Still Mine at Nine

down the aisle married

“Introducing, for the first time, Mr. and Mrs. John Lavoie!”

Nine years.

I sat our child down on the couch today to watch our wedding DVD. He has stared at the wedding photos hanging on our wall for months now and has gifted me with his own commentary on the matter:

“Look! Mommy and Daddy got married! Where’s the cake? That’s when you smush the cake!”

From his persepctive I am Elsa and you are daddy and we hug and kiss and so we’re married.

I love that perspective. Because while real married life is far from a fairy tale, it is good and right that he associates affection with marriage. We kiss and hug and so we’re married. The end. Or rather, the beginning.

You and I both sat down during your lunch break today, next to him and smiled as he pointed out all the people he knows from our big day, “There’s uncle Tongy! Aunt Boogity! Look it’s Daddy!”

His eyes are wide as “Pampaw” walks down the aisle with mommy. He asks what we’re doing as we bow our heads in prayer and light the unity candle and laugh at pastor Kenji.

And I began to summarize for him what was happening, “Right now daddy is promising mommy he’s going to take care of her forever. Look how happy mommy is!”

I stopped for a bit because it sort of all hit me how simple and hard this stuff is. Marriage and life. Raising kids and making impossible promises. Where would I be without you, John? I don’t know. I don’t want to know. Some days it feels like we don’t have each other – when stuff really goes down hard. When stress fractures our rest and pain bubbles into anger and silence is just so. much. easier. Yet here we are. Nine years into this. My eyes fix back on the screen and I see myself, glowing in all the bride-ness and you, looking like you could pass out any second. We grabbed hands and marched triumphantly from the church as Mr. and Mrs. – walking right into years and happiness and sorrows we could never see coming.

“I’m a better man now than I was then,” you remark as you get up off the couch and head upstairs to complete your work day. And you know what? You’re right. I like who I am now more, too. Not just because we grow up and I think inevitably that means we care less about what other poeple think (ha!) but also because being your wife has made me a better woman –  a more truer example of who God made me to be. You have helped make that happen.

A lot can and has happened in 9 years –  I remember the first night we fell asleep with our backs to each other in quiet, seething anger and hurt. I remember when you crossed the silence and reached for my hand in the dark. I remember you staring at the wall in blank numbness during the dark valley of depression. I remember holding your hand during those valleys even when it didn’t seem like it made a difference. I remember when you gave me a big hug and told me God would take care of us after I lost my job. I remember being wheeled quickly by you, a lone figure in scrubs, scared and yet at peace that God was with us during Samuel’s sideways entrance into the world. I remember those tears wobbling in your eyes, spilling into your face mask when we first heard our son cry outside the womb. I remember loving you even when I was too exhausted to say it out loud. Gosh there are a million moments that have made me a better woman – and one man who has walked with me through all of them.

Here I sit, 2 weeks from go-time with baby #2 entering into the fray that has resulted from our promises to each other – and I love you more. I just love who you are and who you’ve become. I love watching you succeed. I love watching you parent. I love that I have the privilege to help you when your back pain rears it’s ugly head or “dark clouds” invade your mental space. I love that I can still look at you from across the room and I still want to know more about you. I still want to run away with you somewhere and forget about everyone else for a bit. (that time is coming, so help me. 10 year anniversary we drop the kids off with the grandparents and run)

At the beginning of our wedding video there stands 20-year-old, fresh-faced Rachel in all her bridal garb – sunday school posters in the background as I say, “I love you so much and I can’t wait to see what the Lord has in store for us!”

I couldn’t have imagined that 9 years later, our son nestled next to me on the couch, our daughter poking and pushing my belly to ungodly places, I would still be able to look at you – to look at 9 years of being united with you – and I still can’t wait to see what the Lord has in store for us. Because I get to do it with you, and He continues to sustain us by His grace and through His Spirit.

I love you, John. Thank you for still being mine.

