Warning: God’s menu might not fit your tastebuds.

Last night I was pushing my grocery cart down the isle and had a peculiar experience. Rather than my normal rush-through-for-survial method I was strolling and listening. I was listening for a voice that kept talking to me. “Put that in.” “No not that, this.” (But what IS that I asked?) “It doesn’t matter, put it in.” The next isle came, one I normally skip due to the vast array of International foods I don’t have any idea what they are. “That bag.” “This can.” All through the store we went together- this odd and mysterious ebb and flow that felt much like dancing. I listened for the “turn here”, “choose that”, or even the occasional “put it back.” At the end of this adventure I stopped to look at what was in my grocery cart, realizing I had nothing that was written down on my menu plan. Completely baffled as to what I would do with the random and bizarre items filing the basket, I questioned the voice that had been whispering to me all along. “Now what?! I have no idea what to do with any of this- it doesn’t fit together and I have no menu to follow.” Then I heard- “I will make a feast that is far beyond what you could dream of making. Watch me.”

I should mention at this point that last night I was at home sitting on my living room floor when this happened. In fact, I was in prayer with three other amazing people who were all asking the Lord what He was doing with His people right now. And within moments of beginning our prayer time, its as if I was transported to our local HEB where I had an other worldly moment with the Holy Spirit as He was teaching me in a language He knew I would understand- the grocery store. I just lost half of you. Thats ok, I have also learned that speaking about bizarre experiences like these often makes people, even that I love, shift in their seats. I see it- they smile and nod and quickly change the subject, because- its weird. Well, it is now at least.

“In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” Acts 2:17

I absolutely love this verse because it says ALL people. It does not say all men. It does not say all preachers or all elders. It does not say all white people or all good people. This was a prophecy referenced from the book of Joel. But the words in Joel are incredibly important for us to understand. Verse 28 says, “Then after doing all those things, I will pour out my Spirit…”

Wait. What things?? The pouring out of His Spirit in visions, dreams, prophesy, wisdom and miracles isn’t a simple marking of time. It’s a response to repentance from the people of God. Stop for a second and go back to read ALL of Joel 2. It begins with the Mighty Marching army of the Lord. Terrifying actually. Verse 12- “This is what the Lord says, turn to me now while there is time. Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping and mourning.” He actually tells the people- gather EVERYONE- the elders, children, even the babies! He said, let them pray- “don’t let them be a joke for unbelieving foreigners.” (Is this starting to sound familiar?) Only after His people respond with repentance did he promise to restore and pour out His Spirit. However he said to come with fasting. Not like- no TV for a week fasting, like fasting from food, hungry and starving for Gods heart. He said to come with weeping. Not like- we should have acted differently as God’s peoples so let’s talk about it, like- weeping and grieving for how we have hurt His heart. Openly and corporately mourning over the way we have treated His people, His creation. Can you imagine if an entire hour of our gathering was dedicated to this? Twenty minutes? A week? People would think we were crazy! They wouldn’t want to come back. Or would they? Would they see (finally) a bunch of Jesus followers who are broken hearted over our sins as a people (this is a real thing- but as independent Americans we often feel that if we have not personally committed a sin, we are free of guilt). Would they want to be part of something that felt real and vulnerable, and yet desperately aching for God’s heart?

There is such thing as acquired tastes, but in order to acquire them, we have to try them. And I suppose we also have to willing to have our tastebuds change. Isaiah 55:2 says, “Why spend money on what is not bread and labor on what does not satisfy? Listen to me and eat what is good and your soul will delight in the richest of food.” (or have an incredible feast).

Last night at the grocery store, I was painfully challenged. Leave the menu at home Ashley. You know how to cook, you know what those meals look like and taste like. Jesus is doing something in our generation that we have only begun to experience, but I believe it will taste a little different than what we are used to.

“Look at the nations and watch– and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.”

-Habakkuk 1:5 (quoted in Acts 13, coming soon 2018…)

You know when you open a present from someone who loves you and you really hope the look on your face doesn’t show, but you have NO idea what to do with the present you just got? You smile and say, “oh thank you sooo much- I love it!” But what you really mean is, “What IS this?” Don’t lie I know you have. One time when I was about 9 I got a china bowl from my great aunt-you know the heirloom kind- as I watched my brothers open a toy. I’ve always been terrible at faking things (hey at least you’ll know how I really feel!) This year I got one of those gifts from someone that deeply loves me. I tried really hard to enjoy my gift but the truth is, I simply had no idea what to do with it AND it was quite uncomfortable. So I took a walk outside last night to gear myself up for an honest conversation with said beloved and the Holy Spirit whispered into my ear. However, it sounded oddly like Inigo Montoya from Princess Bride….

