“Out of the depths I call to you, Lord! Lord, listen to my voice; let your ears be attentive to my cry for help.”
If you would ask me what it feels like to lose your baby… I would say it’s like sailing on a boat, and at first the weather is nice and it is peaceful on the boat. The wind is blowing gently through your hair and you can breathe in deep of sweet aromas from all around you. Then suddenly you hit an unseen, ginormous object and it violently throws your body off the boat. You smack into the ocean water and your body is paralyzed. You start to sink and you can see the sunlight fading away. You sink until there is only darkness and you hit the bottom of the ocean. You cannot breathe, you gasp for air but there is nothing to breathe in except water. You feel the immense pressure of the water crushing you, squeezing the life out of you but for some reason you are still alive. Gasping for air that is not there. All you want is to desperately get out of the abyss but you are paralyzed from the jolt of that ginormous wreck. Sounds like a bad dream right? You want to so badly wake up from this nightmare and to get back to the sun and gentle breeze but all there is, is darkness and silence. I am living in this nightmare.
It has been two weeks of being in this uncharted territory in the depths of my soul, I feel like an outsider in my own body. My old world is falling apart…and a new one is coming up. I did not want my new world to be like this, yet this is what it is. I have so many questions, why did God allow this to happen? And why now? But those questions do not help the fact my baby is gone. So I lament in this in between space. Adriel Booker describes this “place” perfectly… “Lament invites us to a liminal space. The word liminal connotes the idea of a threshold—a space between what was and what will be. The implication is a moving forward into something new, but not without first being transformed by the in-between. Liminal spaces feel disorienting because they are.” Being in the in-between does not feel good. It is frustrating and causes me to have wait. I have to trust that this process is good for me even though it hurts terribly bad. I have to trust that God will turn all of this into something beautiful somehow. It is the only hope that I can count on.
I had told God to have his way with my life. To transform my family into the vision he has set for us but by no means did I mean this. This has rocked me to my core. I’m not saying God decided to just take our daughter to “teach” us a lesson but, the reason why she was sick in the first place is simply because sin has corrupted God’s intended perfect world. So God is indeed with us and doesn’t intend to leave us. Ever. So I carry my sorrow and pain to my Heavenly Father. I let him hold it in his arms with me as I weep and long for my little girl. I have no words to speak to him but yet he is still there listening to my cries and my thoughts before I even know how to articulate it.
He is here with me in the depths of my soul. I didn’t know how deep his love was until I learned that my love wasn’t enough to save her. But his was. He saved my little girl, my family and the entire world. An entire world carried to and on the cross and then he died the most painful death just for us to have a chance to have a relationship with him. I would give up my life to save my children in an instant but I would never want to give up my child to save the world…but I had no choice in the matter, all I had was trust. I had to trust God that he would be with us through the depths of my worst fear…and maybe having to let her go saves us?
So, I have not come up for air yet but I know I will be able to one day. I cannot let go of the One that saved me, and I know he is to my rescue and when I am ready…I will resurface. But right now I will remain in the depths, in my sorrow because of the longing to hold her again. To smell her scent and kiss her soft skin. Oh how I wish I could have spent more time with her and squeezed and held her longer…I will long for that day until my days here are numbered.
“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,””
This Vlog is about an experience that I went through while cultivating a more personal relationship with Christ and venturing into my first dating relationship where Christ was at the center. My major encouragement is to stay true to yourself while growing in Christ!.
Monday, April 27th, 2020 at 2:30am I was awaken by profusely sweating (because of postpartum hormones) and a need to pump. Amara had also woken up and was crying. While Gabe tended to Amara and I pumped, I got a phone call from UVA hospital, a rush of anxiety came over me as I answered. It was the NICU and the doctor there told me that Selah was not doing well. She told me Selah’s blood pressure had dropped really low and she was on 100% support already so there was not much they could do. The doctor said she did not think Selah would make it out the NICU and she might only have a couple days left. My worst fear was approaching. This was out of the blue because Selah had been doing “better” the past couple of days. We waited until about 6am for Gabe’s parents to pick up Amara so we could go to the hospital.
