How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count The Ways . . .

My husband.  Brad Leach.  As we’re going on our ninth year of marriage, and he’s just returned from the heart of Africa, I want to take some time to appreciate just some of the many reasons why he truly is more than I could have ever asked or imagined.  (These are in no particular order . . .)

(If you’re averse to cheesy, sappy blog posts, maybe it’s better that you skip this one.  There’s gonna be more cheese in this post than you’d find next to a winery in France.)

IMG_12851.  He makes me laugh.  I realized early on in my dating adventures that my top priority was someone who passionately loved Jesus more than anyone else in his life.  But a close #2 was that he had an amazing sense of humor, and we could naturally make each other laugh.  Brad sent me this picture on IM just shortly after we met.  Yep.  We used IM.  How could you not smile when this guy is messaging you?  Thank you, Brad for making me smile, laugh, and chortle from the first day that I met you.

IMG_93262.  He’s an amazing father.  I knew early on that Brad would be a great dad.  I watched the way he interacted with his family, the way he loved his nephew, and the way he was the favorite guy of all the young kids at his church.  I never imagined, however, the way he would add another dimension to my love for him, as I watched him transform to be a father.  I remember the day we found out we were having our first baby . . . a girl.  He had a bit of a deer in headlights look about him.  In my opinion, there is no greater foundational influence on a girl’s life than her Daddy.  And Brad, I can think of no better Daddy for our girls than you.  You are a picture of our Father’s love to Gabby, Claire, Caleb, and Karis.  Thank you.

best-friend-necklaces-143.  He’s my best friend.  The very first night we met, we started talking about anything and everything.  We talked at Borders Bookstore until they kicked us out.  In the weeks following, we talked on the phone several hours a night.  We’d spend the day together on dates and then we’d talk on the phone for several more hours as we’d drive home (we dated between Detroit and Pittsburgh).  God immediately connected our hearts and hands as we grew in love built on a friendship first and foremost.  There’s no one else I’d rather spend my down time with.  Brad, if you’d wear it, I’d buy you a necklace.  Do you want to be “Be FRI” or “ST ENDS?”

4.  He’s a picture of Jesus.  Before I met him, I prayed for a man who loved Jesus more than me and me more than himself.  And I wanted to be a wife who could fit the same description.  Long before I ever met him, I read his blog.  It didn’t take long to read before it was so evident that this man passionately loved his Lord.  And reading his insights made me want to know and love Jesus even more.  In the years since, this has only grown.  He selflessly loves and serves with special surprises, words of encouragement, extraordinary gifts, and sacrificial service in every season, whether or not I could give anything back.  Thank you for being such an amazing answer to my prayers, Brad.

IMG_78895.  He’s the best preacher I know.  Seriously.  No offense to all the other preachers I know.  But he’s really my favorite one.  I remember the day I first listened to a sermon he preached.  I downloaded it from his church’s website.  I had to pause it so many times to keep up with my notes.  I remember thinking, “Who IS this guy?”  Brad, you truly have a gift for communicating God’s Word in a way that’s relatable, logical, applicable, and funny.  Definitely funny.  I’m so glad that no matter where I may go in life, I’m guaranteed to always have a good preacher.  It’s just one of your superpowers, Brad.

IMG_91006.  He never gives up.  Brad is one of the most disciplined individuals I know.  He has an amazing way of setting a goal, crafting a plan to reach the goal, and not letting anything get in his way of accomplishing it.  For example, in January 2015, Brad said he wanted to run and finish the Philadelphia Marathon.  Nevermind that he had never run in a formalized race in his life.  Nevermind that he had never trained for long distance running before.  Brad did the research, got up early in the mornings, and bought running tights so that he was more than ready to go on the morning of November 22, 2015.  Except for one little obstacle.  His baby girl decided to show up a week early and he found himself coaching his wife in labor at 2 AM, rather than sleeping as he should.  Did that stop him?  Don’t be ridiculous.  Finished the marathon on 45 minutes of sleep.  Maybe that’s another superpower?  You inspire me to greatness.

IMG_93097.  He’s an incredible leader.  I respect his leadership so much.  I’ve been on a leadership team of two different churches with him and watch time and again some of the most talented people I know flourish under his leadership.  He has a way of catching a God-sized vision and communicating it in a way that is so compelling that you can’t help but do anything you can to make it happen.  Leaders are attracted to his leadership because it’s genuine.  It’s humble.  It’s teachable.  And it’s fun.  We can kill ourselves trying to carry out a vision, but he always makes sure to take time to have fun.  More than anything, Brad, I’m so grateful for your leadership in our family.  I trust your leadership implicitly.

I could go on and on, but as the rat said after he was trapped in the tank of Velveeta, I think that’s enough cheese.  I love you, baby, and look forward to growing even deeper in our love in the adventures to come.  I’m with you heart and soul!

 

 

When God Says, “No.”

This blog post is part of the 31 Days of Prayer Blog.  If you’d like to read other posts about prayer, follow this link.

hos3If someone saw me in the parking garage that day, they would’ve wondered about the crazy lady who was sitting in her car by herself sobbing and screaming to no one in particular.

To fully understand this hysterical moment, I need to rewind a few days. I was staring out a window in a hospital waiting room. I had been there about 18 hours a day for the previous week, sitting by my father’s bedside while he was in a coma after a freak swimming accident. We had just received another grim doctor’s report and I needed some time alone.

“It’s not okay, God.”

I knew what I was supposed to say. I knew that I needed to trust. I knew that I needed to surrender to His will. But at that moment, all I could come out with was,

“It’s not okay, God.”

Because really, it wasn’t. I wasn’t okay with the idea of my dad never getting better. I wasn’t all right with anything less than an extraordinary miracle that I knew God was capable of doing.

woman-praying-darkI began praying once again for a miraculous touch, for God’s resurrection power to fill my Dad’s body and breathe life into him again. My sister was even given a promise at the start of all this. Habakkuk 2.2-3:

“Then the Lord answered me and said, “Write the vision and engrave it plainly on [clay] tablets, so that the one who reads it will run. For the vision is yet for the appointed [future] time. It hurries toward the goal [of fulfillment]; it will not fail. Even though it delays, wait [patiently] for it, because it will certainly come; it will not delay.”

