Do hard things

Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Proverbs 3:3

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A 10th birthday blessing for my second daughter

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My precious girl, you are finally here at this day you’ve looked forward to for such a long time! I myself can hardly believe how swiftly these years with you have flown by. The way you entered the world is the way you live your life. You came to us on a windy, golden November morning with no warning, appearing within 2 hours of the first hint of your arrival and full to the brim with passion, strength, and determination.

You have never been one to let a difference of a mere 16 months between you and your older sister hold you back. I remember that even at age 2, you couldn’t bear the thought of not getting to start school with Jaelah and thus you have been right in the middle of the activity ever since. I have enjoyed se2016-11-15 17.28.27-1.jpgeing you rise to every occasion that life has brought your direction. You have a love of words and writing that is inspiring, a wisdom beyond your years, and a mind that loves to question and investigate. I am often touched by the depth you glean out of things we discuss, and I love that you have such a love for the precision of truth. I believe God is going to develop you in a great way in the years to come so that you are well-prepared to be a vessel of His glory on this earth wherever you go and whatever you do.

My prayer for you as  you enter into this very special season of your life is that you would never shy away from learning and growing – even when that process is facilitated by mistakes and those pieces of life that are often hard understand. You can trust that your heavenly Abba holds you fast in His hand. There are so many brand new experiences that await you as the world opens up to you in ways it has never revealed before. Your dad and I commit to protecting your heart and yet also allowing your creativity to take its place in the root system of who you are as you embrace this next part of growing up. I pray for contentment and rest in the deepest part of you. As second-born, most experiences will have already been had in our household by the time you get to them. I know this has been tough for you as you have such a desire to keep up and not miss a thing. Yet, always remember that they are your firsts and each one is unique because of who you are and the perspective you have that is different and a blessing in its own way. God has placed you exactly where you need to be. Trust Him!

May Yeshua continue to lead you into a deeper understanding of what it means to find your all in Him and Him alone. Truly, those who love this life will lose it, yet those who set aside what this life offers in exchange for life in the true Vine will never be disappointed. I believe that it is never too early to water this seed that we have endeavored to plant deep in your heart. Daddy and I have been given the precious and awesome responsibility of guarding your eternal soul while you journey on this earth. While we are far from perfect, I hope that you will trust us to guide you on this next part of your pilgrimage.

May your relationship with the Lord come first – before your education, your abilities, and even your future. What He can mold your life into is more beautiful than you can imagine if you entrust everything to Him and seek Him first. I love you so much!

This family prepares for bat mitzvah

We are still about two years away from Jaelah’s bat mitzvah and yet it is finally time for preparations to begin! This has been a much-anticipated time in our household. The children look at this process of being released into “grown-up-hood” as a treasured time. Though there are some fun privileges in our family that we’ve associated with bat-mitzvah season, such as finally getting to wear make-up, the heart process of a child taking ownership of her relationship with the Lord is the primary purpose of becoming a bat mitzvah, or “daughter of the commandments.”

As our spiritual and emotional preparations begin with our eldest child, I am in continual awareness that these precious souls are only loaned to us for a short time. Being released into the responsibility of one’s own walk with God for the rest of her life is a tremendous time of blessing, a journey that must be walked with a knowledge of its holiness coupled with rejoicing as we are draw nearer to that special day.

There are many books we want to read through in the coming months, and with my big stack it’s obvious that we will need every last week of the next couple of years. More than just book knowledge, however, now is a time of discovering and expressing in a greater fullness the unique gifting and personality God has equipped Jaelah with.

There are few bat/bar mitzvah programs and books I have found that emphasize the New Covenant in its fullness. A Torah-submissive lifestyle is something our family wholeheartedly embraces, yet the walk of faith and redemption all of our children must eventually choose for themselves is much more than living out commandments in a practical way. It is finding oneself utterly dependent upon Yeshua for everything and choosing to follow Him with everything, submitted in heart AND action. Technically, I suppose, we will be having a bat b’rit chadashah (daughter of the New Covenant) ceremony for Jaelah.

Here are some of the categories and resources we’ve chosen to incorporate into our family’s bar/bat mitzvah training. Some might end up left by the wayside while others will be a go-to for all seven of our kiddos. I’m sure I’ll find some other treasures along the way to add to our collection as we launch Jaelah into adulthood.

