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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Letter to a Disappointed Bride

Dear Disappointed Bride,

I know you wanted the sun to shine on your special day. Every bride does. We equate sunshine with joy and happiness. We feel like God is smiling down on us when the sun shines.

Of course you prayed for sun.

But instead you got rain. Or snow. (Or a tornado. Or two, like one recent Wyoming spring bride. Her pictures were epic, btw.)

So you had to go with Plan B. If you even had a Plan B.

I understand.

Friday was our eldest daughter’s wedding day. It started out sunny and bright, but by mid-afternoon the rain had arrived, uninvited. During a brief respite, we optimistically seated our guests for the outdoor ceremony, hoping to sneak it in before the next storm front rolled through.

The clouds darkened. Lightening threatened. We prayed.

And the heavens opened.

Literally.

We baptized our guests that evening. They fled for refuge into the barn where the reception–and now the ceremony–was to be held. (Some of them are even still speaking to us.)

Hello, Plan B.

Perhaps, like me, you sometimes find yourself secretly envious of those other “lucky” brides, whose plans to get hitched went off without a hitch. You might wonder why God didn’t answer your prayers in the same way. And maybe deep down you feel that He wasn’t blessing your union quite as much as He blessed theirs.

I’ve got some good news for you.

The superstitious believe that rain on a wedding day brings good luck. Some cultures view rain as a sign of fertility and cleansing. The Bible also has much to say about rain. I found this on a website explaining the symbolic meaning of biblical words:*

Rain:  Something refreshing, delightful.”

I know it didn’t feel delightful at the time. But biblically, rain, not sun, is the imagery most often used to indicate God’s blessing, favor and presence.

So let these truths from His Word disperse any clouds of disappointment still lingering after your storm…

1)  You were blessed.

I will make them and the places surrounding my hill a blessing. I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing. (Ezekiel 34:26, NIV)

2)  God was smiling on you.

When the king smiles, there is life; his favor refreshes like a spring rain. (Proverbs 16:16, NLT)

3)  He was there, right in your midst.

So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord. His going forth is as certain as the dawn; and He will come to us like the rain, like the spring rain watering the earth. (Hosea 6:3, NAS)

And one final thought…

4)  Our Plan B is always God’s Plan A.

Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails. (Proverbs 19:21, NIV)

He planned that our daughter’s wedding ceremony would be held in a barn.

He planned that His Son would be born in a stable.

His plans are always best.

Beloved bride, you will encounter storms and disappointments in your married life as well. Your wedding day was good practice in how to handle them with faith and grace. You’re off to a great start.

I hope this helps you feel better about that darn weather.

I know it helped me.

Love,

A Mother-of-the-Bride

P.S. It rained on my wedding day, too.

11393358_934448329909059_6895897376186555008_o

(Here is our elegant Emily posing for a bridal portrait in the barn. The light streaming in from the window above was like a spotlight on them during the ceremony. And the glory of the Lord shone all around.)

*www.biblestudy.org

**Huge thank you to Liz Osban Photography for this photo and for so masterfully capturing the warmth and beauty of their special day.

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10-Day Forecast

ThundercloudI fearfully checked the 10-day weather forecast yesterday morning. Our daughter’s outdoor wedding was just ten (count them, ten!) days away! Ten (count them, TEN!) little gray thundercloud icons greeted me. One unhappy Mother-of-the-Bride’s face greeted them back.

I immediately went into Prayer Combat Mode. Pray for sun! That’s what we’ll do! Pray every day! Get everyone we know to pray!

Pray, pray, PRAY!

Until I heard God’s voice in my spirit, clear and unmistakable:

Will you let ME choose the weather for the wedding?

Uh, excuse me, Lord?

I must admit that this question made me nervous. Very nervous. And while we’re being honest, can I also admit that sometimes God Himself makes me nervous?

Because, like the Narnian creature stated in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, while He may be good, He is not safe.

Safe?” said Mr. Beaver, “…who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

But I want safe!

