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Sophie’s Story: Diagnosis Day

Sometimes life is full of really bad things.

Sometimes your dad spirals into dementia, your neighbor “granny” dies, and your child is diagnosed with autism, all in the span of a year, or a month.

Sometimes any grass seems greener, because you really feel you HAVE NO GRASS. Just a lot of dirty dirt.

Sometimes life is cruel.

But God.

God is always good. And he is always kind.

I refuse to allow my circumstances to become the lens through which I see my God. Instead, I will be steadfast in choosing to see my circumstances through the lens of God’s kindness. I choose to believe that he is always being kind to me, even when life looks kind of rotten.

That second sentence up there is a glimpse of my past year. In March of 2017, my dad underwent minor surgery, and the anesthesia accelerated his dementia. A year later we are just now starting to get it settled down a little bit. And in March of this year, my dear neighbor was in a car accident, which ultimately resulted in her death on April 30th. There are no words to express the depth of this loss to our family. Our Granny was one of a kind.

And then there was today. Today I heard the answer that I never wanted to hear, but always knew in my heart I would hear some day: Autism. When no one else saw it in Sophie, I did. As heartbreaking as it was to ask, I knew I had to. And over the last six weeks, her team has worked feverishly to evaluate her through many different assessments for the Autism Spectrum Disorder.

So, today I sat in a room and listened to her team recount her many difficulties and deficits. It was oppressive to hear. It was heartbreaking. And at the end of the meeting, I sat and listened to our school psychologist explain to me that Sophie does meet the criteria and definitions of Autism. After six long — but so incredibly short — years, we have our diagnosis, the diagnosis I never wanted.

I really don’t even know how to process any of this. Mostly my busy life and my busy children don’t allow me a lot of time for quiet contemplation to process. I just keep putting one foot in front of the other, fixing this meal, cleaning up that mess, drying those tears. It’s what we do as moms. And somehow we’ll find our way with our Sophie girl. I will keep believing, keep trusting, keep praying, and watching for God to move in her sweet life. His favor clearly rests on her, and I firmly believe he has a good plan for her life.

As friends surrounded me with encouragement today as I shared this news, one friend’s words broke down all the resistance I have been feeling to this day. “You were made for her,” she said. “You were made for her.” Truly God knew from the beginning of time that there would be me, and that there would be Sophie, and he crafted us for each other. To me, this makes no sense right now. But I know she is right.

Today there have been lots of tears. This last month there have been lots of tears. This past year there have been lots of tears. But tears are not a place to stay. I don’t want to always see my life through my tears. Even as I observe these losses, these griefs, even in the sadness and the tears, I’m trusting that God is infinitely kind to me and to those I love.

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A Love Story

Once upon a time there was a little boy and a little girl. They grew up in the same world. She watched him poke at bugs and toads with a stick. He knew her as the tall girl. Sometimes they played at mutual friends’ houses or carpooled with each other. But they were always at a distance, coexisting in the same sphere. And so they grew up. And life got in the way, and the boy moved away. The girl went on, unaffected by his absence.

Years passed and the boy and girl were no longer little. The teenage years arrived. And the boy moved home again. In friendship they walked through these years together. Often she was more “one of the guys” but still always a lady, guarded by her brothers in Christ. They played hockey together and went on missions trips. They did everything with the youth group and went out to lunch every Sunday after taking up the first row at church. There were concerts and conferences, sporting events and holiday fireworks, camping trips and movie nights. There was so much laughter. And the girl dated. She laughed and loved. Her heart broke a few times. And that boy was there to pick up the pieces.

And through those years somewhere like turned into love and friendship into romance. And the boy and the girl began to date. The storms of life hit hard in those years, and the girl thought of walking another way, an easier way. There were difficulties with their families. There were many tears. But in her heart she heard her Father’s voice, “this is the one I have for you.” And so she stayed through the years. But the boy never wavered in his devotion. I think he knew even at 16 that she was all he ever wanted.

And when the girl moved away for school, they made promises to stay together. And through the ups and downs of long distance, they wrote love letters and shared weekend dates. No one else ever turned either of their heads or hearts.

So they bid farewell to the teenage years and walked together into adulthood. And before long they knew that they didn’t want to walk separately anymore, but together, always together. And so the boy bought a ring and asked a question. They planned a big party and invited all their friends and celebrated their love to the tune of Pachabel’s Canon and Cotton Eye Joe.

And in the blink of an eye, ten years passed. New homes, new jobs, new babies and new roles as mommy and daddy. Life changed. And their love changed. It grew deeper, richer, and more. The man loved his wife as Christ loved the church and laid down his life every single day to serve his family. And the woman knew how blessed she was to call him her own for these ten years (and more). And she looked to the future with joy and peace with him by her side. He was her best friend and the love of her life. No, every day wasn’t happily ever after, but it was a blessed and beautiful life.

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Two Kinds of Bottle Brushes And the Spiritual Truth I learned from Them

We recently brought home a new baby. A sweet little girl. At six weeks old she pretty much has down the eat, sleep, poop routine. She makes a lot of laundry, and a lot of dishes, mainly bottles, to wash. In just six weeks I’ve learned that there are two types of bottle brushes in this world: those that CAN and those that CAN NOT. Because our sweet baby came a week early, there were a few items that were not yet purchased or readied for her arrival. The bottle brush was one such item. So I asked my dear husband to pick one up when he went out for groceries. He made some flippant remark about the ones at the grocery store not being good enough, but I insisted we “just needed one right now” so he should get what they had. And so he did.

Let me tell you, this bottle brush was one of the CAN NOT brushes. It was an epic failure at its life purpose. I mean, a bottle brush has essentially one job to do: Clean the bottles. Right? It’s not like I’m asking it to scour my pots and pans or fix dinner. It would be like a fly swatter that was unable to kill bugs, or broke after the first swat. The spongy part on the top of this bottle brush ripped off within a week of use. A week! Come on!

