who was on our side when people rose up against us,

Then they would have swallowed us up alive, when their anger was kindled against us;

Then the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us;

Then over us would have gone the raging waters.

Blessed be the LORD, who has not given us as prey to their teeth!

We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped!

Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 124)

Flood, torrent, raging waters…. Mine was grief.  A flood of grief.  A torrent of grief.  Raging waters of grief.  Grief swallowed me alive at times.

My father, a shining beacon of strength and faith, was taken, ravaged by cancer, at my young age of 16.  The grief was natural.  I probably unknowingly went through the classic stages.  Somewhere along the new trajectory of my life, though, the grief became a snare.  What had been a natural response to the loss of a loved one became a snare that caged me in.  I was angry at God.  I blamed my poor choices on my monumental loss.  I set unrealistic expectations for myself, trying to honor the memory of my father.  I rarely expressed my grief out loud.  Panic attacks began, but few knew.  I became a pretender, capable of appearing fine to anyone and everyone.  Meanwhile my broken heart affected nearly every thought passing through my head.

The transition to healing is fuzzy in my mind.  My broken heart was eventually mended by my Healer.  Part of the healing process took place as a result of that line in bold in Psalm 124.

We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped!

In my times of prayer, I had an image in my head of myself as a bird, flying out of a snare.  To my amazement, after leaving, I would turn around and fly right back into the trap.  That soft, still voice began to deal with me.  He wanted the snare to be BROKEN.  Only when that snare of debilitating grief was truly broken could I be truly free.

Grief certainly isn’t the only snare I have faced in my life.  Many of us find ourselves in snares, sometimes without even realizing it.  Maybe it is a snare of:

Grief

Fear

Anxiety

Depression

Bitterness

Anger

Maybe it something else entirely.  Many of these emotions are natural.  But when they become a flood, a torrent or raging waters that swallow us alive, we must reach out for help.  Often turning to a trusted friend is helpful.  Sometimes professional help is needed.  However, first and foremost, we must reach out to our Savior.

Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.

I believe that so often He is there, waiting for us to cry out to him for help, wanting to step in on our behalf. His love for us is immense enough that He doesn’t want to see us waste away in a snare.  He wants us to soar.  Beyond that, He wants to BREAK THE SNARE!  Through the help of Jesus Christ we can be victorious and never return to our prison of shame, anger or worry.  Too often we have some type of spiritual breakthrough and experience a moment of freedom, only to fly right back into our snare.  Why?  We are assured in Galatians 5:1:

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Have you ever found yourself in some type of spiritual snare?  Has anyone ever felt a momentary breakthrough or freedom, only to return to the same cage?  This is a great opportunity to share your story of freedom!  I sure would love to hear it!

Also, if you need prayer or support for an overwhelming situation in your life, please feel free to contact me.  God Bless and BE FREE!!

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Gathering Delight

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Bedtime. Let me set the scene for you.  Dinner is over.  Hopefully dishes are done.  There may or may not have been arguments about a certain 9-year-old practicing violin.  There may or may not have been screaming about a certain 3-year-old not wanting to get out of the bath.  Homework is done, sometimes after much complaining.  Mom is tired.  Dad just wants to sit down.  After bathroom trips, teeth-brushing, picking out clothes for the next day, another bathroom trip, and searching for the perfect stuffed animal or book for the night, we tuck them in, say prayers or play our thank-you-God game, and lights are out.  Okay, okay.  There may or may not be a threat about what will happen if either of those girls gets up.

Currently Isabel is in a stage where she is testing my bedtime limits.  She shares a room with Ava, so many nights she keeps Ava up for an hour or more.  She sings, talks, gets up, hits Ava, tickles Ava, climbs into bed with Ava.  Now that she is potty-trained, she comes in our room, having to go potty.  Again.  She slams the closet door, plays with her toys.  She makes messes, then opens and closes her bedroom door just to see if we are outside.  She.  Tests.  My.  Patience.

Ava knows that Mom has enough drama at bedtime and is usually pretty good about staying in her bed.  She knows getting out of bed means grounding from her Kindle.

I hope I have set the stage adequately for the happenings of Thursday night past.  This particular night we tried to get the girls in bed early because Ava had ISTEP testing the next morning.  I had told Ava that the next day I would not be home when she got off the bus and she would walk to Tasha’s house.  She was nervous about it, but we talked it though.  Tasha’s house is only a block or two away and Ava walks and rides her bike there from time to time.

About 30 minutes later, Ava was in our room.  I didn’t look up.  I didn’t want to lose my temper or get into a discussion.  It had been settled.  Ava would go to Tasha’s.  Jimmie walked her back in her room and was in there for a long time.  When he came back in our room, the discussion went something like this.