That’s right, God. We’ve been waiting long enough. Heal him. And in the middle of my
prayers, this thought came to me.

Everyone wants the resurrection power, but no one wants to die to get there.

“Well of course not, God. I just can’t. I don’t want it. I don’t want to go down that road.”

Silence.

The silence continued for several more days, at least until that afternoon in the parking garage. I quickly drove over because Dad was getting worse. There, in that 15-minute drive, I had my wrestling match with God

bigstock-woman-silhouette-waiting-for-s-5824100“Okay, God. You win. I still want the miracle. I still want the healing. I still don’t like any other option. But if You chose that, if that’s what happens, I’m with You. I choose You.”

Like Jacob at the end of a long night, I limped out of the car that day forever changed. Twenty-four hours later, we left the hospital for the final time . . . without my dad.

So, what do you do when God says, “No?” Whether it’s praying for a healing, for a job, for a child, for a spouse . . . if you walk the Christian journey for any amount of time, you’re bound to experience a similar moment. And when you do, how do you handle that?

While there aren’t, “Three Easy Steps to Walk With God Through A Crisis,” these are some things I’ve learned in my experience.

  1. Give yourself time.

Disappointment has to be one of the most difficult emotions in the human experience. No one knows this better than Jesus. He doesn’t chastise us in our disappointment. He joins in. He wept with his friends at Lazarus’s tomb, and He weeps with us today. In those moments of disappointment, give yourself time to sit with Jesus and weep with Him. Let Him give you the gift of grieving together.

  1. Be honest.

God can take it. The messy. The ugly. The emotion. Not only can He take it, He wants to take it. He invites us to trade our burdens for His (Matt. 11.28-30). Take Him up on it.

  1. Trust Again.

This is going to be the hardest of all. It’s heartbreaking. It’s scary. And yet I believe it’s scarier to live a life without trusting Him again, than it is to open up to trusting again. It takes time. It takes a lot of honest work and communication with Jesus and the body of Christ, but I implore you to try it. Talk to Him again. Pray again. He can be trusted.

IMG_0199A little over a year later, I found myself in another van, having another conversation with God. I wasn’t yelling this time. I wasn’t in a parking garage, either, mainly because there weren’t any constructed structures in a 20-mile radius. My mom, sisters, and I were riding to a remote area in the middle of Tanzania, dedicating a new water well constructed from my dad’s memorial fund. My dad loved Africa, and being a part of such a special moment would’ve made his heart run wild.

I was remembering the promise that God gave us in the hospital. The vision didn’t look like I had hoped, but that day, it was bringing healing to hundreds of people that we would’ve never met if God had healed my dad. God was breathing some of His resurrection power that day. He was resurrecting hope in me. It was just a start of the fulfillment of a promise that He will continue to redeem in our lives for years to come, and ultimately one day when we see our dad once again.

If you’re dealing with disappointment, I encourage you, too, to wait for God’s vision. Run the race well and declare it to others running with you along the way. God’s fulfillment of redemption will certainly come. And it will be Good.

Praying With Toddlers

This blog post is a part of the 31 Days of Prayer Blog.  If you’d like to read other posts about  prayer, follow this link.  

D-Custom-Brand-DisconnectDoes there ever seem to be a disconnect between the things you WANT to do and the things you ACTUALLY do? It seems like the new year especially is ripe for our more idealistic thinking.

You want to be disciplined in your eating. But your weakness for potato chips and dip late at night wins 80% of the time.

You want to exercise more. But you’re too tired by the time work is over, and there’s something just not right about exercising before the sun is up.

As a mom of four young children, I’ve set my expectations a little lower these days: take a shower three times a week, brush my teeth every day, don’t forget any of the children in the car during errands . . . yes, 2016 is a year of big dreams. 😉

One area in which I am committed to grow, however, is in becoming a mother of prayer. Several weeks ago, my husband was preaching an incredible message about being a prayerful parent and I was inspired. He stated, “You’re not going to be a perfect parent, so you might as well be a praying parent.”

power-praying-motherYes, I will be a praying parent. I will get up early in the morning and intercede for my family in an hour-long prayer session every day. That is what I WANT to do.

And before I even had the chance to try my prayerful pipe dream, I already heard the voice of reality telling me what’s really going to happen.

Tired-Mom2Get up early!?! Who are you kidding? After taking care of an infant through the night, you can barely get up to get your daughter off to school. And pray for an hour?? When is the last time you did anything for one, uninterrupted hour? Can you even go to the bathroom for two uninterrupted minutes? You’re never going to accomplish this goal. You’re going to try and do it, sleep in by day two, and condemn yourself with a nice dose of guilt for the next five days and give up by the second week of January. That is what will ACTUALLY happen.

I knew the voice of Reality Leah was right. But I really wanted the voice of Idealistic Leah to win. There had to be a way to make the two meet somewhere in the middle.

So how does a busy mom of toddlers incorporate prayer into everyday life? Even finding 20 minutes to pray can seem like a challenge. I’ve been giving it some thought and I came up with three quick guidelines, and to make it as memorable as possible, it’s an acronym.

IMG_9472-1M – Make a plan. This goes without saying, but if there’s no intentional plan in place, it’s never going to happen. My plan had to get a little creative when it came to praying for 20 minutes. If I can’t find 20 minutes in a row, maybe I could spread it out through the day in intentional chunks?

 

Sitting in church that day at 12:07 PM, I took out my phone and set five different alarms: 8:07 AM – Pray for Gabby, 10:07 AM – Pray for Claire, 12:07 PM – Pray for Caleb, 2:07 PM – Pray for Karis, 4:07 PM – Pray for Brad. Every day, whatever I’mdoing at those moments, and wherever I am, I stop and pray for that family member.

