Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Our God is Able!

{photo from pinterest}

Fail. Fail. Fail.  

That's what the devil wants me to believe about myself...that I'm a failure as a mother, as a wife, as a daughter, or as a friend.  I have to tell you the last few days have been very discouraging for me.  Through the trenches of motherhood, I have been frustrated, discouraged, easily irritated and exhausted.  I keep thinking when I lay my head down at night that the next day will be better.  I sleep in..."forget" read my bible, "forget" to pray, and get stuck in the pit of self-pity all over again.  And finally, after the third day, I remember WHO to turn to.  

I love you.  I accept you.  I FORGIVE you.  

That's the gift that God has given me.  Why do I so easily forget that when trouble comes???  I'm so thankful that He picks us up when we are struggling, comforts us in His arms, forgives us of our sins and gives us the strength to get through any trial.  As much as I hate to face my failures, my insecurities, and my shortcomings...I am also thankful for them because it teaches me that I can't do anything in my own strength.  It reminds me who to look to for strength  love, patience, wisdom, security and comfort.
I'm so thankful He goes before us and will never forsake us!

" Be strong and courageous.  Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you.  He will not leave you or forsake you."
Deuteronomy 31.6

The lyrics to this song have been such a blessing to me today...
God is Able
He will never fail
He is almighty God

Greater than all we seek
Greater than all we ask
He has done great things

Lifted up, He defeated the grave
Raised to life, our God is able
In His name, we overcome
For the Lord, our God is able

God is with us
God is on our side
He will make a way

Far above all we know
Far above all we hope
He has done great things    

He will go before
He will never leave us

God is for us
He has open arms
He will never fail us

Friday, April 19, 2013

Doubly Blessed...

In June the girls will be THREE years old.  I still am amazed daily at the amazing gift God has given us by blessing us with twins.  Sure, they have their moments, but the love that these two share is just amazing.  They are always looking out for one another and are partners in crime.  It's amazing how much they look alike, but how different their little personalities are developing.  

Lily Reese.  We always wanted a boy, but God decided to bless us with three girls, and we are SO thankful and wouldn't have it any other way.  Lily is like a boy.  Wild, free, crazy, sporty and adventurous.  She takes after Landon.  Lily would wear her OU jersey and tennis shoes every day if I let her. She does have a soft side, and loves to touch.  If you are holding her, her hand will be on your face, on your neck, or rubbing your back.  It's just the sweetest thing and she has the softest hands.  Lily was "baby a" in the womb.  She was the wild and crazy one doing summersaults in my belly, and that's why we named "baby a" Lily Reese since Reese means "enthusiastic".  Her name suits her well.  

Lauren Grace.  She is our girly girl...sweet, sensitive, emotional and prissy.  She is Brooke's biggest fan and repeats everything that comes out of Brooke's mouth (good or bad).  She would love to live in a dress and her princess heels!  She is also our little comedian, and will go around the house pulling down her pants and flashing us her bottom (I don't know where she got that from!).  People always ask us how we tell them apart.  Lily has a chipped front tooth, and Lauren has one dimple.  Other than that, I still get confused if I don't take the time to look.

Yes...I get stressed.  I have 2 year olds x 2.

Yes....I get tired.

Yes....I have my hands full (if only had a dollar for every time I heard that)!

BUT, I am truly blessed with three girls who are all amazing in their own and unique way.  

Monday, April 15, 2013

Alicia {Lincoln's adoption story}

Almost exactly a year ago, God began to teach us lessons that not only were we not expecting, but also we were not prepared for in so many ways. Last March, we started on an adoption journey that, of course, has changed our lives in the most difficult and rewarding ways. A tiny background to our adoption story: over the 2011-2012 school year, I was working at a college for intellectually- handicapped students. One of the students became pregnant over the 2011 Christmas vacation. When the faculty and staff were told about this pregnancy, I knew instantly that God had a plan for us to be involved in that little munchkin’s life. In fact, that very night, I went home and told Denny that I felt weird when the announcement was made because somehow I knew that God was telling me to open my heart to this newly-formed life. Denny and I have been married for a little over 6 years without the ability to have children, but had only recently started to even consider adoption as a possibility. We had no knowledge of the adoption process. We just knew that in general, if God wanted us to have a child, we would have one. Then one day, as I was teaching a class in the gym, Linc’s birth mother came up to me, and so eloquently asked, “So, hey, Mrs. Vauters, do you want him?” From that point on, the journey for Lincoln took us up steep mountains and into deep valleys – with many cliffs and stumbling points along the way. Through this intense journey, God taught us many lessons.

