A NaNoWriMo Love Story

english-innIt was the morning of my birthday when Mr. Wonderful walked into our room and asked me if I’d like to sneak away and spend a night at the English Inn.

The English Inn, a lovely and charming bed and breakfast in Eaton Rapids, Michigan has become, throughout the years, one of our very favorites places.

“Are you serious,” I asked, knowing full well that when it comes to matters of sneaking away, Mr. Wonderful is almost always quite serious. (Swoon!)

“Yeah, I’m serious,” he said. “But here’s the thing, some guys just called from Lansing and they need me on a job site first thing Monday morning. I can either get up at 5:00 and drive up from our house or I thought maybe we could check in and stay at the inn Sunday night putting me just a half hour away. I won’t be able to stay with you on Monday, but I thought maybe you could use that time to write until you have to checkout. With your birthday, I thought it just might be perfect. What do you think?”

What do I think??? Let’s bust this joint, Baby…

chaiseQuite honestly, here’s what I think. I think all this was nothing short than God’s birthday gift to me. I know it was and here’s why.

For weeks now I’ve been thinking, daydreaming really, about my secret birthday wish. I’ve been imagining how wonderful it would be to sneak away to the inn either by myself of with Mr. Wonderul for a chance to just sit down and write. No interruptions. No other demands. To be in a place of beauty, a place that inspires me, and place that feels like Jane Austen or some other fairytale creature might just waltz into my room or walk through the woods at any moment. (Not to mention a fireplace and a chaise lounge…squeal!)

For me this is heaven. It’s what I long for… secretly wish for.

But life is busy. It takes time and money to pull that off. It takes babysitters, and planning, and I feel guilty to even ask. So I’ve kept my wish to myself, thinking it just isn’t possible.

But God?

word-swag-english-innGod knows my secrets. He knows my daydreams and the wishes of my heart. And He knows how to surprise and romance me.

This is His way, to delight His beloved with a stunning romance. With a fairytale. A love story.

He knows our hearts! And He delights in granting our wishes.

I don’t deserve it. I don’t deserve Him. And yet He is exactly what I’ve been given.

On my birthday…

And everyday. I’ve been blessed with the greatest of gifts…

A husband who loves me. (Thank you so much, Honey)

Parents who’ll watch my babies at the drop of a hat. (Mom and Dad, you are the best!)

And a Savior who woos and romances me.

I am faint with love.

Three Things to Remember for Gut Check Times Like Now

 

patriotic-flagIt’s gut check time.

 In my house

In my heart

In our country

It all became incredibly real to me this morning. On a cold and rainy Wednesday, in a house dark from low hanging clouds, nothing was going right. Everything around us was crumbling like leaves.

An alarm clock didn’t go off, kids were yelling and fighting, my cold wasn’t going away, his deals weren’t coming through. A dream we’ve all been counting on, hoping for, sat dusty on the shelf.

I had this feeling of holding my breath. An anxious feeling. A deep feeling. A feeling of just wanting everything to come together, fall in place, turn out perfect.

Isn’t perfection what we’re all hoping for, searching for, chasing after?

And aren’t we all sort of holding our breath? 

In a world where we constantly dribble out posts, and blurb out speeches, and rail through our long and thought out arguments of who, and what, and where, and why and, honestly, who cares? I’m tired of the fluff, the Sunday school answers, the witty quips and replies.

Nope. In times like these, I need the real stuff. The good stuff. The stuff that moves me. The stuff that moves mountains.

I need the stuff of God.

For my family this morning

For me this day

For our country at this all important hour 

I need to look up. I want to lean in. I have got to figure out a way to keep pressing on.

So where do we find the stuff of God? How do we hunt for it, chase it down? Of course there are millions of ways but for me, it all keeps coming back to three essentials:

 Prayer

Worship

And The Lord of the Rings

Not expecting that third one? Don’t worry, I’ll explain…

IMG_5648But first: Prayer

I know, I know, the Sunday school answer, right?

But it isn’t right; it’s wrong, so wrong, to feel that way about such an important thing and so reflective of how far we’ve gotten from where we need to be.