What if He picks rain? Or a flood? Or, heaven forbid, a tornado?

I want SUN!

As I wrestled with the uncontrollable and unpredictable nature of God, I realized there was another, more important question I must answer:

Do I trust His heart? Do I really believe that He is good?

Could I surrender my idea of a “perfect” wedding day? Could I rest in my Father’s loving care and sovereign control?

For the Lord is good… (Psalm 100:5a, NIV)

Yes, the Lord will give what is good… (Psalm 85:12a, ESV)

No, He may not be safe. But He is most certainly good, and He will give what is good.

And I will trust Him.

I will not frantically follow the forecast. I will not pray and panic. I will not wring my hands in worry.

What relief clears our minds when we cease striving, demanding and working for what we want. What peace floods our souls when we rest as dearly loved children in a Father’s perfect plan. What joy invigorates our hearts when we let HIM define what is best and beautiful.

I have no idea what the wedding weather will look like.

But I know Who will be shining His favor and glory on a very special couple that day.

The King. Our Father.

Wild and wonderful is He.

For the Lord God is our sun and our shield. He gives us grace and glory. The Lord will withhold no good thing from those who do what is right. (Psalm 84:11, NLT)

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God, Thou Art Love

Can I share one of my favorites with you?  It’s a poem by Robert Browning.  I return to it often, because I think it is profound and timeless.

Read it slowly, prayerfully.  Let your soul bask in God’s strong love and rest in His sovereign care.

He’s got you, friend.

Woman in sunlight

God, Thou Art Love

If I forget,
Yet God remembers!
If these hands of mine
Cease from their clinging, yet the hands divine
Hold me so firmly that I cannot fall;
And if sometimes I am too tired to call
For Him to help me, then He reads the prayer
Unspoken in my heart, and lifts my care.

I dare not fear, since certainly I know
That I am in God’s keeping, shielded so
From all that else would harm, and in the hour
Of stern temptation strengthened by His power;
I tread no path in life to Him unknown;
I lift no burden, bear no pain, alone:
My soul a calm, sure hiding-place has found:
The everlasting arms my life surround.

God, Thou art love!
I build my faith on that.
I know Thee who has kept my path, and made
Light for me in the darkness, tempering sorrow
So that it reached me like a solemn joy;
It were too strange that I should doubt Thy love.

—Robert Browning

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The Very First Verse

TrustInTheLord

I was a sophomore in college.  Without a major.  Lacking direction.

Desperate for guidance, I opened my Bible and stumbled upon Proverbs 3:5-6.  As a relatively new believer, this was the first verse I ever really believed and took to heart.  I even put it to music on my guitar.  Although the tune and chords have faded from my memory, His words remain:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.*

In times of uncertainty we seek comfort in the familiar.  So today I returned to Proverbs 3 to enjoy the company of this old friend.  Bible commentators guided me, verse by verse, as I meditated upon its meaning.  I’ll let their words–and His words–speak for themselves.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart…

The Hebrew word for “trust,” batakh, means “to cling to…to confide in, to set one’s hope and confidence upon.” (Pulpit Commentary)

“We must trust in the Lord with all our hearts, believing he is able and wise to do what is best.” (Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary)

And do not lean on your own understanding…

“Those who know themselves, find their own understandings a broken reed, which, if they lean upon, will fail.” (Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary)

“The admonition does not mean that we are not to use our own understanding…i.e. form plans with discretion, and employ legitimate means in the pursuit of our ends; but that, when we use it, we are to depend upon God and his directing and overruling providence.” (Pulpit Commentary)

In all your ways acknowledge Him…

“The Hebrew verb yada signifies “to know, recognize.”  To acknowledge God is, therefore, to recognize, in all our dealings and undertakings, God’s overruling providence…” (Pulpit Commentary)

“Begin, continue, and end every work, purpose, and device, with God.  Earnestly pray for his direction at the commencement; look for his continual support in the progress; and so begin and continue that all may terminate in his glory…” (Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible)

And He will make your paths straight…

“The pronoun v’hu is emphatic, “he himself”  God here binds himself by a covenant.” (Pulpit Commentary)  (Wow.)