Firstly, God is teaching us more about His faithfulness and love. In my head, I know that God is faithful. Even in my heart, I know that God is faithful. I have seen his faithfulness to Denny and me more times than I can count. But our understanding of God’s faithfulness became richer and deeper with this adoption experience. God was faithful to us when we were told by the birth mother’s parents that we could adopt the baby, only to find out 6 weeks later that that the birth father’s mother was going to fight the adoption every step of the way. The whole summer last summer went back and forth like that, but God was teaching us that He was faithful no matter who else was not. We could trust Him for our best.  A huge part of this adoption process for me was daily dealing with a birth mother who struggled with placing her baby for adoption because she was given up for adoption by parents who did not want her. Also, she struggles with emotional and intellectual disabilities that do not always allow her to reason correctly. Both of those variables caused Lincoln’s birth mother to change her mind many times during the adoption process, causing massive confusion for our emotions. However, God taught us that his faithfulness does not mean that we always get what we want or have situations proceed smoothly, but that we can trust in a God who never lets us go and who is always a compassionate Father. During difficult times on difficult days (and there were many), I would sing to myself:

Higher than the mountains that I face
Stronger than the power of the grave
Constant through the trial and the change
One thing remains

Your love never fails; it never gives up; it never runs out on me.
And on and on and on and on it goes.
It overwhelms and satisfies my soul.
And I never, ever have to be afraid.

Secondly, God is teaching us more about our own profound inadequacies. The journey for Lincoln was beyond what we could bear on our own. Never have our emotional, physical, and spiritual lives been so upended. Before this adoption journey, I would have described our lives as mostly neat and orderly. Everything was organized and well-planned. Everything was systematic. And then God decided to open our hearts to Lincoln – and believe me, absolutely everything about our neatly-ordered lives changed. I have always struggled with wanting to have the illusion of controlling my circumstances, and God brought me to a place of submission about that. I had to let go of the control I so desperately wanted and let God do a work in my heart. To let go of my illusion of control meant a few things: I needed to open my heart to feel deeply. That was probably one of the hardest parts of this process for me. Each day, not knowing what Linc’s birth mother would be thinking, but knowing that I had to face whatever was thrown at me that day truly brought me to my knees. I told myself hundreds of times a day that God is good, and He gives good gifts to his children. If we were not going to end up with a child at the end of this process, then I needed to fully accept that that was God’s best for me. Transparently, that is not an easy lesson to accept. Denny and I came to the point of truly wanting God’s glory to be revealed through the situation, whether that meant deep hurt for us, but I came to that conclusion slowly and stumblingly. I wrestled with the Lord on a daily basis, and would sing myself songs and rehearse Scripture over and over as I struggled with my confusing feelings. Two days before Lincoln was born, I was at a doctor’s appointment with Lincoln’s birth mother, and at the appointment (on his actual due date), she told me that she was planning to keep the baby. I dropped her off after the “announcement,” and I literally could not even drive home because I was crying so hard. I prayed the whole way home for submission to God’s will.

Also, letting go of control meant that I had to trust God instead of fearing what could happen. Both of Lincoln’s birth parents are disabled. Because I spent so much time with Lincoln’s birth mother each day, I knew the possibilities of the disabilities that could be passed down to Lincoln. However, neither of us knew that Lincoln’s birth father also has severe intellectual disabilities until the day we met him at the termination hearing. So, I mentally and emotionally prepared myself for the worst instead of trusting God’s goodness. But Denny challenged me to hope in God. Not to just flounder along with an undefined expectation, but to trust in a God who gives to his children far above what they could ask or think. As Lewis once said, “I asked God for answers and his answer was Himself.”

