Small Armies of Women in the Word

As I watch the landscape around me shifting slowly but surely, I see women coming together in the name of Jesus.

I have a love-hate relationship with my Tuesday night routine.  After the normal homework, taxi-cabbing, dinner, bath, & bedtime routines, I set my face like flint to get ready for the next morning.

I set my to-go coffee mug under my Keurig.

I put my Bible and keys beside it.

I set my clothes on my bathroom counter.

I crawl into bed and take a deep breath before setting my alarm: 4:35AM.

Have I mentioned that I HATE getting up in the morning, especially before 5?  And yet, this has been the normal routine in my household for nearly 150 consecutive Tuesday nights.

Why would I put myself through this kind of torture?  Because on the other side of that Wednesday morning alarm, when I’m grouchily finding my way to the Keurig, I remember that very shortly I will be having one of the most important meetings of my week.  In just a few minutes, I will drive across town and find a spot on the couch, or on the floor, and we will have “church”.

It’s not the kind of church you’re thinking.  It’s much more informal and doesn’t include singing or liturgy of any kind.  My friend’s living room doesn’t have a communion table or an altar. Instead, we’re surrounded by a play kitchen and some dolls.  But it’s no less holy ground. Ordinary lives have been transformed in that space. Sins and struggles have become words uttered out loud for actual ears to hear while shackles of shame began to break.  Hopes and dreams have been shared and surrendered. Words of truth and grace have been proclaimed, one to another; and the Word of God has been powerful and effective in that space- living among us and within us as we share life together before the sun rises.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:24-25

3 years ago, the consistency of this kind of thing would have seemed like something that only super spiritual, super disciplined people from some sort of mega church do- not ordinary people like me from small town USA.  With my job as a teacher, 3 kids busy in the evenings with activities, and a husband with a demanding job- I counted myself blessed to be a part of shorter women’s Bible studies that met (later in the mornings!) in the summertime when life had more flexibility.  Those seasons were an oasis to me- the extra accountability to be in the Word and in fellowship with other women was something I looked forward to every summer.

But then August would arrive in all of it’s haste.  Time for fresh school supplies, time to prepare for a new group of students, time to get back into a more rigid bedtime and morning routine, time to make room for another year of learning and growth.  But along with that transition, a subtle shift in mindset: no more time for the luxury of consistent spiritual formation.  

That changed in 2016.  As our summer Bible study wrapped up and we did our usual switching of gears to ramp up for the school year, my friend, Alex, and I had an honest conversation about how we were afraid of our own “drifting” in the year ahead. We recognized the apparent fruit of the Spirit and activity of God so much more clearly when we had consistent time of study in the Word and in fellowship.  We also reflected back on how, even though we had been very active in our church throughout the school year, we sensed that our lives were much less grounded in truth and the fruit of the Spirit somehow felt more quenched when we weren’t actively engaged in a fellowship of Bible study. We were certainly growing in the midst of the larger context of the church, but some piece was missing.

And so, the confession of a problem slowly morphed into a potential, albeit crazy, solution.  Why can’t we continue to study and meet throughout the school year? The obvious answer was that we could, but with a few sacrifices:  giving up a day of our morning exercise regime and forfeiting some sleep. As we counted the cost, we felt hopeful that the gains would be worth it in the end so we made a plan: Wednesdays @ 5am!

Looking back now, I’m in awe of how that small pivot of “making room” for more of God’s Word has nearly turned my life upside down and inside out in the most beautiful of ways.  Only God knew the spark that would be lit as a result of that pivot into that plan. Only God knew how that spark would slowly burn into a holy fire, multiplying around our community and even around the world.  God’s Word is like that.

Gradually over time, God has added to our group of 2- a hungry soul here and a thirsty heart there.  Many of us weren’t even friends before our group, some I didn’t even know. Some had never studied the Bible before and now their homes are in the process of being transformed by its power.  Many of us don’t run in the same circles or attend the same churches, but together we are The Church.

We have wrestled and prayed together through numerous pregnancies and births, marital and relationship struggles, family baggage, workplace hardships, terrifying steps of faith, difficult conversations, an international adoption, and the discipleship of our children. We have learned so imperfectly how to do life together through studying the Word, texting throughout the day, cheering each other on, and pushing each other off “faith cliffs” when needed. We mourn together, rejoice together, and lift one another when we get weary in the journey toward Jesus.

As I watch the landscape around me shifting slowly but surely, I see women coming together in the name of Jesus. I see women learning to love God- not just with their heart and soul, but also with their mind and strength. I see women serving one another and no longer getting distracted in their mission by competing against one another. I see the light overcoming the darkness- just as it was meant to do. I see God being glorified in individuals and groups who find Him more satisfying than the fleeting pleasures of this temporary life. Small armies of women are linking arms together around His Word & in His Presence and the kingdom of God is expanding here!

If you are not yet a part of a small army of women in the Word, hear this invitation loud and clear. There is room at this table for you! Please take a leap of faith and join us for our final meeting of the summer: A Good & Beautiful Community.

A Sabbatical Rest

It has now been a little over 4 months since Bart and our 3 older kiddos have gone back to the normal routines of school, leaving Esther and me at home during the workday.  To say this time at home with her has been a blessing would be an understatement. I often can’t quite find the words to describe the treasure trove of joy we have unpacked in our time at home together.  In almost every conceivable way, this short season has been a delightful surprise. I say that it has been a surprise because we honestly prepared ourselves for the worst- fully anticipating this transition to be one of the most challenging seasons of our *almost* 15 years of marriage.

Cocooning is a term that I didn’t know much about until we began the required training process for our adoption.  If you are new to this term like I was, cocooning is considered to be a time of very intensive care for an adoptive family and the newly adopted child.  Towards the final leg of our adoption journey before traveling, resources on cocooning were everywhere we turned. There is a large spectrum of experienced opinions on exactly how it should look, but we were hard pressed to find anyone who said it was unnecessary.  

Basically, when a child has been thus far raised in a non-familial environment (like an orphanage type institution) they may or may not have had all of their basic needs met on a regular basis.  Furthermore, their needs were unlikely met by the same caring adult on a consistent basis. Many orphans also learn manipulation or performance tactics to get their needs met out of pure necessity (ie the child with the best manners or prettiest smile or engaging personality gets the most attention or the most food).

In light of these deep insecurities that develop alongside survival, adoptive parents have learned the long term value in cocooning their new beloved child.  The goal is typically to keep the new child’s world very small, predictable, and simple during the time of transition. Another priority of focus would be that only the parents would meet the basic care needs of the child like feeding, bathing, bathroom needs, and affection so the child begins to understand who is the trusted individual to meet their needs.  Interactions outside the immediate family are recommended to be kept at a minimum.

The great hope is that during the time of cocooning, a deep sense of security and attachment will form between the adopted child and new parents. Every adopted parent longs for their child to look to them to get their needs met and that the child would rest in knowing the parents will come through to care for everything they need, without fear.  When a child grows up with a deep sense of attachment to his or her parents, there is a strong correlation with that child actually thriving throughout life.

Back in the fall, after we were matched with Esther and were making preparations to travel to China and bring her home, we knew I would need to stay home with her for as long as possible. Bart & I agreed that we wanted to do everything we could to make her transition into our family as smooth as possible, create a stress free environment for attachment to happen naturally, and to have the calendar space to meet the unknown medical needs we knew she would be facing.  Thankfully, I was granted a leave of absence for the remainder of the school year to make that happen: essentially 8 months of single mindedness. Back in December I traded my wide and shallow net at school for a smaller but deeper net to cast on the homefront. For a highly relational extrovert like me, the calendar space allotted to cocooning was a bit daunting.

