Wednesday, August 23, 2017

the day I found out I was pregnant

It was a Wednesday.  I had jury duty and had been dismissed.

I did not want to take a test.  I really, truly didn't.  It didn't matter that I was on 8 days of being sick and 3 days of being late.  It was the end of the school year and I chalked my sickness up to being exhausted.  I had been later before and really didn't know if my heart could take the disappointment again.  I had had blood work done a week or so prior, so I knew I had ovulated (which was a pleasant change) and there was hope.  It almost made it harder- both my hope and my heart were fragile.

"Do It Again" by Elevation Worship had become my theme song in the past few months, but still I cried about it all morning, playing "Even If" by MercyMe over and over.  I texted two friends who have been there and asked them to pray for me- that I would remember the goodness of God no matter what any test said.

I pulled myself (somewhat) together and went to Petsmart to buy dog food, listening to my two themes the whole way there.  As soon as I parked, there was his name.  On a bumper sticker on a truck parked in the space in front of me.  Everett.

If you've read about the day I found out I wasn't pregnant (if you haven't, go back and read this before going on), you know that my husband and I named our future son Everett long before babies were on our radar.  I took a picture with my phone to remind me of this God-wink as I went through- what I was sure was going to be- a rough afternoon.

I bought food for the pups and went to Target.  I bought the test- a small box with 2 because I didn't want to think about how much money I had spent on negative tests and I was sure these would be 2 of the same.  I perused the aisles (because, hello, Target), and there it was.  A big coffee mug that says "best. dad. ever."  I slipped it into my basket and silently wondered if I would ever get to give it to my sweet husband.

I checked out at Target, minimizing impulse buys, and came home.  The tests stayed in the bag on the kitchen counter.  I started some laundry and sat down on the couch to do something mindless.  Nothing was striking me on Netflix so I turned to Candy Crush (go ahead and judge- whatever, man).  I don't link Candy Crush (my one game that I like, okay?!) to my social media, so I just play anonymously.  When you play anonymously and get your scores at the end of the level, it puts you on a "rankings board" with other, made up people.  I finished a level and it put me on this made up ranking board with made up people.  And there was his name again- Everett.

At this point, I decided I had to take a test.  It was afternoon and I knew a negative would give me perhaps more false hope, but I couldn't sit there and do nothing.  I had to know- the unknown was worse than any negative, this I knew very well.  I reminded myself that I had seen many negative tests before and I was still standing- I could do this.  So I gathered up what little courage I could find, grabbed the Target bag, and set off to take the test.

Then I cried.  Yes, more crying.  Yes, without having taken a test yet.
I cried and I prayed, "God, no matter what this test says, even if You never give me children, You're still good and You're enough.  Show me and remind me You're enough."

Before I took it, I told myself I would not even look at it until the 3 minute wait was over.  No peeking.  I took the test, popped on the cap, laid it flat on the bathroom counter, and went to walk away.  As I was walking away, I saw a pink line on the left side of the window I had never seen before.  I reminded myself it had been a while- I wasn't remembering correctly; I had seen one lonely line many times.

I walked out of the bathroom, turned on my heel, and walked right back in.

And there it was.
The moment I had thought about and prayed for and cried over and dreamed of.
After not even a minute, two pink lines.
And for the first time all day, I didn't cry.

All I could say was, "Thank You."

I have seen the name Everett many times in the almost year since what has come to be known as the day I found out I wasn't pregnant.  I see it always in unexpected places at unexpected times, and I take it as the Lord reminding me, "I AM El Roi, the God who sees, and I don't miss a moment."  Whether He sends us a son or all daughters, I will always see the name Everett and be reminded that  my God sees and knows me; He sees and knows my children before He ever sends them to us (Jeremiah 1:5).

He made a way when there was no way, and I absolutely believe I'll see Him do it again.
"He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children.
Praise the LORD!"  Psalm 113:9

Sunday, February 12, 2017

the day I found out I wasn't pregnant

Writer's note: You're about to get a glimpse into a struggle in this heart of mine.  Like most humans, I've asked God "why?" and every single time, the answer has been "for My glory and your good."  Can't argue with that.

I have written so much in the past 6ish months but am just now to the point of sharing (some of) what I've written.  I wanted to wait until I had a tidy ending, a joyful resolution, before sharing.  I really did.  We need people who have been where we are waiting at the metaphorical finish line, cheering us on, sure.  I wanted to be that person.  We also need people with us in the grit, the hard, the uncertainty, the middle.  Right now, that's who I've been asked to be.