Fortunately, since Selah was in critical condition Gabe and I were both allowed to go into the NICU together. We went it to see our little girl and she looked the worst we had ever seen. She was so swollen, she looked like a different baby. Her conditions didn’t get any better. She still had low blood pressure, low on her oxygen intake and a low heart rate and she was on 100% support. Things were not looking good. Our care team had set up a meeting for us all to talk about the next steps for Selah’s care. I could not talk with out bawling my eyes out so Gabe did most of the talking. We had decided we wanted to fight for our baby girl’s life if it were feasible. The doctors were encouraging us to think about putting her just on comfort care because they seemed not to believe she was going to get better.
Selah had stopped making urine because of the medicines she was on for her blood pressure. Since she wasn’t making urine she was retaining all of her fluids. The doctors could not find out what was causing it but her fluids were not staying in her arteries and veins. Instead they were going outside of them under her skin making her very swollen. Since she was so swollen her organs were slowly failing as well. They didn’t have the space they needed to function properly and the fact that her blood pressure was low. Regardless of this, we still wanted to give her a chance so we waited there for her. Checking her stats continuously. At a moment her stats had jumped up after she received a dose of epinephrine, her heart rate and blood pressure was better and we could see more hope for her. But after a couple of hours she slowly started to decline again. At this point things were not going well for her. So instead of us deciding she should go on comfort care, she was deciding herself. She fought long and hard but her little body was tired and could only take so much. God knows I would have kept going, I would have never stopped fighting for my baby’s life. I didn’t care if she was going to be disabled or anything I just wanted her. So bad.
Later that night, Gabe’s parents brought Amara in so she could meet her baby sister. Our care team brought in Selah’s ventilator and other machines she was hooked up to in our room so we could spend moments with her before she passed. We finally got to hold her for the first time. She smelled like new baby. I kissed her cheeks and her forehead. I got to rub her hair and feel the warmth of her body. Amara came in and we introduced them. Amara waved “hi” to her little sister and then proceeded to point to her nose and her eyes. In an endearing way that Amara does…There was no way to explain to Amara what was happening but I’m glad she got to see her and touch her. Then Gabe and I had alone time with Selah. We cried out in anguish and despair, we wanted to so badly for our baby to make it. We wanted to have her so badly but the reality was not for us to keep her on this earth. The doctors slowly took her off her machines and Selah slowly drifted to rest with Jesus in our arms. We were able to give her a bath and dress her. At 11:07pm April 27th, 2020 our sweet girl became an angel. The hardest thing was to physically let her go, knowing we would never get to see her again on earth. We would never get to see her grow up and know her personality. We will never know what she could’ve been here on earth. Even though we are grieved beyond what words can explain, we can find comfort in knowing she is not sick or in pain anymore. She is completely healed and with Christ Jesus. We needed her but Jesus needed her more. We know her life had a purpose in ours even if it were only 9 days. Though we have to live the rest of our lives missing a piece of us, we will always have her as a daughter, she will stay in our hearts and memories. She will always be our baby girl Selah Irene. We love her more than I can express.
We have yet to scratch the surface of healing. This will be an ongoing process into us getting back to our normal lives. We will be living a new normal of losing a child. How do you go on from that? How do you let go of what you wanted so bad and it didn’t turn out the way you wanted? God only knows how, so we will continue to take this hard journey with him. Because we know weeping may endure for the night but joy comes in the morning. (Psalms 30:5) So as we process this tragedy we have something to look forward to, God’s everlasting joy and his healing power and also that we will see her again in heaven.
“But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, and the one who lifts up my head. I cry aloud to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain. Selah”
Psalms 3:3-4 CSB
Every few months or so I go through my dresser drawers. I mean well--I really do--but over time, my drawers just become disorganized. I run out of time to fix the pile of shirts that fell over when I pulled one out from underneath the stack. You know how it goes. It just becomes a heap of clothes instead of an organized stack. I pride myself in being an organized person, so this is difficult to admit to you all. While going through the clothes and reorganizing the heap to a beautiful stack, I find a shirt or a pair of pants that I don't wear too often or maybe ever. I take a long look at this item and I then I look again. "Do I REALLY need you?" I ask myself. Sometimes it's an easy answer and I throw it into the give-away pile as fast as I can blink. But every now and then, I become nostalgic. I've had so many memories with you, corduroys. We had a nice time out on the town with the ladies, black top. I cringe as I put it into the give-away pile. I leave my room and cozy into a good book--proud of myself for all the good organizing I just did. About 5 minutes into reading, I put down the book, reenter my bedroom, and I put that beautiful black top that I never wear--and don't even NEED--back into my drawer with all the others. *Sigh* just a few more months of you sitting in my drawer not needed or used, simply taking up space.