So here I am now, well past the halfway mark of my (unpaid) “sabbatical” with summer break about to begin.  I find myself swimming in a sea of mixed emotions at this time. I feel sad that these days have slipped by so quickly and that this beautiful season at home with Esther is about to conclude.  But I also feel an astonishingly deep sense of gratitude for what I’ve been given. It is true that I can’t stop time from moving forward and out of these slower rhythms, but I also don’t have to guard myself from calling it what it has been to me and to our family: a gift of rest and renewal for our spirits to be revived.  Each day has been a gift of slow dripping joy.

I distinctly remember January 7 of this year.  It was the beginning of the first full week of school that I would be home and not at school like the rest of my family.  It was a strange feeling to know that for the next semester, every weekday from 8am to 3pm, it was going to be a quiet house with just the two of us.  I felt I needed to quickly set some goals for this time or one of two things were bound to happen: 1- I would lose my sense of purpose, drifting into laziness or wasteful entertainment, and isolating myself into a lonely hole of existence.  OR 2- I would seek to find a false sense of purpose in accomplishing tasks, making long to-do lists each day, stuffing my days and weeks with the hum of activity, and thinking that staying busy would fulfill me. Two extremes, neither one healthy.

And so, instead of resigning myself to the extremes, I turned to God in prayer.  “Lord, what are your plans for this year? What do you have for me, for Esther, for my family?  What do you want me to focus my heart and my energy into? How can I be a wise steward of this wide open space that is in front of me?  How can I filter what I give my “yes” and my “no” to in ways that please you above all? Give me wisdom, discernment, and the courage to walk by faith into Your vision for me rather than succumbing to my own selfish goals or the expectations of others.  Help me to be led by You.

Over the course of the month of January, I got up for my time alone with God and prayed similar words each day.  Little by little, I gained a puzzle piece here and a puzzle piece there. By the end of the month, without realizing it had been happening, I could see a faint vision of His answer to that prayer and it looked like distinct pillars holding up a life built on the Rock.  It was an outline of the dream and vision I didn’t even how to long for: a life made worthy of His calling, a life of fulfilling that calling, and a life lived to His glory.

“To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you…”

2 Thessalonians 1:11-12

I’m a big fan of worship music, especially playing it in the mornings to set the tone as we get ready for our day and drive to school.  One memory I will always treasure of this time is the spontaneous dance parties Esther and I would have in my kitchen after dropping the kids at school.  It would never fail that a really good song would be playing on my Pandora station and the delight of that song would carry us from the car straight to twirling in the kitchen before morning chores started.  One particular morning, a song was playing called “This is Where I Belong”. As I sang these lyrics over Esther in my arms and we swayed all over the floors, I knew these words were for my soul too.

This is where I belong, Held by the arms of love
Love, don’t let me go, don’t let go

This is where I belong, Held by the arms of love
Oh, Love, don’t let me go, don’t let go

“This is Where I Belong” by: Housefires (feat. Pat Barrett)

As I choked back my tears, I saw myself as a mirror image of Esther.  We were BOTH equally in need of this cocooning time that was ahead. It was easy to see this period of time as a necessary part of the adoption process to meet HER needs.  What I hadn’t considered was that, even as a fairly well-adjusted adult, my soul needed to be cocooned too. For reasons I was too busy to see before, I needed this time to reconnect to the Father….to relearn how to fully trust Him to meet all of my needs, without fear or worry.  

As a stereotypical “3” on the Enneagram, an achiever sometimes of the worst kind, I can be so guilty of building my identity and security in accomplishing goals of any variety.  If I’m successfully making progress towards a goal, I tend to feel good about myself; but if I go through a period where I’m not feeling progress, I am notably more down on myself and the world around me.  This performance mentality might set us up to gain praise from the world we live in, but is ultimately an unhealthy foundation in which to build your identity. Without being kept in check, your life is nothing more than an endless series of sprints towards the next external achievement that you think will quench your thirst.  

In so many ways, Esther and I both needed to learn that we are both loved with an everlasting, scandalous love.  The kind of love we both needed to receive and come to know- her from us and myself from my Heavenly Father- is not dependent on our performance or achievements.  Praise God, she no longer needs to fall prey to thinking that she needs to “act cute” in order to gain affection. We love her unconditionally and will do everything in our power to do what is best for her, forever.  At the same time, as a reborn child of God, I must be set free from thinking that my good deeds of service and spiritual disciplines will gain the approval and affection of my Father in Heaven. He set His affection on me, not because of anything I did or would ever do, but simply because of who I am in Christ.

But it takes time and space for our souls to know and believe those truths.  Cocooning requires time and space because old habits and trains of thought don’t go down without a fight.  In fact, most of us are so busy holding our world together with our to-do lists that we are completely unaware of what habits of thinking rule our daily lives.  We’ve never seized the opportunity to actually think about who/what we believe about God and who/what that means for our identity. The pattern of renewing a mind toward a new identity, attachment to healthy love, and to the freedom to enjoy that love is a process….a slow and steady process.

I wonder if that’s why God commanded a Sabbath rest on the seventh day for His people.  They were no longer slaves and they needed rhythmic reminders to retrain their souls of their new identity.  They needed to be reminded that their God was going to provide for them, not because of their performance or their work ethic or their “slaying of goals”.  He was going to provide for them because He keeps His promises and to prove it, He provided for their needs even when they were resting from their work.

I can relate also to the Apostle Paul who went to the Arabian Desert after his conversion and before he started fruitful ministry as an apostle of Jesus Christ.  I wonder if Paul, who had lived by the letter of the law with such a deeply rooted works-minded faith, needed that time and space away from the norm so his identity could be reshaped as a child of God?

It’s been so easy to see the obvious transformation in Esther as she has had the time and space to receive and give love in the cocoon of our home.  Without expectations and hurried activities, she has grown more and more secure, more and more confident, and more and more tender to our love. Words couldn’t possibly capture the gratitude I feel over the moments we have shared simply due to my availability and accessibility to her.  When she spontaneously leans toward me and says, “Momma, hold you (me),” I can stop whatever I’m doing and scoop her up for hugs and kisses. The “with-ness” in the ordinary is exactly where the transformation happens. Brick by brick, we hope to continue to lay a foundation of identity where she securely knows she is loved because of who she is, not because of what she does.  

Slowly, but surely, I have felt a mirror reflection of that same transformation in my own soul.  In a way, during this season, my Father took away most of the regular expectations of man and the activities that I used to stake my confidence and identity in- my daily list of external progress, the way I proved my worth to the world.  That old sense of striving has died a slow death; but a more secure, confident, and courageously vulnerable soul is beginning to slowly emerge. In the solitude of having nothing else to hang my identity on, I have found His love to be more than enough.  Somehow when I know I am deeply loved in Christ, without strings attached, I become more free to give even more of my true self to the world around me too.

