God is Still Good

As I quickly reached to answer the phone – a call that I had been anxiously awaiting all day – I realized the number on my caller ID was not that of my pediatrician, but the hospital (is it sad that I know the hospital’s outgoing number?). My heart began to race – that wasn’t a good sign.

I spent the next ten minutes having a conversation that I had prayed so hard against for the last twenty-four hours; “abnormalities,” “more tests,” “surgery.” Words no mother ever wants to hear about her children, much less her toddler.

My daughter has struggled with gagging for the past year. Initially we thought it was a learned behavioral habit, but lately we realized it was much more. An X-ray this week confirmed our concerns. Her esophagus is too narrow, and her intestines may need to be repositioned. There would be a sedated CT scan to determine the extent of the abnormalities. Following the CT scan the doctors and I will decide what to do about these issues; they will almost certainly involve one or more surgeries. There are so many unknown variables that makes my mother’s heart tremble with a fear I have yet to overcome; but one thing I know with absolute unshakable certainty – no matter the outcome, or the difficulty of the journey getting there – God is still good.

About two years and nine months ago I was given news that rocked my world. My 32 week baby, my 4 day old daughter – the one who didn’t have any complications during the pregnancy – had a heart defect. I stared at the doctor in disbelief. This wasn’t supposed to happen. The pregnancy was hard, that was supposed to be my test. Now that they’d made it – now that they were here – they were supposed to be normal, healthy babies. I was shaken to my core – naivety shattered.

We waited the next 4 weeks in the NICU while the girls grew – waiting for her to be big enough to perform a heart procedure on. Finally around 4 weeks she was, and we consulted with the best pediatric cardiac surgeon in the world, in my very humble opinion. I kissed her sweet tiny body a million times, swaddled her in heart-cried prayers, and watched as they wheeled her out of my sight. Then the best pastor I have ever had the blessing of knowing sat with my husband and I in the waiting room the entire duration of her procedure. I can’t even remember now how long it was. At the end the surgeon came out and got us and told us that she was doing beautifully, and proceeded to show us an image of what had been done. A catheter was threaded through an artery in her thigh and up to her heart. Then a tiny little balloon expanded in her pulmonary valve, and a few moments later another balloon expanded even wider, effectively stretching the narrow opening. He then pointed out something no one had seen before; it was a tiny little hole in one of the walls of her heart. He explained that this hole allowed a release of pressure that the narrowing of her pulmonary valve had caused. Had the hole not been there it is likely that we would have had to do the procedure the minute she was born – 3 pounds, barely breathing on her own, incredibly unstable. It’s a hole that, experience has suggested, will close up naturally on its own by the time she’s five and shouldn’t cause any issues, but it was perfectly placed to sustain her while we waited for her to grow stronger. In the midst of a heart defect – God was still good.

Fear is a skin I have not been able to shed. I love my children fiercely, but I know that He loves them even more than I do. I know that. I know it in my head and I believe it in my heart. I just haven’t figured out how to find freedom from worry yet. So I sit and quietly sob in waiting rooms, fighting off visions of worst-case-scenarios where rare and unexpected tumors take the life of my precious three year old; or in the past when those nightmares were of cancerous lymph nodes or fatty tissues turned malignant tumors. My life is an unending cycle of anxiety and worry when it comes to the livelihood of my children. But I know it won’t always be – because God is still good.

I was in the Radiology waiting room when another mother came in with her daughter; a sweet timid looking girl hiding behind a well-loved rag of a blanket, her arm showcasing a bandage that appeared to cover an IV site. The mother had a reluctantly familiar demeanor – she’d been here before. She clutched a book to her chest and spoke softly to the check in receptionist. She was tired, and I could see behind the strength she was trying to maintain for her daughter that she was scared. I smiled at her as she sat across from me, and she weakly returned a half smile before quickly dropping her eyes back to the floor. I could see the burden weighing down her shoulders. I wanted to clasp her hands and tell her that I knew how she felt, I wanted to, but I didn’t. I wish I had. I wish I had sat with this mother, who was so much like me, and assured her that no matter what her fragile little girl’s MRI showed them – God is still good.

No matter the trials, hardships, or heartaches – God is still good.

No matter our fears, failures, and sins – God is still good.

Isn’t it such a relief to know that no matter our situations, or our responses to those situations, that His goodness never changes?

Whether we’re standing in His peace, confident that He will provide, or if we’re lying on the floor crying out in desperate fear; His goodness is unfailing.

Life is better though, when we are able to find our footing in peace, isn’t it? In the moments when I have been able to rebuke the spirit of fear and drank in His spirit of peace and faith, things suddenly seem less scary.