“REST. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Oh forgive me- that’s what I was given this Christmas from the Lord- rest. It’s quite boring and feels awfully un-purposeful. It felt a bit like the china bowl to me- lovely to glance at for a moment, but not useful for everyday life and certainly not something I knew how to enjoy. About a week ago I had a crash and burn melt down of exhaustion from our new pace of life with starting up Wildfire and learning to let the Holy Spirit lead each day. Often that has looked like a revolving door of people in and out of the house. One day while Esther was napping I stopped for a moment and glanced around at the scene before me. Four adults were sitting in the living room having an amazing God connection and telling stories of the miraculous. Six children were playing outside, (none of which were mine) and I got a knock on the front and back door simultaneously for a clothing drop off and Wildfire meeting. I literally laughed out loud and thought- what am I DOING?! Every day has become so unexpected and filled with awesome adventures but I would for sure say that REST has not been on the menu. You know-

REST- n. that thing we do only after we’ve completely exhausted ourselves and run out of fuel so we don’t feel guilt about it…

I did try, I promise! Everyone kept telling me- rest Ashley! I rested in the best way I knew how- I watched Hallmark movies at night so I wouldn’t try and solve the worlds problems and had a glass of wine when my husband saw the deer in headlights look on my face. I took a bath one day and tried really hard not to think about planning things. I even stayed in my PJs one day before Christmas (turns out people still show up at your house even if you have your pjs on). I tried EVERYTHING you’re supposed to do to rest. Hallmark people. Simply put, my “rest” was forced and I was left feeling guilty for needing it so much and guilty for not appreciating it when presented. As my other beloved told me last night- “you’re just really bad at rest honey.” Or maybe I just don’t know what it is!

I realize of course that when the God of the Universe gives you something and you don’t like it, it’s most definitely your issue and not His. So I decided to do some research on this gift and see if I might be able to understand more what on earth He was giving me and why I needed it (and why perhaps I’m so bad at it).

Do you know that the English word REST is translated from 10 entirely different words in the Hebrew and Greek? I searched over 400 verses and could have gone on for hours more just researching how many times God mentions rest when He talks to his people! Here are some of the definitions of the original words used. It’s not as simple as taking a nap!: (OT/NT for Old and New Testament)

-a day of rest (Sabbath) OT

-an open area (referring to land and space between Gods people and enemy lands) OT

-to cease, to stop, to come to an end OT

-to be quiet, at peace, silent, remain calm (referring most often to God giving the land rest after wars and harvests) OT

-to dwell, inhabit, stay, settle down, remain OT

-to stop and soothe, refresh NT

-a place of fixed habitation to remain in NT

Let that soak in for a little bit! One of my favorite gifts this year was a window frame painted with the words “I will give you rest.” from Mathew 11:28. Its hanging above my fireplace so that I constantly have to look at and deal with it. It reads like this: “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you REST (refreshment, soothing). Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find REST (fixed dwelling place to remain) for your souls.” I love that Jesus is offering us two different kinds of rest here.

  1. Refreshing Rest. When we are exhausted and weary he says its ok to come pull away and get filled up again. In Mark 9:31 ‘He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and REST for a while.” For many were coming and going and they had no leisure even to eat.’  Jesus got it. But this kind of rest was not meant to stay in, it was meant to refresh us so that we could go back out and and obey. Matthew 26:45- “He said to the disciples, sleep and take your REST later on, the hour is at hand.” When we stay in the refreshing rest too long we become complacent and lazy. We forget we have an active purpose here as Christ followers. But when we choose not to seek out this refreshing rest at all, we quickly burn out and function in our own strength that doesn’t last very long.
  2. Remaining Rest. Jesus offers us a permanent dwelling place in the land of rest. If we learn from Him and allow Him to be God- in control, the One that takes on the cares and burdens of the world, He promises us a place for our souls to settle even in the midst of chaos. This rest we stay in, it’s not one day a week or a 2 hour getaway on a nature walk. Its constant rest. Yes please! This of course leads us to ask the question- where do we get that kind??!

When we dig into the Word we find some nuggets of goodness…

Jeremiah 6:16- the Lord says, “Stand by the roads and look, ask for the ancient paths where the good way is and walk in it and find REST for your souls.

Proverbs 19:23- The fear of the Lord leads to life- whoever has it RESTS satisfied.

