Twenty-Three Years, Loss, and Popcorn Trees

The first week of April is always breathtaking on my small suburban street in Southwest Ohio. Bradford Pear trees flank the sides of the road and the white blossoms are in full bloom. To some of the senses, the blooming trees are irritating—the allergy sufferers in my home have itchy eyes and sniffly noses—while breathtaking to the eye, the trees’ blooms are in juxtaposition in the way they are breathtaking to the nose.

For as long as we have lived on this street, our family refers to these first-week-of-April beauties as popcorn trees; when my babies were small one of them mentioned the blooms looked like popcorn and the name stuck . . . probably always will as they grow.

The changing of seasons is a reminder to me of God’s faithfulness and consistency. Every fall I can expect the October Glory in our front yard to be awe-strikingly orange and every April I can expect the popcorn trees to be in full bloom.

“For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven,” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

For me, the popcorn trees come with reminders of beauty and reminders of great loss. Every year, the first week of April comes with wrestling and reminders of springs past. My mother lost her battle with breast cancer so many years ago, this year will mark twenty-three years—I was fourteen, she was forty-one.

I can hardly believe it—the time in calendar years and days feels long, but to my own heart, twenty-three years have passed quite quickly. Every April 7th comes faster than the one before it, the grief contained in an awkward package that stretches decades, but cradled in what seems like moments.

The years have changed me. Especially the recent years we have lived life among the popcorn trees on our current suburban road.

Alongside the consistency of the early April blooms, God has been consistently faithful and good. Our circumstances have not always been easy, but God has always been faithful and good. God has provided seasons of joy, seasons of healing, seasons of loss, and seasons of pain. God is changing me and His faithfulness to me remains the same.

For God’s own glory, He has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass. He foreordains the seasons and every matter under heaven. To my human mind, I can’t always know or predict what God is up to—but my theology reminds me what God is up to is for His glory, not my own glory, but His glory.

The losses experienced on earth will pale in comparison to the gains of glory in eternity. “For this light and momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,” (2 Corinthians 4:17). When I think about twenty-three years, the affliction of loss is long, but fleeting. Earthly afflictions are preparing Christ-followers for heavy glory.

Even with good theology, I admit, I stumble in the losses. I believe, but like the father who comes to Jesus to heal his son in the gospels, I believe, but I need the power of Christ to help my unbelief (Mark 9:24). When the losses on earth break my heart, I am weak—but I am confident in the power of the spirit that works within me, “the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us,” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

Though I stumble, Christ is the only thing that enables me to rise. He is my hope, my banner, my shield, and my very great reward.

After a season of recent loss, the popcorn trees are a visual reminder of God’s faithfulness to heal, redeem, and restore all things. The healing may take decades, but one day I will look back and it will feel like merely moments. On the journey, I can choose to see the beauty in the blossoms or get caught up in the stink that strives to overcome the beauty. Twenty-three years ago, I never imagined God would bring me to where I am now—and though I stumble, I know I am living a life that would bring my mother great joy.

I pray and hope in the next season—God is doing more than I could ask or think, even when I cannot see. He will be glorified in the joys, the healing, the loss, and the pain. He is near and faithful. His consistency in creation reminds me that He never stops working and His promises are true.

In moments of great loss, it is a gift to be able to find beauty among the stink. He creates beauty out of brokenness and He will be glorified because He is faithful and good. By His power we can truly heal and be restored.

THE SCHOOL OF SOVEREIGNTY: HEART PREPARATION FOR AN UNCERTAIN SCHOOL YEAR

Today, I am over at the enCourage Blog, sharing about how I am preparing my heart for this back to school year. 

Honestly, when I was asked to write this post, the first thought that came to mind was, “I am an unlikely person to write an encouraging article about going back to school.”

I prefer the predictable. I am quite uncomfortable in the unknown. I still order chicken nuggets with a coke “no ice” at restaurants because chicken nuggets with a coke “no ice” was what I ordered at fast food restaurants as a child. I seldom swim in oceans, lakes, or rivers because I am not exactly certain which creatures may be swimming near my feet. I struggle when I cannot see every nook and cranny of the waters in which I am swimming.

So, now you know my secrets and why I am an unlikely author for this post. I would rather live everyday like it was Groundhog Day—again. When it comes to uncertainty in my life, there is a gospel gap between my theology and the way I live in the unknown.

Read the rest HERE.

The Unknown, Fear, and Hope

In a few days I will be asleep from 8:30am to 3:30pm in an operating room. As a mom to four children to sleep seven straight hours during the day feels like a dream come true. As a control-freak monster, laying still and unconscious for seven hours straight feels terrifying.

