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Tumbled Towers: A Reflection on Proverbs 3:5-6

Have you ever observed the progression of block play in a child? When they are babies, the enjoy watching you build. As they get older, the joy comes in knocking the towers down... over and over, giggles ensue when the blocks fall. Then slowly, they learn to stack the blocks... first with you, and then by themselves. When you are working together, the fun is in both the building and the knocking down. The child knows that you will help them build a new structure even better than the last. However, when they go it alone... and work so hard to do it by themselves, rejecting your help... suddenly those falling blocks aren't always so funny. Especially if it is someone else who knocks them down. I have witnessed many a tantrum over tumbled towers.

This morning, I found myself thinking about how our walk with God resembles this innocent child's play. For me, I go back and forth between these phases. Sometimes I am happy to surrender control and let God do the building. Unfortunately this is usually because I am completely broken and lack the strength to even try. Sometimes I get joy from seeing life change suddenly, like a tower falling to pieces, because I am ready for change and trust that what comes next will be good. Most of the time, though? Well, most of the time I am like that stubborn toddler who refuses help. I want to place every block, and of the frustration and anger when it doesn't work out.

I have seen myself go through these phases time after time. Yet none of these are really ideal, right? The best phase, and my personal favorite when playing with my son, is the one that so often gets forgotten when I am living my life as an adult. It is that brief time when the joy comes from working together. Building together, knocking down together. There are going to be times when the block have to fall. This is how we grow. It is so much easier to accept those tumbling towers when you know that there is already a plan for what comes next, and someone to help make it happen. This is what I want my life with God to look like. I am just not there yet.

I was reading Proverbs 3:5-6 last night: 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.
 
Two things stood out to me. First was the word all. "All your ways," not just those you see fit. This stood out even more because I was also reading Jeremiah 29:11-13. The repetition of the word "all" wasn't lost on me. It does, however, remind me how far I have to go when it comes to learning to seek God's direction in the day-to-day. The other thing that stood out to me was the last line... "He will make your paths straight." The math nerd in me instantly thought about how the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Yet my life? I don't even know if zig zag adequately describes what it would look like drawn out. Definitely not a straight line. Because usually I am stubbornly choosing my own path. Building my own block tower, if you will, and then getting frustrated when it collapses and I have to try another approach.
 
How much easier it is to walk a straight line. How much easier it is to work with God to build a life that is filled with purpose and growth. I want that. I know that walking with God, and seeking His will, doesn't mean an end to obstacles. That straight path isn't a level one... there are still changes in altitude; peaks and valleys. The difference is that when you hit one of those valleys, God is there to guide you over it instead of trying to find a way around it alone. And when those peaks come? Well, the joy of knowing for certain that it is exactly where you are supposed to be at that point is even better than when we stumble upon them by chance.
 
We can't get to this point by only surrendering control occasionally. It isn't just about seeking God's will for life's big ticket items, or when you feel helpless and defeated. God wants a relationship with us. Always. I can often see how small, seemingly insignificant, choices can be what sparks a chain reaction. When I don't allow God to work in my life on the small scale, day-to-day stuff, I am missing the opportunity to make sure any chain reactions those little decisions cause end in growth and progress. I mentioned that passage in Jeremiah:
 
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
 
We are given assurance that seeking God is not in vain: You will call upon me, I will listen. You will seek me, and find me. My Heavenly Father is always there, waiting for me to ask for help. My prayer is that I continue to learn to do that. I can see where He is working in me to help me get there... the question is will the path be a straight one, or my typical zig zag?
 
 

Moving Forward... with hope.

Today has been an intensely hard day. I am not even going to pretend I can write about this in any way other than just spilling my guts and hitting publish. Because I am overwhelmed, exhausted, and terrified. Mom's PET scan results came in today. The cancer has spread into her bone. Into her bone. I was prepared for it to have spread further that we had hoped into her lymph nodes, but not into her bone. I had managed to ignore the word "aggressive" until today. I had convinced myself that the PET scan was nothing to be afraid of... so much so that I wasn't even nervous to hear the results.