When I brought home the second bottle brush, similar in nature to the first, my husband questioned my logic. If the first one proved a failure, as he had predicted, why would I buy another one? Because, simply put, I am Marian Halstead’s granddaughter. Why would I ever spend six dollars when I can spend three? (Since most of you don’t know my grandmother, I’ll add that she was the type of lady who washed and reused her tin foil, her plastic baggies, and — get this — her saran wrap! Seriously?! I don’t even like to deal with it the first time around, let alone to wash and hang up to dry, then fold and store to reuse the darn stuff! Oy! That was my grandmother. Frugal to the core.) Although, if you’re doing the math like I am, you’re realizing that two bottle brushes at three dollars does in fact equal six… So… we can chalk that one up to sleep deprivation?

So anyways I brought home the three dollar bottle brush. And what did I get for it? Well, this one did last a wee bit longer than the first, maybe two weeks, but it did me a worse wrong, because it cracked in half while I was using it, the entire scrubby portion disattatching from the long handle. So here I am with my fingers pinching this short stubby bottle brush top trying to wash out my bottles. Insert eye roll. It was an obnoxious way to waste my precious time by making the bottle washing process even more laborious. When my husband came home from work and I showed him what had happened, he chuckled at me and insisted on buying the “nice” bottle brush. Amazon Prime will have it here in two days. Perfect. Until then I tweedled with the insy-weensy top of my bottle brush to get the job done.

So I’ve been using my new bottle brush for about a week now. It’s so luxurious, guys! I love it! Not showing any signs of breaking down, this one. It is definitely a CAN bottle brush. It can fulfill its life’s purpose with gusto. And I am pleased.

So as I washed the bottles tonight this really got me thinking about what I’m investing in, other than stock in the bottle brush market. Is it the cheap-o stuff that really just CAN NOT make me a better person, or is it the CAN stuff, which will fill me and feed my soul?

I feel like I don’t have a lot of free time right now, but I do spend a lot of time feeding my baby, which requires me to just sit and be. While I am often using this time to referee my older children, there are many minutes where they are entertaining themselves, and I actually do have some quasi-free time. Imagine that. So I’m evaluating what I do with this quasi-free time, because I kind of feel like my life is complete chaos right now, and I don’t really like it. Some of that just goes with the territory of having a new baby at home. We are all adjusting and finding our way to her addition to the family. I am sleep deprived and not functioning at my finest. And before you try to tell me not to be too hard on myself, trust me when I say I’m not. I recognize the transition we are in and that there is much grace for my shortcomings. However, I would still like to do my best through this transition. I would still like to bring my A-game as I raise these precious babies that God has entrusted to me. And I don’t think even my C-game has been showing up. Nope. And I’m not good with that. So, back to my free time which I was evaluating. I’m realizing that I’m filling it up with a bunch of meaningless time-wasting junk (aka, playing on my phone, darnit). Not exactly a soul-filling activity.

There’s a passage in Isaiah that says, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.”

Why, oh why, am I investing my time in stuff that does not feed my soul?

Just like the bottle brushes, there stuff that CAN feed my soul and stuff that CAN NOT. The stuff I’m filling my time with just CAN NOT cut it, just like my cheap-o bottle brushes. This stuff won’t fill me up to meet the challenges of my day. But God’s Spirit, his Word, those CAN. I don’t want to settle for the three dollar fix that just can’t cut it. I don’t want to spend “money on what is not bread” and “labor on what does not satisfy,” to invest my time in that which will never feed me. It’s like I’ve been using the lousy bottle brush time fillers instead of investing in what really works — spending my time in God’s word, in prayer, in worship. These things will do the job to fill me up, to make me capable of the tasks before me. No more wasting my time tweedling around with stuff that’s less than, that’s in the CAN NOT category. Time to invest my time in a way that feeds me and fills me.

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Hannah Jean

2 Corinthians 1:9-10
“Indeed in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves, but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.”

We have all had moments in life where we felt the sentence of death. For some of us, it’s the diagnosis of a fatal illness for someone we love or for ourselves. For others, it’s the death of a dream or the future as we watch our relationships fall apart, the loss of a job or career, financial ruin, in some way, our dreams become forever out of reach.

In my own life, I have experienced this feeling at least twice as an adult. First, I felt the sentence of death when we received Sophie’s apraxia diagnosis. We did not know at that time if she would ever speak. It was a heavy diagnosis. A life without speech is not at all what we pictured for our child, for our family. In that moment, everything about our future picture seemed to shift and go dark. Sophie’s future was suddenly so uncertain, once again. Yet, God met us in this moment reminding us of all the he is able to do in the midst of our weakness. God reminded me of the story of Moses who had a speech impediment, yet was used by God to free the nation of Israel from the enslavement of the Egyptians. A speech disorder is no match for God’s power. In our moment of hopelessness, he was able to quickly restore hope. And in fighting for Sophie’s speech these past two years, we have seen him bring so much life and goodness.

My stroke diagnosis also felt like a death sentence. I know, I lived through it, and it was nothing major, truly, but it represented the death of a dream. Last March (2016) when I finished a months-long barrage of testing begun because of lasting episodes of vertigo, there was really nothing clear except that I’d had a stroke, and most likely during pregnancy. So the doctors’ recommendations were all the same: No more children. This was a devastation for me. I battled all through the spring and summer to accept this, to find contentment, to see my very very blessed life with two sweet children was more than enough for me. I found his grace in each moment as I worked to accept our reality. And I truly became content with my new vision of my life, my family of four.