And I’m trying. I have only begun to fight against my fear, but I am trying. I know that worry accomplishes and changes nothing; only God can do that, only faith in God. Whether He takes her home from a heart complication, or an esophageal birth defect, or a cancer, or a car crash; or if he blesses her (and us) with a silver crown – God is still good.

She is getting to an age now where she’s going to start remembering; mimicking; she will begin to respond to situations as she sees me respond to them. It’s becoming about more than just myself and my abilities to trust Him; I am conditioning her responses to trials and tests. Do I want her to meet every storm with fear and anxiety or with peace and faith in the goodness of His plan?

I am flawed. I am imperfect. I allow my flesh to over-shout His spirit so many times.

But I won’t always. I can’t, because I have two precious little souls who are watching every step I take, and listening to every word that leaves my lips. So this isn’t the end of my story, and He isn’t finished perfecting His spirit in me. I know without a doubt that no matter how long it takes I will be freed. One day soon He will lead me out of my self made Egypt of fear and worry, and into His promised land, because He is God – and God is still good.


The Call to Mothering

The kettle whistled from on top the stove, and so I set my book down and exchanged my emptied coffee cup for a tea mug. As I made my way into the kitchen my eyes were drawn upwards towards the thumping that indicated the toddlers, who tantrumed their way to an early nap time, were once again out of bed. Sighing exhausted and defeated, I stirred some honey into a piping hot pool of Tazo Passion tea; today is going to be another day of lesson learning about obedience and discipline – and more for me than for them. So has it been the past week.

Not long (enough) ago I hit a low place in my mothering life. Overwhelmed by anger, frustration, despair, and complete exhaustion, one night I found myself looking horrified at the environment around me – an environment I had created; though more accurately I can see that it was an environment that I had failed to create, and was now reaping the product of careless cultivation. I knew that something needed to change. My children, my sweet, vibrant children, were suffering at the hands of a mother whose selfishness left them with little to glean life from. If they were pushing me to anger and resentment, it was because they were following the path I had put them into motion on. My husband, who has always been patient, loving, and gracious, was living with a wife who met him at the door with exasperation and petulance. I needed to change. I didn’t even realize how badly.

My lack of focus was robbing my life of joy, my children of their mother, my home of its keeper, my husband of his wife.

To change, however, meant to re-wire my brain. It meant to choose to see mothering not as a job to get through, or a temporary distraction from life’s real work, but to recognize it as my life’s central mission – second only to serving Jesus – though I would find that I could not fully do one without fully giving myself to the other simultaneously. I could not say that I was serving Jesus when I neglected the work He had given me to do, nor could I possibly succeed in becoming the kind of mother my daughters needed without laying down my life and finding all of my strength in Jesus.

Aided with the wisdom of mothers who have been-there-done-that, I began to dismantle the building blocks upon which I based my existence as a mother, and wife, and woman in general, and began to rearrange them. The effect has been immediate and life changing and it’s a wonder I survived the other way at all; though that’s truly all it was – survival, not thriving.

I have been transformed. It seems that it is a season of transformation. I never fully appreciated what was meant when I heard it said that the Lord was preparing us and transforming us until recently. I now realize that all the trials and tests, they are pruning for a season. This is that season. (Oh thank you, Jesus!)

I have begun to find my rhythm in the day to day with my children. I have begun to find peace that accompanies the knowledge that we are exactly where we are supposed to be doing exactly what we are supposed to be doing.

This mothering; it is holiness.

It is peace, it is grace; it is loveliness.

It is a mother who wakes up before her children so that she can fill her cup from The Father’s, because she knows that His grace is what will be required, and what is best.

It’s a mother who puts down her cell phone to explore the wonders of the back yard – connected only to little hands.

It is a mother who closes her laptop and joins in on rounds of Bah-Bah-Black Sheep and Away in a Manger.

It is a mother who chokes back careless words when a toddler has disobeyed again and chooses, instead, to speak life into these sweet little souls who have been entrusted into her hands.

It is a mother who carefully crafts beauty into her home so that her family will feel alive and loved by the sanctuary she has created for them.

It is a mother who invests in loving those around her, because she knows that practice makes perfect.

It is a mother who sits down at night with a glass of wine and the sweet love of friends in fellowship, because rest and caring for herself is essential to staying the course.

It is purposeful, and it all stems from obedience. Obedience to God over men, obedience to live in His presence and not the world’s, and obedience to humble myself and not only swallow, but discard my pride.

Obedience, obedience, obedience. It’s a word that is cringe inducing. It’s bitter to the taste because it implies sacrifice; sacrificing our will for someone else’s, sacrificing selfishness.