I'm not entirely ready, to be honest, but when the Lord tells you it's time- well, sister, you better push "publish".  This is me, in the middle of the story, the hard, the grit, not knowing exactly how all of this will turn out.  This is me attempting to walk well in the struggle, knowing it's for His glory and my good.

Also:  this is a long one- you may want a snack before you get started. 😉
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It was a Tuesday.  I was so hopeful.  We had only recently said the word "baby" without "someday" attached and kicking it way down the road.  So many women around me have gotten pregnant without even trying, some while trying to prevent it.  Maybe that's why I thought it would happen quickly for us, too.


It was a Tuesday morning when I found out I was not pregnant.  I didn't expect to be so...sad.  Wanting a baby was a relatively new thing at Casa Cook, so in some ways, I felt like I didn't have much of a right to be upset.  But I was.  And I had a full day of 6th graders to teach.  They had no idea that their teacher's heart had just been broken right before they came to class.


Like I said, I didn't expect to be so sad.  Maybe a little disappointed, sure.  But I was honestly, deeply sad.  I cannot recall ever feeling that type of sorrow.  This was a different kind of hurt.


I put on a brave face and taught two blocks of math and one of science, I went to a meeting, I had bus duty.  I coached through a practice and decided to go to Starbucks before heading home.  When you're sad and you've been trying to cut back on caffeine for a baby you just found out you're not having, a pumpkin spice frappucino sounds excellent.  So I drove (totally out of the way) to Starbucks.  And I sobbed the whole way there to God.


"God, You know how much I want this baby.
Father, You're giving babies to people who don't even want them.
God, You know we love You and will raise this baby to love You.
Jesus, do You even see me down here?
I know this world is a messed up place and there's a lot of people needing a lot of things from You right now, Lord, but do You see this?
Do You see me?
My sister is due in 4 weeks.  4 weeks, God.
One of my very best friends is having twins, Jesus.
Every picture I see on social media is a newborn or a nursery or an announcement or maternity pictures or a gender reveal or a baby shower or an honest company diaper ad.
How am I supposed to do this, God?
God, for real- how am I supposed to do this?"


The weekend before, I wrote a letter to our future son, who we hope to name Everett.  We've had his name picked out since before we were married.  I wrote that letter believing that he (or his sister) was absolutely in my tummy and I just hadn't found out yet.  I was wrong.  And I was crushed.


I talked to (at?) God the entire way to get my frappucino.  I asked all those questions, and then I went from sad to mad and asked a few more.  I kept noticing all of these out of state license plates, but I carried on with my drive and my rambling.


When I got off the exit, trying to pull myself together so I didn't look like a total lunatic to the frappucino people, there it was.  I got stopped at a red light, right behind yet another car from out of state.  And there was his name.  The dealership they bought their car from?  Everett.


I actually said out loud, "Really, God?!  Really?!"
And then in my heart, "You know that's who I wanted to be in my belly.  And he's not.  And there You go, putting the name we want to give a baby right in front of my face."


Y'all, it made me mad.  It felt like a kick when I was down, salt in a really fresh wound.
And so, through tears (by now I had my frappucino and could get back to crying in the privacy of my car), y'all, I straight up said to God, and I quote, "How am I supposed to teach my babies that You are faithful when You aren't faithful to me in this?"


Immediately, I remembered the words I had typed in a letter to my future child the day before.
"Sometimes this Jesus life takes you through places and things you never would've dreamed, for better or for what seems like worse...
Though His plans may not look like yours, you can trust that they are the very best...
Because Jesus- He's the only thing we can be completely sure of in this life.  He always gets it right.
He is perfectly faithful...Run to Him, not away from Him, when things get hard..."


God identifies Himself (to Moses) as "I AM Who I AM" in Exodus 3:14.
"I AM Who I AM" translates to "I will be to you all that I AM."
This was my opportunity to let I AM be to me all that He IS.


And even though I was still crying, I managed to squeak out, "thank You." It started small at first. Then with each little thing, my voice got stronger.  And so did my gratitude.
"Thank You that You see me.  Thank You that You hear me.
Thank You that when You gave me words for my future child, they were words for me, Your child, too.
Thank You that You know my babies' names before You even send them to us.
Thank You for keeping us safe.
Thank You that Your plans are best.
Thank You that You have a plan.
Thank You that You are good.
Thank You that You are good to me.
You have been good to me, Jesus.
You are being good to me right now, even though this doesn't feel good.
You are faithful.
You have been faithful.
You will be faithful.
To me.
To my babies.
Thank You that You're faithful.
Thank You that I'm going through this so I can empathize with women who have felt this same sorrow.
Help me not be angry.
Help me know it's okay to be sad right now.
Help me to not stay sad.
Help me trust Your goodness.
Help me trust Your heart is for me."


