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My baby is starting kindergarten, and I’m a hot mess.

IMG_4499My oldest son is my mini-me. (Poor child.) He is nerdy and passionate. Sensitive and serious. Fun-loving and kind. He loves baseball and music. He has crooked arms with the little bumps on the back them and knobby knees. He has long legs and a contagious smile. Even to strangers, he is undeniably my son. He is a momma’s boy, too. And honestly, I’m just as smitten and obsessed with him.

My mini-me–my heart–my baby–is starting kindergarten next week.

And I am devastated.

To be honest, I have always been a pretty tough mom. I’m the type of mom who will force her kids on the ride at the amusement park no matter how much they cry because I know in the end they need to experience the world and learn to push through fear (and I know they will end up loving it). When my child falls, I’m the mom who stays in her seat, looking up long enough to say, “Get back up! You are fine!” when I don’t see any broken bones and promptly returns to whatever I was working on. Trust me, my kids are cuddled and babied and spoiled plenty, but most of the time, I believe my sons should be thrown into the fire, so to speak, and left to experience the world head on without me constantly holding their hands.

Until now.

On Wednesday, my five-year-old will get on a school bus and ride to his elementary school for his first day of kindergarten.IMG_1348 He will enter a classroom with 20 other kids he has never met before, kids who come from a variety of backgrounds and value systems, kids who may already have friends or adults in the building who know and love them.  He will learn from a woman who doesn’t know him–doesn’t know his strengths, his struggles, his talents, his fears, his hurts, his dreams–and in the coming year he will spend more hours of his day interacting with her than he will me.

He is starting a season of life that will undoubtedly include heartbreak, disappointment, ridicule, and uncertainty. Life is hard. And my baby is beginning the part of life where he learns this unfortunate truth. And it kills me to let him go.

I knew this day was inevitable, but it was always someday. Not today. How is it already time for this?

10.29.17_GOFF-45And so, I am mentally shuffling through the box of memories I have with my son that is stored away in my heart. I see the light in his eyes at his third birthday party when we sang happy birthday to him and he sang along. I hear the moments he has randomly looked up at me and said, “You are the best mommy ever.” I feel the tears I wiped away during all of the battles he faced with his ears at Vanderbilt. I smell the Aveeno lotion I have covered him in since birth.

These are the moments I savor.

But I also remember the moments I breathed a sigh of relief when my mother came to pick him up and let him stay with her for the weekend. I think about the times he has asked me to take him outside, and I said no because in that moment the work I was entranced by was more important than the time spent playing meaningfully with my son. I see the bitemarks and bruises on his arms during the rough transition his younger brother had when he first came from Thailand and my heart breaks all over again when I picture the look in my oldest’s eyes as he realized he had to share his mommy and daddy with someone who hated him. I think about the times I didn’t take him to church on Sunday mornings or the moments we listened to Taylor Swift sing about relationships instead of worship that could nourish his soul. I remember all the nights I let him lay his head on his pillow without praying with him and all the nights I laid my head on my pillow without praying for him.

I am overcome with grief and regret because in this momentimg_5922.pngI realize that what truly hurts is not the fact that I need more time with him. It is the harsh realization that I didn’t use the time that I did have with him to the fullest. There is still so much to teach him before he enters this phase of his life, I think. So much more love to give. So many more games to play. So many more life lessons to teach. So many more prayers to be sent up. He isn’t ready. I am not ready.

And there is nothing I can do to get that time back. Nothing.

But then, I remember that soft voice that whispered truth to me the night I thought I had lost my son after carrying him in my womb and next to my heart for only eight weeks. After suffering a tear in my uterus only a few days after we found out that I was pregnant, my son’s life hung in the balance. A tear in the uterus is actually common, but mine was abnormally large. I had lost a lot of blood and my doctor prepared me for miscarriage. In my bathroom floor, as I lay lifeless in a pool of tears, I cried out to God. “Don’t take my baby. Lord, please don’t take my baby away from me.”

And in my moment of desperation and hopelessness, I heard the Lord say in my heart, “He is not your baby. He is mine.”

I realized then and there that my son is not my son. He is God’s. The love I have for my son is immeasurable. Even when he was the size of a pea in my stomach, I loved him so fiercely it would take me breath just thinking about living life as his mother. But the reality is, being a mother is a job with which I have been entrusted–not an accomplishment I have earned or a prize I deserve.

IMG_5923My oldest is the son of the God Most High. He was created in the Lord’s image and exists for the sole purpose of glorifying Him. I am simply his caretaker on Earth. While this is still an enormous responsibility that no parent should take lightly, the fact is that ultimately, the One who created my son is the only one who can save my son. The only one who can truly protect my son.

As much as I love Maddux, which is like so much my heart could just explode right now thinking about it, his Heavenly Father loves him even more. I have fallen short as a mother in so many ways, but God knew I would. He saw my shortcomings long before they impacted my son, and–here is the incredible part–he was loving and preparing my son to thrive and be blessed in spite of those shortcomings.

On Wednesday when my son walks into his kindergarten classroom, I have to remember that even though I must let go of his hand and watch him walk away from me into this new world, he is not walking alone. His Father will be with Him. Beside of Him. Inside of Him. Preparing his heart for the tough times, replenishing his joy after the letdowns, renewing his mind in spite of the negativity he will hear, and loving him even more fiercely than his mommy ever could.

I have so much regret as I say goodbye to the “baby years.”img_5925.pngThere are so many ways I have fallen short. But thankfully God is good and powerful despite my mistakes, and He has done and will continue to do a mighty work in the life of my little boy. I don’t know why God entrusted me to care for the blessing that we call Maddux Chase, but he did. And while I can’t change the past or shield him from the future, I can trust that God’s promises are true. So when He said he can turn all things into good for His children, I can believe that and let go of my guilt. And when He says He will never leave us, I can be confident that Maddux is never alone to fend for himself. And when He says He is the source of comfort and joy, I can rest in that truth on Wednesday.