When I taught first grade, springtime meant it was time to get out the butterfly kit.  Over the course of those weeks, our class watched a transformation happen. The caterpillars would emerge from the eggs and just focus on eating for the first couple of weeks.  Then, as if on a timer, the caterpillar would begin forming its cocoon, a chrysalis. For at least another week, we would watch the habitat each day and nothing notable was happening.  Only by experience do we know of the beautiful metamorphosis that is happening in that solitary time and space, hidden from the world. In due time, the students would watch as movement started to happen.  Somehow, in someway, that caterpillar had radically changed into something with beautifully painted wings. Crawling around to find food was no longer necessary. This butterfly was meant to fly, meant to display a new kind of beauty, and designed to almost effortlessly move about in the air to fulfill its purpose.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
Photo by Cindy Gustafson on Pexels.com

The more I have reflected on it, the more I see that we have a lot in common with the caterpillars of the world.  How silly we would think the caterpillar if it never stopped moving about, searching for more food, so it could form its cocoon!  And if we were to argue with that caterpillar, we might try to tell her that it’s ok to stop her labors for a time- she doesn’t need to fear.  Inside of the solitude of that cocoon, your Maker is there to meet you. He sees a design that no one out here can imagine and He wants to form it in you as you attach more deeply to Him.  And when the time is right, you won’t even believe how He has changed you from the inside-out! Your life will never be the same in more ways than you can fathom. BUT- if you’re unwilling to go into that cocoon, you (and the world) will never know the beauty of who you really are.

Most people do not have the ability to take a sort of forced sabbatical like I have had.  But most of us do have somewhat regular pockets of time that we could re-purpose as a mini sabbatical or Sabbath rest to reconnect to our Savior in a way that renews and revives our spirits.  We are all designed by our Creator to function best after a time of recalibration from the inside-out, a rechartering of the path ahead. This kind of soul renewal doesn’t often happen in the contexts that we often think it will: on a family vacation or after an evening of Netflix binging or a day of decluttering the house.  As scary as it is, it happens most effectively when no one is around but you and God. Solitude. The Vine and the Branch.

It’s all about intention and focus.  If we don’t focus our gaze on God and His holiness, we could be spending our gift of rest and renewal like the prodigal son spent His Father’s inheritance in foolish ways.  Instead, we must resist the urge to continue on our old patterns and use the pockets we can seize to learn what it really means to be a child of God- the privilege, the joy, and the calling of that position.  The end result will be a child who serves their Father earnestly, sacrificially, joyfully, and with affection. Slaves and robots can’t produce that kind of beauty and that heartfelt labor of love.

Over the next several weeks, I plan to dive a little deeper into my own understanding of each of those pillars I have discovered back in January and have tried to stand on during this “sabbatical”.  Hopefully, in the journey to revisit those pillars, the latter half of 2019 might be filled with even more wisdom, peace, and joy than the first half- something my heart is deeply hoping for.

If you would like to join me as I explore those puzzle pieces, I invite you to subscribe by listing your name and email. I promise not to send you a bunch of email forwards- just a direct drop of my next series of reflections.

Also, if you are local, I invite you to join us for our women’s community summer Bible study. We’re only meeting *3 times* in June & July, but are hoping to build in some accountability and rhthyms of renewing our minds in God’s Word throughout the summer. This might be the best way to welcome pockets of Sabbath rest into your life!

A Birthday Prayer

Journal Entry from Mother’s Day 5/14/17

Dedicated to Esther Bei on her 3rd Birthday and to her biological Momma on this day- 4/26/19

Oh, Lord, you knitted me together in my mother’s womb- in the secret place where no eye could see.  You laid your hand upon me and called me wonderful. You created the depths of my inmost places and are well acquainted with all my ways.  You have numbered my days before even one even came to be and you delight in the beauty of your creation. You determined the times and places of my life that I might seek you and grope for you and find you- although you were never far from me.  Every day of my life you have hemmed me in- behind and before me- searching me, knowing me, perceiving my thoughts, listening to my words, discerning my paths, and counting the very hairs on my head. This knowledge is too wonderful for me to comprehend, your love is beautiful to me.  And yet you say that I am beautiful and that you delight in your creation.

And, oh Lord, at the appointed time you opened my eyes to see your glory.  I was blind, but now I can see. At the sight of the cross, I finally found what I had been searching for. My heart came alive and for the first time I knew True Love.  Jesus, you reached down into a miry pit and rescued me. You set me in a spacious place and filled me with the wonder of a new life hidden in you. You called me your own and gave me a new name- a new identity, the stains were gone.  You adopted me as your daughter, gifted me with riches and splendor, and there began preparing me for my Groom. You gave me works to do and people to serve. You filled this jar of clay with purpose and joy and the resources to accomplish plans that are beyond anything I could ask or even imagine. You show me your glory and sweep me away into the dance of your wild plans for me- and you delight to call me beautiful.

You bring me back to the cross day after day and show me the beauty there.  You remind me that it is only when we lose our life for your sake that we gain true life.  You show me that when I die to myself- my plans, my dreams, my ways, my flesh- this is when I truly live this life that you call beautiful.  When I offer myself as a living sacrifice, this is holy and pleasing to you- this is my act of worship. Jesus, you show me that when I pour myself out on the altar of love for others, you fill me with streams of living water and my cup overflows with your goodness and your glory.  You teach me that because of Jesus you are already pleased with me- fully and completely. So I can cease striving and truly rest in your love for me. I can be yoked with you, Jesus, and know that it is and always has been you that fulfills the plans you have for me. And these plans- they are a delight to you and you call them beautiful.

You lead me in your paths as I stumble and fall- imperfect, but learning by your grace.  You called two to become one, flawed as we were, to teach us about your ways. As a loving father disciplines his son, you discipline us. We walk through the fires together and you are there- carrying us and refining us.  You teach us what brokenness looks like and feels like and it feels like we are in the dark. Nevertheless, you were there- never leaving or forsaking us; teaching us to go low so you could bring us high….letting us weep and mourn so we would learn to walk by faith in your future redeeming grace.  You burned away the pride and taught us to trust you. You taught us that you are our good, good Father, even when things were bad. And through the season of darkness, you showed us your beauty.

You said that children are a gift from God.  We trusted you that when love is full, it overflows and multiplies.  Love gives away and you have led us to surrender to the power of giving away 4 times now.  Each life, an overflow of the life that you have planted in us. Each life unique, hand crafted by you, and called forth in its time.  Each life with a number to its days, a wonderfully unique reflection of its Creator, and a mighty purpose for its story. Oh God, their lives are in your hands.  You teach us what unconditional love, persevering patience, and extravagant grace looks like. You are not through with us yet. As we submit to this process of raising them up in Your Presence, you humble us still. Imperfect teachers teaching imperfect students- and your grace covers all.  You impress upon all of us your truths as we walk along the way, still stumbling, but clinging to your Presence as we go. You make us into your disciples and we walk with you. Oh God, you draw us into your story and prepare us for the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. This process seems messy and even haphazard at times- but you look upon the pages of our lives and call it beautiful.

Somewhere there is a Momma who is maybe just like I was- wandering through this broken world not knowing that her life is in Your hand.  You knit her together and you are intimately acquainted with all her ways. You perceive her thoughts, you hear her words, and you count the hairs on her head.  All of her days are numbered and you are not far from her- if only she would grope for you and find you. You hem her in- behind and before, and by your grace you know the day when you will peel the scales from her eyes and her blindness will become sight- you will show her your glory.  Meanwhile, by your love, you have given her a good and perfect gift. The multiplying power of your love has overflowed into her womb and created new life. And there you go again- creating, fearfully and wonderfully- weaving life and calling what was not into being. This child is yours- a gift from God to this earth- reflecting your glory- a testimony to this earth and the heavenlies about who you are.  And this work you know full well- this life is in Your hand. This knowledge is too wonderful to me; but it is beautiful to you.

