Embracing the Tears

 

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Lately I’ve been crying a lot. Due to some imbalances, I can’t help it… over the sock in the hallway, over the episode of Jane the Virgin, over the youtube video…

(Don’t you think Brandon’s world is just wonderful right now?!)

Here’s the thing… Crying at silly things makes me mistrust my emotions. My assumption is that my tears are (probably) unreasonable and (most likely) not actually “real.”

And it makes me feel like a crazy person.

But, recently, I decided that I was done with judging the validity of my tears. If I’m going to cry, I might as well embrace it.

And, friends, I began to see some beauty in that brokenness. Being quick to tears isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

I began to see my tears as a gift.

This week I cried during worship.

I cried over a story from my son.
I cried as my children snuggled on a hotel room bed and watched a cartoon.
I cried when I saw pictures of devastating flooding in Louisiana.
I cried when I hugged my Nana.
I cried when I said goodbye to my brothers and when I saw my niece for the first time.
I cried as Eliza screamed for almost an hour on a road trip.
I cried as I looked with despair over the mounds of laundry and the mess in the living room.
I cried when my son accidentally kicked my shin.

And, with each moment, I became more comfortable with my emotions. Because some of these moments were worth stopping to feel. Some of these tears drew my attention to a moment that needed to be savored.

Sure, many of them were silly. But, as I learn to see my excessive tears as a gift, I begin to see moments that I (probably) would have missed.

I’m hopeful to gain some sanity back with some new treatments. I’m already seeing more ability to regulate my emotions.

It will be nice to not break down in tears while reading a children’s book (with my son looking at me like I’ve gone insane!)

But, honestly, I’m not ready for the tears to totally go away. I don’t want them to disappear.

They truly are a gift. And I am learning to enjoy them.

My Husband is not the One for me.

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It’s true.

Now, before my friends and family start worrying about the future of the O’Briens, maybe I should back up.

When I came to college, I was determined to meet “the one.” I was on the lookout for the man God created for me. The man who would be my partner for life. The only one in the entire universe that I could be happy with. The one who had been formed and molded in his mother’s womb in order to someday be my husband.

But, after a few failed relationships I came crashing into the truth that there was one problem…

This man. This “one”…

Well, he didn’t exist.

I was dating Brandon at the time that I finally came to this realization. A few weeks after a very honest conversation with a professor, I said yes to Brandon’s proposal. And a breezy 11 months later (long engagements are the absolute WORST), we were married.

10 years later, I have never been more in love with my husband. I plan to be married to him for the rest of my life. I love the life we have created. I love our family. I love my partner.

But, I don’t believe that God created him just for me. I don’t think he is the one my whole life was leading to.

Brandon is just a man. He’s a very good man. A smart man. A creative and resourceful and caring and encouraging man. He’s loyal and honest and tender and compassionate. He is absolutely hilarious.

But he’s just a man.

I firmly believe that Brandon could have been happy with any woman he chose.

I believe I could have been happy with any man that I chose.

(assuming, of course, that they were equally committed to their faith)

We aren’t together because the universe wouldn’t have it any other way. We’re together, because we chose one another. We love God deeply, we are committed to serving Him our entire lives, and we see in one another the possibility of doing that together.

We fell in love and we love doing life together. God is active in our midst, in our home, in our family. But it’s not because this is the only way it could have been. No, it’s because this is just what God does. He takes two imperfect people who are committed to one another and he makes a family.

Okay, so now that I have that out of the way, I have something else I need to get off my chest.

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I do not believe that my children were created in order to be my children.

We weren’t destined for one another.

And I can’t even count how many times people have said this to me.

Here’s my beef…

I do not believe that my God caused my children and their birth families pain in order to give me a child. Similarly, I don’t believe that God gave me infertility in order to teach me a lesson.

Instead, I believe that God brought something beautiful out of the pain. What a world marred by sin meant for bad, God used for good.

What a body devastated by brokenness couldn’t do…God did in a way that only he could do.

And here’s my point in all of this. I believe the beauty of our God is that He brings beauty out of ashes. He brings victory out of failure. He brings wholeness out of brokenness.

Our family is whole. But not because we were always intended for one another from the beginning.

No, I think this whole thing could have worked out very differently and still just as sweet.

Our family is whole because that’s what God does.

