Saturday, December 13, 2014

A Pretty Voice

Sometimes you take the breath right out of me.

Like tonight, when in between bites of pizza, you looked up at me with old eyes in a five year old body and said, “Sometimes you sound like, ‘Go to your room! Now!’”

My heart sank. I do?

“And sometimes you use a pretty voice like you are using right now.” And you returned to your pizza.

And just like that, you held up a mirror and I saw…a little more clearly than I would have liked.

If I stop and rewind the day in my mind and listen to it, there are times I don’t hear a whole lot of pretty. What I do hear is…


That’s not what the voice I want you to hear.

God, I whisper, my eyes clenched shut. I only want to use a pretty voice.

All the time I ask you, What are two things that our words can do? And you know the answer – build up or tear down. And again I ask, What are two things that our words can bring? Life or death, you recite back to me. And always I say, How you say something is just as important as what you say. And you nod.

But what is my voice telling you?

The conviction is strong, and the regret is large, and the determination is there at the end of each day. Tomorrow will be better…Tomorrow I will give life with my words…Tomorrow I will only use a pretty voice.

But I cannot do this by sheer determination. I need the humility to see how deep the problem runs. I need a Savior who has done this whole human life perfectly. I need His Spirit to bear fruit in my life and change my heart and then my voice.

“Faithful is He who has called you, and He also will bring it to pass.”

So bear with me, sweet girl, and maybe you will see the grace your mama needs and the Redeemer who gives it.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

In All Circumstances

I had a moment the other day.

It was 4:00 PM and I was tenaciously trying to get supper in the crockpot (yes you read that right) because it was on my list and, while logic clearly says that 4:00 is much too late to be putting supper in the crockpot, for heaven’s sake, logic is clearly not a part of my life right now, and the to-do list is the only thing that is keeping my postpartum brain from completely falling apart. And while I was in my crockpot frenzy, my normally easy-going 2 week old decided to put on his fussy pants and I had to strap him in the front carrier to keep him calm so I could get supper ready 6 hours too late. And while I was running around the kitchen with an infant strapped to my chest, I heard a cry coming from the living room and walked in to find my fully potty-trained 2 year old pulling off her pants that she had just pooped in. And while I tried to make the least possible mess removing the poopy pants, I glanced out the window and saw my fully capable 5 year old riding her bike in the driveway with no pants on, in full view of all the neighbors who were getting home from work and school at that very moment. 

It was an instance in time when my life seemed epically mundane.

Give thanks in all circumstances.

I am thankful. I am thankful that the half-cooked crockpot dinner means that we have food in our house at all. I am thankful that the tantrums and poop and half-dressed kiddos mean that I have a quiver full of blessings from the Lord. I am thankful that even in my most frustrating moments, things are never as bad as they could be.

But, even though it is good and right to be thankful for these things, it is really not enough. Because, as overwhelming as my moment seemed the other day, it really doesn’t hold a candle to the kind of suffering and trials that make it hard to be grateful. Because there are people who have an empty womb and an empty house and empty dreams. Because there are people who live with excruciating physical pain or unspeakable grief and who cannot even crawl to the throne to utter an “at least it’s not as bad as it could be” kind of prayer. Because there are people in this world who really cannot give thanks for their circumstances.

But that’s not what we are commanded to do anyway.

Give thanks in all circumstances.

I am redeemed. I was lost and blind and dead and enslaved, and my Creator made Himself small and put on flesh and came to this cursed earth to buy me back with His very own blood. I can give thanks for that in all circumstances.

I have a promise. A promise that nothing in this life goes to waste, that God works all things together for my good, that my sanctification is sure and my future is secure. I can give thanks for that in all circumstances.

I have a Helper. He is the God of all comfort, He is eternal wisdom, He is sovereign and wise and good. He directs my path and never leaves me or forsakes me. He is a rock and a refuge, a sun and a shield. He is eternal and immutable and perfect. He is my Father, and I can give thanks for that in all circumstances.

So on the mundane days or the perfectly smooth days (do those exist?) or on the worst day of my life, let me remember this: A heart of gratitude is more focused on the Lord of the circumstances than the circumstances themselves – Because while circumstances are up and down and always shifting, our Father is unchanging and is always good.

In all circumstances.

Monday, September 15, 2014

To My Young Warrior

Son, I want you to know that a name is not just a name.

A name represents who you are. It reveals the dreams and desires and prayers that your parents have for you. Your sisters both have names that mean something, that represent the desires of our hearts for their lives. And you are no different.

