Saturday, November 26, 2016

To Jocelyn, On Your 11th Birthday




Dear Jocelyn,
                   I am a little sad that this is the first of these letters that I have written late. Since your birthday was on Thanksgiving this year it was almost impossible for me to write your letter, and I didn't want to do it before your birthday. Hopefully, if you ever read all of these, you won't mind that I wasn't on time.

    Wow. This has been one crazy year. I always think that if something has been hard on me as a comprehending, mature "grown-up" it must be even harder for you, as a kid. 2016 started off with the death of one of our favorite people, Grams. That was the first really important person you have ever lost and it has been a doozy. Watching you deal with your grief has changed me as a mom. Encouraging you to show your feelings, and seeing how you have openly been so very sad, has been hard. But watching you fiercely love Gramps, and never allowing it to make you bitter has helped me to see that it isn't impossible to grieve as one who has hope.

   Because you are filled with hope. Each passing day I see your love for Christ deepen, and you search to become more like Him. It is so crazy to say this about your own child, but you truly do challenge me in my walk. Honestly? I kind of want to be like you when I grow up. You have a joy for the Lord and a passion to share Him fearlessly. Your gift of evangelism is certainly something you have in common with Grams. I can see the beginnings of the transition to adulthood, and it is painful for both of us sometimes. You have shed more tears in the past year for various reasons than you have in rest of your life. But even in the struggle to deal with your changing feelings and starting to become more aware of the complexity of life, you've continued to turn to the Lord and stayed strong in your desire to tell everyone you come in contact with about Him.

   I pray that sticks with you. We are coming to the end of the innocence of the "little girl" years. It isn't easy for me, but I'd much rather have you grow up than face the alternative! Watching you mature makes me bittersweetly nostalgic. I am excited to see where you will go, but at the same time I just want time to slow down a little! I feel this way much more frequently than I did when you were an adorable toddler, even.

   I'm just praying you hold on to the sweetness of spirit and joy for living that makes you *you*. You are incredibly kind and generous, creative and friendly. You've spent this year learning so many new things. You've stayed with hard things, like dance, determinedly practicing, not bent on being the star, but just on improving. You committed to working diligently in school, not complaining and getting your work done. You've taken a real interest in history, and blown me away by using the summer months to work hard in math so that you are now working a grade ahead. I thought sixth grade would be difficult, but you have surprised me!

    You've really made a name for yourself with your helpful willingness. I can count on you to do the work of an adult, practically, when we are volunteering at church! Watching you carefully pack Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes blessed me so much. You have a real heart for ministry. You always say you want to grow up to direct VBS and it probably won't be long before you are more qualified than I. I look forward to working for you! People genuinely love to have you around-the only credit I can take for that is all the prayers I have prayed for you. The rest is all the Lord.

    He knew we would need our ray of sunshine. In our little family you definitely can claim that! I love you so much it hurts sometimes, and I am praying constantly that the Lord shows me how to be the mom you need and deserve. Every time I write one of these letters I cry, not for the time that has passed, but for how blessed I am to get to call you my daughter. For how proud I am of you, for how intensely I love you, and how sweet it is to know you return those feelings. You are amazing, beautiful inside and out, and I love you.
                                                                                        Love,
                                                                                              Mom

Friday, November 11, 2016

To the Veteran I Love Most, On Veteran's Day

   



     You weren't the typical fresh-faced enlistee when you joined the Army smack-dab in the middle of the Iraq War. We knew if you joined the military it wouldn't be a question of  "if" you were sent to fight, but rather "when". We had only been married for barely a year, but you were still older than many of your fellow recruits. You started fighting before you were even in the military, trying to secure a spot, working hard to meet the requirements that seemed always just out of reach-not quite the right weight, not quite fast enough. But you were persistent, and finally, you were in.

   We pored over the brochure that listed all of the Military Occupational Specialties in the days before you went to make your choice in St. Louis. We narrowed our choices down to twelve, each specified by it's own unique number and letter code. You would talk to the recruiter there, and decide which one would be the best fit.

    I remember standing in my teller cage at the bank when the call came in: you told me you had decided on 19D. I knew that wasn't one of the twelve. You told me it was "Cavalry Scout". I was dumbfounded-neither one of us knew what that really meant, but you did know that you were to report to BASIC training at the end of September. That was not as far away as I wanted it to be.

