“You Don’t Question the Teacher During the Test”

God has abundantly blessed our family this February.  About two weeks ago (on February 1), we received the news that a hole in her heart that had been there since birth, closed.  The very next day, sitting cross-legged on my bed with her older brother bouncing on the floor nearby, Tirzah offered that same heart as a home for Jesus.  I have marveled over how He filled a physical/literal hole in her heart one day, and then filled the spiritual hole in her heart the next.  When He comes into a situation, He always improves it.

February 13 marks a significant anniversary in our family.  I posted about it this morning on my author Facebook page, but I will share the text of what it says below as well.

Today is a special day for our family. On this day, three years ago, our two-week-old baby girl’s heart would not start beating again after a heart cath procedure. Three years ago today, the head of pediatric cardiology–who had maneuvered scheduling so that he performed her heart cath personally–worked to save her life. And three years ago today, God gave her back to us.

In her honor, here’s a brief snippet from the chapter of “But, Who is Jesus?” that shares her story:

“I was not prepared for how Tirzah would look when the recovery nurse arranged her in my arms. Her head slumped against me, and her unfocused eyes twitched across my face, like those of a dizzy child who had been spinning in a chair for too long. I studied her unnatural grin and tried without success to get her to nurse for the first time in twelve hours. The memory of her screaming into the anesthesia mask gnawed at me; and I could not help wondering if I would ever get my baby back from the dream-place she now inhabited. I could not help wondering if I would ever be able to explain to her why we allowed her to scream for us without intervening.”

I have almost forgotten the terror of those early days–a testimony to our Father’s redemptive faithfulness.  When I look at Tirzah, I find myself picturing her as a mother with her own home to run one day without pausing; I was not always that confident, however.  It is so easy in the dark places to wonder if life will always be a struggle.  Walking from a miscarriage to an unexpected, potentially fatal diagnosis in immediately successive pregnancies made me wonder if I was broken.  When I was sent in for a Level 2 ultrasound with my most recent baby (our fourth pregnancy, and first after Tirzah) and the doctors began speaking of a ventricular septal defect in his heart (a hole between the lower chambers) and a choroid plexus cyst on his brain, I almost made peace with the conviction that there is something wrong with me.  Panic welled in my heart.  Then, I heard Him.

“She laughs at the days to come.”

I wrote the following after I left that appointment:

I heard You there today,
When my heart careened,
And adrenaline twisted through;
There, where breathing shallowed and
Each muscle balled,
Bracing for bad news.
It was a whisper—
A mere fragment out of a thousand things
You could have said.
—”She laughs at the days to come.”—
Funny how proverbial observation can
Become command
In the voice of the Master.
The disaster of
The scheme of a man,
Unfulfilled before His higher plan.

Be still, my soul. Rejoice, my heart.

Be glad, my emotions.
He is good, and He delights in being good to His beloved.

It is so easy for me to look at my healthy, happy babies (my youngest is fine, by the way), and offer a complacent smile.  When God is visible, when you press into victory, when faith proves reliable, and when you find some meaning to attach to your struggle, that frantic place inside settles and you find yourself forgetting how fiercely the battle raged.

My pastor made a powerful point in his message yesterday, stating, “You don’t question the teacher in the middle of a test.”  When children take an exam at school, whining about a test/disrupting the class when the test is ongoing brings disciplinary reactions from school staff.  Most of us learn that it is counterproductive to complain to a teacher about how hard a test is or the purpose of the test when the test is on the desk in front of us.  However, we do not extend the same respect when God leads us through tests that build character and sharpen our faith.  We cry and complain.  We wail about how much harder things are for us than for anyone else.  We demand to know the purpose for our struggle rightnow.  And He remains patient, kind, loving, and unmoving, because He is trying to grow us up into spiritual maturity.

I am learning that God very often answers our “why” questions, but very rarely will He do so when we are in the middle of the trial.  More often than I would like, His test is to see if we will remain steady even when we do not hear His answer.  If you have not found at least a partial purpose in response to–“God, why?”–then chances are your test is ongoing.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23

Instead of pressing for the answer to “why,” invest your energy into the Answer–Jesus–to how to make it through.  Cling to His faithful love, and know that in His timing you will receive (at least in part) an answer to “why” as well.

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But, Who is Jesus?

I’ve been largely silent on my blog of late.  It has not been because I have stopped writing.  Quite the contrary, actually.  I have just moved into the publication stage of a short work on non-fiction.  My 30-day devotional, “But, Who is Jesus?” is on track to go to print in late-spring/early summer.

I think the best adjective for my current state of mind is “overwhelmed,” along with a dose of “cynical” (if I am honest).