This semester, I have been interning with the college ministry we have at our church in the hopes that I will go full-time into campus ministry alongside my husband. One of my favorite things to do is sit down over coffee, or a cinnamon sugar pretzel from Auntie Anne's (can I get an Amen JMU ladies?) with the ladies in our ministry and check in with them. During this season of quarantining due to COVID-19, our chats have been moved to over the phone. It might be better with some coffee or a pretzel, but the company is just as sweet to me. As I have checked in with the ladies during this season, I have heard a common theme:
This season is uncovering things in my heart and life that I have not fully given over to Jesus.
When the distractions have been removed, we can see more clearly. What are those things that we turn to that is not Jesus? Fear, insecurity, addiction to entertainment, pornography, unhealthy eating habits, etc. As my organization of my drawers revealed clothes I had forgotten I still had, this quarantine is revealing things in our hearts and lives we didn't know were still there.
My word for this year is "Listen." My scripture verse to back that is John 10:27 which says, "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me." As I started this year, my desire was to not just listen to God's voice, but listen to His heart. To really listen to the voice of the one whose heart is to know me and have me stay close to Him. In order to really listen to God, my prayer has been to have a posture like Mary of Bethany. In my last post, I talked about how Mary was the woman who poured out the expensive jar of perfume at the feet of Jesus; and how she also sat at the feet of Jesus, fully attentive to His every word while Mary was in the kitchen distracted. I truly believe that Jesus' heart for Martha was not that she stop working, but instead to shift her perspective. He wanted her to cease striving and anxiety and change it to having an ever-attentive heart to Jesus; where we will find true rest--even in business. So that is my heart for this year. To be a woman who is taking care of my home with my eyes on Jesus. Who is thriving in ministry with my eyes on Jesus. Who is loving my husband, family, and friends with my eyes on Jesus.
As I have been in this quarantine, however, I am learning how quickly I can shift my gaze from Him. I go from starting the morning in a beautiful time of prayer and studying of the Word to then rushing through all the household chores I need to get done. I continue in a harried pursuit of my daily tasks feeling heavy. I exchange His peace for my own control. And as I have now become heavy-laden, my heart wants less of Jesus. I pick up my phone instead of my Bible. I scroll instagram instead of praying. I stop listening for the heart of God. I'm distracted. I'm heavy. I'm inattentive.
And I realize quickly that something has been in my drawer that I don't actually need. It's simply taking up space.
In Proverbs 31:10-31, we see the characteristics of a wife of noble character. In the text, we see that she is always working for her husband and family (v.15). We see that she bounces on opportunities, she is strong, and she is hard-working (v.16-18). We see that she desires to give to the poor (v. 20). This woman is busy! But in verse 25 we see that she "...can laugh at the days to come." This suggests a carefreeness and a playfulness about the Proverbs 31 woman that reminds me of Mary of Bethany. This woman has a lot going on. She is able to do many things WELL. One might ask--HOW?! How can she juggle all of these things and still be smiling let alone laughing? Verse 30 tells us: She fears the Lord.
During this time of crisis, we all need to clean out our drawers so-to-speak. We have an opportunity to purge some things in a literal sense, but we also have an opportunity to purge some things in a spiritual sense. There are some things in our lives that our distracting us from Jesus. And He is pleading to be our all--our everything. As we gaze into our hearts, let's get rid of those things that are within us that we don't have space for, in order to make more room for Him. He's it. He's enough. He's everything. Let's set our hearts on Him completely and laugh without fear of the future. How? Because we fear Him.
The Genesis of #HowardTime
I am Avenlea and my husband is Stephen, and together we are #HowardTime. We are imperfect people brought together by the perfect love and grace of Jesus Christ. We are different, loyal, real, and relentless. We are just your friendly neighborhood weirdos trying to raise one awesome human named Violet. Read about our story and what our banner is over our household for 2020.