Hebrews 4:6;9-11 It still remains that some will enter that REST and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in because of their disobedience…There remains then a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from His own work, just as God did from his. Let us therefore make every effort to enter that REST, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience. **This is the same word for rest used in the second part of Matt 11.

The point is- God tells us to rests.  For goodness sake God values it so much He promises it to the dirt itself (Exodus 24:31, Josh 11:23, Isaiah 14:7)- so how much more does He want it for us! But I believe He was teaching me (and if I get this wrong just expect a follow up blog next week) that both kinds of rest are valuable, fruitful and a command. But we also have to make sure that our refreshing rest is actually refreshing- (binge watching rarely fills us up it just turns our brains off) so that we can keep obeying. We have to choose to enter the remaining rest that carries the fear of God – the kind that’s ok with the worlds problems still existing at the end of the day, knowing our souls can’t handle the weight of the world like His can. But also the remaining rest thats given to us when we walk in righteousness and obedience. It’s God’s promised reward! (1 Kings 8:56)

I don’t know if it means what I think it means or not, but I know that today Im going to go read a book and enjoy the rest He’s giving!

I do not think it means what you think it means…

Sure, we can quote Inigo Montoya. But perhaps we have more in common with Vecini than we would care to think. For those of you unfamiliar with the Princess Bride, I suppose we can still be friends, but I might need to explain. In the movie, the character Vecini constantly uses the word “inconceivable” for things that simply…aren’t. Eventually his companion in crime points it out in his glorious Spanish accent, “you keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” Taylor and I have found ourselves saying this phrase quite frequently when referring to our native language in which we both grew up- Christianese.

If you know what a Bible drill is, who Steven Curtis Chapman is or the words to “I Can Only Imagine” then you likely speak some dialect of Christianese. And while Bible drills taught me how to know the Word, Steven’s lyrics taught me the value of filling my mind with truth to an upbeat acoustic and I can Only Imagine reminded me that Heaven is in fact not here, I think there are a few things that got lost in translation. When we are around others that speak the same dialect of tongue, we don’t notice the differences ourselves- but others do. For the same reason my Maryland cousin stills laughs every time I say y’all and we laugh when she says warsh the clothes… it takes another accent to shed light on our natural bent towards a way of speaking. The more time we spend with people that don’t know Jesus, with friends who met Him later on or with people just burnt out by religion, the church, Christians- you name it- the more aware we are that we have to dig into the Word of God and ask ourselves some hard questions. Why do we do what we do? Why do we say what we say? And what on earth does that even mean?! In asking some of those hard questions over the last year and a half, we’ve found that Inigo Montoya is pretty spot on.

For the next season, Taylor and I are going to tag team write a  “I do not think it means what you think it means…” series. Rest, Guilt, Blessing, Justice, Church… words that I thought I knew until I opened the Word a little wider and got my mind blown.

As the Lord is challenging us to take a long hard look at ourselves and our culture as Jesus followers we welcome you on the journey. We promise no answers- and at times even more questions- but we do promise honesty and vulnerability. Our plum line is the Word of God and our desire is not controversy, or even good conversation. Our hearts long to love and obey Jesus in a deeper and fuller way. We would love to have to along for the ride- if you have thoughts or vocab words we can explore- let us know! And if you happen to be around in the San Antonio area January 13th we would love to see you at the Kingdom Culture Conference where we will worship God and explore what is means to experience a crazy culture of people that want to say YES! to obeying Jesus.

I should have known then. A Story of yes.

Two days ago Taylor stepped down from his full time position as community minister at the church we have been at for almost a decade. Starting in two weeks we will be living as full time missionaries here in San Antonio and launching Wildfire Network- a non profit that calls, empowers and sends people out and teaches them to listen to the Spirit of God and obey His calling. I’m sorry, what did you ask? Oh am I scared? no. no. Not at all. Im shaking in my boots. But I should have known…

The day Taylor and I started dating he got down on one knee after a friendly walk together in Colorado and started praying “for the woman in front of me that will be my wife.”  He got up and asked me to walk through life with him. I didn’t know if he was proposing marriage or dating but either way I said yes. The day before he told me we were just friends. Apparently God spoke something other than that overnight and when God speaks to that man, he acts. (Good thing God had already prepared my heart to be madly in love with him). Taylor has never been accused of being lukewarm. I should have known then…

We were pregnant with our first, Abigael in Waco, Texas and working as youth ministers at a baptist church while I taught art and he finished up seminary. One night we both sat down on the couch together nervously to share what the Holy Spirit had been placing on our hearts separately. I think we are supposed to move to San Antonio. We said yes. So 2 months after she was born, we sold our house, made exactly enough to rent a uhaul and jump on I-35S. Without a job. I should have known then…