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve looked at my sweet husband and argued, “No one wants to read what I have to say.”  I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve shaken my head when family and friends have clamored for me to write a book.  There are so many nagging thoughts on how this endeavor will fail–my platform is small, my credentials are few.  To turn and apply the words of the psalmist, “what am I?”

Perhaps the message of my book is speaking louder to me now than it did when I was first writing it.  My main theme in the book is an exhortation to exalt Jesus over circumstances.  What a testimony to me now.  Turn your eyes to Jesus, Chrystal.

I am updating on my facebook page with news on the publication journey (and I will be launching some contests to win free autographed copies of the book when we get closer to the release date, so if you’re interested in that at all, make sure you “like” and “follow” the page), but I wanted to share a quick preview here for those of you who have met me through word-pictures on “Thoughts in the Watchtower” over the last seven years (a fun fact–I signed my publishing contract on the seven-year anniversary of this blog).

Below is the afterword I have written for the book.  As an added bonus for my faithful blog followers, I have hyperlinked to blog posts I wrote during the events I have referenced in the afterword.  So much of what I have written over the last year has stemmed from the events you all walked through with me here.  Thank you for reading. 🙂

*********

     The game began one afternoon when my then-fiancé, Jim, and I were speeding 80-miles-an-hour down the interstate to a hospital in a town a little less than a hundred miles away.  It was four days before our wedding day, and I had just received a phone call that my mother had collapsed with bleeding in her brain.  Just the night before, I had returned from the “parents meet the parents” trip to my future in-laws’ home in Texas where my father had been hospitalized with pulmonary emboli.  I now felt a little like a drowning man who had been given a brief gulp of air before being shoved back below the surface. 

            I am convinced that Jim is the greatest gift the Lord has ever given to me, second only to my salvation.  During our return trip from Texas the night before, he had joined me in piercing the cool, spring night with shouted singing for almost the entire journey; relief that my dad had been discharged and was heading home had exploded into exuberant, thankful praise.  The next afternoon, when he slid behind the wheel of my silver Taurus and turned the car toward my mother, he offered, “I want to do things differently this time.  Yesterday we worshiped after the victory; today we need to praise in the middle of the battle.”

            For the next hour, I answered text messages, fielded phone calls, and sang through tears.  Finally, I looked at him and whispered, “I can’t do this anymore.  Please, just tell me who Jesus is.  The only way I’m going to make it through this is by looking at Him, but I can’t see Him right now.  Who is Jesus?”

            Name after name, attribute after attribute, my precious Jim began listing off from memory every name and characteristic of our Lord and Savior.  Sometimes he and I would take turns affirming to one another His nature.  Sometimes I would fall silent, swiping away hot tears and willing myself to stop crying; Jim kept going.

            My brother and extended family met us at the hospital that afternoon along with several dear friends and pastors.  That night, after the rest of the family retired to bed at my parents’ home, Jim knelt beside the couch where I was and, again, began to list off the character of Jesus until grief had subsided enough for me to sleep. 

            My mother eventually left the hospital and is walking in vibrant health today, but the game is still a mainstay in our marriage.  Together we’ve navigated unemployment and empty cupboards, the miscarriage of our second child, the hospitalization of our third child with a congenital heart defect, and a plethora of the “little foxes” that attack marriages in our day; and in times of turmoil one of us will turn to the other and ask, “But, who is Jesus?”  Without fail we’ve watched Him turn our crises to our good when we’ve turned our focus from the problem to His glory.  It is our prayer that you will use the resources of this book to ask yourself the same question and to exalt His lordship over every aspect of your life.

In Christ,

Chrystal Peery

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Glass House Reflections

“Mama said there’d be days like this.” It’s a good moment to stop and reflect on just how fragile is my glass house, just in case you might think I have this mom-thing all together.
 
Today, toddler-girl decided to decorate the coffee table with stickers (all the stickers) and that her older brother needed a new set of eyebrows (drawn on in fluorescent red marker, of course). Older brother in turn decided this would be a good day to smack her in the face with a pool light (don’t ask why we have a random pool light hanging around here). Both of them have the sniffly/sneezing/coughing ick; and of course, both of them want to kiss all over bitty-baby with their runny noses.
 
Bitty-baby, meanwhile, chose this afternoon to nurse for a solid hour, and in the forty-five minutes that have ensued since then, has protested quite vigorously every time I’ve put him down. In the middle of the marathon nursing session, toddler-girl woke up in a foul mood from a mid-afternoon nap and I had to figure out how to rock a covered nursing baby and a crying toddler at the same time (thankful for a long nap).
 
