Our New Adventure

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Many of you know that we have had the wonderful privilege for the past five years to serve at Harvest Bible Chapel Rockford where Jesse is on staff as the Student Ministry and Outreach Pastor. When we first moved to Rockford in 2012, it was with the understanding that after five years of ministry here, we would be sent out to plant a church through Harvest Bible Fellowship. Jesse has long felt called by God to plant and lead a church, and this calling has only been increasingly confirmed and encouraged throughout our time in Rockford.

Through much prayer and counsel, and the mutual agreement of the staff and elders of Harvest Rockford, we have decided to step out in faith in order to plant a church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We understand that this is an enormous undertaking, and are truly humbled by this calling.

This fall, we are being sent by our church to begin a four-month residency in Elgin, Illinois under the direction of Harvest Bible Chapel Founder, and Senior Pastor, James MacDonald. During this residency period, we will be attending the Harvest Training Center, which exists to train and equip godly and gifted men to become effective and fruitful senior pastors. We are extremely sad to be leaving Rockford and our wonderful church family at HBCR, but we are equally excited to be used of God in this way.

Harvest Bible Chapel has planted over 150 churches in the last ten years and they offer incredible structure and support for church planters, and have a tremendous success rate. We will be financially supported by Harvest Bible Fellowship for the duration of this training as well as the first few months after we move to Milwaukee. We are also expected to raise $10,000 to cover part of the cost of our training, and an additional $80,000 to cover the start-up costs required to launch this church plant.

We are asking for your help and partnership in this new season as we follow the Lord as He builds His church.  Here are a few ways you can partner with us:

1. Pray. Apart from Christ, we can do nothing. We earnestly covet your prayers as we step out in faith to sell our home in Rockford, raise funds, and build a core team in order to begin an effective, impactful, and fruitful church that is founded on the solid bedrock of the gospel. We also ask for your prayers for our family, as this transition from Rockford, to Elgin, to Milwaukee, will not be easy, especially for our children.

2. Give. We understand that the goal of raising $90,000 is a tremendous endeavor, but we are confident that as God has continually directed us towards this great work, He will also provide what we need in order to accomplish it.

Would you consider giving a one-time or recurring donation towards this amazing opportunity that God has given us?

You can give at: https://app.mogiv.com/hbf/jesseschmidt or if you would prefer to give by mail, please make all checks payable to:

Harvest Bible Fellowship
Attn: Church Planting
1000 N. Randall Rd.
Elgin, IL 60123

If you prefer to give this way, please make sure to put my name on the memo line of the check.

Contributions made to Harvest Bible Fellowship (HBF) are tax deductible in the US and will be used as indicated by the donor to the extent consistent with the policies and procedures of HBF, and are subject to its control and discretion. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact info@harvestbiblefellowship.org.

3. Go. We are asking the Lord to send out workers with us. We cannot do this work alone, and need others to join us in Milwaukee.  Perhaps even now God is tugging at your heart to be a part of this endeavor.  Or maybe you know someone who currently lives in Milwaukee that you could connect us with. You can pass along any contact information you might have through this form: https://harvestmilwaukee.wufoo.com/forms/milwaukee-contacts/ We would love to talk more with you about what it would look like to have you partner with us in this way.

We are deeply grateful for you and the role you have played in our lives.  We will send out regular updates of our progress throughout this process and prayerfully hope to launch Harvest Bible Chapel Milwaukee in the fall of 2018.

-The Schmidt Family

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You can also follow our church planting progress on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

 

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Yet I Will Praise You: The Weeping Prophet

(This post was originally written for and published on hopemommies.org)

The moment my husband and I found out we were expecting our fourth child, my mind instantly praise-you-2began to imagine what life as a family of six would look like. Baby names began to run circles in my mind, prayers for this precious life were whispered often throughout the day, and my hands found their way to my rapidly growing belly again and again as I cradled this sweet baby as best as I could from the outside.

I never imagined that I would never bring this babe home with me from the hospital. 
I never imagined his beautiful face would never appear in family photos.
I never imagined that I would have to say goodbye to this child that I desperately loved and had eagerly awaited.
And I never imagined that less than a year later I would experience that anguish all over again…

I think that most of us can agree that life never turns out as we expected or hoped it would.  And for many of us, we find ourselves enduring the very thing we feared the most.

Growing up, I often fell prey to the thinking that if I continued to honor the Lord with my life and remained in obedience to His will, I would be shielded from any really difficult trials in life.  But the more I read His Word, and saw suffering in the lives of those around me, the more I realized that being united with Christ does not guarantee an easy life.  In fact, the Word of God tells us that tribulation will come (John 16:33).

But even still, there were moments following the death of our son that I thought I had met my quota of “tribulations.”  Certainly, the Lord wouldn’t require more than this of me, right?  I surely cannot endure any more than this weight of sorrow that I now carry. 