By your sovereign hand, you make broken things so beautiful.  This Momma and this tiny growing life is all a part of your story- to show your kindness, redemption, power, and glory in the earth.  And by your grace, you have woven this baby and this Momma into our hearts. We are pregnant, by your love, with love and affection for this life that we do not yet know.  My soul exalts in the Lord and rejoices in my Savior- for He has had regard for this humble servant. Behold, from this generation on will look upon my life and call me blessed by the Mighty One- for He has done great things for me.  He has exalted the humble and filled the hungry with good things. Oh God, your works are too wonderful for me- I cannot contain it. You set the orphan into families and bless them all with cups that overflow. You will bless us with the beauty of Your plan unfolding- each step orchestrated and ordained by You.  You send us to each other for our good and for your glory. You will provide, just as you always have, and you will bring delight, just because of who you are. You are working all of these things together for good. We will watch as the Mighty hand of God uses the living testimony of adoption to bring many sons and daughters to glory.  You will grant your people knowledge of salvation and the forgiveness of sin. For you are a God who brings light out of darkness and brings redemption from brokenness. You are the One who brings beauty out of ashes. You draw us to Yourself when we are lost and far from You. You, oh God, write the most merciful love stories when you set the fatherless into families.  And this child’s story is beautiful to you.

Lord, you give us the story of Esther- a child raised by one of whom she did not grow in the womb, but into the heart.  Your Word says that she grew to become a young lady who was beautiful of form and face. She was one of yours- raised up in your ways and with your hand upon her.  You make broken things beautiful. Might you give us an Esther, Lord? Esther, who was humble, submissive, and found favor in the eyes of all. May the King of Kings be overcome by her beauty.  And I pray that you, oh God, would reach down from on high, and make her your child. Raise her up, Lord, from a lowly beginning, to a beautiful life of faith for Your glory and the salvation of many.  Make her brave, courageous, and confident of your love for her. Let her continue on the legacy of faith that knows she has been brought into Your kingdom for such a time as this. Let her life sing, as the other 3, to live is Christ and to die is gain. May they live out the story of Your salvation and redeeming power on this earth.  May your grace lead them on the paths to know there is nothing on this earth that compares with the greatness of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord. And may their lives overflow with Your love- multiplying and spreading your kingdom beyond what I can ask or even imagine. These stories to come are in Your hand- you know them full well- and you already see that they are beautiful to You.

Learning to Embrace Suffering

One year ago, I was driving home from school with Ellie and Caleb giving me the run-down of their day, what homework needed to be done, and what we had going that evening.  It was the normal routine, except I was trying to hurry home to make a birthday dinner for my oldest who woke up a teenager that morning. I turned down our gravel driveway and was almost to the house before I noticed something odd. When I got to the house, I could see that the garage was open.  Weird. My stomach sank, but maybe Bart just forgot to close it earlier?

As I dialed to call Bart, I noticed the door leading from the garage into the house was also standing wide open.  Something was not right here and I began to have the first moments of panic settle over me just as Bart answered. I sat in the car and quickly explained everything to him.  Only then did I glance into the house through the door frame to see an empty space on our wall right where our gun cabinet used to sit. At that moment I was finally able to process the obvious reality that someone unwanted had been inside of our home.  Unsure of whether someone was still in our house or not, especially since the door was standing wide open, Bart implored me to get out of there immediately. The kids started to cry and my brain got foggy.

Within 10 minutes, my Mom arrived to get the kids away from the scene and Bart arrived home to assess the situation.  The police were on the way, but before they got there, we wanted to check things out. How much damage had been done?

Long story short, intruders had made their mark on our home while we were at work that day.  Not only was our ENTIRE gun safe taken, but our master bedroom had been ransacked, and all of our electronics had been jerked out of the walls and gathered up as well- including our TV’s, DVD player, xBox, ipads, chargers, laptop, etc.  As bad as that was, the very worst was the violation we felt at the clear evidence of someone uninvited going through our home and our things while we were at work.

Our kids were now scared, our possessions were missing, Isaac’s birthday dinner was ruined, and we couldn’t even stay the night in our house to wait for fingerprinting the next morning.  It was quite a curveball and a big bummer. A part of me wanted to be so bitter at the situation- at God. If He is sovereign and all powerful like I had believed Him to be, how could He let this happen to us? And here we sat in this season of life, already trying to cut expenditures, as we worked toward paying adoption expenses- trying to walk the narrow road of a calling from God.  Why us? Why now?

Only 5 fast weeks later was the last day of school.  Ellie had been extra tired lately and overall didn’t seem herself.  So Bart took her to the pediatrician. We thought she was sick, but we didn’t expect her doctor to send her straight to the ER with sky high blood sugar levels.  We never anticipated a diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes, a stay in the pediatric ICU, an ambulance ride to Riley Children’s Hospital, and more nights spent in the hospital.  

Life changed so quickly for our family, for Ellie especially.  We went from being a family who rarely visited the doctor at all to a family with insulin pens in the fridge, pen needles and test strips strewn about the house, and a never ending routine of carb calculations and insulin injections.  We are regulars at the pharmacy now and Ellie will be for the rest of her life: dependent on insulin. A new kind of unwanted normalcy has enveloped her. Thankfully, kids are resilient and Ellie has accepted her lot in life as a diabetic for the last 11 months, but it’s still less than ideal.  Yes, it could be worse, but it is no less a form of daily suffering in this life.

Why do I tell you these 2 stories?  To get your sympathy for our family and make you feel sorry for us?  Hardly. We all have stories like this. They all involve different sets of circumstances and people.  Some are public and some are hidden away. Some smack us in the face unexpectedly and others creep in slowly to change our path in life.  Quite honestly, I tell you this because writing helps me process life. And also because these 2 events last year were effective, controlled fires in my life to refine my knowledge of the character of God.  I hesitate to write about it because it’s a scroll of lessons that I’m still unrolling in my own life. I assume I will be for the rest of my life.

When we come out of the quiet waters of smooth sailing in life and run into a tumultuous sea of inconvenience or suffering, a common knee jerk reaction is to question the character of God.  Am I being punished? Has He forsaken me? Has He forgotten me? Why does it all seem so unfair sometimes? We want the stormy seas to go away as quickly as possible and life to return to its regularly scheduled programming where we are comfortable, healthy, secure, entertained, prosperous, slaying goals, and winning the approval of men all around us.  

When these negative reactions come out of us during life, it is a blessing.  It is a revelation of the ways we have not ingested the Word of God into the fiber of our lives.  It is a revelation of the ways we have made this world our home instead of treating this life like the temporary dwelling place Jesus told us it is.  It is a revelation that we have bought into the lie that poverty, sickness, suffering, and death are the worst things that could happen.

If we call ourselves followers of Christ, then we should have an increasingly transformed outlook on those times of suffering that we are called to walk through in life.  They don’t have to be seasons of “hunker down and survive”. Instead, they can be seasons of expectation, fellowship with Christ, deep growth, and transformation toward glory.  When we lean into these truths, trials don’t have the power to paralyze us in fear, but they bring the hope of refining for what’s to come.

First, we would be wise to grasp hold of the truth that times of suffering will come. Peter tells us, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12).  But is that the norm for us, as professed believers? Don’t we act surprised, frazzled, panicked when an inconvenience is thrown at us or when we find ourselves walking through a time of trials? Rather than reacting with a spirit of grace and peace, having lived with a right expectation that fiery trials are a necessary part of this life, we often complain and spiral out in fear as if something foreign and strange has interrupted our perfectly orchestrated, comfortable life.

When our house was robbed, gospel truths were available for me to run into to help me remain steadfast and full of peace and joy.  My flesh tugged on my mind to feel panicked, fearful, and angry that someone would trespass on our property and take our possessions that we have worked hard to purchase.  And it would be normal for my worldly flesh to react that way. But as someone in whom the Spirit of God dwells, I was reminded that Jesus warned me not to make my home or those things my treasures.  