That prayer is taken so lightly, resisted so fully, and overlooked so readily is evidence of a heart and a people holding God at arm’s length.

Because prayer is power. It is aligning ourselves directly with the King of Kings. With His throne. With His armies. It is our way of doing combat in a world constantly at war. This is true on the level of our individual hearts, our household, and our world at large, our nation included.

We need prayer. We need to pray. It is vital, and in gut check times like this prayer is how we adjust our focus away from ourselves, away from what is happening, and zero in on His way, His truth, His love.

This is how we look up.

Next up: Worship

Again, I know, we’ve heard it before, and yet worship is the last thing I ever feel like doing because worship is surrender. In order for me to worship Him directly, I have to stop worshiping all the lesser things that have taken up space in my heart. 

It’s so much easier to check out than surrender up a song, a dance, a word of thanks. But when I do? My arms open wide; literally, I can’t keep them in. My knees bend and I fall to the floor. I am physically bowed low and internally overcome. I am filled with nothing less than His presence.

All those lesser things I was worshiping, clinging to, hoping for ebb away as He fills in the blanks, the cracks, and all my broken.

This is how we lean in.

FootprintsAnd press on…

How do we press on? When dreams are put on hold, and hearts are smashed, and our world is so completely screwed up? 

When rulers are wicked? And injustice thrives? And all hope seems lost? 

Enter: The Lord of the Rings

In my family we turn to Hobbits. To Aragorn and Arwen. To our old friend Gandalf and the epic story/struggle of The Lord of the Rings to get our hearts on track. Because in this story, we see our story. In their struggle we see our own. In their victories we remember what ours have been and imagine what future victories could look like.

We remember who we are and Whose we are, and in remembering we find hope. We find the stuff of God.

I know this looks different for everyone. For me it’s LOR and other tried and true movies, books, and stories. For you it may be a song, a picture, a verse, a day at the lake or a walk in the woods. 

You know the stuff. Whatever gets you your heart back. Whatever reminds you who you are (God’s Beloved), what you’re made of (His image, His likeness), who you belong to (Him, the Savoir, the King). That’s what we have to hunt for, return to, fill up on, linger in. 

This is how we press on.

We all want perfect. 

Perfect dreams to come true

Perfect houses to live in

Perfectly behaved children

Perfect love 

Perfect health

Perfect policies

A perfect candidate

IMG_4076It all became incredibly real to me this afternoon. After the turmoil of this morning. After praying with my family and stirring mac-in-cheese to the tune of The Great I Am, after making plans with my man and my girls for a popcorn and Frodo night…

The perfection I want in this life, whether it’s in a perfectly picked-up living room, a perfectly executed day of school, or the dreams I imagine coming perfectly true, none of it is for here. Perfection isn’t for this world. Perfection is for heaven. I am never going to get it perfectly all together. I’m not supposed to.

I can stop holding my breath…

What is for here is Him. HIM! And I can have all of Him I want. But to get to Him I have to look up. I have to lean in. I have to press on. 

Our future is uncertain. Nothing is as it should be. It would be easy to lose hope. 

 And yet? 

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand… 

 All other ground is sinking sand.”*

 

* From the hymn, My Hope is Built on Nothing Less, by Edward Mote

What You’ve Got to Remember When You Think He’s Forgotten

Hands“You just don’t care about my birthday!”

 The words came hot and fast from the mouth of my six-year-old girl. She crossed her arms in a huff and stared out the window of our van.

“What did you just say?” I said in that you’re about to get it sort of way. I eyed her in my rearview mirror amazed by what I just heard. “Where in the world is that coming from?”

“You don’t care,” she continued. “You haven’t found anything Princess Jasmine at the store and now you’re just not doing anything…” 

I knew by the squeak in her voice and the tears in her eyes that she was serious; honestly convinced I was failing her.

In my mind questions flew like arrows. How could she think that? Doesn’t she see? Doesn’t she know how much I love her, how much I really do care?

Sunshine SmilesTruth is I’m doing all kinds of things to make her birthday magical. The cake, the games, the gifts…it’s all there in my head waiting to become a reality as her special day draws near.