But that wasn’t the case.  Trusting in the Lord does not result in exemption from difficultly.

The ministry of the prophets throughout biblical times was a unique reminder of the sovereignty of God.  The primary role of a prophet was to call the people back to obedience to God.  The prophets repeatedly warned God’s people of the judgement that would result from continuing in their sin and faithlessness, but they also constantly pointed the people to the hope of Christ. 

Jeremiah was one such prophet.  He was called by God as a boy to be a prophet in the kingdom of Judah during the final years before its fall to the Babylonians.  He served as a prophet for over forty years, spanning the reigns of five different kings of Judah.

One might think that to be uniquely chosen as a prophet of the Lord — chosen to proclaim His words to the people — would be an advantageous and profitable position.  Surely, a man called by God to declare the very words of God would receive immunity from discomfort and pain. But while it was a great honor to be chosen by God to be His messenger, it was a difficult job full of disappointments, hardship, and suffering.  In fact, for all his years of service to the Lord in this capacity Jeremiah earned the nickname of “The Weeping Prophet.”

The book of Jeremiah in the Bible serves as a snapshot into his life and ministry as a prophet.  Through his words, we are given insight into the grief that he endured in watching his people, a people whom he loved, continually persist in their sin until the final destruction of their nation.  His messages of repentance were not well received.  Throughout his ministry of warning the people of God’s judgment against sin, we see only two recorded converts.

As a result of his obedience to God, his hometown plotted against him, he was beaten many times, placed in stocks, imprisoned, thrown into a cistern, received many threats against his life, and was ridiculed for following the Lord.  The following verses give us a glimpse into the suffering he endured:

“I am ridiculed all day long;
everyone mocks me.
Whenever I speak, I cry out
proclaiming violence and destruction.
So the Word of the Lord has brought me
insult and reproach all day long.

I hear many whispering,
“Terror on every side!
Denounce him! Let’s denounce him!”
All my friends
are waiting for me to slip, saying,
“Perhaps he will be deceived;
then we will prevail over him
and take our revenge on him.”

Cursed be the day I was born!
May the day my mother bore me not be blessed!
Cursed be the man who brought my father the news,
who made him very glad, saying,
“A child is born to you—a son!”

Why did I ever come out of the womb
to see trouble and sorrow
and to end my days in shame?
-Jeremiah 20:7-8, 10, 14-15, 18


I wonder if throughout these many trials, Jeremiah asked the same questions of the Lord that I had: “Certainly, the Lord wouldn’t require more than this of me, right?  I surely cannot endure any more than this weight of sorrow that I now carry.”  But he continued to endure one hardship after the other.

If you are looking solely at the outward circumstances of Jeremiah’s life, it would be easy to assume that Jeremiah would resent the Lord and cling to bitterness and anger because of the lot that had fallen on him, but that was not the case.  Listen to this next verse:

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.”
-Jeremiah 17:7

Jeremiah considered himself blessed, because he had placed his trust in the Lord.  No matter what he endured, he was anchored with confidence in the greatness of God. 

“There is none like You, O Lord;
You are great, and Your name is great in might.”
-Jeremiah 10:6

“But the Lord is the true God;
He is the living God and the everlasting King.”
-Jeremiah 10:10

“‘Ah, Lord God! It is You who have made the heavens and the earth by
Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you….”
-Jeremiah 32:17

Even though Jeremiah was greatly persecuted because of his work, he was determined and dedicated to proclaim God’s Word to the people.  And in the end, although his life was filled with suffering and hardship he chose to praise the Lord.  In the midst of grief and sorrow, Jeremiah declared the goodness of God to a people who rejected him and the God he so faithfully served.    

“Sing to the Lord!
Give praise to the Lord!
He rescues the life of the needy
from the hands of the wicked.”
-Jeremiah 20:13

“Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed;
save me, and I shall be saved,
for You are my praise.”
-Jeremiah 17:14

And this can be true of your life too, precious momma.  You can choose to praise the Lord no matter the suffering you have endured.  You too, are considered blessed if you have placed your trust in the Lord, even after the devastation of losing a child.   Do you believe this? 

Do you consider yourself blessed?  Will you choose to let your life be a song of praise to our great God?  Will you let His glory be known to the world from the ashes of your sorrow? 

Dear one, this can only take place once you have come to recognize that the Lord truly is the greatest good — the very best thing. 


“I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.”
-Psalm 16:2

Nothing compares to the splendor of knowing Christ and walking with Him.  Nothing can trump the joy that is found in His presence.  Nothing can rival the hope that we have because of His death and resurrection.  Nothing.  Not even holding your beloved child once again. 