Bridgewater College. A football player and a softball player saw each other and they knew they would spend the rest of their lives together---this is utterly hilarious if you knew us in college, and if you did know us back then, come meet us again, we’ve grown up! The whole football player and softball player thing is true, but knowing that we’d spend the rest of our lives together was a joke. We were young, dumb, and stubborn. Just keep reading.
If Stephen were telling this story he would tell you that he saw me on freshman move-in day as he and his football buddies walked by my dorm. He would say that he turned to his friend, pointed at me, and said, “Hey y'all, I am going to marry that girl right there.” I hope you read that in his Nelson County accent for those of you that know him. He would leave out the part that he never actually talked to me until a year later. He wouldn’t mention how I endured hundreds of awkward waves and weird “Heys'' as we would pass by each other until we actually had our first conversation. Despite the painfully awkward interactions, I remember telling my best friend and roommate that I kind of liked his weirdness, and deep down, I really wanted to get to know him. But the thing is, Stephen’s not telling this story, I am, so let’s get on with it.
That first conversation wasn’t any better. Bless his heart, Stephen tried. It was a fall day where the softball players and defensive football players were in the Bridgewater College weight room getting their daily lifts in. I never really understood why they scheduled us together, but that’s besides the point because I know God did that on purpose *eye roll*. Myself and the other pitchers were doing our workouts trying to get done as fast as we could, but of course the big burly football guys were taking up all the room and all the equipment. I was impatiently waiting on a bench when I heard Stephen’s first attempt to get my attention. He was talking to his friend Chris and pointing at my feet. He says in an abnormally loud voice, “Yeah Chris, you need to stop wearing those white socks and get real athletic socks like the black ones Aven is wearing.” All three of us slowly looked down at my socks and the most awkward silence ensued. I responded with the first thing that came to my mind, “Yeah, I like black socks.” FACEPALM. Ugh! I like black socks? Come on Aven! Chris looked at me and then back at Stephen and thankfully made another joke to free us both from the most uncomfortable first interaction in human history.
Fast forward to a few months later. We kept seeing each other out and around campus and conversations came easy and I loved talking to him. We talked about sports, music, working out, Jesus, our dreams; we could talk for hours. I thank God we recovered from his first attempt of a pick up line and my awful response (still cringing.) Stephen grew up in the church and had a solid foundation of who Jesus was and had a steadfast commitment to walk with Him. I didn’t grow up in the church and a lot of my walk was pieced together by studying the bible, Googling everything, and attending small groups in high school. I felt so dumb talking about God because there were things I didn’t know, but Stephen never made me feel inadequate. Because of this, for the first time in a long time, I felt like God was really in my heart. We had such a connection and organically wanted to be better people for each other. So we became friends, best friends. We had a lot in common. Neither of us fit in your stereotypical boxes and we liked that. We both had a different way of viewing life and a common desire to accomplish goals. Both of us loved playing our sports and cherished the life lessons we gleaned from them. We both had a lot of baggage though. A LOT. Neither of us were in a position to date one another but we couldn’t stop having a relationship. At the time, I was dealing with a lot of abuse from past relationships, partying, and trying to heal myself, and he was dealing with the same things plus his dad being diagnosed with cancer. The more our affection grew for one another the more angry we got because we both knew we couldn’t help each other at the time. That anger would come out and we would say things and do things to purposely hurt each other. I was mad because I wanted to be with him, but also wanted to self medicate without a commitment and he was mad at me because I didn’t have in me what he needed. He was angry with God because his dad was suffering and wanted me to take God’s place, but we all know that ends in disaster. As the saying goes, hurt people hurt people. And hurt is what we were both very good at.
It went on like this for several months. We’d use each other and hate each other and the cycle continued weekly. We refused to be together, but God has quite the sense of humor and didn’t care about our stubbornness (you always win God, I know.) Stephen’s dad got really sick and he passed away that January of Stephen’s junior year and it all spiraled out of control from there. I have never lost a parent before so I was clueless as to how to help him through this and let’s not forget that I was not even capable of comforting someone when I couldn’t even comfort myself at this time. The partying continued and it intensified for us both. Stephen was drinking to forget everything and I was just drinking to become someone I wasn’t. We both entered very dark, isolated, and seperate places.