I’m not claiming that my 30 second-4 minutes focused prayers are going to win any Prayer Warrior of the Year Awards, but it’s 4 minutes more than I was doing before. It’s a start.

O – Open With a Focus.

This is one of the reasons I love the Praying With Confidence book and the Declaration sheets. Having a scriptural focus when praying is invaluable. If I don’t have a focus, I find that my prayers consist of a laundry list of mainly irrational concerns for each family member. The “prayer” quickly degrades to glorified worrying. Having a focus, however, reminds me of the Truth of God’s Word and the declarations He’s already given me for my family. My son will be a strong man of God, not the three-year-old terrorist that I see right before naptime each day.

M – (Re-) ‘Member Grace. J

Guilt is a powerful emotion and Mommy Guilt can be the most potent of all. Sometimes, I think of my prayer and journal times in other seasons of life, and I feel condemnation that I am not sustaining hour-long quiet times in this season. Or I look at my family and think if I just prayed more, maybe they wouldn’t [fill in the blank with whatever they are struggling with here]. While I don’t want to be satisfied with complacency in my relationship with Jesus, He’s continually reminding me of His Grace being sufficient at all times, even when my physical exhaustion prevents me from getting up to pray for an hour.

While I’m far from becoming an expert in prayer, I’m committed to growing in it during whatever season of life I find myself. That’s something that I WANT to do and will ACTUALLY happen.

A Father’s Heart – Part 4 of 4

shepherd-carrying-sheep1This is part four of a four part series.  If you need to catch up, read here.
I started reading the chapter with the Parable of the Lost Sheep. Yes, clearly this is why the Holy Spirit would lead me here. I’m literally looking for my lost sheep like a crazy person. I’m going to leave my house in the dark hours of the morning just to find my little sheep. I get it, Lord. I get it.

“Keep reading, Leah,” the Holy Spirit encouraged.

The next part of the chapter talks about the woman who loses a coin, a coin that was most likely a family heirloom and precious to her, and who turns her house upside down until she finds it and throws a party to celebrate. Yes, yes! This is clearly me: turning my house inside out to find my precious family heirloom, and boy was I going to throw a party when I brought home Baa Baa from Home Depot. I would return as the champion met with cheers from my family and the eternal love of my daughter.   I get it, Lord. I get it.

“Keep reading, Leah.”
And that’s when I came upon one of the most familiar stories in the Bible, the Parable of the Lost Son. I could almost hear my dad’s voice retelling the story, as it was one of his favorite passages. And that’s when the Holy Spirit graciously stopped me and did one of those classic moments where He shines a mirror onto the state of your heart, only the reflection comes back far different than you thought.

rembrant-prodigal-son-detailI haven’t been acting like the shepherd looking for the sheep.

I haven’t been acting like the woman looking for the coin.
I haven’t been acting like the Father looking for His Son.

I haven’t even been acting like the younger brother, pursuing his own desires at the sake of everyone else.

I was the older brother.

Crap.

You see, as I mentioned before, the previous weeks had been really hectic, draining, and altogether distracting. Nothing big and tragic but a lot of small to medium sized nuisances that had added up to a self-centered, “Why me?” mentality that left me comparing myself to others and feeling bitter towards what I had been given.

“Why does this person get to live by their family and I have to live far away from mine?”

“Why does that person get to live in a bigger house with a garage, heck, with a driveway, and I get a smaller home that floods?”

“Hey God, are you paying attention to all that we’re sacrificing here to obey and serve you? Do you see all this? Aren’t we great? Don’t I deserve more than this? DON’T I AT LEAST DESERVE TO FIND MY BLASTED SHEEP!?!”

Nice, Leah. Real nice. Heart of a champion right there. I was ashamed.

My Father’s correction was both gentle and kind.

“Leah, you’ve lost your mind these last five days looking for this little stuffed sheep. You’ve been irrational.   You can’t quit thinking about her day and night, unable to sleep until you find her. But when was the last time you lost sleep praying for one of my lost sheep? When was the last time you quit looking at the things you don’t have on your street and started looking at the people I have given to you there? Will you help me find My Baa Baa and bring her home?”

“I’m sorry, Father. I’m so, so sorry.”

The words were inadequate, but it was all I could say. My remorse was genuine, and I wanted to change. I thought of the legacy of my own father, and his relentless passion for the One. I so desired to carry on that legacy.

“This time, I really do get it, Father. I really do. Show me your Baa Baas. I want to join you in finding them and bringing them home.”

1bIt was almost 6:00 AM. Time for me to go to Home Depot. I excitedly walked up to the front desk and expectantly waited for Baa Baa to be given to me.

They didn’t have her. No one had turned her in.

There must be some mistake. She has to be here. She just has to. I frantically began to retrace my steps from days before, looking behind cash registers, corners of the bathroom, all the shopping carts . . . she just has to be here!

But she wasn’t. She wasn’t there that day. Or the next. Or the next. And I was so sad. I had resolved myself to the fact that Baa Baa was gone forever, yet I just couldn’t break that news to Claire. She still was praying for her every night, and every time I would think of Baa Baa, I tried to remind myself to pray for one of the neighbors and people God had placed in my life at that point.

It was a Saturday night that I found myself sitting with Brad at a table full of strangers at a wedding that he performed, legitimately sobbing into my gazpacho soup. Brad started talking about Baa Baa being gone and I just couldn’t help myself. My heart was broken about my little sheep. (Brad was once again mystified by the pregnancy hormones and why his quasi-rational wife was sobbing at a wedding reception about her daughter’s stuffed animal. He was very supportive though. Never belittled me or my wild hormones. What a guy.)

IMG_7956At that very moment, my mom sent me a text. She came in from Pittsburgh to watch the kids during the wedding and the picture she sent me didn’t even need words. If you’ve ever wondered what pure love and joy looks like, here it is. My little girl, reunited with her sheep. (Baa Baa was hiding far behind the TV stand. I’m pretty sure Caleb threw her back there. Why? Who knows? I’m still working on forgiving him for that.)