 

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Sweet Huit

getting ready wedding.jpg8 years ago I woke up in my childhood bedroom, more nervous and excited than I had ever been. Quite literally. I stared up at the same ceiling I had stared at for YEARS – praying to God about who I might marry and what he might be like. I had ideas and visions and dreams just like any other teenage girl. I asked God to make sure he was hott (two t’s), to make sure he really loved Jesus, and it would be also kind of super great if he had a sense of humor because I had a laugh that could wake the dead and I wanted him to love it.

I got out of bed, looked around my room full of dance ribbons and neon picture frames and marveled at what day it was: my wedding day. 15 months ago I started to date a guy who was hott, loved Jesus, and was kind of scared of my laugh (bless him),  10 months into our dating we got engaged, 5 months flew by and now here it was: THE BIG DAY. I was marrying John Lavoie. I was going to be a Mrs. by the end of this day. My heart leapt into my throat as I heard my mom and sisters bustling around in the kitchen and after about 2 minutes of pondering and marveling I was just so ready. SO. READY. My excitement practically catapulted me down the hall into the welcoming company of my bridesmaids and in a blur the day ushered me to the church, down the aisle, to the reception, to the honeymoon (BOW CHIKKA WOW WOW), and so began our adventure together.

Today I wake up  in the bed we’ve shared for 8 years, I reach my arm across to your side of the bed that’s already empty because you’re already gone for the day. Never in 8 years have I worried about your commitment to provide for me, and now for Samuel too (even during seasons of unemployment and Lord knows we’ve weathered that together more than once). You work harder than any one I know.

I say a prayer for you, thank God for you and eventually peel myself out of bed. You and I are in the middle of an ordinary, supernatural thing. God has given us a remarkable life, built upon the foundation of that one promise, “For better or worse, in good times and bad times, by the grace of God for as long as we both live.”

You have witnessed my better and my worse, you have walked faithfully in good times receiving lineand bad times. You have depended on, been rescued by, and pointed me to the grace of God throughout all of it. I have witnessed you at your worst and your best, I have not forsaken you in the dark waters of depression and I have cheered for you loudest as you have conquered obstacle after obstacle. You do not cease to amaze me.

Sometimes throughout our marriage we’ve missed each other. Not just missed hanging out with each other but missed out on the person we married. We  have been caught up in the whirlwind of life full of work hours to complete, dinners to make, appointments to keep, diapers to change and laundry to wash and we have passed each other like ships in the night. Then we just kind of resign ourselves to being strangers and we hide behind our phone screens or books because it’s just easier, you know? It’s so hard to be intentional when you feel bitter or lonely. Thank God for His new mercies every morning and the Holy Spirit that helps us get over ourselves. We have fought many of the same fights over 8 years together. And we have fought for each other too. We don’t always feel the warm fuzzies, but we understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ and it has strengthened our commitment like no amount of self-help or self-sufficiency ever would.

beach picI do not want to do this with anybody else. I promised you that 8 years ago and I’m sticking with it.

Let’s promise, by the grace of God, in the midst of the mundane world of dentist appointments and dirty floors that need cleaning we will lift our chins and find each other. Thank you for keeping your covenant to me. You honor me with your love, you assure me with your integrity, and you delight me with your friendship.

I love you, John.

Happy anniversary!

All About Dad.

