Introducing AJ…

Ahhh…internet.  The World Wide Web is back at my fingertips.  To say my life has become dependent on “Al Gore’s little invention” is an understatement.  It feels good to be connected again.  Finally, we have music to listen to while setting up the house, email to keep us informed of all those sales on home decor out there, and Facebook to update us on everyone else’s lives.  Now I can read all those homeschool blogs and be encouraged and inspired to start school again!  (And I can process life at the keyboard once more!) 

So much has happened over the past month or so while I’ve been off the grid.  We are now residents of Katy, (technically Houston, but we will claim Katy).  We are moved in and, for the most part, all the boxes are unpacked.  There is a lot to be put in the right place, but at least most of it is out of the box and has been found.  We are slowly adjusting to our new surroundings—finding the best grocery store and the nearest Target.  This town is full of stuff and I have struggled with information overload when driving down the street.  There are so many signs and so many little shops and restaurants that it can be a little overwhelming.  The kids are all loving having their own rooms and making their little space their own.  I, too, am having fun making this house seem like my own.  We’ve had a few hiccups along the way like leaky showers and struggling to get the refrigerator through the front door in the rain.  The raccoon has made his way off of all fours, which is exciting, but he is even more sneaky as a two-legged toddler.   He’s already demolished a few breakables, which I recorded in this picture for proof:

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 For the most part, all is well and is slowly coming together.  🙂

We have met many, many people.  I don’t know if I remember even half of the names of those to whom I have been introduced.  I am sure it will take awhile to remember it all.  Ava, in particular, has made it a point to take advantage of the new place and the new acquaintances she meets.   She has decided that she doesn’t want to be called Ava anymore, and wants to be known as AJ, or at least Ava Joy.  Hey, Jack—I think it’s great.  It’s kind of nice to be in a place where you can somewhat reinvent who you are.  She has a few familiar faces here who will forever know her as Ava, but what an opportunity to redefine who she wants to be.  

In the first days of our time here tensions were thick in our house.  The stress of not knowing where anything was, but needing everything to get anything done, pushed us as parents to the limit.  The frustration of not having room or freedom to play in the midst of boxes or people unpacking boxes was enough to make the kids a little edgy.  Our intense physical closeness with each other was starting to negatively impact our relational connectivity.  We really were in need of a fresh start.  We were in need of reuniting as a family and getting reconnected around something other than where the towels should go and what shelf should hold the cereal.  

We needed some redefining.  

Scripture is pretty clear in our need to be redefined—to hit the restart button.  So many times in the Bible, people were called to something which resulted in them also receiving a new name.  While on the road to Damascus, Saul met the resurrected Jesus. He was called to repent of his persecution of early Christians and instead serve Jesus.  On the road his name was forever changed to Paul.  He became a completely different person when he answered Jesus’ call.  It’s true, yes, that his past identity influenced the way he processed his new life, but he is remembered for his new identity as Paul, the apostle, not Saul, the persecutor.  

2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV) says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”  When we are bound with Christ through our faith and His blood, the old identity dies and our new life in Him begins.  At times we fear this death, even though what we have to gain from it is everything.  It’s hard to truly see and believe how freeing it will be after surrender when we are still on the front side of it.  But once a person experiences that newness of life, it’s like fine chocolate—there is nothing better and no going back.  Psalm 63 says His steadfast love is better than life and our souls are satisfied as with rich and fat food. It’s so good.  However, daily we have to renew and recall this bond.  Daily we have to die to self, only to gain all that Jesus has to offer as He lives in and through us.  Our family needed to spend some time remembering what has already been put to death in us.  We had to recall that in our sinfulness it was like we were answering to someone calling us by our old name, not the new identity Jesus has placed on us.  Through repentance—and not the surface-level kind of repentance, but the kind that is accompanied by humility and a listening heart—our family hit the restart button.  We stopped worrying about where stuff was and more about where we were.  We had to recall why we even made this move—why we were even here?  