When I say I am terrified, I mean it... and in more way than one. I am scared of what it will be like to watch my mom go through aggressive chemo. I am scared of what life is going to look like a year from now. It isn't just that, though. You see, I am scared of an entirely different kind of disease as well. I am scared that I am not going to be able to handle this. That the depression that haunted my first year of motherhood is going to once again show its ugly face. I am scared that A will not only lose a grandma, but also time with his mama. I am so, so scared.

But you know what? My God is an awesome God. He knew that all of this would surface, I have no doubt about that. He had a plan set in place for when it did, too. He gave a dear friend the perfect words to encourage me by text message to get me through the morning. Then... when things got quiet during nap time and the doubt and worry threatened to overwhelm me... he gave me this. A letter, written by one of my real life heroes to her family. A letter that is so painfully honest and hauntingly familiar that it tore me up inside to read it. Yet even as I was overwhelmed with the emotion it brought about, I was also fortified with hope and determination as I read Kim's words.

Because I know that I have lived through something that most people don't understand... and I won. I know that while I am scared and full of fear and doubt, I also enter this new season of life with something I didn't have before... women like Kim. I know and understand myself on a level I couldn't even imagine a couple years ago. I am going into this battle with not only a Heavenly Father who loves me, and friends who support me, but also knowledge and wisdom that the Spirit has been working in me for months now. I can remember telling Matt at several different points that I felt like I was being prepared for something big. Now I know what it was.

I am not going to be unrealistic and claim to have it all figured out. I want to be my mom's rock, but I also know that sometimes I am going to be more like a puddle of goo when things hit rock bottom. I know that I am going to need to ask for help, so that I can help her. I know I am going to need to be careful to keep my routine going, and my mind active.

I know a lot of things... I just hope that I can turn that knowledge into action.

But I do have hope. I have hope for a full recovery for my mom, and for a journey full of strength for those of us who will support her. I will cling to that hope for now, and ask that you all join me in prayer along the way. Please keep praying, friends.

Sensory Table Fun!

A couple of weeks ago I stumbled upon this blog via pinterest, and was immediately sucked in to this guy's awesome sensory table creations! A was napping, so I broke out my hoarder-worthy collection of toilet paper rolls and other trash useful items and set to work! I loved the idea of having accessories that could be added and removed easily, and wanted to include several different elements. Here is what I came up with:


We call is A's feed lot, because we filled the sensory table with cracked corn and he likes to play with daddy transporting the "feed" in his trucks! I added the parmesan cheese shaker filled with cracked corn and he really likes it. Now I will say that this setup is quite a bit messier than his usual play, but that is what brooms are for, right?? Here is a collage of him and daddy playing... I must have deleted the individual photos, so this is as big as it gets (the dangers of doing these things on the phone!)


And speaking of phone pics, I thought I would share some favorites from this week for Ashley's Wittle People Wednesday! :)



I hope to start sharing more of my learning time fun here again! The amazing Amber and I have a hashtag we use on Instagram (I am @bransonlee she is @ambo14) - #toddlertrays - if you ever want to see what we have been up to! I haven't been on top of it the past couple weeks, but life is finally getting back to normal so hopefully I will pick up where I left off soon! I do love the fact that I get to be A's teacher, and watching him learn is often one of the best parts of my day!!

In Chains

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door
for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.
Colossians 4:2-3
One of my favorite things about studying the book of Colossians with a group of awesome sisters in Christ is seeing how God highlights different words for us in the same passage. Learning to study scripture for myself has taught me how the Spirit really does speak to us through God's word. It isn't in new revelations like the prophets of old, but in a deeper understanding of how the Word we have already been given applies to our life at this very moment. Thankfully, He doesn't just teach us once and then move on to the next lesson. Our Heavenly Father is willing to repeat Himself over and over to get His point across... just like I find myself doing with my toddler on a daily basis. As it turns out, I am every bit as stubborn as a two-year-old sometimes.
 
