How the clouds in Germany healed me.

 

‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’
-Isaiah 14:14

I’m not a big fan of hot, humid summers. Winter is alright. Spring is lovely. Autumn is by far my favorite. But summer? No thank you. All that heat, all that sticky humidity that you can’t escape. I kind of dread it.

I don’t remember the heat from last summer. I know for sure that summer happened and I know that it must have been hot. The nightmare we walked through lasted from June 15th to August 28th, smack dab in the middle of our summer months. Surely there were unbearably hot days, scorchers. But I have no recollection of the high temperatures that I normally hide from at all costs. My focus was laser sharp, with all other concerns pushed aside. I wanted my kids back. Nothing else mattered.

During that dark summer, I felt the shadow of Death following me through the lowest valley. It was ever-present, even as my God’s light was equally present. It loomed large, trying with everything it had to gain ground and take over. Relentlessly. The valley was so deep, so far down, it felt void of life-sustaining oxygen. All my memories of those 76 days are still dark and grainy. Even in the midst of the blinding sunshine characteristic of Midwest summers, my mind goes dark when I think back to that time.

This summer, I traveled to Novi Sad, Serbia with a group of people to serve at an English camp for children. What the enemy had tried hard to steal, the Father redeemed gloriously, far exceeding my expectations. It was more than I dared to imagine. Covered in the anointing of my Lord, I traveled across the globe, leaving my footprints in airports and rural Serbian villages and old brick streets tucked away in alleys.  All around me, I took note of comparisons between this summer and the last. Life versus death. Joy versus sorrow. Laughter versus gut-wrenching sobs. Defeat versus VICTORY.

We stopped in Munich, Germany to board a plane that would take us to Belgrade, Serbia. It was a short flight, but held the most impact for me. We were right in the middle of the day, when the sky was a brilliant blue and the sun shone brightly. As I lifted off the ground in Munich, the plane going faster, faster, faster until it had no choice but to float upward, I noticed the clouds all around me. Light, fluffy and cheerful, they surrounded the plane and my heart. Those clouds in Germany held within them a massive mystery I still haven’t figured out. By themselves, they are just evaporated water caught in a cycle. But those clouds, in that sky, outside that plane were created by the hand of the Father, and held healing and redemption and joy. I longed to jump into them and sink into their restoring buoyancy. Like a balm, the clouds matched the carefree Hope settling throughout and the stark contrast was crystal clear. I had landed in the lowest valley, yes. But, just as He promised, He lifted me up as if I were an eagle, propelled by the air under my wings. I had run so hard, so long and so far to claw my life from the grip of the enemy that my body still felt exhausted a year later. But I was not too weary to continue. I kept walking and did not faint. My hope, once tested and shaken, was now renewed and rebuilt, soaring.

The eagles have the most stunning view. All of creation on display below them, harnessing the mysterious air all around, pushing up, up and out, into the heights. I took in the beautiful sights from their vantage point and wept in awe of the One and Only God who can join me in both misery and celebration. The one who never leaves, never forsakes me. The King who accompanied me into the low valley and stood guard against the Shadow of Death, then breathed air under my healing heart and carried me into the clouds.

Soaring,
Mande

The dream I lost on July 25, 2015.


I kept watching the clock. It was early, still dark outside. But I was up anyway…..sleep evaded me. The team would be at the airport to board the plane soon. I should have been with them.

But I couldn’t get on a plane to anywhere. I couldn’t leave the city of Omaha. I was being investigated for neglecting my children. My world was being controlled by the powers of the State of Nebraska. It wasn’t my own anymore.

As I laid in bed next to my sleeping husband, tears fell quietly from my eyes and soaked into my pillow. Tears, the ones that came so easily and often now, leaked out of me from pain, from confusion, from frustration. It is astonishing how much can change in an instant. The summer we had planned was drastically different from where it had landed.