But that still doesn’t mean I won’t be wearing waterproof mascara.

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Photo Credit: Lindsey Jones and Shelley Portugal (both in Bowling Green, KY)

The Four Reasons We’ve Lasted Nine

DISCLAIMER: Before you read one word of what I am about to say, please understand this.  This is DEscriptive—not PREscriptive—meaning this is how WE survived, but this isn’t everyone’s story or me saying this is what you should do in your life (for more on this… see #4.) Chase and I are in a loving relationship free from abuse and infidelity, and we share spiritual convictions.  I am NOT writing this to say that all divorce is wrong.

 

Nine years ago today, I wore fake eyelashes and a poof that was probably too large on top of my head.  I wore flip flops because I wanted to dance at my reception, and “no37389957_1733990170010987_1796620244807057408_n one will see them anyway, Mom!”  I wore a black sash around my waist, which I loved then but I now think just looked super weird.  And nine years ago today, his hair was an odd color because some random lady tried to cover up his grey hair, swearing it wouldn’t actually color his hair, but alas, it did.  He wore a white vest, a decision I let him make but wasn’t super excited about.  I just believed at that time that marriage was all about compromise, and at that moment, I was killing it.

Nine years ago today, I walked down the candlelit aisle alongside my dad to “I Will Not Take My Love Away,” which was a surprise for Chase. For a split second, Chase panicked thinking Keith had messed up the music—worried my perfect day would be ruined. I had been a little on edge in the days leading up to this one (surely not!), and Chase wanted everything perfect even more than I did because he wanted his new wife to have everything and more.

But on the day of my wedding, I was really only worried about two things—I wanted him to think I was the most beautiful woman in the world, and I wanted our guests to have the time of their lives at our reception. I didn’t for a second worry about the marriage part. Chase was perfect for me, and life with him would be just as perfect as the moment he mouthed, “I love you,” with tears in his eyes as I met him at the altar.

Then came our first year of marriage. (Cue “disaster music”—duh, duh, DUH!)

It was awful. Awful. Awful. Awful. 

We are still here nine years later, so it obviously got better. But I have to be honest and say that marriage for Chase and I has been a constant wave of bliss and distress with each new season.  We have two beautiful children, two jobs we are infinitely passionate about, and family that loves us, and some people look at us and think we have it all together.  But oh, if you only knew the whole story.

So as I’m reflecting today on how big of a deal it is to do life with someone for NINE years and counting (and how old it makes me feel), I thought I would share what has kept us together all these years.

The Four Reasons We’ve Lasted Nine:

1. The Understanding that Divorce Is Not An Option

In today’s world, we have so many choices. Nothing seems permanent anymore.  Think about it. Before, if you got a tattoo, it was there forever. You had that name on your body for the rest of your life, so it better be something or someone you wanted to see for the rest of your life.  But now, after a few sessions with a laser, the split second decision you made when you and your friends were out in downtown Nashville back when you were 19 is erased forever.  No harm done.

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Today in America, almost HALF of all marriages end in divorce, and sadly this statistic is actually used as a source of comfort for many engaged couples. “Well, since so many people already get a divorce, it won’t be weird for me to get one if this ends up not working out,” we rationalize in our minds as we plan our wedding to someone we aren’t 100% sure we can tolerate our entire lives. To be honest, I was one of those people, too.  Marriage was a huge risk for me, but knowing I could run if I needed to made it a little easier to sign that marriage license.  My husband, on the other hand, was not one of those people.

From the moment we said “I do,” Chase has made it very clear that divorce is not an option for us.  And in those few times that I have mentioned it during our lowest moments as a couple, he has reminded me of the promise we made to ourselves and each other and our children that we would be together forever.  So, when I have hated being in the same room with him, I remembered that divorce was not an option, and this has forced us to reconcile our differences in a different way—a way that will result in us being okay with each other again.  A way that will allow us to stay married and not just tolerate one another but enjoy one another.

Fun Fact: Here are the lyrics to the song I walked down the aisle to: “I will not take my love away when praises cease and seasons change. If the whole world turns the other way, I will not take my love away.” As another surprise, I had “I will not take my love away…” engraved on the inside of Chase’s wedding ring, too. We are serious about this no divorce thing.

2. A Commitment to Prayer

So, yay, we decided to stay together.  But we soon realized that just because you are together doesn’t mean you are happy with one another.  And that’s where prayer comes in.

Philippians 4:13 has been on my lips the past nine years more times than I can count. As he chews with his mouth open at the dinner table—“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” resonates in my soul and calms the cringe that claws at me. As he looks down at his phone while I’m telling him a story about my day— “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  As he picks at his toenails in the bed— “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  Believe me, if I had not been praying all these years, I would have definitely ran.  Or my head would have exploded.32407988_1144815372328249_1382828587110891520_n

In all seriousness–the Bible says we can ask and it will be given to us. God tells us that if we ask anything that is in His will for our lives—and His will is that my marriage with Chase reflect his unrelenting love for His church—then it will be given to us. So, many times my prayer has been, “Lord, save my marriage” or “Lord, don’t let him leave” or “Lord, keep me from choking him tonight” and every time, the Lord has rescued us. God loves marriage, and so He has answered every prayer I’ve sent up asking for His grace on our relationship.

I love my husband. I have the utmost respect for him, his talents, his compassion, and his drive. (And I really love his big arms too!)  But I’m here to tell you that without the Lord, I would have ran a long time ago. That is if he hadn’t already run from me first because trust me—life with Lauren is no picnic.

3. Making Time to Be Alone

Another promise Chase and I have made to each other is to love each other more than we love anyone else—including our kids. This sounds insane to a lot of people, but we are confident that one of the best things we can do for our children is to love each other fiercely and faithfully.