So, Owen.

Your name means “young warrior.” And let me tell you what it means to me.

You have a dad who is a warrior. You haven’t met him yet but one day you will recognize what a gift God is giving you, to be born into his family and to share his name. And one day you will see what I have seen over the past decade and especially over the past month.

You have a dad who is not afraid to fight the good fight. He fights for people’s souls. He prays and he challenges and he doesn’t let the darkness win if he can help it. He doesn’t give up on people; even when he is exhausted and at the end of himself, he will do whatever it takes to fight. He knows what is at stake.

And there is a lot at stake, Owen. You are a gift from the Lord, a precious blessing, innocent in many ways – but you are being born into a world that is under a heavy curse. In fact, it groans under the weight of that curse, and many times it may seem that the darkness is winning.

But it’s not.

There is a Savior, son. A Savior who is the greatest warrior, who came to fight and do battle with a snake who thought he could win. A Savior who, when we thought He should pick up a sword, instead laid down His life. And in doing so, He won. He drank the wrath and became the curse so that men could be freed. And then He rose from the grave in victory and let us taste what hope really is, hope for a world that seems so crushed and bruised.

But the problem is, people don’t know it. They don’t see it or understand it. They still live in the curse, Owen, the curse that Jesus drank, and they don’t understand the freedom that He offers. And that is what is worth fighting for. Truth. Justice. Freedom. Let those words ring out in your heart and feed your courage and drive you to fight like a warrior for the kingdom of light.

Owen Spencer Shugart, I cannot wait to meet you. You are loved and prayed over and appreciated already. You will be a baby and a boy and a man, unique and wonderfully made. In so many ways you will be different than your father, but in the ways that matter – I hope you are just like him.

You are our precious gift from God. I’ll see you soon.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Truth Is.

It’s such a battle, this daily grind. And there is so much at stake in the moments.

I feel.

Sometimes I feel that I am failing. That I don’t have what it takes. That the weight of their souls lies solely on my shoulders, and every lie and tantrum and act of disobedience flowing from their hearts is proof that I am not doing a good job.

Sometimes I feel a sense of futility. That my life is full of never checked-off checklists and never fulfilled goals. That it is easier sometimes just not to try because the things on my plate will never get done.

And sometimes, God forgive me, I feel like these precious souls are a burden. That if I have to answer one more question or break up one more argument, I might explode. That I would rather hide in the bathroom or behind the computer screen than respond to the petulant cry of “Mamaaaa….”

But right now it is quiet in my house. With two littles sleeping in their beds and one kicking up a storm in my womb, maybe I can find some clarity. Maybe I can accept what I didn’t get done today. Maybe I can breathe in grace after the endless moments of frustration and impatience that filled my day. Maybe I can look beyond what I feel.

The truth is.

The truth is that my flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. That His mercies are new every morning, and even and especially on my worst days His faithfulness is great.

The truth is that He has saved me and called me to a holy calling, not because of my works but because of His own purpose and grace, which He gave me in Christ Jesus before the ages began. That if I lose my life for His sake, I will find it. That He will fulfill His purpose for me. That the gospel makes a difference, and that Jesus died for days like this, and that victory is real in days like this.

The truth is that this story, this life, was never about me at all. The truth is that if I can just be still…cease striving…let go…and remember that You are God, and I am not, and that You will be exalted, and that this is the point of everything…then I will find the freedom to just live my part of the story, with three little blessings tucked under my faltering wings, and point them to the One who is our refuge and strength on the days when the feelings do not line up with the truth.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Some Lessons from the Coach

 Has it been 8 years since we stood at this altar and committed our lives to one another?

It seems like a long time and not a long time, all at the same moment. And when I think about the two little people in that picture, I think of how much has changed and how much I have learned in these 8 years.

I started calling you "Coach" almost 12 years ago...

And I think it was probably a pretty prophetic name to call you. Here are some of the lessons you have taught me, Coach, over the last 8 years...

1. Live within my means.

We spent the first five years of our marriage with one or both of us in school. We could have taken out loans and gone into debt but you would not have it. You worked three jobs and took classes, and in your spare time you went dumpster diving for coupons. You taught me that humility pays off financially, and that you would not put your family at risk by borrowing money for things that weren't even necessary.

2. I am not in control.

Remember this guy?

