A Father’s Love

As many of you know, I’m a wedding photographer (when I’m not stay-at-home-homeschooling-mom), and when I say I love my job.. I really love my job. God has used wedding photography to speak to my heart, to allow me to dream bigger, and to encourage me in so many ways – namely through relationships that have been cultivated over time with my clients and colleagues in the wedding industry.

There are many days when raising children with different challenges causes us to cry out to the Lord, or literally just cry — for their healing, for our healing, for His love to overcome all the fear and hurt so that we could be vessels of healing. In this season, we have been hit with some hard realities of what life was like for our daughters before they came home to us – and we are just glad they are home so that we can journey together through healing and restoration. It’s been tough, but as I mentioned in my previous post, God prepares us for every battle we will face in our lives – our job is really to cling to His truth with every ounce of our being.. cling to Him, knowing that ultimately He is in control and He has the victory.

AL6B9005Last weekend, I had the honor of photographing a beautiful vineyard wedding for a special couple. I did not know them prior to them becoming my clients but am so blessed to now call them friends who are near and dear to my heart. The bride chose to have a surprise private first dance with her father outside under the dim lights of the winery building. She found an acoustic version of “What a friend we have in Jesus” by Brad Paisley a few weeks before the wedding. Her dad used to sing this song to her every night in Chinese when she was a baby. She told me that one of her earliest memories is of her father carrying her out to her bed while singing this to her. As the music came on, accompanied with the soft pitter patter of the rain, the father of the bride sweetly surprised, gently began humming along to the memorable song, as he held his daughter close. In those next sweet moments as they danced, I could see the memories of their lives together come flooding into their minds, and they wept.

img_0168Not only did they weep, but I could hear sniffles all around from the few others who were there. I tried to keep it together, trying hard not to miss a moment while being so touched by what I was witnessing and what God was speaking to me. In them, I saw my husband and my daughter. My daughter who has seen and gone through much more in her minimal number of years here on earth than most people do in a lifetime. I saw my husband holding her, and singing the worship songs he sings to her now, gently caressing her hair, and them both reminiscing of their lives and memories together as father and daughter. I saw my daughter, healed by the love of her father, a man who loved her past her pain, a man who made everyday decisions to bring healing and joy into her world, healed by her Heavenly Father. And I wept.

Dear God,
You are such a good Father.

In our brokenness, you come to bind up our wounds.

In our sinfulness, you love us.

You hold us when we cry.

You’ve given us a crown of beauty for ashes.

You gave your Son to die for us, so that we could live.

Thank you for Your love that heals, covers, and protects.

Thank you for Your goodness which you have promised we will see on this side of heaven. We believe in You.

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Suffering in Silence

To those suffering in silence, this is for you..

Today I was helping Glory with some math and she kept getting mixed up because she wasn't using the chart I gave her. I was getting frustrated and told her if she'd use the tools I was teaching her, she would so get this! (Not a proud mama moment, I know 😦 but I digress.) This evening God showed me the profound lesson in this statement, but let me share some background first.

This season of life for us has been a roller coaster, to put it lightly. I remember a time in my life when people often told me I had the gift of faith. No matter what happened – good or bad, I had faith. But in this season, I could barely pray, read the word, or even be around people in general. Suddenly, I had become accustomed to hearing the lies of Satan so much louder than the gentle voice of the Father, and I began to drown.. I was deep in the trenches of depression, unable to keep my head above water on most days. I tried my best to stay afloat for my family and tried to keep face for my business. My husband outwardly seemed he was doing well, but inwardly was going through his own struggles. Weeks of darkness turned into months and suddenly it was mid 2017 and I questioned everything about my life. I didn't know how we got to this place of confusion and chaos.

This isn't a story of a miraculous healing or an incredible encounter with God – although those things did happen. This is a testimony about what God has done and some tools he has given me that I want to share with you.

In life, Satan will come and attack you where you are weakest or where he feels most threatened. He also hates marriage and family, so of course those are his main targets as well (so predictable- ugh!).

God allowed us to go through these trials to help us understand the importance in spiritual warfare and to give us tools to fight.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:10-12

The tools he gave us are not earth shattering revelations. They are simple, basic truths that require one thing – a yes in our hearts.

Read the Word. Everyday.
It's easier said than done, right? There are days when I dread it and days when I absolutely could not. But now, having come out of the darkest time, I know I cannot live without the word of God. There are days when I would rather scroll mindlessly on Instagram or watch the latest episode of Food Network Star than open my bible or turn on worship music. But I physically feel different now when I don't meditate on the Word or immerse myself in worship – I am more critical, irritated, frustrated..

