Reflecting on a Miracle...

The 2009-10 homeschool year started with a bang today in the Harris House. I'm looking forward to posting more about that (later today, I hope!), but had to stop for just a second on my way to clean the kitchen and expand on my current Facebook status a bit. :) (Those pesky character limits...they get me every time!! ;-))

Today was one of those extra-special first days of school...Ammah Grace's first day of kindergarten. We made a big deal out of it this morning, although in reality, it won't be a huge change...she's been sitting in on school with the "big kids" since infancy. But this morning as we sat on the sofa together working during her individual school time, I was marveling at her bright, intuitive mind, and suddenly had a flashback. I was back in the NICU at UAMS, and Billy and I were having the first of many conferences with our tiny daughter's neonatologists. After they listed all the possible and probable defects for which we needed to be prepared, they added, "We may not know the full extent of her brain damage until she starts school." At that point, although the prognosis was quite frightening as far as disabilities and health problems, we were still just praying she would make it long enough to worry about all of those things. But those words still stuck in my head. The message was clear...we were in for a long, hard ride.

I sat today watching her write "school" in her careful lettering on her quiet time sheet (for what she was thankful for today, after she asked me how to spell it :)), and was blown away, again, by the immensity of the miracle beside me. Not only are we not worrying on this first day of school about what new disabilities may surface, but from the day she left UAMS at 6 weeks old, we have never had one ounce of an indication of brain damage or defect of any kind. (The closest we come to noticing *any* lasting effects of her prematurity are the blue lips and goosebumps she gets when she sits beside the swimming pool wrapped in a towel because the water was "freezing". :))

We were told she might be blind...today she called me to see the almost invisible stripes on the back of a grasshopper on the back porch. We were told she might be deaf...this morning I listened to her sing a melody in perfect pitch after hearing a song once. We were told she might not be able to talk...she chatters like a magpie...constantly...and amazes me often with her vocabulary. We were told to expect motor skill problems...she begs for worksheets to practice her handwriting, and never walks if she can hop, skip, or jump instead. We were told to be prepared for frequent illnesses and even hospitalizations in her preschool years...she's never been to the doctor for anything more than a well-child check-up since she was released from NICU (other than Trip 1 to the ER for a broken arm when her sister fell on her, and Trip 2 to the ER for stitches when she decided if her older brother could jump off the coffee table she could, too. :))

I've shared often the verses from Psalm 40 that my friend Kathy shared with me the night I went into labor ten weeks early. I remember often during those uncertain weeks praying them back to the Lord and asking Him to give us wonders too many to declare, and committing to share those wonders...whatever they were...every time I had an opportunity. He did that, quite literally. So today, again, I share...

I waited patiently for the LORD;
he turned to me and heard my cry.

He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear
and put their trust in the LORD.
Blessed is the man
who makes the LORD his trust,
who does not look to the proud,
to those who turn aside to false gods.
Many, O LORD my God,
are the wonders you have done.
The things you planned for us
no one can recount to you;
were I to speak and tell of them,
they would be too many to declare.
~ Psalm 40:1-5


"He Is"

An online friend posted tonight about this song; she attended church with Payton, the girl Mark Schultz talks about in this video. The lyrics are so timely...and I love Mark Schultz's testimony of how they came to be. I so especially love the words of the missionary whose wife was diagnosed with cancer two days after their baby was born..."We can't praise God on Friday and curse Him on Sunday...we've gotta praise Him because He's the same God on Friday that He is on Sunday, that He's gonna be several weeks out from here..." Wow. Listen to that testimony and let that settle in...it brought tears and goosebumps here.

"He Is"
~Mark Schultz

Father, let the world just fade away
Let me feel your presence in this place
Lord, I've never been so weary
How I need to know you're near me
Father, let the world just fade away

Till I'm on my knees
Till my heart can sing

He is
He was
He always will be

Even when it feels like there is no one holding me
Be still, my soul
He is

Father, let your Holy Spirit sing
Let it calm the storm inside of me
As I stand amazed
Lift my hands and say

He is
He was
He always will be

He lives
He loves
he's always with me

Even when it feels like there is no one holding me
Be still, my soul
Through every fear
And every doubt
And every tear I shed
Down every road
I'm not alone
No matter where I am

He is
He was
And He always will be

He lives
He loves
he's always with me
Even when it feels like there is no one holding me
Be still, my soul
Be still, and know
Be still, my soul

In "Other" Words...Living Intentionally

Success isn’t a result of spontaneous combustion.
You must set yourself on fire.
~Arnold H. Glasow

Karen chose this week's In "Other" Words quote, and added this note: When I saw this quote I not only thought of success but it made me think of our Christian life and our relationship with others as well. They too are not the result of a spontaneous combustion and that is what I would like to write on with this quote.