 

 

Year of the Bible

Our church (newlifechurch.tv) has decided that 2016 is the Year of the Bible. What does that mean exactly? It means that everyone is going to be reading through the entire Bible in 2016. And everything–sermons, life groups, Little Life, Kid Life and youth–everything revolves around the reading.

I’m incredibly excited about it all. And I’m incredibly excited that I get to be a small part of helping families do this together.

And, if I’m honest, I’m more than a little bit daunted by the task. What do I mean? I’m a mom of two young kids. Finding 45 minutes to an hour for extra reading every day…well it can seem less than possible. (I’m currently writing this post while my 3 yr old sleeps on my shoulder 🙂 )

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And, if I want my family doing this together… well I’ve got to be creative. Right? My three year old can’t exactly read through Leviticus with me, right?

Which brings me to my topic for today. How in the world does a family read through the Bible together?

Being a parent is hard. It’s exhausting on the good days and it can seem down right impossible on the bad days. If you’re anything like me, you wrestle with a lot of guilt associated with your parenting. Am I disciplining them correctly? Do they have the right car seat? Is this pediatrician best? Should I have made them keep taking piano lessons?

And, when it comes to spiritual things, I think a lot of us struggle to know where to begin. I know I do.

 

 

You see, one of the challenges of parenting is that we major in the mundane. And it can be hard for us to feel like we are instilling anything terribly important.

And now we’re being asked to read the entire Bible this year and to do it as family. And for many of us that seems just intimidating enough that we don’t even want to start.

And this is where I want to meet you today. Over the next year we are going to be throwing lots of great family ideas your way. We’re going to be giving you suggestions and we’re going to be letting other families show you how it’s going for them.

But I’d like to back it up and keep it simple today.

Here’s what I want you to know: There is beauty in the mundane and you can do this. Your child can do this.

It’s going to take time. It’s going to start a little messy and uncomfortable. But you can do this. We can do this.

One of the best things you or I can do for our children is to actively pursue our own relationship with God, and let our children watch us do it.

So, in the month of January, I’m going to give us one job. The hardest thing about this goal is establishing the habit. So this month, we (as parents) need to establish this habit of being in the word. Being diligent.

The first thing we need to ask ourselves is: How does this fit into my family life?  Choose a time that you know you can keep. Maybe it’s first thing in the morning, maybe it’s at night before bed or during nap times. It may mean waking up earlier or turning off the T.V. Maybe you need to find audio recording of some books to listen to when you’re driving or working out. Find whatever works.

Establish the habit.

With one special instruction: Let’s do this in a way that our children can see. It would be easy for us to do our reading when our children aren’t around to distract us. And we do need those times.

But our children cannot ask about something they don’t see. And we can’t expect them to develop a habit we don’t show them first.

So, January is all about us establishing the habit. But with our children in mind.

Want to go further? 

  • Blessings. Each week, choose a few verses to use as a blessing over your children. Pray it over them at bedtime or before school. Tell them where you found it.
  • Let them read with you! For older children and youth, consider having them start this habit with you. They probably can’t read it all, but they can definitely do a part. Whether it’s the Old or New Testament, Psalm or Proverb, lead them to start a small piece. In the coming weeks, we will be point you to some great resources for your kids. If you are at a New Life Church campus, talk to your kid’s pastors. They’re going to have some great suggestions.

Friends, I think we can all do this. And I’m going to put my own family on the hook. The O’Brien family is all in. We’re eager and excited. I don’t expect it to go beautifully every time. In fact, I expect it will be a little rocky. But we are committing to do this as a family and to let you see it. Which means we will be posting the good, the bad, and the ugly throughout the year at #yearofthebible

And we’d love for families from every campus to join us. Let us see how it’s working for you. And let us be encouraged by your diligence even when it doesn’t go well.

At the end of this year, our children may not be Bible experts. But my prayer is that they will know without a shadow of a doubt that the Bible is life-changing. That it’s worth reading for a lifetime.

So, dow does a family read through the Bible together? We just do it.

And we trust the Holy Spirit to take care of the rest.

(For more information about resources throughout the year: http://www.newlifechurch.tv/daily/)

My Spirit Revived in Your Story

I am a broken woman.

In the past 8 years I have come to God with multiple requests. Many of them have been answered. I am married to a wonderful man who continually makes me better with his grace, humility, humor and kindness. I am mother to a son who has taught me to love in a way I never dreamed. He has helped me discover a fight I didn’t know I had. (My mother bear instinct is apparently very strong). My guys have given me more joy than I can explain. I laugh harder, sing louder, dance bigger and love more because of these two.