20881976_995000633976391_4310463723290489158_nNow, I don’t always do this perfectly. I’m crazy obsessed with our two little boys—crazy obsessed, and I have to pray for God to keep my heart in check constantly. But Chase and I work really hard to love and serve each other first and foremost, and this means carving out alone time with one another. We value the time our boys can spend with family members because it gives us time to go out and actually talk to one another (I mean, let’s be honest—we really don’t get to have normal conversations when two wild little boys are crawling all over us). Chase and I go on overnight trips without the boys sometimes, too, and although I beat myself up over being a terrible mother, deep down I know that this is what’s best for all of us.  Our boys need time with family, and I need time with my husband.  And sometimes, our boys just need a break from their mom and dad!

4. Coming to the Realization that Life Is Not a Rom Com

As much as physical pornography can ruin intimacy in a relationship, I firmly believe that emotional pornography can do just as much damage if you let it.  Emotional pornography is the romantic comedy or Hallmark movie storyline that makes you resent your husband a little after you watch it because he just doesn’t measure up. To be perfectly transparent—I’ve significantly struggled with this one.  It is difficult for me to watch The Office without wondering why Chase can’t love me a little more like Jim loves Pam. Or why he can’t be as passionate as Noah was about Allie in The Notebook.

Women love a beautiful love story, one where the man pursues the woman against all odds, makes a fool of himself to get her attention, and looks at her with eyes that say, “I can’t live without you in my life.”  The problem is that when a woman comes back to reality and home to her husband after the movie, he may only have eyes for the pizza she brought home for dinner.  That’s when resentment sets in. “My husband is the worst. He is never romantic like Jim.” And then comes the doubt. “Did I marry the wrong man? Did I settle? Is my Noah still out there?”  Just like pornography with airbrushed bodies and creative camera angles can give a man an inaccurate expectation of what life should be like in the bedroom, knight-in-shining-armor romance films, books, and shows can give women unfair expectations of what love really looks like. 22279818_1019777201498734_5359657973184553718_n

The past nine years, I have realized that love doesn’t always mean sappy letters and candlelight.  Sometimes Chase expresses his love for me by cleaning out the refrigerator or putting the boys to bed by himself so that I can get a few minutes to relax.  Sometimes he expresses love to me by calling me out when I’m being negative or making me get out of bed when I don’t want to so that I’m not late for work.

I love a good romance story just like the rest of you, and I’m NOT saying we should stop watching them. (Trust me, I’m not giving up The Office.) But as women, we do need to constantly check out hearts and realize when unfair expectations are hindering our relationships with our husbands.  Listen—my husband has written his fair share of sappy love letters, but that is not what life is like for us on a daily basis. I’ve learned to love our story by avoiding the desire to live someone else’s story—that includes real relationships and those that are scripted on television.

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Marriage is not a one-size-fits-all design, and comparison is truly the thief of joy.  I had to spend more time strengthening my marriage than I did cutting it down with comparison, and learning that lesson has made all the difference for us.

Again, we are far from perfect, and in order for us to survive nine more years and nine more years after that, we have to continue putting in a lot of work and committing to even more prayer.  But I am so thankful we have made it this far… Happy anniversary, babe.

What Christmas Means for a Child Abandoned by Her Birth Father

Kentucky is the allergy capital of the US, and I am certainly not immune to effects of pollen that blanket our state.  I try to avoid the doctor at all costs, but my nose had had enough.  I knew if I wanted to ever breathe normally again, I would have to go back to the allergist.

I sat on the examination table feeling like a grasshopper under a child’s magnifying glass while the nurse asked a dozen questions.

“Why did you come in today?”  This is the office of an allergy doctor.  Why do you think I came in?

“What all are you allergic to?”  Isn’t that what you are supposed to tell me?

“Have you experienced any considerable weight gain?”  Since when?  Yesterday?  No.  Since high school?  No comment.

“Do any of your blood relatives have heart disease?”

My stomach leaps into my throat. I look away from the nurse and choke out a lie, “No.”

Well, maybe that’s a lie.  But maybe it’s not.

Here’s the truth.

The truth is I hate that question.  The truth is I want to snap at her and say, “That’s none of your business.”  The truth is I avoid the doctor because of this question.  The truth is—I don’t know the truth. 

I don’t know if someone in my family has a history of heart disease because there is a whole half of my genetics that are a complete mystery to me.

My father walked out on my mother and me when I was only six weeks old.  He chose drugs and alcohol over his family and never looked back—well except for that time he wrote me a letter from rehab while I was still an infant that promised me he would get clean.  Promised me he would come back. Promised me he would be a real dad some day because he promised me he loved me.

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That letter might as well have been just another fairy tale mom read to me before bed because here I am nearly three decades later, and he is as real to me as talking bears who eat porridge and sleep in human beds.

Actually, no. 

He is very real.

But I’ve spent the majority of my life pretending that part of me didn’t exist.  After all, you can’t be rejected if the relationship never existed in the first place.  And so, I worked hard for years to completely block the reality of this man from my mind.

And then I go to the doctor.  Why in the world an allergy doctor needs to know about family history of heart disease is beyond me, but they inevitably ask, and I inevitably pretend I actually know the answer to that question.  Then I spend the remainder of my day going through a playlist of questions that always come up whenever genetics are mentioned.

“What if he does have a serious condition that will affect my health?  What if he is dying of a genetic disease as we speak, and I have no idea?  Will I ever see him again?  What if he just showed up on my doorstep one day?  What would I say?  Would I let him in?  Why did he leave me in the first place?  Am I not worth sticking around for?”  Deep down, I always know the answer to that last one, but I still mull over the list of things that are wrong with me for the rest of the afternoon.

Life as That Girl

Growing up, I was the only person in my group of friends who had divorced parents, and so I was especially the only one with an invisible parent.  And I felt it all the time.  Little league softball was the worst.  I swear it seemed like every single dad of a player was a coach.  Except for mine of course.  After all, it’s hard to make it to practices when you are in jail.