The world’s influence – it creeps. No God loving woman ever sits down and conscientiously decides one day to take the world’s path and forsake her Savior’s, or that Facebook is more important than the heritage of her children –it happens when we’re not vigilant. And it doesn’t happen on accident. There is a constant raging war for our homes and our families – for our souls. It is intentional; meant to break us apart from His will and each other, and take us out once we’re isolated.

In the bible women almost never existed alone. Their mothers or mother in law’s, sisters, aunts, cousins, and nursemaids did life with them constantly. A woman would consider raising a child on her own as a heavy burden to bear, and she knew the innate value of the silver crown her matriarch’s bore. She sat in the shade of her elders soaking up their wisdom while the sun shone on them as they worked side by side – day in and day out.

Now we live in a go-it-alone society where we are encouraged at almost every step to look out for ourselves first and foremost, and our elders are often scorned as being out of touch with the times, instead of looked to as an example. By deceiving us into thinking it is a desired accomplishment to be able to do life alone – without community or by our own strength – the focus shifts inwardly, to sustaining and elevating ourselves, and our energy and efforts follow in step. There is a sort of worldly pride found in being solitary in our own lives. Women more and more are being encouraged to secure their independence, not to be “tied down” by familial “obligations”; to make our own name, and to be self-reliant. Children are more often presented as a chore than a blessing, or something that we must deal with while we wait for them to turn 18 so that we can get back to our lives. We don’t want to think of ourselves as “just moms” (as if anyone could be just a mom!) because that implies we lack identity. Women are being urged not to make children their central focus; “You’ll spoil them” and “You’ll lose yourself!” are admonished.

And this is where the enemy finds his foothold and begins to filter in to plunder our heritage; our blessing. We diminish the vital investment that should be made in our children – the future generations of this world – content to leave it in someone else’s (or worse, their own) hands.

But when we have chosen our worldly rights over God’s blessing, and when we sow of the world, so then do we reap of it. Chaos, defiance, and selfishness abound.

When, however, we choose God’s way – when we accept the mission he has set before us – wholeheartedly, selflessly, intentionally investing ourselves into raising up our children as a heritage to the Lord, we will reap the sweet fruit of a house built on The Rock.

In the season of childhood mothering is consuming. In order to reach our children’s hearts for Him and to help them grow from saplings to strong Redwoods they require constant support, intentional guidance and direction, and it requires all of ourselves. But it is an honor! Mothering is not something done by default, it is a job of the highest calling; more important than scholastic education, more important than any financial gain; we are working for the souls of our children who will one day soon shape the world.

The time of sowing is upon me, and the labor is both heavy and continuous, but with my eyes fixed on an eternal reward it is a work I do with His song in my heart. I take the hands of likeminded mothers and mentors who have run their race, because there is strength found in fellowship and companionship, “and though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him – a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

So I will endure the days of discipline and obedience, clinging to the hope of His promise for those who seek to train their children up in His ways.

So, fellow moms – take heart. What you’re doing matters, and the way you love and train your kids with your whole heart will have an eternal consequence. Stay the course, and one day your children will rise up and call you blessed, and you will rest in the peace of knowing that He will never leave them or forsake them – and that is the greatest blessing of all.

“All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children. In righteousness you shall be established; you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near you.” – Isaiah 54:13-14

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Slow Cook Barbacoa (Mexican Shredded Beef)

I developed this recipe about a year ago and after a few trials and tweaks my family thinks it’s perfect!
If you try it please let me know what you think, and if you tweak it yourself let me know what you did! Enjoy!

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup of beef stock
2/3 cup orange juice
2/3 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons lime juice
1 tablespoon adobo sauce or one pepper from the chipotle in Adobo can like this – NOT to be confused with adobo powdered seasoning!
1 can of diced green chiles
1 Tablespoon of garlic
1 tablespoon cumin
2 tsp oregano
2 tsp black pepper
1 heaping tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon paprika
2 tsp corriander
3 tablespoon brown sugar
Salt to taste

1 Poblano pepper
1 large onion
1 green bell pepper
1 chuck roast

Crockpot method:
Place chuck roast in crock pot and salt
hop onion and bell pepper into thick chunks and place on top of roast.
Cut Poblano pepper in half and place it on each side of the roast

Mix the rest of the ingredients in a bowl and whisk to combine, pour over roast, set to low and let cook for 8-9 hours or high for 5 – 6 hours with the lid on.

(At this point you can shred and enjoy, but for the best flavor I would encourage you to continue to the next step!)
Remove the lid, shred the beef with two forks, and cook on low for another 4 hours, or on high for another 2 hours. — This condenses the liquid and results in a deep, rich flavor!