    We packed. I moved. You left. BASIC tried you like I had never seen anything try you before. You have only ever cried twice in all the time that I have known you, and home for Christmas that year you admitted  with tears your fears that you would be "recycled" forced to endure training over again for not succeeding, or worse yet, you would be kicked out entirely.

  But you made it. You graduated in February-top in your class for marksmanship. I was so proud. We had breathlessly awaited your assignment and when we were told it was Ft. Hood, TX, we weren't really sure how to feel about that. But precious little in the military is about feelings, so we hauled everything down from Illinois and you started working and I started waiting.

   If there is anything that describes a military wife it is "waiting". Waiting for her husband to come home for dinner, waiting for the house on post, waiting for the next assignment, waiting for those precious phone calls during deployment, waiting for homecoming. I saw precious little of you, and when you were told soon after you reported that you would be deploying in the fall. Right after we also found that would be when Josie would be coming too-the question was which would arrive first?

   If I thought I had endured hard, I wasn't prepared to be the wife of a Cav Scout at the height of the war. Being pregnant with a husband who was rarely home (you often left for work at 4:15 am and would not arrive home until 9 pm or later and that was if you weren't gone overnight training) is the hardest thing I have ever done. It was harder on you.

   But not as hard as leaving your weepy wife and three day-old baby. I had no idea when I would talk to you next. The reality that I might not ever talk to you again clung to me like lead blanket. It was a very, very real possibility. You finally called after three weeks-and the five minutes we spoke was a gift straight from heaven.

   That year. I look back now and see all the places the Lord carried us. The times you hung up in the middle of 2 am phone calls and I could *hear* things going off in the background. The weeks and weeks we couldn't speak because one of your fellow soldiers had paid the ultimate sacrifice and communications were cut off until the family was notified. The precious letters that you painstakingly wrote. The carefully planned care packages, packed with all the skill of a professional Tetris player. That time you told me about driving your Humvee, and feeling sloshing around your boots, and yelling for everyone to get out, and the fire-the sloshing was fuel, and you had been driving a death trap unknowingly. And realizing that I had been awakened from a sound sleep-praying for you at the exact moment, and despite that the movie-worthy explosion and your poor gas-soaked feet, you all made it out okay, because God is gracious.

    And all the things you didn't tell me. Not about that deployment-the Lord returned you to me in one piece almost exactly a year later. Or your next deployment not quite three years later (we were blessed, many weren't home for that long) this time leaving behind a two year-old and a six month-old, and of course, me. Many things you didn't tell me for many years.

   And now, after seven years of service, like the Biblical Jacob, and years of being "out" I realize that you will never be a civilian again. You will always be a "vet". You have your favorite war stories, the ones that make everyone laugh, or keep them on the edge of their seats. We tell tales of post living, and long nights, miserable higher-ups and the ones who made your job a tiny bit more bearable. But I will never be able to really know what it was like for you. I will never know the parts of your heart that are forever stained by the awful realities of war, the ache you carry for those you served with who came home permanently wounded (both inside and out) or in a flag-draped box.

     You are now that crusty old vet. And I could not be prouder. God did not call you to life-long military service, but the time that you served was definitely part of His plan for us. I had spent my childhood growing up with a fierce pride for America's military and it was the pinnacle to be married to someone in service. The Army took much from us-memories, peace, security, your health, but it gave us much, too. You will never be who you were before you served, but I know you don't regret that.  You were proud to meet your country's call in a time of need. You were proud to wear the uniform that proclaimed that commitment. And now you are proud of the memories you have of your bravery and sacrifice.

    You are a veteran. In the truest sense of the word, and I now know what Veteran's Day means. It means that for one day, we honor you for being willing to sacrifice limb, love and life to keep those you hold dearest and those you have never met, free. We can never truly repay you for that sacrifice, but I hope you know, my dear sweet husband, that I, at least, am thankful for it every single day.

P.S. The beautiful photo above was taken by a observer at a Veteran's Day parade in Colorado Springs. The photographer tracked me down afterwards and offered to send the photo to me, as she thought I would enjoy it. She did, but I never did really thank her appropriately. It is my favorite photo ever of Joel and Josie, and if I ever found that person again, I would say thank you for the precious gift she gave me.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Election Day Promises

         
  This election has been unlike anything I have ever seen in my life. The inundation of political posts and speeches and posters has been mind-boggling. I have seen less vitriol come from opposing sides in civil wars, fewer insults from belligerent sports team fans. I have heard many exhorting voting in the name of fear, hatred and plain spite.