Two years later with 2 toddlers tugging on my jeans, I watched my husband walk into the door with pleated pants and a plaid button down. After some rough bumps in our family story and pain from past ministry experiences, he was now the director at the Assisted Living next door (also a miraculous God story) and while making rather good money for us, I saw slowly saw the passion and vision fading in his eyes. I told him that I thought it was time we prayed about jumping back into full time ministry. That very night we received a call from the new pastor of our local church- “I know this sounds crazy, but would you consider leaving your job and coming to be the full time youth and  facilities director?” We said yes. I should have known then…

Fast forward to 2014. Taylor was now the community minister and I had been painting Toms shoes for five years to supplement our income and work from home. I was taking classes to pursue a masters degree in art therapy- years of time and money we didn’t have, but all the doors were open. Except one night God asked me a question that changed it all- What if there was another way Ashley? What if you stopped putting me in a box and dreamed bigger than you could imagine- what would it start to look like? And Created was born. We used half of the savings we had been setting aside to build a worship art studio on the property and start up a non profit (artfullycreated.org). We said yes. I should have known then…

On August 24, 2015 I stood in the Created studio leading a prayer for the nations creative session when my first contraction started. My heart raced and my hands shook- but not because of the labor ahead. Because nine months prior I wrote down in my journal “Lord, I found out today I’m pregnant. But I think is going to be a different road- isn’t it?” Esther Rose came early the next morning. They placed her on my chest and she looked at me with the deepest blue eyes I’d ever seen. Our lives would no longer look the same, and I had no clue what I was doing, but we said yes. I should have known then…

Last year, two months before the summer Olympics our family of five sat down in the living room together to pray. Nowthat our family included a one year old with special needs, we weren’t sure if we should still answer the call He had clearly given us 4 years prior- “go to Rio and tell the nations about who I am”. After a few minutes of prayer we all knew. Even though we still had no idea what we were doing or where we were staying- we were buying tickets and getting on that plane. All five of us said yes. I should have known then…

 

In April of this year, Taylor got on a plane with his team members and flew to Florida for a conference. His first workshop was with a small group of people called the Underground who passionately teach and empower the hurting, the broken, the educated, the non educated- to love Jesus and step out and do what He is calling them to do. He called me on the second day, his voice near shouting with excitement. “Ash! I think I’m made for this! Everything in my spirit says YES!” And then I did. I did know. I knew that every moment, every opportunity He has given us along the way has been a new tool in our tool belt. Every time of stretching and faith building He has been reminding us of His faithfulness, His provision, and His leadership. It’s not that we hear God more or are just crazy (craziness debatable I acknowledge). But everytime God whispers in our ears we as His people have two choices- to respond in faith or tune Him out. I’ve found that tuning Him out seems to make Him louder anyways so taking leaps of faith tends to be the less treacherous option. He does not whisper to a select few, He has adventures prepared for every soul that is willing to say yes to Him.

“And we know that in all things He works for the good of those who are called according to His purposes.” -Romans 8:28

I should have known that saying yes changes things. Sometimes everything. Shakin in my boots Lord, but yes.

**If you want to know more about the crazy movement of God that we are saying “yes” to, check out www.wildfire.church or join us any Thursday night for Kindle service at our home 7-9pm. We would love to adventure with you and help you learn what your YES is.

When Fear gets a beatdown…

Her nails dug into my forearm. Her bright blue eyes carried a pool of pent up fear on the brink of spilling over. One might think she was being torn from her family to live with monsters. The metal gate in front of us barely kept us at arms length from her enemy. I gently grabbed her shoulders and turned her around to face me square on. I spoke from the Holy Spirit that bubbled up inside of me.

“You can be scared. You don’t have to get rid of your fear. But it’s time to tell fear it doesn’t own you anymore.”

At this she mustered up what little courage she felt and replied, “Ok. let’s do this. But hold my hand and please don’t let go of me.”

She trusted me, us, that we wouldn’t let her walk into something that would hurt her, but we were willing to let her be afraid. What an important step this is in building faith. It reminds me of how many times the Lord does the same thing with our grown up hearts. He doesn’t want us to be trapped, tied and chained by our fears and anxiety because He knows that it will keep us from walking in joy.