We made this move because we distinctly felt called to this place and to these people.  While it was not as dramatic a story as Paul on the road to Damascus, remembering our encounter with Jesus still has the ability to recalibrate our hearts to who we are in Jesus.  Our selfish frustration was only evidence of our dying flesh trying to take over it’s old place in our lives.  But, remembering that we are new creations in Jesus, filled with His power and His mercy to serve one another for a higher purpose than our own, sets our hearts on who He defines us to be.  He has given us new names: lovely, joyful, peaceful, patient, good, kind, faithful, gentle, and Katy-nite (?) We are still working on figuring out that last one.  We are none of these things on our own.  Not even when we try really hard! And this is why we have got to surrender ourselves to our new identity in Him DAILY, HOURLY, with EVERY BREATH.

In all of this, noting that the Enemy wants to draw us back to our selfish ways and away from Jesus, only makes us more desperate to cling to the One who is good.  We have to acknowledge that we will be tempted to revert back to who we once were.  Much like I will refer to AJ as Ava without much effort, so too, will I easily find myself walking amidst the gravestones of past struggles and selfishness.  Without Jesus I am powerless.  Without Jesus I am only on a path to self-destruction and relational discord.  I need Him to be connected to the ones I love in meaningful ways.  I need Him to be connected to who I am and who He has called me to be.

And when I do fail, when I find myself acting out of selfishness or fear, not as I should, I get to die to that—right then and there.  I get to receive His grace and mercy and love even in that moment.  And he still showers me with forgiveness and affection, calling me by my new name as His daughter and spotless treasure.  I get to be a new creation—immediately—because He is just that good and gracious.

It feels good to be connected again—connected to Jesus and who He says I am.  And that connection and knowledge will only empower and strengthen me to be connected in this new community.  Only with Jesus will I find my way—whether to Target or to new relationships or back to internet capabilities.

Anytime we enter a new season of life, or move to a new place, or start some new adventure, we run into surprises that we could never have foreseen.  I am sure that we will run into challenges and questions as we continue to transition.  I am sure that as this move now becomes a part of our “family rehab” story, God will work through every challenge and obstacle to teach us so many valuable lessons as a family.  I am sure we will even learn to more readily answer to some new names, maybe ones like: treasured, valued, and loved.  As we learn more about who God is and how much He really does love us, we will learn more about who He says we are.  I start to get excited when I see a foretaste of the things to come.  He is gently walking our whole family through a rehabilitation journey of our hearts—inclining them towards Him more every day.  I am getting a glimpse into how Family Rehab is going to redefine our family.  This really is becoming a foundational year in our family history.  I hope that our children will look back on this year as a pivotal moment in their lives (hopefully, for the better).  I hope that they look back and remember growing closer to God and to each other.  I hope that they learn that home is a safe place to ask questions and struggle with who they are.  I hope that I learn to speak truth to them in a way that really helps them believe that they are indeed new creations with great purpose.

As we plan to start school on April 1, join me in praying that God gives us great comfort and peace as a family in our new surroundings.  He is good.  He is faithful.  He calls us by a new name.

a dramatic neurotic basket-case, but safe

So I have realized that I have been rather dramatic lately.  Dramatic in my writing, dramatic in my processing, and even dramatic in my cleaning.  Just the other day, Paul and I were frantically cleaning every inch of the house to get it ready to go on the market.  I definitely had a strategy to my madness.  I was working from one end of the house to the other.  There were flowers on the table that were ready to be pruned and picked down and redistributed to a smaller vase.  My plan was to attack that when I literally got to it on the table in my evenly horizontal sweep of the room.  Even though it wasn’t as high a priority as the dirty dishes in the sink it made sense to me to work in this way.  When my mental red line, that divided the half of the room that was done from the half that was undone, reached the vase, it was time to deal with the flowers.  I did the same when I came to a bowl of small oranges.  Some needed to be discarded and some could be saved and arranged into something that would look pretty.  Having the citrus arrangement wasn’t on the to-do list from our realtor.  But it made sense to me that when I got to the bowl, taking care of the oranges at that moment was just the next thing to do.  This didn’t make a whole lot of sense to Paul and he gently suggested that maybe I not get distracted on the things that weren’t top priority.  I did not respond well.  I really let it get the best of me and my cleaning all of a sudden became an emotional, personally defining thing.  It was a lot of drama.   I couldn’t really understand myself and all this emotion.  Our lives have been crazy and I have been storing a ton of emotions right underneath the surface of my skin, but haven’t even had the time to recognize that they are there.