Trying to keep my cool I consider pulling over. “Are you kidding me, Blessing?” I check the mirror, make sure she’s listening. “Did you ever think that maybe I don’t want you to know? That maybe I want to surprise you with something really special. It’s your birthday for heaven’s sake! You’re not supposed to know right now. Don’t you know how much I love you? Don’t you know I love you so much that I don’t just care about your birthday, I want to make it as special as I possibly can for you? Just because you can’t see what I’m doing doesn’t mean I’m not working hard to do something amazing for you, something beyond what you’ve asked for, what you can even imagine.”

And suddenly I knew. As the words left my mouth, it hit me. This message, it wasn’t for her, at least not completely. These words were also for me.

IMG_2068My husband and I are in the midst of a project. Several projects really. I’m writing my book. He’s building his business. And together we’re making plans to build a home on our property. At any given moment it seems like something…if not several somethings…is going completely wrong. Something isn’t coming together the way we thought it would. Some challenge must be addressed, reworked, dealt with, fixed.

It’s overwhelming to say the least. Just that very morning I found myself on the brink of a meltdown. One problem too many was pushing me to the edge. 

What are you doing, God? I wondered. We’ve asked for your help. We want to see this dream come true. Why does it seem like you don’t even care? 

As I looked at the face of my daughter I imagined our King Papa, shaking His head, amused by my antics. By my huffing and puffing and crossing of arms.

“Oh daughter,” He seemed to say, His words echoing mine. “Don’t you know how much I love you…

Mom:DaughterWith everything happening around us I had lost my trust in Him. So focused on what I could see, I lost faith in all His unseen. His arrows of truth hit the bulls-eye of my heart and I drove home lost in His unfailing promise.

For as much as I love my daughter, He loves me a billion times more. For as much as I care and am plotting and planning to make her birthday special, He’s behind the scenes of every moment of my life working all things together for good. For my great good. My best good. For dreams come true beyond what I wish for or imagine.

And sure, I have my questions. I have things I don’t understand. But the details are not for me to know right now. The answers are coming but they’re not here yet. 

We pulled into the driveway and before we went inside I held my dear girl close. 

“I know there are things you can’t see. There are things you don’t understand. I feel that way too sometimes. But when that happens we need to trust. You need to trust me and together we need to trust God and His love for us. Can we work on that together? ” 

She nodded her yes and I nodded mine, and together we sat for a moment held tight in each other’s arms just imagining what lies in store.

For When You Just Want to Shut Down and Stop Your Heart from Bleeding

 

Tarheel PinA few weeks ago I posted a blog about what to do when your life feels like a March Madness buzzer beater and you’re on the losing team. Little did I know this was just the fate that would soon befall my beloved UNC Tarheels.

For anyone not into the drama of college basketball and the NCAA tournament, last Monday the University of North Carolina went head to head against Villanova in the championship game. With just seconds left on the clock Carolina’s Marcus Paige made an epic three point shot to tie the game and force what everyone thought would be an overtime square off.

But it wasn’t to be.

As the last tenths of a second ticked away Villanova’s Kris Jenkins shot a game winning three pointer destroying hopes and dreams of a UNC victory.

Going from the ultimate college basketball high to the ultimate low I watched my favorite players leave the court looking stunned, distraught, and dejected; my feelings, tumultuous as they were, surely only a fraction of what they were feeling.

To say the least it was heartbreaking.

Now I know the world of college basketball and all that transpires in the throws of March Madness is small cookies compared to the battles taking place in the real world. It’s a micro issue, respectively, but even still it stirs the hearts of those invested. I know it rattled mine.

And if nothing else, it has served this week as a reminder to me of a truth that matters in all of life’s battles both big and small:

Those who love deeply, hurt deeply. 

 

It happens all the time, the temptation to save your skin and your heart from pain. To check out, give up, ignore, don’t look, don’t touch, don’t feel. Don’t listen, don’t see, invest, get involved. Don’t go deeper. Don’t be real. And for heaven’s sake don’t let yourself be vulnerable. Because pain is always involved when you give your heart away. 