“Let’s take a picture of the girls with their daddies,” a mom would shout after a game, and everyone would collectively sigh and put their hands over their chests like they had just watched a little girl get a brand new puppy.  And there I would be, standing just off the field wishing I were invisible.

But I wasn’t.  And everyone knew about my past—my friends, their mothers, my teachers.  I wasn’t treated overtly different, but you could definitely see pity in their eyes when I would only reserve one audience ticket to my recital.  My friends’ moms liked me, but I was always that girl.  The girl from a broken home.  The girl without a father.18485676_10212831698926109_7777954420817742207_n

My mother never really took me to church when I was child.  Between going to school full time and working a full time job at a local factory, she was too exhausted to get us both dressed in our Sunday best and out the door before 10.  But from the moment I heard about Jesus, I knew I wanted him.  I heard my friends talking about Jesus at school, and I loved a picture Bible that I had won the summer before when my aunt took me to Vacation Bible School at her church.

So, I accepted Christ when I was eight years old alone in my bedroom.  No one prayed with me or had me repeat a prayer.  It truly was my decision to follow Christ, and I meant that prayer with all my heart. I knew Mom would be too tired to really listen that night, and so I couldn’t wait to get to school and tell my friends who I had heard talking about Jesus earlier that week.

I saw my best friend first.  I tugged her shirt and the words exploded from my heart, “I got saved last night!”

She looked at me puzzled.  “What?  How?”

“I prayed and asked God to forgive me.  I’m so excited!  I’m a Christian now, right?”

My cheeks were hurting at this point from smiling so much, but with a scowl, she simply responded, “You can’t be saved.”  And with that, she rolled her eyes and walked away.  

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There, in Mrs. Farley’s second grade classroom, my heart was shattered into a million pieces, and it has taken me years to put them all back together.

She was wrong, of course.  And deep down I knew it. But it was why she said it that hurt so badly.

No matter how well behaved I was or how much I achieved, my past would always seem to define me early in life.  I would always be the girl that your mom would say, “Well, bless her heart” about after I left the sleepover.  I was always the daughter of a struggling single mom.  And I was always the daughter of a drug addict—even though I wasn’t his daughter at all.

The Perfect Man with a Far from Perfect Family

Far too often our family history defines us.  Even if we don’t define ourselves by our past, others do.  And no matter what your past consists of, whether it be broken relationships, substance abuse, an eating disorder, a specific sin that you can’t seem to let go of, sexual abuse, a deadbeat dad, or whatever else has been written in the story of your life so far that pains you, it does not take away the beauty and brilliance of the life God created—your life.

But, it took me years not to feel deep shame about my family history.  Like 25 years to be exact.  In the middle of an obsessive compulsive episode (that I will get into another day), I was hungry for godly wisdom, and I listened to several sermons from some of my favorite Christian leaders every chance I could get (probably a compulsion now that I think about it).  Of all the sermons I listened to, there is one that truly changed my perspective on my lifetime of hurt: a Christmas sermon about Jesus’s genealogy.

You think you have the crazy aunt that you have to warn your children about before going to Thanksgiving dinner?  That’s nothing compared to Jesus’s family.  Turns out, the Savior of the world had some pretty messed up people in his family background.  Seriously.  Prostitutes, liars, murders.  You name it, they are there.

In fact, one of the earliest ancestors of Jesus—and one of the most mentioned throughout the Bible—has a shockingly dirty record.  Chances are you have heard the story of Joseph.  You know, the son Jacob loved more than his other sons and who was given an amazing coat—a technicolor dream coat you may have heard it called—as further evidence of his father’s favoritism.  The Joseph who was sold into slavery by his brothers, ended up in the king’s home, and then through God’s providence and power was made royalty himself.  Yeah, that Joseph.

Incredible story, right?  Clearly God watched over him and chose him for His purposes.  He’s gotta be in Jesus’s lineage!

Actually no.  He’s not.

But one of his brothers is.

Now, I’ve never grown up with a sibling, but I have watched my sons do it, and I know the crazy jealousy that can creep into that relationship at times.  Jacob obviously showed more affection for Joseph, so you can hardly blame his brothers for disliking him.  It surely didn’t help Joseph’s cause when he started telling them about dreams he had been having where the brothers were bowing down to him.  Awkward.

So Joseph’s brothers had had enough, and they decided to deal with their feelings in the worst possible way.  They made a plan to kill their little brother, Joseph.

As Joseph’s doom neared, Judah, Jacob’s fourth son, spoke up out of the goodness of his heart against the plan.  Well, he spoke up, but I can’t say it was with pure intentions.

“Then Judah said to his brothers, ‘What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood?  Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.’ And his brothers listened to him” (Genesis 37:26-27).

In other words, Judah told his brothers that it would be better to sell their brother into slavery than to kill him because they could at least make money out of the deal and not have to carry the weight of having murdered their own brother.  I mean, I’ve heard of siblings threaten to sell their brother or sister when they are young, but this is taking it way too far.image2-1.png

And so, Joseph is not in Jesus’s family tree.  The Savior of the world came from a different line.  A different son of Jacob: Judah.

I’ll go ahead and pause while you pick your jaw up off of the floor, but I’m warning you, that’s not even the worst part of Judah’s story.

Another Layer of Disgrace for Judah

Although much of this particular storyline in Genesis will follow Joseph, the very next chapter details Judah’s life after he sold his little brother into slavery.  It may seem as if it is an unnecessary or random interruption from the story just as it is getting good, but ultimately, the entire Bible is about Jesus, and as I already told you, Jesus was a descendent of Judah—not Joseph.

So in Genesis 38, we learn that Judah further proves his rebellion from God’s law by leaving his family and his home to marry a Canaanite girl.  More than likely, this doesn’t sound that offensive to you.  It’s not odd for you to pull up Facebook and see someone you graduated high school with living in a different state now or married to someone outside of your hometown.  However, leaving your home was very significant to God’s chosen people, and marrying a Canaanite woman was even more offensive.