When we had a son many people told me how he (Samuel) would most likely cling to me and need me and worship the ground I walk on etc etc… until he was about 2-3 years old. Then it would be alllll about dad. Dad. Dad. Dad.
They were almost right.
Since Samuel was born, aside from nourishment, poopy diaper changes, and the occasional affectionate moment with me – he was born ALL ABOUT DAD. I’m not trying to downplay my role or anything – I love Samuel and he loves me and that’s that. But this is Father’s Day so I get to talk about John and he doesn’t get to stop me (HA. HOPE YOU’RE READING THIS, JOHN.)
FD pic
When you become parents, each of you ordinarily operates in the realm of “Reliable, Comforting, Safe Parent” OR “Crazy, Risk-taking, Boo-boo making, Fun Parent.” Knowing our personalties going into marriage I was destined to be the fun parent and I just knew it (PLEASE. I AM SO MUCH FUN OK?). But I didn’t really know who I was parenting with until Samuel came around. I have met my match.*
John is a FUN. MACHINE. When he comes home from work Samuel just can’t even. It’s “DADDY!!! DADDY!!!” at maximum decibels.
From about 12- 18 months, Samuel would get so excited to see John he wouldn’t know what to do so he would sort of run towards him and then run away and ignore John altogether while smiling like his cheeks were in charge of holding up his eyeballs. The cutest.
John will wrestle and throw and play and come up with games (that I don’t even think qualify as games?) that Samuel just LOOOVES doing and they’ll do it together and I just kind of shake my head while I make dinner and thank God for the two goobers running circles in my living room.
Of course part of that is being a boy. John’s been a boy before so he gets little boyhood on a very personal level. But honestly? A big part of it is who John is. It’s the man that he is that makes him so awesome at being a dad. He wants to get to know Samuel. He really really cares about who Samuel is as a person. He disciplines and he sets boundaries and he plays and he cares. He’s an incredible dad.
So here’s to all the dads today. To the ones who are raising ankle-biters, or teenagers (po-tay-to, po-tah-to). To the ones who are done “raising” people and now just get a front row seat to their lives. To all the dads (mine included) who patiently helped with homework, filled up the gas tank, listened and listened and listened (Shout out to dads of girls. You are saints. We have alot of words and feelings.) Keep on keeping on, guys.
Thank you, John for stepping into the role of father with both feet and making Samuel’s life so much richer and better for it.
And thanks to my Dad, too. For all the years in my life where I was quite content to be your valentine and wake up to flowers and balloons at my kitchen chair. You taught me how to find a guy that would really enjoy my company – because for my entire childhood, you always did. Thank you. (I’ve found him, Dad! Thanks for setting the standard. 🙂 )
I love you both.
*to be clear – I’m a fun parent too. Just a different sort. LIke silly faces and tickle fights instead of shooting the cat with a nerf gun. Play to your strengths.

Even As

Even asEver find yourself waiting for that perfect moment? Every new season of life finds me waiting for the stars to align over a particular circumstance or relationship or dormant dream.

As a Christian, there is only one perfect moment to look forward to – the return of Christ. But there is something to take heed of in Jesus’ words to His followers. Here is a rough summary of His commands to anyone who claims to believe in Him – “Wake up. Obey. Go. Serve. Love. Tell others.” And when He says that, He doesn’t mean, “Wait for the perfect moment, the opportune time to live your life exactly as you imagined it would be.”

He means – even as you go to grade school, even as you move into your dorm room, even as you wait tables, even as you grieve the loss of loved ones, even as you parent, even as you sit at your office desk, even as you post on Social Media, even as you get married, even as you travel the world, even as you pay off your debts, even as you watch others get married or get pregnant or buy a house or get promoted or work their dream job.

We’re missing something about God and the life He has called us to if we are constantly waiting for our life to change. 

The Christian life is so much more about where we put our hope every morning than it ever will be about our circumstances. The Christian life is a plodding. A believing heart and mind tempted and distracted by an unbelieving world. Day in. Day out. It is surrendering and rejoicing. Repenting and receiving. The Christian life, at it’s core – is a happy obedience, no matter where we find ourselves.

I’m beginning to realize that myself. I am the queen of excuse-making – my favorite excuse to date is parenting a toddler. So I tell God, “I can’t do that because parenting. SO HARD.” And God says, “Do this.” and I say (in absurd exasperation), “When?!” And God says, “Do this.” — this goes on for days, weeks, months etc etc.

I tell God that I will love my neighbors tomorrow, I will sit down and write when I have the time. I tell God I will put my husband before myself when I’ve had a day to myself thankyouverymuch. I tell God I will dream big and trust Him to use me when I’m done raising little kids. I tell God all kinds of things.

And God says, “Do this.”

Even as you parent your little one – love your husband. Be intentional with your time with him.

Even as your days rush by – honor your parents. Call home.

Even as your home is unfinished and messy – love your neighbor. Invite them inside.

Even as you wake up early to work out – love your body as it is right now. Smile at your reflection.