Seeing my future baby's name, right there in front of my face, made me mad at the time.  It felt like a cruel joke.  But that same night, I could see through my tears that my children are known and loved by the Father before they're even being formed in the womb. (Jeremiah 1:5)
That sticker hurt in the moment, but now I can see it as God saying, "I see you.  I love you.  I know your heart and your dreams.  Your littles are Mine.  I know their names and I have good plans for them.  I love your littles more than you do.  Trust Me with them."


If you are going through the heartbreak of wanting to be a momma and it's just. not. happening.:  I have now been there.  And it is a heartache like no other.  It made me dread the next month before it even came.  It made me sob until my eyes were swollen.  It is the most lonely kind of hurt.  I'm so deeply sorry.  I really am.  If you're local, I'd love to hug you and get you a frappucino and talk to Jesus on the behalf of you and your future littles.  It is hard, this I now know.  And I'm sorry.  But you're loved.  And you are not alone.  Hear that, dear one: in your loneliest struggle, you are not alone.


Future Momma, it's okay to be sad.  Hear that so clearly:  it's okay to be sad.
It's okay to feel that pit in your stomach and lump in your throat when you get that pink and blue gender reveal invitation.
It's okay to feel mixed up when you feel intense joy for your friend's announcement muddled with your own wondering if or when it will ever be your turn.
It's okay to wonder how on earth you're supposed to go to (and smile through, what?) yet another baby shower.
It's okay to cry as soon as you make it to your car.
It's okay.
It's okay to want to scream at the next person who says "you're next!" or "when are y'all gonna have a baby?"
And also the next person who makes some comment about your "commitment to your career" being the reason you "obviously don't want kids" and/or "won't have kids for a long time."
(See also: "do y'all not want kids?", "can y'all not have kids?", "are y'all not ready for kids?", or even the opposite, "you're young- you don't need to worry about babies right now.")
Yes, these are all real things that real people have said to my real face. Every last one.
I am so serious.  I wish I were not.
(note:  no, I didn't actually yell at these people.  But I really did want to.  #thefruitoftheSpiritisselfcontrol)


Also- and I feel like it's so important that you know this, Future Momma- it's okay to bring your (mixed up, super huge...ok, just me?) thoughts and feelings and questions to God.  He can handle every single one.  Nothing you think or feel or ask is going to take Him by surprise or knock Him off the throne.
Bring them all and lay them down- no need for you to carry it all around, because He cares about you (1 Peter 5:7).
Bring them all and- for the love, no matter how you feel- please, don't stop talking to Him.  I promise you: you can come to Him angry because the goodness of God will meet you there.  You may come to Him angry, but because He's a good, good Father, He will hold you until you've calmed down.  He'll give you the strength you need.  You may come sad and broken, but He won't let you leave like that.  He will be to you all that He IS.  Let Him be to you all that He is.


He is making everything beautiful in His time.  He is a God of redemption.  Jesus loves to heal and rescue and restore, and He is so, so good at it.  I'm praying for you, Momma.  I'm believing that He is going to redeem your story and make it such a beautiful reflection of His love and grace.  I'm believing He's doing the same thing with mine.



Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Real Enemy (spoiler: it's not whichever human or establishment you just thought of)

I originally wrote this post as a guest blogger for Create In Us Ministries in May of 2016.  If you're reading my blog for the first time, welcome.  Stay a while.  I don't write often but I write from the heart, always.  I also write like I talk so if you don't know me in real life, bless your heart- hang in there.  You're loved. If you get nothing else from anything I write, get that:  you're loved. 
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I'm a middle school teacher, so it should come as no surprise to you that I love middle school things.  The Biebs, Pretty Little Liars- they're my jam.  (I can feel you judging- really it's fine.  I've accepted that I'm a nerd.)  Also on my list of middle school madness:  The Hunger Games series.

