Fully Accepted

“Growing up, I knew all of God’s standards for my life, but none of his grace.”

That line from my sister’s testimony has haunted me for the last two weeks.

That Sunday that I baptized her, she shared with everyone her journey to God, away from God and then a back again.

We have heard the same story from so many people in our last two years as Lead Pastors.

Men and women trying to live under the thumb of God, trying to measure up and then giving up when they realize there is no way they can do it.

As a preteen I would lay on my bed, my knees pulled into my chest rocking side to side, weeping.

The feeling of falling short, of not being what someone expected. A disappointment. 

I would write verses on my wall to try to live better, more sold out, more on fire.

Deep inside me I’d hear a voice say “you know better”, “I expect more from you”.

_ _ _

“Caleb! What are you doing? You’re the oldest kid, if you do that they will all do it. I expect more out of you.”

Those words slipped off my tongue and hit like a pile of green slime.

The whole weight of everything I felt as an oldest child slung onto him in a jumbled mess of condemnation, guilt and expectation.

I saw it hit him. I watched his eyes droop and his smile fade. The shame. The disappointment. His face crumbled. His heart was crushed.

I tried again. “I’m so sorry. Can you tell me what happened?”

He melted and explained the situation, tears pouring down as he was released from the weight of letting his entire family down.

_ _ _

Those voices. I still hear them.

“You’ve been serving God for twenty five years. Are you still really messing up?”

“After all this time, you think God has grace left for you?”

I have always believed in his grace and held strongly to being saved by grace, but deep down always lived as though I was held to a higher standard.

I read this passage in Romans 8:15-16 from the Passion Translation and it absolutely impacted my heart.

And you did not receive the “spirit of religious duty,” leading you back into the fear of “never being good enough”. But you received the “Spirit of Full Acceptance”, enfolding you into the family of God. And you will never feel orphaned, for as he rises up within us, our spirits join with him in saying the word of tender affection, “Beloved Father”. For the Holy Spirit makes God’s fatherhood real to us as whispers into our inmost being, “You are God’s beloved child!”.

It was like the writer could hear the thoughts in my head. How did he know my fears led back to “never being good enough?”.

To be fully accepted, just as I am? In my nakedness, my shame, my guilt, my shortcomings, my failures…my yelling at my kids just this morning over something ridiculous, out of patience and flailing in exhaustion?

I am enough?

I am…God’s beloved child?

Beloved, meaning dearly loved. Dearly meaning very much.

Monica Jane, the very much loved daughter.

To say it sounds too good to be true is an understatement.

But it is true. Undeniably true. I have been received with full acceptance. No turning back. He’s not handing back my “eternal life” card. There is no double standard. It’s done. In Jesus’ words on the cross:

It. Is. Finished.

YOU are dearly, fiercely, deeply loved. 

Don’t live in the fear of never being good enough. Receive the Spirit of Full Acceptance, that is Jesus Christ our Saviour.

You will find just when you start the long journey back to Him, He’s waiting right beside you.

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{My sister and my firstborn. Both receiving grace.}

A New Teacher

The morning after our family Kindergarten information session at the table, (you know, the one where Amayah buried her face in her hands), I was sitting by myself on the couch before anyone else was awake.

I had tiptoed ever so quietly down the stairs that morning, started the coffee, and grabbed out my “1000 gifts” journal. My heart was still full of all the confusing emotions of the day before.

155. Friends in Caleb’s class.

156. Seeing Amayah’s emotion over Caleb going to school. She loves him.

157. Debriefing our separate days when the kids fell asleep.

I open the bible and start receiving fresh manna from the book of Romans, Passion Translation.

I hear a creak. Footsteps. A blanket dragging down the stairs.

I know who it is. My son who insists on sleeping only in underwear and then is freezing cold in the morning wrapped up in his comforter.

“Hey bud. How’d ya sleep?” Caleb crawled onto the couch and laid his head on my lap. I stroked his hair.

“God talked to me all night about my new teacher.” He said confidently.

He had been thrown the night before to hear that the teacher he thought he was going to have wasn’t going to be after all. I knew he had hidden his concern, his eyes had said it all.

I asked what God told him.

“He said, ‘Don’t worry. I knew who your teacher would be before you were even born to your mom. She’s awesome, and I know that you’re going to love her. I’m excited for you!’”

I watched as the perfect peace of Jesus had washed over him as he spoke out those words.

I choked back my tears and sipped my coffee. The Lord cares about my boy even more than I do.

“Wow, Caleb. God loves you so much, hey? He knew you were feeling concerned about this. Well, mommy has peace too then because if God picked her for you then it’s going to be an amazing year!”