For a little background, two months ago our family made a trip to Six Flags for a family adventure day. Nate used his glorious head of big hair to his advantage and got in line to ride the mother of all coasters- the Iron Rattler. It has a near vertical drop straight down and stands high above the horizon. Nate, Taylor and I all dared the drop but Abigael stood back at a distance. We went home that night and as I tucked her in she told me she felt pressure on her chest. She couldnt sleep because she felt sick to her stomach and dreamt about rattlers. For weeks she worked herself into moments of terror thinking about that drop. I told her she didn’t ever have to ride it and that no one would force her to get on. To be honest I thought it was a tad dramatic and thought there were plenty of other things to worry about at the time- but that is a particular area that the Lord has an infinite amount more patience than I do. Finally one night she said- “mommy. I have to do it. I have to ride it so I won’t be sacred anymore.” So the last day of school we picked them up and made a surprise trip to Six Flags to start off the summer conquering fear. She was terrified the entire ride there.

The moment that Rattler came to a stop, her face lit up in shock and delight like the New York Christmas tree. “Mommy! I actually did it!” While I was so thankful to see she liked it, our proudest moment was that first step past the gate that held her at bay. The step that said I’m not turning back. The step that said I trust you. The step that said Im done being shackled. We have an enemy, a snake much much like this Iron Rattler, that wants to haunt our dreams and cause to run and hide. He wants us to doubt, be overly anxious and stay in our comfort zones. This last year I have watched our daughter time after time choose to step out and on these fears so that the enemy doesn’t gain any ground in her heart. She has taught me to step out in faith even when I’m terrified and unsure. She hates the idea of the devil keeping her from things God has for her. So time and time again she trios back those shoulders and digs her nails into our arms. She knows we will not leave her and more importantly that Jesus will never turn away from her. Some of us are bold like Nate and Taylor forge ahead with adventure and courage. God made these warriors to fight the enemy head on with boldness and confidence. We need them. But some of us have battled fears and anxiety our whole lives. Abigael. Me. You? But He did not make us to stand back and watch. I do not step out and do the crazy things God has called us to because I am fearless. I step out in faith because He tells me to and because He promised me I could squeeze His hand and dig in. Perfect love casts out all fear He says; His perfect love for us. We often wait until we aren’t afraid but history is filled with terrified warriors. We don’t have to conquer our fears- God does.

Friends. What is your Rattler? Step up to the gate, just take one step of faith and wait for the ride of your life- windblown and glorious.

 

From the Soil of a Non-Gardener

I killed a cactus. No really. And a succulent, and an aloe plant, and every other possible form of growing green thing. The green things and I have a mutual understanding- if you can independently live on your own here, go for it, otherwise you’re on your own dude. Ask anyone who knows me- I often joke that the only thing I grow is children. This picture of my  Knock Out Roses- Oh I knocked em out alright. Mind you, I literally live in the woods surrounded by acres of land that most gardeners would have flowing with cabbages and roses and tomatoes. I have many times felt guilty that I’m not using the land well. But I promise I’ve tried. Well kinda. I would say the primary cause of death has been dehydration, but considering the fact Ive been in the hospital with kidney stones and the same, its no surprise that I treat my plants with the same care and love I do for my own body. (there was that one time I tried to make up for not daily watering the plant and the result was drowning…)

Well back in January I got a little joyful nudge from Jesus when I was at a conference. “Plant a garden.” Obviously assuming this was a spiritual analogy I moved on. But do you know when that gut punch comes and you’re like, “wait.. no. really God?” I had long since given up trying to keep things alive, much less grow them from seeds. So I did what any good Jesus follower would do. I delayed for about 3 months until He wouldn’t leave me alone. (Or my husband). I knew Taylor could make it happen and yet I knew deep down that God wanted me to go through this process of planting.  The Lord seems to enjoy working miracles in the unlikely places to show us He’s the one working. I have announcement to make. drumroll necessary. There are green little things coming up out of the dirt in the places I put seeds and watered them. There are lessons a mile long I’m sure I could turn into some “From the Soil of a Non-Gardener” Spiritual analogy book. But I probably won’t. Instead I’ll give it to you in short form. There is one word that stands out to me: FAITH.

 

I had absolutely zero faith in my own abilities to create a garden that produces anything but weeds. Sure, my hands are physically able but I just really stink at making it happen.  I had faith that I could physically plant seeds, and even that I could (try to) feed them. But the true test of faith God was asking me to believe is that HE could make them grow. Each seed has a name, a heart. God knows which ones will spring up in response to His truth but someone has to plant them. Someone has to disciple (feed) them. And the coolest thing about healthy plants? They produce more seeds just waiting to be planted.

I’ve battled my own insecurities on my knees- down in the dirt and by the side of my bed. Who am I to make disciples Lord? Who am I to teach, train, tell, go?