If you're not familiar with The Hunger Games series, I'll give you time to google a synopsis.  (Go for it.  I'll be here all night ;-) ).  In the second book and film, Catching Fire, there's a point towards the end where Katniss (our heroine) has been separated from her love interest, Peeta, and it seems that her allies have turned against her.  This is a fight to the death, so the situation is fairly dire.  She hears Finnick, one of her allies (maybe?) shouting her name, and she gets a clear shot of him through some brush.  Katniss is an excellent archer; she has her bow pulled and her arrow ready to take flight.  Just then, she and Finnick make eye contact, and he says ever so clearly, "Katniss, remember who the real enemy is."

It was around Christmas time and I sat crying in the front seat of my husband's car because the holidays can be difficult for me as a 20-something, recovering pleaser, who is still newly married.  How in the world were we going to be in 38374 places at once?  And we can sing all that "all I want for Christmas is you", a la Mariah Carey, but what we were really singing in our hearts was "all I want for Christmas is you and for you to go along with all of my family's traditions because I want those for Christmas too".  And while we sat in silence waiting (hoping?) for the other to be the first to offer compromise, I heard that precious whisper in my heart, not from a fictional character, but from the Lover of my soul:  "Remember who the real enemy is."  Hint:  his name is not Garrett Cook.  Nor families who wanted us to be in 38374 places at once.  Or anyone else I've met in the flesh.

See, "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." (Ephesians 6:12)  In the words of Priscilla Shirer in her book Fervent (stop reading this blog and go read her stuff immediately), "The real enemy isn't your husband.  Or your teenager.  Or your brother's wife.  Or your mother-in-law.  Or the weather.  Or your sweet tooth.  Or whatever powder keg of frustration really gets under your skin and sets you off before you can think straight."
We have an enemy, and he's real, and he's strong.  But Jesus is stronger.  When we belong to Him, the enemy has lost us for all eternity, but that gives him all the more reason to mess with our here and now.

In the interest of being transparent, my heart has been bruised this week.  And for the first time in quite a while, I've found myself having to really fight for a soft heart.  To deliberately choose to show up and choose grace for myself and others.  To choose love over anger.  To consciously decide to remember who the real enemy is.  Jesus is the only one Who is perfectly faithful, and He is asking me to make these choices.

And so I do.  I make these choices sometimes through tears, which Jesus lovingly collects (Psalm 56:8).  I make these choices because when Jesus asks me to do something, I trust that His purpose is good and His heart is for me.  He loves me and He proves that love over and over; obedience is how I show I love Him back.

This week, when conflict erupts in big ways or small ways, when things get janky (janky:  a middle school term for busted and jacked up) and have to be made right, when you've been hurt or you're the one who has done the hurting (we've all been on both sides, by the way)- remember who the real enemy is.  And if he's working this hard, what amazing things is he trying to keep us from?  I can't wait to find out.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

a letter to my husband on our first anniversary

Dear Mr. Cook,

One year ago today, we experienced one of the most beautiful days the Lord created, and I experienced what could be described as the calmest day of my life.  I know, I know- this anxious heart, calm?  Crazy calm.  One might describe it as weird.  Others would describe it as peace that passes understanding.

I spent most of my crazy-calm day with some amazing friends. We snacked, we talked, we laughed, we got our hair did and played with make-up.  You know your girl- I love me some snacks, I love time with my people, I love girly things, so it was fabulous.  We got dressed, took some pictures, and waited for 5:30.  We were actually ready super early. I know you find this hard to believe, but many can confirm.  Ask my dad- he'll tell you.

As our grandparents and moms walked down the aisle to Nichole Nordeman's "I Am", I was reminded of Who God is.  I worshipped as my brother played "Divine Romance", as our dearest friends walked down the aisle to stand beside us.  And while some of our favorite people in the world sat in one sanctuary, while you waited for me at the end of the aisle, we all paused.  And we listened.  To the first two verses of Crowder sing "How He Loves".  240ish of our favorite people in the world listened to a description of how our Jesus loves them, how beautiful He is, and how great His affections are for us. 

I can only imagine that those were the longest two verses and first chorus of your life.

As I made it to the end of the aisle, after our Declaration of Intent, as we walked up the stairs to the alter, your whisper of "that's a lot of ruffles..." still makes me laugh.  Two precious women read scripture that I will always treasure.  From Ruth, "Where you go, I'll go.  Where you stay, I'll stay..."  From James, "Every good and perfect gift is from above..." From Colossians, "clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience..."  From Romans, "honor one another above yourselves". 