So here I am, sitting in front of my computer—my church bench of perspective.  I have been absent from attending this place with the Father.  I have avoided it’s hard and cold form—it’s intimidating blank white screen.  I have kept myself busy with obligations and hurriedness to keep from feeling the things I hate to even consider.  How often do we hide from the One who knows all.  It’s so silly and foolish.  So here I am…let’s get it over with.  I’m ready to feel it all, to finally process all the change that’s ahead of me.  Let’s strip back the skin and peel off the layers to uncover where all that drama is coming from.

My first emotion is sadness.  We have been in Buda for close to 8 years.  It is the longest amount of time Paul and I have lived in one place since having met back in college.  Three out of the four of our children were born in Buda and little Judah just celebrated his first birthday here.  The Well is the only church our kids know—the only church family they have ever had.  The people who visited us in the hospital at their births, witnessed their baptisms, came to birthday parties, and babysat in between—these are the people we are leaving.  The people are our community and our family.  The past 8 years we have sacrificed time, energy, finances, birthdays, anniversaries, date nights, and lots of emotional outpouring of our hearts for and with these people. They have been our purpose, our mission, and our life for the past 8 years.  We have walked through pain and suffering with each other.  We have shared in joy and celebration.  This has been a hard decision.  It’s not easy to leave all who we treasure so dearly.  This isn’t a career choice or simply changing jobs.  What is being asked of us is to relocate away from dear family and friends.  We like The Well.  We love The Well.  We genuinely like the people and have fun with them.  But God, in His gracious mercy has made it abundantly clear that the best thing for our family at The Well is to make room for new leadership and a refreshed approach.  It is out of love for The Well that we leave.  It’s like the parent who knows that what’s best for their son or daughter is for them to go to an out-of-state university or college that offers the best program for the desired degree.  Mothers don’t want to have their children far away from them, but know that the growth and development acquired during that time of distance provides maturation, independence and a wealth of knowledge.  Then there is just the simple fact that we feel called.  We feel through the Spirit that God is asking us to go.  He is asking us if we are willing to leave our mother, father, sister and brother, to follow Him.  Following can be sad.

My second emotion is awe.  We also see how God has prepared us in our 8 years in Buda for the tasks at hand in Katy.  We have walked through our own cycles of repentance and restoration, that we have grown and matured in ways we could never have forecasted.  Living in our independence from our own works has strengthened our dependence on Jesus.  His provision, His restoration, and His vision for us has brought us to a place where it is just so obvious that we can do nothing apart from Him.  We see through this move, the same message of dependence on Him for both The Well and Crosspoint.  Jesus has so much for us.  We just have to get our idols out of the way.  Isn’t this the struggle for every believer in every situation?

In my time here in front of my blank computer screen, I’ve thought about more than just the past month of intense decision making and busyness.  There are certain times in life when we get those big-picture moments.  I had a friend in college call them “big” moments, when you somewhat separate yourself from living inside the four-walls of your skin and get a glimpse of a bigger work, a bigger picture that is being formed.  I see something being crafted over the past year and a half.