    I have prayed over this upcoming election like I have prayed over precious few things in my life. I have searched the Scriptures for answers, and sought wise counsel. I cannot tell you who to vote for- only the Holy Spirit should have that job in the life of believer. However, I can tell you a few things about this election. A few things I wish I had seen more of, and a whole lot less of the above. No matter who "wins", and I think most of us feel like we will be losing regardless of the verdict, I can tell you, if you are a believer that:

1. We not only do not have to fear, we SHOULD NOT fear.
" So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand." Isaiah 41:10 NIV
    We are directly commanded over and over in Scripture to have NO FEAR! Why is this election striking so many as terrifying when we are told by the Almighty Lord of Heaven and Earth to have no fear? I firmly believe that as Bible-believing Christians we *should* vote, and do so as the Holy Spirit prompts after prayer and contemplation. However, this horrid fear-mongering doesn't glorify anyone but the sinful self and the devil. This world is promised to end, we cannot avoid that no matter how we try. Our job is to trust the Lord, not fear and share the Gospel. We should be afraid to place our trust in men (or women)-no matter how godly they may seem, whether their values and morals align with ours or not. We must place our trust in the Lord and He has commanded us to not fear.

2. God is still in control.
"Our God is in heaven, He does whatever pleases Him." Psalm 115:3 NIV
    I have what may come as a startling thought to some of you: God may have plans for our nation that differ from your's. I feel that we are desperately in need of some discipline, much grace has already been extended. Trust that no matter who is declared the next_______ (fill in government official) that God ultimately will be the One that allows that to take place. He is fully aware of what is taking place, He is hearing our prayers, and hopefully seeing our actions done in faith. He will do, or allow to happen, whatever will bring the most hearts to Him.

3. He can work any outcome out for the good of those who trust in Him.

  "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose." Romans 8:28 NIV 

  All of America is not saved. But if you are, you can believe that He will work this for your good. We should be much more concerned for those who can't claim this promise than worried over the next president. The Lord invites us to participate in His will, and we can do that by praying for wisdom for all voters, carefully selecting our candidates and  participating in thoughtful, constructive discussions about the state of our country. Leave the rest to a God who truly has our best interests at heart. He hasn't changed since He spoke Jeremiah 29:11.

4. Our mission remains unchanged. 

"Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 NIV
   We cannot neglect that the Great Commission is not "vote for X" but to go into all the world to share the salvation available to all through Christ. We do not know how the Lord will work, but He promises He *will*. He has ALL the authority! And that is all we need to know. Perhaps the candidate we abhor will be elected. But who are we to doubt that may be because it will provide us with even more opportunities to share true hope with a hurting world? Few whose lives are perfect feel a need for a Savior. But everything seemingly going wrong prompts many to look for answers. We've got 'em, we just need to share them.

  Please, hear me. We cannot afford to "stick our heads in the sand" but often we can be accused of forgetting Who is really in charge. And it has nothing to do with what is decided at the polls. This is an opportunity to let our light shine, to really be a voice for true change in a nation that appears to be going mad-and that doesn't stop after we cast our ballot. He has always been here, and He will still be God on November 9th. Let's make sure the whole world knows that. I can promise you-nothing will glorify Him more.


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Talk

       
Sit with me, and we will talk light into a dark night...

      I had a talk with my eight-year old this week. It wasn't something I had ever really thought about having a conversation about. With him. At eight. It wasn't a conversation I really wanted to be having with anyone, but when he sees you crying in the middle of Target, he's a pretty perceptive little guy and I was faced with the stark realization that there never would really be a "good" time to have this kind of chat. But not having it all could be much worse.

   You see, when you are a parent, you prepare yourself for questions about "the birds and the bees" and uncomfortable topics like gender, and homosexuality, and even for the weird ones like, "why is the sky blue?". And maybe you are a better parent, so you have already talked to your children about this, but I'll be honest, it isn't something I wanted to talk to my kids about, because it is just so darn complicated, and awkward, and just awful.

   But that was what made me realize that I actually *had* to talk about it. I won't beat around the bush any more. What I had to talk to my precious little boy about was suicide. We have a person we love dearly, and that person faced this situation down this week. And it broke my heart, but strengthened my resolve: this is serious and we have to talk about it. Collective "we" and personal.