Okay, that’s a little harsh.  All we know about her is that she was a Canaanite woman—isn’t it a little unfair to assume she wasn’t a worthy bride?

It’s not so much her as it is her ancestors.

The Canaanites descended from a man named Canaan, who was one of Noah’s grandsons.  If you’ve gotten most of your Old Testament knowledge from children’s stories, you likely aren’t familiar with what happened after the rainbow.  Hmmm, that’s kind of catchy.  After the Rainbow.  Sounds like the perfect television drama, and Noah’s story would fit right in with networks’ current primetime lineup.  After all, it’s definitely too scandalous for children’s illustrated Bibles, and you will soon see why.

You know Noah—the obedient man who stepped out in faith and built an ark as God commanded even when it didn’t make sense at the time, gathered all of the animals two-by-two, and survived the flood that took the lives of everyone in the world besides his and his family’s.  After he returned to dry land, Genesis 9 tells us that Noah had a little too much to drink one night and fell asleep without any clothes on. 

Yes, the man who built the ark got drunk and passed out naked.

Noah’s youngest son, Ham, was the first to find him.  Instead of covering his father, he further robbed Noah of his dignity by going to get his brothers and telling them what he saw.  His brothers, Shem and Japheth, then entered Noah’s tent backward so they wouldn’t see his nakedness, and they covered him with a garment.

When Noah woke up, the Bible says Noah responded to Ham’s degradation of his father by cursing Ham’s son, Canaan:

“Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.” He also said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant.  May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his servant” (Genesis 9: 25-27).
And that was the beginning of a long history of Canaanite rebellion against God and his law.  So, fast forward to Judah. 

The romantic in me wants to read that this woman was different from her ancestors—that she fell in love with Judah because of his zeal for God and then he took her as his bride and they lived happily ever after, serving God obediently together as husband and wife. 

But there is no such story.  In fact, this is all the Bible says about the start of their relationship: “And Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua; and he took her and went in to her” (Genesis 18:2).  The verb “saw” here most likely means that she was a beautiful woman and that is why Judah took her as a wife. So basically, Judah had one requirement for his future wife: she had to look good.  Wow.  He’s a real winner, right?

From this marriage, Judah had three sons: Er, Onan, and Shelah.  Don’t worry about writing those names down in your notes—they won’t be around long.  But you will want to write this one down: Tamar.

“And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord put him to death” (Genesis 38:6).

So God took the life of Er because he was wicked, leaving his wife, Tamar, widowed. According to Jewish custom, Judah was to then give Tamar to Onan, his second son.  Onan complied but didn’t want to have children with Tamar, so God took Onan’s life, too.

Instead of recognizing the disobedience of his own sons, Judah incorrectly attributes his sons’ peril to Tamar, and so he hesitates to marry his third son, Shelah, to her.  Judah instead sends Tamar to live with her father.  As time passes and Tamar realizes that Judah has no intention of marrying her to Shelah anytime soon, she decides to take matters into her own hands.

When Tamar heard her father-in-law was going out of town to sheer sheep, she followed.  Waiting for him by the side of the road with her face covered, Tamar looked like a prostitute.  You see where this is going.  Judah asked her to sleep with him, and she did.

image1-1.pngSo, Judah slept with his daughter-in-law, but he didn’t know it was her at the time.  No, that revelation came three months later when he heard Tamar was pregnant, and what happened next would have made the producers of Dr. Phil salivate if it had happened today.

“And Judah said, “Bring her out, and let her be burned.” As she was being brought out, she sent word to her father-in-law, “By the man to whom these belong, I am pregnant” (Genesis 38:24b-25a).

Much to the horror and humiliation of Judah, Tamar brought out a signet, cord, and staff that Judah had given her that night three months before.

“And she said, ‘Please identify whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff.’ Then Judah identified them and said, ‘She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah’” (Genesis 38:25b).

I’m telling you, if you like drama, save your money!  Don’t buy cable—just read your Bible!

The Significance of the Virgin Birth

But let’s not miss the point of the message here.  This man wanted his brother dead, then kept him alive only to profit financially, left his family, married a Canaanite woman, raised wicked sons, refused to take care of his daughter-in-law, and then later slept with his daughter-in-law because he thought she was a prostitute.

This man is an ancestor of Jesus’s mother, Mary.  A forefather of Jesus.  That means that Jesus, the One who was perfect in every way, shared this man’s DNA.  And Judah wasn’t the only other person in Jesus’s lineage that would make you blush either. 

But honestly, this shouldn’t be surprising to us.  After all, just like you and me, they all came from Adam, and based on Romans 5, the curse of sin that was put upon Adam after he ate from the tree is seemingly passed down from generation to generation through the birth father

This is why the virgin birth is so incredibly significant.  Not only does Mary’s ability to conceive a child without ever having sexual relations with a man demonstrate God’s unlimited power for the miraculous, it also explains how Jesus escaped the curse of sin.  Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit; therefore, Jesus came into existence free from the curse of Adam. Free from the sinful nature passed down through the father.

Abba Father

Well, that’s great for Him, but what does that mean for me—the girl who undeniably shares DNA with the man whose name is on my birth certificate?

For so long, I have felt doomed to become like my birth father. Half of what makes up my physical being came from him and that broken part of my past. The power of genetics is undeniable.  Just Google “twins separated at birth” and you will find numerous stories of the influence shared DNA can have on the lives of individuals. 

But the creator of the genetic code is far more powerful.image2

There is no denying that I am made up of the very genes that I am embarrassed by; however, because I believe in Christ and His resurrection and have asked him to make me more like Jesus, the Bible says He has made me “a new creation,” and that “the old has passed away,” and “the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). 

Don’t miss the power of this verse.  The old you—the “you” that came from brokenness and shame—doesn’t exist anymore if you are in Christ.  It is gone.  It is dead.  And what has taken its place is a new creation. Did you hear that? New. Not simply improved.  Not simply forgiven.  But completely new.  John 1 says:

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (12-13).”