When your heart comes to accept this life-altering truth, you too can praise Him despite the sorrow you now bear and regardless of the difficulties that may come.   Like Jeremiah, you will be able to praise the Lord in every season.   And so, as you sit here heart aching for the child(ren) you so desperately miss, let yourself be gripped by the greatness of God.  Open up His Word and discover all that He is and what He has done.  For as you come to know Him, truly and deeply know Him, you will not remain unchanged. 

Identity: You Are New

(This post was originally written for www.hopemommies.org)

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
-2 Corinthians 5:17

As mothers who have walked through the death of a child, it is easy to define ourselves by our losses — to feel unworthy, damaged, incomplete.  But, dear one, this is not the sum of who you are.  In Christ you have been made new!  You have become a new creation! 

“And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.”
-Romans 6:4b

This reality of being made new in Christ is achieved upon salvation.

You were once blind to spiritual things, but God mercifully opened you eyes to see Christ.
You were once rebellious and proud, but God drew you to Himself in beautiful surrender.
You were once in utter darkness, but God shone His light in your heart.
You once felt no sorrow over your sin, but God graciously granted you repentance. 

You have been made new!

But being made new comes with responsibility. If we take a look at the verses preceding 2 Corinthians 5:17, we see that this involves an entire lifestyle change.

“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that One has died for all, therefore all have died; and He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.”
-2 Corinthians 5:14-15

When we are made new through salvation in Jesus Christ, His love compels us to stop living for ourselves.  We are called to put off our old selves with all of its tendencies and responses, and live instead for the glory of the Lord!

“Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
-Ephesians 4:22-24

This “old self” is the sum of the perspectives, emotions, and practices that you were characterized by before you were called out of darkness and redeemed by the blood of Jesus.  It is the sinful patterns that you fell into, the selfish choices you made, the times you gave anything and everything a place of greater honor than God.  But, because you have been made new, sin no longer holds any power over you (Romans 6:14), and you have been given a new set of perspectives, emotions, and practices that have been created after the very likeness of God!

Colossians 3 gives us a bigger picture of this putting off and putting on:

“In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices  and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
-Colossians 3:7-10, 12-14

What aspects of your “old self” are you hanging on to?

Do you find yourself angry and bitter with family and friends who have seemed to have forgotten your precious baby?
Are you living in fear of the future, unable to trust in God’s goodness and provision?
Are you envious of the women around you whose arms are full, while your own empty arms are aching to hold your baby who went home before you?
Have you been unable to rejoice in the joys of others’ because you cannot see past your own overwhelming sorrow?

NEWThese things, precious momma, belong to your old self.  And as hard as it may seem to let them go and put them off, you are no longer defined by them.  Christ has freed you from this!  You have been given a new identity in Him.  He has made you new!

You have been offered a great exchange:

His death on the cross in pace of your deserved punishment
His compassion and patience in place of your anger and bitterness
His peace in place of your fear
His contentment in place of your envy

This exchange does not always come easy.  Your flesh is always fighting to overpower His righteousness in your life.  But press on.  Commit to choosing day by day to put off your anger, fear, and envy.  He has graciously shown you a better way to live, and equipped you with everything you need to put that all away.

The key to choosing the new self over the old is found in each of these passages:

“being renewed in knowledge after the image of [the] Creator.”
-Colossians 3:10

“be renewed in the spirit of your mind.”
-Ephesians 4:23

Dear one, we must renew our minds!  The answer to putting off our old selves — to ridding ourselves of all anger, bitterness, envy, and fear — is to continually fill our minds with the truth of eternity!

Colossians 3:1-3 says , “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

In Ephesians 3:18–19 Paul prayed that we “may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Why?

Because when our minds are filled with and focused on the love of Christ and the fullness of God, we are renewed.  And this renewal frees us from the sinful tendencies of our flesh.  When our minds are fixed on Christ, we are able to put on our new self — we are able to bear the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.   

When you are tempted to fall again into anger, bitterness, jealousy, or fear, remember that this is not who you are anymore. Your identity is no longer tied to these things.  Sin no longer has any hold over you.

Christ has made you a new creation.

You are new.

Identity: You Are Chosen

(This post was originally written for Hopemommies.org)

Deep down we all long to be accepted and pursued. This longing is also accompanied by a deep sense of rejection when we feel as if we don’t fit in or seem to be forgotten by others — when you don’t get called back after the interview, when someone else gets the promotion, when you don’t make the team, when everyone around you seems to be bringing home their babies and your arms feel heavy with emptiness. 

But dear sister, please hear this:  as your friends are posting pictures of beautifully decorated nurseries while yours remains empty, as the moms in your community meet together, and they don’t think to include you because your child is no longer on earth, as you feel the weight of loneliness because it seems as though no one can relate to the sorrow you have experienced… If you have accepted Christ as your Savior you are a part of a royal priesthood.  In Christ, you belong.  You have been accepted — chosen — by the God that created the universe and holds it all in place. 