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.

Matthew 6:19-20

Taking hold of this truth, knowing that Jesus warned me that thieves might break in and steal our things- even in the path of following Him- helped to steady my thoughts back into a peaceful resolve to continue trusting.  So maybe a robbery is a reminder that those things, and even my home, are not worth treasuring. No matter how well I take care of my home and the things in it, they are all such temporary investments. As we watched the tragic burning of Notre Dame this week, I was reminded yet again of just how temporary the things of this earth truly are.  Maybe Jesus was giving us an object lesson to protect us from investing even more deeply of our time and resources into things that won’t last. Maybe He was using thieves to help us invest into a greater kingdom.

“you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.  For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.”

Hebrews 10:34-36

Second, we can learn how to lean into them as opportunities for transformation instead of viewing them as fires to sprint through.  What if suffering through refining fires in life is a necessary part of what transforms us into the likeness of His image? Would we still want to stuff it down or dash through it?  Or would we want to receive the inconveniences, curveballs, and fiery trials as opportunities for our very souls to become better reflections of our Creator in this life? If we never suffer, do we ever transform?  

As we look at the cross this Easter weekend, we can see this truth come alive.  When we consider our present or future opportunities to suffer, “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”  (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Within this example of our Savior, we see that Jesus didn’t deny the reality of the cross.  It was despicable, painful, shame filled, and the most horrific cup to bear. But He showed us the way to endure in this life.  We look to Him and in Him we see how to peer through the portal of suffering into the future grace ahead. Jesus endured for the joy that was before Him- the glory His grace in the salvation of mankind and redemption of humanity.  He knew that the path to the glory was only through the cross- through the suffering. The glory only comes when suffering is endured. Not stuffed and masked under a bandaid. Not sprinted through. Endured: suffering patiently.  And the same is true with us. If we want to experience the transformative power in our humble misty lives, then our path ought to be filled with suffering of many kinds.

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”

1 Peter 5:10

Finally, when we expectantly receive our times of suffering as opportunities for transformation, I think we can expect that the trial will produce something necessary to a good and beautiful life.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4

Of course, it’s no fun to walk through times of testing. Jesus pleaded with His Father in heaven to let this cup pass from Him. And the reality is that we are invited to do the same. But the ultimate goal is not necessarily to just get to the other side of the test….its to let the trial make you perfect and complete.  The fiery trial is meant to produce something in you that hasn’t yet existed.

What if, because of the fear of pain, we avoid trials or blindly sprint through them and completely miss the main productive purpose those circumstances have in our life? What if it’s not the person who suffers the least in this life that is truly blessed, but the person who is a submissive student in the schoolhouse of suffering?

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

James 1:12

And listen to the words of Jesus to the church in Smyrna in Revelation 2:10, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

If our compass for truth is only found in the culture around us, we will not learn to endure suffering.  We will NOT find the encouragement we need to remain steadfast under trial. God’s Word is the only source of hope and peace we can truly run into when we are thrown into the tumultuous seas of suffering.  And we must run to that anchor of truth over and over again, helping us to be patient as we wait for the work of God to manifest in our discomfort.

For me, one of the hardest parts of this call to remain steadfast under trial is when the trial involves my children.  I think it is in the nature of most loving parents to do everything in their power to protect their children from hardships and prevent them from going through distress. In my experience and observation, this can look like anything from enrolling our children in a handful of activities in hopes that they will finally find a niche that brings them confidence, to running to rescue and cover up the mistakes of children to save their reputation in the eyes of the community, or even taking them for retail therapy to ease the pain of a hard day.  We, as parents, will go to great lengths to help our children sprint through seasons of adversity or mask their pains with bandaids to distract.

I first began to process these thoughts on my drive to the hospital where Ellie was admitted last year for her diabetes.  As I wrestled with God over the struggles Ellie was facing and had ahead of her, I could hear my negative reactions, the lies I believed about the character of God, rising up inside of me.  They were dross, coming to the surface in this fiery trial. My flesh reaction was a desire to somehow take control of the situation. How could I make this trial less painful for Ellie or how could I get us to the other side more quickly?

As the Spirit of God has done a work on me from the time of that drive over to Evansville, to even this day, with yet another daughter facing even greater medical hardships ahead, my knee jerk reaction has begun to shift.  Rather than feeling such dread and avoidance about the various kinds of trials my children will be called to walk through– medical, friendship, loss, setbacks, disappointments, insecurities, rejection, or any other variety- I can choose to see those as opportunities for transformation that my children might be counted among the blessed in God’s kingdom.

Truly, if WE don’t learn how to suffer well, how will we ever teach our children to do the same?  And if our children don’t learn how to courageously face up to all kinds of suffering and patiently endure it, then how can we ever hope that they will become adults who are “mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:4)  Furthermore, if we are always looking for ways to prevent and protect our children from experiencing adversity, won’t we also be blocking the entrance to the portal through which their lives will transform into His glorious image?

Once again, all we need to do is look to the Word of God.  Our Father in heaven is the perfect example of a parent, a good Father in all His ways.  “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”(James 1:17) He is the actual giver of every good and perfect gift that we receive in our lives.  He gave us the gift of our very lives and the gift of our salvation out of His own will.

But He also ordains that we go through suffering, for our good.  He can see the glory on the other side of this life that we can’t yet see.  He wants us to desire that better and lasting kingdom over this one. He wants us to be mature and complete, not lacking in anything that would hold us back from investing our hearts in the better reward. He could have taken the cup of suffering from Jesus and circumvented His Beloved Son’s disgrace and shame. But He didn’t and we praise Him for loving us so lavishly. One day that mystery will be revealed to us when we see Him on His glorious throne and we will not question that our suffering here delivered in the kingdom of His glory.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Romans 8:18

The Formation of a Heart, part 2

He can look at our disappointments and confusion in our broken life circumstances and He already knows the ultimate good He is going to work together for our good.

Back when Bart and I were dating in college, we had the privilege of working for and forming a relationship with a local, godly family. This family was quite unlike any other family we had ever known. The more we got to know them, the more we enjoyed them and were inspired by the overflowing love, joy, and light heartedness of their large family’s culture. We developed such a respect and a bond with them that by the time we were engaged to be married, we asked the parents of the clan to do our pre-marital counseling- one of the best investments we ever could have made in our marriage. Among many pertinent issues that they probed us to dive into before marriage, one of significant value was to challenge us on our views on methods of family planning.

The more we learned from them and researched ourselves, the more our hearts shifted away from the accepted cultural norms of family planning and expectations. By the time our wedding rolled around, my answer to questions of how many kids we thought we’d have was always, “Lord willing, 4-6”….which was often met with understandable laughter!

As our story goes, with each child born to us, that number changed. Isaac, our honeymoon baby, was born and then we thought maybe 5 was a good number. Then after a miscarriage came Ellie and we said, hopefully 4 children. Finally, on our 6th wedding anniversary Caleb came with all the fireworks of his July 3rd entrance and with full hands we said we were DONE.

Gradually, our hearts shifted away from those early visions and openness of having a “large” family to raise for God’s glory and toward building our careers and investing in the home of our dreams out on the edge of town. Only in reflecting back do I see how we, oh so slowly, slipped into a lapse of calloused, unsurrendered hearts which we all do from time to time.