So, yes. I still have my earthly genetics, but my soul—the part of me that makes me me, the part of me that will exist long after my earthly body leaves this world, the part of me that will live for an eternity in heaven with Him—has been completely reborn and is now free from the curse of sin.  And because of this rebirth, my father is the Creator of the heavens and the earth, not a broken human who neglected me years ago.

God has broken the bondage associated with my ancestors and calls me His daughter. And here is the most beautiful part of it all.  Romans 8 says:
“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.  For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (v. 14-15).

image1.pngAbba Father.  The sweetest sound in Scripture for a broken daughter like me.  Abba Father is Aramaic for what we would call, “daddy.”

Daddy.  A word that signifies the unbreakable bond between a father and his child.  A word that can bring peace and comfort to a broken heart.  A word that can protect even in the most fearful times.  A word that can bring joy to the weary and strength to the broken.

A word I longed to use nearly my entire life.

“Daddy” carries a different meaning than “father” or even “dad.”  “Daddy” demonstrates a childlike need for a father, a protector.  And the Bible makes it clear that God fills that role for all of those who call upon Jesus and are reconciled to Him.

image3

So now, instead of being the child of a drugaddict doomed to forever carry those blemished genes I inherited at birth, I am now a new creation known as a child of the God most high. And while this realization about who I am still doesn’t help me answer the unavoidable questions about my family history while a nurse takes my blood pressure, it reminds me that the only blood that truly impacts my life now is the blood of Jesus that claimed me as a child of the God most high.

 

Long enough, God—you’ve ignored me long enough

Long enough, God—you’ve ignored me long enough.  I’ve looked at the back of your head long enough.  Long enough I’ve carried this ton of trouble, lived with a stomach full of pain.

Long enough.

Okay, so you are likely having one of two reactions right now: The first is, “I can’t believe she is talking to God like that!  Steer clear because she has a lightning bolt headed her way.”

Well, I didn’t actually say that. David did. You know, “the man after God’s own heart.” King David.  The man responsible for writing most of the psalms in the Bible. Yeah, that David.  And this idea of “how long is God going to ignore me?” is how he starts my favorite psalm of all time. 

So, now that you know no one is getting struck by lightning, the other reaction you might be having is: “Me, too, girl. I feel the same way.”  Because the truth is that nearly all of us have wondered where He was at some point or another.  Wondered why He wasn’t intervening on some difficult aspect of our lives.  Wondered why He wasn’t answering our prayers how we thought He should.

image2.PNGThe truth is that God feels distant to all of us at times.  The proof is scattered throughout Scripture and shows in the lives of biblical leaders today, including John Piper, who said in response to a question about God being distant in one’s life, “I and others — thousands of others — have shared seasons like that.”  So, first things first.  If you are a believer and feel, or have felt, God is distant in your life, you are not alone.

God has certainly felt distant at times in my life. Never was that more true than when I had a serious bout with obsessive compulsive disorder a couple years ago.  I remember laying facedown in my floor night after night begging God to take away the irrational, but consuming, fear that choked out any real hope for relief for several weeks of my life.  Clearly these feelings weren’t from God because He doesn’t give us a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7), so why wouldn’t he just answer my prayer and heal me?

Therein lies the anguish expressed by David in Psalm 13:1-2: 

“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” (ESV)

You know He can fix it.  But He hasn’t yet.  And you want to know why.  So you cry out to him. Over and over and over again.  And you still don’t get an answer.  Still don’t feel relief.  Still don’t see light at the end of the tunnel.  And then you get tired.  You start to doubt your faith—doubt Him.  You don’t want to feel this way, but if He was really for you (Romans 8:31), He would have shown up and fought for you by now.  Right?

Oh, the number of times I have made these verses my prayer.

And oh, how many times I have missed the point of the psalm in its entirety!

The problem with making my prayer these first two verses is that it is all about me and what God does for me.  Seriously—read it again.

“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” (ESV)

But if you continue reading, Psalm 13 changes at verse 5 when it says, “I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.”  You see, this is why David was a man after God’s own heart.  The focus of this psalm is not about criticizing God when He is distant in our time of need—it is instead about our response when He is distant in our time of need.  Instead of this constant focus on God moving to help him, David changes his tone by saying what he will do in response to His longing.

So I’m going to be real here—often my struggles are born out of my complete infatuation with myself.

I want to be awesome.  I want to do great things.  I want people to know me and respect me and love me.  I want my life to be comfortable, and I want all of that right now.

I am all about me, y’all.

But God says it’s not about me.  Listen, He makes it very clear that He loves me with a love so fierce I can’t even understand it.  I mean, He gave His son up to a horrific death so that I could have a relationship with Him.  He loves me, okay.  But image1.PNGit’s not about me.  It never has been, and it never will be.

And—don’t miss this—He loves me so much that my wants, my timing, my ideas, they are not His priority.  Because His way is always better.  And His timing is always perfect.

Yesterday He reminded me of this.

After my husband moved out of his parents’ home several years ago, they tried unsuccessfully to sell it two different times.  Both times, we prayed earnestly for God to help them move—the first time was for a job and the second time was to downsize, and we were devastated for them when there was zero interest in the house either time.  We believed the lack of movement on the house was a sign of distance from God.  We’ve prayed to God about this for years (literally).  Why won’t he just help them sell the house?

Well, it turns out that job they wanted to move for ended up being a disaster and downsizing would have prevented them from caring for my husband’s grandmother in the days before she moved to a nursing home. 

Well, fast forward a year or so… we recently lost my father-in-law, one of the greatest men you’ll ever know, and our family has been understandably wrecked over it. We knew my mother-in-law needed to move out, but we had little faith someone would buy her house based on its track record.

Well, you’ve probably already guessed it, but she accepted an offer on her house yesterday.

