Monday, July 28, 2014

a legacy

"A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth. It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure."
~Ecclesiastes 7: 1-4

I'm just a couple days away from making one of the hardest trips of my life, traveling back home to quite possibly say goodbye to both my grandfathers.

Papaw has had a hard fight for a long time now, battling COPD and emphysema for every breath. Grandpa's fight has been more recent and less obvious, but he now fights against the cancer in his esophagus just to be able to swallow his liquid diet. They have both always been amazing, strong men, and it makes my heart hurt to see their bodies turning on them.

I'm broken over the thought of losing them, but I'm also reminded of how incredibly blessed I have been to have these two men in my life for almost 30 years now.

They are both Army vets, men who gave of themselves for God and country. They are also both horsemen, though their approaches couldn't be much more different. For me, though, what I'm most thankful for is the commitment they both have always had to their families. They are both men with strong arms and rough hands, proof of the years they spent sacrificing their own comforts for their families.

I have learned so much from these two men, and some of my best and worst qualities can be traced back to them:
my love of horses
my stubbornness
my sense of honor
my dedication to my family
my enjoyment of a good story
my temper
my pride in my work
my appreciation for good workmanship
my love of travel
my love of home
my addiction to Dr. Pepper
my reliance on God

Proverbs 22:1 says, "A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold."

Neither of my grandfathers will leave this world with a lot of gold or silver in their pockets. They will, however, leave a legacy I am proud to be part of, names esteemed by those who know them-- and that is worth so much more.

"Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever."
~Daniel 12:3

Thursday, July 24, 2014

faith, hope, & joy: a lesson from VBS

This week has been VBS, and to be honest I went into it pretty negatively. It was only 3 days for 2 hours each day; I'm used to 5 days of VBS, all morning each day. Set-up was done in just a couple of hours; I'm used to spending most of the week before VBS at the church building doing set-up and decorations. I was going to be walking around from station to station with a group of kids; I'm used to classroom teaching and time to get to know the kids.

Basically, things weren't going to be done the way I expected, and I got negative.

Then I was talking about school with Nathan. I was upset about how things are progressing-- or not progressing, to be honest. I was frustrated about being looked down on and judged. I was tired of doing things the right way only to be knocked down-- over and over again.

So again, things weren't going the way I expected.

And when my own kids started talking back to me and being mean to each other and just plain not listening, I felt like a failure as a mom. They were being disrespectful...

and weren't behaving the way I expected.

 I was watching the total lack of sales on all of my books on Amazon, wondering why in the world I was even writing if nothing was going to come of any of it. I hadn't made enough money to just stop all this school nonsense and write for a living.

Again, not how I expected.

Woe is me, huh?
 I was wallowing in self-pity, focused on how nothing was going the way I planned. Looking around, I was pretty much seeing life as rotten.

Then Nathan did something he really didn't want to do-- he told me how negative I was being and how utterly miserable I seemed, no matter what was going on.

I was hurt and mad, and Nathan went to bed that afternoon (so he could get up to work the night shift) pretty sure he would wake up to the silent treatment.

I went out to work on the yard, and I was pulling weeds with a vengeance. And even that was making me mad, because each time I looked up I was just faced with the overwhelming number of weeds I still had to deal with.

In the middle of that, though, something happened. I was reminded (again) that I'm not in control. I was reminded (AGAIN) that my way isn't God's way. When Nathan woke up for work, he was greeted with an apology and a thank you.

VBS Tuesday night talked about hope, and Wednesday night was joy. One of the things I was being negative about became the very reason I was convicted-- the negativity and pessimism and "woe is me" attitude was completely choking out the hope and joy I should have.

My circumstances haven't miraculously changed. There are still some things about VBS this week that I didn't full agree with, things with school are still up in the air, and my kids haven't suddenly developed perfect self-control. For that matter, the yard still needs lots of work!

What is starting to change, though, is my attitude. I'm trying to give up my stubborn, constant desire for control. I'm trying to regain the joy I once had, the optimism and hope that once guided my life because of my faith in the One who is Hope and Joy. 