I have had four scheduled c-sections and even then, I would tell my OB over the curtain that it was taking him a little too long to sew me back up.

In the unknown, I feel so much fear and hope tangled up together.

There have been many seasons in my life where I have ignored fear and pushed it aside, believing that the acknowledgment of fear was connected with personal weakness or a not-good enough faith. Only pushing the fear aside in the name of faith actually gave fear more power to linger and remain tangled up in my heart.

Fear is a real thing. the Bible says “fear not” three hundred and sixty five times because fear is real and we humans need reminding when we experience fear in real life. This bilateral prophylactic mastectomy is a big-deal-real thing and I am scared, my children are scared, and my husband is scared. Fear in this situation is a part of the process we are walking in. I have had to feel fear, and I have encouraged my children to feel the fear as well. We are letting fear in, looking fear in the face, while crying and praying with one another—but at the same time we are also trying to embrace power, love, and self-control.

For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

—2 Timothy 1:7 (ESV)

We are human so we fear, but we also are spiritual and connected to God through Jesus and His Spirit who lives in us so we also have hope. This is where and how fear and hope seem so tangled up together. There is a tension between the fear threads and the hope threads tangled up in human hearts.  

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to fear, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. —Galatians 5:16-17 (NLT paraphrased)

What is hope? Hope is believing that God is good and trusting him when we cannot see in the unknown. When our human minds are fearing, weary, and cannot wrap themselves around why something is good, this is when hope takes over. Hope is believing that God is renewing us in the hard things—hope is believing that God is renewing the whole world through the hard things.

You can see fear and hope tangled up together in Lamentations 3:

Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall (extreme bitterness).
My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”

Fear not is not as easy as it sounds. Fear is real. But fear should not be ignored. Fear should be felt and shredded through the power of the gospel. Facing fear and saying “I am weak and I am scared, but I am hopeful that God is good in the hard things.” This is what my renewed view of strength looks like. I am looking fear in the face and saying “I feel you and I see you, and I am weak and scared, but God’s power—his love, his grace, his faithfulness and his mercies—is bigger than my human fear.

Currently I am shredding this human fear through the gospel on a daily, moment-by-moment basis. I’m feeling the fear, dealing with it, and unraveling it away with truth from God’s Word. Then trying to slowly walk—one step at a time—like a broken vessel—in hope of a renewal that I cannot see. This process is on-going and happens several times a day.

In the unknown, fear and hope feel so tangled up together, but in the gospel, there is great power over fear.

I am fighting to feel his hope and his peace as I unravel the fear tangled up in my heart as I walk into a big deal thing next week. Thank you for praying and for surrounding me and my family on this hard place journey.

Big deal thing is scheduled on Monday, November 5th from 8:30a-3:30p (EST). We will update when we are on the other side.

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Back to School Dinner Organization Plan

This year I am working a tad more, I have four kids in school, two children on a soccer team, one child playing fall baseball, and one child in ballet. My husband is a busy pastor which sometimes gives us an unpredictable schedule.

When it comes to dinner time I need to be prepared or else I will up like the Michelin Man from eating too many delivery pizzas. Really. I love delivery pizza. My meal planning saves me from too much melted cheese and crust dunked in butter sauce.

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For the fall, I am working with this organizational plan for my family dinners.

My personal breakfasts will be protein shakes or eggs (my husband is sweet to make eggs for me in the morning) and my lunches will be spinach salads with a small amount of grilled chicken.

The Dinner Plan:

Sunday/Mondays: After church style meals with enough leftovers for Monday nights. We will have ballet on Monday nights in the fall right around our normal dinner time at 6o’clock on the dot so leftovers will be helpful.

I will rotate between:

Prime Rib or Pot Roast

Pork Tenderloin

Ham

Fried Chicken with all the fixings for my Kentucky husband

Meatloaf

Beef Tortellini Soup

You all… this gives me a six week rotation for Sunday and Monday dinners. 

Tuesday/Wednesday: Taco Nights and Leftovers

Every Tuesday I will toss enough taco meal meat into the slow cooker to have enough to eat on Wednesday night. We have soccer on Tuesdays and Wednesday nights are free so I will be looking forward to a hump day leftover night break. I will rotate between:

Chicken Tacos and Chicken Quesadilla Leftovers

Beef Tacos and Layered Taco Bake Leftovers

Pork Carnitas and Rice Bowl Leftovers

Ranch Chicken Chili and Leftovers

This gives me a monthly taco night and leftover rotation for four weeks. 