By the grace of God, Stephen and I are together and we have purpose. A few months after Stephen’s dad passed, Stephen asked me if I wanted to do this relationship thing for real. Again, it was awkward, weird, and I was sweating. We both knew it was going to be a tough journey of forgiveness, healing, and restoration, but we were going to commit and grind it out, whatever was to come; because that is the type of people God made us to be. The beautiful thing about God is that he teaches you and helps you navigate life the way it’s supposed to be. He takes your hurt and transforms it into a platform for his glory. He provides the right people at the right time and without Godly community this could’ve gone very differently. I needed to solidify my identity and find my value again. I didn’t know what love was. I didn’t know what receiving love looked like, but God showed up and showed out when I needed him the most. He sent spiritual sisters in my life and established such life giving friendships for me that revived my soul. Stephen needed guidance and accountability from the godly men in his life, and once again, God provided. Was it perfect after we decided to get serious about one another? Absolutely not! I could go on and on about some of the absolutely ridiculous things that went on between us (I may or may not have punched him once or twice) but the bottom line is: without God’s grace we would be nothing. We had to work hard for our relationship and grind it out each and every day. We had to rewire our hearts, minds, and bodies and beat them into submission in order to bring God glory. We didn’t want the world to use us anymore, we wanted to be used by God.
Ten years together, five years married, and I would not change a thing about our story. Looking back there are some embarrassing moments and some awful decisions were made but like I said, God knew and he continued to shower us with grace upon grace. God held up a mirror between our hearts and forced us to examine ourselves in order to love one another. God continually reminded us that our willingness to grind in our athletics was the same grind he wanted us to have when loving Him and each other. We had to accept the fact that our relationship was something we were going to have to fight for. We had to be willing to experience His forgiveness, fulfilling love, and recognize the fight to spread the gospel through our story. Our story has been on my heart this year which brings me to our #HowardTime banner of the year.
Our 2020 banner is, “By His Grace, We Grind.” Our focal scripture behind this is 1 Corinthians 15:10 and it states,
“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them--yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.”
It wasn’t by mistake that two hard working athletes, with an awful track record, met in a weight room. Just like in this verse, it wasn’t by mistake that Paul was called to spread the gospel despite his past (not to mention what track record he had.) That same grace and grind that helped propel and excel us in our sports, is the same grace and grind that helps us love each other and live for God today. We recognize that our story is a billboard for the grace that God has given us both and we will never forget it. This grace reminds us that we are not worthy (clearly from the story above) but God still has called us and charged us to share the gospel and make disciples that follow him. God’s grace is relentless and while we were yet sinners, he died for us. Despite our sins, despite our past, despite our brokenness, God’s love is perfect and he gives it freely. Stephen and I are weirdly unique and yes, we fail, but God’s grace doesn’t. He designed us to be the salt and light and even though the world may have disqualified us, God doesn’t. Grace FORGIVES. Grace FILLS. Grace FIGHTS. By His grace, we grind.
This VLOG is about a very personal and emotional diagnosis that I went through and I am still dealing with daily, involving my youngest child. I felt it was important to share my story with you because even though the saga continues with my baby boy I have faith that all will be well with him, soon. If this vlog encourages just one person then I have done my job! I hope you enjoy.
February 27th, 2020. A week or so before all of the chaos of the unexpected COVID-19 pandemic, Gabe and I found out we were expecting another beautiful little girl (name yet to be announced). Of course, like any parents, we were excited and expected her to be healthy, just like her big sister. But then our world got turned upside down when we heard there was something abnormal imaged on her scan. A day after the exam, I had to go to a prenatal diagnosis center to have a more detailed scan and for some genetic testing for her--Gabe and myself. This was new territory for us. Never had I expected we would have to be going through all of this. All of my family had healthy babies; and Gabe’s side all had healthy (big) babies too. So why would we ever have a child that could possibly have special needs? It just did not make sense to me. AT ALL.