Instead of looking at VBS as negative just because it wasn't what I expected, I've realized that God worked through it this week-- in spite of me. Instead of focusing on how often my kids fight with each other, I'm starting to focus on how much they love each other and how often they cuddle up next to each other. Instead of seeing school as something that's draining me, I'm trying to see it as the amazing opportunity that it is, one a lot of people don't get.

Things have never come easy for me. A lot of my time and attention lately has been spent focusing on looking forward to a time when things will-- but in doing that, I've fallen into a trap of seeing the struggles right now as somehow unworthy, as things I have to get through as I wait for life to start. The problem with that mindset, though, is the fact that life may not ever be easy here on earth.

If I spend all my time waiting for the life I want to start, I'll miss out on the one I've been given-- and that's not something I have any right to do.

God has allowed me to live this life for a reason, and He has a plan for all of it. No matter how much I struggle for control, He's the One who has set the course. He's the One in control, even when I ignore that fact. It's like He's the parent driving the car and I'm the kid in the backseat playing with my plastic steering wheel and whining that we're not going where I think we should.

So like David, I'll pray:
"Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence
or take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me."
Psalm 51: 10-12

Monday, July 21, 2014

when the journey is too much

The last time I wrote, it was about how God sometimes speaks in the quiet, the passage in I Kings 19 where God chose to speak to Elijah in a whisper instead of in the power of the storm or earthquake.

Have you read the chapter before that recently? It's the one where Elijah challenged all the prophets of Baal and Ashera to a duel.

Really--an old-fashioned duel!
Only instead of guns blazing it was a duel of fire.

Well, it would have been a duel of fire, only the prophets of Baal and Ashera didn't have any fire to duel with. Elijah, on the other hand, had flames that God sent down, fire hot enough to burn up a bull, the firewood, all the water that had been poured over the altar, the 12 stones used to build the altar, and the soil the altar was built on.

Then, Elijah watched as all the people of Israel turned back to God. After that, he killed all 850 false prophets. And even after that, he told the king that rain was coming--even though there had been a drought for 3 years at the time. When the rains came, Elijah was given the amazing ability to run ahead of King Ahab's chariot, racing him to town.

Talk about a spiritual high! Elijah must have been in a whole different place mentally and spiritually right then. He was probably feeling pretty darn good about himself when he went to rub it in Queen Jezebel's face. He had just made fools of all her prophets and then had them all killed. In the face of all that had just happened, I imagine he figured Jezebel would have no choice but to repent of all her evil ways and turn to God.

But if that had happened, calling someone a "Jezebel" probably wouldn't have the negative connotation it does today.

Instead of feeling shame and remorse, Jezebel made Elijah a promise: she would kill him.

You would think Elijah would just laugh in her face. Or maybe call on God again, this time asking Him to knock her down a peg or two. Surely that would  have been easy to do. After all, God had just done some amazing things at Mount Carmel.

Elijah didn't laugh.
He didn't stand up to Jezebel.

We're told that he ran off, terrified.

I've been in that place before. Not the same, mind you--I've never taunted a group of 850 false prophets and then called down fire from God. For that matter, I haven't ever outrun a chariot.

I have, though, been in a situation where I experienced a spiritual high and then fell as suddenly as if I had walked off a cliff. Actually, I've had a few experiences like that in my life, times when the valley of fear and doubt seemed to swallow me and block even my view of the mountain top.

There are times when I've seen the amazing things God has done, then somehow it seems like I manage to forget about all of that in the split second it takes for things to go wrong.

I get overwhelmed by something that scares me, and suddenly I forget that God can--and will--take care of me.

I know it, or at least I know that I should know it.
The problem is, I have a trust issue:
I want to trust myself instead of Him.
I want to take care of things myself--that's the only way to know everything is going to get done...the way I want.

I have a stubborn tendency to forget that God's way of taking care of things usually isn't the way I would choose.