I AM. He replies.

The book of Hebrews is scattered with the words, “By faith” perhaps to reminds us that the Spirit of God is tugging at us- not to build an empire or massive system or movement or even to change to world. But by faith we obey that nudge so that he can grow a harvest of hearts desperately longing to see the light of the Sun.

Unrequested Gifts

Today is World Down Syndrome Day. After 18 months of being a parent of a child with special needs, I would not say I’ve become an expert. I would say however that got a new set of glasses- a clearer window into something I was afraid of because of my own misunderstandings, fears, ignorance, and insecurities. I’m going to get very real for a minute. Years ago I remember asking God, “Lord please just give me healthy children. I can’t be a parent to special needs. I don’t have the patience, the energy, and truthfully the compassionate heart. Please just not that.” I was terrified of my life looking different than I imagined it and assumed that my version of bliss was that which Id already known and tasted.

“Taste and see that the Lord is good.” -Psalm 34:8

The day I found out I was pregnant with Esther Rose I scribbled in my journal, “This is going to be a different road isn’t it Lord?”

I guess Our sweet Father knows what we need most and He knew I needed a little prep time to battle the fears that had long shackled me. I don’t know how I knew, but somehow I just felt it in my gut but spoke nothing of it. About 5 months in I was sitting at my kitchen table with my mama, anxiety roaring over the unspoken what ifs tumbling around in my womb. I looked at her and whispered as if voicing my fear would somehow call it into existence. “Mom, what if she…” My mom cut me off and smiled at me, “I know honey. And it will be ok. God knows what He’s doing.” Forgive me as I pause, even now weeping thinking about the magnitude of the moment. One simple word of comfort half way through- spoken without knowing the fullness of what it would mean. It got me through. For those of you that know us already, Taylor and I share everything. Theres not a secret to be found by the grace of God over us. But for some reason this one stayed inside. I didn’t know for sure and we both decided not to get the testing for Down Syndrome during my pregnancy. I suppose our Daddy knew I needed prep and Tay needed to know in the moment.

The day Essie first opened her eyes and they laid her on my chest my heart raced. I took one look and I just knew. I knew my world would forever be different, changed, unexpected. What I didn’t know that day is why. As Taylor and I sat on the hospital bed after they told us Esther had Down Syndrome, we wept together over the things we thought we longed for. In that moment the lens from which we’d seen the world shifted, it changed and the room got still and peaceful. My fears- gone. It was replaced instead by unspeakable joy and humility that God would choose us, US, to parent this special child. I wept because that day Jesus told me something I’d always wondered. By giving us Esther Rose He told me He believed in me. He had faith in us as a family to love this gift the way He would. He knew that the very things I was most afraid of were really the very things He longed to use to bring our family life and joy. We got a myriad of responses as people begun to find out. “We’re sorry.” “Can we pray for healing?” “What a gift!” “Are you ok?” “She’s perfect.”

It was difficult knowing how to navigate these waters with grace because truthfully, I think I would have been in the same place a few years ago. I would have looked with sadness, maybe a little uncomfortableness of how to respond to new parents of special needs and maybe even said a silent prayer of thanks it wasn’t me. I would have wanted to know her, to have someone in my life to teach me how to understand Downs a little better. But I wouldn’t have known- how could I? But I know now. I know now that this little joy bringer
is
special, yes. But special needs? I think we have it backwards; I believe that WE are the ones with special needs. Esther has special gives. We need to see through the eyes of a child. We need to love without abandon. We need a deep well of joy inside of us that bubbles over. We need to wave and smile at total strangers on the bus that look mean and hard and make him grin. We need to use less words to speak and more physical affection to communicate our hearts. We need total reliance and trust in our
Father when we are unsure how to take the next step. We need to stop what we are doing and raise our hands in the air when worship music comes on, simply because we know the temporary things here can wait. We need- I needed, a new pair of eyes.

It’s changed me.. Taylor, our precious Abigael and Nate, and the sweet family and friends that have entered into this world with us. Every time I look into the eyes of our daughter, shaped a little differently than mine and the deepest blue you’ve ever seen, I see a gift I once asked not to receive and thank God daily He chose to answer differently. 

 

Our need to be the lead…

The other day Abigael said, “Mama we should just put a sign outside that says, ‘welcome to the neighborhood antique store’.” My precious children have been to every Trade Day, junk sale, antique shop and estate sale around and they know just what to look for. In fact, they have some of the best ideas. This last weekend we went to an estate sale that had a large beat up looking trunk in the back corner. There was a small sign on it that said “Ask me about my story”. It would have been easy for most everyone to miss, but not Natey. But on the way out the door, Nate turned around and said to the lady- “Hey, so whats the story?” It took her a minute to understand what he was talking about and then she slowly smiled. “Oh THAT story! Well you know the Titanic….”

