Parallel Purple Lines

My hand trembled to the rhythm of my pounding heart as I stared at the parallel purple lines on the home pregnancy test.

It was definitely positive.

NO. This was all wrong! I had been praying for my best friend Sue to get pregnant, NOT me!

I wasn’t unhappy to be expecting our third child; I was secretly thrilled. But I dreaded telling Sue, not wanting to add more pain to her and her husband’s long struggle to conceive.

I turned to the Scriptures for help and landed in Luke 1. Back in the days before pregnancy tests, two unlikely mothers–the elderly Elizabeth and her teenaged cousin Mary–found themselves unexpectedly expecting. Each was a tender and timely encouragement to the other as they prepared to welcome their famous firstborn sons. I noticed that their pregnancies overlapped for a trimester.

As I read their intertwined pregnancy stories, a new prayer rose up within me: that Sue and I would be pregnant together!

Hand still shaking, but with newfound courage and hope, I picked up the phone. Sue listened quietly as I shared the news of my surprise pregnancy, along with my simple prayer request. We tearfully agreed to trust the Lord together to grant it.

“For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37, NAS)

A few weeks later, high on faith (and pregnancy hormones), I impulsively shared my prayer request with my ladies’ Bible study group. And instantly regretted it. The request was so specific and measurable. I felt like I had climbed out on a limb, vulnerable and exposed. 

What if God didn’t come through? Now everyone would know!

Despite my fears, I continued to pray. Four months passed. Sue and I celebrated our 40th birthdays with two mutual close friends who were also 40–and pregnant! Sue was so gracious through it all, but I longed for her to join our ranks now more than ever.

My due date approached. Still no answer to our prayers. Even on the way to the hospital the misty morning of my scheduled C-section, I held onto the hope that Sue would conceive while I was still pregnant.

And you know what?

She didn’t.

I nursed my disappointment and confusion as I cared for my newborn daughter, Laurel. Sue and I had believed God. We had agreed together in prayer. But for some unknown reason, God had chosen not to grant our request.

Several months later, Sue and her husband felt led to pursue an international adoption. They chose Korea, because their orphaned infants were cared for in loving foster homes. After successfully completing their home study, my friends waited expectantly to be matched with a child. By this time Laurel was over a year old.

The call finally came. They had been selected to adopt a precious little boy! His name would be Luke. We rejoiced in God’s goodness together!

When they received more details about their son, however, they were surprised to discover that he was several months older than most babies who were adopted from Korea. They learned his birth date. We did the math.

I’ll never forget the moment we realized it. Luke was conceived two months BEFORE I gave birth to Laurel! Our babies were only seven months apart! God HAD answered our prayer, just not in the way we had expected! We were in awe of His faithfulness!

In my mind’s eye I could see her now. Somewhere in Korea, another unexpectedly expecting young mother, holding a positive pregnancy test in her trembling hand.

Two parallel purple lines, leading to one brave choice.

A sovereign God, orchestrating an incredible answer to prayer.

Fearful faith, becoming glorious sight.

 

Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! (Romans 11:33, NLT)

 

Note: This post was shared with Sue’s blessing! Thank you, Sue, for letting me tell the story of our divinely intertwined pregnancies!

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Just Ask Anne

anne_of_green_gablesI was invited to share a devotional recently at an “Anne of Green Gables” themed baby shower. The guests of honor were a sweet friend and her newly-adopted and long-awaited baby girl. Anne was adopted too, so it was a fitting theme for a very special celebration.

Most of you are probably familiar with Lucy Maud Montgomery’s precocious and charming character, “Anne-with-an-‘e’.” My former roommate Kim was obsessed with her. Years later I, too, became enchanted as my two oldest daughters and I read the books which chronicled her adventures together. And while Anne had a penchant for creating mischief, she also possessed a wisdom beyond her years.

As I reflected on a few of her well-known quotes, they reminded me of some biblical principles for parenting…

1) Relating to God.