He whispered his new teacher’s name to himself a few times and smiled.

We sat there for a few moments, his head on my lap, me stroking his cheek.

I made a mental note:

158. Sitting here with Caleb.

159. A fan humming gently in the background.

160. Jesus telling Caleb he hand picked his teacher.

“Mom, can you make me some oatmeal?”

“Good idea bud. I’d love to.”

161. Hot oatmeal on a cool August morning.

mom and caleb

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{we always spy on the school when we go by.}

I’m ok with change.

I held his new, slimy body as warm blankets came over me. I shook, trembled with adrenaline induced after shock. “Hold him steady, I don’t want to drop him.” Andrew put his hand on the baby’s back to steady him as I shook beneath.

“I don’t think I can ever do that again.” Andrew nodded, still in shock himself from the last 24 hours.

But he was was here. Caleb Andrew. Our whole hearted and faithful manly warrior. The little one with the powerful meaning. He was here.

_ _ _

We sat around the table while daddy pulled out all the sheets from the meeting we had missed. He had the news we’d been waiting for. Class lists, dates, teacher’s name.

Amayah buried her face in her hands to hide her quivering lip.

“Why….why…does Caleb have to go to school?” She asked.

I did end up birthing babies again. And those three little lives have bonded together with a deep, fierce love.

Of course they fight, but their love is so intense.

We tried to answer her, but we knew she was just trying to process what we were. What does life look like now?

And although she couldn’t fathom it, it’s a big year for her too. Play school.

_ _ _ 

“JESUS!!!!” I yelled as a I gave a final push and our second baby came into this world. I collapsed back on the pillow. “Is it really a girl? Is it a GIRL? WAs the ultrasound right?”

As the doctor told me yes, it really was a girl, I cried because we were one of those special families that was able to experience both genders. Amayah Love was here. Another tiny person with a powerful name. “Close to God, full of love.”

_ _ _

I looked over at Amayah sitting across from me at the table, her lip shaking less. Daddy had pictures of the classroom. It did look really fun.kindergartenlist.jpg

Ever since the day she came to breathe for the first time her big brother has spoke for her. We were so excited for her to try something on her own and let her brilliant mind and sparkly personality shine.

Change, it’s hard. It’s unknown. And for us, it’s temporary. The next few years things will change every September. Next year: grade 1, preK and playschool. Then grade two, kindergarten and preK.

Adjustment. Change.

Early the same week I had went and got my hair done. I felt like it was drastic for me. It represented being ok with change. I never colour my hair because I don’t like the change. But this time, I needed it.

Funny thing was, no one seemed to notice it. And in certain lighting, I didn’t even notice it! What felt like a big deal at first, ended up not really being much at all.

I felt the Lord encourage me that this school year would be like that for us. An intensity of emotion off the start, and then a smooth transition to a new way of life.

Whatever transition your life holds in the next few weeks, I pray for you that the grace of Jesus would overflow into every cavity that is causing you anxiety, and that it would be like my hair colour…a  tough step but a seamless transition.

Hello September, I’m ok with you.back to school .jpg

{Took my big kids back to school shopping}

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{These boys…}

Spurred on.

I stared down at the steam rising from my cup. This extra hot, unsweetened, fat free latte had been a long time coming.

“I’m happy you finished the course, but I’m disappointed in myself.” I whispered.

Almost a year ago we had signed up to take the course that would make us licensed members with the fellowship of churches we serve with.

It had been a hard, busy year. Just months earlier I had finally weaned my toddler who couldn’t go a few minutes around me without whining to nurse.

“It’s ok babe, you’ve still done a lot. And I’m sure they would grant you an extension if you explain.”

I was jealous that Andrew had worked hard and just got the course done.

“But that’s the thing. I won’t get it done. What would the extension be? Til Christmas? That’s our busiest semester at the church….” I trailed off. He already knew what our schedule looked like once fall hit.

A couple of people trickled in to the small town coffee shop that we had ditched our kids and drove to.

The weight on my chest of leaving something so big like this unfinished was suffocating. I worked hard to show that I was just as committed  to pastoring this church. 

“I have finish this course. I don’t know how. Or when. But eventually I will.” This was said weakly, more in faith that one day I’d have a little more time.

The best espresso in South East Saskatchewan was sipped in silence for a couple of moments. I had ruined his celebratory statement a few minutes before that he had sent all his papers in.

“You know what!” He said suddenly. “You still have time. You still have some weeks left to get this done. Yeah, you had a whole year. So, what? Buckle down, make some sacrifices and cross this off your list before we go on holidays!”