Can I just tell you that I love that we wrote our vows?  I love it.  I also loved that you told me to "slow down, Tonto" as I rushed the last line :). "Faithfully, constantly, prayerfully"...that's how I strive to love you daily.  We built our unity cross, took communion (featuring purple vitamin water instead of grape juice), sealed it with a kiss.  Just like that, we were married. 

We celebrated with a beautiful candle-lit reception. We had a delicious dinner (I'd kinda like to have that mac and cheese again), danced our first dance to "Never Stop (wedding version)", cut a Tiffany blue cake, ate Krispy Kreme doughnuts, and loved on our people.  We kissed under confetti poppers before we drove off to wedded bliss!  
...then it took us an hour and a half (instead of 20ish minutes) to get to our hotel.  #bbqfestivalincharlotte  Thanks for getting us there safely as I napped off all that excitement :) 

No doubt, 10/18/14 was a fairy tale start to our marriage.  And marriage is always that fairy tale when you love each other so much, right?  Loved ones told us it could be tough, but I really thought "they must not love one another as much as we do."  Ha. #clueless This first year of marriage- I think we can agree that it's been harder than we expected.  I hope we can also agree that it's been better than we expected.  We've seen our share of hard this year.  We've seen our share of joy this year.  At every turn, in the easy and the hard, in the laughter and the tears, I've seen that you are an excellent husband.  And I couldn't have chosen any better.

I've learned more about God and His grace this year than I knew possible, and I know this is just the beginning.  I thought I knew God pretty well.  And maybe I did.  But I know that I know Him so much more for being your wife.

I know Him more because you have shown Him to me.

You have shown me Christ in your selfless service around our home.  You've shown me Who Jesus is in my hardest moments, responding with real kindness when answering harshly would've been much easier.  Your compassion in my surgery recovery and as I wrestle with an anxious heart is priceless to me.  You've seen my selfishness and flaws and met me in my brokenness, loving me enough to meet me there yet loving me too much to leave me to myself.  That's big love.  That's what it means to love another as Jesus loves. 

And, dear one, that's the purpose of marriage. 

Marriage isn't supposed to make us happy all the time.  That is a cultural lie that so many have bought, that at times, I have bought.  Being your wife has brought me incredible joy.  But in the tough moments, I remember the words of Lysa TerKeurst: marriage is a decision to honor the Lord by honoring the one He has entrusted to me.

At the end of each day for the past 365, I'm so glad He entrusted you to me, and me to you. 

We haven't done this marriage thing perfectly. Not even close.  In fact, I could think of at least a dozen ways I've failed in the past 24 hours.  But we have a Rock solid foundation, and in our imperfections, we can show up for each other and let God have this thing called our marriage.  Let's keep bringing our willingness and watch what He does. 

Thank you. Thank you for showing up every day, for loving me so big.  For working hard, for having my back, for having a loyalty to me that I never have to question.  Thank you for praying for me.  For holding my hand in the grocery store.  For sitting through Shark Tank when you'd rather watch a ball game.  For pretending those over-cooked pork chops were delicious.  For being the voice of reason, the giver, the calm.  Thank you for reminding me of what matters most. Most of all, thank you for showing me more of Who our God is. 

Happy Anniversary, Mr. Cook.  I really love being your Mrs.  The best is yet to come!  
 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

back to school

It's back to school time, dear heart!

I have to tell you- I love being a middle school teacher.  Love.  It.  Which is a little weird.  Because 1- who really likes middle school? *raises and waves hand frantically*, and 2- I started teaching as a 1st grade teacher (long story on how I got to middle school- another post, another day)

Anyway, I heart middle school.  I love it because I can vividly remember what my bookbag looked like in 6th grade and what I wore for the first day of 8th grade (pink skort, anyone?).  It wasn't so long ago that I was in the middle of my first crush and rocking a middle school cheer uniform.  There is an honesty and a trust in children that tends to burn out the older we get, but it burns brightest right before it goes out, and that brightest burn happens in middle school.  There is a weirdness and an awkwardness, and a whole lot of laughter.  Middle school is messy.  And so is life.

On Monday, we welcomed a new batch of kiddos.  These precious ones stepped into this weirdness called middle school for the first time.  I have friends who teach at our elementary feeder schools, and we often text, facebook message, or chat in the aisle at the grocery store about which of their littles are in my classes.  One of these friends is Jennifer Smith: writer/speaker (go check out Create in Us Ministries.  Do it now.  I'll wait.), pastor's wife, super mom, 4th grade teaching extraordinaire (can you tell I adore her?).  Our chat happened on Sunday after worship.