Thirdly, God has taught us more about his rich blessings. I look back over the past year, and see the most difficult year of our lives. We struggled in almost every area along with the stress of the adoption journey: adopting Lincoln and the loss of Denny’s job happening simultaneously were financially more than we could handle, the stress in our lives from the adoption was complicated by family issues and other issues. At the termination of parental rights hearing, we met Lincoln’s birth father and his mother, Lincoln’s grandmother. Initially, she was hostile to us, misunderstanding much of the process of what had happened up to that point. The Holy Spirit tugged at my heart, and led me to offer Lincoln to her while we were waiting for DNA testing. That was probably one of the hardest things I have ever done because I wanted to cling to Lincoln, but as soon as I gave him over to her, she started sobbing, and we were able to sit down for about an hour and explain our love for Lincoln and our desire that she let us adopt him. The Lord used that hour to change her heart, and richly bless us. As I see the “heat” that God has given to us, I see it as the means that brought about God’s rich blessing to us. We have the blessing of having been changed (and still being changed). It’s hard to verbalize or explain, but through this journey, God has opened up our hearts to a deeper sensitivity to his working in our lives. He developed in us a greater love for hearing his word preached and discussed. He has shown us more deeply our thankfulness for what he has saved us from and the undeserved grace he has extended to us at the cross. Ultimately, He has blessed us with a son: a beautiful, little boy (and for those of you who know him, he is anything but little). 

Some days, I struggle to “make it” with the daily stress of an infant and other life circumstances  God has for us right now, but on days like that, I will “count my blessings,” which are beyond counting.

The verse we picked for Linc’s dedication is I Samuel 1:27.  Lincoln officially became a Vauters on December 18th, but I know that God designed our circumstances so that we were given so many other lessons for us to learn about His character. How thankful we are that the answer through life’s questions is God Himself!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Michelle {life as a mother & an artist}

Michelle Radford is an artist, wife, mother to a three-year-old and twin one-year-olds, and teaches college art and design courses. Her current artwork centers around motherhood and the life-giving repetition of the home.  

Artists often have to visualize the end product of a project before it is completed. They are often able to hold an image in their heads of what the end result will be. An interior designer can see a swatch of fabric, a paint chip and a magazine photo of a chair and convince a client that these will go perfectly together. A painter can see a clump of grass and mud on the side of the road and know just which brushstrokes and colors she will use to capture the feeling she has about this view. The painting is already in her head; she’s got this. When I’m working on a painting, it may sometimes be impossible for me to explain to others, even artists, just what I have in mind for a piece before it is finished, though. My husband is good at saying something like, “I’ll take a look at it when you’re finished. I trust you.”
When it comes to our lives, though, we just can’t visualize how all this is going to work out, or at least how it’s going to be beautiful in the end. We can’t get into God’s head and see what He has in mind. But He does have it all in mind. There is not a single detail of our circumstances He hasn’t planned.

Psalm 139:13-18 recounts the way God has planned out the total composition of our lives.  I love that it uses the language of an artisan.

"For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother's womb. 
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."

What strikes me about these verses is that He planned out each bit of me (my DNA, my talents, and my personality) at the same time that He planned each day of my existence.  Why is this so profound? Because so many days it does not feel at all like they fit together. “My personality and abilities are not a good fit for what is being asked of me today!”

When my daughter, our firstborn, was born, it was a huge shock. I did not find myself to be a natural. I certainly didn’t expect that every single moment of my life would be occupied with caring for another human being, as is often the case in those early days of a newborn. If someone had told me that I would some days have to choose between trimming my fingernails, showering, and eating, I would have suspected melodrama. But the biggest struggle for me? I wasn’t making any art!

I remember telling my mom, “All I do all day is stuff I am not good at, and I’m not allowed to ever do anything I am good at.” It feels much easier to me to pick up my brush and put paint to canvas. Being a mother is hard, and it doesn’t always feel like a natural fit. (I have friends who are what I call “baby baby people” and parenting is still hard for them.) It’s easy for me to be tempted to think, “This is not a very good fit for me. I mean, I have TWINS and I’m not even a baby baby person!” God knew that. He knew that I have an artist’s drive inside me that is unquenchable, that burns my insides during the long months of newborn care when I cannot make art. He knows I would love to have time to develop my abilities as an artist, to travel to conferences on art, to write about art, to make more art, have shows. To gain the whole world, basically. (Don’t we all want that?)