I was shocked. Was he pushing me? I had expected simply to be encouraged to that it was ok if I didn’t finish and then we would move on.

“You have nothing to prove, and you don’t have to earn your ministry. This is between you and God. And you started this. You can finish it. Your voice is needed and if you get licensed you can vote, and you can have a say. Do we believe in the future of this organization or not?”

I was stunned. 

‘Uh, I guess you’re right. I’d have to think about it. I hadn’t even thought that it was possible to get it done now.”

We drove home that night and his words kept ringing in my heart. He really believed I could do it. He knew it would be a challenge, but my husband’s faith was completely in my ability to get this done.

I shot awake. I looked at my phone. 4:00 a.m. The house was quiet. No one was crying or needing mom. It was our day off.

I laid back down on my pillow. Why am I awake? I wondered.

My mind filled with Andrew’s words the night before and the Lord whispered to my heart. “Here’s a window of time, let’s do a paper.”

That morning I got a gigantic portion of my course done as my whole family slept in later than they had in a while.

I was filled with hope. Was there a chance that I could actually complete this?

The next few weeks I zeroed my focus in and to my surprise, I finished it a few days before the due date.

I have thought back often to the time at the coffee shop where I excepted to be soothed and instead I was spurred on.

The Lord brings us together not simply to comfort and enjoy each other, but to actually push each other on towards greatness in our lives! The Bible talks about this concept and how we need to push each other in our relationships. Sometimes the best thing we can do is spur each other on!

 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.

Hebrews 10:24

us

{plowing through was so worth it for this holiday.}

The Garden of Grace

“Sure, I can come do that for you!” the happy voice replied to me. My first ever garden was going to happen at our new house. Not too big, probably too small, but I didn’t feel bad.

The kind man came a few days later to till up my garden. “I won’t be able to fit the tractor in through the gate.”

My heart sank. I felt tears welling up inside me. Why does God give me a desire for something and than take it away?

A couple days went by and a dear man from church told Andrew that he could do it for me. Hope returned that I would have my little garden this year.

Garden is tilled, seeds are bought, sheep manure is spread and I plan out what’s going to grow in my tiny little plot.

This desire if new to me. I’ve never wanted to waste my time planting, weeding, watering and harvesting. This year is different.

The day arrives to head out and plant. I feel like a mom on a mission to show her kids how the Lord gives us food from the ground.

We plant some lettuce.

18 month old chaos ensues.

As we planted the second row I see the baby crouching in the dirt, his hands flying wildly, spreading around all the rows and seeds we had just done.

“NO! STOP!” I yell at him. This only makes him laugher harder and do it more.

I get him under control and turn around to try again at row number two.

My older children had tried to be helpful during the mayhem and started planting without me.

Nothing was in a row, seeds were mixed together. The directions on the seed pack, my only guide to this new territory, were not followed.

I sat down defeated in the dirt.

How have women done this for centuries? No, millenniums?

Hope fades. I leave the yard in search of something I know how to do. Baking, cooking. I can do that.

Weeks go by and my dirt path lays untouched. A symbol of my kids destroying all my dreams.

One day I see something from the dining room window. Is that a tiny shoot of green? Not from the garden of disaster, it should not be possible! Were there even any seeds left?

There in the rich dirt were new shoots of green lettuce, not in rows but scattered all over one part of the garden.

The lettuce grew strong and the day it was ready to pick, I still couldn’t believe that anything had grown in this mess. lettuce.jpg

More started to come up. A mass of peas, a wild grouping of beans, potatoes, little shoots of carrots and delicious, sweet smelling basil.20160815_083329.jpg

What had felt like a symbol of defeated dreams, suddenly arose to be this beautiful Garden of Grace. A picture of my chaotic life, that sometimes is turned upside down, sometimes is “helped” by little hands, and never follows the tidy way that things should be done. But somehow I grow. We grow. They grow. 

Only by His grace.

 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)

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Sixty-Six Gifts

I have battled the better part of the last six years trying to overcome my discontentment. The discontent that has contaminated a huge portion of my life since a day in August 2010. When I found out I was pregnant. Not from a pregnancy test but from days of endless vomit.

There have been many moments of overcoming. We’ve found ways to do life that keep me balanced.

But the underlying issues has remained.

Then a pastor spoke on it at a conference in May. The Lord ripped my heart open as he talked about thankfulness.

It seemed so basic, that thankfulness could unlock pieces of my life that had held me back. Thankfulness that could release a depth of joy that I have been craving, praying and desperate for.

That was at the start of my summer. The season where the Lord gave me a word and I couldn’t even speak it out because it evoked weeping. It was going to be a challenge. But I was ready for the growth it would bring.