Our church meets in an elementary school, and after our worship service, our pastor invited us to do a prayer walk to pray over the school where we meet each week, for the teachers and kids who will learn there this year.  Post-prayer walk, Jennifer and I were talking.  She mentioned a child's name to me, a child she adores.  The very same child was not originally on my roster, but mysteriously ended up there.

I met that sweet one right around 8:00 Monday morning.  She was so nervous, but I recognized her name and let her know I was Mrs. Smith's friend.  And her sweet face lit up like a Christmas tree- "Oh!  You're that Mrs. Cook!  Mrs. Smith told me about you!"  In her mind, being Mrs. Smith's friend made me okay.  I'm good with this.

A little while later, this little came up to me and said, "I can tell you and Mrs. Smith are friends.  You remind me of her.  Like how you call people 'friend' and stuff and...you just remind me a lot of her."

Out loud, I said something to the effect of "Oh really?  That's neat.  I love Mrs. Smith!"

But on the inside, I was a little taken aback as I almost immediately thought, "We serve the same God; it's the same Spirit, dear one."

I love my friend Jennifer.  I think she is a star, and I so admire the way she knows Truth and chases after the Lord, and I periodically want to be her when I grow up. But I wasn't made to be Jennifer or my mother or any other person I admire. We each have our own unique set of personality traits, gifts, talents, struggles, that combine to make us who we are and to fulfill a purpose that is just for us.  The purpose for each of us is to know Him and make Him known; our individual purposes essentially come down to how we do that. I don't say that with pride; I say it with humility and a large awareness of how unworthy I am to even get to be a teeny, tiny part of this thing called the Church.  

Jennifer and I both follow Jesus.  Because of this, we are members of one body called the Church.  Because we follow Jesus, we walk with the Holy Spirit. And the fruit of that Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-33)  God in His creativity and grace has made each of us unique, and to be members of one body, with His Spirit producing that fruit in us. 

See, I've gotten it mixed up.  I thought that I had to do and be and have those things to have the Holy Spirit.  Really, it's because I have the Holy Spirit that He produces those things in me.  I thought if I produced the fruit, I got the Spirit.  But it's because I have the Spirit that He produces the fruit in me. 

My mix up has caused me a lot of despair. I looked at the things I've done and said that aren't loving, kind, faithful, or full of self-control (just to name a few) and the list was looooooong. And I took it to mean that, because I've been less than patient (and the other fruits) and because I still mess up, I don't have the Holy Spirit.  And I panicked.  The thought of not belonging to Jesus, not having the Spirit, not walking with Him terrified me.  I was losing my mind over it- I want to love and serve the Lord and I was being flooded with reminders of how I haven't done that. 

I tried to take it to God and I kept telling Him things like, "I don't know how You can forgive me.  Look at all these ways I've failed You!  How can You still love me?  How can You still use me?"  Gently, slowly, the Lord has been showing me that I don't "earn" the Holy Spirit by being loving, kind, and faithful; I become those things because I have Him.  I have Him because of my faith in Jesus alone as Savior.  When I bring Him my shortcomings and failures, He is faithful to forgive. (1 John 1:9). And this aggressive forgiveness called grace is a gift through faith; I can't earn it by being loving or good or gentle (Ephesians 2, Romans 4:5, 6:23).  Because, friend, in reality, I'm none of those things without Him. (John 15:5).  Being near to Him is my only good (Psalm 73:28).  

This school year, it is my prayer that I believe with all my heart that I don't have Him because I'm producing fruits, but I produce those fruits because I have Him.  That l will walk in the freedom of that truth so I can be who He wants me to be and do the things He has called me to do.  He is faithful, and I am grateful. 

Growing in grace,
Kayla  








Wednesday, July 22, 2015

when the helper needs help

I am a helper by nature.  Always have been.  My parents were the first of their friends to have a baby, and as each child was born, I took it upon myself to be their "mini-mom".  I've volunteered to serve and help since before I can remember and in many different ways.  I'm a teacher; I help for a living.  I love to cook and love taking meals to people. The older I've gotten, I've realized that, in many ways, that's how I show my people I love them:  I see a need, and I fill it. Love is a verb, and I strive to love in action.  In my heart and mind, that means meeting the needs of people where they are. 