During this summer, I wrote a Sunday school series entitled “Heroes of the Old Testament.” There were lots of manly heroes in this series, but I also wanted to include some ladies, and as the series came to a close, I felt like there was one more lady hero that I was meant to search out. That August I found myself in I Samuel reading the story of Hannah, and I saw myself, the woman longing for (more) children. God’s words to me could not have been any clearer as I processed Hannah’s story: When you give to me, I give back in abundant generosity. I have seen this truth over and over again in my life when I’ve given my resources to God. But in Hannah’s story, it wasn’t just her resources she was giving. It was her pain, her dreams, her unfulfilled hopes that she poured out to God. And God was exceedingly generous towards Hannah. He blessed her with her son Samuel, and with other children after him as well.

I felt strongly as I studied this story that I needed to lay down my dream for more children again, once and for all, and accept whatever way God chose to be generous towards me, believing that he could give me fulfillment as a mommy in so many different ways. We still were not planning for more children, and my heart was very much at peace with this decision. I saw this desire to mother more possibly being fulfilled in another way, maybe through teaching, fostering, or just mothering my kids’ friends. So I once again laid down my dreams, my hopes, and my pain, just like Hannah, giving our Burleigh family future over to my loving Father, believing I would see his generosity.

This was August. And by the end of September, I was pregnant with our splendid surprise.

Why does God do things like this? Why make life look impossible? Why let us feel the sentence of death? Because that way we have to rely on him, on the God who raises the dead. He is the God who can resurrect any dream, any future, any person back to life again.

In our death sentence moments we feel an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. Whatever dream has died, whatever has come crashing down, whatever destruction is taking place, it robs us of hope. But we serve a God who is able to raise the dead — the dead dreams, the dead relationships, the dead future, the deadness in our hearts. On him we place our hope. In hopeless moments, he is the one who can restore our hope. No, he may not choose to resurrect a dream or a relationship or a life in the way we imagined, but he can restore and resurrect life and hope in our hearts.

And so I offer you the story of our Hannah Jean. Our unplanned and much loved blessing. When I laid down my dream for more children before the Lord, I knew in my heart I would have another daughter. I did not know what that would look like, because God creates beautiful answers to our dreams in many different kinds of ways. But this generous gift he has given to our family is truly marvelous. And so in October when we learned another child was coming, I chose her name, confident of a baby girl. Named for Hannah, Samuel’s mother, and for my sweet mother-in-law Jean, as well as another dear family friend, who has blessed me immensely, our daughter’s name means favor, grace; gift from God. Truer words were never spoken in a name.

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For my Teacher Friends

chalkboard

We are entering the sometimes difficult weeks between Thanksgiving break and Christmas break. Hopefully we are refreshed from a few days off. But maybe we are dreading going back into the difficulties of our classrooms. Some of us need to hear this tonight: You matter more than you think you do. You are doing more than you think you are.

A couple weeks back I sat observing my “at risk” students during their dinner hour at school. Their social behavior and their deplorable language provides a good glimpse into the immense dysfunction of their world. As I watched them, I felt the depth of their pit, for lack of a better word. Many of them are already felons at just 14 or 15 years old. I thought to myself, they are in such a deep pit, how will I ever provide a way out, let alone the first rung in the ladder leading out? How can I ever help fix their lives? It seems impossible.

I want this for my kids though. Because in the short time I’ve known them, I’ve grown to love them. I’ve seen the ways that life has mistreated them. And while that doesn’t excuse their behaviors and choices, it certainly gives me understanding, rather than judgment, for their choices. I want them out of the pit.

So I show up. I push them. I help them. I celebrate them. I know them and I let them know me. I give them the unconditional love of Jesus, in hopes of pointing them to him. He is the ladder. He is the fix. It will never be me.

After a “productive” night of class one evening, after helping these students experience some of the first academic successes they’ve had in a long time, on a night where I felt like I actually did do some good, I sat pondering my own educational career. Curiosity led me to recall my teachers over the years. At 33 years of age, I can remember the names of every single teacher who taught me from kindergarten through twelfth grade.

Every. Single. One.

Why is that? Because they impacted me. They made a difference in my life. Some of them loved me through my mom’s cancer. Others called me on to be a leader. Many prayed with me and for me. They counseled me. They challenged me. They celebrated me. Few people in my life have impacted me the way that my teachers have. I don’t claim that all of my students will remember me by name and feel that I impacted their lives, but some might. And that’s enough to keep me doing what I’m doing.

If you are a teacher, as you head into the trenches tomorrow remember: You matter more than you think you do. You are doing more than you think you are.

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70 Notes of Thanks

mom_beach

My Dear Sweet Mom,

You are turning 70 years old today, and I celebrate all that you are! As I try to contemplate all the ways that I am thankful for you, I’m simply overwhelmed. On this Thanksgiving Day, your 70th birthday, I say thank you.

1. Thank you for loving me. While it seems that a mother’s love is always a given, as an educator, I have seen that this is not the case. There are many mothers who do not love their children. Or their form of love for their children is selfish, weak, or conditional. Yours has been the unconditional agape love of our Father God. Yours has been a love that chooses to do what is best for the beholden, regardless of difficulty.

2. Thank you for living loyalty. In our world today, friendships and even family relationships can change in the blink of an eye. You have shown me how to live loyally. You have never forsaken a friend. You have seldom failed to be there for a friend in a time of need.

3. Thank you for DOing your faith. You are not just talk; you are action. How many meals have I watched you prepare for friends in times of need? How many times have you fed the church work day? The Japanese teachers? The entire youth group? You have shown me that love and faith are not just words or feelings; they are action. They require DOing.

4. Thank you for teaching me that some thoughts don’t need to be spoken. This is an invaluable lesson to me. I learned self-control in an area where I had none.