When I read this week's quote and Karen's note on it, the first thing that came to mind was a phrase I seem to be bumping into a lot lately: living intentionally. It's a phrase I've been pondering often in recent weeks. Part of that has due to being in "school planning mode", which morphs into "life planning mode" because our "school" and "life" are so intertwined. As I've evaluated where we are in various areas of our lives, where we want to be (and where God wants us to be), and how to get there, I've realized that I must get much more intentional about our living, or none of it will ever happen.

Intentional living has also been on my mind and heart a great deal recently due to the tragedy our church family has experienced. Sudden, unexpected death, especially of a young person, has a way of stopping us in our tracks, causing us to realize how brief and uncertain life is and making us evaluate what is really important.

God has convicted me over the past few weeks of my need to live more intentionally in every area.

I must be intentional in my relationship with the Lord. We are called to pursue holiness (1 Peter 1:15-16), to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness (Matt. 6:33), and to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind (Luke 10:27), etc. If I am not intentional about Bible Study, prayer, and Scripture memory, they are not going to happen.

I must be intentional in my relationships with my family. Being the wife and mother that God has called me to be and that my family needs is not going to just "happen". I must be intentional in those areas as well. (Ouch!)

I need to be intentional in relationships with others. Just recently this one hit hard. I had had a particular friend on my mind for weeks...even longer...and would think several times a week "I need to call her" or "I should send her a note". I even sat down and wrote a note one morning, but never got it mailed. I discovered later that this friend had been going through a very difficult time and had really needed encouragement. The fact that she had been on my heart and that I had been missing her wasn't of much help to her when she didn't *know* that. I realized God had been prompting me to get in touch with her, and I had just "not gotten around to it." I need to be much more intentional about stopping when I am prompted and obeying...right then--not waiting until I "get around to it." I wouldn't accept that from my children...why do I expect God to accept it from me?

I need to be intentional in ministry. This one has been nagging at me for a while now. It is so easy to agree to teach a class or take a position or fill a need just because there is an empty spot, without truly being called to that task. Not only are we then doing something we are not called or equipped to do at that point, but we are also possibly standing in the way of someone else who *is* called to that particular role. And we may also be missing out on what God is actually calling us to do in the meantime. We need to be intentional about seeking out what He is calling us to do and doing it...and not doing anything else.

I need to be intentional in *every* area. Of course, the paradox with that is that *just* being intentional will get me nowhere. We can't truly "set ourselves on fire". That fire must come from God in the Holy Spirit. I may really desire to live an intentional life, but as Paul said, "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. " (Romans 7:15) Living intentionally is not easy. But...through Him "I can do all things"...including live intentionally. (Phil. 4:13).

"Success"...in any area...isn't just going to happen. We aren't going to become mature Christians, Godly spouses and parents, or encouraging friends by chance. We have to let Him "set the fire", and seek His wisdom to live intentionally every day.


Creation Calls

Super-quick post! :) Hopefully I'll get a Thankful Thursday post up later tonight, but I realized earlier this evening that I had posted this video on Facebook a few weeks ago, but never got it posted on my blog. The song is beautiful, and the video by BBC Planet Earth is amazing. I've needed to really immerse myself in the greatness of God this week, and this video just almost overwhelms you with it.


Majestic Name

As we've been getting ready for the funeral this morning, many Scriptures and songs have been going through my head. This one in particular has stuck out for some reason...I'm not sure why. Maybe because through the last few days, the glory of God seems to have been a recurring theme, along with the themes of comfort and hope. Maybe because proclaiming the glory of God is one of the main things that comes to mind when I think of Bro. Kent's ministry here. And I love the thought of the foe and the avenger being silenced by God-ordained praise today and in the days to come.

No time for photos or even fancy formatting...and these words don't need either. I just want to rest and delight in them today:

Psalm 8

1 O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
above the heavens.

2 From the lips of children and infants
you have ordained praise
because of your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.

3 When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,

4 what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?

5 You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.

6 You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
you put everything under his feet:

7 all flocks and herds,
and the beasts of the field,

8 the birds of the air,
and the fish of the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.

9 O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!


Thankful Thursday~"Grace Alone"

This doesn't seem like a "Thankful Thursday". Our church and our community are grieving deeply with and for our pastor and his family in the death of their 16-year-old son on Tuesday. But in the midst of the questions to which there will probably never be answers and the tears that seem unending, expressions of thankfulness, amazingly, weave their way through every gathering and every conversation:

We are thankful to know that Aaron is, right now, with Jesus.

We are thankful for the impact that he has had on everyone around him.

We are thankful for Bro. Kent, Sarah, Adam, and Andrew...for their faith, even as they walk through the deepest grief imaginable, for all they have taught us, for the blessing of being their church family. We love them so much!