Just over 48 hours ago, I had my gallbladder removed.  And the helper became the helpless.  This is my first surgery, and I have to be honest:  I'm not exactly a model patient.  I've had a lot of pain, especially at night, in spite of following the doctor's orders to the letter.  But some of the pain has been in my heart:  I hate needing so much help.  Like really hate it.  Because of my currently limited mobility and because of medications I'm on, I'm not able to be left alone.  I love having my people here, that's the best, but I hate feeling so useless. From waking my husband in the night to help me sit up, to depending on my mom to help me shower, I'm just pretty dependent right now.  Last night, between the physical pain and hating needing help, I cried and cried.  My heart was just sad. 

In the midst of my tears, I felt in my heart:  independence is not a fruit of the Spirit.  Independence is not what my Savior desires for or expects of me.  In fact, He wants me to depend on Him completely and only.  The only person who is disappointed and frustrated by my lack of independence is me. And Jesus, in His compassion and grace, has shown up over and over in very real and tangible ways, encouraging me to fight for a soft heart and to find my identity in Who He is and what He has done, not what I can or cannot do. 

He has shown up through some incredible friends, who came from near and far this past Saturday to help us move so I could recover in our new home.  He has shown up in my sweet church family, praying peace over me with such love and sincerity, speaking words of encouragement.  He has shown up in the pastor who married us, who came to the hospital to pray with me before surgery and stayed until I was well in recovery.  He has shown up in the women of my life group, who have been and are providing dinner for Mr. Cook and I nearly every day this week.  He has shown up in my sweet husband, adjusting pillows and helping me do such simple tasks as sitting up with such compassion.  He has shown up in family and friends as they have cleaned my house, brushed my hair, played with my dog, sent pictures to make me laugh, brought flowers, called and texted to check on me, and so much more, and all with such cheerful hearts.  He is present, and He is teaching me to rest:  in His provision, His grace, His great love and compassion, in Who He is.  I am a go-er and a do-er; I do not do "still" very well.  But my Martha heart is learning be be still and know that He is God.  It's amazing the lengths He will go for me- to the cross and to the OR, that I might be still and know. 

Learning to chill out,
Kayla


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

how the house was bought

Hello, dear Reader!  It has been so long since I've written- about a third of a year.
A lot can happen in a third of a year.
In this third of a year, there have been struggles and there have been moments of clarity.  There have been loves and there have been losses.  In our largest, most exciting news, Mr. Cook and I are now homeowners!  It is a decision that was covered in prayer from the beginning- both ours and others- and so, even though there were many bumps along the way, I have confidence that we are in the right home for our little family to laugh and love and grow.  NO- we are absolutely not expecting!  Our little family is Mr. Cook, me, and our labradoodle Teddy, and that's enough for us until the good Lord says otherwise :)  We also joined a new church!  This, too, was a decision covered in prayer, and I know that the Lord has led us to our new church home for His purpose.  We love our new church family so much already, and we are excited to see the ways we grow and serve there.

This house (our house?  weird, still!) and this church have been straight from the Lord.  And I say that with complete sincerity.  As little as less than a year ago, there is no way we would have been in this church, in this home, in this town.  No.  Way.  Mr. Cook wasn't having it.

Mr. Cook and I both grew up in wonderful areas, but they are pretty different from each other.  In August, we got an apartment closer to my neck of the woods (but in a mutually agreed upon, different town) where I lived with our pup until we got married in October, when Mr. Cook moved in with us. And we have loved this little apartment, but we were anxious to get to a house.  All in due time, we said.  As we began to talk about becoming homeowners, the questions came up:  soooo what do we want in a house, and where is this house going to be?

What grand questions!  We agreed that we wanted to purchase a home where we could stay put- we did not want to be in the position of having to move, but rather wanting to move (i.e., we didn't want a home that we would immediately outgrow by adding a child).  We agreed that we wanted a large yard for our pup and someday child(ren)- Lord willing.  A neighborhood was fine, but not necessary, and we desired privacy.  A house where family and friends could come and feel welcome and not crowded- plenty of space for our people to come and be.

Those are all great things to agree on.  So where should this be?

I knew where my heart of hearts wanted to live.  I also knew there was no way Mr. Cook would live there.  A small town just a few short minutes from where I grew up- this town and mine share a high school (until they built a new one two-ish years ago- long story).  Knowing that it was too close to my hometown, I continued to offer suggestions in the town where our apartment is.  I mean, he agreed on an apartment there, so why not buy a home there?  Mr. Cook, ironically, named a small town just a few short minutes from where he grew up.  ...almost an hour from where I grew up.  I stayed mostly quiet and said we would look into it...translation:  yeah, no, I'm not living there.  I got the same response from him- "we'll look into it", same translation.