Even as you buy groceries and run errands – love the words I give you. Love them enough to write them down.

I’m waging a battle of convenience against God’s commands and it’s not working. When I stifle His Spirit, when I choose self-indulgence again and again, when I make excuses – my world becomes so small, so self-obssesed. I want out. And the only way to get out of my own way is to acknowledge that HIS way is the best way. (that sentence has the word “way” in it 4 times. ridiculous. I should be a rapper.)

Even as the Day of the Lord approaches, there is work to be done. I don’t want to be found waiting around for the perfect moment to get started on it.

Are you waging a battle of convenience with God? My advice is lay your excuses at His feet, then your hands will be freed up to do His bidding. You might be surprised how sweet it is to be inconvenienced. Gotta go – my kid’s awake and I gotta go buy groceries before dinner. #evenas

A Prayer to Love the Ultimate

img_0975Jesus, you are returning. You are right now seated at the right hand of God and you are waiting. Oh God! WE are waiting too. We look around us and within us and we inwardly groan and we outwardly weep because it is hard being here. Some seasons threaten to suck the very breath from our mouths. We, like David, eat our tears and lament what was so precious that was lost to us. Around the world this very moment, my brothers and sisters are being persecuted, imprisioned, and murdered because of Your Name. Because they refuse to renounce You. I cannot understand the way You work. You are God and I am not. But I hold fast to Your promise that You are with me, You are with them even in the darkest and scariest of places.

You have gone before us, Jesus. You have fought for us and You have already won. By laying down Your life You gave Satan a glimspe of what it would be like for hell to have no boundaries and for humanity to have no hope. BUT YOU ROSE AGAIN. Hope fell fresh and new and for the first time in mankind we had a clear road to it. You tore off  the suffocating seal of death and sin and grace came pouring in like a waterfall that never stops gushing and pouring and moving and changing the landscape around it. You change hearts. Nobody else can do that but You.

Change our hearts, Lord. Change mine. Create in me a pure heart (Psalm 51) and lead me into the way everlasting (Psalm 139). Because your love is better than life, my lips will praise you (Psalm 63). Because you are alive right now that means you are also listening right now, you care right now, you see right now, you know right now the numbing depths of pain we carry. You see how we medicate with stuff and distraction. I confess Lord that sometimes the news is so horrible, I turn it off because I am overwhelmed. Why has Satan been allowed to exploit so many? To kill so many? To possess and inflict so much pain? Why?

God, I know that Satan is a desperate loser who is frantically racing to beat the eternal clock. He knows his time is coming and he is anxious to bring down nations, to tear apart families, to maim children, to rape and to violate and to destroy as many lives as he can sink his claws into (1 Peter 5:8). God, I know that suffering is the lot of every man. That all who desire to live godly lives in Christ Jesus  will. be. persecuted (2 Tim. 3:12) but we can take heart because even in those impossibly hard seasons, You have overcome this world. (John 16:33). Some suffering is more distinctive and apparent – we turn our eyes to Aleppo and we weep because it is palpable there. Some suffering is silent, like a tumor that grows undetected until it chokes out the life ot it’s host. Depression, anxiety, paranoia, postpartum depression, alcoholism, addiction, phobias of all kind that posses our minds and convince us of our doom and our uselessness.

God, I am so loved by you. I cannot look at the cross of Jesus and say, “Nobody loves me.

So, instead, Satan directs my eyes inward – to my pride and my selfishness and my failures and my inadequacies and there, surrounded by my familiar flaws, I say with confidence, “Nobody loves me.” For who can love all of that mess?

Sometimes, when life is going smoothly, Satan will turn my eyes to other people and I will instantly break out my mental measuring stick and make sure that I am doing better than the next person. I will congratulate myself on such a wonderful marriage or beautiful child or great job and I will forget that I even needed God, that I even needed forgiveness of my sin – “What sin?” I think to myself, “I don’t see where I’ve messed up! Clearly, I’m doing an awesome job at life.” It makes me sick to write this out but God you know it’s true.