Oh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let that goodness like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, Robert Robinson, 1757

In ways that only God’s grace can work, He used the trials of 2015- particularly my Grandad’s death and Rachel’s cancer relapse- to jolt us and begin to peel away the layers of worldly callousness that had grown over our once moldable hearts. We began to really think again about what kind of life we were building. Was it one that was founded on the wisdom of the rock solid foundation of God’s kingdom principles or were we investing ourselves too much in the things of this temporal life? I believe it was on the heels of this reflection and repentance that we had an unexpected wave of thoughts come over us.

Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Luke 12:15-21

In light of the “mistiness” of life paraded before us, our appetite to pour our resources into things that won’t last began to dissolve. I didn’t want to spend my life “building bigger barns” and continually redecorating them. We began to see with fresh perspective a desire planted in our hearts to spend our lives investing more deeply in human souls- the only thing that is eternal.

And so that summer, thoughts began to stir in us that maybe we should re-open the conversation about Caleb being our grand finale. To be honest, I selfishly wanted to shut those thoughts down immediately. Afterall, we were done with diapers, naps, tantrums, and strollers. Caleb was 5 and about to start kindergarten. But the thoughts pressed in and with the callouses softening, we finally put our fleece out (Judges 6:36-40) and surrendered our future plans to God.

By God’s grace and the advice from our pre-marital counseling, our previous experiences told us that having more children was only to be a matter of timing. So, with fear and trepidation but also hopeful anticipation, we decided we would put our family size in the hand of God and let the Lord decide if another human soul was to be created. Our “fleece” was also known as a string of fertile days in June and if needed, another in July. I marked those dates on my calendar, sure I would need them for my first doctor’s appointment, and we only told a couple of people about this unexpected detour we were taking. We figured it was now or never!

Much to our confusion, we barrelled into another hot, August school year feeling peace about our surrender to His plans, but wondering what that was all about. School started for our family and with it, the confirmation that I wasn’t pregnant. Admittedly, we were a little bummed. I thought surely we had sensed the nudging of the Lord to open our hearts to more life in the King family, but maybe we were wrong?

As any educator knows, the first few weeks of the school year are super exhausting. I was partly relieved I wasn’t struggling through my usual 1st trimester morning sickness. Needless to say, time moved on and so did the burden to get pregnant. We didn’t have a pretty bow to wrap up that detour- it just kind of hung there, unresolved. It was just this weird sort of surrender we felt He had called us to lean into but never really had clarity beyond that.

:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::


Photos from July 2016 :: Our family in South Carolina, Esther’s 100th day in Qingdao SWI

Flash forward 3.5 years to just 2 weeks ago- Esther’s heart cath. As I had said in my previous post, I spent a lot of time and energy meditating on Psalm 139 before, during, and after her procedure. Those Scriptures became so alive to me in a new way as I praised God for the beautiful way He knitted and formed her heart in her mother’s womb. I thanked Him for the way He used something broken, like her single ventricle heart, to lead her to our family. I worshipped Him in light of the knowledge that a little ring, called a pulmonary stenosis, was saving her life and keeping her so healthy. I offered my gratitude that this beautiful toddler calls me Momma and looks to me to meet her needs- what a privilege!

When we got home the next day, as I was journaling and thanking God again for the news that we had received from the cardiologist, I had another weird thought come over me. I began to be curious to know more about the process for how a heart forms in utero and the timeline therein. So I turned my curiosity to google. The nerd in me loves to learn these kinds of things. The Believer in me loves to learn these things in light of the knowledge of the intimate ways God is involved in Creation.

As one who believes that God was sovereign over the design of Esther’s inward parts- particularly her heart in all of its miraculously functioning “abnormalities”- I was especially curious about approximately when her heart started to beat. My heart and my head wanted to know when the unique and beautiful sound of her throbbing heart first broke into this world. It didn’t take long for me to learn that only 21 days after conception, her blood was flowing. Then around 8 weeks, her heart had partitioned into the 3 functioning chambers she has now. It’s truly a miracle!

One weird thing I often do when I learn dates of things or see pictures of things Esther was doing in the orphanage is to go back and look at my old google photos and see what our family was doing on that particular day. It always fascinates me that we lived halfway around the world from her for 2.5 years, unaware of the existence of the other; but the Lord watched both of our lives unfold and brought them together in perfect harmony. When we were first matched and I found out her birthdate, I looked back at past photos. What were we doing that glorious day she was born, you ask? Well, the King Fam was making DubSmash videos of course. This seems so fitting as much as she loves her music!!!

King Family DubSmash Video Fun in Carmi, IL: 4-26-16

The hospital where Esther Bei was born in Qingdao, China: 4-26-16

It goes without saying that as I was following this rabbit trail of investigation over the formation of her heart, I was curious about the dates that her heart would’ve been forming in her mother’s womb…and curious if I could figure out what our lives looked like at that time. So, back to my research. This time I went to a website called “babyMed” and typed in her birthdate, thinking I could easily calculate to figure out the approximate date of 21 days post conception, then 8 weeks, etc.

Esther overlooking the city of her birthplace: Qingdao, China

What I discovered has unveiled an entirely new sense of awestruck wonder about the plans of God. Honestly, I can’t get over it and I don’t want to. When I read the information on the babyMed website, formulated from Esther’s birthdate: April 26, 2016, I suddenly had bells going off in my brain….those dates looked very familiar….but it couldn’t be!!!

Being the weirdo that I am, I still keep a paper and pencil daily planner/calendar for our family life- my Mom gets me a new one for Christmas every year and I love it. Also, being a complete weirdo, I save them ALL. So, it didn’t take 5 seconds for me to hop up, dig out my 2015 planner and find those dates. The last week of July had stars on them- my secret code- our fleece of fertility for another King baby.

Instead of opening my physical womb at the end of July 2015, God opened another woman’s womb all the way across the globe in China. At that time, He began knitting together our Esther Bei. What we didn’t understand was that when he said “no” to us during our surrender, He was planning for us a greater “yes” that we couldn’t have conceived of. He was opening our hearts to raise a baby that would come to us in a beautifully unconventional way- almost 2 years before we said yes to adoption. And just about the same time that baby’s heart was forming in the secret places, we were accepting the disappointing news that I wasn’t pregnant and wondering what that was all about.

“And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Romans 8:27-28

Aren’t His ways just amazing?! He can look at our disappointments and confusion in our broken life circumstances and He already knows the ultimate good He is going to work together for our good. We sag our shoulders or shake our fists at the heavens because we don’t understand the plan. We get angry because we can’t always control the plan and from our perspective nothing good could come; but our God knows what He is orchestrating. His timing is not our timing, but it’s better. No surrender is ever in vain. When we let go of the reins and trust Him with outcomes, even when life doesn’t go like we originally imagined, I think we can trust Him to surprise us with His secret plans. He’s a good, good Father, and He loves to give good gifts to those who trust in Him.

April, 2017: We told the kids about our desire to pursue a path of adoption with a family game night…… meanwhile in China, Esther celebrated her 1st Birthday!

April 2018- Esther celebrated her 2nd Birthday in Qingdao while we celebrated Easter and were anxiously awaiting a match to our “missing piece”

The Formation of a Heart, Part 1

Both the critically abnormal and the wonderfully life saving features of her heart were not accidental. They were knitted together by the Hand of God, in the secret unseen places of her mother’s womb.

Psalm 51:10 has been like a steady fountain of prayer over the past several months of my life.  

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Psalm 51:10

They are words scratched across a tiny post-it note, in a 7 year old’s print taped to my bathroom mirror.  It was a gift from one precious heart warrior with a scarred chest, days before we flew to China. Words are powerful and effective to build up and tear down.  These words have ministered to me morning by morning. They remind me to pray for a pure and clean heart in my own inward places and then overflow as a prayer of intercession, knocking on the door of heaven that God might lay a path to restore my daughter’s broken heart to one of wholeness and health.  These particular words continually tear down my fears over Esther’s future and build up my faith in the God who creates purity and renews….and so I cling to these words of hope.