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
-1 Peter 2:9-10

Because Christ was your substitute on the cross, you are accepted and part of a chosen people, a people who belong to God.

chosen.jpgEverything you are, all of your faith and hope, is deeply rooted in the fact that God freely chose you.   Before the creation of the world God thought of you. He fixed His eyes on you and chose you for Himself.  Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” (John 15:16)  Behind your faith in Christ is grace alone. There is no ground for your being chosen besides the incomprehensible love of God. You did absolutely nothing to qualify for being chosen.

He did not choose you because of anything you have done or anything you will do.  He did not choose you because He saw something special in you.  He did not choose you because you were good, but so that you could become holy, blameless, and pure.  And here’s the beauty in this — because you have done nothing to deserve being chosen by God, your acceptance is caught up in the constancy of the character of God.  He will not reject those whom He has chosen.

Your salvation did not begin with your choice to believe in Christ—although this choice is real and necessary. Your salvation began before the foundation of the world when God sketched out the story of our redemption, appointed the death and the resurrection of His Son, and chose you to be His own through Christ. This truth offers us deep assurance.  Will you revel in this wonder?

Being chosen by God, offers us the fullest satisfaction, because we were designed to find our acceptance not in shared experiences with others, not in earthly recognition, and not in front of the mirror, but in the face of God!

Some of you have been sitting on the fence of faith for far too long.  Turn your heart to Him, dear one.  He is pursuing you, like a father longing for His child to come home to Him.   He longs for you to cast your hope upon Him!  Maybe you feel unworthy of the gift of salvation that has been offered to you.  You are.  But the unfathomable truth is that God chose those who are foolish, weak, low, and despised — so that we would have no grounds for boasting in our salvation. (1 Corinthians 1:26-29) 

Do you feel Him tugging at your heart?  Only God’s steadfast resolution to save His chosen people can explain the miracle of placing your trust in the word of the gospel in the midst of sorrow and affliction.  Do you understand the incredible reality of this truth?  God does the saving work for His chosen ones.  God puts us together with Christ.  The unshakable, unbiased, and glorious bedrock of your faith is that God chose you, and in choosing you, God means to bring you home.  Being chosen by God means being sealed for everlasting, all-satisfying life with our infinitely beautiful God.  Because you are chosen, you will one day join your precious baby in the song of eternal praise in the presence of God.

So when you feel like you stick out like a sore thumb because of the loss you have experienced, remember that you have been chosen.  You don’t need to be defined by your sorrow.  Your identity is caught up in the very Son of God! Remind yourself over and over again who you are in Christ.  Say it out loud!  Shout it!  You have been chosen!!  And God desires to pour out blessings on His chosen people.   

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.”

-Ephesians 1:3-4

In Christ, you have been given every spiritual blessing.  While these blessings don’t always look the way we want them to, they are always what is best for us.  The sorrows of this world will indeed seem light and momentary when compared to all that He has in store for you.  And on that day when you finally see Him face to face, you —chosen one— will have every tear wiped from your eye, as you will join in the eternal song of adoration and praise of the One who has redeemed you — the song that your precious baby is singing even now.   

Don’t forget who you are in Christ.

You belong. You are accepted.  You are chosen. 

Identity: You Are Alive

(This post was originally written for hopemommies.org)

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
-Ephesians 2:4-7

But God.

These two little words carry life-altering significance. Whenever you see these words, you know something big is about to happen.

You were once dead… but God
You had no hope… but God
Sin had a hold on your life… but God
You were in darkness… but God

But God made you alive together with Christ!

When Christ showed Himself to be triumphant over death at His resurrection, He paved the way for you and I to rise with Him.  Through the gift of righteousness that He secured for us on the cross, we have also been given life — abundant, eternal life — life forever in His perfect presence.  Christ in your place and His Spirit in you, has achieved for you the redemption of both body and soul.  Can there be anything greater? 

“For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His… Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
-Romans 6:6, 8-11

In Christ, we also shall rise, never to die again.  Death has no dominion over us as believers.  This is your life!  This is your hope!  If Christ is raised, and in trusting Him we too will be raised, than this life here on earth is merely a fleeting overture to the glorious life that awaits us in the ever-joyful presence of the Lord — life that your precious baby is experiencing even now!

“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.  But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
-1 Corinthians 15:17-22

Those who rise with Christ are not to be pitied.  We have been awakened to new life!  Our old self with its sinful nature has been put to death with Christ.  We are completely and finally dead to sin — dead to both its guilt and its power. This is resolute, unchangeable, and faultless.  And this death to sin is accompanied by everlasting life in the Spirit.  But we don’t have to wait until the redemption of our bodies in Heaven to experience this new life.  This life isn’t just for later. It’s life now!  It is a new life of faith and hope in God.  It is life with the Spirit in us.  It is not purely physical life forever in Heaven, but spiritual life here on earth now — we are alive spiritually even now.  So, while this gift of life will occur in phases, we can be confident that it will indeed occur.  Your resurrection is as certain as His, because the same Spirit that raised Him up to conquer death dwells in those who believe in Him.