I have to be honest:  I struggled with this.  And I struggled some more.  I told myself it was not that large of a deal, that home is wherever Mr. Cook and Teddy are.  While that is true, I also knew that is is where we would someday raise a family.  Mr. Cook had nothing tying him to the little community I wanted to be in (which I hadn't even said out loud at this point- I kept offering my compromise- our apartment town- as my suggestion), and my main objective was to be close to my family and relatively close to my job, where I still knew a few people without being right in the middle of my hometown.  I couldn't stand the thought of moving so close yet so far away, in a new little town where no one knows either of our names.  And so, what to do in this situation, except bring it to the One who knows not only my name but the desires of my heart.

I prayed over this for months.  Months, y'all.  This was not a one hit wonder prayed at night and the next morning my hubs agreed.  Mmmm no.  We kept browsing online and showing each other different homes in each community.  So I continued to pray:  Lord, if it is in Your will, please don't make me move far from my family.  Please let us stay close.  It doesn't have to be this town, it doesn't have to be that town, but please, God, not too far from my people.

I prayed that prayer over and over with what appeared to be no real answer.  But I know my God and I trust Him, even when He is silent.  My heart began to change as I realized and remembered that even if He asked me to move away, He wouldn't ask me to move away alone.  I still prayed my prayer, but I started adding to it- thank You that I'm not alone, thank You for taking care of me.  Jesus, show me that You're enough.

One Saturday night in March, at McAllister's deli (hot date, right? ;) ), we were talking, and out of the blue, Mr. Cook says, "You know where I think I'd like to live?  Stanley."

And I nearly fell out of the booth.

People, I hadn't even mentioned Stanley to him because I just knew that it would be a complete no, as in, not even on the table.

We also started talking that night about feeling called to a different church- we didn't know where yet, and it wasn't totally clear at the time, but looking back, I think we knew we were being led down a new path, to a new place, in a new season.

The next morning we visited what has become our new church home.  Guess where?  Yep, Stanley.  We love Depot Church and the friends we have made there already.  We are so thrilled to be a part of this church, to serve our new community (side note:  we were not unhappy where we were, just felt called to something different).

This is part of my story, and I'm blessed by it, but please don't take this as, "if I ask God for something, He will give it to me!".  He's not a genie.  Does He have the power and the ability to give us more than we can ask for or imagine?  Absolutely (see Ephesians)!  But His ways and thoughts are higher (see Isaiah), and that means that He may say no.  Please trust that when He says no, He's not doing so to withhold good things from you!  He loves you.  He loves you so much.  And that means He wants what is best for you.  Sometimes we can't see what's best.

Before the house we bought, we put in an offer on another great home.  I loved this house- it was great!  Not everything on our "wish list", but really close, and an excellent first home.  So we put in an offer and we prayed.  I literally prayed that if this wasn't the house we should be in, for the Lord to block the offer.
Then the offer fell through.  And I cried.  And I fussed about how unreasonable the seller was being.  And I cried some more.  Mr. Cook (the calm, the logic, the 100 watt smile) said, "Look, you can't ask God for something and then get mad when He does what you asked Him to do.  It's not the right house.  We'll find it, but that house isn't it."
Shortly after, we found the house we now call ours.  It had more from our "wish list", a bigger yard, and some extras that we wouldn't have asked for in a first home.   My God wasn't withholding good things- He was giving me better.  He was putting our family where He wants and needs us to be.  By doing so, He was putting another family where He wants and needs them to be- in the first house we put an offer on.  His ways and thoughts are higher, and He works all things- all means all, every single thing- for His glory and our good.

That's grace, friends.  His grace was covering up every moment of these months, and we see it in very real and tangible ways in our home, our church, and in our hearts.  His grace continues to show up, even in our less than graceful moments.  When I was crying and fussing over my perceived dashed-dream, He was pursuing me and leading me to something greater.  What is that, if not grace?

If you've made it this far, thank you for caring enough to read the thoughts of my heart.  If you're a regular reader, you know that my posts aren't usually so journal-ish, but I thought it was important for you to know a part of how God is working at Casa Cook in recent months.  Now that school's out for summer and we are homeowners, blogging should move its way back up my priority list.

From a home that is better than what I would have put myself in,  all because of His grace,
Kayla