5. Thank you for committing your life to my dad. Our society has so cheapened marriage and romantic love. Every day for my 33 years I have watched you live out the definition of a committed and loving marriage. Times may not have been easy, but you never wavered in your commitment.

6. Thank you for listening to me. Man, I could talk to leg off a brass horse, and I know it! But you always listen to every word. Although I love to talk, you have also taught me how to listen.

7. Thank you for forgiving me. Now that I’m a mom, I can see exactly how offensive children can be to their parents. I’m sure there were no shortage of offenses as I grew up. Spoken or unspoken, I know that you have always offered forgiveness.

8. Thank you for making me keep my priorities. It’s easy to be selfish, especially as a teenager, but you always helped me to see that it was important to keep my priorities in order. If I was committed to something at church, it was important to show up. If I needed to do schoolwork, then that ought to come before fun. Chores had to be done before TV time.

9. Thank you for teaching me about Jesus. Jesus was in everything we did, from our Advent Calendar at Christmas, to our Bible promise cards each morning, from our prayers before every meal, to the songs we sang as children and the music you played as we grew up. Jesus is the center, and as a mom this is something I strive to keep at the center of my family as well.

10. Thank you for blowing bubbles in the milk with me and Andrew when life was just getting too serious. I try to remember to exhibit the same lightheartedness with my kids.

11. Thank you for thinking of me. From care packages in college, to special outfits when I was growing up, to notes in the mail, you’ve always reminded me that I’m never outside your thoughts. You always go the extra distance to be thoughtful.

12. Thank you for taking me camping. I have some of my fondest childhood memories rooted in our annual camping trips. Now that I am the mom, I realize how much work it is to go camping. You did it tirelessly and never complained.

13. Thank you for praying with me and for me. Prayers at bedtime. Prayers at meals. Prayers at DTS. Prayers before long car rides back to college. Prayers in times of trial and sadness. Prayers for health. Prayers for my babies. Prayers on the phone. So many prayers. When you don’t know what to say or do, you’ve taught me that prayer is always the answer.

14. Thank you for teaching me how to be a servant. When I think of the ways you’ve spent your time, I see servanthood everywhere. You’ve served our family. You’ve served your church. You’ve served your friends. You’ve served people who you don’t like very much. You’ve served Daddy. From meal-making and cleaning, to car rides and mentoring, your life has been one of service.

15. Thank you for helping me learn to make healthy choices. Your dedication to exercise and to cooking healthy food stands out when I think of my time at home. I know you did this because you wanted to stay healthy for our family. You showed me that good health in the long term is more important than a tasty treat had too often.

16. Thank you for fighting cancer. You took up that cross and you bore that sucker with the utmost humility and grace, if such a thing is possible. You could have given up so many times. Thank you for not doing that.

17. Thank you for always giving me your time. So. Much. Time. I’m sure as a baby I required infinitely more time than I did as I grew up. But I don’t remember that. What I do remember is how you showed up for everything. You came to every sporting event. You took me shopping for prom dresses. You came to all my wedding planning appointments. You waiting anxiously as I had my babies. You gave your time at my house to care for my family when we had those new babies. You have always been generous with your time.

18. Thank you for so many yummy recipes. Nobody makes veggie soup, spaghetti sauce, or chocolate chip cookies like you! Not to mention chicken pot pie, apple crisp, potato quiche, pancakes or waffles. It never tastes quiet as good as when you make it, but when I cook your recipes, I’m always reminded of the loving home you provided and the many meals we shared.

19. Thank you for family meal times. Our schedule was often crazy because of sports or Dad’s work schedule, but you always made sure that we had a family meal each day, even if it was a noon or at 4:30. We even had breakfast together so many mornings! Those family times helped create support and stability in our home.

20. Thank you for never giving up on your dream of having children. I know you waited a long time. I know there were many tears. I know you went to baby shower after baby shower. But you never gave up on the children you knew God had for you. I know it was hard to wait, but I’m thankful for God’s perfect timing.

21. Thank you for all the many hand-sew and hand-crocheted items you have made for me and now for my children. I remember (and still have) many Easter outfits and special quilts. Now there are the baby sweaters, the NiNis, the blankets. So many precious items that will forever be treasured.

22. Thank you for giving me chores. I learned early on that the dishes won’t clean themselves, the clothes won’t fold themselves, the dust won’t magically blow away. I also learned that each member of the family, no matter what age, can help and contribute to the success of the home.

23. Thank you for letting me “help” with baking. Now that I have a little girl who likes to “help” with my baking, I realize what patience it takes. I’m sure I made a mess. I’m sure it took three times as long to do it with me as it would have to do it on your own. I treasure those memories, some of my earliest memories of you and I together.

24. Thank you for worshipping visibly. Any time you were in the kitchen, you had the worship music going. And I know that as you worked and sang, you also worshipped. In church you never held back from kneeling before the Lord or raising your hands in worship. This has been a powerful example to me.

25. Thank you for passing me the ability to write. Writing is like breathing to me. And, while I know it was God who chose to bless me with that skill, it also comes from your genes. Maybe someday I’ll be able to write a book like you have.

26. Thank you for going on adventures with me. I’m thinking of the boy-band era here. We had some exciting car trips so that me and my friends could go see these heartthrobs in concert. While I remember the thrill of those concerts, I also remember that it was you who piled us all in the minivan and put up with our craziness, even driving to other states, paying money, buying us food, and going to a concert with a bunch of crazy teenage girls. Stephanie, Jessica, Katie K and Nikki thank you as well. 🙂

27. Thank you for teaching me to read and instilling in me a love for it. Some of my other earliest memories with you are of trips to the library. Again, now that I take my little ones there, I know that it’s almost more of a headache than it’s worth sometimes! But I treasure those memories.