I again started sobbing, this time tears of joy, into my veal, which I couldn’t eat (No one should have to eat veal while they’re pregnant. It’s just too sad picturing that little baby cow. The hormones have fully taken over now.).

bigstock-Happy-family-EditThere are just no words, Father, no words to express my joy and thanks. Your heart bleeds with an irrational, all-consuming love for the souls of Your children, and yet you still take the time to show your infinite, undeserving love for me in such a personal, simple, and beautiful way. Thank you.

I wanted to call my dad at that moment and jump around with irrational joy at my Luke 15 moment. I found my sheep, but more importantly, I found my Father’s heart. Both of theirs. It all comes back to the Father’s heart.

 

A Father’s Heart – Part 3 of 4

If you missed the first two parts of this blog series, you can catch up here.

IMG_5329I’ve talked about my family from time to time: my best friend and husband, Brad, my 6-year-old, Gabriella, my 4-year-old, Claire, my almost 3-year-old, Caleb, and one soon to arrive around Thanksgiving. To truly get the full picture of my family, however, it’s important that you meet my Grandsheep, Baa Baa.

I first met Baa Baa through my little sister, Samantha. Samantha loved collecting sheep as a child, and my parents bestowed the soft, cuddly, pristine white sheep to her sometime in middle school. While Samantha never “played” with her sheep at that age, it became a treasured knick knack, traveling with her all the way to her first apartment in Philadelphia when she moved here four years ago.

That is when the sheep unexpectedly was reborn.

1c79d6aaa17211e286b422000a9d0dd8_7I took the girls to visit Samantha one afternoon when Claire was about 11 months old. She toddled throughout the house, exploring everything she could touch until she came upon the sheep. When she didn’t let it go the rest of the visit, Samantha infamously told me, “Just let her take it home. I’ll get it from you later in the week when she forgets about it.”

She never forgot.

644e00cf8dd3ed5d0164d9ebdb4d0e48Rather, the sheep earned a name, Baa
Baa, and quickly became an intricate part of our family dynamic. Claire took Baa Baa
everywhere, and soon her soft, white wool was more worn, floppy, and gray. It became evident even at 18 months that one of Claire’s greatest gifts was nurturing, and Baa Baa was her little girl. As Margery Williams so beautifully captures in the Velveteen Rabbit, Baa Baa became real. Very real.

Claire would sob relentlessly if Baa Baa was being washed before bed, and the panicked exclamation, “Where’s Baa Baa?!?” became one of the most feared questions Brad or I could ask. Early on, I had searched Amazon, Ebay, and every inch of the Internet looking for a “back up Baa Baa,” but she was nowhere to be found. We had the only Baa Baa in the world, and she was irreplaceable. Strict guidelines were set up as to where she could be taken to take every effort to never lose her.

As Claire has matured, her love for Baa Baa has only grown. Baa Baa gets new outfits from Build A Bear. (They don’t really fit her, but it doesn’t matter.) She is the star of any pretend game she plays with her siblings. She is pushed in a stroller when we go on a walk, and I still watch Claire fall asleep by snuggling her close and rubbing her ear.

And Claire’s not the only one.  Most surprisingly, my love for the sheep has grown. This became abundantly evident to me earlier this summer during what I now refer to as, “The Great Baa Baa Incident.” (Cue foreboding music . . .)

Claire was headed to bed when she asked the dreaded question: “Mommy, where’s Baa Baa?” After a cursory look in the usual places, we could not find her and a back-up sheep was begrudgingly used. When she still didn’t show up the next day, a thorough cleaning of their room ensued. At the end of several hours, we had a pristine room, but still no Baa Baa. This continued through every room of the house over the next several days (Yes, it may or may not take me days to clean my house, and I use that word “clean” very loosely. Not my strongest gifting.).

At this point I’m ready to send out an Amber Alert for Baa Baa. My heart would break each night as Claire would look at me with her big, brown, tear-filled eyes saying how much she missed Baa Baa. We prayed multiple times a day that we would find Baa Baa, and anyone that Claire met, whether or not she knew them, got to hear the story that Baa Baa was missing.

Overall, though, Claire actually was taking the loss surprisingly better than expected. I, however, increasingly became a basket case. Call it pregnancy hormones. Call it maternal love. Call it pure irrationality, but after several days of Baa Baa being missing, I found I was unable to talk about Baa Baa without becoming teared up. I’m pretty sure Brad was convinced that his pregnant wife had at last completely lost her mind. And I’ll be the first to admit that I had.

I couldn’t explain it, but finding Baa Baa became my life’s quest. She would be the last thing I thought about at night and the first thing I thought about in the morning. I dreamed of presenting Baa Baa to Claire when she got married, and carefully preserving her for my grandkids someday. I lamented the loss of our family heirloom and could not even begin to imagine where else to look. I desperately prayed for my Father to take care of this and find my sheep.

home-depotShortly after one of these desperate prayers, as I was falling asleep, I had a vivid memory of seeing Claire and Baa Baa in a shopping cart at Home Depot several days before. (I was distracted and Claire managed to bring her in a store.)  I was certain that Baa Baa was there.  Could I get to Home Depot that very second to get to her? Apparently Home Depot has this crazy idea that they should not be open at 11:30 PM, but they would reopen promptly at 6 AM, and I would be there waiting to get my lamb.

I kept waking up every hour or so, wondering if it was time to get her yet (I’ve admittedly lost my mind, remember?), until I couldn’t get back to sleep and I came downstairs at 2:30 AM to read and write.

I began by lamenting to God about some of my “mosquito bite moments” over the last several weeks (you can catch up here if you missed this explanation), which culminated with the loss of Baa Baa. As I was resting in the quiet, Luke 15 was impressed on my heart. I immediately recognized it as my dad’s favorite chapter in the Bible, and began to dig in, thinking of talking about this incident with my dad, as I desperately poured out prayers to my other Dad.