Alive2.jpg“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by His great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation,”
-1 Peter 1:3


Great expectation!  Dear one, because we have been given new life in Christ we can live with great expectation!  We have been promised unimaginable riches for eternity.  We can eagerly look forward to meeting our precious babies in God’s presence, because we have been born again —we have been raised with Christ!

“So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.”
-1 Peter 1:6, 7

These trials that you are facing right now, this grief that weighs so heavily on your heart, is only for a “little while” in light of eternity to come.  So stand strong.  Hold on to hope.  Rest in the arms of the One who has achieved for you a glorious new life.  There is wonderful joy ahead. 

Do not forget the treasures that you have in Christ.  You have been united with Christ in His resurrection.  This is your identity — one who has been born again.

You are alive!

Identity: You Are Forgiven

(This post was originally written for hopemommies.org.)

“He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
-Colossians 1:13-14

We are all sinful beings.  In fact all of creation — every drop of rain, every blade of grass, every fish in the sea — is groaning under the weight of sin.  Our sin separates us from the presence of our Holy God, and there is nothing that we can do to remedy this on our own.  We can never measure up to the insurmountable holiness of God.  If we were to gather all of the “goodness” in our lives, the sum of everything good and right that we have ever done or will ever do, and place it before the Lord, it would be to Him like a filthy rag (Isaiah 64:6).   Left un-cured, our sin condemns us eternally. Dear one, because of sin, our eternity is at risk. 

What we greatly and desperately need is forgiveness.  We have disobeyed and offended God.  We have incurred His great wrath.  There is only one hope— that God in all of His holiness would find a way for His justice to be satisfied.  And that is exactly what God, in His amazing grace, was willing to offer us through the death of His Son.

Christ gave himself up for us on the cross —that is, in our place— so that we don’t have to perish under the weight of our sin.  Our record of debt was nailed to the cross with Him, and the blood from His nail-pierced hands has erased our debt.  Through the death of Jesus Christ there is forgiveness.

“In Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.”
-Ephesians 1:7

In order to be faithful to the holiness of His character, God must demand a penalty for our sin. That penalty is death – eternal separation from God and His goodness.  Each of us are desperately in need of redemption.  That is the greatest need we have.  It trumps every other need in our lives.  And God stands in position to meet it. God himself was willing to make the greatest sacrifice on your behalf in order to secure your forgiveness.   And not only did He forgive you of an unpayable debt, He also gives His Spirit to live with you — to comfort, guide, teach, and empower you!

“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins”
Colossians 2:13

We were dead in our sins, but through this blood-soaked forgiveness, we have been made alive in Christ Jesus.  This forgiveness cannot be earned.  It is a free gift to all who repent from their sin and choose to call on the name of the Lord. It has been bought with the blood of Christ.  And the wrath of God was satisfied with the blood of Jesus — this perfect blood that covered our sins and paid our debt.  So when faced with the judgment of God, His perfection stands for mine. This new life that forgiveness brings is free from the fear of condemnation.  God looks on us and sees Him – our pure, spotless lamb.

“For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. 19 It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God.”
1 Peter 1:18-19

Not only have we been freed from the wrath of God, but we have also been freed from the accusations of Satan.  It was the record of our debts that made our punishment necessary and gave Satan his power to condemn us.  But that record has been wiped clean in Christ.  Satan has no leverage for accusation anymore.  It has all been erased.  The only weapon he could defeat us with is that of unforgiven sin, and he can no longer wield that against us.   

Forgiven2bOh, sister!  When you put your faith in Christ, all of your sins past, present and future, have been forgiven and covered by the blood of Jesus.  So day by day, as you choose to confess your sins and turn from them, God continues to cover them.  This forgiveness that you have been given, is secure in the finished work of Christ.  Once you have surrendered to Christ as your Savior — repenting of sin, and accepting His free gift of forgiveness — it cannot be undone.  Your redemption has been sealed for all of eternity.  You are forever freed from guilt and shame.  You have been permanently shielded from the wrath of God.  The debt you owe is eternally cancelled.  And when you stand before God on the day of judgment, the righteousness of Christ will be applied to your account.     

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
-1 John 1:9

Does this not cause your heart to rejoice?  Are you not overwhelmed by this incredible display of mercy?  We, who deserve nothing but the wrath of God, have received nothing but amazing grace!  Take a moment and let that sink in. Through the forgiveness of sin, you are no longer defined by your sin, but by the perfect life of God’s Son.  This forgiveness has allowed you access to the very throne of God!  It has achieved for you eternal life!  Don’t lose sight of this incredible truth.