Jimmie:  Ava is sobbing.  She wants to see you.  She is nervous about tomorrow.

Rachael:  She has walked to her house before.  She goes to Kristi’s house, that is even farther.  She is being dramatic.

Jimmie:  She said she had a dream that someone kidnapped her by the park.  She is scared.

Rachael: (still relatively unmoved) Jimmie, she is just looking for reasons not to go to sleep.  This isn’t a big deal at all.

Jimmie:  RACHAEL, YOUR DAUGHTER IS IN HER BEDROOM.  SOBBING.  TERRIFIED.  SHE WANTS TO TALK TO HER MOM.

I believe that often when Jimmie raises his voice, it is the Holy Spirit speaking through him.

I walk into the room.  My baby is looking up at me, tears streaming down her face.  She reaches up, wraps her arms around me and holds on for dear life.  She is scared.  I finally come to my senses.  I speak soothing words.  I make other arrangements.  We make up.  I hold her, hug her.  I speak of Jesus as our protector.  I speak of fear and how it has no place in us when we know Jesus.  I pray over her.  I stroke her hair and watch her in wonder as she sleeps easily, comforted by my words and her Jesus.  I am so overwhelmed with love for this child, I think I may burst.

I hear the voice, somewhere deep inside, speaking truth I have avoided.  This is your child.  Take delight in her.  She is wondrous.  She is not an inconvenience, she is a delight.  Find joy in her.  Speak gently.  Show her grace.  Be a soft place to fall.  I delight in you, my child.  Now delight in her.  Your child.

I don’t know when it happened.  I always have moments of delight in Ava.  She is so smart and confident.  She is caring and strong.  She leads, she loves.  She has PASSION.  My head knows this, but for a while now I have been so consumed with myself, my problems  and my struggles that my heart wasn’t in it.  It may have been that way for a week.  Maybe a month.  I pray it wasn’t longer than that.  I was so grateful that God woke me up Thursday past.  It is easy for me to take delight in the 3-year-old who hugs mama all the time, says the cutest things, cuddles and kisses.  I thank Jesus that He reminded me that I must wonder at Ava.  She is a glorious gift.  If I look, I can see Jesus in her.  I can see the beauty of creation.  I can see His love in the way she loves.  I am delighting in her again.

He delights in me, after all.  The Bible tells me so.  Even when I fall terribly short as a mom.  Even though I am willful and resistant to His prompting.  Even if I get up when I’m supposed to stay put.  Even though I make messes.  Even if I pretend I need something when He has given me everything I need to rest.  Even when I talk when He wants me to be quiet and still.  Even if I slam doors He has opened so I can see the light.  Even if I annoy and hinder my brothers and sisters on this journey with me.  Even if I’m afraid when there is nothing to fear.  Even if I cry even though He has assured me everything will be okay.  In spite of myself, He delights in me after all.

Do you delight in your children?  Do you ever consider that God takes delight in you?  What obstacles keep you from delighting in your children?  I would love to hear that I’m not alone in this struggle!  This wasn’t a mom-moment I am proud of, but I thank God for the lesson that followed.

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What I Gather About Women of Valor

Sarah Bessey is hosting a synchroblog in honor of International Women’s Day this Friday, March 8th.  Read here for her post on Patron Saints and Spiritual Midwives.

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I love the idea of celebrating the women who have helped give me spiritual life along the way.  May I always pay respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed (Romans 13:7).  There are countless women who have poured themselves into me, supported me, encouraged me.  These women have been my friends, my family, my mentors, my inspiration.  They have taught me by example, spoken words of life, prophesied, transmitted spiritual wisdom and giftings.  They have defended me, stood in the gap for me, cried out to God on my behalf.  They have rejoiced in my joy, wept with me in my grief.  They have given spiritual life time and time again.  For that I honor them now.

To my mother, who has been my lifelong example of grace, wisdom and service.  No woman, no human being has taught me more.

To my grandmothers, one a fierce and fearless missionary, the other a gentle and enduring lover of Jesus.

To Chelsea, who brings joy and asks hard questions, the kind that make me run to my Savior for answers.

To the FAC spiritual giants, Judy Oliver, Jula Crider, Jamie Ball, Amy Beck, Sherri Palmer, Maria Kleiman, Billie Riley.  Mindy Whipple, I see Jesus in her eyes.  Shelly, a mentor despite her youth.  And Linda, who has believed in me, spoken encouragement and stood by my side in the most trying of times.  Who would I be without the influence of these women of valor?