I am blessed with wonderful family. A father who has taught me so much. A mother who challenges me daily with her grace. Brothers who are my fierce protectors. Sister-in-laws who are such a joy to spend time with.

And I am blessed with in-laws who love me like I am their own. They have been gracious as Brandon and I figure out what “becoming one” really means. And they. love. my. son.

And for these I am thankful.

But I am a broken woman.

I am a barren woman.

There was a time that I couldn’t even say the word “barren” without tears. For years I refused to utter it. I wept and I plead for God to fulfill this deep desire. Adoption had always been in my heart. It was not a second choice or plan B. I had always dreamed and believed that it was one way that God would grow my family. I am thrilled that this is how I became a mom.

But I (like many women) always assumed and desired to bear a child. I expected and looked forward to being pregnant, giving birth, breast feeding. I eagerly anticipated having a child with red hair just like their daddy. Brandon hoped to have a child with green eyes just like me. We dreamed of our red headed children and our black haired African or Asian children running around together.

But this wasn’t how God chose to unfold our story.

Barrenness. I am barren. 

And lately something has happened that I never expected. This word “barren” and the reality it represents have lost their sting. They have begun to taste sweet. I’ve begun to love this part of my story.

Why? Because it is here, in my brokenness, my barrenness, my failure and loss… it is here that I see my Father. It is here that I see salvation. It is here that I sense God’s presence.

Here, in this place, I am revived. And I’m not revived because God has fulfilled all of my earthly desires. I am revived because God has revealed himself. I am revived in His story.

I have spent the last few weeks reading through the book of John with a wonderful group of women over at If:Equip. And I was reminded of one of my favorite passages.

In John chapter 6 Jesus has just called himself the Bread of Life. And He has begun describing to those around him the sacrifice that is involved in following him. It was and is a hard teaching. Following this, the scripture says,

66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:66-69)

Friends, I am not a follower of Christ because He fulfills every single one of my dreams or requests. I do not follow him because He makes life easier.

I am a follower of Christ because I can’t imagine being anywhere else. Barrenness and all, I choose the Father.

In the last few months I have felt God’s healing. He didn’t suddenly make me able to bear a child. He made it sweet that I cannot. He has taken away my shame by revealing His goodness. In a lot of ways, I feel like my barrenness has let me in on a secret.  A secret I don’t plan on keeping to myself.

I have seen how God’s redemptive story transforms. Not by making all the pain go away, but by resurrecting the dead. Not by solving all my problems but by drawing each and every soul to His presence.

In my brokenness, He reveals himself. And it is here, in this place, that He will use me. He doesn’t make the brokenness go away, He transforms it and makes it His.

Many of you will recognize the above title from a fairly new worship song by Hillsong. It’s one of my favorites. So I’ll close with this video. May we each find refuge in the shadow of His wings. May be revived in His story. And may we watch with wonder as He brings the ruins to life.

Listening to the Spirit

As I mentioned yesterday, I am writing all week long for a devotional site called encouraging.com

It’s been a neat exercise to take some time to write these devotionals. And the one which is posted today especially so. How are you at listening to the Spirit’s voice in your life? If you’re anything like me, that can be very challenging. And I don’t have all the answers, but  I hope that this offers you some encouragement.

I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:17b-19


Do you ever have trouble hearing the voice of the Spirit? If you’re anything like me, then your answer is a resounding Yes! Recently I have embarked on a project of simplicity. What do I mean? I have been trying to simplify the “extras” in my life. Too often I allow noises to crowd out the voice of God.

So I have begun turning off the T.V. and simplifying my activities. I have been working to discipline myself to only take so much time getting ready in the morning. I am still very much a work in progress, but I’m learning.

And I have been amazed at how these simple steps have allowed me to hear the voice of the Spirit.

Click here to read more from “Listening to the Spirit.”

Encouraging.com

Recently I was asked to join a team of women writing for a website called Encouraging.com. This week is my first week of posts, so I thought I would post them here. In a post entitled, “He is Good,” this is what I write…

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

Even before my husband and I decided to start our family, I knew that not having a child would be painful. However, I didn’t know that this pain was going to challenge my view of self.