Perhaps the fact that Judah just turned one helps to put this in focus.  I think about finding out I was pregnant and the weighty feel of panic that made my heart sink.  All my dreams and plans for the next year vanished in the few seconds it took to look at that little plus-sign.  I couldn’t imagine life with four kids, with ANOTHER baby, and being “tied down” at home, yet again.  The coming of that little life caused us to sell our house and move to a different neighborhood and into a house with one more bedroom.  It was never the house of our dreams, though it suited our needs just fine.  But it was this new neighborhood and house that made it impossible to attend Buda Elementary and ultimately led us to the decision to begin “Family Rehab”.  This blog being the result of that decision, has led to other encouraging open doors, paths and relationships.  I also over the past year have completed writing and editing a book and it will (God-willing) be published later this summer.  God has done so many things this year that I didn’t see when I was panicking about diaper changing and midnight feedings.  As I look back on the year, diapers aren’t even a memory.  I honestly don’t remember any of the late nights and the struggle.  I simply see God’s hand at work to create a bigger picture.

Having the kids at home and not in school has made this move to Katy a little easier for all of us.  And I look back on the decision to do so and thank God for His foresight and knowledge and for laying it so heavily on my heart.  He knew what He was doing in order to gently care for the hearts of my children.  I could go on and on about how I see God painting a bigger picture of preparation and provision for our family in this move.  It’s just so amazing and it challenges me to trust Him during the times when I don’t see a complete big picture.

My third emotion is fear.  I really run from engaging with this emotion.  I am leaving a place where I have been able to be a pastor’s wife, a mom, and still do the things I love at the same time.  (Not that I don’t love being a wife and a mom…:)  But, I’ve enjoyed being needed beyond the home.  I’ve enjoyed being seen as having purpose outside the home.  I’ve enjoyed it to the point that it’s been a struggle for me to not be satisfied just being in the home.  I should be satisfied.  I should be content.  I should be thankful with what I have and even less.  My identity is found and secure in Jesus and all that He says I am.  I fear living this out everyday.  I don’t want to be naive and think I won’t struggle in this area.  I will.  I know I will.  And I fear the questions I will place on my identity and worth as it is challenged by responsibilities being removed.  I also look forward to having  season of rest.  But, when I’m all rested up, let’s face it: I’m going to miss being needed.  I’m going to miss the joy and fulfillment of using my gifts and talents to serve Jesus and others.  I am confident God will continue to use me.  It just might look different.  And I honestly need help to trust Him in this—to really believe He knows what is best and indeed has my good and the good of the Church in mind.

Finally, (although I’m sure there are more hidden somewhere inside) the last emotion I feel is excitement.  I have been and currently am so tired from the past 8 years.  It’s been hard work.  And I know that there is hard work coming.    I feel as though all of us, even the kids, will be able to identify what specific things God is calling us to—what things we are to focus on.  And I really do believe that whatever He reveals those things to be, we will have the ability to spend more time and energy focused on fewer things.  I really do feel like we will be able to grow because we won’t be spread so thin.  It’s exactly what my desire was for “family rehab”.  I wanted us to take away school to be intentional and focused on our family.  I feel like this move is an extension of that initial calling to rehabilitate.  I am excited to see where God takes this and what He does with it.  I’m excited to see how my children grow and are challenged.  Even though I’m fearful about all the time I will have on my hands, I’m excited to see how God molds and shapes me and draws me closer to Him.  I’m excited to see where we are going to live!  Because right now, we have no idea!

As I look back on the emotions I listed above I see something…maybe a big picture kind of something.  Out of my emotions—sadness, awe, fear, and excitement—I see that I am safe.  I might feel like I am a neurotic mess, but I am safe.  I am safe in the Father’s hands.  I am safe and secure in His plan, His purpose, and His provision.  I am covered in His love, His faithfulness, and His grace.  Now I am reminded why I started coming to this blank screen church of mine—this keyboard confessional.  In the silence of the typing keys and by the soft candle-like glow of my laptop, Jesus has met me where I am—an emotional basket-case.  He reminds me that I am safe.  I am secure.  He speaks His unwavering words to me in this time of change:

But you, Israel, my servant,
Jacob, whom I have chosen,
the offspring of Abraham, my friend;
you whom I took from the ends of the earth,
and called from its farthest corners,
saying to you, “You are my servant,
I have chosen you and not cast you off”;
fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:8-10, ESV)

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. (John 20:21-22, ESV)

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you. (Psalm 139:14-18, ESV)