“Why must people kneel down to pray? If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I’d do. I’d go out into a great big field all alone or in the deep, deep woods and I’d look up into…that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness. And then I’d just feel a prayer.”

When you become a parent, your time is no longer your own. You can’t even go to the bathroom by yourself! As a new mom I especially missed my long, uninterrupted times with God. Often I’d be too tired to even focus my scattered thoughts into prayers. I used to beat myself up for this.

Here’s what I would tell that mama now:  God knows. Give yourself grace. He does.

I was inspired by Gigi Graham Tchividjian’s habit of leaving her Bible open on the ironing board, so she could read or meditate on a verse or two as she went about her busy day. There are many creative ways to relate to God. And He is always closer than a prayer.

Jesus said, “Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you.” (The Message)

2) Making mistakes.

“Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”

I remember cuddling my own perfect newborn baby girl and determining to be the perfect mom for her. And then there was that day I was visiting a friend at the hospital and literally FORGOT that I had a nursing baby at home! Upon my return, I was greeted at the door by a frazzled husband and a famished child! Oops. Major mom fail.

Mistakes will be made. Thankfully kids (and usually husbands) are very forgiving. So is God.

“…His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning…” (Lamentations 3:23b,24a, ESV)

3) Being content.

“It’s been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will.”

I believe the secret to contentment as a parent is to enjoy what is good in each season. If you focus on what is difficult, you’ll miss what is delightful. If you lament the things you’ve lost or fret about the future, you’ll miss the gifts you’ve been given.

I absolutely dreaded the teen years. And while teens can be challenging, they are also a ton of FUN! I have experienced great joy in watching each of our daughters develop into beautiful young women. Look for the good. It’s there.

“… you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on…the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.” (Philippians 4:8, The Message)

4)  Finding friends.

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”

Two decades ago we packed up our two-bedroom apartment and a five-month-old baby and moved “across the pond” to jolly old England. Where we didn’t know One. Single. Soul. Suddenly I didn’t feel so jolly.

Wherever we go, we need kindred spirits–those friends of the heart who just “get” us. Soon after settling into our quaint little English village, God graciously answered my prayers for such a friend through Caroline, herself a new British mum. Through the years there have been others who have come along just when I needed the encouragement of a fellow mom. I currently meet once a week with some dear kindred spirits to pray for our children.

Parenthood is best played as a team sport. Don’t go it alone. Your kindred spirits are out there too, just waiting to be found.

(Paul speaking of Timothy) “For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare.” (Philippians 2:20, NAS)

 5)  Risking love.

“There is no use in loving things if you have to be torn from them, is there? And it’s so hard to keep from loving things, isn’t it?”

“Enjoy this time. It goes so fast.”

I used to hate it when older moms or random strangers would say that to me when my kids were young. Because I wanted to hold onto my babies forever. And I knew I couldn’t.

Making the decision to have a child…is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ” (Elizabeth Stone)

There is an inherent vulnerability that comes with having and loving a child. It can be hard on the heart. But nothing has taught me more about selfless, sacrificial love than being a mom. It has stretched me and called out the best in me. It has taught me to love like God loves.

“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13, NLT)

Parenting will take all you’ve got. And then some. But love is always worth the cost.

Whether you’re a new parent just embarking on your journey, or one who’s logged some parenting miles, take heart. There is help and wisdom to guide you along the way.

Sometimes it may come from a surprising source, like a former orphan girl named Anne.

But always, always, it is readily available from your ever-present and never-failing Heavenly Father.

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For Good

WickedTheir facial expressions were difficult to distinguish from our perch in the upper balcony during last Saturday’s matinee performance of “Wicked.”  But even from that distance there was no mistaking Elphaba’s green face and Glinda’s golden curls as they began their farewell duet on the stage below.  In perfect harmony their voices intertwined, lifted and filled the Gershwin Theatre on Broadway.