I've prepared myself for the days I don't "feel" like reading because those are probably the days I need it the most. I voice recorded some key "battle verses" that help to lift my eyes to God and that tell the truth of who I am and listen to the recording when I don't want to read. Revelations from his word and getting lost in worship fills my heart so. much. 😭

Only Love Today "OLT"
I learned the concept of OLT through an article that was circulating on Facebook about parenting. OLT means ridding yourself of a critical spirit by praying to "only love today" when a critical thought comes up. It's truly an Ephesians 6 tool of taking every thought captive and making it obedient to Christ. But this OLT really starts within ourselves. How many times do we have a critical thought of ourselves and we take it in as truth? For me it is usually, "I'm not meant to be a mother.. I'm such a bad wife.. I'm not good enough.. etc." but to take each of these lies/criticisms and turn it into truth takes time and practice, to turn it into a habit. The truth is, I may be a hot mess mom but I'm doing the best I can.. and so forth. Only Love Today starts with you and once you love yourself, know who you are and Whose you are, from that place you can truly love others and not project a critical spirit onto your loved ones. This helps so much in the area of bringing peace into your heart.

Listen for the voice of God
The moment I started to come out of the pits was when I realized I had been listening to the voice of Satan on the regular! So I started to practice hearing the voice of God in prayer. The first time I tried hearing the voice of God for myself, the first thing I heard was, "You're not going to hear anything. This is a joke. You're sitting here in silence.." and it went on. And I knew that wasn't the voice of my loving Father. So I kept praying and then I heard it. Like a still small voice, an impression in my heart that was quieter but more powerful than the first, "You are beautiful. You are my creation." And that was the voice of my Father.

Hearing the voice of God in prayer with my husband also has brought unity to our marriage like never before. Unknowingly, we can often look to our spouses for our ultimate fulfillment and satisfaction. But when we look to God to fill our hearts because He is the source of love, then we have so much more to pour out to our spouses and families.

Find your people and be real
When you're going through a tough time, it's hard to talk about it – especially if you're experiencing anxiety or depression on top of everything else. Putting on a happy face and saying you're alright when you're not does nothing but mask the pain. Pray to find people who will hear you out and not judge you, but pray for you. This is so, so critical. These are people who will listen but also aren't afraid to tell you the truth even in your pain. You need it more than you know.  

During this dark time in our lives, God put people in our lives who would listen and pray. Whether we asked for it or not, we knew people were praying. We had friends who would hear us out when we were at our worst and not commiserate but lead us into truth. We know that God used them to keep us strengthened through our weakest times. The world will tell you what you want to hear and feed into your emotions but true friends tell you the truth, even when it hurts. And on the other side of your overcoming, you will thank them. Thank you, friends.

Going through seasons of trials and testing are not easy but they weren't meant to be either.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4

At first that passage was so hard for me to understand. The last thing I felt during this season of darkness was joy. But I understand now. There is joy in His presence when we are resting in Him. It's not an ignorance of your circumstances; it's a trust that He's going to work it all out for your good.

The first day I cried out to the Lord after feeling freed from depression and anxiety, I heard a gentle voice in my heart, "I was here the whole time.." and of course that wrecked me. 😭 When we are struggling through depression, it is a very real thing. And the realization that God is standing right there with you through it is hard to do! But here is truth – just because you are depressed doesn't mean God has left you. He's holding your hand through it and just wants you to turn your head and look at Him, instead of your circumstances. It's not easy.. but just don't quit looking at Him. Just don't quit. That's what faith is – trusting in that which you cannot see, again and again.

So here we are now, a few months out of the valley and a few weeks from that mountain top experience. God reminded me through the comment I made to Glory this afternoon. Just as I was reminding her to keep using the tools I taught her to get her math right, God was showing me to keep using the tools He taught me to have victory over sin and Satan in my life. There will be hard times but He hasn't left us to fend for ourselves. He has given us strategic tools for warfare, tools that lead us to Truth. Tools we need to pick up daily because this is not a sprint, it's a marathon. The beautiful thing about it all is the fact that Christ has already defeated Satan, and those who trust in His saving grace are all a part of the eternal celebration.

Beloved, if you don't know this already.. know that God is for you, not against you. He knows the numbers of hairs on your head, he knew you in your mother's womb, he created you! He loved you so much that He sent his son to die for you, that you might live. And not just live, but live in an abundance of freedom with Him for an eternity. Invite Him into your heart, into your pain, into your weariness.. and hear His still small voice of love. He is always with you. 💕

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble.But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

His Promises are True

I sit here in the library as the girls read and play, casually thumbing through social media and catching up on emails. I come across this article and unexpectedly, tears sting my eyes and my heart is overwhelmed with His love. 