On July 25th of last summer, I was scheduled to be on that plane. I was part of a team of people traveling to an orphanage in Costa Rica. We were supposed to spend 10 days there, caring for the kids, assisting the staff and exploring God’s creation. Olivia was on the team too, and my heart was so thrilled for this opportunity to do God’s work alongside her. She was beyond excited. But one phone call shifted everything and here I was, home in my bed instead of on a plane. My daughter’s beds sat empty in the rooms down the hall. They were asleep in a foster home. I propped my cell phone on my chest and watched as the clock clicked by……4:39am, 4:40am, 4:41am.

I spent eleven years as a banker. When God called me away to work for the Church, no one was more surprised than me. I knew there was something else, something more for me to do. But I would have never guessed it was Kingdom work. No way, not me. Then I felt the nudge….and being a gal bent toward following her Father, I leapt. I’m so glad I did. In the safe haven of the work He gave me, I felt new things coming to life, hurts falling away and dreams reawakening. The part of me that had been asleep for so long in the humdrum of spreadsheets and numbers and general ledgers started to stir, yawn and reach her arms up in a nice, long stretch. Without even realizing it, I walked right into the thing He had designed me for all along. I had a purpose in the Kingdom, a calling to work for Him.

I happened to land in the Global Outreach ministry of my church. This girl, who had never traveled past Mexico for a vacation, was suddenly booking flights for places in the far reaches of the world, and hopping on a plane to Chicago to implore the Consulate of India to approve our last-minute Visa requests. It was the stuff that only God can orchestrate. But I picked it up and fell in love along the way. And at some point, God nestled into my heart this idea to get on one of those planes with one of those teams. ‘Go serve in the world I created, Daughter,’ He said.

After a few starts and stops, Olivia and I were invited onto the Costa Rica team. We couldn’t wait to go over and snuggle babies, to hug the workers there, to tip toe into the waterfall not far from the orphanage. We trained, we planned, we prayed. But then we couldn’t take part anymore and my heart broke into a million tiny shards as I informed my team leaders. It felt like a cruel trick, this dream so large and promising now torn to pieces. At our supervised visits, Olivia was sullen. My girl, who’d had a beckoning into the Nations for years, even before I did, felt like her heart had been trampled too. This dream, to follow our God into the parts of His design we never thought to visit, was no more.

But time, if you let it, has a way of recreating, re-imagining, restoring. My Father is a promise-maker, and, as the maker of promises, He is faithful to keep them. The dream that had never come to fruition was about to be made new. Months later, in the chill of a sunny December afternoon, I rode along in my Pastor’s car, on our way to a Christmas lunch. She mentioned Serbia, told me she felt it was a good fit, asked me consider it….and in my heart was a spark again. The spark of the dream, after growing stale on the floor of my sadness, was still there. And little by little it became a roaring fire.

Take my side and get me out of this; give me back my life, just as you promised.
Psalm 119:154 (MSG)

In four days, I will get on a plane. This time to Serbia, but with a similar purpose-to care for kids, assist the staff and explore God’s creation. With surprising ease, this team has come together, funds have been gathered, prayers have been answered. These days, it’s taking everything in me to contain the excitement that is dangerously close to leaking out of me. I’m not positive my skin can contain it all. God didn’t just want to trade my old dream for a new one. He wanted to ignite in me the kind of dream that overflows and heals. And the whisper in my heart, ‘Lord, let me get on the plane this time.’ will be answered. Because, y’all, a good Father longs to-yearns to- make it all okay again. He doesn’t want to leave us wallowing alone in sorrow, or to flee in the midst of trial. That’s definitely not His desire or His design. When everything breaks down and the dreams held inside your heart fall out, it is absolutely the plan to give you back your life. That’s His promise. He keeps them.

Dreaming again,
Mande

Last year, I was MIA on my birthday. Here’s why.

I wasn’t hungry. Not even a little bit. For the last month, I had barely eaten at all. The heavy weight of worry hinders the rumbles of the stomach.