Oven method:

Place chuck roast in dutch oven or heavy duty oven/stove safe pot, and salt
Chop onion and bell pepper into thick chunks and place on top of roast.
Cut poblano pepper in half and place it on each side of the roast
Mix the rest of the ingredients in a bowl and whisk to combine, pour over roast
Cover the pot with lid and place in a 350° oven for 3 – 4 hours
Remove pot from the oven and shred the beef with a fork. (Again, as above, you *can* eat it at this point, but I really would urge you to spend the extra hours letting it reduce!)
Place on the stove top over a burner on low, keep lid off, for 2 hours or so
Serve over rice, or in tortillas, or any way you would like!

The Moses Problem

Writing is one of my greatest passions. It’s what I love to do and, on rare occasions, something I achieve with a degree of graceful success. Perhaps it’s because of how much I love it that I am far more sensitive to my obvious lack of expertise due to inexperience. I can write you a ten page college paper on the number 2 without blinking, but when it comes to crafting the thoughts from my crazy brain into something fluid and coherent, well, there’s a lot of blinking. I find myself comparing my writing to every other successful author’s, and nearly despair at the contrast in eloquence. “I wish I could write like that. I wish I could think of those things. I wish I had her writing finesse.” Discouraged I hang my head and close my laptop, hoping that the next day will gift me with a literary masterpiece like theirs. Or at least something worth reading.

I am also passionate about being a mother; though I admit most days, while in the throes of tantrums and poop, I don’t always feel it. Still, when the lights go out, the screams turn to whispered breaths, and delicate little eyelids are finally fluttering amidst dreams, my emotional reservoir refills; in the peace of the night I find my mothering heart renewed and restored. My children are, as Sally Clarkson affectionately says, “out-of-the-box.” They are feisty, they are wild, they are heart-breakingly beautiful; they are a challenge, and I catch myself constantly comparing both them and me to everyone else. “Why aren’t my girls as calm as her daughter? Why don’t my kids stay in bed like they do? Why do I feel so less together than she does? Why aren’t my kids talking as much as their kids?”

So I try to imitate, mimic, follow their lead, both in writing and parenting. I discard my thoughts and instincts in favor of someone else’s, believing that I am clearly not as equipped as they are – at writing, at mothering, at life. I’m searching for that magic formula that I believe someone else can give me, wanting to be just like them.

Lately in my readings I keep stumbling across the story of Moses, and last night while driving and belting my heart out to this album, Yahweh God brought a part of this story to mind.

Yahweh would eventually do great, wondrous things through Moses, but when He first spoke to him through the fiery bush, Moses counted only his flaws and shortcomings.

“And Moses said to Yahweh, “O, Yahweh, I am not a man of words, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant, for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.
And Yahweh said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes dumb, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, Yahweh? And now, go, and I shall be with your mouth and teach you what to say.
But he said, “O Yahweh, please send by the hand of him whom You should send.
And the displeasure of Yahweh burned against Moses, and He said, “Is not Aaron the Levite your brother? I know that he speaks well. And see, he is also coming out to meet you. And when he sees you, he shall be glad in his heart. And you shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth. And I am with your mouth and with his mouth, and I shall teach you what to do. And he shall speak for you to the people. And it shall be that he shall be a mouth for you, and you shall be an elohim for him.” –Exodus 4:10-16

Flaws and all, God had planned to use Moses. It was only because of Moses’s insistence that God brought Aaron along to help him. What if Moses had just trusted that Yahweh would equip him with everything he needed for the task appointed to him? What if he had believed that Yahweh not only knew him, but crafted him with purpose and intention? What if he wasn’t so concerned with fitting the world’s paradigm and simply allowed himself to be himself, as Yahweh had created him?

But he didn’t. So the Lord gave him a helper. He gave him Aaron.

Did Aaron feel inadequate, I wonder? Did he wonder why Yahweh chose him to speak for Moses instead of being the one who worked His miracles? Did he compare himself to Moses and question why he couldn’t be more like that?

This is what I’ve taken to calling the Moses problem. These men both played a monumental role in leading Yahweh’s people out of captivity, but they didn’t have the same job. They didn’t have the same characteristics, God didn’t use them the same way, they weren’t the same kind of people, but that didn’t make them inadequate for the job He did give them. Yahweh selected them for a reason; knowing better than even themselves how imperfect they were.

I will never be a Michelle Duggar, who aptly mothers with grace and composure; her children the pinnacle of respectful and proper. Nor will I ever be the next Francine Rivers, skillfully crafting together soul-moving stories and novels.

Or maybe I will be – if that’s the path that He chooses to lead me down.

Because the only thing I have to gain from letting my insecurities dictate my response to His prompting is the loss of an opportunity and blessing, and that’s not a gain at all, no matter which way you look at it.

No, I think instead I will continue to be who I am; realizing that, though my kids may be rowdier, and writing may be less experienced, He can, and does, use the imperfect to part the seas – and that is something I’m simply not willing to miss out on.