28. Thank you for reading to me. There’s something special about time spent reading before bed. We did it for years. I know that’s why I love to read so much now.

29. Thank you for telling me “no.” Sometimes “yes” is a far easier answer with children, but it’s no that teaches us that we’re not the center of the universe, and that we can’t always have our way. It’s no that teaches us self-discipline and respect for authority.

30. Thank you for making time with grandparents a priority. You knew that we would have far less time with our grandparents than most kids did, and you made it a point to go and visit them. I am thankful that I got to know them as well as I did at a young age. I wouldn’t have if you’d not made them a priority.

31. Thank you for family game nights. I learned to laugh with my family and to like my family because we played together.

32. Thank you for doing the laundry. There is always so. much. laundry. You washed load after load of my clothing, even when I came home from college! That was truly above and beyond.

33. Thank you for packing my lunch, every night, for 12 years. That’s a lot of lunches. Somewhere in the vicinity of 2,160 lunches, give or take a few snow days and sick days.

34. Thank you for disciplining me. Another unpleasant task of motherhood. You trained me in the way that I should go, and I can never say thank you enough for that.

35. Thank you for the birthday parties, cakes, presents and special times celebrating my life.

36. Thank you for being generous. I’ve lost count of how much money I owe you. I’m sure you haven’t. BUT you never cease to be generous. Whenever we have a need, I know you are there. You always have been.

37. Thank you for sacrificing your sleep at night when I was afraid. I’ve lost quite a few hours of sleep now with babies who can’t sleep. I know you must have been tired, but you always came and laid down with me anyways.

38. Thank you for the backbreaking work of gardening and canning so that our family could enjoy fresh, healthy food all year long. I know there’s nothing better than fresh corn on the cob, fresh tomatoes, and homemade applesauce.

39. Thank you for making financial sacrifices so that I could go to a private Christian school. I am so thankful for the education that I received. The teachers supported me through each stage of my academic and spiritual growth.

40. Thank you for teaching me about modesty and purity as a woman. I learned self-respect and how to look like the woman God created me to be.

41. Thank you for indoor picnics on the green blanket, and for never crying over spilled milk. You made mealtimes fun and never took life too seriously.

42. Thank you for no-thank-you helpings. Although I still don’t like green trees, I did learn to like a lot of other foods! And I learned that sometimes we have to eat things we don’t like that much because they are good for us.

43. Thank you for always making church a priority for our family. We went to everything, and so we were woven into the tapestry of the church body. Our church became our family in so many ways.

44. Thank you for allowing and funding so many amazing opportunities, from camps and DTS, to missions trips and school trips. I’ve seen more of the states and the world than many. Now that I’m a mom, I have a panic attack when I think about sending my children overseas without me. But you opened your hands and let me go where God was taking me.

45. Thank you for teaching me never to make negative confessions. There is so much more power in the words we say than we realize. You taught me never to open the door to let Satan work or to give him any opportunities. I have learned to speak positively and take my fears to the Lord instead.

46. Thank you for always keeping homemade sweets on hand, particularly your famous cookies, which I am now craving. Many of my friends stopped at the cookie jar before coming to locate me in the house. A true testament to the goodness of the cookie. I know it took time and effort to keep home-baked goodies around, but you always made sure it happened.

47. Thank you for imposing limits, from TV and video games, to treats and bedtimes. I learned self-discipline and delayed gratification, among other things.

48. Thank you for choosing to parent rather than to be my friend as I grew up. I needed parental guidance to learn how to be a decent person.

49. Thank you for becoming my best friend now that I am grown. There is literally no friend dearer to my heart, nor more cherished.

50. Thank you for Boston Brown Bread. MMMMMMMMM.

51. Thank you for trusting the Lord at every turn. No matter whether the need was financial, or for healing, or direction, you always placed your trust in God’s goodness and believed that he was in control. Your example has helped me to place my trust in him even through life’s most frightening moments.

52. Thank you for living with compassion. You were and are the kindest mother, not a push-over, by any means, but so kind. Beyond our home you have showed compassion to countless other women who have needed it the most. I strive to live with your compassion for my children and for the friends in my life.

53. Thank you for living a life of peace that provided a peaceful life for me. Ours was never a home of strife. Even in tense circumstances, you rarely seemed ruffled. I’m sure that inwardly you were, but outwardly you maintained a peaceful demeanor. This protected me from much, and it also pointed me at the Source of our peace.

54. Thank you for exhibiting patience. It is easy as a mom to lose your cool with the kids. I rarely remember this happening. Beyond the home, you have always been patient in difficult situations and with difficult people.

55. Thank you for teaching me by example how to honor and protect my spouse. You taught me how important it is to always speak well of my husband, to keep his name as safe in my mouth.

56. Thank you for teaching me the truth of I Peter 3:3-4 “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” You not only taught this, but you lived it as well!

57. Thank you for living a life of self-sacrifice. I know that you always put everyone else’s needs above your own.

58. Thank you for dealing with all the bodily fluids. They can be so overwhelming.

59. Thank you for tapping on the bathroom wall, and years later, the bathroom door. This is one of my earliest memories, and one of the fondest.

60. Thank you for always calling me your “favorite girl in all the world.” It made me feel so special, and it still does.

61. Thank you for teaching me that I don’t have to be perfect. I just need to do my best and trust in God’s grace for the rest.

62. Thank you for pointing me back to the Scripture whenever I have a concern or a need. You’ve always been able to give me a verse that helps with anything I am dealing with.

63. Thank you for praying a love of Scripture over my life. That prayer opened a door for me that has changed my life forever. I have never forgotten that moment.