But it was July 8th,  my birthday, and they had invited me out for breakfast, these two sweet women in my life.  Women who had cared for me well, who had bent low at the feet of Jesus on my behalf. They wanted to celebrate me, though that was the furthest thing from my mind. I forced a veggie omelet down my throat, partially to be kind, but mostly because I knew Father wanted me to eat to keep the body He had given me humming along to fight the battle at hand. They came bearing gifts, one from each of them, along with a big basket of goodies from my dear friends at work…..friends who didn’t have knowledge of what was going on, but they thought of me, even in my absence. I had been at work on June 15th, as usual, and then…..I just wasn’t. It had been a month and surely people were wondering where I was. Only a handful of people knew that my world had fallen and shattered into pieces. We were caught in the mangled and warped system of the State of Nebraska. The same one designed to protect children, now the ironic deliverer of trauma.

It felt odd to lead a life of silence. Of secrecy. It’s not my style, nor is it my husband’s. We’re the kind of people who wear emotions, thoughts, opinions and everything in between on our sleeves. Out loud and in bold color. Sometimes to our detriment, but always with honesty. Those days, the ones hallmarked by hushed isolation, felt shrouded in darkness and laden with sobering gravity. We moved through the minutes that felt like hours bolstered by God alone. He breathed for us, walked for us, talked for us. We were held inside the skin of capable, adult bodies, but we needed Him to care for us like newborns. We depended on our God completely.

After breakfast, I went home to rest. I never really felt rested or restored. I just hovered on the edge between sleep and consciousness. But resting felt like the only way to carry on. The exhaustion of waking up, and wading through the muck of lawyers and court dates and supervised visits with my girls, was enough to deplete us completely by mid-morning. Unlike years past, rest was my birthday plans. No parties. No laughter rippling around a table of friends and family, bouncing off the walls of some favorite restaurant, huddling over a scrumptious dessert gobbled up after jolly singing. Just rest. It felt like a sweet respite from thinking.

Even in my depletion, in the lowly state of oppression, I knew the promises of my good God would be fulfilled. Not because I deserved it, or anything really. I deserve nothing. None of us deserve anything good. It’s only the miracle of the Spirit in me that restores me to receiving grace and mercy. And I knew that when He makes a promise, He means it. Father is not flippant or scattered or finicky. Even in the midst of despair, the resolve in my heart was solid: this God who had taken the broken shell of a girl, filled her with new Life and given her a purpose in the Kingdom would absolutely, without question, 100% bring us out of the depths to full restoration. And more than that, He’d crown us with honor. Because the sons and daughters of the only true King receive all. He gives freely and unconditionally. He gives out of love.

Yesterday, I found myself surrounded by a group of caring, Godly women once again. On the brink of another birthday, here they were, women standing around me in a circle, offering up prayers to the God we all have in common and love so. But instead of rescue and resolution, they prayed for joy, for peace, for a year sweetened with the honey from the Creator who loves to shower His kiddos with extravagant gifts. They declared this a year of good things, of beauty constructed from the ashes of last summer. I stood there in awe of what He can do with the messes of this life, humbled by the depth of His love for this simple, unqualified girl. Born from the rubble of heartbreak, here was a new year of birth, another year to revel in His glory and goodness.

This summer marks a jubilee of a different kind. My birthday will come and go, just as it does every year that I am given the gift of more Life. We’ll probably celebrate with dinner and adorable, handmade cards. Maybe a movie. Oh, how I love a reclining lounger and buttered popcorn. I’ll love every minute of it. But more than that, I will celebrate what God has done. I will rejoice in His deliverance. I will praise Him for another July 8th, another chance to look back and see His faithful, steadfast hand of favor. And I will celebrate what He restored, through the bitter troubles He allowed, brought full circle to joy- a joy only realized in the aftermath of victory.