First things first. In our family, one responsibility we will require of our children before their covenant ceremonies will be to read through the entire Bible. We’ve read through most of the Bible already incorporating it into our school day, but as we are approaching a new Torah cycle we have decided to help Jaelah go deeper with it at a level not too far above her understanding yet challenging in just the right way. Daddy and Jaelah will be going through not only the weekly Scripture portions together this year, but also working through the Walk! devotional commentaries on the Torah, Haftarah, and B’rit Chadashah readings. Since this study will take a fair amount of time daily, I am going to count it as Bible credit for school as well.

Devotion to Yeshua in spite of what the world does and says is difficult, particularly for those not living with the religious freedoms we have in the US. I don’t want to overwhelm Jaelah’s extremely compassionate heart with violence unnecessarily, but the history of believers is fraught with stories of incredible conviction in the face of persecution, imprisonment, and death. These true stories can be gripping and build faith in spite of the difficulty of reading them. Missions and the persecuted church is already something we discuss regularly in homeschool, but now Jaelah will be reading through Voice of the Martyrs’ publication Extreme Devotion. It has short, daily readings, with devotional-type questions. Many of the stories are taken from Fox’s Book of Martyrs, a book I am reserving for high school.

The Hebrew roots of our faith is not a new discussion topic around here, and yet there are many specific theological and doctrinal topics that we would like to help Jaelah understand more than she does now. Hebrew roots is an extraordinarily complex subject, so we will be taking portions from the following books and presenting them to Jaelah in the “cliff notes” versions. Other than developing very basic skills of exegesis (which has been extremely successful so far with the Discover 4 Yourself series of Bible study books by Kay Arthur), my main desire is to create a framework from which she can continue to build throughout young adulthood and beyond. Even as a college student, I struggled through Samuele Bacchiochi’s From Sabbath to Sunday, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t present the bullet points to her now. Though she could technically read through all of them and maybe gain some insights, I plan to use these books as school curriculum towards the end of high school because I want her maturity to be at a level where she can more readily understand and incorporate them into her belief system: Holy Cow! by Hope Egan, Our Hands are Stained with Blood by Dr. Michael Brown, From Sabbath to Sunday by Samuele Bacchiochi, Too Long in the Sun by Richard Rives, Fellow Heirs and The Letter Writer by Tim Hegg, and The Mystery of the Gospel and Grafted In by Daniel Lancaster.

While many of the resources I just listed will give a great intro into the Hebrew roots of our faith, they assume that a basis for Christ’s divinity and identity as Savior has already been established and accepted. The framework of Messianic faith must be laid upon the foundation of Christ. To really help her solidify her understanding of God the Creator and Yeshua His Son, Jaelah will be going through Lee Strobel’s excellent “Case for…” series, which is geared toward students. We’ll read The Case for Faith, The Case for Christ, as well as The Case for a Creator.

One part of bat mitzvah training that begins now and will go on for several more years involves both purity and modesty (in body and heart) as well as godly relationships with the opposite sex. I’ve read several books on purity that devote more time to defining what types of clothing are truly modest than to developing the purity of heart and mind. Instead of slapping on a maxi skirt and billowy blouse and calling it “modest” I want Jaelah to see that there is much more to how she displays herself to the world. What motivates her? What parts of the culture does she allow to influence how she thinks about herself? How will she define beauty? Does modest begin and end with the clothing on one’s body, or does it actually pertain even to speech and attitude? How does she feed her definitions of these things – from the world or from God’s Word revealed through Holy Spirit? All these questions will continue to be asked long past a bat mitzvah ceremony, but I want to start laying the foundation even now. First, we will go through Leslie Ludy’s Lost Art of True Beauty, which is geared toward younger women. For lighter reading that provides encouragement about a variety of things related to godly young women, from modesty to devotion time to gossip, we’re subscribing to the Set Apart Girl magazine that comes out bi-monthly. These magazines are exquisitely done and are so good that we will get the hard copies instead of the electronic version so we’ll always have them at hand. When we’re ready for a bit more depth on relationship study, which probably will be much closer to when Jaelah is 13, we will read Elisabeth Elliott’s Passion and Purity. I would say it’s a timeless book on relationship and purity, though it still has some material that will not pertain for awhile yet. Another book that is a bit advanced but will be on our shelf is Before You Meet Prince Charming by Sarah Mally. Despite what the title might suggest, it’s actually a book geared toward becoming a young woman who focuses more on who she is becoming in Christ than on what young men she attracts. It’s still not really on the radar for us, but I like having resources at the ready for topics like this.