All day Monday I fought a subtle urge to not even watch the game. If they lose, I thought, I don’t want to see it. The disappointment that would cause the players…Coach Roy…me… would just be too unbearable.

But that game? That game! And, yeah, I got burned in the end…But how could I miss that game? 

When you find yourself hurting deeply, take heart! It means you loved deeply. And what has the Savior shown us about life but that loving deeply is the only way to really and truly live? 

All the things we love, the big and the small, it matters! It matters to Him. It matters to the story of your life.

When you start to get that feeling, that temptation to stop right there, to go no further, to look away, stop and think for a minute. Don’t just think about what you want to avoid, imagine what you’ll miss by shutting down your heart:

That relationship

That sunrise

That victory

That wholeness

That health

That smile

Laughter

Kisses

Welcome home hugs

Knowing what you’re made of

Knowing what He’s made of

Knowing what forgiveness feels like 

A life with as few regrets as possible

For all my Carolina dreams of winning the national championship, for all life’s battles both big and small, for all the deeply hurting, perhaps Garth Brooks said it best in the words of his classic song: 

“And now

I”m glad I didn’t know

The way it all would end

The way it all would go

Our lives

Are better left to chance

I could have missed the pain

But I’d have had to miss

The dance” *

Lean in. Invest. Be open. Stay open. Stay. In. The. Pool. Be you. Be real. Give your heart away. Give your heart to Him.

And whatever you, no matter what, don’t abandon the big dance for the sake of all the madness.

No, grab your Cinderella slippers and linger after midnight.

*Lyrics from The Dance by Tony Arata

March Madness: For When Your Life Feels Like a Buzzer-Beater (and You’re on the Losing Team)

 

NetSince the last time I posted:

~ My husband fell in our garage, severely spraining his ankle and breaking his foot

~ My mom-in-law was in a bad car accident fracturing her foot in six different places

~ I received emotionally distressing news related to my writing life

~ All three of my girls followed by Chris and me came down with chest colds that won’t go away

~ Two birthday parties for my little ones have been cancelled and rescheduled due to injuries and sickness

~ In addition to the cold I came down with a painful mastitis infection

~ Chris’s grandfather became seriously ill while traveling away from home

~ Our homeschooling schedule has been turned on its head

And yet…

~ There’s also this:

IMG_5648~ And this:

Blue Eye Belle~ And this:

Blue Moon Smile~ There’s the super-cool ice machine my husband’s business associate sent him to help with icing his foot

~ There’s medicine and immune boosters helping all of us heal

~ There’s a chance for me to grow as a writer and make my novel better

~ There’s our pastor friend who prayed over us

~ Family and friends who understand a change of plans and give us grace (times two)

~ A special guest speaker at my writing group and a wonderful evening with friends

~ Little girls that keep being golden despite their stuffy noses

~ Prayers for Grandpa and signs of improvement

IMG_5649~ The first glimpse of spring in Michigan

~ Supernatural pain relief for my mom-in-law after her recent surgery to repair her foot

~ My mom who has kept our clothes clean and our bellies full

They call this season March Madness and our March, so far, has been just that. We’ve been attacked emotionally, spiritually, and physically. It’s been one thing after another and at times my spirits have sunk pretty low.

But there’s also been a lot of good, a lot to celebrate and be thankful for. In the midst of the madness, in the midst of the storm, I’ve been reminded this week that we do have a choice.

~ We can choose to focus on the good or focus on the bad.

~ We can choose to keep our eyes on God or keep our eyes on all that’s going wrong.

~ We can choose to give our hearts away to Satan and his attacks or we can stand in the name of Jesus and fight to keep our hearts intact.

 Anyone can praise God when things are going great, when life is good and beautiful. I want to praise Him in the midst of the madness. As the popular lyrics of Matt Redman’s worship song says, “let me be singing when the evening comes…” * I want to be found signing at night regardless of the day.

My life, as of late, feels a bit like a buzzer-beater. It’s been fast! Dramatic! And crazy! And it feels like we keep coming up short, like we just keep losing. 

But with God nothing is ever lost. Anything and everything is always there, working together for good.

* 10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord) by Matt Redman and Jonas Myrin