We are a culture addicted to stories, but often times we miss the most amazing ones right underneath our noses. I suppose thats why Taylor and I love repurposing old things so much. Take our coffee table for example. Upon first glance its a wooden crate that makes a nice spot to plop your feet or drink on. But open up the top and you realize that one time hundreds of years ago it was lovingly packed with dresses, cups, books, and the things most precious to a young bride as she and her new groom made a life for each other in America. It was a dowry chest. What stories could it tell? Did it house the blankets they used to wrap up their first born? Did it serve as a table on the boat it journeyed on? While I won’t know the homes it was in before mine, it serves as a constant reminder at how quickly this life flickers. My story might not be relevant to a single other life 100 years from now. My stuff will be sold or thrown, my pictures just a brief snapshot of a life lived with the ones I loved. I don’t expect my art or the studio, my words, my home, or my stories to withstand the test of time. But deep down, don’t I kinda want them to?

Why I wonder are we so consumed with being known? Being remembered? I might not know who planted the trees that shade my lawn, but I sure am grateful for them. Its there for shade when I have a picnic with my kids in the yard, that’s what matters to me. I think theres a deep part of each one of us that really wants to feel like we matter and have purpose. We start at a young age instilling into our children that they can be whatever they are destined to be. I wholeheartedly agree that we are each unique creations put on this earth for a purpose and reason, but we have become obsessed with finding our own and have grown dissatisfied and discontented at being part of God’s purposes and timeline. They are no longer big enough, good enough, powerful enough. “But I really really want to be special. I want to stand out and know that God is going to use me to make a huge impact,” we say. Newsflash us: He already made the huge impact.  The problem is, we have no idea how big His story really is. Its the story that has stood the test of time. It is time. It is THE story. It is the greatest story ever told and the Author gave us the bragging rights to be characters. But let’s not forget- we are not the main character. So if you’re bored with your own story, if you long for adventure, mystery, romance and intrigue… I know someone that’s looking for supporting roles. Just a warning though, your name probably won’t be listed on the credits and its likely that those reading and watching will forget your character and back story once they hear about the main character (He is FASCINATING). But as He grafts us into His story it just doesn’t seem to matter as much about ours anymore. So much so, that when someone looks at our life and says, “Hey so whats the story?” we can slowly smile and say, “Oh THAT story…. well thats the greatest story ever told.”

Learning from the Most Unlikely of Candidates…

It seemed like a frozen moment from a stock photo from a church bulletin (yeah that picture is for sure not me). Sunshine on our backs and green grass underneath, I was plopped in my front yard surrounded by three children (two I birthed) Bibles flopped in front of them. He had thrown them down in urgent expectation. “Tell me more,” he said adamantly. “What do you want to know?” I questioned in return. “I don’t know anything! What do I need to know?”

Several minutes prior to this conversation he was crying under my tree because he wanted the lock and key he found of Nate’s (my seven year old) but had been denied due to its special-treasure-birthday-present status. Thinking this was a perfect teaching moment for a young Iraqi refugee boy who temporarily spent the day with us because his momma (my friend) just had a baby… I responded like I would to my own children:

“Well, honey- it’s ok to want things…. even to want them really bad! But there’s a lot of times in life we don’t get exactly what we want. It’s good to give, but sometimes things are very special and they are hard to give.” His response silenced me.

“Yes but I don’t understand. Your people do not give. If I have something and someone wants it very badly, I give it. Why do you not?”

There are moments in life you will never forget, that was one of them. You see, for the last year we had been reaching out to and loving on our new friends- trying our best to love the way Jesus loves. Here I was trying to help out, reach out, serve- whatever you want to call it and my gut reaction was to feel offended. (Does he not understand how Im trying?) I mean- ohhhh, I recognize that tug. The one that puts you in your place? That one. It’s like everything did an abrupt halt and flipped around. I was the student and my little friend became the teacher. So I had him sit and teach us, the Christ followers, what it was like to give away things that he loved to someone else. Teach me, the grown adult Christian woman, that we don’t just give when it’s convenient or easy- but when it hurts. Do you know that his family has invited us to dinner more than any other American family in the year and a half they have been here?

After our teaching moment, Nate gave the lock to him (hallelujah mom moment) and something amazing happened. God used that same lock and key to unlock a little boys heart. And I truly believe that when we allowed ourselves to be taught, he too longed for the same.