The first information and concern we had received about her was that she had a protruding belly. Yes, it’s normal for babies to have chubby bellies but not at 20 weeks gestation. Usually at 20 weeks babies are fairly thin, just skin and bone really. Then once I went to the diagnosis center, they told me her entire body was actually covered with more tissue than usual. So she looked a lot bigger than she should, which causes concern because there was obviously something going on with her. Not to mention, I had a lot of extra amniotic fluid (the fluid inside the uterus that protects the baby) which made me look a lot further along than I actually was, causing a risk of preterm labor. Right after we got this news, of course, I went home and googled everything possible this could be and I found some very grim possibilities which broke me down. Bad….but turns out it wasn’t any of these specific diagnoses but there are still SO MANY UNKNOWNS. Still today.
Fast forward to now April 3rd 2020, in the middle of quarantine, (which honestly I have not been too focused on really) I have been admitted to the hospital (UVA) on the account of having pretty consistent contractions. My fluid is severely high and I am 1 1/2 cm dilated at only 25 weeks. All of that adds up to a possibility of me going into preterm labor. This is not good because our baby is still very tiny and not fully developed yet. So it puts her at risk for a lot of complications and on top of that we still have no idea what her specific condition is. So initially we were told we would have to stay here for 24 hours for monitoring, which would be the first time I was gone from our first born, Amara, overnight. I know she’s in good hands with her grandparents but it broke my heart that I would not get to cuddle my baby tonight. Once we got there they checked my cervix again and I had dilated to a little over 2cm within the hour! They gave me a shot to slow it down and continued to monitor me all day, not to mention I had to get my fluid drained by a tiny needle in my belly in the midst of all of this. All of this happening and guess what…we still do not have any concrete answers to why. Why is this happening? Why is she not healthy? Why is this pregnancy completely different than my first? I already had a healthy baby girl, shouldn’t this one be healthy too? All of these questions lead me to one place. Prayer and intimate times with the Lord.
I’ll admit, I’m not the perfect Christian who takes situations like this easily to God and is like “okay God have your way.” My goal is to become like Job. But let’s be honest, I’ve got a lot of work to do. (I suggest reading Job to get what I’m talking about. Basically he was a righteous man and God allowed the devil to plague him and he still praised God and never blamed Him once for it…don’t worry it has a good ending.) But anyways, I’m more like, “Okay God…ummm wait, why, what are you doing? Where are you going with this? Don’t touch that area of my life! What’s the big idea here!?” So when I say I’ve been having intimate times with God, they are more like confrontational meetings. And if any of you know me, I don’t really do confrontation. To be honest, I was angry at God. Because out of all the things I cherish in my life, one of the number one roles is being a mother. Being able to nurture, protect, and raise my sweet babes is one of the best gifts I have ever received. And for that to be taken out of my control threw me off a bit. I didn’t realize I had been idolizing our good health and prosperity these past couple of years. I honestly hadn’t gone through anything remotely this hard in years. So why now? My husband, a mighty man of God, one of his favorite scriptures is James 1:2-4 “Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.”
This is a lovely scripture but when you’re in the thick of it, it is quite hard to consider it “great joy”.
Though it is hard, God says in his word that he will never leave me or forsake me; (Deuteronomy 31:6) and that all things work together for the GOOD of those who LOVE God (Romans 8:28). I find myself leaning on this promise way more because I honestly don’t have anything else. And even though I do not know the outcome, God does. And I have to trust that he will carry my family through these unprecedented times. So I am LEARNING to praise him in the middle of the storm. Praising him that I have the opportunity to carry life within me and to pray over our sweet girls. A good friend told me I am a “strong, strong mama.” I took the compliment even though I don’t feel strong, I know the joy of the Lord is my strength because it says so in his word (Nehemiah 8:10). So I need not to fear. The world can be quite scary and unpredictable. I am learning this. In all my short 25 years of life this is the most difficult time thus far with COVID-19, being quarantined, and the mystery diagnosis of our baby. I have to constantly choose not to blame God, BUT to praise Him in the midst of this. I know he loves me and is a good Father that cares for us (Isaiah 41:10). So I encourage everyone to take this time to be super intentional about reading their bibles and getting to know who Jesus is. It is honestly the only hope we can find in our world at this very moment. I believe these times are purposeful and God is doing something in our entire nation.
