On November 1 of this year, I wrote in my journal, "I feel like something is about to turn."

The next day, we met for our weekly Milkweed Momday and launched one of our own monarch butterflies, a mama named Jamie, out of our milkweed and into her new adventure.

"How exciting," I mused to my Shepherd. "Now, what's next?"

I felt Him inviting me up a mountain. It looked like a beautiful hike. "Make sure you bring your baby," He told me.

And as I climbed, I realized the baby was none of my three biological kiddos. No, it was the Milkweed group. I was praying over the members, checking in with them, prepping for our time together each Momday, posting to them in our online forum in between groups - what had been His creation had certainly become one of my precious children.

It was then that I realized He was getting ready to do a dramatic reenactment of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22, asking me to sacrifice that which I loved so dearly. No worries, I thought, there will certainly be a ram caught in the bushes up ahead.

I invited my prayer pals into the journey, sisters in Christ who have stood with me, holding up my arms and carrying hope through dark seasons, and who have also leapt with me during joyful celebrations. They listened, prayed, counseled, and encouraged me, and I was again reminded of the beauty of authentic, mutual community.

This past weekend, I arrived at the altar. I got ready to surrender Milkweed to Him, then looked around for the ram. There was none. The Shepherd just stood there, arms open, asking if He could have the group. And, with tears in my eyes, I handed it over.

I don't know what is next. What I do know is the peace that I have accomplished what He called me to do in the Bible study/prayer group/play group so many of us have enjoyed. We ladies have entered in pain, confusion, crisis, loneliness; we have abided, cocooned, and most have flown off with their beautiful wings fashioned by the Creator.

And it has been wonderful

I have peace I can confidently say with Paul:
~I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.~
2 Timothy 4:7

The online Milkweed group will continue, and we'll see what our loving Daddy has in store as we continue to do community virtually!

I'm going to end this difficult goodbye to our Milkweed Momdays with one of my favorite quotes from Pastor Erwin McManus of Mosaic:

~I don't know if you know this about butterflies, but there's a transitional period when they're still in the cocoon, and they don't know they're a butterfly. They think they're a caterpillar. And in that moment it must be incredibly disturbing to realize that you no longer fit in your home. See, a cocoon is a perfect home for a caterpillar, but it's not the right kind of home for a butterfly. And there has to be a moment when that butterfly realizes that it has new appendages that are called wings, and it begins to break out of its cocoon, destroying what once gave it safety and security, that place called "home", so that it could fly and experience life in a way it had never known and would never know as a caterpillar.~

See you on the other side of the cocoon, my friends.


Holes in Wood

There is a popular anecdote about a kid with anger issues. Here's a version of it:

"'There once was a little boy who had a bad temper. His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he must hammer a nail into the back of the fence. 

The first day the boy had  driven 37 nails into the fence. Over the next few weeks, as he learned to control his anger, the number of nails hammered daily gradually dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence. 

Finally the day came when the boy didn't lose his temper at all. He told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper. The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone. 

The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence He said, 'You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one. You can put a knife in a man and draw it out. It won't matter how many times you say I'm sorry, the wound is still there.'

The little boy then understood how powerful his words were. He looked up at his father and said 'I hope you can forgive me father for the holes I put in you.'
'Of course I can,' said the father."

Often, the point drawn from this story is that words hurt. But I want to focus on something else: The power of the wood left behind. Let me explain.

One of my friends in high school was a cutter. I was fascinated by his scars - not because I was macabre (although I was), but because he had stopped self-injuring and become a Christian. Those scars were now part of his redemption story. He was embarrassed by them, hid them with long sleeves, but to me they were beautiful banners of God's transformation and healing.

I love those visual reminders of our journeys.
I love that we have proof that we haven't always been where we are today.
I love that these "holes in wood" keep us humble, keep us permanent students.

My daughter became a permanent student at 9 months of age. She has a scar on her forehead from being too headstrong in a porcelain bathtub. Hilarious symbolism aside, it will be a great opportunity for us to teach her as she gets older that she's already reaped lifelong consequences of disregarding wise counsel.

And learning continues in our home. I have a scar on my arm from hurrying too much while cooking, receiving a long kiss one evening from the oven rack. You better believe that I've slowed down considerably in the kitchen!

See, we all have holes in wood from bad habits, signature sins, our pasts. Some of us hide them, denying them and, consequently, their power from our testimony. But wouldn't it be great if we embraced them as our loving Daddy has, weaving them into our connected stories so others can learn from them, be encouraged by them, praise God for how he has brought us to our current place of being? Maybe a little something like the letters found at Verses 3 to 5...

I hope the dad in the story decided to keep the fence as it was. That way, the son will always be reminded of his temper, but also grace and redemption.



The videos I store in my head seem to be cataloged into three categories:
1. Life-changing moments
2. Non-life-changing moments that still made an impact for some reason
3. Things that pop up from time to time which I've forgotten about until God has some reason to remind me of them

On my anniversary, I'm playing the memory of standing on that playground in October 2007, shivering with friends and family from the damp coolness as my fiance slides a ring onto my finger.