 

Happy Birthday,
Mande

 

When God gives you dreams that haven’t come true.

Many years ago, I had a dream that has stuck with me. It was soon after I met Jesus, and I was green to practicing faith and the gifts that come with it. I don’t know that I credited the dream to Him then, but it clung to the rafters of my mind, resistant to the passage of years and aging and busyness. Now I know better. Father gives dreams to His sons and daughters. Even though I lacked the skill and knowledge to do much with it back then, this dream was from the Lord.

In it, there was a home. A big, beautiful home set on a slice of green land filled with brush and trees and wild flowers. The house had a long porch that hugged the outer walls on the front, and shutters sandwiched each window. Dormers made it look as though the house had warm, smiling eyes. A dirt road lined with trees whose branches hung low led you to the home, which glowed with a soft, gentle yellow color, either because we painted it that way or because the original color had faded. Outside the old screen door lay a comfy, snoozing dog, and rocking chairs cluttered the porch. The inside of this home was just as charming. The wood floors creaked, the moldings were detailed and brilliant, the air smelled of good things coming to life in the kitchen’s double ovens. Just down the hall from the front door was a little room that turned out to be the heartbeat of the home. It served as a check-up room for the resident doctor.

This home wasn’t just where I lived with my family, though that was true. It also served as a safe place for women to come and grow their babies until we found them new families. Babies they didn’t want or couldn’t keep. During their time with us, I gathered, they lived there, took care of themselves, helped around the house,  and learned about the Creator of those babies in their wombs. We cared for their needs and made them members of our family. At the end, the babies stayed with us until we could find the God-ordained family for them to go home to.

I had that dream a few times in a row until it disappeared from my nights. It hasn’t returned since then, but still it stays in my mind, tucked away like a sweet gift I’m not yet permitted to open.

One time years ago my husband said aloud ‘What if we rescued women who were planning to abort their babies? Took care of them, provided them medical care and handled the adoption. If you took all the worries and question marks away, I bet most women would take our offer. I think he’s right. I don’t think the power of suggestion in what he said is what brought on my dreams. No. Father often speaks to people in groups or pairs, to bring confirmation and clarity. This was one of those times.

All these years later, I don’t have a big house in the country filled with sweet, broken women shattered by the layers of an uneasy, ungenerous life. Daughters marked by bad nights or bad labels, about to make a heavy, life-altering decision. We’ve not cradled any of those babies in our arms, and we’ve not eaten any meals in the kitchen at the old table stretched out in front of the hearth. We’ve never even talked about his statement or my dream again. Years have passed, life has moved forward and there’s been no discussion of what could be one day.

Because we don’t have to. You can’t force the things that only God can birth. Maybe we’ll have that safe haven someday. Maybe I’ll speak aloud this dream and it will awaken in the heart of one of my daughters, or one of you instead. It is His and His alone to piece together, and I trust that He will. Because a good Father will bring to fruition the plans and purposes that rescue the lost children He loves so much.

All I know is that dreams are tools that my Creator uses to work in and through us. I find that so humbling. That this great, great God who imagined up and molded together everything good and right that ever has or ever will exist, would think to use this simple girl. What does He see that I don’t? I’m not sure, but I’m utterly grateful all the same. And it only makes me want to keep dreaming.

Dreaming with you,
Mande

In Praise of Unexpected Babies.

On our first date, I vaguely remember my now husband asking what I wanted for my future. He was 28, and I was a very green, but mature, 21 years old. He made it clear from the beginning that he was looking for serious, not casual. And it was fine by me. Because this girl wanted a husband and children.

But the matter of how I got those children was a whole other discussion. I lived life with a painful, chronic condition called endometriosis. It made having children naturally difficult, and so I spent my teen years and the beginning of adulthood assuming I’d bypass all that struggle by just adopting. I was fine with it, completely. And James seemed to be fine with that as well.