We abated toddler-girl’s tears with an offer for older brother to get gloriously muddy in the back yard. I took advantage of the quiet moment to try to fold some of the clean laundry (piled so high that it’s falling off of the couch) and banish the tension headache I’ve nursed for two days (present solely because I haven’t slept a night through in three months). Thinking back on my recent exchanges with my children, I decided to pull out a couple of popsicles and remind them that Mommy loves them, even when her head hurts and she’s cranky. I walked outside just in time to see older brother in the act of hoisting toddler-girl into the water-filled fire pit in the back yard, and I’m caught in the dilemma of what to handle first–a screaming bitty-baby in the bouncer or the older two determined to have a swimming pool one way or another.
 
I confess my voice may have elevated past orange rhino status at this point.  I also confess to walking away from handling this moment to the kitchen and eating my weight in non-THM approved ice cream and strawberry sauce.  I’ll worry about regretting that tomorrow.
After my ice cream interlude, I picked up the still-moderately-fussy bitty-baby, who promptly spit up in my hair.  He also proceeded to sneeze, an occurrence I’ve been trying to capture on video since his birth three weeks ago (trust me, it’s adorable). The camera was still rolling to capture the back door flying open and older brother tramping across the floor in his dripping rain boots, a fist full of white-flowered weeds in his grubby fist, proudly pointing out that he pulled them up by the roots and that they wouldn’t die.  Toddler girl shadowed him in the door with her own bouquet, and promptly wiped-out over the remains of an enormous box fort their daddy brought home Sunday (it collapsed during the week and we’ve been tracing ourselves and drawing stick figures on it for three days.
I share all of this to give context to the Instagram-filtered moment I could have posted.  It would have been easy to share the bright-eyed boy holding flowers without bringing in the cacophony of bad attitudes, sickness, and cranky baby that has been my afternoon.  As of this moment, I still have five hours of computer work to do for the part-time job I work with a solid deadline of tomorrow morning.  The laundry that was falling off the couch is at least partly folded but has spread to cover the couch, end table, and coffee table.  One child is bathed and another is still wearing his scribbled, red eyebrows.  I’m still nursing a headache behind the bridge of my nose, and now I’m adding muddy footprints tracked across the floors I mopped two days ago to the list of things I need to do tonight.
But, there is a vase of tall, white flowers on my kitchen table.
Around the time all of this was happening, my Bible app alerted me with the delivery of the 3:45 pm verse-of-the-day to my phone.  It read: “Have you not known?  Have you not heard?  The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable” (Isaiah 40:28, ESV).  Now I know that “understanding” here means intelligence/wisdom, but the word was exactly what I needed to “hear” this afternoon.  I was weary.  I was overwhelmed.  The truth be told, I still am to a degree.  But He understands.  He doesn’t get weary when I get weary.  He doesn’t stop working the fruit of the Spirit in my heart when I’m overwhelmed.  In the bone-tired tedium of day-by-day, when I’m drowning in yet another “pointless” conversation with a child who doesn’t understand I don’t particularly care about Batman; when I have to stop running back and forth putting laundry away because the same child poses the fortieth question (about something he already knows) that hour; when the nagging voice in my head points out that only a tiny fraction of the folded laundry on the table is mine; when I have to stop typing my blog to kiss yet another imagined boo-boo and explain yet again that we don’t need band-aids when we’re not bleeding and oh by the way band-aids aren’t stickers; He’s still faithful, still strong, still alert, and still upholding me by His right hand.
Are you weary?  Overwhelmed?  Struggling (like me) to ignore the muddy floors and focus on the white flowers?  He loves you, and His understanding is unsearchable.
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When I let you go

When I let you go tomorrow, it is knowing they may never bring you back. I keep trying to remind myself that I represent “the system” and they are your home.  I keep reminding my preschooler that this is best for you, hoping my own emotions will catch up.  I keep trying to forget that I won’t be able come to you if you cry for me, and I keep asking God to insulate your heart from a rejection you’re too little to understand. 

When I let you go tomorrow, it is knowing that a year from now you won’t remember me. If we pass on the street you’ll only see yet another white woman. You won’t remember the nights I stumbled from my bed at your little whimpers to change, feed, and cuddle you close. You won’t remember wrapping your fist in my hair or nuzzling into my neck. You won’t remember giving me your first smile, you whose tiny eyebrows wrinkled in permanent furrows those first few days you were in my arms. 