We are thankful that, as Sarah kept saying over and over again last night...We do not grieve as those who have no hope. (I Thess. 4:13)

We are thankful that God is good, all the time, that this did not come as a surprise to God, that He is sovereign and sufficient and faithful.

We are thankful for God's glory and love seen in *every little detail* in which He has worked these past two days.

We are thankful for the love of the body that has overflowed during the past 48 hours as we have ached, prayed, cried, and comforted together.

We are so thankful for Lyndel and Pam, who have been handed an enormous load and handled it with incredible grace.

And I am so very, very thankful for the many amazing expressions of sorrow turned to praise that have been evident in the past few days in our church family/youth, in the Sweatmans' other family and friends, and especially in Bro. Kent and Sarah and the boys. There has been an almost continual awareness that it is truly only by God's grace that any of us make it through the next minute.

Yet another choir song that just says it so perfectly...

Grace Alone

Every promise we can make
Every prayer and step of faith
Every difference we can make
Is only by His grace.

Every mountain we will climb
Every ray of hope we shine
Every blessing left behind
Is only by His grace

Grace alone Which God supplies
Strength unknown He will provide
Christ in us, our cornerstone
We will go forth in grace alone.

Every soul we long to reach
Every heart we hope to teach
Everywhere we share His peace
Is only by His grace.

Every loving word we say
Every tear we wipe away
Every sorrow turned to praise
Is only by His grace.

~Scott Wesley Brown and Jeff Nelson

Thankful Thursday can be found at Iris's perfectly titled blog, Grace Alone.


When We Don't Understand...

-This song sums up so well one of the main things I have learned from Bro. Kent during the past few years: There are times when we simply do not have, and will never have, the answers...when there is no way for our finite minds to understand the sovereign ways of the Almighty God. The only answer in those times is to "bow the knee"...to worship the One who created us and who knows and controls all.

I have not been able to get this chorus out of my mind since yesterday afternoon. There is so much we don't understand right now. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." Isaiah 55:8-9

I found two videos of this song. The first has beautiful video, but I'm not as fond of the musical arrangement. The second is a more beautiful musical arrangement, with not-so-great visuals. The message is incredible in both.

"Bow the Knee"
by Chris Machen

There are moments on our journey following the Lord
Where God illumines ev’ry step we take.
There are times when circumstances make perfect sense to us,
As we try to understand each move He makes.
When the path grows dim and our questions have no answers, turn to Him.

*Bow the knee;
Trust the heart of your Father when the answer goes beyond what you can see.
Bow the knee;
Lift your eyes toward heaven and believe the One who holds eternity.
And when you don’t understand the purpose of His plan,
In the presence of the King, bow the knee.

There are days when clouds surround us, and the rain begins to fall,
The cold and lonely winds won’t cease to blow.
And there seems to be no reason for the suffering we feel;
We are tempted to believe God does not know.
When the storms arise, don’t forget we live by faith and not by sight.


In "Other" Words...Loneliness

I can't believe it's been over a week since I've posted! I had plans for a whole week's worth of posts last week, and was especially excited about last week's In "Other" Words quote by C. S. Lewis. Then I got sick. Or maybe make that SICK. Why is it that I either am really motivated to blog and don't have time, or have the time and am too tired/brain fogged/whatever else to blog? I managed to get a (late) book review posted, and apparently used up all available brain cells to do that. ;-) So I have much more to share...hopefully this week I'll have time and brainpower together long enough to whittle down my "to blog" list a bit!

“Rather than turn from loneliness,
what if we turned toward it?
Could it be that loneliness is not a curse
but a gift?
A gift from God?”

~Max Lucado,
Traveling Light: The Promise of Psalm 23

I did somewhat of a double-take on this quote when I first read it. My initial reaction was "Well, that is one thing I have been blessed with during the past few years...it has not been a season of loneliness."

I have had very definite seasons of loneliness in my life, but they have been few and far between. Between being richly blessed with close friends *almost* continually since meeting Susan and Julianne when we were three :), and having grown up in a very close-knit family, loneliness was somewhat brief and episodic in my life. The year we lived in Russellville, when I was in the sixth grade, and I spent the entire year praying to move back to Conway (which we did the following summer :)). My early days in Fort Smith after college, when I missed family, friends, and church immensely. These and other "bursts" of loneliness had definitely shown me that loneliness can be a blessing as well as a curse. That sixth grade year in Russellville especially was a year of tremendous growth for a young adolescent girl experiencing the culture shock of a new church and school.

But one of the things I've been most thankful for during the past few years of turmoil here has been the tiny group of very close friends who have "been there" for us in ways we could never have imagined before. I hear and read about people going through severely hard times with no support system and am constantly reminded how blessed we've been and how grateful I am. I am also reminded of how many people go through difficult days with an unbelieving or unsupportive spouse, or no spouse at all...and I am so thankful for Billy, who has been my rock of strength and my soft cushion of comfort, even as he has been right in the midst of the searing pain himself.

