How Our Life Together Began at the River {An Engagement Story}

We’d been walking for a few miles. The humidity was thick and my jeans stuck to my sweaty legs. It was our fourth day in Israel and Jordan and my boyfriend Jeremiah and I were with our seminary professor and classmates, visiting and learning about all the sites Jesus once walked. We were so excited to see the Jordan River for the first time. Both having grown up in the church, we had learned about it all our lives, and now we finally got to experience it.

We arrived at the bank of the Jordan and it was more narrow than I thought. I sat my backpack down on a rock so I could take pictures with friends. After a few minutes, I went back over to my bag to get my hairbrush out which was so random because I normally wouldn’t stop and brush my hair in a moment like this. When I reached for the front pocket, I stumbled upon a small black leather box with white stitching on it.

What is that? I wondered. Then something clicked and I was sure I knew. My heart raced. Was this really it?

Jeremiah rushed over and took the box as if I wasn’t supposed to see it in my bag. He looked really nervous and excited.

He smiled, opened the ring box, and got down on one knee. I started giggling.

“Samantha, just as John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan River and it represented the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, I want this to represent our new life together in marriage. Will you marry me?

I laughed some more and started crying.

Jordan River 2“Yes! Yes!”

He slid the ring on my finger and it fit perfectly. We hugged and kissed and I couldn’t stop smiling.

Our professor captured the proposal along with some of our friends. I finally took the time to really look at the ring and I couldn’t believe it. It was beautiful, classy, big, round, and flawless. During our 7 months of dating I didn’t spend a lot of time looking at rings. Jeremiah and I had shopped a few times for fun but I figured if he knew me well enough, he would know what I liked. And did he ever! I couldn’t stop looking at it. Its brilliant sparkle reminded me that life was certainly about to change. I would get to spend the rest of my life with the one I loved. The one God had given to me.

I was on cloud nine on the trail back to our bus. I couldn’t believe how he got me and surprised me out of nowhere. He had asked my dad for permission to marry me a few weeks before the trip when we were visiting my parents in Texas. I thought for sure he would have popped the question after Israel. But he carried the ring on the plane, through customs, security, several hotels, and excursions for four days. Needless to say he was happy to have the surprise off his chest. I thought more about how it couldn’t have been more perfect to be engaged right where we were.

Our next stop happened to be the Dead Sea, often called the Salt Sea, which borders Jordan to the East. A classmate offered to hold my ring while Jeremiah and I went for a dip with everyone. We floated on top of the water and it refreshed our souls from the intense middle eastern heat. Jeremiah held me in his arms and it was as if the world had stopped. The embrace of my future husband was all I need. I was going to be his and he would be mine. I had given my word to him, my promise. Our wedding day and new life together was on the horizon.Jordan River 1

Looking back on that significant day eight years ago {June 4, 2005} brings me nothing but great joy. There are those moments in life that God gives and you feel nothing but his sweet presence, where his love for you is absolutely overwhelming. It’s almost as if he gives you a little taste of the perfection that will be awaiting in heaven.

Jeremiah and I knew from the beginning that our relationship wasn’t just about us, but what God was doing and he has always confirmed that in our hearts. I have believed that all these years. In December we will celebrate our eight year wedding anniversary.

Before marriage, we had no idea the trials that would come our way. We didn’t quite grasp the hard work that’s required to be one as a couple and how we would have to fight daily against our selfish, sinful natures. We wouldn’t learn all of this through a book or classroom but by sitting in the school of experience.

We also had no idea how God would fashion and shape us more like him and give us the sweetest, most precious gifts we have ever tasted within the sacred covenant of marriage: unity, servanthood, companionship, fulfillment, purpose, passion, sexual intimacy, friendship, forgiveness, satisfaction, mission, the blessing of children, and unconditional love just to name a few. We had no idea how God would show us the true meaning of sacrificial, * till death we do part * love and commitment. And we are praying by God’s grace that he will give us many more years to have together.

There’s no doubt that the love I have towards my husband is deeper and wider than when I said “yes!” It is a different kind of love yet it is still the same. We are still the same people we were then yet we’ve changed and grown in so many different ways. Today on our engagement anniversary my heart is grateful for God’s faithfulness.

Through the calm and the storms in our lives, He has always been faithful just as he was that day on the river.