The New King James Version puts it like this:  “And He shall direct your paths.”  The word “direct” literally means to “make plain.” (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary)

I love the simplicity of the New Living Translation:  “Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”

Such rich insights!  Like time spent with a treasured friend, I left my study of Proverbs 3:5-6 feeling refreshed, encouraged, and inspired.

I can still picture that young college girl, guitar in hand, as she clung to this promise, and to the Lord, for the very first time.  He was faithful to guide her then.  He can be trusted to guide us now.

Lean on, trust in, and be confident in the Lord with all your heart and mind and do not rely on your own insight or understanding.  In all your ways know, recognize, and acknowledge Him, and He will direct and make straight and plain your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6, The Amplified Version)

*The New American Standard Version

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The Wall

Exactly forty years ago this spring, my father was navigating a plane over the jungles of Vietnam.  I was eleven, the oldest of three children in our family, and the one old enough to understand the harsh realities of war.  That year marked the end of my childhood.

It was a very difficult season.  Not only were we separated from my dad, who was in a war zone, but my mom eventually suffered a breakdown from the stress and was hospitalized, leaving my brother, sister and me in the care of a neighbor.  Since it was near the end of his one-year tour of duty, my dad was summoned (safely, thankfully) home.  My mom recovered, and our family was whole once again.  It was a year we were glad to put behind us and rarely discussed.

A few years ago I mentioned to a Christian counselor how dark and bleak that time was, how it felt like God was nowhere to be found, and how I still sometimes struggled with those feelings and fears of abandonment.  He encouraged me to ask God a simple question:

“Lord, where were You?”  

So I posed the question to the Lord.  And got nothing in response.  Silence.  A blank screen.  The counselor suggested I wait.  God would answer the question in His time and in His way.

Several months passed.  Still no answer.

One Saturday afternoon while flipping through the television channels, I happened upon a PBS program about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.  I had heard of this Washington D.C. memorial honoring those who lost their lives in the Vietnam conflict, and was eager to learn more about it.  Seventy polished black granite panels comprise the wall, which stretches nearly 600 feet long and is ten feet high at its peak.  Each panel is engraved with the names of those who perished or went missing, in chronological order.  There are a sobering 58,272 names in all.

I watched the screen intently as visitors to The Wall scanned the seemingly endless columns for the name of a loved one.  Tears fell when they finally spotted the familiar name etched in shiny ebony.  Some traced the letters lovingly with their fingers.  Many stopped to place a piece of paper over the spot to make a rubbing as a memento.  Others left behind flowers to mark a sacred place on that silent wall.

The moving and thought-provoking program ended, and I proceeded to take a shower.  As I tipped my head back into the warmth of the water, God whispered these words to my soul:

I was watching over your dad while he was in Vietnam, so you wouldn’t have to make a trip to that wall someday.

His voice was inaudible, yet clear and unmistakable.  I was deeply touched by this tender expression of His love for me.  And I had my answer.  He hadn’t abandoned my family, even though it felt like He had.  Though I had no conscious awareness of His presence during those dark days, He was there, and at work, carrying out His sovereign plan.

In December of 2010, I had the opportunity to travel to Washington D.C. with my own almost eleven-year-old daughter and the Cheyenne All-City Children’s Chorus.  One of our stops was the Vietnam Memorial.  A guide directed me to the section of the wall representing the year my dad served.  Quiet tears of humble gratitude slipped down my face.  By the grace and mercy of God, I was not there on a pilgrimage in search of his name.

Yet as I walked the length of that somber memorial, tears of another kind of gratitude stung my eyes and obscured my vision.  Gratitude for those who did pay the ultimate price in service to their country.  Gratitude for the sorrow their loved ones endured on behalf of an often ungrateful nation.  And gratitude for a God who is greater than our grief and bigger than all of our unanswered questions.

Photo taken at the Vietnam Wall, December 2010

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