“For Good” is a song about friendship and the difference one life can make in another.  I couldn’t help but think of some of the people I had been blessed to know in my lifetime who had helped to change ME for the better.  My heart pulsed with gratitude and my eyes pooled with tears as I pictured their familiar, loved faces.

Three days later, as our flight from La Guardia touched down at DIA and taxied to the gate, I took my iPhone off of airplane mode to check for messages.  Waiting for me was a text from my dear friend Bridget, letting me know that a mutual friend of ours had passed away that day.  His name was Doug.

Doug was one of those people.

He had the build of a teddy bear and the heart of a servant.  His laugh was infectious.  He possessed the rare kind of wisdom obtained only through enduring trials and hardship.  He was Godly.

I was a young Arizona college girl majoring more in Sorority Life than in Spiritual Life when I met him.  But he believed in me, gently but persistently encouraging me to attend campus ministry events and conferences.  I showed up at one conference to discover my registration had been anonymously paid in full.  I always suspected it was him.

Doug had incredible faith.  Following graduation we both felt called into full-time ministry.  Inspired by the biblical story of Nehemiah, who rebuilt the wall surrounding Jerusalem in 52 days, Doug believed God would raise his financial support in just 52 days.  He did.  (Mine took seven months.  But Doug cheered me on and helped me persevere.)

We spent a summer ministering in Turkey together.  I would never have had the courage to go overseas without his strong leadership and secure companionship.  He carried my unwieldy hard-sided suitcase all over that country and stood quietly by while I suffered the unpleasant effects of food poisoning.  He later returned to the Middle East, where he faithfully served the Lord alongside his family for many years.

Heaven will be a more populated place because of him.

I have no doubt he is there now.  I can just imagine him waiting patiently at the pearly gates to welcome his countless friends and spiritual children as they arrive, one by one.  He’ll greet them with a twinkle in his eye and wrap them in a warm bear hug.  Then he’ll grab their suitcase and take the lead, showing them around his Father’s kingdom, just like he did on earth.

For Good

I’ve heard it said,
That people come into our lives
For a reason
Bringing something we must learn.
And we are led to those
Who help us most to grow if we let them.
And we help them in return.
Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true
But I know I’m who I am today
Because I knew you.
 
Like a comet pulled from orbit
As it passes a sun,
Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood.
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better
But because I knew you.
I have been changed for good.
 
It well may be
That we will never meet again
In this lifetime.
So, let me say before we part:
So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you.
You’ll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart.
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you’ll have rewritten mine
By being my friend.
 

Thank you, Doug.  You and God changed so many lives for good.  I am eternally grateful to be one of them.

*Excerpt from “For Good” by Stephen Schwartz

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Friends

FriendsOn two consecutive days this past week I enjoyed visits with two different friends. (Actually, three.  It was a good week.  But to simplify I’ll just talk about two.)

One friend is “old,” not in age, but in duration–we’ve been friends for over two decades.  (Although the longer we are friends, the more both meanings of the word “old” apply!)  We lived in the same town for a little over two years.  Our mutual love for the Lord is the glue that holds us together despite time and distance.

The second friend is “new.”  We’ve known each other for about two years.  She lives nearby, and is a couple decades younger.  We also share a special bond in the Lord, which makes the age difference seem irrelevant.

And I need them both.

“Old” friends ground us.  When I’m with them I look back.  I remember who I was, who I still am.  We’re a part of each other’s history.   We know each other’s stories.  Conversation flows effortlessly, punctuated with laughter.  (Or “cackling,” as this particular friend’s husband unwisely called it.)

“New” friends inspire us.  When I’m with them I look forward.  I see who I can be.  We’re a part of each other’s present lives.  We know each other’s struggles.  Conversation runs deep, peppered with “aha” moments.