This is who you are in Christ.  You are forgiven.

A New Song

It seems like just yesterday I was sitting up in the ER hospital bed.  I was holding you darling, desperately trying to soak up every detail of your tiny frame.  Even though I know that what I was holding was just a shell of all that God had made you to be, I knew it was all I would have of you on this side of eternity and I didn’t want to miss a thing. 

I counted your fingers and toes over and over and over again.
I ran my left index finger across your sweet, soft cheeks.  You were resting in the palm of my right hand.
I stared at your tiny, pink lips — your mouth was open —and it looked like you were singing. 

I remember thinking how fitting that was, because the name we had chosen for you means “Sing Praise to the Lord.” I love imagining that as your heart stopped beating on this earth, you were ushered into the loving arms of Christ with a song of praise on your lips.

I held you close and cradled you with both hands trying to make sure you were warm as I whispered a chorus of “I love you’s” into your ears. Even though I know you didn’t need a thing, all of my instincts just wanted to mother you.  My heart longed to be filling these precious moments by taking care of you. 

But my time with you ended so much sooner than I would have like as I needed to go in for surgery.  I gently handed your beautiful body to the nurse and watched as she walked away with you…knowing that I would never lay eyes on you again on this earth. 

It seems like just yesterday… and it seems like forever.

Has it really been a year since you went home?

“I’m sorry.  There’s no heartbeat.”

It wasn’t the first time I had heard those painful words.  And it certainly wasn’t any easier the second time around. 

It wasn’t easier to imagine life without you.
It wasn’t easier to call your daddy and tell him that you were no longer with us.
It wasn’t easier to sit, alone, in the exam room waiting to talk through our options with the doctor.

But, my precious one, it was easier to trust. 

Having gone through this heartache before when we lost your brother eight months earlier, the Lord had been faithfully drawing our hearts nearer to His own.  And although it never would have been my choice to hear those five excruciating words for the second time, I knew that your absence would be filled by an even greater sense of His perfect presence. 

I had experienced that in increasing measure during the months in between saying goodbye to Simeon, and learning that we would also be saying goodbye to you.  And dear one, I have continued to know and experience the Lord in deeper and more meaningful ways over the course of this past year. 

So although today marks one year since I learned that I would not have the chance to watch you grow, it also marks one year of greater fellowship with my Savior. 

73749-Piano-Keys-And-NotesThrough your short life on earth and the lessons that I have learned through the agony of losing you, God has been teaching my heart to sing in ways that I would not be capable of without having known this sorrow. 

“He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.”
-Psalm 40:3a

And day by day God has been revealing new layers of this song in the furthest recesses of my soul.  As I have become more intensely gripped by His greatness, so has this song in my mouth broken forth in praise to our God in exceeding measure. 

My Odelle, a year ago I could never imagine myself uttering these words, but I now know them to be unshakably true:

You going home to be with the Lord was a greater gift than you coming home with me. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I can’t tell you how many times I have longed to hold you in my arms again, to smell the sweetness of your breath, and hear the sound of your laughter.  There hasn’t been a day that has gone by in this past year that I have not missed you greatly. 

But as much as I desire to be with you, I would not choose to change what God has done in my life.  I would not give up the knowing of this new song that has been placed in my heart.  Because as dear as you are and always will be to me, He must be dearer still. 

And so, my little one, I can say with sincerity that I have greater joy now than I did a year ago.  And since you are no stranger to the joys of His perfect presence I know you will agree with me. 

It has been a hard year.
But it has also been a great one.

And now, we are one year closer. 

I love you,
-Mommy

“I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,
and He turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the pit of despair,
out of the mud and the mire,
He set my feet on solid ground
and steadied me as I walked along.
He has given me a new song to sing,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what He has done and be amazed.
They will put their trust in the Lord.
Oh, the joys of those who trust the Lord!”
-Psalm 40:1-4

Full of You

I’ve never known a summer to fly by as quickly as this one seemed to.  With missions trips, summer camps, family vacations, and everything in between our summer has come and gone before we had a chance to blink.  But it has been a full summer.  Full of memories, full of family, full of seeing the Lord at work in our lives and in the lives of those around us…and full of you.

Oh dear one, we are so thankful for you.

DSC_4181You were certainly a surprise to us all.  Your daddy and I had decided that we would take a year to rest physically and emotionally before we made any further decisions about continuing to grow our family.  In fact, my doctor was unsure if my body would even be capable of carrying a healthy pregnancy full term.  But God… You’d think that by now these words wouldn’t come as such a surprise to me.  