I honor my friends along the way.  We learned together, made mistakes together, grew together.  And I will never forget.  Leah, Tania, Jodie, Mindy (quite a road we have walked!), Shanda, Whitney, Heather, Pashen, Haley, Erica… so many more.

The worship leaders I have never met…. they make me want to lock myself in a room alone with Jesus.  Darlene Zschech, Brook Fraser, Crystal Lewis, Ginny Owens, Kari Jobe, Kim Walker…so many more. I thank them.

The bloggers who get me on my knees and into scripture, searching for truth, searching for Jesus.  Sarah BesseyKathy EscobarJen Hatmaker, Ann Voskamp, Jennie Allen.

To those women of the faith who I admire mostly from afar.  Vickie Oliver, her ministry changed me, set a fire inside me.  Her words were like salve on an open wound of grief.  Dorothy Roca, Kim Sciscoe, Deborah Tisdale (who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself), Faythe Gill, Judith St.Clair.  God bless them for their lives spent for Him.

Women of Gathering… Tasha, the Proverbs friend who loves at all times… turned sister in times of adversity (17:17).  Sara, whose faith astounds me and is my motherly role-model.  Heidi, whose prophetic voice calls me to the deep places.  Chellee, Andrea, Nichole, Beth, Norma, Marty.  My co-laborers, my heart is full to be on this journey with these women of valor, my friends.

Estrella of Cuba, she died as a Christian should die, with joy and anticipation of the future.  Just as she lived.  Zulema of Cuba… no-one has loved me as fiercely.  She lives and breathes Jesus.

The ones to whom I am accountable… Tanya, a warrior.  Her strength makes me strong.  Her passion is infectious.  Lori, she sees me so clearly and speaks so honestly.  What would I do without her voice, the scriptures she speaks in the moment they are needed most.

So, in celebration of International Women’s Day, I honor these women.  I pray that God reward them for their investment into me and into His kingdom.  My only hope is I am able to do the same for someone else and that women of this caliber come along to help birth my girls in the Spirit.

Finally, for two things I ask your forgiveness.  First, forgive me if I forgot your name.  I know there are people I left out and rest assured, I thank God for you and the oversight wasn’t intentional in the least.  Second, please forgive me for all of the incomplete sentences in this post :)  I was in a flow and sentence structure didn’t seem to matter.

How about you?  Who are your spiritual midwives?  Who deserves to be honored in your life as a woman of valor?  I would love to hear about it and feel free to link up with Sarah’s synchroblog as well!

 

What I Gather About Understanding God

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Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words (Daniel 10:12)

Each week we open our home for a gathering of friends sharing food and participating in Bible study.  This past week as we discussed the book of Daniel, we began to contemplate what it was about Daniel that made him the one chosen by God for such an extraordinary purpose.  I was led to Daniel 10:12 and was elated to find an answer to our question, although inevitably one question leads to more questions when studying God’s word.  Could it be that Daniel’s desire to understand the things of God, combined with his posture of humility were the elements that attracted God to Daniel?  (see my friend Mindy’s beautiful post about humility here)

Since this discussion on Thursday, God has been reminding me of some lessons He spoke to my heart several years back.  While I in no way believe that we can ever understand the depth, magnitude and complexities of God, I do believe that He is searching for people who desire to understand Him more.  I believe He wants to reveal Himself to us in profound, life-altering ways.  He has mercifully done this for me time after time.

In my early twenties I was dealing with some residual grief due to the loss of my father at 16.  I remember one day praying, or rather casting blame on God for taking my dad away from me too soon.  From somewhere deep within, I heard words along these lines….

How will you know Me as comforter if you do not grieve?

Woah.  I put that on the back-burner, not sure I could handle the implication of that statement.  As I walked on this journey a little longer with God, I found Him asking me similar questions.

How will you know Me as Provider if you never have to trust?

How will you know Me as Peace-speaker if you never face turmoil?

Then came the big one.

Would you know Me as Father the way you do if your earthly father still lived?

As far back as I remember I have said the prayer….. “God, I want to know You.”  I have whispered it in the dead of the night.  I have cried it out through sobs of broken-ness. I have shouted it in desperation.  I have sung it out with all that is within me.  I have declared it with joyful expectation.

Could it be that all along God has heard my prayer and has responded by revealing Himself through trials?  Could it be that I must be willing to endure, endure, endure before I will ever truly begin to grasp the greatness of God?  To truly understand Him as healer, must I face sickness?  Sure, I may believe He can heal.  I may have faith and know that is an aspect of His character.  But isn’t it revealed to me in a deeper way when He heals me or someone close to me?  To understand Him as Savior, don’t I need salvation?  To understand Him as Light, I surely must face darkness.