It’s like Agur prayed so many thousands of years ago, “Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the LORD?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.” (Prov. 30: 7-9)

You are all I have. And You are all that lasts. Yet I cower at the thought of someone disagreeing with me on social media or calling me names because I believe your Bible is true and because I center my life around You. I’m so scared of other people because I have given them your throne. The influence that ought to belong to the living Spirt of God to move me steadily forward with confidence and courage is instead tossed loosely from hand to hand of the people I interact with on social media and in real life. That is not their fault, God. It’s mine. I handed the reins of my value to people who are just as screwed up and insecure as I am. Not my best idea.

I feel as if I’m beginning to wake up a little. I am not inclined to incite arguments or look for disagreements but I am called and commanded to stand my ground on truth which will very likely incite arguments and disagreements. I will lose friends, I will lose perhaps even some kind of reputation that others have built up in their mind about me. Yet I have to stand in truth because You are ultimate, God. Your Name will be glorified whether I stand or whether I sit. But the invitation to come and participate in what You are doing in the world has set my chair on fire. I can’t sit still. I can’t be silent.

People will misunderstand me, God. And I will misunderstand them. We will likely hurt each other’s feelings. But I don’t want to be known just as someone who could make a person laugh or smile. I want to be known as someone who made much of Jesus. Sometimes I make people laugh because you have given me the gift of humor and comedic timing and a love for words. Those are good things! They are not ultimate things. I think my seasons of unsettled discontentment often stem from my placing my value and hope in the good things you have given me instead of the ultimate things you have promised me.

Ultimately – You get the glory.
Ultimately – You are victorious.
Ultimately – Satan is damned.
Ultimately – Your children are saved.
Ultimately – Souls are reunited with their Maker.
Ultimately – Heaven arrives.

In the mean time, you have asked me to step out into the public arena and to tell people about the Ultimate things. You are looking for willing vessels. I have been docked at the harbor of my reputation (both real and imagined), my anchor of fear is nestled comfortably in the shore and I haven’t budged. Because I am afraid. I think I’ll still be afraid even now. I know you tell me “Don’t be afraid!” more than you tell me anything else in your Word. But You need to give me that courage, Holy Spirit. Embolden me with the presence of You. (2 Tim. 1:7) I won’t start out with thick skin, so it’s going to hurt a little. But I want to end my race on earth with a full, open, warm, heart to the world.

Do not allow me to become prey to the cynicism and bitterness that bids me to build walls and throw insults. Do not allow me to be consumed with consumerism. Sharpen my eyes and my mind to see You and to seek You in all of my days that I might find You even more beautiful than before. (Jer. 29:13) Even on Tuesday mornings like today. You are at work in my home and my neighborhood and around the world. Open my eyes, strengthen my knees, don’t let me quit because You have called me and You are faithful and You will surely do it. (1 Thess. 5:24)

Old lovies and New Years 

2016 is almost over and 2017 is ahead of us – bright and shiny and untouched by our missed expectations, our great accomplishments and our deep disappointments. This year has been really hard for many, for many reasons. One thing I noticed as I swapped out Samuel’s hippo lovie tonight with a new model is how much love was pressed in and spilled out and worn into this lovie toy. Compared to the brand new, right outta the bag hippo – the lovie looks beat up. Like many of us may feel at the end of 2016. But the lovie is LOVED you know? 

We are a little dirty and worn and we have endured hard things and they have marked us – but so have all of the hugs and the prayers and the friendships that carried us and the family who held us til the imprint of their embrace also left its mark. I am different because of the love and the challenges and the stubborn hope I collided with in 2016. I am as ready as I can be for the imprints of 2017 – the love and the pain. 

I will do my part to hug my people and leave my mark this year too – with my words and with my arms and with all the love I can muster. Will you leave your mark? Who will you love so hard that they end the year with your hug DNA smudged into them? 

Who left their hugs on you this year? That’s a sweet sentiment to consider as the year ends isn’t it? Three cheers for all of our old lovies who make every New Year more bearable and more enjoyable! 