These “but God” moments have occurred over and over again through the joys and sorrows of these past fifteen months.  Time and time again He has showed us the beauty that results from Proverbs 16:9

“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”

How thankful I am that it is the Lord who establishes our steps.  Goodness knows what a mess of things I would make if it were my plans that my life followed.  Certainly, there are things that in my flesh I would have desired to be different, but oh how my heart has seen over and over again that His ways truly are higher through it all! 

Even in the midst of the deepest sorrow, His ways have been higher than my own, His plan better than mine.  And here we are again, bearing witness to this life-changing truth.  Because God chose you.  Even when we thought we were not ready, even when we had decided to wait, God established our steps and gave us you. 

DSC_4180I won’t pretend that it has been easy.  My heart has constantly battled against the fear of losing you.  I know that we are not guaranteed anything beyond this moment on earth and the hope of eternity.  After two consecutive losses, I think we have all struggled to some degree with fear and uncertainty these past several weeks. 

Shortly after telling your siblings that you had joined our family, Micah approached me and whispered, “Mommy I am not excited… because all of our babies die.”

My heart was crushed.  What a burden for someone so small to be carrying. 

I brought him downstairs and showed him pictures of me when I was pregnant with him, and ultrasound photos I had of him. 

“You were my baby.  And you did not die,” I said.  “We do not know what God’s plan is for this sweet baby, but we do know that His plan is best.  God had a different plan for your life than He did for Simeon and Odelle.  He knew it was best for them to go to Heaven before they were born to this earth, and it was best for you to be born and grow into my big three-year-old boy.  Only God knows how many days He has chosen for this baby and each of us, but we can choose to be thankful for every day He lets us be together and trust that He will always do what is best for our good and His glory.”

I think my heart needed to hear those words spoken out loud as much as he did. 

DSC_4174

I made a decision that night.  I chose to live by the words that I had just spoken to your brother.  And every morning as I wake, I will renew that decision.  I will trust God with the plan He has for your life.  And I will live each day full of thankfulness for you and the time we have together.  As we watch my body grow with you, as your siblings kiss you goodnight as they are tucked into bed each night, as I begin to feel you move within me, as this nauseousness serves as a constant reminder of a new addition to our family, as I have opportunities to listen to your heartbeat and see you through a sonogram, I will remember that each precious moment is a gift.

And so, my little one, even though our summer went by in a blur, it was a summer full of new life.  Full of you.  I would not exchange a single moment for anything.  The joy of knowing that you are now and forever a part of our family is great indeed.  And I will continue day by day to trust in our Great God — the Author of Life — because I know that He is faithful, He is sovereign, and He is good. 

I love you always,
-Mommy

Manna

Today marks one year.

One year of heartache from missing you.

One year of longing to be rocking you to sleep each night, filling your cheek with kisses all day long, singing you sweet lullabies, and gazing at those big eyes.  I wonder if they are deep brown daddy eyes like your brothers’ and sister’s. 

You would have been six months old, my little one.  Probably crawling through the house chasing after those passionate siblings of yours and starting to experiment with pureed food.  Our living room would have been filled with all of your gear: the swing, bouncy seat, floor gym, burp cloths… I’ve let your big sister use your little clothes for her baby dolls, because she loves mothering, and I couldn’t stand for them to remain boxed up. 

I miss you. 

Terribly.

One year feels like forever when your arms are aching for the weight they have so longed to hold and yet have never felt.

But this year has not been all brokenness.  There has been a beauty spreading it’s silver lining throughout the storm as God has used this sorrow to plow the depths of my soul and reveal a greater capacity to serve Him and love others.  This sorrow has plunged deep into my heart stirring up the soil so that it may yield richer harvests than it had previously been able to bear.

Although this process has been excruciating, I find great comfort knowing that the Gardener stops pruning and weeding around the vine only when He no longer expects anything from it.  Your short life on this earth has been used to teach me so much, my sweet one.  And I know that I am not done learning, changing, growing, because I am still being pruned day by day. 

I’ve seen that just as the ground must be broken before you can build upon it, my life must be broken before I can be fully molded into the likeness of His Son. I have felt that brokenness day after day.   

mannaBut just as He provided manna following the dew each morning for the Israelites in the wilderness, He has always provided just what I need for every day that passes.

Some days I find myself grumbling just like the Israelites that I am so quick to judge.  This is not the food that I wanted.  I had envisioned something so different than what I was given.  It seems tasteless, and wearisome.  I know the miracles that my God is capable of, so why did I get stuck with manna? 

But how can I question anything that is given by His hands… those hands that bear such sacred marks of His far-reaching love?  When I choose to embrace it, welcome it, long for it, I am reminded that it is life-giving.  This manna has been what has upheld me.  It has kept me bound to the Lord, because I have had to come before His throne to receive from Him daily.  I have needed this manna every day.  And every day it has come. 