As I'm hanging ornaments, I'm remembering that weird commercial for a Santa hotline my brothers and I laughed at during our preteen years, singing the jingle ad nauseum for our parents and creating obscure parodies for our own enjoyment.

Today, I had a Category 3 visit. Every time this memory leaps onto my mental landscape, I'm amazed it hasn't taken up permanent residence in Category 1. But I'm grateful it hasn't because it's maintained its potency each time the Spirit has brought it back. Here's the story.

When I was dating a guy I probably shouldn't have ever dated, I was invited to be in a wedding. I had never been in a wedding, and I didn't know what I was getting into, and I'm going to skip that story because I think it has passed its point of being useful for any kind of edification. The end of it was that I was no longer going to the wedding, and I suddenly had my Memorial Day weekend free.

That Sunday, I was at church, responding to a gentle but persistent nudging at my heart. "I surrender," I told God. "Take my life, and do what You want with it."

The next day, I was en route with my paramour and some friends to an amusement park. We had to take a few expressways to get there, and, not being the driver, I had brought along a book to read in the backseat for the two-hour trip.

I looked up just as the driver jerked the car to the right, causing us to fly off the road and into the downhill embankment. We careened through wet ditches and weeds, until the SUV came to a full stop with its nose pointing upward toward the highway and its rear wheels locked in mud.

"What happened?" we all exclaimed in unison. The driver pointed back at the road, at a car parked in the right lane of traffic. No one was in it, but as we scanned toward the waist-high weeds we had just blown past, we saw a figure emerging and tugging at his pants zipper.

Yes. This individual had parked his car in the road to pee. And we should have all been dead.

By God's grace and that alone, our driver had made a knee-jerk maneuver as soon as the car in front of him swiped to the left because of the parked car. Had our driver gone left, we would have been in an accident. Instead, we went right, and the area where we landed was safe enough to "drive" on. We were in a 4x4 vehicle that had not flipped over despite its trajectory, and no one was injured.

A few days later, my beau and I broke up. It wasn't until quite some time after that I put it together that my cry to God on Sunday had brought on this about-face, making us all reevaluate the trajectory of our own lives. I had not been injured in the accident or the relationship, but my loving Daddy had something bigger and better for me, and He needed me to let go of what was holding me back.

Definitely a Category 1 memory.
And after I'm done praising Him for this, I'll go back to forgetting it until He wants to remind me again of His power, His plans, and His faithfulness.


Toeing the line

I don't know many people who are great at hearing the word, "No."
In fact, as I typed that statement, I attempted to tally up everyone in my mental Rolodex who could graciously accept a negative response, and no one popped up. There has to be at least one person I know who is gifted in that area; I just don't have them on speed-dial for it.

And as I typed that last paragraph, I realized there is a large portion of the population who would not know what I was talking about when I referenced "Rolodex" and "speed-dial". But now I'm just growing tangential.

So "no" is not a welcome word for most of us. Lately, my 3-year-old daughter has been exemplifying for me what I do when I hear it.

Moxie: Can I stand on this chair?
Me: No. Climb down from it.
Moxie: Can I sit on it?
Me: Yes, you can sit on it.
Moxie: Can I kneel on it?
Me: Yes, you can kneel on it.
Moxie: Can I squat on it?
Me: Yes- Wait! Now you're standing on it again!

She hears the no, but then wants to know how close she can get to the line without crossing it. Actually, in her case, she doesn't care if she crosses it; in fact, she believes I may not notice her crossing it and all will be well.

And then I think about all the times I've done that with God.
He says, "Tithe," and I ask if it's okay if I hold back when it doesn't look like I can buy all our groceries that week.
He says, "Don't lie," and I ask if omitting information is okay.
He says, "Don't have any gods before me," and I ask if I can just have this one habit that He doesn't get to have say over. Just one. And it will be little. He'll hardly even notice it's there.

And that line, no matter what it is, is always so tempting. And once we have it in our mind as something to stay away from, it is now ironically luring us toward it.

~...but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.~
James 1:14-15 (NIV) 

One of my friends did a sermon in high school - our youth group took over the church once a year and pretended we were the pastors for a Sunday - and he hit the nail on the head for a solution. I can't recall the context of this point, so pardon me as I just barge in with the gist of it:
Instead of asking how close can we get to the line, how about we look at what else we can be doing? How about we simply strive to stay away from the line?

For high-schoolers, of course this was referring to sex and all that leads up to it. And that's a discussion for a different day (Synopsis: We need to stop telling teens that premarital sex ruins their lives, and instead help them make good, informed decisions out of a personal passionate love for Jesus).

But even today I find myself asking those questions. When I'm tempted to worry, and I'm thinking, "Well, I could always just make a few plans, get some ducks in a row to help God out..." I need to take a breath and turn away from that delicious, gorgeous, magnetic line.

The Holy Spirit is helping me become more sensitive to my tendency to toe the line, praise God, and I'm usually catching myself before I get totally dragged away.
It also helps that I have a live-in little girl who reminds me how silly I look.