The whole time we were shaking our fist in the air wondering why God was ignoring our plans, He was thinking about this moment and His plan.  And His plan came wrapped with a big bow on top just to remind us how awesome He is because yesterday just so happened to also be my father-in-law’s birthday. He wasn’t ignoring us. He just knew when we would really need that prayer answered.

His way was better.  His way was perfect.  Not ours.

So instead of longing for God to work on my own time, I am now trying to think like David and instead shape my response during my most trying moments. 

David ends Psalm 13 by saying, “I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.”  And y’all, there is no denying that He has been good to me.  And to you.  So, I tell you that story of my in-laws’ home to not only remind you that He is always working for your good (Romans 8:28) even if it doesn’t feel like it, but to also shout His praise.  Yesterday, our God answered a prayer we had been asking of Him for years.  And He will answer yours, too.

Because He is good.  All the time.

Even despite my lack of faith at times (which is another story for another day…)

So, precious sister, He may seem distant.  He may seem silent.  He may seem indifferent to your struggle.  But He’s not ignoring you, and He certainly hasn’t forgotten you.

So the answer to David’s question of “how long?”…  The answer is: as long as it takes for God to work the situation out for your good and His glory.  In the meantime, stop asking God when He will work for you and instead remember all of the good things He has done.  Remember His promises.  Remember all the blessings He has given.  Trust that He will continue to be good because He loves you.  And sing to the Lord, ladies, because He has been good to us.

To the girl who feels as though she will never be good enough: listen carefully.

To the girl who feels as though she will never be good enough: listen carefully.

You are right. 

You will never be good enough.

You can pause and read that again if you need to.  It may not have been what you were expecting, but sometimes the things we need to hear are not what we had hoped to hear.

image2.PNGI mean, let’s just be honest.  Your life is far from perfect.  It is full of disappointments.  Full of weaknesses.  Full of mistakes.  Full of hurt.  You have this idea of what the perfect life would be, and you picture that girl in your mind.  Deep down you know you will never be that girl.  Sure, you try.  But you always fail.  Because you just aren’t good enough.

While this is all true, you have to understand this: you aren’t that girl because she doesn’t exist.

I know you’re probably thinking of someone right now and saying, “But she exists.  And her life is perfect.  Just look at her Facebook profile!” 

Sister, hear me say this with love: you couldn’t be more wrong.  Her life, no matter how perfect it seems to be from the outside looking in, is far from perfect. Her life is full of disappointments. Full of weaknesses.  Full of mistakes. Full of hurt. Just like yours.

She just doesn’t talk about them with you. Just like you don’t talk about yours with her.

Sisters, we are obsessed with hiding our blemishes, both inside and out.  Just look at the popularity of photo filters and makeup tutorials!  Oh, and the endless pictures of smiling babies on social media without a single glimpse of the Godzilla moments that all babies have. 

Don’t get me wrong—it is not a bad thing to desire a life that has it all together.  What’s destructive though is believing you are the only person stuck trying to fake it till you make it.  We are all eons from perfection, ladies.

How’s that for an encouraging post, huh?  You suck. I suck. We all suck. You’re welcome.

Okay, but here is something you may not have considered—Jesus was blemished, too.  Yes, Jesus. God’s own son walked the earth a perfect man but hung on the cross a blemished sinner.

The perfect man who lived free from the image1weight of sin was beaten and nailed to a cross left to die as he wore your sin as his own.  Your sin.  My sin.  Our sin.  All the sins of the world—jealousy, hypocrisy, deceit, greed, murder—they were all put on our Savior (2 Corinthians 5:21).  Stop for a second and think about the horror of this. A once perfect man who had always pleased his Father became so filthy with sin that the Father couldn’t even look at him anymore (Habbakuk 1:13; Matthew 27:46). And so Jesus took his last breath with a body that was broken and blemished by our imperfections.

But three days later, Jesus came back.  He rose from the dead.  He defeated death.  He defeated sin.  He not only took our sin, but he overcame it.  Think about the enormity of that!

So sweet sister, this is what I want you to hear.  Because Jesus returned to the earth unblemished by sin, by disappointments, by weaknesses, by mistakes, by hurt, we can also be unblemished.

Not on our own, of course.  Again, I told you from the start you weren’t good enough. 

But He is. 

And if you are a believer in Jesus and have asked him to erase the blemishes in your life, you are “holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Colossians 1:22).

When you look in the mirror, you see a mess, but God sees His Son.  All of those imperfections you obsess over and work so hard to hide from the world—God doesn’t even see them.

So, no.  You aren’t good enough.  You will always fail on your own.  But in Christ, you, my beautiful sister, are unblemished.

Live in the freedom of that truth today…

That Stubborn Heart

Three nights ago, my husband received the phone call.  You know the one you always hear about but think will never happen to you.  Yes, we know life is fleeting, and we knew we would lose his father someday.  Just not that day.

“You know,” my husband said to me when he returned home from his parents’ home that night.  “I always tried to prepare myself for [my father’s passing], but there is just nothing you can do to ever prepare yourself for something like this.”  It was midnight at that point, three hours after he heard the sound of his desperate mother’s voice on the other end of the line telling him she couldn’t wake his father.  His best friend.  His sage.  His idol.

My father-in-law struggled with heart issues for years, long before I joined the family.  In fact, more than 20 years ago he underwent quadruple bypass surgery, and just a few short months ago he had received a pacemaker and defibrillator .  And really, we shouldn’t have been surprised with all the heart issues.  After all, his heart was just as stubborn as he was.  He hated going to the doctor.  In fact, up until the past few years, he had only been to the doctor for two reasons: to have the heart surgery and to have some of his fingers reattached after an accident in his wood shop. And even with the latter, he insisted he drive himself to the doctor–yes, with partially detached digits and a bucket between his legs to catch the blood.  Like I said: stubborn.

thumbnail_IMG_1751But this was the beautiful thing about Cecil.  It was never about him.