Stop. He planned each day. He planned the ones where I have a 30-minute block of time to go down to my studio and make stuff. He planned the days when the care of others takes every ounce of effort, every bit of energy, every single moment of the day.

It doesn’t makes sense some days why God would give me abilities and desires in art, but not the means and time to use them, but His ways are higher than my ways;
His thoughts are higher than my thoughts.  Earlier, in verse 6 of the same psalm, this is stated:

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.

His plan is custom-built for me! He knows what I need. He’s taught me so much through my kids. I have grown to really love being a mother. I have learned most of all to chill out. I have learned to deny my own desires in new ways. I have learned what a blessing children are, and that I can find beauty and satisfaction in learning to do new, hard things, even things that aren’t art. None of these things have been easy to learn, but they are what I need so badly! I do love being a mom, and I still love being an artist, even if I don’t have as much discretionary time as I used to.

He is doing something. This combination of DNA, drive, and days makes perfect sense to Him because He has the whole picture in His mind. I can’t visualize the outcome, but He can! Relax. Rest. He’s got this.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Sarah {life as a new mom}

I know Tammy from our college days.  I admire her as a friend and as a mom.  Her blog has encouraged me and challenged me so many times.  Tammy is so transparent and honest and I deeply appreciate that about her.  The posts in her "mom series" have been encouraging and challenging to me as a new mom.  When she asked me if I'd be willing to write for her blog I felt very inadequate.  I've never written a blog post and I don't have anything deep or new to share.  I've only been a mom for 4 months!  But somehow, between the sleep deprivation and fussiness, I want to use this opportunity to share some of how God is growing me in the early days of motherhood.

Being a mom is hard!  Rewarding, yes.  But I've found it's harder than a lot of people wil admit.  Not in a "oh that diaper change was hard" kind of way.  But in a dying to self kind of way.  In a "I don't have the patience or energy or love to do this right now" kind of way.  Anna Grace can be the sweetest baby and there are moments (like the first time she smiled or when she's asleep in my arms) when being a mom is better than I could have ever imagined.  But I have a very fussy, unhappy baby who also has reflex   And sometimes it's just overwhelming.  When I find myself so overwhelmed and exhausted and frustrated, when I realize and admit I can't do this on my own, that's when Christ is strong.  God is definitely using parenthood to show me how incapable I am and how much I need Him.  The Holy Spirit who lives in my enables me to live beyond myself.  

But, this best sums up where I am right now in my journey of motherhood and why it can be so hard...

"The constant battle of motherhood is more subtle, more everyday, more hideable.  At the center is one question:  Will I sacrifice?...The everyday Question, however, asks no just about what I do but also about my attitude." The Everyday Question of Motherhood 

This week I've been thinking about Easter and parenthood.  I understand a little better the perfect, sacrificial, unconditional love God has shown us through Christ.  He loved us when we were sinners, and there was nothing good about us, and gave His only Son to die for us while we were in that condition.(Romans 5:6-8)  That is amazing love!  I fail daily to love Anna like that.  But His grace covers me.  His finished work on the cross covers me.  And because He lives, He sustains me with His Spirit and gives me hope.  "To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." Colossians 1:27

Wow!  Chist is in me.  He fills me, sustains me, sanctifies me by His Spirit, enables me to be a mom, and to show His to others, to Anna.  That is my calling as a mom.  My calling is not to have a happy, content baby who is on a perfect schedule or who reaches her milestones at the appropriate times.  Christ is my hope.  Everything else we set our hope on will disappoint in the end.  Marriage, motherhood, wealth, achievements, possessions, whatever it is.  only Christ.

Put another way:
"Laying down your own life, in any way, is terrifying...But a Christian should have a different paradigm.  We should run to the cross.  To death.  So lay down your hopes...Stop clinging to yourself and cling to the cross  There is more joy and more life and more laughter on the other side of death than you can possibly carry alone." - from Motherhood is a Calling 

So between Easter and motherhood, this is what God is teaching me right now:

"At the very heart of the gospel is sacrifice, and there is perhaps no occupation in the world so intrinsically sacrificial as motherhood.  Motherhood is a wonderful opportunity to live the gospel." from Motherhood as a Mission Field.

"For the love of Christ compels us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died, and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live or themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised." (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

I pray that God will enable me to live this out so Anna Grace will know Christ and live for Him!