   That person's story isn't mine to share, so I won't. But this is something that is on-going, and the people involved have done everything "right". And we are walking a path that is unknown to us, but praise Jesus, nothing has been done yet that can't be undone. But the shame of the whole matter is that there is just so much shame in the whole matter. Why don't we talk about suicide? Are we afraid that if we speak it we will give it power? That is a lie, straight from the pit. Talking about it *robs* suicide of it's power, because the fact of that matter is, shame is the leading cause of taking one's own life, in my opinion.

   The shame and guilt involved in crying out for help is a tragedy of the greatest proportions. It is directly un-Biblical and we need to stop with the whole "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" and "real men (or women) don't..." Sometimes, you not only don't have bootstraps, you don't even have boots! That is why the Lord gave us one another. Because my job is to hear you when you cry, and love you. Paul says it better (Doesn't he always?)

"Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." Galatians 6:1

 Is there any more saddening sin than that of denying one's worth in Christ? Is there anything more tragic than someone who is blinded to the value of life-their own included? But where does it say, "Make that the un-talked about forbidden sin." No where! It says we are to restore them *gently*. With compassion. Full of love. Like Jesus.

   You can go no further? I will carry you. Carry you straight to the throne. Because there is the only One who can make your life worth living. And it is so worth living. YOU ARE LOVED. And I shouldn't wait until you are hysterically crying out to say so. Maybe if you knew how much I loved you, you would feel safe to tell me how you really feel.

  And that is what I told my sweet son. I said, "If you ever feel like you don't want to be here anymore, like you would be better off if you were dead, I want you to know that I will hear that. That I won't be mad, or punish you. That I will love you, and we will get help."

   And I realized something. Talking about suicide has to start long before someone is depressed, and desperate. It has to start with really truly knowing and loving one another. I have been dealing with some things in my own life lately, and I owe so much to those who have come alongside me, got down in my mud, and said, "We won't leave you here. We're in this for the long haul." And that is what we need to be. These people know me, they saw that something was wrong, and they are lovingly working with me to help me be restored.

   Help isn't a few well-placed cliches. It is months and years of love, of grace-giving, of forgiveness. Of developing a thick skin to insults but a tender heart of compassion, and ears sensitive to hear what isn't being said, of eyes intuitive enough to see beneath the surface. Of becoming more like Jesus. And knowing that medicines, and therapists and prayer are all different components of what is probably a complicated solution. This didn't happen overnight, and it won't be healed that way.

   But it starts by saying, "I hear you. I see you. I won't condemn you for your burden. That if you trust me enough to tell me that you want to take your own life, or cease existing anymore, that I won't shame you. I will love you, and I will carry that burden with you, for as long as it takes."

   Sometimes that means supporting the person directly, both spiritually and physically (Hello-therapy and medication aren't free!). That means keeping your phone on, and your radar up. Sometimes it means supporting the family, because they are suffering on this journey. Sometimes it means sharing your own story. We can be a light in the darkness that is suicide. We just have to speak up.

So, I started here...

 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Back to School Scripture Printables


    So, a few days ago on Facebook (You don't follow Clare's Contemplations on Facebook? Go do that now and come back! ) I promised some "Back to School" printable verses. Well, I am happy to say, you need wait no longer! I am really happy with the way these turned out. The 2 Timothy verse is *very* "school", so I decided that I would make the James verse a little more seasonally neutral.

    I really wanted to celebrate the return to school aspect of September, so I pulled together a bunch of colorful school supplies I had around the house and paired them with colorful candy I found at Walmart. (It's actually "birthday" candy, you can find it in the card and gift wrap section, but the primary colors made it perfect for my theme!). I am really fond of using things I have around the house to put together different decor vignettes. It makes everything feel fresh, but doesn't cost much. Using candy is also fun, and because it's consumable I don't have to store it from year-to-year. An added bonus is that my husband loves having it around!
The James verse I put together with my globe and teacher's bell. I keep both these things displayed in my living room year-round, but putting them together with a stack of colorful classic books just makes it read "educational"! 

I also have a fun wreath that I put together, but I will save that for a different post. Are you decorating for back to school? Or do you prefer just going with autumn decor? Either way, let me know if you find a place for these printables! You should be able to just right-click on the images to save to your computer (I suggest saving to "Pictures") and then print from your saved location. You should be able to adjust the sizes of the printables to your preferred size. However, be aware that they may not print exactly to size. The 2 Timothy verse printed perfectly at an 8x10 size, I just had to cut off the excess paper. The James verse I printed at a 4x6 size which left the margins at the top and the bottom, but I liked how it looked so I left it that way. 



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