Friday, November 24, 2017

holding onto hope- the difference a year makes

One year ago today, I held my less-than-3-weeks-old nephew on his first Thanksgiving.  We took our first of many Aunt Kiki/Wild selfies.  I remember feeling so thankful for his sweet little self, and a twinge of sadness and fragile hope as I wondered if or when I would ever hold my own baby, and then a whole lot of guilt for even daring to feel sad at all.

11 months ago today, it was Christmas Eve.  After a 58 day cycle, I found out with certainty I was not pregnant.  It was my nephew's first Christmas, and I danced around family member's questions about when we were going to have our own baby.  I'm sure I gave very vague answers, like "someday", or "not yet", but the truth is that I was surrounded by joy when my heart was breaking.  I gave those vague answers while mostly avoiding eye contact and hoping my voice wouldn't betray me.  I sat there, just like the month before, struggling with the mixture of gratitude and sadness and hope and guilt.

8 months and 3 days ago, I sat with my very kind OB/GYN, and he told me what I feared but deep down already knew- that my body was broken.  He is so kind and used euphemisms and medical terms, but that's what I heard:  "you're broken".  And so began a lot of driving back and forth to the doctor's office and a lot blood work to confirm the brokenness and an attempt to fix my body and a lot of guilt that somehow this was my fault and a lot of tears and yet a little hope, because if we could get to the bottom of the brokenness, we could maybe get to a place of healing.

6 months ago today, I took my fragile hope and bought a "best dad ever" coffee mug, wondering if I'd ever get to give it to the world's cutest husband.  I took yet another pregnancy test.  And he drank Sprite out of that mug that very night.  While I had prayed for a baby many times before, that day, my prayers changed from "a baby" to "this baby."

5 months and 2 weeks ago, we had our first ultrasound, and I prayed, prayed, prayed we'd see a heartbeat.  We did.  We've seen it several times since, and heard it even more.

3 months and 3 days ago, we found out our baby is a girl.  We didn't believe the ultrasound tech and got a second opinion a few hours before our gender reveal party 5 days later 😂  (she was right- #sorryJoyce).  We named her that day and have fallen more in love with being a "girl mom" and "girl dad" every day since then.  I am so into all things our girl, and you can see the love on her daddy's face when he talks to her.  *swoon*

Just under a month ago, we took maternity pictures.  Pictures that I didn't know if we would ever get to take.  We are a month away from Christmas Eve, and if she comes a day late or anytime before, less than 2 months away from our little lady's arrival.

There's a lot of life that's been lived and still to be lived between these mile markers.  It's been an incredibly hard year and an incredibly joyful one.  I have cried more tears than I probably have in the previous 5 years combined, and I've experienced a lot of joy and love and hope, too.  At every single turn, God has been absolutely faithful, and I know He will continue to be.

If where I was last year is your reality this season- skirting questions, nursing wounds, walking with gratitude and sadness side by side, I pray you will not give guilt one second of your time.  Gratitude and praise is a choice we can make, and we can make that choice independent of our feelings.  Sadness is an emotion- emotions come, and they are real, and they are not wrong.  Feel them without feeling guilty for having emotions- it's part of being human.  Don't use the excuse of being busy to stuff them.  Take the time to get real with your emotions and give them to the only One who can give you beauty for ashes and dancing for mourning and laughter for weeping.  It is okay to be sad for what was and has gone, or what will be and is not yet, or what you hope for and are wondering if or when.  Also, budget your emotions.  I know that sounds strange, but if there is a particularly painful or sensitive event (or even season!) for you right now or coming up, give yourself grace in other areas.  (Example:  Hello, my name is Kayla, and I totally skipped a baby shower the week of Mother's Day this year.  I knew I needed to save my energy and emotions for the weekend.  So let that take some weight off your shoulds- you're not the only one.)