Looking at my life in this light lessens the fear of the unknown.  It gives purpose to the pain.  For what better reward is there than knowing Him more?  Can any of us ever be a Daniel without seeking to understand?  Can I ever fulfill my purpose in His kingdom if I don’t have a posture of humility, ready and willing to endure what comes my way…. knowing it may lead me even a little closer to Jesus?  God, I want to know You.  I want to know You as healer, deliverer, provider, savior, strength, light, comforter, guide, peace-speaker, FATHER… even if that desire takes me on a road of tests and trials.  Perhaps that road will be the very path that leads me to becoming an instrument like Daniel, through which Your glory is revealed to the nations.  Even if it doesn’t, knowing You a little more is enough reason to walk that road.

What about you?  Has there been a time in your life God has revealed Himself in a powerful way as a result of difficulty?  Would you trade that experience?  In what other ways do you seek to understand God?  As always I would love to get a conversation started with you!

Gathering Labels

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I can’t remember the exact day I was first labeled choleric.  It was sometime in my late teenage years.  According to Wikipedia, this is the definition of a choleric personality:

“The choleric temperament is fundamentally ambitious and leader-like. They have a lot of aggression, energy, and/or passion, and try to install it in others. They are task oriented people and are focused on getting a job done efficiently; their motto is usually “do it now.” They can dominate people of other temperaments with their strong wills, especially phlegmatic types, and can become dictatorial or tyrannical. Many great charismatic military and political figures were cholerics. They like to be in charge of everything and are good at planning, as they often can immediately see a practical solution to a problem. However, they can quickly fall into deep depression or moodiness when failures or setbacks befall them.”

Let’s be fair here.  I have some of these characteristics and have since I was a child.  I was bossy at times and certainly could be mean (I had friends who kept a “Rachael” doll at home they beat up to get back at me for the way I treated them…).  I liked to get my way.  I often became the default leader. And I must admit, when I first took a personality test and fit myself into a nice, neat box, I felt comforted.  There is something liberating about someone else telling you who and what you are, especially in such neat terms.  I had a list in front of me of my strengths and weaknesses.  I had leaders in my life cheerleading the results.  “Yes!  Rachael, that’s totally YOU!”  I found that the label of choleric began to define who I was to outsiders.  Gradually, that label began to define myself in my own mind.  In certain situations, I asked myself what a choleric would do and proceeded accordingly.  I took the lead in relationships, frequently justifying my aggression by reminding myself my actions and responses were simply a result of my GOD-given personality type.

Then a few years ago I had a conversation that stopped me in my  tracks.  During a conversation with my best friends from middle school, one of them looked at me and said, “okay MOM!”  I was taken aback and asked what that comment was about.  She brought up a fact I had long since forgotten.  In middle school, my friends referred to me as “mom”.  I asked them about it and they reminded me that I was always trying to take care of everyone around me.

This innocent reminder started me on a journey of self-reflection and questioning God about my identity in Him.  I won’t bore you with all the details of that journey.  I will tell you what I have gathered about myself as a result of that journey.

1. I am a caregiver.  This doesn’t fit into the neat little box of choleric, but it is me.  My love language is acts of service.  If I love you, I’m most likely going to cook for you.  Or I’m going to offer to babysit for you.  Or tutor you.  Or help you organize your closet or house.  I’m going to pray for you because I CARE.  I’m going to love your children and invest in them.  I’m going to call you when I know you’re struggling.  Not because I’m awesome like that.  I’m going to care for you because God made me a care-giver and it comes naturally to me.  Always has.

2. While I have some characteristics of a choleric personality, I don’t have them all. I like to lead.  Sometimes.  I am often just as content to support the one in charge.  And I’m socially awkward.  Whoever heard of a socially awkward choleric?  I am shy at first.  It takes me awhile to warm up.  Where do these characteristics fit into that choleric box?

3. Many of my choleric attributes were a result of necessity.  My dad was diagnosed with cancer when I was 9 and battled it until he died when I was 16.  That kind of upheaval and uncertainty led me to try to control anything and everything I could…. but only because the thing I wanted to control most was truly out of my control.  Most of my choleric personality characteristics emerged from a childhood of turmoil and uncertainty.

I said all of that to say this:  Our identity rests in God and God alone.  I believe in utilizing the strengths God has given me, but ultimately I am not the label that anyone else has tacked onto my shirt.  Who I am in God simply does not fit into a little box on a personality profile.  When I try to fit into that little box, I limit who God wants me to be in His kingdom.  I will find myself resisting the hands that are trying to mold and shape me.  I will make excuses for my bad behavior based on the weaknesses I believe I possess.