64. Thank you for introducing me to Dove dark chocolate. There’s just nothing quite like it.

65. Thank you for so many trips to the DQ. Another treasured family memory for me.

66. Thank you for believing in me in a way that helped me realize my unique gifts and talents. You instilled self-confidence in me by allowing me to try different things, and encouraging me when I did well.

67. Thank you for making me apologize when I did something wrong. Saying “I’m sorry” is not an easy thing to do, but it is so important, as is saying “I forgive you.” Early on you taught me this vital process in keeping my heart free from bitterness.

68. Thank you for keeping a sense of humor. From hidden asparagus to food-colored milk, and contagious laughter during family card games and meals. I caught your contagious laughter, and it strikes now and then, till the tears run down my cheeks. And I always think of you.

69. Thank you for retail therapy. I wish we still lived close enough that we could just take off for an afternoon and go shopping together like we used to. I cherish those memories of time spent just you and me.

70. Thank you for your amazing example of motherhood. Although we are different in our temperaments, I strive to be like you as a mom in every way that I can (actually probably because of my temperament…). I know I’m not perfect, but I try to love my kids and point them to Jesus, and trust that his grace is more than enough for my weaknesses. This I learned from you.

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Eighty: Lessons from a Life Well-Lived

Daddy,

You are turning 80 years old in just a few short days. I find it hard to wrap my mind around this number! 80! Wow! But more than the number, I’ve found myself reflecting so much you and on our relationships, and I’ve been wowed by how blessed I am to have a daddy like you. You have loved and served the Lord with your whole life. As I have entered into my journey of parenthood, I realize even more what an exceptional job you did — because parenting is hard! But if I am able to be the kind of parent that you have been, then I will count it a success!

For your 80th birthday, I thought I’d share 80 of the lessons that I learned from you. I could write for paragraphs on each of these ideas. But that would take a whole book. So I’ll keep it simple. Some of these you have said to me, over and over again, but more of them, you have said with your life, over and over again.

1. It’s all about Jesus. We should strive to represent him in all we do.
2. Be generous. It’s only money.
3. Family comes first, always.
4. Commitments matter. Keep them. From small to large. If you say you’ll do it, then do it.
5. It’s ok to cry. I get my soft heart from Daddy.
6. Surround yourself with people who love the Lord.
7. Be committed to a church body. Don’t be a drifter.
8. Serve in your church.
9. Never be too proud to repent when you’ve made a mistake.
10. Repenting also means living differently henceforth.
11. Tithing to God’s local church is pleasing to him.
12. You don’t need wealth to be happy or to have a good life.

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13. Discipline is an act of love.
14. Integrity. Do what you know is right. Just do it.
15. Serve your family as unto the Lord. Even if it means riding a pink little girl’s bike so that you an all go on a family bike ride together even when you are one bike short.
16. Play with your kids. Rough and tumble or tea party, whatever they like.
17. Be involved in your kids’ lives. Show up to their events. Cheer them on.
18. Kids don’t raise themselves; they need parents, not parents who act like friends.
19. Realize when it’s time to release your kids into more independence.
20. Teach your children right from wrong.
21. Pray. All. The. Time.
22. Practice gratitude, continually.
23. Work at improving in weaknesses; don’t just sit in your sin.
24. Loving what you do is a blessing.
25. Make sacrifices for those you love. Lay your life down for them as Christ did for the church.
26. Pray for and with your children.
27. Pray for and with your spouse.
28. Say “I love you” often.

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29. Show affection.
30. It’s ok to have conflict in a relationship. Stick to your commitment and work through it.
31. Read the Bible daily.
32. Make a joyful noise unto the Lord. Daddy isn’t a great singer, but he always said that didn’t matter. The Bible didn’t ask for great singers to worship; it says, “make a joyful noise unto the Lord.”
33. You never know when or how you’re going to touch someone’s life, so be available.
34. Sometimes all we do is plant a seed in someone’s life. Way down the road, God may do something miraculous with that seed.
35. Always be truthful.
36. Love and serve your spouse faithfully. Make sacrifices for your spouse.
37. Cardigan sweaters are THE way to go!
38. No matter what is going on in life, remember, you are on your way to heaven, so it’s ok.
39. Spending time together as a family is important.
40. Laughter. It’s good stuff.

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41. Enjoy your kids; they grow up really fast.
42. Math jokes “always add up.”
43. 6 is afraid of 7, because 7 “eight” 9.
44. Everyone has a dessert pocket.
45. You are Christ’s ambassador.
46. Lean on your friends during difficult times, and allow them to lean on you during their own trials.
47. Love and enjoy God’s beautiful creation.
48. Stuff is just stuff; don’t make it too important — “you can’t take it with you!”
49. Every single person was uniquely created by God, and he loves and values them all.
50. Find what you are passionate about and spend your life doing it.
51. Honor and respect your elders and authority figures.
52. You get what you pay for, so save up for quality when you’re purchasing something important.
53. Find businesses that you can trust and give them your business loyally.
54. Don’t just get your hair cut, get them all cut!
55. Medicine is another name for ice cream.
56. Peanut butter is the best food on the earth.
57. How to be a teacher. This is the most oversimplified statement I have ever written. Teaching has been his life, and now it is also mine.