Other days I have tried to store up any extra scrap to carry with me through the coming days.  But manna is given just for today.  I cannot gather more than I need.  When I try to stock up for the future, I am only giving way to fear and doubt, believing the lie that my God won’t provide.  Instead, I must trust that just as He put this manna before me today and all the days before, He will be faithful to provide for tomorrow.  His mercies are indeed new every morning!

As I determine to trust the One who continues to breathe hope in my heart He gives me the strength to press on and draw closer to Himself, all the while planting seeds of joy, love, goodness, and peace in this broken momma’s heart.  And I know that as this sorrow continues to work its way into the deepest parts of me, these seeds will begin to flourish.  Because my God, the God who gives manna and gardens the soul, can turn this sorrow into a tool that will cultivate Christ-likeness in me.  I know, because He has already begun to do it.

So, my little one.  I will not let this year of missing you come to waste.  I will press on and wait to see all that the Lord will accomplish in my life through this heartache.  And someday, someday when these weary arms can finally hold you, I will be able to tell you that this painful journey was worth it all. 

I love you.

-Mommy

Fix Your Eyes

blank-cloudy-stormy-sky I was sitting in the Houston airport on Sunday waiting to fly back to Chicago. It was rainy and cold and overcast. As I sat there watching dark clouds continually roll in, I couldn’t help but think that so often that’s what pain looks like. If I could paint a picture of my heart these days I would illustrate this sorrow with storm clouds.  Even on the clearest of days I can find myself in the middle of a downpour. Even when I am surrounded by laughter and joy and hope it can quickly turn into a tempest. Some days it just seems like the storm clouds of sorrow rush in out of nowhere.

I still had two hours to wait until I would board my plane, so I took out my Bible and began to read through Psalms. As I was reading, one phrase kept demanding my attention over and over and over again…

“Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.”
Psalm 119:6

 “I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways.”
Psalm 119:15

 “But my eyes are fixed on You, Sovereign Lord; in You I take refuge…”
Psalm 141:8

”Fix your eyes”
Fix: to direct one’s eyes, attention, or mind steadily or unwaveringly toward.

I don’t often think of what it actually looks like for me to “fix my eyes” on the Lord or His Word. In fact, in this fast-pace, instantly-gratified, never-satisfied, always-seeking-what’s-next culture that I’m immersed in, I find it difficult to fix myself on anything. There are always innumerable pursuits that are pulling for my attention. It’s always easier to let my eyes wander toward whatever is before them at the moment. And yet every time I submit my focus on anything other than the Lord I find myself stretched thin and overwhelmed by all of life’s circumstances. This is no way to live!

“The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply…”
Psalm 16:4

 Rather, than allow my eyes to drift toward whatever the world is promoting – chasing after other gods – I ought to fix my eyes on the Lord. Because it is only in the Lord that hope and joy and peace can be found in the middle of heartache and loss. In keeping my eyes steadily on the Lord (more than just occasionally acknowledging Him) I find that I am being strengthened and equipped to weather these storms.

Over the past year of walking through the loss of two children, I have begun to see that every single one of life’s aches provides an opening for us to live in greater nearness to the Lord – our refuge in the storm.

“Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
for in you my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
till the storms of destruction pass by.”
Psalm 57:1

Sorrow is an opportunity.
Sorrow invites us to fix our eyes on the only One whose voice can calm the storm.

It was at the sound of His voice that the wind and rain found their existence.  It is His voice that “makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth, who makes lightnings for the rain and brings for the wind from Him storehouses.” (Psalm 135:6) It was His voice that calmed the storm at sea all those years ago as He called out, “Peace! Be still!” And it is His voice that “even the winds and the waves obey” (Mark 4:39,41)

I know that same voice can calm any storm that washes over me.

IMG_0038A short while later after my plane took off, I was struck with awe as we suddenly broke through the heaviness of the storm that had been just moments before covering us all in its heavy shadow. The sun was shining brilliantly. I could feel its warmth through the window as the cabin was instantly filled with its brightness.

My mind turned back to the verses I had read earlier that afternoon. This is what it looks like to fix your eyes on the Lord: to see His presence shine even on the
darkest of days. By fixing my eyes on Christ, by looking up and seeing Him in the sorrow, I am able to see that somewhere, above the storms, The Light never stops shining. My God, who is Most High, is not overshadowed by the storms of this world. In fact, these storms become the canvas upon which His eternal glory is so clearly and beautifully seen.

And even though God does not always choose to calm my storms or remove them, He offers me His perfect peace in the midst of them when my eyes are unwaveringly on Him.

“You will keep in perfect peace
all who trust in you,
all whose thoughts are fixed on you!”
Isaiah 26:3

IMG_0004And so day after day I will fix my eyes on Him. Because I know that just as that plane took me higher than the reach of the storm, so my God is able to carry me above the storms of life where His eternal light never fails. 

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen,
since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
2 Corinthians 4:18