And I didn’t know that giving this pain to God to be used for his purposes would require heart-wrenching sacrifice. But for the past 4 years, this has been my journey and this is where I have begun to find God in the pain, in the sacrifice, in my own weakness. And as I write for the first time for encouraging.com, I thought this was a good place to start.

One day a few years ago, I faced that all-too-familiar disappointing news… I was not pregnant…

Follow the rest of the post: http://encouraging.com/monday.htm

Beautiful Things

On Monday I posted some very personal things (you can see post here!). I felt compelled to write what I did but I honestly didn’t expect the response I received. Sure I expected a few comments here and there (namely from our moms… and a few close friends), but the magnitude of messages I received both privately and publicly on facebook and through my blog was overwhelming. Thank you, dear friends, for your care for us.

Over the past 4 years Brandon and I have heard a variety of responses to our struggle first with infertility and then during our wait for an adoption. Some have bordered on awkward as individuals gave all too detailed advice to aid us in our quest. 😉 Some unintentionally disregarded our reality with comments like, “Don’t worry, God’s plan is better in the end,” or “Aren’t you glad you haven’t miscarried,” or even “You’re young, don’t worry about it.”

But most of you, the vast majority of you, have come around us to cry and to grieve and to call us forward. In the midst of our most painful moments, I, we, have been blessed with friends who have met us in our suffering and then pointed us forward. Not by denying our grief or our pain, but by exalting God.

During one of our recent dissappointments I let some individuals close to us know that it had not worked out. The responses I got were amazing. These individuals started by acknowledging how hard this was… what a great dissappointment it truly was. They shared their own dissappointment, shed their own tears….

And then they simply said, “But remember, God is good.” They didn’t make claims to know God’s plan, nor did they trivilize this dissappointment by asserting that God’s plan would be better in the end and we just needed to remember that.

No, they simply pointed me, pointed us, to our Savior.

And this gave me hope. This gave Brandon hope. This gave us an ability to move forward.

And we are so thankful.

One of the realities we have as Christians is that God is most evident in times of grief or pain. His joy is present even with our smile has disappeared. We have reason to rejoice, even when circumstances havn’t gone our way. And this is where my hope is found. You see I don’t often take hope is God’s future plan… I take hope in my present reality… with Christ all things, I mean all things, are possible. He is my hope even when life is hard. He is my joy in the midst of my tears.

By his power, and only by his power, I can see beauty in the midst of my grief. Friends, I haven’t lost my joy. I have just found it in new ways.

And you are a huge part of that.

I wanted to close today with a song that has been increasingly meaningful to me in the last week and that (spoiler alert) Brandon and I will be singing next month!

I need your help!

So I’ve had a hard time writing lately. Why? Well, I honestly don’t feel as if I have much to say. Which is a problem. Not so much for my faithful blog readers (whoever you may be… if you even exist), but for my professional readers. You see most of you know that Brandon writes and edits for a living. Although he hopes one day to be a full time professor, right now he finds great opportunities to write. I mean, he’s not even 30 (that’s right, we’re very, very young) and is working on his second book. He’s good. I mean, I’m totally biased, but he’s really good! (Seriously, ask his mom…)

So what does this have to do with me? Well what many of you don’t know is that I write too. Now, compared to Brandon what I do looks like child’s play… but that works for me, since I primarily write about children.

Okay, so now you’re wondering why I need your help. Well, right now I am working on a project on ministering to Children of Divorce. And I would love to know your thoughts. I am married to a child of divorce, have many friends who are the adult children of divorce and I am daily overwhelmed by stories of children who are journeying through this painful experience.

So that’s where you come in. I would love to hear your stories. Are you a child of divorced parents? What was your experience like at school, at church, at home? What did you find the hardest part of this whole journey? Maybe you are a parent or an aunt or an uncle in this situation. I would love to know your experience as well. Pretty soon I’m going to be having a round table discussion with some friends whose parents divorced when they were young. I’m looking forward to hearing from them. And I especially would like to know how your faith community handled this. What was your experience at church?

Basically, if you would trust me with it, I would love to know your story. And I know these stories might be somewhat personal, so feel free to email me by filling out the form below. Don’t worry, others wont see your story, just me.  

Thank you! And I really do plan to write more regularly soon… I’ve missed my blogging world.