I was painting in the garage, and she was drawing a rainbow on the cement floor with chalk when she said, “I’m glad God gave me you to me as my Mommy.”
I wasn’t ready for it. “What?” I asked, making sure I heard her right. She tried to say it again, but her words came out a little more awkward this time, and she said something like, “I’m happy your’e my mommy from God.”
Tears filled my eyes.
Then she prayed, “God, thank you for giving my mommy to me. And thank you (I couldn’t understand this part.) And thank you, she makes me breakfast. And thank you we’re going to make pumpkin spagotti (biscotti). I hope it tastes good. Do you think it will taste good, God?”
Then she opened her eyes, and went back to drawing her chalk mural–while my eyes blurred with tears, and a huge lump came to my throat. Where did that come from?
She’s three…and I didn’t know her little heart could hold such gratitude. Or that it would just burst out of her, during this subtle moment in the garage. Or that she would thank God, outloud, for me, right then.
Usually, she doesn’t even want to pray out loud–even with me encouraging her. But today she felt something inside her.
Something beautiful.
Her little heart can hold more love than I often know.
Her little mind…is not so little as I think it is. She thinks far beyond what I would expect.
“Thank you, Selah,” I said, smiling. “I’m so glad God gave me you as my daughter.”
I would have hugged her right then, if my hands didn’t have white paint on them, and if there wasn’t so much junk between us on the floor. The drawers I was painting, and an old wooden chair.
“Did you have to wait a long time for me Mom?” she asked. (I have told her the story many times, but she wanted to hear it again.)
I stepped across the junk on the floor and came a little closer to her. “Yes,” I said. “I asked God for a baby over and over again. But He didn’t give me one for a long time.”
“And when me and Daddy found out you were in my tummy, we were so happy!” I told her.
“Do you know why God took so long to give you a baby?” she said.
“No, honey,” I said. “I don’t know.”
“I know why,” she said.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because…He was making me,” she said.
He was making me.
I looked into her deep blue eyes, that seemed to know something from another world, and her blonde tossled hair russled in the breeze. And in that moment, she seemed a thousand years old.
He was making me. 
And that answer was enough. And my heart resounded with the truth of it, “Of course He was. Of course, that’s exactly what He was doing, Dear One.”
Because now that I know her, and know how special she is–it only makes sense, that it took so long. I don’t know what God was doing with her up there. There is just something about her, that seems as if she spent a long time on God’s chest before coming to mine. Almost as if heaven didn’t want to give her up.
Selah. 
And I say this with tears, to you, barren ones…
Who are waiting for your baby prayers to be answered.
Who are praying every day for God to give you a baby. To give you life.
I don’t know why it’s taking so long. 
I don’t know if He will give you a child through your womb, or through foster care, or adoption.
But either way…if you are waiting right now, and you don’t know why it’s taking so long.
Maybe it’s because God, the Maker and Giver of Life and every living thing…is still in the process of making your baby.
We can’t even begin to comprehend what is happening in the heavenlies, in the unseen, and what, or who He is forming. 
His ways are not like ours. His timing is not like ours.
And perhaps if He’s moving so slowly, and He’s taking so long… It’s because He’s forming something so breathtaking and beautiful…it cannot be rushed.
He is in the process of forming a masterpiece. 
And maybe one day, a little masterpiece will stand before you and say, “I know why God took so long to give you a baby.”
And you will say, “Why?”
And they will say,
“Because…
He was making me.” 

Repost from http://barrentobeautiful.com/2016/09/21/why-god-took-so-long-to-give-me-a-baby/

As I look at our beautiful girls, the ones God has entrusted us to care for and love. The ones who have brought such joy and healing into our lives. I am reminded.. His promises are true.

As we consider the future of our family, specifically future adoptions, I now know that already God has planned for those children to be in our arms. His promises are true. 

As we pray for my barren womb.. Even though days of prayer have turned into years, and sometimes we forget this one the most. I remember, that God has given us a promise of healing. His promises are true.

On this side of heaven, there are so many things we believe for in faith.. Some of which we will see realized in the land of the living, and some when we meet Him face to face. But most of all, we wait for His return and that promise that we will one day be in Heaven with our heavenly Father. None of our minor or major sufferings on earth will be done in vain. It will all bring us closer to the heart of our Father, as we look to Him, as we rely on Him.. the One who suffered the greatest to rescue His beloved.

 “For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us.” 2 Corinthians 1:20