A little deeper thought, however, brought awareness of times of intense loneliness during the past few years...times that have been glaring reminders of the old saying about being lonely in a crowd full of people. I remembered the times I have told my two friends, who have stood on either side of me and almost literally propped me up at times during the past few years, that while I was more thankful than they would ever know for the ways they have been there for me, there are times when I would give almost anything for someone who has actually walked in our shoes. These friends have been amazingly understanding in their sharing of our burdens...but there have still been times I have literally ached for somone who could say, "I've been there. I know what you're going through. I know how you feel." How I would love to be able to "pick someone's brain" and ask "How did you handle this? Did you ever feel like this? Do you have any suggestions for this part?"

There have been other aches of loneliness during these years, too. I grew up with a very close and connected extended family, but my children's experience of extended family is much different than I expected it to be. Some of my biggest struggles with discontent in the past few years have been over this very issue. A friend mentioning a family get-together, photos of long-ago family friends on Facebook with their grandchildren, memories of my childhood holidays...little things that can send me straight into pity party mode if I'm not careful. And then there are those days when I would give anything and everything for an hour with my dad...when my thankfulness that he hasn't been here for the events of the past few years is overcome by longing for just a tiny bit of his encouragement and wisdom.

Loneliness hasn't been as much a stranger as I sometimes think.

And yet, I have definitely seen God working in that loneliness. We have truly learned to turn to Him in ways we otherwise wouldn't have. During times when we have desperately sought wise counsel and come up empty, we have learned first hand the truth of Jesus as the "Wonderful Counselor" spoken of in Isaiah 9:6. During times when I have ached for a hug and wise words from my dad, God has shown Himself faithful as the "Father to the Fatherless" promised in Psalm 68:5. In the times when my heart has broken over the pain my children were going through, when I have felt so woefully inadequate as a parent to deal with that pain, God has reminded me that He watched His innocent Child go through unimaginable pain...and that He went through that pain because of His love for *us*. He has reminded me in those times that He loves my children even more than I ever could...and that He is in control and is working His plan for good in their lives.

I am so very thankful for my husband, my travelling companion on this journey neither of us could ever have foreseen, and which we would never have chosen. I am so thankful for the handful of people who didn't have to walk this road with us, but who have chosen (or been chosen to :)) walk along-side us as burden-sharers. And I am, albeit a bit hesitantly, thankful for the gift of loneliness...one which would never have gone on any wishlist, and yet *is* still, amazingly, a gift.

To see others' thoughts on this week's In "Other" Words quote, visit Patricia at Typing One-Handed. Thanks to Patricia for hosting this week, and to Loni at Writing Canvas for her leadership of In "Other" Words. I'm excited to now be part of the In "Other" Words hostess team, and looking forward to hosting on September 29!


Tour de Force Blog Tour

I received Tour de Force several weeks ago in return for participating in this blog tour. I had several books "in line" ahead of it, but was especially looking forward to reading this one. Just after I started reading it, I came down with a bug...an icky cough, fever, ache-all-over bug. It was the perfect "sick read"...a great story you don't want to put down, but not deep or heavy. But don't wait until you get sick to read this one!

From the media release...

"Gillian Kincade is a soloist with Ballet New York, a sought-after guest artist, and a committed Christian. Though she may be an anomaly in the world of dance, Gilly believes her devotion to God isn’t compromised by following her dreams. Then she meets Jacob Ferrar.

"Jacob is the brilliant young artistic director of the Birmingham Ballet Theatre and a born-again Christian. When he offers Gillian the lead in his latest ballet she accepts, knowing it won’t necessarily further her career, but it will touch her soul.

"On the chaotic road to opening night, Gilly and Jacob develop a deep professional respect for each other and begin to fall in love. Then their brilliant first performance is destroyed by a terrible accident, and suddenly both must face an uncertain future. Together, they dance the fine line between personal vision and God’s will, listening for the guidance of the Father’s heart. "

Gilly and Jacob were two of my favorite characters in a while. Jacob's little nephew, Graham, also wound his way into my heart. I really appreciated the character development in all the characters...the "good guys" weren't all good, and the "bad guys" weren't all bad...they were "real" people, with strengths and weaknesses, some flawed more than others.

Another aspect of this book that intrigued me was the "Christians and the Arts" theme. Elizabeth says in the Author's Note, "I wanted to explore the fact that Christian artists in any field--music, dance, literature, art--often face tough decisions about how and where art infuses Christian lifestyle...The only way I knew how to tackle the subject was to create characters who must face those questions, take a stand, and either live for God--or not."

She tackled it well...as well as creating characters who struggle with other very real and difficult issues...all while crafting a story that comes across as entertaining rather than heavy.

Tour de Force is available from Amazon. Visit Elizabeth White's website here, or find other blog tour participants here.