The enemy prowls like a lion, looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).  If you don't take your stuff to the Healer, the enemy will pounce on it.  The enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10), and he hates everything good, so he will take your sadness and try to choke out your hope.  If you sit in it long enough, he'll take the opportunity to sow seeds of bitterness.  He loves fear and anxiety- they are his favorites to use with me, along with guilt for feeling the way I do.  I am so serious, y'all- I've seen it in my own life.  Try to handle it on your own (whatever "it" is for you), without taking it to Jesus, and the result will not be good.

I've been there and sometimes I'm still there- battling perfectionism and people-pleasing disguised as "service" and anxiety and guilt over anything and everything.  I take the weight of the world on my shoulders, when the reality is that Jesus never asked me to.  I feel so responsible to save the world, when Jesus has already acted to save.  I want so badly to handle my junk and get it right and handle everybody else's junk and make it right, when Jesus is simply asking me to abide in Him and trust Him make it right.  I forget in my haste to do His work that I'm not God's employee- He adopted me and He calls me His kid (Ephesians 1:5, 1 John 3:1).  (Side note:  just typing that, I get tears in my eyes.  He doesn't need me, but He wants me.  What a good God.)

He has planned good things for me to do (Ephesians 2:10), but that doesn't mean every good thing.  Maybe the problem isn't that I can't do everything and get it all right by myself- it's in my sin when I act as if it all depends on me, when I was made to be totally dependent on Him.  And so I'm learning to take it to Him, as often as necessary.  When I catch myself trying to "fix" or "handle" or earn His love or taking on the weight of the world, I take it to Jesus.  I tell Him that He's the only One who can handle it, I ask His forgiveness for not trusting Him and working like it all depends on me, and I ask Him to help my unbelief, to help me do the things He has for me without inserting myself into things that aren't for me to do, to help me see things and people as He does.  It's hard and I can be a slow learner, but I continue to find He is patient and kind. 

A year ago today, I was shakily holding onto hope and learning to trust Him.  Today, I'm still learning to trust Him, but my hope is an anchor (Hebrews 6:19), and I can hold tight to it, because He who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23). 

Let your hope and confidence be in who He is, and who He is is faithful.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Selah Marie

Our precious girl,

First things first:  you should know that you're an answer to prayer.  I asked God for a baby over and over, many people who love us and some who barely know us asked God for a baby on our behalf, and He gave us you.  From the moment I found out about you, I have been incredibly aware of the fact that I'm physically carrying an answer to prayer.  That's you, Selah Marie.

One would think that, since you didn't come to us right away, your name would've been long planned. Not exactly.  Selah, you almost weren't Selah.  We absolutely love your name, but we hesitated because it rhymes with your mama's name.  Well, I hesitated- your daddy knew who you are.  Selah, your name comes from scripture, and we see it most often in the Psalms.  Psalms is a book of songs in the Bible, one of my favorite places to park my mind, and in many of these psalms, we see your name:  Selah.  There is a lot of thought about what Selah actually means- it's thought to be a musical direction.  When we see Selah in the Psalms, it is believed to tell us a couple of things:  to pause and reflect on what was just said, and to praise.

Dear one, you came to us after a pause.  I really thought that, when your daddy and I were ready for a baby, it would just happen!  But that's not our story.  We waited for you.  And while we were waiting, sometimes it felt like life was moving forward for everyone but me, like someone had pressed "pause" on my life.

Selah, it's because of you that I learned to praise our God in the pause, to give praise and gratitude when I didn't really feel like it.  It's because of you that I was reminded and learned in a new way that I don't worship or praise because things are going the way I think they should or because I feel like it, but because of Who He is, and He is worthy.  It's because of you that I learned to pause and ponder Him- His Word, His character, His goodness. It's because of you that I learned to trust- really trust, in a whole new way- in the goodness and faithfulness of Jesus, whatever that turned out to look like in my life.  Even if He never gave me what I so desperately wanted, He is good, faithful, and worthy of my trust.  Our Father lovingly used you before He ever sent you to us to teach me that everything I view as a pause is an opportunity to praise.  Every single time I say your name, I pause and praise.