As I read yesterday's passage, the words that I kept coming back to were "in chains". Throughout this book of the Bible, God has used the fact that Paul wrote it from prison to really speak to my heart about this season of my life. When I was in high school, at a meeting of our godparents group like the one Matt and I now lead, I felt a very definite calling to be a missionary. At that time I assumed it meant a professional missionary, and for a while that was my plan. Over time, though, plans change. Sometimes we change them, sometimes life changes them for us. I have often wondered if I missed my chance to follow this plan I feel God has for me, but as I get older (and perhaps a bit wiser) I finally realize that God's timing is rarely the same as our own.
 
Instead of going off to a different continent, I have been given opportunities to serve in my local area over the years. Sometimes I have embraced these opportunities, sometimes I have missed them. The ones I missed were usually the ones that didn't seem "important" enough. Yep, I said it. I have definitely struggled with humility over the years. I have tried to overcompensate for what I felt were my failures (like not going straight through college) by seeking out only the opportunities that would make me look important. I often learned big lessons through the roles I took, and slowly God started working on that whole humility thing. It was a slow process, though... because like I mentioned I am quite stubborn.
 
Then I became a mother. Okay, there was a lot that happened in between there, but I love how the start of every big revelation these days starts with the line "then I became a mother..." It is true, motherhood has taught me amazing things. I learn from the love I have for my son, the joy he brings me every day, the way I see both my strengths and weaknesses in him. I learn about myself as I dream about who I want him to be, and even more when God reminds me who He wants my son to be. However some of my biggest lessons were learned through the hardest parts of becoming a mother. The isolation, the frustration, the helpless feeling when everything seems to be too much. There were times that I felt that I was in chains. I may not have been in prison physically, but I was in a place where I had no choice but to slow down and cry out for help... I learned to listen. Well, sometimes.
 
As I think about how God was able to use Paul from prison, it really teaches me two big lessons. The first is that God is never hindered by our earthly circumstances. He can always use us for His work if we let Him. I see proof of this in the relationships I was able to build during that time when I felt I was so isolated. I see it in the emails I treasure about how my words here encouraged women who were going through the same thing. Even when I was struggling and felt like I couldn't do anything right, God was using me to serve Him.
 
The other big lesson I learn is that I need to slow down. Really slow down. It was so much easier to listen when I was broken and begging for help. Yet as soon as God restores me, I run off on my own and start letting busyness take over again. Fortunately, God is patient with me as I make this same mistake over and over. I do see the progress being made, but I also see how far I have to go. When I stop to think about it I am overwhelmed with thankfulness. I am thankful for the grace of God that covers me when I mess up... over and over. I am thankful for the lessons I am learning, and the fact that slowly but surely God is helping me become the woman of faith I want to be. I am also very thankful for the wisdom that comes with age. I can see now that God loves me just as I am in this very moment, and accepts me without any need for change. I am learning to also accept myself. I still want to be better, but the person I want to be looks very different than who I wanted to be when I was younger.
 
I am definitely glad that I am not literally in chains, like Paul was, but learning to recognize my limitations and look for opportunities to serve right where I am is such a powerful lesson for me. I am reminded often that right now my main mission field is right here in my home. My husband and my son are to be my priorities right now, and my role as wife and mother is as important in God's eyes as any other. I may still get to experience professional missionary work someday... who knows what God has in store for me. All I know for sure is that each day I have a chance to do God's work no matter where I am. My prayer is that I continue to learn to slow down and seek those opportunities with a glad heart. I want to live the words found in Colossians: "devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful"  and also remember to pray for those who are indeed out in the mission field in distant lands. We are all doing our part to further God's kingdom here on earth, and each worker is important in the eyes of God!

Today

Today is not the ideal day to change my life...

I overslept.

Aiden is sick.

The pinched nerve in my back is making me crazy.

Mom is meeting her oncologist for the first time and I can't help but worry.

It is cold and grey out (high of 46? no thank you...)

I am once again behind on laundry and dishes, and somehow even though we rarely buy new stuff these days all my junk drawers and spaces are overflowing.

Nothing is organized... I am tired... it would be SO much easier to start tomorrow.

BUT...

Tomorrow will be exactly the same.

Except worse, because one more day will have slipped by... taunting me and calling me a failure.

So today, I am starting fresh.