That's the same thing that happened to Elijah, and his valley was so low that he was praying to die. He cried out to God, "I have had enough, LORD," and then he crawled under a bush, kinda like an animal does when it crawls away to die.

You know what, though?
Even when we are at our lowest, even when all we can do is tell God, "I've had enough," God takes care of us. For Elijah, that came in the form of an angel who told Elijah to get up and eat, who gave him bread and water. The angel also told him something that, to me, is one of the best things to hear when you're overwhelmed: "the journey is too much for you."

Sometimes, the fact that someone else recognizes that what you're facing is just plain hard is enough to pull you through. For Elijah, it was enough to let him travel for 40 days and nights until he reached the mountain of God., the very mountain where God spoke to him in a whisper.

So take heart. God knows you're overwhelmed.
He knows things have been tough.
He knows that you've had enough, that the journey has been too much.

And He's still there, providing, no matter whether we remember or not. And if we follow Him, He'll lead us to a place where He can speak to us.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

be still...

"The LORD said, 'Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.' Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire was a gentle whisper.
~I Kings 19 : 11 & 12

"Be still, and know that I am God"
~Psalm 46:10b

Life is busy.

Sometimes, it's just plain hard to get away from everything--assuming we even want to. These days, the thing people seem to be the most concerned about is being connected. You very rarely see somebody without a cell phone somewhere in sight, and facebook and twitter are even at the center of advertising campaigns.

I'm pretty sure I'm not alone when I admit to spending way too much time on facebook, pretty much just being nosy to be honest.

I don't know about you, but I'm at a time in my life when I'm desperate to hear God's voice. I want to hear from Him because I want to know His plan for my life. I want Him to guide me, to set my feet on the right path.

The problem is, I don't spend enough time listening.

When life gets busy, when life gets noisy, it's hard to listen. You see, in my experience God doesn't tend to yell to get my attention (I think He's used a 2x4 to make some of the lessons sink in from time to time, but that's a different story). I would love for Him to get my attention with something impressive like the burning bush, but that hasn't seemed to be His way with me.

Instead, He's quiet.
He whispers.

And there's a funny thing about whispers. You can't really hear them unless you're still and quiet.

When's the last time you were truly still, the last time you were silent so that you could listen for the whispered voice of God?

I have to admit that I can't really recall the last time I was. But then I turned on a documentary called "Into Great Silence" about a group of monks who break their silence only for prayers and songs, and it got me thinking.

If I'm truly desperate to hear God, I need to make listening to Him a priority.
I need to be still.

This week, my babies are spending their last week in Arkansas with their grandparents. It's just Nathan and I here, and he's working nights right now. I'm planning on taking advantage of this time for a few things: housework that I need to get caught up on, a paper and presentation that I need to put together for my Radiation Protection and Regulations class, and getting in some writing time so I don't lose my mind. More importantly, though, I plan on taking some time this week to be still and quiet, to stop talking long enough to listen for God's whisper.

Here's hoping you're granted a bit of surprise quiet this week so that you, too, have a chance to be still.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

this parenting thing is hard...

I want you to know, my parenting this last week or so has been the best it's been probably since my sweet baby girl was born 7.5 years ago.

I haven't yelled at either kid, lost my temper over the little stuff, been impatient, zoned out when they told another long story, or pretended to listen.

Maybe that has something to do with the fact that my kids aren't here right now. They're spending this part of the summer in Arkansas, going back and forth between grandparents' houses and having a blast spending a month on the farms.

I miss them and I can't wait for them to get back--my house is entirely too quiet--but I know one thing for sure:
it won't take long for me to lose my temper, no matter how hard I try not to.

This parenting thing is hard.
Why isn't that something they talk about in those "what to expect" books?

It's filled with stress and anxiety and messes and endless loads of laundry and sinks full of dirty dishes and tears over nothing and fights and arguments and "why?"s and legos to step on and piles of toys on the stairs and complaints about dinner and...

Some days, it's easy to get overwhelmed.

It's easy to get pushed so many times that you finally snap, even though you promised yourself that you wouldn't today.