[More to come soon . . .}

A Father’s Heart – Part 2 of 4

If you missed the first part of this post, you can catch up here.  The Disney adventure continues . . .

696b54f6fdc31f788d1e6b55d192849d0976f235We continued on our Disney adventure for the next day and a half, when my sister-in-law, Betsy, suggested going back to Belle. This wasn’t part of the plan, but I went with it. The line was a long 50 minutes, a basic eternity for a crew of four and two-year olds, but it flew by for Gabby because Brad had a plan.

At the beginning of our wait, he asked, “Who wants to be the Beast?” And Gabby enthusiastically raised her hand. “I do! I do!” So Brad started to coach her.

“Ok, Baby. If you want to be the Beast, you have to be able to roar. Let me hear your best roar.”

“Ok,” she tentatively responded. “Roar.”

“Oh, no, Babe. That will never do. You have to really roar. Let me hear you roar!”

She smiled. “ROOOOOAAAR!”

He smiled back at her. “You’re getting better, but I think you can still do more. Let’s try it again. The lady inside is going to say, ‘Who wants to be the beast?’ and what are you going to say?”

“ROOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRR!” She said with an increasing amount of enthusiasm.

We literally spent the next forty-five minutes like this. Roar after roar, each one attempting to be louder and more ferocious than the last. You can only imagine how the people around us in line loved us. We were getting ready to go inside, and I was tugged by this need to protect my daughter’s little heart. What if she doesn’t get picked? They only pick older kids. She’s going to be heart-broken. I have to help her. I don’t want her to experience that kind of pain of a broken dream.

“Ok, Gabby,” I tried to gently console, “It’s going to be great if we get to be Beast, but if we don’t get picked to be Beast, we’re going to be okay with that, right? We’ll be happy with whatever we get and have fun either way, okay?”

And I watched the childlike, innocent enthusiasm in her eyes transform into a look of confusion and hesitancy. Before she could answer, Brad stopped me, and simply said, “Hey, I’m trying to get her to be the Beast here. That’s what we’re going for. Let her be the Beast.”

guard_your_heart_2And like a bucket of ice water dumped on my weary soul, I realized he was right. We’ve spent the last fifty minutes dreaming a dream, preparing for a dream, and at the precipice of it, I’m trying to weigh it down with disillusionment, preparing for mediocrity before it even had a chance to fly.

In trying to protect her from heartbreak, I was prohibiting her from hope.

“Forget what I said, Gabby. You go in there and be the Beast.”

We walked in the room where they assign the roles. They started choosing each character until they came to the Beast, and sure enough, the Disney worker asks, “So who wants to be the Beast?” just like we practiced.

IMG_4470And sure enough, the beautiful messenger of Walt Disney chooses my little peanut four-year-old daughter to be the Beast. They placed the red cape on her and she turned around to look at me with a look of pride and joy on her face that I had never seen equaled.

We went into the room where they actually carry out the play, and I was a nervous wreck. It came time for her big moment where the narrator explains that the Beast let out a terrible roar, and I held my breath as I knew it was her cue.

And let me tell you, my girl NAILED it. It was the most ferocious roar that ever came out of a little thirty-five pound, four-year-old body. The whole place burst into delighted laughter because it was so unexpectedly perfect. But she wasn’t surprised. She was prepared. Her Daddy had prepared her for that moment, and she was living it out beautifully.

The story quickly continued as Belle, the real Belle, remember, gently took Gabby’s little hand and placed it on her shoulder, and they danced to “Beauty and the Beast,” just like in the movie.

Scan 2015-5-9 0002I looked at Gabby’s little face full of awe and wonder and there was one, little tear streaming down her face. She didn’t even know what it meant to cry tears of joy, but it was all her little body could handle in that moment.

This whole time, I’m sobbing, watching my little girl experience the greatest moment of her life. It was one of the most incredible moments I’ve ever had as a mom, and really as a person. Genuinely. I was overwhelmed with gratitude, with awe that God had just let this happen.

We got home that night. Everyone went to bed exhausted, but not me. I couldn’t sleep. No way. I was high on joy. I was buzzing with gratitude and I kept trying over and over to express my thanks to God for the big and small miracles that I saw that day. I just kept thinking of Gabby’s look on her face as she was dancing with Belle and the little, beautiful, innocent tear of joy in her eye.

My prayer was quickly interrupted, however, with the Holy Spirit. As I was trying to think of the best words to thank Him, I was quickened with the question,

“Leah, don’t you get it?”

I was taken aback. “Wait, what? Get it? Get what? Don’t I get what?”

“Leah,” the gentle reply came. You’re Gabby.

I gasped. I sunk down to the floor. “What???”

“Don’t you get it? You’re Gabby. That joy you experienced today watching your baby girl doesn’t even capture a hint of what I feel as your Father watching you dance with your dreams. I want you to dream again. I want you to hope again. I want you to dare to ask me for all those things, big and small, that you would depend on your Dad to do. I want to be your Father. You’ve never had to trust me to be your Father before because you had such a good one, but I’ve always been here. I always was your Father and I want to be your Father now. Let me coach you, prepare you, help you with those dreams, and watch how I can bring them to pass in a way that you cannot even begin to imagine.”

I had no words. No words. To see myself as Gabby, to be able to trust again, to dream again, to lean in for really the first time to God being my Father, and to imagine that God could possibly delight in me the way that I delighted in watching Gabby that day, well, that was too much for me to begin to comprehend. But at that moment, I wanted to make a choice.

father-daughterOkay. I choose you. I’m giving you my broken heart, my weariness, my despair, and all the other burdens that I’ve been carrying around these past nine months, and I choose you. I want You to be my Father, and I will choose to trust You now. I don’t exactly know how, and I’m so scared to do it, but I’m going to try.”

That was perhaps my first glimpse of my Father’s heart, seeing myself as His daughter, reaching out His hand to me, and taking the leap to grasp it with all the strength I had.