Instead, I want to open myself up to the possibilities of who I am in God and who I CAN be in Him.  I want to move with the gentle prodding of His Spirit, entering new territories and wading into deeper, unknown waters.  I don’t want my course to be charted by my narrow thinking and preconceived ideas about who I am and who others have told me I am.  I want to be a Moses, speaking boldly to a Pharoah in spite of his fears and comfort zones.  Or I want to be a Paul, changing direction on a road to Damascus when God spoke.  Most of all, I want to be like Jesus, speaking mercy to the condemned, faith to the doubting, and life to the dead.  I want to be the Jesus version of Rachael, whatever that means for the season I find myself in.

Do you have labels?  Have labels ever held you back?  Do you find yourself labeling your spouse, your children?  What does GOD say about who you are?  I would love your feedback!

What I Gather About Feeling Too Much

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Once there was a day I felt too much.  On that day, I told a trusted friend, “Sometimes I wish I didn’t feel so much.”  The next morning, I saw a link to my favorite blogger’s new blog post.  Her link to it read “If you’ve ever wished you didn’t “feel” things so much, I wrote this for you (and me):”

I’m not going to lie.  I stared at it for a while.  I didn’t read it right away.  I even sent a text to my friend, telling her I was a little afraid to read it.  Why was I surprised?  The God who has the hairs of my head numbered had surely heard the lament of my heart.  He surely knew the depth of my grief at the death of Namuda.  Why should I not expect a direct response from Him, comforting me, answering me, showing me He cared?  This is the same Jesus who spoke the promise and blessing, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”  (How I wish I had been on the mountain that day….)

I took a deep breath and accepted the response for what it was: a gift from God.  I read it with an open mind and heart, weeping at the depth of His love for me.  His willingness to show up in that moment, like a knight on a white horse in the moment of my distress, will be a gift I carry with me to my grave and beyond.

If you have ever wished you didn’t feel so much, please take the few moments to read this beautiful blog, sent to me from my loving Savior via one of His loving servants.

http://sarahbessey.com/in-which-we-numb-the-light/

Now I am trying to feel the full range of human emotion.  God at times asks me to carry a heavy load for starving children, for Cubans in despair, for the fatherless and for those who hurt.  I carry it gladly, knowing it keeps me on the kingdom path and closer to my Father’s heart.  Yet, I am learning to embrace the joy that my Savior also offers in the laughter of my Isabel, the strength of my Ava, the passion of my Jimmie, the weekly gathering of friends in my home, the beauty of creation….

Do you ever wish you didn’t feel so much?  Do you find  yourself attempting to numb pain instead of feeling it?  How do you find joy in your everyday life?  Has God ever been your comforter in a profound way?  As always, I would love to hear from you.

Ava’s Gathering of Knots (Happy Love Day!)

I would love to say I’m that kind of mom who oozes creativity and the overflow blesses my kids with glorious craft-time, hand-made clothing, and delightful decorations for each and every holiday.  Alas, I am not that mom.  I go all out decorating for Christmas, mainly because it is the one and only time of year my poor children get to see something seasonal and new in our home.  Otherwise, you will never see a heart in February, eggs at Easter or fall wreaths on our door.  We don’t do crafts.  That’s what art class is for, right?  Even so, when I saw a pin on Pinterest, it led me to some adorable home-made valentines.  I couldn’t resist.  Ava had all kinds of friendship bracelet string left from Christmas gifts.  So we got busy.  This was our end result:

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My husband printed out the adorable little saying.  We cut around it with decorative scissors and glued them to a heart cut out of construction paper.  We then added holes with a hole punch and threaded the bracelets through.

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I must say, I ended up braiding a lot of the bracelets for Ava, mainly because we underestimated the amount of time the project would take and were running out of time.  She helped every step of the way, though.

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Ava added an initial bead to each bracelet and wrote each classmate’s name on the back.  All in all, it was a fun project and most importantly, gave me an opportunity to spend some time with my daughter doing the kind of thing she loves to do, even if I don’t!  Plus, Valentine’s Day is a holiday I can get behind.  What’s not to love about love?  Here is a link to the original post I saw from the blog Dandee: A Happily Crafted Life (don’t compare too much!):

http://www.dandee-designs.com/2010/02/friendship-bracelet-valentines.html

Have you ever attempted home-made valentines with your kids?  Did you give out valentines as a kid?  Do you still?  I would love to hear your feedback!  Happy Valentine’s Day!