“A friend loveth at all times.”  (Proverbs 17:17, KJV)

Tiny, forest green ‘x’s spell out this verse in a cross stitch which hangs in my hallway.  It was lovingly created for me by another “old” friend.  It serves as a reminder of those special friends “who have been long tried and proved, and found faithful,” and that “…these should be kept to and valued…” (John Gill)

Reflecting on the benefits of newer friendships, this verse comes to mind:

“Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother far away.” (Proverbs 27:10b, NAS)

Because sometimes you just need to sit face to face with someone who can be “Jesus with skin on.”  Someone who will listen as you pour out your soul over a cup of coffee (or, in my case, tea).  Someone you can text at 3:30am to share one of those “aha” moments.  (Yes, she did.)  Because “…a neighbour that is a fast and faithful friend, and who is not only near as to place but as to affections is more serviceable and, useful to a man in time of distress…” (Gill)

So we need them both.

Old friends, who fit us like a pair of well-worn jeans; familiar and comfortable.

New friends, who lift our spirits like a cute, new outfit; fresh and promising.

Both are gracious gifts from God, given to remind us that:

“…there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24b, NAS)

For don’t we need His friendship most of all?

In Him we find the best of both friends; perfect and timeless.

Lord, thank You for friends near and far, old and new.  You give such good gifts.  Thank You for being “(The) Friend who sticks closer than a brother (or a sister!).”  YOU are the very best gift!

(Quotes are taken from Gill’s Exposition of The Entire Bible.)

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Sharpened

Lately I’ve noticed a consistent correlation between my motivation to blog and time spent with friends.  Give me a couple of hours engaged in deep conversation over a “cuppa,” and I will return home energized and inspired.  Caffeine could certainly be the culprit.  But I believe there may be an even more powerful stimulant at work here.

Hebrews 10:24 instructs us to “consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.”  Did you catch the word “stimulate?”  It is the Greek word paroxusmos.   The root of this word literally means “to make sharp, to sharpen.”

This brings to mind a similar verse, Proverbs 27:17:  “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.”  After time spent with a friend, my mind is clearer and my thinking does feel sharper.  Barnes’ Notes on the Bible describes it this way:  “Two minds, thus acting on each other, become more acute.”  I have enjoyed several “iron sharpening iron” conversations in recent weeks that have sparked blog posts on topics that we discussed.

Another original meaning of the word “stimulate,” according to Barnes, is “to arouse, excite, to call into action.”  He goes on to say that true fellowship between believers should “excite them to persevere in the Christian life.”  I have experienced this firsthand.  Time spent with like-minded believers motivates me to step out in faith and pursue God’s call on my life.  These friends spur me on in following Jesus and remind me that the Christian life IS an exciting adventure not to be missed sitting passively on the sidelines.

Paroxusmos is found in only one other place in the New Testament:  “They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company.” (Acts 15:39)  Um, excuse me?  This wasn’t the uplifting verse about the benefits of Christian fellowship I was expecting.  Paul and Barnabas, friends and partners in ministry, apparently had an “iron sharpening iron” moment of their own.  Sparks were flying, all right.  Yet I’m thankful the Bible doesn’t gloss over the reality that relationships in a fallen world can sometimes be…messy.

The Amplified Version of Proverbs 27:17 acknowledges this double-edged nature of the sharpening blade:  “Iron sharpens iron; so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend (to show rage or worthy purpose).”   At times “the saints’ communion,” which was designed to be “comfortable and delightful” (Gill, in his commentary on Hebrews 10:24) can become uncomfortable and hurtful.  Unfortunately I have some firsthand knowledge of this too.  But the Lord has faithfully used these experiences to sharpen and refine me as well.  And I can say without hesitation that the blessings and joys of fellowship have far outweighed the pain and challenges.

So I’d like to close with a word to my friends.  Thank you for sharpening me through your words and lives.  Thank you for the ways you stimulate me to be a more enthusiastic follower of Jesus Christ.  Thank you for encouraging me to persevere and for extending grace to me when I fall.  I am a better person and Christian because of you.

(Oh, and the inspiration for this blog post?  Yep.  Time spent with a friend.)

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