As most know, when we were matched with “Bei Bei” back in October, we began our gradual journey of education into the unknown world of cardiology.  As a child with a single ventricle heart, we were immediately told that she had “complex” special needs, but our minds didn’t need to know all the details of those needs just yet.  We just knew she was ours and we were in love at first sight from the few pictures we had and a limited amount of medical information. Bart and I quickly learned that the range of severity and symptoms of children with a single ventricle heart is quite varied, but they all have one thing in common: extensive open heart surgery is necessary for a good quality and potential length of life.

Just 2 weeks after we were matched I sent this text message to my Bible study girls:

“A lot of things are happening in our adoption world today and a lot of helpful, but scary info is being thrown at me about our girl. We are throwing our lives at the feet of Jesus in trusting His complete goodness and sovereignty over every detail of life, plans, and normalcy…..knowing that everything He does is good, even if it seems bad and terrifying. As our eyes open to the severity of her heart needs, even beyond the attachment/orphan needs, we are praying for miraculous answers to prayer in the weeks, months, and years ahead.  We know that God formed her perfectly, fearfully, and wonderfully. & we feel immeasurably blessed that we get the privilege of meeting her global needs of love, care, and family. But these kinds of words & phrasing puts a pit in my stomach. Please just join me in pleading for God’s manifest presence to do wonders among us in her little body!


:: While outcomes have improved, single ventricle defects remain one of the most challenging congenital heart defects to manage….The mortality rate during this time period {between the 2 necessary heart surgeries} is estimated to be 10-15 percent. ::

Since beginning our trail of appointments to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital back on December 31, we have received quite an education on healthy heart function, single ventricle hearts, and the unique function and “abnormalities” of our Esther Bei’s heart. Each trip to the hospital has brought a new experience and opened our world into all the highs and lows of caring and advocating for a child with special needs. From facing medical trauma, to restraining a screaming toddler during blood draws and xrays, to looking into the sympathetic and compassionate eyes of doctors as they attempt to explain the rare and complicated abnormalities hidden inside of her chest. All of these experiences have been opportunities to draw near to Jesus.

This past week, we had another string of appointments for Esther’s heart, culminating in a heart catheterization.  This procedure was intended mostly for the purpose of diagnostics, a final step to understanding all the complexities of her heart anatomy and the pressures therein before they pry open her chest for the big surgery later on.  And so, another learning experience ensued for Bart and me to accept the fact that for Esther’s good, she was going to have to be put to sleep for 3+ hours in the operating room, while they snake a tiny catheter into her groin and up through her veins and arteries to explore the secret places of her physical beating heart…the places that thus far have only been touched or seen by the hand of God.

By God’s grace, I can’t really say that Bart and I were really afraid during this particular string of appointments.  Obviously, it’s never fun to see your baby cry or be afraid, but somehow we have both grown to accept the beauty of this path that He had called us to walk with her, for her, and to be a sort of covering for her in the midst of scenarios she hates.

The truths of Psalm 139 were an anchor for my soul as we stood watch over Esther last Monday and Tuesday.  Specifically, I was clinging to the reminders that He has already searched out and is acquainted with the path we’re on (vs 3), that He hems us in with His hand upon us (vs 3), that even the unknown darkness of the future is as light to Him (vs 12), and that every one of the days of our lives is already written in His book (vs 16).  Therefore, there was no need to be afraid. Our stability and peace is hidden in our ability to keep trusting in Him.

All praise to God, when our time in the waiting room was over, the cardiologist came out to show us the images and explain what he found.  With joy, the team shared with us that given the unique anatomy of her heart, she has unbelievably healthy function and pressures in her heart. Obviously, this explains why she appears to be the picture of health on the outside.

He also commented on one of her multiple diagnosed abnormalities, called a pulmonary stenosis. For the second time, we were able to hear the miraculous explanations of how this tiny little ring, or band, around her pulmonary artery has thus far saved and preserved her life.  It has been made clear to us that if she did not have this pulmonary stenosis squeezing the blood flow from her ventricle to her lungs, she would have died as an infant. Or, best case scenario, they would have had to do emergency surgery to put an artificial band around it, to save her life.  Instead, her Maker put it there as a natural survival mechanism. Overall, she’s defying the odds and doesn’t even know that her body is a functioning real life miracle.

As we waited bedside for Esther to wake up from her induced slumber, my heart continued to meditate on Psalm 139, especially verses 13-16 and worship God for the way He made Esther:


For you created {her} inmost being;
   you knit {her} together in {her} mother’s womb.
I praise you because {she is} fearfully and wonderfully made;
   your works are wonderful,
   I know that full well.
{Her} frame was not hidden from you
   When {she} was made in the secret place,
   when {she} was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw {her} unformed body;
   all the days ordained for {her} were written in your book
   before one of them came to be.

Psalm 139: 13-16

Both the critically abnormal and the wonderfully life saving features of her heart were not accidental.  They were knitted together by the Hand of God, in the secret unseen places of her mother’s womb. And we believe that it was that wonderfully and uniquely created heart that caused a little baby born in China to find herself on a very windy, bleak, and broken road that led her to becoming Esther Bei, a beloved daughter and sister of the King family.  That broken path has brought exponential and unexpected JOY and healing to her family just as we pray the same over her. Most importantly, as a direct result of that complex congenital heart defect, our sweet and spunky Asian beauty is learning about the saving blood of Jesus. That’s redemption! She already loves to sing and declare His praises all day long:

“What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus
Oh, precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow
No other fount I know
Nothing but the blood of Jesus”

Just like other children born with a single ventricle heart, Esther will still have to undergo open heart surgery to re-route the plumbing in her cardiovasular system. The surgery itself comes with many scary risks and threat of further complications later on. However, we can press on with illuminated hope in the trustworthy plans of a God who formed her just as she is. The testimonies of his past faithfulness will continue to inform the ways we can place our trust in His future grace & ward off unnecessary anxieties about what is ahead. He formed her for His own glory and no matter what windy road she has endured or will face in the future, we can continue to put our hope in Christ- who is our steady hope of glory.

As he {Jesus} went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

John 9:1-3

A Mist that Leaves a Mark: My Tribute to March 5

Death will be unexpected and expected all at once. Let’s choose to live in the courage to honor Christ in our body with the honest expectation that death is coming.

Just about everyone I know has them: dates on the calendar that come with a wave of remembrance and a quake of emotion. March 5th is one of mine, and now it comes with a double gut punch.

A little over 4 years ago, at the end of February 2015, my parents and I took an unplanned trip to Florida to check on my Grandad. A phone call told us that he was in the hospital and the “C” word, cancer, had been thrown at him and my Mammaw, but they couldn’t seem to explain much of what the doctors had said. It was all a bit mysterious so south we drove the very next day, a Saturday morning: February 28.

The next few days were a whirlwind. On Sunday morning, the news was confirmed to us that he had terminal cancer, excessive fluid in his lungs, and he was warned against leaving the hospital despite his insistence on busting out of there. By Sunday night, my siblings had flown down too- a tearful rescue mission coming together to bring Grandad home to Carmi, which was his final adamant wish. After a multitude of preparations, a fitful night’s sleep, and on the spot training on running a feeding tube, we were loading Grandad onto his beloved motorhome and headed north, to Carmi. The group of us ran on sheer adrenaline as we drove through the night and arrived safely home, not knowing how much time we had left. It was Tuesday.