This was to be the “Summer Of Softening”.

Where he took my heart that experienced hardening and gave me a heart of flesh. A heart that beats, feels and breaks to a whole other level. A heart suddenly broken over needs in my community that I had overlooked for almost two years.

A heart that wept over “the least of these”.

Summer marched on and I allowed the Lord to breathe his breath that melted me day by day.

Camp came and so did the message on thankfulness again.

Thankfulness releases grace. Again, so basic.

Thanking God releases more of his grace into a situation and we can handle what we didn’t think we could.

It made so much sense, and I was excited to try this principle.

Halfway through the week I was overwhelmed and I thanked God that being at camp was our job and that our family was able to minister together.

Grace was released. I soared on wings like eagles for the last half.

Then we got home. It was hard. An hour after we walked in the door the house was already a mess and the kids were screaming, despite how overwhelmingly exhausted I was.

But I pressed on in the practice. Not in perfection. No in many, many mistakes that led me to desperately grasp thankfulness.

Then a couple of days ago I heard the Lord tell me to read Ann Voskamp’s book “One Thousand Gifts”.

I didn’t want to.

I knew the basis of it. A depressed woman learns thankfulness and springboards to help millions of people.

Too simple. Too fake.

On our way to a 24 hour getaway, just the two of us, I knew I needed to stop at the bookstore and pick this up.

Boy, were my conceptions totally and completely wrong.

I wept. Bawled my eyes out reading Ann’s painful story of real, gut wrenching tragedy that led to her go on a journey of asking the question “is God really good?”

She began cataloging things she loved and was thankful for. Small things throughout the day, which then transformed into thankfulness.

I can’t explain it all, you just need to read it too.

So that morning, 48 hours ago I started my own “one thousand gifts” list in a beautiful navy and gold journal my husband had surprised me with weeks earlier.1000gifts

In just two short days, only putting things on my list that I am experiencing in moments, I have sixty-six items.

Sixty-six things that I would not have noticed that are gifts if I hadn’t been looking for them.

My heart is changing. I can feel myself healing.

20. When someone chooses to trust me.
21. Safeway apple fritters

22. Teaching pre-marriage with Andrew
23. Realizing how far we have come together
24. Rain on the windsheild 
25. Cuddling Amayah at bedtime

Monkey, Goose & Bear

Did you have a name as a child that reflected an animal? Or perhaps you’ve referred to your baby as some kind of cute, cuddly animal?

That’s what my husband and I have done with each of our kids. Not really on purpose, each name has kind of rolled off the tongue as we’ve held them and observed their personalities.

Our firstborn, has always been our monkey. He was a skinny little baby and I remember when we would put him in his bouncer, his scrawny little legs would jump up and down, and he’d laugh so hard, just like a little monkey!

Our second, a beautiful girl definitely didn’t look like a goose as a baby! But she would make funny faces and we’d coo at her and call her a “silly goose”, which then evolved into “goosie” and “goosie girl”. For awhile she thought her full name was: Amayah Goosie.

And our baby…the one who has been my baby bear since day one. I knew he would be the last that I birthed and he has been treasured every step. We call him baby Bear, E-Bear, or simply Bear. He was soft and cuddly like a teddy bear as a baby and now he has grown up to be a rough and growly almost two year old bear.

I was sharing this with a friend of mine and how I would love to have a picture done of these three in their little animals. I had also read that butterflies were a symbol of hope and since I had nicknamed our future adopted child “baby Hope”, I felt a butterfly was fitting to represent the baby.

Some time went past and I had commissioned that same friend to do a piece for an area in my kitchen that I was decorating as a coffee bar.

When we got the package home that was supposed to have just contained the coffee sign, we pulled out this picture that absolutely took my breath away.the kids as animals

She captured so many little details about my kids. How Caleb loves to dress up, wear bow ties and represents excellence and passion.

How Amayah, our little lovely, is a princess and loves pink, and of course she would be wearing a flower crown! She beautifies the world around her with the love that she carries.

And Eli’s little tuft of red hair and his carefree personality who is just so happy when he gets to be apart of his big siblings.

Then there is the butterfly. Sparkling with gold, like a promise from heaven. Hope hovers in the sky and Caleb is the one who has his eye on it. If I ever seem to forget or slip to someone “we’re done having kids”, he always jumps in and tells them that now we are adopting and is the one to pray about the baby that Jesus will give us to care for.close up kids as animals

These kids are such a gift and I am so thankful for the surprise my friend Nicole gave to me. I hope you enjoyed this little glimpse into another side of our family! Thank you for journeying with us!