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58. How to write incredibly quickly on a blackboard so that your students are scrambling to copy it down before you erase it with your free hand 🙂
59. A love for puzzles — his are numbers, mine are words.
60. “Multiply by the power, decrease the power by one.”
61. Make sure you do maintenance on your car because it’s cheaper than fixing it after it breaks.
62. Take good care of your teeth — you only get one set.
63. Take care of your body. You only get one.
64. Attitude is a choice.
65. Camping can be fun, but be sure to bungee your cooler shut or a coon might make off with your roast in the night.
66. When camping, changing clothes is not necessary.
67. Never go to Camp Run-Amuck.
68. Always go to Colonel Mustard’s Custard.
69. Have as many meals together as a family as you possibly can.
70. Be punctual.
71. Open your home to others — “wear out your furniture for the Lord.”
72. “Can” is about ability, while “may” is about permission. Don’t misuse them.
73. Puns are the best kinds of jokes. Use them frequently.
74. When something is lost, ask God to help you find it, because he knows exactly where it is.
75. Age is just a number. It doesn’t mean you have to grow up.
76. You don’t need to be someone’s parent biologically to speak into their lives or to be a parent figure to them.
77. A smile, a hug, or a kind word can bless someone more than you know.
78. We are blessed with each new day that the Lord gives us to serve him.
79. We should give ourselves to the Lord daily and look for what he is doing in our lives.
80. People and God are the only things that really matter here on this earth, so spend your life loving and serving God and his people.

I love you, Daddy. Thanks for teaching me. Happy Birthday!

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In Search of the Brighter Side

crocusIt’s been a rough season for us in the Burleigh house. We’ve battled months of illness, from my vertigo in the fall, to ear infections, viral throat infections, rib splitting coughs, fevers, vomit, you name it…  Some of the worst bugs we’ve weathered as a little family. On top of that, my husband has weathered difficulties in his job, and my parents have faced difficult health questions and diagnoses. And, then there’s my whole health saga. Recently, I received the results of my final MRI — I did indeed have a stroke; and there are no answers which yield any certainty. It was possibly caused by this, but may also have been caused by that, or it could be something else entirely. There’s absolutely no certainty.

After months and months of all these trials, I find myself fixing dinner, my mind racing, searching for the bright side. There always is one, right? Where is that darn bright side? I know it’s there somewhere. But where, in all of this, is it? In the middle of the vomit, the wild two year old tantrums, the hair pulling, the vertigo, the ear infections, the stroke… where are you, bright side?

I’ve recently been working on a Sunday school lesson on the sovereignty and the goodness of God. My premise is that God is both totally sovereign and totally good (a long ago lesson from the Jerry King days — Thank you, Jerry!). It’s daring to believe. Because it means that in the midst of vomit and ear infections, job changes, and strokes, God is absolutely in control, and even though that stuff feels junky, he’s still good. I’ve come to realize through this winter of many trials that I cannot allow the fallenness and brokenness of our world color my view of God. I must begin with the firm believe that he is good, and I must use that unwavering belief as a lens through which I see everything else.

If I look at life through the lens of our fallen world, I will see a broken God.

And that’s not the truth at all. The depravity of our world and of the human condition does not have any baring on God’s goodness. Instead, I stand firm in the belief that he is good, and I use that knowledge to process all the junk I encounter.

If God is good, then how should I interpret the reality of my fallen world? Personally, I choose to believe that, even when it doesn’t appear to be so, God ALWAYS has my very best interest in mind, and he is working for the greater good of HIS kingdom. You see, this world, this life, really isn’t about me and my happiness, my health, my comfort, my anything. It’s about him and his glory. And so if I have to go through some “light and momentary trials” I can trust fully that they will not compare to the “eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor 4:17). It stinks to have poopy seasons in life where everything just seems wrong, hard, bad, gross, day after day. It has worn on me these past few months. The final MRI was just the icing on the cake.

But, I have pinned down that elusive bright side in this: Rather than perceiving life through the lens of my broken circumstances, I must see my broken circumstances through the lens of God’s goodness.

Rather than focusing on all that’s wrong with my world (which is just depressing) I can choose to focus on a good and loving God who is truly working for my good, according to the purpose for which he has called me. So, no matter how dark the circumstances may look, the bright side remains in my good and loving Father God. And I find that once I turn my focus to him instead of on all the junk, my problems become much smaller, much less significant, much less depressing. What we have gone through in these last six months is nothing compared to what others have endured. And it all dims as I fix my mind on the fact that my good Father loves me. That is more than enough for me.

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At the Crossroads

at_the_crossroadHave you ever found yourself at a crossroad in life? Here you are, looking down your path, envisioning your hopes, your dreams, your plans. But suddenly you are stopped. There’s a crossroads. And the road that God seems to be indicating for you to take is the one going in the other direction from where all your hopes, dreams and plans lie.

These moments can take your breath away, as you feel your dreams turning to ashes. Feelings run the gamut from anger to fear to grief to a deep, deep sadness. This is not what I expected. It’s not what I hoped for. It’s not what I envisioned for my life.

Crossroads come in many forms in life: A financial crisis, a failed marriage, a tragic loss, a difficult diagnosis, a job loss, a broken friendship. Sometimes we see it coming, but sometimes, it hits us out of nowhere and leaves us panting, bruised, bleeding, shocked.

Many have followed the sage of my health issues since fall of 2015. I suffered months of vertigo, experienced hearing loss, and was diagnosed as a stroke victim. It was all rather alarming, to say the least. I feel way too young and way too healthy to be having so many health problems. Plus, I’ve got enough going on with all of Sophie’s trials — I don’t need trials of my own! Right? So, over the past six months I have undergone a plethora of tests, all seeking a source for this vertigo, hearing loss, stroke. There have been no answers. Nothing has come up anywhere.

In what I thought would be my final neurology appointment last week, I began posing the difficult questions in my heart. If we can’t determine anything else that caused this stroke, then it’s likely it happened because of one of my pregnancies? Which pregnancy? What caused it? Would I be likely to stroke again in another pregnancy? What are the statistics on that? Could it be a worse stroke? With true compassion, my neurologist told me that my questions were likely unanswerable, but that yes, my likelihood of stroking again in a future pregnancy was increased because of the past stroke, and that yes, strokes are unpredictable demons that can be completely life-altering. A risk of stroke is not to be trifled with.