Wednesday, my brother drove a couple of us to Evansville to hear more disheartening news from his local doctor- there were truly no options left. It was a hauntingly quiet drive back home in an ice storm. My sister and I stayed that night with my Mammaw and Grandad in the old twin beds we used to sleep over in as little girls. We wanted to help out and to be near my Grandad. Around 2am, we took our turn at my Grandad’s side in his favorite chair so my Mammaw could rest. We nervously talked to him about life and death and we asked him if he thought about heaven. So many prayers and so much courage had to be bolstered up to have those sacred conversations with this patriarch of our family.

These are moments etched in the muscle memory of my mind and heart. I can replay the reel of each day, each moment, like a childhood home video.

The next morning, my brother brought over Grandad’s office chair so he could potentially do some work from home- our attempts to make a death sentence feel more normal somehow. I was in the kitchen preparing the next round of meds when Grandad breathed his last breath. It was unexpected and expected all at once.

The date was March 5th. It had been less than a week since everything had seemed normal.

“What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” James 4:14

Fast forward just a couple of months and that nasty “C” word lodged itself again in my daily thoughts and emotions. My dear friend, Rachel Short, had just discovered that her cancerous enemy had returned with a vengeance and the medical team at Mayo predicted she had maybe 6 months to live.

I want to tell you what I saw happen in that woman. As the fiery trial nearly engulfed her, she was not consumed; instead, she let it refine her. Those 6 months turned into almost 4 additional years by the grace of God. 4 years to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus. 4 years to grow as a godly wife and sister in Christ to Zach. 4 years to pour her whole heart, soul, and mind into precious Tenley Claire. 4 years to shine the light that was growing inside of her to a world that could not see what she could see.

Most people that you encounter want the glory. They want to be the ones that glow in their world. They want to be the sun in their universe. Rachel knew she wasn’t the sun. I think cancer has that effect on people- you more easily recognize how little control you actually have over your life- and it brings humility. Rachel knew she was a mirror with opportunities everyday to reflect back His glory and His goodness to the world around her. If I had to guess, this is how cancer really refined my friend Rachel. Her gaze was up at the Lord Jesus and then out toward the people in her life that she was able to love and serve. She took the time she was given and she let the days burn brighter and more full with Him.

Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”

Jeremiah 9:23-24

I knew Rachel before cancer made a home in her earthly body. I had the privilege to teach with her and my daughter Ellie was blessed to have her as a kindergarten teacher the year she gave birth to Tenley Claire. We both just adored Rachel. She always had a smile, something to laugh about, and kept things light for me at school. I relished our visits at lunch, in the hallways, and especially on inservice days.

The Rachel I knew after cancer: she had a deeper, more abiding joy. The tidal wave of suffering had eroded away any superficial layers of who she thought she was and what she wanted out of life and beneath it lay a deep well where life in the Spirit bubbled up in contagious joy and peace. Christ had made a home in her and she had found an abiding home in Him. I think it was on the road of suffering where Rachel became her truest self, the one who people were drawn to only to find the irresistible grace of God shining through her.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.” 2 Corinthians 4:7-12

Cancer was like an enemy of the soul, that came back time and again to “steal, kill, and destroy” the life and light that was growing in Rachel (John 10:10). In that way, she was constantly carrying around within her body the death of Jesus, and yet she was becoming more and more alive to the eternal things of the Spirit of God than ever before. Death was at work in her, but it was displaying the gift of life to those around her and even those watching from afar. The one whom I am certain Rachel fought the hardest to show life was to her daughter, Tenley.

I remember talking with Rachel many times that summer of 2015 about the ticking clock and some of her hopes and dreams. She wanted more time to make memories with her daughter. She was always willing to undergo any option of treatment or clinical trial just to have more time to sow seeds of love and life into Tenley’s young life. It was a gift to watch Rachel treasure both the mundane moments at home with Tenley and making memories on vacation getaways with her little family. Death may have been a threat, breathing down the calendar pages, but life was abundantly blooming in its midst as joy overflowed even in times of hidden struggle against the beast of cancer.

Just like the rest of us, Rachel was just a jar of clay. The thing that set her apart, though, was that she let her afflictions continuously grow her insides deeper into the love of God. Her endurance in suffering demonstrated the power of God working in her earthen vessel and life radiated from the brokenness. As she relied on Christ Jesus to be her strength to keep fighting, more and more people were able to see the grace of God on display in this broken world.

“For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.”

2 Corinthians 4:15

If the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever (Westminster Catechism, Q1), then Rachel fulfilled the purpose in her alloted “mist” and even blazed a trail for others to follow, if they so choose. As she beheld the glory of the One who created her and saved her and loved her, Rachel’s short life glowed like a comet shooting across a dark sky. No one is left to wonder where her light came from, even as we miss the temporary glow of her smile and laugh. She left a bread-crumb trail through her years of living in suffering to point each of us to the only One who can sustain us through our days of toil and in our darkest of nights.

“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

2 Corinthians 4:6

The one I’m most excited to watch follow the crumb trail? Tenley Claire. Rachel fought for more time to point her beloved mini-me to her Savior. God granted her more time than we ever expected back in 2015- 4 more years to plant seeds. Then, just like Jochebed surrendered the life of Moses as a very young boy; and just like Hannah surrendered the life of Samuel- Rachel ultimately had to entrust the life of Tenley to the eternally good & sovereign plan of God.

Recorded in the gospel of John 12:24, Jesus was trying to explain His impending death to His disciples by using a farming illustration. He said that if a kernel of wheat goes into the ground and dies, it will bear much fruit. I believe that we watched Rachel follow the pattern of her Savior in this way. And the one in whom I believe we will see the most fruit come from that kernel of wheat-Rachel’s life- will be that precious little mini-me.

I hope I get to watch Tenley grow up and be a Mommy one day, too. When I think about Tenley, I often think of another dear friend who has a few things in common with Tenley. As a child, she also suffered the loss of her Momma to cancer. It was painful for her to walk through the valley of death and loss of such an instrumental person in her life, but it was also enormously fruitful. My friend has an unbelievable gift of grace, perspective, and eternal wisdom now as a Mom that most women just can never find- her deep treasure gained through loss. When Jesus reigns over suffering and death, we can expect a rippling out of glory through the legacy to come. Somehow I just expect that Tenley’s life will be used in the Kingdom of God to echo the same glorious refrain that her Momma’s did: Glory to God in the Highest! He is worthy to be praised!

On March 5, 2019 Rachel’s earthly tent completed it’s mission and her eyes opened to the One in Whom she trusted through her pain and suffering. It was unexpected and expected all at once.

since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for
“All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers, and the flower falls,
but the word of the Lord remains forever.”

1 Peter 1:23-25

Unfortunately, but maybe also fortunately, calendars are cyclical. March 5 will come for many of us again and again, reminding us of the “mistiness” of life. The past 4 anniversaries have held reminders of the sting and suddenness of cancer and death, but possibly from now on it will be a reminder to live….to really live for the things that are imperishable. Whether we are a great grandparent or a young mother or anywhere in between, death is a guarantee. But so is life, today. Cancer and death can be defeated when ordinary, broken jars of clay are committed to carrying around the death of Jesus so the life of Jesus can glow from the inside out.

Because of the fall of Man, we all feel the sting of death. For each of us it will come. Death will be unexpected and expected all at once. Let’s choose to live in the courage to honor Christ in our body with the honest expectation that death is coming. We can joyfully carry around the death of Jesus so that our mist will leave behind a reflection of the life of Jesus too.

“it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

Philippians 1:20-21