I am taking the first step to dig myself out of this hole that I fell into a month ago.

A month is too long. Way too long.

I need to reclaim the joy I had found before cancer crept into the picture.

I need to not let all the hard work I put in over 5 months of building healthy habits be for nothing.

I need to trust my God to fulfill every promise I am quick to share with others who are struggling but slow to claim for myself.

It is time to fight...

and ready or not I start today.

I was looking for a photo for this post and came across this one... this is why I am so determined... this sweet little angel.
I know that God will give me everything I need to give this little boy the very best mama he can have.
Just Write

Colossians 3:12 - Bible Study Printable

I love creating lessons and printables for our teen group, and often they can be used for a variety of ages and purposes. Here is one on Colossians 3:12 that breaks the verse down using a guided SOAP (scripture, observation, application, prayer) approach.

 

We worked through the first box together, then broke the kids up into smaller groups for the definitions and application. The definitions were printed on slips of paper placed in an envelope for each group. We also handed out a large body outline to each group, and had them compile their groups best ideas onto one sheet. This is what they used to report back when we came back together as a large group.


Lots of Treats this Halloween

 
After a few very heavy weeks I honestly wasn't sure I was up for Halloween this year. It isn't my favorite holiday to start with (although I did really enjoy this article and its perspective on this day), and I didn't really want to spend much money on a costume. Well, thankfully a good friend gave us a costume her little boy had worn, and it turned out to be quite the wonderful night.

Up until this point we have enjoyed seeing the holidays as new through A's eyes, but he hasn't really gotten in to them or understood what was going on. So, I wasn't really expecting the pure joy he would get from the festivities this Halloween! We started on Saturday night with trick-or-treating at Concordia University. This is always fun for me because the dorm I lived in is always the one that hosts it. They decorate each hall in different non-scary themes, and the kids had a great time! We got to go with my little sister and her kids, as well as Matt's brother Sam who moved (back) up here from Missouri:



Then Halloween night we were busy, busy. Matt and Sam took Bubs to a "Trunk-or-Treat" put on by the church across the street from us, while I finished preparing for our Godparents meeting. A had so much fun! He had his first glass of apple cider and thought it was the best stuff ever. He proudly carried his big-boy cup of it around with him.


Next it was off to the youth building at the church for our Godparents meeting. We had a lot of fun with the kids, doing some Bible based "Trick or Treat" hunting, and playing a few games. There was also lots of food and teenage craziness.


While I cleaned up, Matt and Sam headed out with the Bubs again, this time for neighborhood trick-or-treating. (Notice a trend here? haha) They came back with a full bucket after only a few houses, and I was shocked. Then I realized that the thing taking up a lot of room in the bucket was a miniature pumpkin. I thought it was weird that someone would hand those out, but then I found out that A had sweet-talked a lady into giving him not only one of the pumpkins from her porch display but also a bag of animal crackers and a new (unopened) Hot Wheels! He is definitely a little charmer! After hearing how much he loved the trick-or-treating I decided we would do a little more once we packed up at the church.

We headed to my mom's neighborhood where I got to experience the bubby cuteness first hand! It was dark out, so he was so excited to spot which houses had their lights on and look for the "button" (doorbell). He was so sweet, and told everyone he saw "Happy Halloween!" even though neither Matt nor I had taught him that. Matt said he picked it up after the first couple houses where the adult at the door said it. He ran from house to house, asking for another house every time we left a door. It really was just the most magical night for all of us. Seeing A really get into the spirit of things  was so awesome, and definitely has me even more excited for the winter holidays now!


Believe it or not he wasn't all that interested in the candy itself (which is not a bad thing!) and only ate a couple pieces of chocolate and licks each sucker a few times before he loses interest. Luckily we have teens who will take care of the rest of it for us! It definitely was not about the candy this year, but instead just a perfect break from the stress and worry going on in our life at the moment. Such a wonderful gift from a day I almost didn't even celebrate this year... that will teach me...

photography challenge, photography challenges, online photo contest, photography tips,

Michelle’s Halloween #BlogHop

Also linking up at 5 Minutes for Mom