One of the things that’s been most evident since my dad’s passing is the number of people who have told me that my dad also was a spiritual father to them. They, too, were grieving the loss of a man who personified the love of Christ to them, a love that many had never known. It’s my prayer that for each of you who were able to experience the love of my Dad, that you, too, can catch a glimpse of your Father’s heart, learning what it means to see yourself as Gabby, the gem of your Daddy’s eye.

A Father’s Heart – Part 1 of 4

news_1410165250Yesterday marked three years since the passing of my father from this world into the next. If you’re not familiar with the story, you can read up on it here. The last several weeks, especially, have held a lot of reflection on one of the greatest men I’ve ever known.

One of the things I’ve most appreciated about my dad was the way he modeled the love of my Heavenly Father. From my earliest memories, it’s impossible to think of my dad without thinking about his love for Jesus; subsequently, that love was evident in all that he did, especially when it came to being a parent. I never had trouble accepting God as my Heavenly Father namely because I wholeheartedly trusted and loved my Earthly Father.

In fact, this probably has been the area of my heart that has most dramatically changed over these past three years. Early on in the grieving process, I recognized that I had looked to God & depended on Him to play many roles in my life in various seasons.

He showed me He was my Best Friend in some lonely moments like starting a new school where I knew no one. He was my Protector when I was faced with some life-threatening situations. I looked to Him as my Husband during my single years.

But I never really had to depend on Him as my Father. I had the best Dad a girl could ever ask for, so while I could relate to God as a Father, I never really had to trust Him to be my Father.

And that’s maybe where the deepest pain of my heart originated with my dad’s accident and death. What kind of Father would let this happen to His kids? My dad would never want to put me in this kind of pain, so why would my Heavenly Father make such a different decision? And if He did, can He really be trusted?

As I look back on the last several years, I cannot say that God has magically answered all my questions with brilliant explanations that satisfy my heart. I can say, however, that I have started to learn what it means to look to God as my Father, and to trust Him in that role in my life. He has patiently and graciously been giving me glimpses of what it means to have a Father’s heart.

So, I share with you a 4-part reflection of some of my journey.

wpid-wp-1442352204341In August 2013, Brad and I planned on joining his family and taking a 2-day trip to Disney’s Magic Kingdom.

Some background . . . I am a self-proclaimed Disney Freak. It was a favorite family vacation growing up, so when it comes to the over-priced, fantastical, escapist vacation that Disney World provides, I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid. I’m all in. Don’t judge.

My dad, especially, had this knack of making extraordinary things happen when we were there. One time, he managed to schmooze different workers so that every day, we were given these super fast passes that let all seven of us get fast passes to any ride all day. We would look at him with these open-mouthed faces wondering how he managed to do this and he would just smile and say, “Favor!” And he was right. For whatever reason, Disney World made my family smile, and whenever we were there, God smiled on my family.

So, in many ways, taking my three young kids to Disney and watching them experience the magic was in many ways a dream come true. Yet at the same time, I anticipated a bittersweet walk through the park, remembering the joyful moments with my dad and recognizing the vacuum of his presence in any future memories.

DSC_6323I was determined to make this trip magical for my kids, however, and like a true Edwards Disney-ite, I had done my research and planned out our days to make our trip perfect. I was most intrigued by one of the newest experiences to the park, “Enchanted Tales With Belle,” my favorite princess and the favorite of my then four-year-old daughter, Gabby. Participants would get to reenact “Beauty and the Beast” and were assigned roles to play in the story. One child would be chosen to be the Beast, which meant that the child would actually get to meet Belle, the real Belle, and dance with her, just like they did in the movie.

As soon as I read I about this, I knew that this would literally be Gabby’s dream come true. We were getting ready to leave the next morning and I half-heartedly prayed, “God, let this be a special day for the kids. And if it’s possible, maybe, if You want to, well, let Gabby be the Beast. I know it’s probably not a big deal in the grand scheme of things in the universe, but I know it would make her happy. So, maybe You could make that happen?”

And honestly, my prayer wasn’t even that pretty. I was hurting. My trust was destroyed. With my dad gone, I wasn’t sure to whom I should turn for all those magical favors that he always seemed to get at Disney.

IMG_4341We started off our adventure with Belle. The Disney worker picked some ten-year-old girl to be Beast, and Gabby, Claire, and my nieces all got to be some silverware and they loved it. I could see right away why they gave the role to an older kid. The role of Beast was pretty critical to the whole experience. If you had a toddler with stage-fright, the whole thing was ruined. I accepted the situation as a fun one because the kids were happy, and well, it was a silly prayer anyway.

**More to come in Part 2**

Buzz Off!

I’ve been doing some post-summer reflection these past few days, remembering vacation memories from this summer and those of many years ago. One in particular happened at a favorite beach spot from my childhood: a gorgeous, little, secluded island off the coast of South Carolina called Kiawah Island.

kiawah-islandAlthough it has since become a little more developed, when my family went, the beauty of the untouched nature was a huge part of its appeal. We rode bikes everywhere, ate magnificent breakfast buffets, and one night we even broadened our horizons by crabbing on a secluded dock. Despite the fact that we had no idea what we were doing, we actually caught some crabs, screamed when we saw them, and made my dad throw them all back.

The joy of that night was marred the next morning, however, when we woke up with some mosquito bites. I know, it doesn’t really sound like much, but I’m not talking about one mosquito bite, or even a few mosquito bites. While we were catching the crabs, the mosquitoes were telling each other about the all-you-can-eat buffet that was happening on the south dock. I remember trying to count how many bites I had and I lost track after 30. It sucked. Literally.

My then ten-year-old sister, Ashley, swore that she saw an infomercial for the Doctor’s Home Book of Remedies, that claimed that applying a paste of plain yogurt and baking soda to mosquito bites would help to alleviate the itch. We were just desperate enough to believe her. My dad went out and bought several huge pints of plain yogurt and we lathered the paste all over our bodies. The yogurt bath proved to be cold, smelly, sticky . . . and not even the remotest form of itch relief. We found out later that the plain yogurt paste mixed with crushed aspirin actually relieves sunburn. Not mosquito bites. Way to go, Ash.