As Jaelah develops her spiritual and motivational gifts, we will go through Don and Katie Fortune’s Discover Your Child’s Gifts. This book has tests that will help both Jaelah and us as her parents to see the particular way she views the world and how to help her find the place she will fit in the Body of Messiah. Some of the things we want to incorporate for Jaelah will be service-oriented and involve mission trips and helping with different ministry tasks over the next couple of years. We’ll be looking for things that help to turn book knowledge into wisdom through life experience. While somewhat more difficult to plan out than pages to read in books, I look forward to this aspect of Jaelah’s development as a believer and soon-to-be daughter of the covenant.

Tirzah’s Simchat Bat

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Simchat bat means the joy of a daughter! Oh, what sublime joy!

Her fair, creamy skin, soft and delicious in its perfection like one of those disgustingly sweet frosting-filled cannolis from Cinzettis – this is the 12 lb rolls of baby delight named Tirzah Love.

Each time we bring a daughter to her introduction to the world, I am speechless even though I desire to somehow commemorate the depth of love I feel for each one I’ve had. As they get older, the sweetness is that much deeper. I looked over at my eldest two daughters, now young ladies, and was filled with gratitude for the years God has blessed me with them. I am so blessed by their words and personalities, and to grow in the Lord right alongside them has been such a treasure.

In honor of Tirzah’s simchat bat, I wrote a poem for all my children and for myself as a mama. Perhaps these words will resonate with your heart as well.

Savor
Don’t rush the savoring
This moment but a tired breath and it will be gone
Downy head, tiny grasping fists,
Skinny kicking feet
Warm body tucked perfectly into your side in the wee hours
Memorize the weight of this baby in your arms
And savor
Nurse and pray until the stars disappear in dawn’s light
Remember the tiny moments since you first became “Mother”
Insignificant, lowly, wearisome tasks strung together
Year after year
Chunky beads stained with the fingerprints of childhood
Delight in wearing that necklace, Mommy
Don it with a deliberate, quiet peace
And savor
These moments given are priceless
Know that they are gemstones in disguise
Fill the days with the incense of faithfulness
Wear well the grace of being poured out
And savor
From morning to evening, who knows what actually got done?
Grasp that enchantment that wells over in your soul
When you are swept up in the love for this baby
For all your babies grown tall and full of life
Hardly notice your shape has changed forever
Those faces looking up at you
Don’t even know your tummy isn’t flat
Savor that you are not the same woman you were
Kneel down to wipe those eager faces stained with yogurt
Listen to their stories and music and questions again and again
Marvel as you wash those chubby knuckles covered in dirt and marker
Gaze into those sleepless eyes watching yours in the darkness
Hug that daughter whose head reaches your chin now
And savor
With a heart overflowing
Discern that in receiving them in My Name
You receive Me

-November 13, 2015

Completion and a new beginning

My five year old son defines wealth as the cuteness of his baby sister. “Mommy, we’re SO rich.” His earnest little face looks with adoration on Tirzah, and he constantly tells me how adorable she is and how he feels like he is as rich as a king because he gets to be her brother. Literally, his mind cannot comprehend how her precious life could even be compared to money. I almost don’t want to tell him what people usually mean when they talk about being “rich.” To do so would take away his perfect innocence in believing that the people in our lives are what make us wealthy. He’s absolutely right on so many levels.

Tirzah arrived into our family in a particularly special place. She is my seventh baby to live here on earth, but is really the eighth baby in line behind a brother who went home early. She was conceived on the very day he was to be born. I rejoice that Yahweh saw fit to give life to us even as we wept on that day, taking comfort in our kiddushin. When life comes forth, it is often in the darkest of night. Seedlings start to grow in the soil, being awoken to the warmth of the sun before ever seeing its light. It reminds me that He is always life-giving, always bringing forth a fulfilled promise in some area of life even when other stormy circumstances would seek to cloud us completely from His glorious workings. It takes work to look for the hope of the rainbow.