Thursday/Friday: Our Thursday and Friday nights will be a mixture of grilling nights and oven baked nights. I know we will have soccer and baseball on Thursday nights so I will need to get whatever we have cooking by 430pm. On the agenda for the fall:

Red Pepper, Garlic, and Lemony Chicken

Wicked Good Salmon

Ranch Flavored Salmon

Garlic Grilled Ribeyes

Smoked Tomato Mozzarella Ribeyes

Korean Style Ribs

Memphis Style Ribs

Adobo Chicken Thighs

Honey Balsamic Chicken

Citrus Balsamic and Basil Chicken

Chicken Scampi with Pasta with Leftovers Friday

Baked Ziti with Meat Sauce with Leftovers Friday

Apple and Bourbon Chicken Sausages (kids will probably eat hot dogs).

Saturday Nights: For the fall, we will have baseball games so I am going to try Sandwich Night and rotate through the following:

Pulled Pork Sandwiches

Cheeseburgers

Grilled Chicken Sandwiches

Taziki Style Chicken in a Pita Pocket

Sloppy Joes

And this is the plan that will save me and my waistline from too much melted cheese and pizza crusts dunked in butter sauce.

Having a meals in your freezer is not about having a complete meal that is all ready to go. Meal planning is simply having an organized plan to save money and hopefully eat less melted cheese.

Wishing you the best this back to school season,

Rachel

Wounds, Scars, and Renewal

Ten days from now will mark the twentieth year of my mother’s passing. Now, I am thirty-four with four children, then I was fourteen and the oldest of three children. There are a million things I desire to write in this post, as I know many of you read and follow my jagged grief journey, but the words which may follow are quite unplanned, and a culmination of many burdens within my own heart. 

There are many things for all of our past which can wound and scar a person. Wounded-ness, the evidence of unhealed hurts. Scarring, the evidence of the healing of those wounds.

I have a terrible and jagged, c-section scar. This scar from my first Caesarean surgery was reopened three other times. Each painful reopening of this scar brought forth both a new season and new life.

However, with each reopening, the scar which was life-giving was also the reopening of many stories of pain, but in a weird scientific way, healing.

Wounds heal. The most delicate and intimate wounds are made to heal and the healing of wounds leads to scarring. The scarring makes us who we are. The scarring a permanent marking of  life given and shared, even in the wounded-ness, we are made to heal.

When I think of scars, my immediate reaction is to think of knobbly, unsightly things. Today I went to the doctor with a raised mole, and it was immediately frozen away. Today, in our culture it is quite uncommon to bear knobbly, unsightly things above the social media filters of who we desire to be.

In our current culture, it is quite knobbly to say, I am bumpy, unfiltered, and broken. I have been wounded, and I have been scarred. The wounded wonder, am I loved even when my flesh is knobbly?

As a knobbly person, I have chosen to hide my knobbly places underneath the false mask of “I am okay” for far too long. A culture of anti-embracing scarred-ness has suffocated me.

Twenty-years after my mother’s passing, I am learning the simple truth that it is our scars that prove we have lived life. Our scars are beautiful because our scars are life giving. Scars are knobbly and imperfect, but so is life.

Scars are the evidence of renewal. You cannot change your wounds, but you can embrace the journey, see the scars as proof of healing, and embrace the knobbliness as evidence of healing.

I have spent two decades feeling deeply wounded around this time of year. Looking back to the open wound inflicted twenty years ago when my mother passed away, instead of recognizing my knobbly places as proof of healing.

Our wounds are not scientifically meant to stay open, our wounds are meant to heal. The unsightly scars are the things which make all of us less filtered, and more human.

This year, for me, renewal has meant thinking of my mother at her happiest, and finding that place. Wondering, if she were here, what would I be doing. This year, my family and I are going to the beach in memory of my mom and her smile. My mom was a happy person, she fought with a smile, and was happiest with her family and at the beach. Renewal for me entails embracing scars and creating happier, more emotionally-whole patterns.

I will be sad at the beach, remembering my happy mother. But in some full circle way, this will help me feel whole.

My kindergartener prayed tonight, “God thank you for giving us emotions and allowing us to be happy and sad.” Such a sweet reminder that life is happy, but it is also sad. Life gives wounds, and creates scars of healing. We are all a knobbly mixture of happiness and sadness.

In the bumps and bruises, wounds and scars, God is making all things new. God makes all things new through the wounds, bruises, and scars of Jesus. This week as I look towards the Resurrection and the Easter weekend, I am thankful that the God of the Bible is the One who can identify with those who are wounded and scarred.

By His wounds we are healed. Jesus identifies with the broken.

In my own scarred, knobbly renewal I’d dare to think my mom would rejoice in my knobbly sad and happy scarred-ness. Twenty years feels like a crazy amount of time, but each day I am more hopeful. Each day I believe more and more, that God is making all things new, through wounds and scars.