“But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, and the one who lifts up my head. I cry aloud to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain.”
I sit on the balcony watching the ocean come into the shore and go back out again. It's like therapy to my soul. The sound brings peace and the sight brings rest. I don't have a care in the world. I hear His voice and the rhythm heals my anxious heart. I'm close to Him here. A mission trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina that I wasn't even looking forward to became something that healed me, reset me, gave me room to breathe. I don't like being removed from my routine. It's difficult for me. Causes some nerves and fear. But this time, as I was removed from my "normal," I was able to see more clearly. God gives me room to breathe. He invites me into it. He beckons me into it. He never meant for me to be suffocated by religion, beaten up by striving, held back by perfectionism, and distracted by worry. I struggle to breathe sometimes.I get caught up in what's going on around me, more than keeping my eyes fixed on the one Who is for me.
My word for this year is "Listen." My inspiration was from the verse John 10:27 which says, "My own sheep will hear my voice and I know each one, and they will follow me." As I read this verse, I get the picture of a child crawling into Daddy's lap and snuggling into His chest and listening to His heartbeat.
With the imprinted image of the ocean waves coming in and going out in my mind and soul, I am now on the way home from this sweet, refreshing trip. Sitting in the car, all of a sudden, I become keenly aware that I'm going home to a pandemic. Blame it on the YouTube videos, the notifications on my phone, or the podcasts we listened to, I started to shift my focus. The image in my mind of the ocean waves turned now to COVID-19, COVID-19, and COVID-19 again.
The rhythms of the ocean waves never abandoned me. I abandoned them.
And isn't this true in our relationship with God? He never leaves us. But we leave Him. We stop reading our word. We stop praying. Our mind is more fixated on our worry than our worship. We move from anchored in peace to thrown about by the storms of life.
I come back to Harrisonburg to adjust everything we do to being online. I'm now having to record video content (very uncomfortable for me, by the way) and somehow lead every one of the students in our mission and vision. All the while, I'm not even really sure I'm okay.
There's a story in Luke 10:38-41 "As Jesus and the disciples continued on their journey, they came to a village where a woman welcomed Jesus into her home. Her name was Martha and she had a sister named Mary. Mary sat down attentively before the Master, absorbing every revelation he shared. But Martha became exasperated by finishing the numerous household chores in preparation for her guests, so she interrupted Jesus and said, 'Lord, don't you think it's unfair that my sister left me to do all the work by myself? You should tell her to get up and help me.' The Lord answered her, 'Martha, my beloved Martha. Why are you upset and troubled, pulled away by all these many distractions? Are they really that important? Mary has discovered the one thing most important by choosing to sit at my feet. She is undistracted, and I won't take this privilege from her.'" (TPT)
This story reminds me of my word for this year. Listen. Mary was so attentive to the voice of God that she tuned out all other voices other than his. Much like a child crawled into Daddy's lap, snuggling into His chest and listening to His heartbeat.
I often allow myself to become suffocated by the pressures I put on myself to be the perfect leader. As the pressures build up I become distracted by my to-do list; and my attention moves from my Savior to the demands of the day. As the weight of my demands and pressures weigh heavier on me, my chest gets tight and anxiety is at an all time high. I feel like I have become dissolved into the waterfall of emotions that have come upon me as my focus shifted from being fixated on my Savior.
I left His lap.
When I realize my heart is much too heavy, I remember I was supposed to stay connected to His.
Verse 40 says that Martha interrupted Jesus. She interrupted him to bring her own complaint. We do this too. We interrupt the voice of Jesus to mention the worries that are on our minds. He wants to speak, but we're already talking. He wanted the rhythms of His voice from the ocean never to leave my soul. But I turned my attention to the coronavirus. He wants to speak. Will I listen?
This morning I woke up and I breathed deep. He's with me. He never left. The rhythms came back as I took a moment to remember. LISTEN. Don't leave. Stay close. The ocean waves come in. The ocean waves go out. I see it again. The rhythms of His voice heal my anxious heart. It's a journey, of this I am sure. We'll never get it perfect. But today is one step closer than yesterday. He will have my attention. I'll stay in His lap. He gives me room to breathe
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