It's easy to respond with sarcasm when you know that's not the way you should answer, even though it's your toddler's millionth question before 9 a.m. 
It's easy to want to be hateful back when your little drama queen is glaring at you and daring you. After all, I've got 22 years on her with that whole "moodiness" thing. Doesn't she realize that she's an amateur dealing with a professional?

But then, a dirty little boy brings you a tiny flower in his grubby hands--just because he thought it was pretty and his mommy would like it.
A rebellious little girl crawls up onto your lap and snuggles against you, saying "I love you" in the sweetest voice you've ever heard.

And you're overwhelmed again.

How could you love someone so much?
How could someone so little have such a huge impact on you?
How in the world did God choose to bless me with the chance to be their mom?

And you whisper a prayer, saying thank you to the One who gave you such an amazing gift.

And them another thought crosses your mind:
How in the world am I ever going to raise these precious souls without completely messing them up?

And the prayers of thanksgiving turn into pleas for help, because you know that you can't do this. You aren't strong enough to stand firm for these little ones you've been entrusted with. You see them cry tears of pain and realize that you can't protect them. You have to drive away and leave them behind at their grandparents' for the summer and you know that you can't always be there to stand guard.

And somehow, God reassures you. He tells you,
"You aren't strong enough, but I am your foundation and I will always stand firm. I am a fortress for these precious little ones, and I will be the only protection My children will ever need. You can't stand guard, but I have put My hedge of protection around them. I have entrusted them to you for a reason, even if you can't see it.
Lean on Me, believe in Me, and rely on Me;
they will learn to do the same."

So when my babies get back, I'll love them with everything I have. I'll mess up and I'll apologize and I'll mess up again. And I will rely on God with all my heart, mind, and soul--because He's the One who gave me these precious, obstinate, spirited, amazing babies, and He's the One who will keep me from completely messing them up.

"Because You are my help, I sing in the shadow of Your wings. My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me."
Psalm 63 : 7 & 8

what to write...?

So I have to admit, I'm at a bit of a loss right now.

Believe it or not, I have no idea what to write.

Usually, words come pretty easily to me when I'm writing (speaking is a completely different story...). I start writing and the words just seem to flow. I've spent the last few days trying to come up with something to write on here, though, and I just haven't found any words.

Not all words are hard for me to find right now, though. I've started writing a new story and so far to words for that have been coming out pretty well. To tell you the truth, though, I'm a bit terrified about this one. It's fiction and in some ways pretty similar to the fantasy type stuff I've put out there. The thing is, though, I'm trying something different. I'm attempting to connect both sides of my writing by doing something crazy (for me, anyways).

I'm trying my hand at a Christian supernatural thriller.

I know, right? Craziness, and I'm not real sure why I've decided to take this one on. But it's here beside me right now, an open pink notebook of graph paper with words slowly starting to fill the pages. Here's the first paragraph:
She bolted straight up in bed, her heart pounding and her skin damp with sweat. It was the same dream, the nightmare she'd had at least twice a week for the last three months. Like every time, the content of the dream lay just beyond her reach. The only thing that told her it was the same nightmare was the terror that woke her, a fear that took her breath away and left her desperately searching the shadows for some lurking evil.

So basically, that's all I really have to say about that. As I've said many times, talking about my writing is pretty much the hardest thing for me to do. And for some reason, this one is even harder to talk about. I'm not really sure how to put my thoughts about this story into words, even unspoken ones.

In that case, why not get back to the blog? Like I said at the beginning, I'm at a loss. I really don't know what to write about, so I'm asking for your help.

What do you want to hear about?
What would help you, challenge you, or encourage you?

I would love to hear your suggestions, either here in the comments or on facebook or through my email (that's ajkilbourn at hotmail dot know the drill for changing that over to an email address. Thanks for helping me try to avoid spammers!).

Because you know what? We're in this thing together--this crazy, messy, beautiful thing called life (even if it's only in the virtual world).

Parents, step up

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