He could be hurting, but he would never let you know it.  “If I was any better, I’d be [insert some snarky, clever comment here],” he would always reply when you asked how he was feeling.  Then he would quickly turn the conversation to what mattered more to him: you.  After asking if I enjoyed my day, he would always reply, “Well, good.  It would be foolish not to.”
Cecil loved me like his own, but really that could be said about a lot of people he knew.  I have truly never met a more selfless human being.  He has opened his home to strangers, providing a bed for anyone who needed it without asking any questions and feeding literally hundreds in his home in the past several years.  And he always found ways for his passions and talents to serve others, too.  From his 40 years in education (40?!?), to his service in the church and community, to the hundreds of vegetables he gave people from his garden, to talents and skills he passed on to others through his carpentry, to the people he took hunting with him, even to the number of cans he opened while serving you at his home (he would never let anyone open their own soda–that was a job for the host)–his life truly is one that has left a lasting legacy.

So tonight, we plan to get together with Chase’s brothers and sisters and their families and talk about his heart.  Not the one that failed.  Not the broken one.  Not the one who stole him from us.  No, tonight, we will sit around a fire pit and talk about the one that really defined him.  His compassionate heart.  His servant’s heart.  His stubbornly selfless heart.

You know, it’s incredible how someone with a weak heart can have one of the strongest.  But when you think about it, maybe it makes perfect sense.  Maybe he spent his entire life sharing his heart with everyone else largeand it finally had nothing left to give.

If everything that you do flows from the heart (Proverbs 4:23), my father-in-law had the most beautiful heart there was.  Cecil dedicated his life to serving Christ by serving others.  He gave indiscriminately, and while he left this earth with nothing, he has now gained everything in Jesus.

So today, instead of mourning, I choose to celebrate my father-in-law, because, well, it would be foolish not to…

It’s Not Fair.

“But that’s not fair.”

Oh my goodness, if I hear that from my four year old one more time, I think I might cry.  Life with a new little brother has been tough on my son–especially because his little brother arrived at our home at the age of 20 months.  Everything my oldest has, my youngest wants (and will do nearly anything to get). So now, my oldest has a newfound obsession with “fairness,” and it is wearing me out!

“But this toy is mine.  He can’t just take it.  That’s not fair!” or “But he didn’t have to take three bites.  Why do I?  That’s not fair!”

I would love to chalk this up as a phase, but I know better.  It seems as if humans were born with a craving for justice, and we never quite outgrow it.  Just turn on the television and count how many court dramas will air on network stations tonight alone.  We love justice–our country was founded on it (with liberty and justice for all!).  We love to see the evildoer get what’s coming to him.

And justice is a beautiful thing.  People should be held accountable for their actions.  Our country should support and uphold a system that is fair and just, and I’m so thankful to live in a country that holds these values.

But this idea of justice can get a little scary for some when they consider how God handles justice.  After all, the Bible is very clear about these three things:

  • God is just (Deuteronomy 32:4; 2 Chronicles 19:7; Romans 9:14; 2 Thessalonians 1:6).
  • We have all sinned and fall short of God’s standard of living (Romans 3:23).
  • The punishment for sin is death (Romans 6:23).

Suddenly fair isn’t looking like such a great thing anymore.

But the Bible is also very clear about this: Jesus was the necessary sacrifice for our sin.  

Yes, the punishment for sin is death.  But instead of God calling for my death, Jesus died in my place.  And if you want to talk about fairness–that’s about as unfair as it gets.  Seriously–the fact that a perfect man paid the price for every wrong I’ve ever done is totally unfair.  But it happened.

So, yes, God loves justice.  He gives perfect people exactly what they deserve–an eternity of oneness with the one true God.  The problem is that all of us have screwed up, making us imperfect.  Blemished.  Hopeless from the start.

If Jesus hadn’t died, that would be the end of our story.  But He did, and that changes everything.

If you believe in Jesus and have asked God to forgive your sins, they are gone.  And not gone like the sock that you swear has disappeared but will inevitably return as soon as you’ve thrown its match away.  I mean gone like it never happened.

There is no evidence.

We find the defendant not guilty.

You are free to go.

So that thing that you’ve done or said that you can’t forgive yourself for…  The thing that makes you toss and turn at night.  The thing that you see as inextricably linked to your identity.  The thing that weighs on you every second of every day… Yeah, that thing doesn’t exist anymore. There is no evidence of your guilt if you are in Christ.  You are torturing yourself over something that God doesn’t even see.

Imagine this–someone in a police uniform walks up to a man, tells him he has committed a crime although the man has no record, and arrests him. The man is then taken to prison and told he has to stay there for the rest of his life–that there’s nothing he can ever do to be free again.  Despite everything he has learned about our justice system, the man willingly stays locked up in prison for the rest of his life, believing that the guy dressed in the police uniform had the authority to lock him up and hand him a life sentence.  Ridiculous, right?  No one would ever believe something as outrageous as that!  No one would ever willingly give up his freedom and believe something that goes against everything he has been taught!  Right??

Then let me ask you this.  Why are you sitting in a prison cell?

So many of us are locking ourselves up and refusing to allow ourselves the freedom that God says is ours in Christ (Galatians 5:1).  And Satan loves every minute of it.  You see, he is totally powerless against God, so he can’t take away the freedom that has been given to you through Christ.  But he can lie to you and convince you it’s not yours.  Or that you don’t deserve it.  Or that God meant every other sin, but not that one.  But that’s all those are: lies.

Here is the truth: God is love (1 John 4:8).  And love keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:5).  And because of Jesus, we can have a loving relationship with God.  Therefore, there is NO record of your sin and no punishment from God for those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1).

Hear me, sister: When He looks at you, He sees perfection and innocence (Colossians 1:22) regardless of what you see, think, or feel at the moment.

So, although you have fallen short of His commands, you are free to live in His total forgiveness and love.  In the words of Hillsong United, “It makes no sense, but this is grace.”  It may not be fair, but it is truth.

So take these keys and unlock your prison cell dear.  You’re free to go.