On the day we confirmed that you're a girl, we were tossing around middle names, and Marie just stuck.  Your daddy said, "I think that's it," so I had to google to check meaning.  And when I did, I almost cried.  One of the "alternate meanings" (I have no idea who decided it's an alternate...) of Marie is "wished-for child".  Oh my girl- were you ever.  I hope you always know how much you're wanted.  By us, yes, but also by the God who made you.

Marie is a derivative of Mary, the name of the mother of Jesus and several other women we know in scripture who followed Him closely. Do you know when Jesus performed his first miracle?  It was at the request of his mother, Mary.  When others were consumed with getting things done, who sat at His feet, choosing what was better?  Another woman named Mary.  Who looked for Him at the empty tomb, and then ran and told others He is alive, just as He said?  Another Mary.

Selah Marie, my hope and prayer for you is that you come to know Jesus as your Savior and that you're a Mary kinda girl.  That you're not afraid to ask Jesus for a miracle, that you ask in faith and watch Him work.  That you take the time to sit at His feet every day of your precious life, knowing that He is better than anything.  That you seek Him and make Him known.

Selah Marie, it's because of you that I'm becoming a more Mary kinda girl.  I'm learning to ask Him for miracles, expecting and believing that He would come through.  I'm learning to be still, to pour out my heart and my tears at His feet.  I'm learning that no matter what it is that I want or need, Jesus is better and Jesus is more.  I've gotten to know Him better and make Him known more in the season of waiting for you and now in the season of preparing for your arrival.

Selah, I hope you do these things:  pause and praise, ask for miracles, watch Him work, sit at His feet, seek Him and make Him known.  My sweet girl, I hope you do, not because I want you to be "good", but because I want you to know and experience His best for your life. Because Jesus- He is the very best person to know.  I hope your daddy and I and our family and friends give you and teach you good things in this life.  More than anything, I pray we give you Jesus.  Because Jesus- He's better than anything else we could ever hope to give you.

This Jesus life can be tough, my girl.  There will be times when you can't see what He's doing and times you just don't understand.  Trust His heart when you can't see His hand.  Love of God and love of the people He has made:  this is what matters.  Don't get caught up in everything else.

I'm so thankful for you, and as crazy as it may sound, I'm so thankful that we waited for you.  The Lord has grown a new compassion in me for women who are hurting that wouldn't exist otherwise.  I have no doubt that we would have adored you, no matter when or how you came to us, but I truly believe that waiting for you has given me a different kind of appreciation for the treasure and gift that you are.  Jesus knew that.  He wasn't withholding goodness from me, Selah- He was giving me you.

As you grow, from the time you were smaller than a strawberry, I've been praying for you.  That your feet would be beautiful feet that bring the good news.  That your legs would develop perfectly and run the race He calls you to, not looking side to side at what other people are doing, but walking in the paths He has for you.  That your heart would be soft towards Him, that it would beat "Jesus, Jesus" with every heartbeat.  That your lungs would breathe in His grace and out His praise.  That your ears would be quick to listen, that you would be both a hearer and a doer.  That your eyes would see His goodness, and that you would see yourself and others as He does.  That your arms would be strong, lifting others up to Him and lifted in praise of Him.  That your hands would be open to His plans, that they would be about the work He has for you, again, not worrying about the assignments He has for others.  That your mind would be sound and sharp.  That you would not discount the things and tasks that seem small.  That He would form you perfectly for your good and His glory.

I love you so much, and I haven't even met you yet.  Hearing your heartbeat, watching your heartbeat and seeing you wiggle and wave on the ultrasound screen, watching my belly get bigger, feeling you move- I still can't believe you're mine.  More than mine, you are His.  It's my hope and prayer you always remember that. 


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. 😉

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. 

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 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,