You won’t remember the toddler who is going to search the house for you asking, “Baby??” in the coming weeks. You won’t remember the preschooler who asked daily to hold you, took great pride in holding your bottle, and will ask through broken-hearted tears why had you to leave us.  You won’t remember peaking—bright-eyed—over the strong shoulders of a gentle father who held you against his warmth when the tummy aches hit.  You won’t remember the furry, four-pawed pony-dog who guarded you in silent watchfulness while you slept. 

When I let you go tomorrow, it is knowing I wouldn’t hesitate to do it all again. You won’t remember—but I will. You will rest in my heart and live in my prayers. 

I love you,

“Amma”

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Let the Little Children…

We are entering the last few weeks of our homestudy process. It has been over one year since we first saw the biographies of the two boys who captured our hearts, and almost a full year since the day we submitted our first bit of paperwork and started our foster/adoption training through DHS. We are also two days away from the due date for baby we lost 2013. While Kyla was not the reason we started the adoption process, we cannot deny that her life played a role in prodding us forward. This was always something we felt we were called to do, but it took miscarriage to open our hearts to pursue it now. 

I think the momentum of time passing on our road to “Gotcha Day” is making me a little more introspective lately. I can admit that a small part of me at times has wished we would not pass our homestudy. I have never been one to embrace change eagerly; and it would most certainly be easier if we could just shrug our shoulders and say, “well, we tried.” Fortunately, most of me is yearning for the two little boys who are waiting (we hope) at the end of this — little boys who need the love and the nurturing that we can give; and when I think of how bad things are becoming in our nation economically, morally, racially, and spiritually, the only thing I want to do is whisk “our boys” (as we have come to think of them) under our roof where we can offer a modicum of safety.

I want you to hear me with an open heart, to listen without defensive walls. Part of what makes me the most nervous about this process is you. Well, maybe not even you, but it is surely someone you know. It is the person who raises an eyebrow at a third pregnancy, and outright sneers at a fourth or fifth; the person who thinks it is perfectly acceptable to expect parents to find a babysitter instead creating child-friendly events. It is the person who sweetly insinuates that if parents cannot afford to give their children a specific standard of living (which almost always coincides with that individual’s particular life circumstances, incidentally) they really have no business welcoming more. Unfortunately, social media has given even greater rise to parent shaming. Hurtful remarks once spoken privately are now slung at random behind internet anonymity. Although I don’t yet have a large family, I know that opening our home to more children also opens our lives to more judgment. 

Perhaps what gives me greatest trepidation about adopting is the feeling that I won’t be able to ask for help. Somewhere in our society’s journey away from God’s perspective about children, we’ve embraced the concept that a woman with one or two children deserves support but a woman with four or five doesn’t have the right to be tired because she knew what she was getting into. In fact, if we were honest we would admit to feeling that she should be punished with incessant exhaustion to teach her to stop having/adopting kids when she struggles to handle the ones she already has. 

I like to think I am a pretty good mom, but there are days (weeks, even) when I feel like if I hear another hyper “Mommy, I” or “Mommy, why,” I will mail myself to Alaska; days when I wish I could have the luxury of using the bathroom without an audience knocking on the door. There are days when I do not want to kiss another pretend boo-boo or run to the rescue of a screaming child whose brother took away the car she had. There are days when the hours drag by and I stare at the clock willing the minutes away until my husband comes home to take over. There are days when I am sick of being climbed on, and I have to grit my teeth and smile through the fifth sticky kiss in as many minutes (only given, I know, for the excuse of clambering on me and not doing what I instructed them to do). There are days when I am weary of being followed from one room to the next, and if I have to pick up that same book or fold up that same blanket one more time so help me….

And I feel like right now it is okay to feel this way, even to express this feeling, because I have two kids and that is a socially acceptable number of children to have. But what happens when two becomes four? Or even more? What happens on the days when I am “touched out and talked out” and still have four hours on the clock before my husband comes home for dinner? Can you still pray for a mom of four? Can you still tell her it gets better? Can you remind her that her children are a mission field and that she is raising disciples? Can you assume that there are probably times where there is still a lot of month left at the end of her money and remind her that Jehovah Jireh is her hiding place? Can you listen to her frustration on the days she wakes up early for some quiet time only to have a child decide to wake up early too? Can you support that God may have led her on a journey He didn’t give you the grace to take, and bless her? Can you see past the fact that she “did this to herself” and embrace the masterpieces God has trusted her to shape, even on the days she does not feel she can herself? Can you see children the way Jesus did and feel compassion?  

Because I can guarantee you that the Jesus who spoke through James and told us to profess our spirituality by tending to the orphan has a different opinion about children than most of us (myself included). And I can say with reasonable certainty that the mom of many is not looking to you to fix things for her, but to tell her things will be okay. 

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