Are you sure? – A Reflection on 2016

Merry Christmas friends and family!
img_9861Throughout November and December I’ve done some reflecting on this past year.  2017 awaits us – untouched and full of possibility like freshly fallen snow. But before leaping into the New Year and discovering the pain and the joy it will bring, I wanted to capture 2016. How could I sum up this year?

As I look back, I remember three little words that defined my journey through 2016 – Are you sure?

Are you sure that’s the best decision to make for Samuel?
Are you sure you should have moved back to VA?
Are you sure you’re worth hiring?
Are you sure you have value?
Are you sure God is who He says He is?
Are you sure God cares about any of this?
Are you sure John’s not tired of being married to you?
Are you sure it wouldn’t be better if you were married to someone else?
Are you sure Samuel is developing ok?
Are you sure you are doing everything in your power to help Samuel develop well?
Are you sure your faith is real?

Are you sure it’s worth having faith at all?

I believe it’s healthy to ask questions and dig deeper into your life – your belief/unbelief regarding God, your relationship with others, your long-term goals, your passions etc. All of those are worth analyzing and evaluating on a regular basis. How can we grow if we don’t seek to understand these things, right? But to marinate in a doubtful mindset only leads to frustration, second-guessing and missed opportunities.

When John and I decided to move back to VA after living in TX for 6 years, we were excited about all of the possibilities! All of the opportunities! We were certain God was behind this move and was urging us to take a step of faith. So we stepped. And what was “supposed to be” a 2-week mini-vacation living with my parents in central VA turned into an entire summer living in my childhood home, both of us unexpectedly unemployed and discouraged. It stung. I was angry about it. I was certain that we had misunderstood God’s hand of leading us back to VA. I felt that way because I thought stepping out in faith meant stepping into certainty. Stepping out in faith meant God would reward me, right? Easy peasy.

Here’s the thing about believing that God is real and Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of all mankind – when you believe that, you surrender. A life of faith is marked by surrender. It’s not the big decisions either that ultimately test and refine your faith – it’s what I like to call the “wednesday afternoon decisions” you make day after week after year to trust that God is present in your life, that He is at work, and that He cares. Do your daily, unseen choices and attitudes reflect a belief in a good God? This year I let my attitude err on the side of doubt and bitterness. I didn’t want to redirect my thoughts because I was quite comfortable sitting in my self-made pity-party surrounded by my familiar “friends” of apathy, selfishness and fear. Maybe you can relate?

I feel compelled to share this reflection because those three words “Are you sure?” can paralyze us or misdirect us. That was true of me on many occasions this year.

If you asked me those questions above, chances are you would receive different answers depending on how I feel at the moment, depending on what was happening around me. The compelling joy found in a life surrendered to the person of Christ comes from understanding that even in our fickle wavering, even in our uncertainties and our “it’s not supposed to be like this” moments, Christ does not change. He is sure. He is steadfast. He is present. He is real.

So even when I am not sure, Christ is and always will be! 

Hallelujah! There is no greater hope, friends. NO. GREATER. HOPE.

“We have this hope as an anchor for our souls.” – Hebrews 6:19 (paraphrase)

I’m looking back on 2016 and I see shaky steps of faith that I did take and I see steps that I was too scared, too lazy, or too selfish to take. I see a heart that has been filled with the fullness of the goodness of our God, and a heart that has been tossed to and fro by the wind and waves of circumstance. I am grateful for this past year. My knees have buckled in surrender even as my chin has been lifted by the One who promises peace, joy, and a kingdom everlasting for those who believe.

Soon the holidays will be over and January will give way to February and spring will come and summer will appear and so continues life as it always has. But what will you do with this coming year, friend? What will be your anthem?

For me? I’m trading my doubt for a promise. Even as I face uncertainty in 2017, I will wave this promise as a banner over my life. “He who calls you is faithful. He will surely do it.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:24

Nothing and no one is wasted when surrendered to a God who is faithful and near to every person who desires His will be done more than he/she desires a perfect understanding of how it will be done.

I encourage you to take some time to reflect and prepare for the New Year before you head back to work on Tuesday or normal life resumes and routines are settled into. None of us knows exactly what this New Year will bring but we can choose what we bring into it.