Seven is the number of completion, and eight is the number of new beginnings. Taken together, Tirzah’s life represents both closing doors and opening doors at the same time. Her name means “God delights” and also refers to the beautiful place He brings us to. When I first heard this definition, I immediately thought of Psalm 23. He restores my soul. He leads me beside still waters. I shall not be in want because HE is my Shepherd. Her middle name is Love, which has an obvious meaning on the surface and a deeper meaning in what it represents to us as her parents. We didn’t pick the Hebrew word for her middle name because there are several words for love in Hebrew, each with a slightly different focus. Chesed is a noun and means goodness and kindness, favor and mercy. God embodies chesed because His very nature is goodness and kindness, and His covenant with His people is one of everlasting mercy and favor. Racham in verb form means to “show compassion” and is often used to refer to God and how He shows compassion on His people. It is an active word, used descriptively in how He brings His people Israel back from captivity in Babylon, how He loves those who fear Him as a father loves his children, and is pictured in how He “abundantly pardons” those who repent of their sin and turn to Him. Interestingly, racham shares the same root as the word rechem, which means womb. There is much illustrated by such a tiny word as love. The compassion we show when we care about lost souls. The life-overtaking power in what I feel towards my children and husband. The sweetness of loving friendship we share with brothers and sisters in Christ. God’s love nature must be expressed. First, through Yeshua. Then He chooses to do it through us, imperfect vessels though we are.

I believe Tirzah is the last baby I will birth. There are many reasons for this, most of them being health-related. However, I have another reason to be excited that Tirzah is both a “completion” and a “new beginning.” I believe that as the door is closing to my child-bearing, the door is opening to our family adopting or fostering. Adoption has long been something on my heart, but I’ve been content thus far having all my babies through pregnancy and have put adoption on a back shelf for when God would awaken it properly. It has only been in the last year or so that God has begun doing a work in both of us for growing our family in a different way. I still have no idea how God will accomplish this. There are probably more obstacles than there are green lights. After all, we have a huge family already, we have no money for such and endeavor, and there are many things with my kids pulling my focus and energy already. But the needs of children the world over are vast and heart-wrenching and our God is not limited if indeed He has purposed us to be a family to the orphan. We’ve asked the Lord to break our hearts over the things that break His. Toddlers running around naked, alone, and hungry and children dirty, neglected, and abused break His heart. We aren’t supposed to look away just because it is uncomfortable to acknowledge the utter darkness many millions of children endure in this world. He is moving in us to say “yes” even though we have no idea what this process will look like. Saying “yes” to Yahweh’s will is part of the reason we’ve given the middle name Love to our last baby. Will we agree with Him in how He longs to show compassion? Will we act out the divine mercy and favor we’ve been shown? Will we be kind to those who God Himself passionately exhorts us to remember and care for? We are making the first step into the next frontier of our lives, whatever ministry God has destined for us to accomplish.

I’m saying goodbye to a season that has defined so much of me that sometimes I don’t know where I begin and my children end. There is grief as I look down at the precious little body nursing at my breast, willing my heart to memorize the weight of her in my arms all the while knowing how close I am to being “baby-less.” I leave the comfort and sleep of my bed to nurse her several times a night, smiling in spite of the exhaustion because I’m realizing these quiet moments are numbered. It would be easy in many ways to continue getting pregnant and having babies. It’s what I know. Indeed, there is a large part of my heart that wants to keep on having children, despite my body rebelling against this notion. I am in a comfort zone where I know what to do, what to expect, and how to survive it. Stepping out into a brand new place where I’m not only being stretched to a capacity for what teenagers will need, but towards increasingly advanced school work, not to mention what kinds of children and situations we’ll see as we pursue being foster parents and/or adoptive parents. Much has been required of me in these ten years I’ve been a mama, but I feel like I’m on a precipice, about to dive off headfirst to an even greater degree of pouring myself out. The picture I keep getting is of me letting go of a railing as I stand right over the edge. I’ve never been very good at trust falls even when I’m falling into the Everlasting Arms. But here I am! It’s thrilling and terrifying at the same time. Meanwhile, as I fall into the new season I’m reminded that it’s okay to cry tears of goodbye, to know that every fiber of my being will miss the treasure of carrying and nourishing babies. Each day seems sacred to me now that I know these moments are slipping through my fingers. Many women have told me that the ache never really goes away. How can it when we get to be part of something so divinely wonderful as creating life? The thought of not bringing any more souls into the world saddens me, but there is so much life here already that I can impact. If I keep my eyes open and on Him, He will show me where He wants me to pour out my nurturing.

For today, I embrace fully the moment I’m in. It’s amazing how this new perspective means that I am actually seeing the truly meaningful experiences of motherhood instead of the superficial ones. The mundane becomes exotically beautiful. Not even a post-seven-baby-body can take away this joy.