Amy

Longing for a person I don’t yet know…

Dear friends,

Lately we have been longing especially hard for our child. We’ve embarked on many projects… cleaning and sorting every space in our house, reading through and learning to practice Celebration of Discipline… but none of these has replaced the deep longing we both have in our hearts to meet and especially to hold our child.

I found myself earlier tonight (without even thinking) making childcare plans for a fancy dinner we have in October… it struck me, as it has so many other times, that I am a woman who is waiting and who doesn’t quite know when that time will end.

This morning at church I had several wonderful and sweet interactions with our covenant children. And as one especially beloved infant grabbed my finger, I felt in my heart the desire to take this child home. However, this wasn’t a desire felt in pain, but in joy. I am blessed to work with so many wonderful children… to shepherd so many joyous and energetic souls… these children remind me each week the joy that I am anticipating. They remind me each week of the privilege, honor and responsibility that will soon be ours as parents. And as Thomas Smoak spoke to us this morning, these children reveal Christ to me in ways I would not have known. And I am thankful for them.

And even when these children struggle to listen or say words they shouldn’t or run from the room unexpectedly (yes, even at Immanuel)… they remind me that parenting isn’t easy. I will struggle, I will even want to pull my hair out at times. And even in these “disobedient” times, they reveal Christ to me in ways I would not have known.

And I just love them.

As I sit on my couch, pajamas on and face washed (yes, I know it’s only 7:15), planning for the week ahead, my heart hopes that this is the week we get that very special call. And it aches.

But ultimately I sit in hope. Because I am surrounded by people (young and old, big and small) who have shown Christ to me in so many ways… I am married to a man who loves me when I am unlovable… I am privileged to shepherd so many wonderful children… I am a daughter, sister, friend and cousin to family I wouldn’t trade… and I am a mother in waiting.

Brandon and I are so thankful for the many, many friends & family who have walked this road with us and we thank you for your prayers as we continue to go a little farther. When we began trying to start a family more than 3 years ago, we never would have imagined being here now. And it is only because of the people who have journeyed with us that we have made it this far. You have each revealed Christ to us in ways we would not have known and for that we thank you.

And we once again humbly ask for your prayer. But more than that, we ask you to continue to walk with us so that we might continue to see Christ in you. Thank you for your testimony of God’s great grace.

Blessings on you this week!

Know My Heart?


Search me O God and know my heart,

Try me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me

and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:23-24

I love Birthdays. And lucky for me, I celebrated one yesterday. I love the surprise gifts, the fun meals out, the celebration… perhaps even being the center of attention.

For the past 10 years (or so) I have done one particular thing every birthday morning… read Psalm 139. Why this Psalm? When I was in 5th grade my teacher had us memorize this whole chapter. What I so admire about her method (even more so now that I work with kids) is that she took us through it slowly. We memorized a few verses at a time… then we journalled about them, rehearsed them, talked about them with our friends… we knew them well before we ever moved on. It took us a LONG time to memorize the whole passage, but I have never forgotten it.

And these last 2 verses (quoted above) are increasingly sweet.

Search me… know my heart.

My heart is a mixture of emotion. As we wait for our child, I find myself yearning for the hope that God offers, for the comfort that only He gives, for the fulfillment of our desires that only He can offer… yet I also find myself easily tempted by bitterness, anger, envy. To know my heart is to see the good, the bad and the ugly.

Try me… know my anxious thoughts.


My anxious thoughts have been in abundance lately. When will our baby come? When will freelance checks come in? What if I don’t get enough volunteers? What if my cell phone isn’t near me when the agency calls? What if I am not prepared for a baby? Did I choose the right Sunday School curriculum? Did I buy the right car seat?

See if there is any offensive way.


Anxiety will come. Ugly thoughts will come. Lord, please point out these things… identify them… bring them to mind… let me see them… Forgive me for them.

And lead me in the way ever lasting.


But let me have hope. This is why these verses are so sweet. If we ask him, God will expose the secrets of our hearts, he will expose our anxious thoughts, he will point out the offensive stuff in us…

But ultimately He will give us hope. I am saved by the grace of his son… which means I have an everlasting hope. My heart is not perfect, but He’s working on it. My thoughts are sometimes out of control, but He’s molding them. My actions are too often offensive, but He’s changing me into his image.

And his change, his healing, his grace is everlasting. It is good.

What a wonderful God we serve. Amen and Amen.