Why is this a crossroads? you ask. Because I wasn’t totally sure that I was finished having children. I love my two blessings immensely. I will never take for granted the gifts that I have been given in them. But it’s like I said before, we’ve all pictured life a certain way, only to realize that maybe it’s not going to look that way. Maybe. I haven’t gotten any further than maybe yet. I’m allowing myself time to process, to grieve, to pray, to consider. My neurologist has ordered one final MRI to ensure that nothing about my imaging has changed. It’s his hail mary at finding out anything at all that can help me in this difficult decision. Perhaps what showed on the first scan was what’s known as an artifact — it’s not actually there, but the MRI machine makes a mistake. (I can’t even think about the irony…) Or, perhaps it has changed some and this gives us a new direction to look. Or, it may be the same, and my questions will go unanswered. Maybe. So, I’ll stand a while longer at this crossroads. I’ll ponder. I’ll pray.

But in these moments, at life’s crossroads, I have one reassurance: He’s a good, good Father.

Even if God’s path for my life is not what I envisioned, I can walk forward into his path, knowing that he is good. Yes, I may need time to grieve the losses of things that I never actually had, but dreamed about and planned on. I need to go through the process of surrendering those things to God. Perhaps in walking on his path, he has other good things in store for me. Or perhaps his path saves me from unimaginable pain. Perhaps his path will indeed hold the very things that I must now surrender to him. I can’t know; I can’t predict the future. But I can choose. Even though I can’t see what his path for me may hold, I can choose it in full confidence because of his goodness.

I made this choice with Sophie when her life began to unfold in a completely different fashion than I expected, and I make it again with my own future. I want to be on God’s path, because ultimately, I know that on my own I lack the wisdom to choose the best path for myself. If I planned out my future, I would undoubtedly mess something up, badly. Even in walking in God’s plan for me, I may still mess things up. But I want my heart to be pointed in the right direction, my feet to be on his path.

Can we just take a minute to say “yes” to Jesus, even if everything in life looks terribly wrong? Can we just acknowledge that he’s in control AND he’s good? Though my emotions all over the place, with my heart, my mind, and my will, I choose God’s path; I choose his plan. There is sadness in letting go of my own plan, but there is peace in knowing I’m choosing the plan crafted by the only wise God who is indeed a good, good Father.

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From Mourning to Gladness

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As I stood in church one recent Sunday singing a familiar chorus, one line in particular jumped out at me. Tears of gladness filled my eyes as I sang “Mourning turns to songs of praise / Our God saves, our God saves.”  I began to fully realize that I have, largely, exited the chapter of mourning the absence of communication with Sophie. I am overflowing with joy because she is finally using speech to communicate. I waited three and a half years to hear her speak. It was a long wait. So, it’s taken a long time for my heart and mind to finally realize that the wait is over.

It. Is. Over. Sophie can talk!

The words of this song washed joy over my heart, and I turned to a familiar Scripture containing the image of sorrow turned to joy. Phrases from Jeremiah 31 leapt off the page at me, their truth resonating in so many ways with this journey I have been on:

“‘But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,’ declares the Lord.

‘I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.’

‘Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be  rewarded,’ declares the Lord.

‘So there is hope for your future,’ declares the Lord.

‘Just as I watched over them to uproot and tear down, and to overthrow, destroy, and bring disaster, so I will watch over them to build and to plant,’ declares the Lord.”

For so many months and years, I’ve carried a heaviness with me because of Sophie’s reality. Most of this has been tied up in a desire to hear her speak. The older she got, the more evident her speech gap became, and the more my heart bled. It’s been so hard to see my baby struggle. I was so worried (yes, I confess, Lord) that she would never speak, or that it would take years for her to add words to her vocabulary. I read many stories of apraxic children who had taken private speech therapy for years and only gained a few words per year. The journey overwhelmed me. My heart mourned over what seemed lost to us in these silent years. As I sang that chorus on Sunday, my heart fully realized that the silent years are actually over. I can rejoice in what God has done in Sophie’s life. Because her transition to verbal communication has truly been miraculous. Yes, she is probably only 75% intelligible at home and maybe 25% intelligible to the outside world. But she’s only been speaking for five months. And she has literally hundreds of words. Hundreds. She knows every letter in the alphabet, every animal, every household object, every food item, names of significant people, places, and toys, and she can count to twenty. Her vocabulary development in five months is literally inexplicable and indescribable. I knew at her diagnosis that the apraxia journey could take us years for this kind of progress. Let’s just say I had lowered my expectations quite a bit. But why? It is, after all, an awesome God who is guiding her life.

I used to pray that Sophie would just wake up one morning speaking clearly in complete sentences. Well, that didn’t happen. But somewhere along the way in these last four years, God changed me. It wasn’t necessarily my circumstances that changed; but it was my heart. In each of the passages where the Bible gives images of sorrow turned to joy, God never promises that our circumstances will change. He just says that he will give us beauty instead of ashes, gladness instead of mourning, joy instead of sorrow. Those things are within us. They are not based in our circumstances. Nothing about our circumstances needs to change for us to embrace beauty, joy, and gladness. I have grown to trust God more as we have walked through Sophie’s story. And now I realize that this struggle has brought much more glory God than Sophie’s life could have without her struggle. We can rejoice in her amazing progress and praise God for this growth in her life. I wonder, would I really be able to see the beauty of all of this without the struggle? Would I praise the Lord as much as I ought to? I’m not sure. But as we celebrate Sophie’s entrance into the world of verbal communication, I know that my heart is singing praises to Jesus and my feet are moving to a song of gladness as we hear Sophie’s sweet voice in our lives.

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