This summer, in addition to road trips, vacations, and way too many trips to Italiano’s Water Ice, the past four months have brought with them their own share of, how shall I say . . . adventures. Thank God that there have been no major tragedies, but there has definitely been a string of life’s nuisances that have added up.

A flooded basement. A car accident. The death of a grandparent. Health insurance confusion. The death of another grandparent. Another flood in the basement. Trying to sell a house. Another car accident. Month-long sinus infections. Work stress. Someone steals the plumbing from the house you’re trying to sell. Yet another flood in the basement.

On their own, they are just a part of life’s nuisances. We live in an imperfect world. Stuff happens. It’s not fun, but it’s not tragic. You deal with it. It’s just a simple mosquito bite, if you will. But when you string together a series of inconveniences in a short amount of time, well, it starts to get a bit draining. And by draining I mean it can suck the life out of you like a swarm of mosquitoes on a deserted dock on a warm, summer evening. You start looking around the corner, wondering what’s going to happen next, and pretty soon, it’s hard to see anything good happening in the midst of all the “mosquito bite moments.”

I’ve lived through tragedy. It’s terrible, indescribable in many ways. One thing about walking through tragic seasons, however, is that it’s obvious suffering. It’s one big, horrible, tragic thing at once, that puts you at the end of your rope and in my case, immediately propelled me to my Heavenly Father.

The thing about mosquito bite seasons, however, is that it’s kind of a ninja suffering. It sneaks up on you. You don’t really realize it’s happening until you’re a good several weeks and several “mosquito bite nuisances” into it. Whereas I had to obviously make a choice to turn with desperation to my Father in the midst of tragic suffering, in the last few months, now I was subtly turning to God with sarcasm and resentment, wondering why He was allowing all these things to happen. I inadvertently chose to spray a coat of cynicism and bitterness over my heart to try and protect myself from any more bites.

Last weekend, as Brad and I had just about reached the mosquito bite tipping point, the thought occurred to me:

If the Enemy can’t destroy your life with tragedy, he’ll try and distract you to death with the ordinary.

Like a bath of cold, plain yogurt paste on my bit-up skin, the realization woke me up to a new perspective of what was happening around me. Yet unlike the yogurt paste, I began to feel some relief from my discomfort. I read Isaiah 41.10 [AMP] in my YouVersion Bible plan.

“Fear not [there is nothing to fear], for I am with you; do not look around you in terror and be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen and harden you to difficulties, yes, I will help you; yes, I will hold you up and retain you with My [victorious] right hand of rightness and justice.”

Just as He was with me in the darkest night of tragedy, God was there in the gray dusk of the ordinary. And not only was He with me, He had a plan in this, a purpose to this season. He was using it to strengthen Brad and me, to harden us, to build our stamina. You don’t finish a marathon after a day of training and you can’t finish life well without learning how to handle these difficulties in stride.

Somehow, just knowing that God was with me in the ordinary, holding me up, and redeeming each “mosquito bite moment” made the itchy misery not feel so bad. I began to reevaluate the past several months and discovered so many small miracles and faithful provisions each step of the way.

I know this mosquito bite season will not last forever. I know there will be more in the future. And God-willing, when the next one comes along, I’ll be a little better at looking around me not with terror or dismay, but recognizing God’s presence and hand in the midst of it.

And to all my friends who may be reading this, finding themselves in the midst of their own string of life’s mosquito bites, please know you have a friend who is right there with you, praying for you, and ready to bring over a pint of plain yogurt to help.

 

 

Pistachio Perspectives

Pistachio-ShellsOver the past several months, Gabby has decided to start a rock collection. She declared it one day when we were out on a walk through the city and she picked up a dirty old rock from the sidewalk. I made her keep it outside on the window ledge of our front porch because I didn’t want her to bring the gross, germ-infested, God-only-knows-where-this-has-been object inside her room.

In the months since, Gabby has maintained a collection of about 20 “pebbles” that she keeps on the window ledge. I use that word loosely because some of her rocks are actually halves of pistachio shells that she found on the ground and picked up because she thought they looked really unique. Excuse me while I gag just thinking about that. She’ll find rocks as we walk to and from school or go to the park and she’ll carefully put them in her pocket until we can get home and she can display them appropriately on our front porch.

Keep in mind that we live in the middle of the city. We’re not talking about rare minerals, or even stones bigger than the size of a quarter. Most carry the same, gray hue and none have a shiny luster. What makes Gabby bend down and pick one up and just walk by others is beyond me. To me, they just look like, well, rocks. To her, however, these are precious . . . special . . . they are her gems, and as soon as they get the chance to become a part of her rock collection, their value increases exponentially. Even if they were once, say, a pistachio.

Several years ago, I remember reading a story from the Washington Post about world-renown violinist, Joshua Bell, playing for nearly 45 minutes while dressed undercover in the busy L’Enfant Metro station during rush hour. He played some of the most difficult and beautiful pieces ever written on a $3.5 million Stradivarius violin. During the public concert, Bell, who easily makes $1,000/minute at his concerts, made $32.17. Only a handful of people stopped to listen to him for more than a minute. The article pointed out how people’s busyness, pre-occupied mindsets, and iPod headphones limited their ability to recognize beauty and genius even when it was right in front of their eyes.

I have the opportunity this week to have a few days away from my kids. Brad and I are attending the ARC Conference together and enjoying the time to reconnect with each other, our church leadership team, and most importantly, Jesus. My favorite part of opportunities like this, besides the hotel room that we can darken like a cave and sleep past 5:45 AM, is the perspective that it can bring.

In the last 13+ years of working in ministry, I’ve had the opportunity to connect with lots of kids, teenagers, parents, and grandparents. I’ve watched and gleaned principles that I wanted to incorporate into my family one day, and have seen those that I did not want to adopt into my lifestyle as a mom. I remember thinking as an idealistic, single twenty-something, “I want to be a fun mom. One that always has time to play games and encourage learning and answer questions. A mom who exemplifies a love and passion for Jesus in the every-day moments of life and who is patient.   Kind. Funny. Safe. Joy-filled. A Frankenstein collection of all the best parts of parents I’d seen that would create a new breed of mom that would change the world.”