Oh yeah, and remember the time you guys went mountain biking and then you crashed and landed on your head, and then when I got home from work you were passed out in the living room and I called Robby in a panic and as he and Joanna drove us to the hospital, you mumbled something about the hole in the back of your head, and then when I put my hand up there to check, yep, you had a hole in your head, and I spent the rest of the ride with my hand on the back of your head because I was afraid your brain would fall out? Oh, and when we finally got home with your 12 staples in your head, we found a piece of the porcelain toilet lying in the floor where you had passed out in the shower and actually broken the toilet with your head?

Yeah, well, that time, among many other times, taught me that no matter how badly I want to be in control and keep everyone safe and live a predictable life, it's not going to happen. And that's a good thing, because really a controlled and safe and predictable life may just not be life at all.

3. It is possible to overcome my fears and conquer a mountain.

January 2009 - Boone, NC. You made me do the scariest thing I have ever done. We ran Grandfather Mountain together. There is so much more there than it sounds like, and only you understand. But in that sentence, there is a lot of fear and insecurity and reluctance to take any risk, anything that might end in failure for me. But you made me do it, and you ran beside me, and you encouraged me, and you were right. I did do it. And I learned that day that the risk is often worth the reward, and that the fear of failure is a terrible reason not to try.

(I love that some of our greatest moments have occurred on mountains...

Mt. Pinnacle - 1 month before Claire was born
Mt. Leconte
4. Buckle down and finish what you started.

The most grueling two years I can imagine for you took place between August 2009 and July 2011. PT school was so intense, in fact, that we reviewed anatomy flashcards during the early part of labor in the hospital when Claire was born. I have never seen anyone so committed and determined to give the very best that you had in PT school. I was so impressed as I watched you study and learn and practice and question and research. You taught me what it means to really be committed to something and to work at it as unto the Lord.

5. Love without condition.

One of the most vivid memories I have is when I wronged you one time and we were talking about it. I felt guilty and said, "Will you forgive me?" I was taken aback at how swift and confident you were when you looked straight at me and said emphatically, "I will always forgive you."

That's the gospel, Coach. You live it out in front of me and you teach it to me constantly. And yes, we struggle and we go through dark times. But I have that confidence, that what you said on the altar, you still mean today. And that is worth more than gold or money or jewels to me.

So here is to the first eight years, and to the 118 still to come.


I love you!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

To My Babies' Daddy.

Well, Coach, five years have passed since that Father’s Day when I gave you a framed ultrasound picture of our then unborn first child, whom, incidentally, you had determined that we would name “Truck.” Truck Shugart. Wow. Well, “Truck” turned out to be a perfect baby girl that you refused to hold for at least 3 hours after her birth because you were afraid you would break her. But once you did get your hands on her, I saw a visible change come over you. 



Diaper-changer extraordinaire.


You became something new that night, and it was a good something. You now had two little eyes watching your every move, and you seemed to welcome it. I always knew you would be a good Daddy, but to see how confidently you took on your new role astounded me.

Since then we’ve added another precious girl and our third babe will be here in a five short months. And here is what our children see when they look at you…

They see a fixer. You fix people when they are hurt, you fix cars when they don’t work, you fix bikes and washing machines and whatever else is broken. They both believe that you can fix anything.

They see a teacher. You teach them how to keep their wiggly bottoms in their seat at supper time and how to skip and do agility drills in the hallway at church. You teach them how to hit a tennis ball and how to confess their sins. You teach them the difference between a flat head and a Phillips head screwdriver, and how to slide down the stairs on a mattress. You teach them concepts like gravity and forgiveness. You are always teaching.

They see a leader. I can’t tell you how many times I will suggest that we do something and one of the girls will say, “Did God tell Daddy that’s okay?” 

They see a Daddy. A Daddy is not just a father, you know. A Daddy comes with love and discipline in the same hand. A Daddy will laugh just as quickly as he will correct. A Daddy will set up a water slide in the backyard just to see his kids enjoy it, and cuddle with three in one recliner after bedtime for a good book.

See, Coach, when our girls look at you, they see a reflection – yes, broken and imperfect, but still growing into the likeness – of our heavenly Father.

You are their first picture of their Creator.

Their Protector.

Their Provider.

Their Fixer, Teacher, Leader.

Their Abba.

And I know you feel inadequate, and I know you get frustrated, and I know life is more complicated now. But, Coach, I would rather my children be your children than anyone else’s in the world.
Because you faithfully and consistently and humbly point them to their Heavenly Father. And that is a gift that is worth more than anything in the world.

Happy Father’s Day.