Until those two little lines showed up on the pregnancy test. Just a few months after becoming engaged, we knew this situation wasn’t ideal, nor was it our plan. But we were thrilled nonetheless. So were our parents and friends. I shifted quickly from adoption to shopping for maternity clothes with no hesitation, and jumped in.

We met Olivia for the first time in late October, as the first snowfall of the season fell quietly outside the window of my labor and delivery room. After a high-risk pregnancy that developed into preeclampsia, I was induced nearly a month before her due date. She was the prettiest thing I’d ever seen. I glanced at my soon-to-be husband as he stood over the incubator that held his new baby girl and saw tears fall freely down his cheeks like a tidal wave. A childhood spent moving to and fro, pricked by the pain of rejection and abandonment, leaked out of him as his finger gently held the tiny preemie-sized oxygen mask over Olivia’s perfectly appointed face. Here was redemption, the second chance he wasn’t sure he’d receive, the stability of a whole family he had longed for so badly. Wrapped in a blanket so tightly only her sweet eyes were visible, he cradled her with equal parts strength and tenderness.

We started our married life as parents and it was rough. So rough. We almost didn’t make it. But our bright spot was always the surprise child we were shocked to have. And Father wasn’t done.

Two more pink lines rattled me on a winter evening after work. Natalee came to us just one month shy of five years after Olivia had been born. After all those years of no more babies, I had accepted the unexpected gift of a baby as the immense blessing it was and never felt shortchanged by having just one. Our family of three felt complete if it was God’s design. But then we became four. Olivia was overwhelmed with excitement. A canvas print hangs in my bedroom of the moment when my first surprise child met my second surprise child and it oozes joy, beauty, goodness. The perfection of the Father’s hand contained in our second daughter took my breath away. Two, Lord? How did You see fit to give us two this perfect, this wonderful, this unexpected?

They didn’t come from perfect, deserving parents. We’ve screwed up more than we got right. We faltered more than we aced. But that’s not the kind of gift-giver God is. You don’t have to bend into some equation, be the exceptional or unblemished child, or qualify with the highest marks to receive His favor. The author of the book of Proverbs wrote so we could have greater understanding, wisdom and instruction. In chapter 8, he reveals that when you find God, you find life….and in that life with God, you find favor. You only need to seek, believe, expect, and receive. There favor was, shining with the glow of mercy and grace, held out for us like a gift on the open palms of unconditional Love. Our two babies were, and still are, the most tangible expression of God’s immense adoration of me that I’ve ever acquired. All I need to know about how Father feels about me can be seen by looking at them.

Nearly three years ago, I had a hysterectomy. The endometriosis had progressed to a point that had my doctor begging to toss the mangled parts from my body. They had served me well, but the time had come to go our separate ways. The night before my surgery, I marveled at what God had done with the very thing that should have failed me. From my body came the most stunning gifts. These two little girls had never entered the spaces of my young mind that was busy making plans, imagining, dreaming, and falling in love with the life I was so sure I’d lead. It turned out nothing like the pictures roaming my head.  But it was better. So much better. I thought of the old me, plagued by anxiety and depression, restrained by the shackles of shame and guilt. About the man my husband could have or should have become, now grounded in the wanted weight of raising two beauties who inherited the best of him. About the times we’ve laughed uncontrollably at the dinner table, the hugs we’ve snuggled into each night at bedtime, the life we made in the small hours of each day. About the freedom we experienced as a result of parenthood, coaxing the greatness out of us with whispers, morphing into the best versions of ourselves that could have never evolved outside the framework of family.

For months after the hysterectomy, I was asked several times if the surgery had cut short my plans to ‘try for a boy’. Was I disappointed?

 Me???? Have you seen and met our girls?
Have you basked in the glow that they emit?

No. I’ve never been disappointed or longed for more. It’s impossible to top the good and perfect gift that is held inside the glorious skin belonging to our daughters. And besides, I sure do love a good surprise, y’all.

Thankful,
Mande