Dear Twenty-Something Leah,

Newsbreak. Having small children is exhausting. Very exhausting. You thought you were exhausted in college, but that was some mere fatigue. And little kids can be whiny. Very whiny. Like good material for new torture techniques kind of whiny. It’s difficult to be World-Changing Mama when you’re up to your elbows in Diaper-Changing Mama. Being a mom is hard.  Really hard.  Sometimes, you will skip the learning opportunity and put on a video. You will be that mom that you condemned in your grad paper about media use and children. And you will not always look like Jesus letting the little children come unto Him. Maybe more like Jesus running out the merchants in the Temple. You will bear a strong resemblance to Him at times.

Love,

Thirty-Something Leah

One thing I’ve been reminded of this week, however, is a very important reminder to Thirty-Something Leah.

Don’t miss the magnificence of the rocks in the midst of the gray hues and lack-luster days of fatigue.

Don’t miss the genius of musical masterpieces in the midst of the rush-hour demands of life.

Getting some space (and yes, sleep) from the monotony and pace of life’s schedule allows you to appreciate the beauty in sticky hugs, bedtime prayers, and even the pistachio shell moments of the day that are pretty ugly on the surface, but when seen in the right light, can be an exquisite, unique pebble in the grace of God’s collection in your life. I’m pretty sure forty-something Leah has a thing or two to write to me about teenagers, and the charm that is found in the simplicity and innocence of toddlers. Slow down, Leah. Leave space to let Jesus point out the jewels hidden in the cracks of the day that are just dying to be a part of His seemingly haphazard collection.   And listen to the music that’s in the belly-laughs and light-hearted giggles of your kids each day.   It’s magnificent.

I’m living a dream and I’m so grateful. Thank you, Jesus for this incredible opportunity and the grace-filled moments to recognize it as such.

Oh, Waiter!

2438-12276The other night, Brad and I went out to dinner for a date night. We were starving so we opted to go somewhere easy, close and quick, albeit not nearly as exciting as some other options that make up the extraordinary cuisine of Philadelphia.

When we arrived at our restaurant, we were shocked and disappointed to discover that our quick fall-back was everyone else’s fall-back that night and there was a forty minute wait for our little party of two. We left, knowing it wasn’t worth it and fearing we might start to eat our elbows in the interim. We found a new fall-back that surpassed our expectations and most importantly, had no wait, and enjoyed a great night together.

A few weeks before that, we had an out-of-town friend visiting us for a weekend and we wanted him to experience one of the magnificent brunch locales that are available in the city. We took him to one of our favorites, even though we knew it was going to be close to an hour wait with all three of our small children. We found ways to entertain them and make it work because we were confident that it would be worth it. And it was. Three words: Cannoli French Toast.

When we’re facing any kind of waiting season, there are two primary questions that must be answered:

  1. How long is it going to be?
  2. Is it going to be worth it?

While it may be a fairly straight-forward decision when you’re choosing a restaurant, it rarely is as clear when you’re in the midst of a waiting season in life.

When am I going to have that baby?

When am I going to find that job?

When am I going to meet my Someone and get married?

In these sorts of scenarios, we seldom know the answer to the first question. Wouldn’t it be great if we did? “Welcome to your life, Leah. You will be seated at your dream job in approximately three months.”

Although a defined answer to the first question is rare, if you’re waiting on a God-given dream, you can be confident of the second. It will be worth it.

When we’re being obedient to God, following His directives, making choices that honor Him, and pursuing Him with all our hearts, and we still find that we’re in the middle of a waiting season, it can feel so frustrating. There’s this compulsion to figure out what we’re doing “wrong” just so we can fix it and move on.

There might not be anything wrong, per se. Things are just not ready yet. Cannoli French Toast takes some time.

And yet, even if my brain understands that, my heart still hates waiting seasons. They feel so long and so difficult and well, so boring. It feels as if I’ve been put in some cosmic time-out, forced to sit still and think about what I’ve done or what I’m going to do until some magical time, when God decides I’ve learned my lesson and I can move on with the happy dream He’s given me.

In the middle of one such season, God gave me a picture that has revolutionized my perspective on waiting. I looked up the word “wait” in my Bible dictionary, and the definition expressed a sense of anticipation, or as dictionary.com puts it, “to continue as one is in expectation of.”

My mind went to yet another restaurant analogy (because apparently I’m obsessed with food) and I thought of the people who serve our food, or as we commonly refer to them . . . waiters.

I laughed. Their job is literally waiting all the time.

Except anyone who has ever worked in the restaurant business knows that being a waiter is anything but boring: the fast-paced demands of a busy kitchen, a constant flow of customers, remembering each unique order. A waiter can make or break your eating experience.

I was inspired. If I’m going to be in a waiting season, well, dagnabbit, I’m going to be the best waitress I can be. Instead of spending my time with Jesus sulking in a chair, twiddling my thumbs, waiting for something to happen, I would approach it as if He were my customer for the day, and wait on Him accordingly.

“Good morning, Jesus. What can I do for you today? Where should I go? Who do I need to call or help or meet? What’s on the menu today?”

Sometimes He would direct me towards something or someone.  Often, however, He would just encourage me to sit down at the table with Him. Talk. Listen.

And when He would finally call my name and tell me that my new season was ready, I realized that I wasn’t waiting for my Cannoli-French-Toast-Dream to be ready at all. My Dream was waiting for me.

I was not the same person that I was when I started my waitressing job the weeks, months, or years prior. In the process of waiting for God, He had changed me. Refined me.

Was the job difficult? Yes.

Painful? At times.

But worth it? Most definitely worth it.

Remind me of that when I’m in the middle of my next waiting season.

“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Ps. 27.14)