Why are we so closed?

Maybe it’s the new friends God has put into our lives, maybe it was traveling to Rio and witnessing hundreds of other cultures. I think having a daughter with special needs has contributed… but this last year I feel like the way I’ve been doing life as a Christ follower has been challenged from top to bottom and caused me to take a long deep look at my walk with Jesus. If I cannot truly value others more than I value myself, then what on earth- literally- am I doing? I so desperately want to see how He sees. I hate racism, bigotry, hypocrisy, favoritism and things counter to Jesus Christ… don’t I? I am beyond grateful for my bold little friend who cut right to the chase. Man do I need that. Called me out! He was genuinely confused by our American Christianity. Father forgive us. Break down those walls. Help me to listen, to learn, to love, to see the way You see.

And for goodness sakes, invite that weird person you met over to dinner already. You might be surprised what doors will unlock… or what friends wait behind.

Prioridade: Reflections on Rio part One

There were people shoved in every possible corner. Faces were smashed against the windows and yet still, like a broken branch has no other option in a rush of rapid waters but to move with the IMG_4558 copycurrent, we were swept into the subway. One man hung out the door as another used the momentum of a fellow friend to propel him in, using the doors like a button ready to bust at the seams. All around us were cariocas- natives to Rio- speaking in Portuguese, and we immediately stood out. Though there was barely room to breathe, somehow we saw a small space begin to open up for us- like the parting of these seas- and hands went out all over directing us to take their spots and sit with the babies. “Prioridade! Prioridade!” we heard everywhere. We gratefully all crammed into one seat and stared at each other amazed at this beautiful culture that values families so highly that their own comfort was not a thought. As soon as we sat I could tell they were all trying not to stare. One woman said to me in broken english- “courage?” I smiled and replied- “God.”

We were placed on Olympic Boulevard; this day surrounding the sheet I had sprawled on the ground covered with art supplies. The Lord had laid it on my heart early that morning to draw pictures of Christ the Redeemer statue while Taylor used the visual opportunity to tell people that Jesus is not a god of stone, but One who lives. IMG_5092 copyOur Brasilian team members were joining with us in this mission. One particular woman and her friend seemed curious but would not come. One after the other, our portuguese speaking friends
tried to no avail. And then, taylor simply pointed to me and said to her in Portuguese- “mi esposa” (my wife).  Something in her changed and she looked at him with intrigue. She glanced up and saw our three children sitting next to me on the blanket as I drew. She took her Indiana Jones leap of faith and slowly walked to the sheet. After the gospel was shared, she received her drawing, she left with a huge smile on her face. We later asked our team why she suddenly changed. “She came because you brought your family and you are not from here. She didn’t know why.”

It was our last day in Rio and there I stood staring at beautiful faces that felt like family. With tears running down her face my friend said to us, “So many Brasilians would not even come. But you came. And you came with your family. With your children. You came to our people and our country to love us when others were afraid and this is beautiful.” For a moment I stood there pondering what was happening. As our new brothers and sisters one by one shared this sentiment it became so abundantly clear to me- family on a mission is the most powerful gift God has given us. Taylor used his giftings- he adapted into a new culture and was speaking the language within days. Many people thought he was brazilian. (For some odd reason they did not make the same mistake with me…) He preached passionately and commissioned workers out to be missionaries in the favelas. God gave me the ability to draw others near with art, facepainting,  sketching, so the gospel could be preached. But our children- our children drew people in. Abigael, Nate, Essie. Their simple presence on the rougher streets of Rio, on the crowded busses, holding face painting signs in the wind, was what softened hearts to come. IMG_4024 copyIMG_4739 copyBut standing there on that last day I was keenly aware something deeper was stirring. I praise Jesus for every seed that was planted and I pray- we pray- that each of these seeds grows roots in every nation. But truth be told they could have shared the gospel without us. The Word still would have gone out. There were others with gifts to be used. So why our family Lord? Why did you tell our family to go?

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“I want to show you- and show others- what it looks like to live as a missional family.”

To those that wonder, those that doubt- our children do not hold us back, they give our family wings and fling open doors in the heavens. Let the children come to Me, Jesus said. There is a reason for this.

This Olympic volunteer came to know Christ because Abigael gave a tract to a little girl nearby.

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This Canadian woman was drawn to God because Nate ran to give a book to a little boy-she was curious too.

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And this couple came to know Jesus because Esther has Down Syndrome.

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Jesus gets all glory for every good thing that happened on this trip. But now more than ever I see what can happen when give family, “Prioridade.”

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