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Grace to An Imperfect Mom

225386_898597816168_55713931_42724790_2476659_nYesterday was just one of those days in motherhood. My three kiddos were extremely demanding, whiny, needy, disobedient, and hard to handle.

And I didn’t have much to give them. I have felt that way a lot lately being 29 weeks pregnant. I have felt like the imperfect mom a lot. But God always has a way of saving us when we feel like we’re at the end of our rope.

I remembered I had a bridesmaid dress fitting for my sister-in-law’s upcoming wedding. So last minute I asked my wonderful neighbors Angela and Aimee if they could help watch the kids. They got back to me immediately, were over in just a few hours, and held down the fort. Within only 10 minutes of driving down the interstate alone, I felt relief and like I could actually be a good mom when I returned.

That day I had also been struggling with lonliness and body image- two things I don’t struggle with regularly but do every once in a while. When I got to Alfred Angelo and tried on my dress, I opened the fitting room door to show the lady who did my alterations. We talked about how this was my fourth pregnancy and how my belly would grow more in the next few weeks before the wedding. A mom with her daughter overheard us and yells over at me, “This is your fourth pregnancy?” Her jaw dropped.

I wasn’t sure what she was meaning in her tone of voice.

“Yes it is, do you think that’s crazy?” I asked.

“No, you look so good!” she responded. “It looks like this is your first! I can’t believe it!”

I laughed and said thank you. It was reassuring that maybe I didn’t look like a whale afterall. The drive on the way back home was so pleasant and when I walked in the door, Angela and Aimee surprised me and had cleaned the whole downstairs of my house! They picked up everything on the floor, folded 2 big baskets of laundry, unloaded the dishwasher, cleaned my daughter’s nursery, picked up the entire playroom, organized books and crafts on the shelf, and more.

They did all of this while watching their kids and mine (a total of 6 little ones).

My husband had also gotten home and picked up some needed groceries and surprised me with a dozen red roses.

I was amazed at Angela and Aimee’s generosity and thoughtfulness. They served me with their time and mad cleaning skills and helped lift me up. And who doesn’t always appreciate flowers from their husband to know he really does care?

I had no idea all of that was coming my way, but God did. He reminded me that He was there and working and cared about how I felt and the neverending demands of raising and investing in your children.

I don’t know where you’re at in your motherhood journey but I’m guessing that if you’re like me, you need more time to yourself. You need more time with your husband. Maybe you struggle with yelling, anger, impatience, balancing work and being at home, depression, finding real community, or comparing yourself to other moms and friends.

Maybe you struggle with all the expectations that come with Mother’s Day approaching. The reality is that our kids don’t always show their love and obedience to us even on that day. And we might even get in an argument with our husband on the way to church. I’m pretty sure that happened to us last Mother’s Day.

I think it’s safe to say that as Mommas we need to let go of expectations, our failures, insecurities, and our dreams of perfection and allow God’s grace to shower us like a cool, refreshing rain after the scorching summer heat.

His love is there to draw upon whenever we need it and it is in Him where we find our full satisfaction and joy. He knows we are weak too. We fall short every day. That is why we need him. That is why we need the body of Christ and each other. We need his grace to change us from the inside out and to give us hope.

Well by the time bedtime came, I didn’t have to do anything except help put my kids to bed. I felt renewed to love them again and give them the attention they deserve. Thankfulness flooded my heart. I laid my head down and slept the best 8 hours I’ve slept in a long time.

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A Letter to My Son, On Manhood, Mission, & Meaning in Life

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This letter was inspired by the sadness in my heart from the recent headlines regarding young men in our city and culture as a whole.

Dear John Samuel,

I consider my role as your Momma and the time I have on this earth to raise you a serious responsibility and privilege to which I will be held accountable to God.

Every day I get to spend with you reading books, playing in the yard, cuddling on the couch, nourishing your belly, going on adventures, meeting people, having conversations with you about Jesus, writing letters and numbers, playing soccer, answering your questions, listening to your fears and concerns, disciplining you and more is a gift to invest in your precious life.

When I look at you I don’t always see the handsome 4-year-old, brown eyed boy that you are, but I see the man you will be one day.

That vision puts a healthy fear inside my heart to love and nurture you well.

As your Momma, right alongside Daddy, I promise to teach you as best I know how what it means to honor and cherish the women in your life. To treat them with love, gentleness and respect. To practice self-control, integrity, and perseverance. To be a man of character, commitment, and discernment.

I will help you understand what it means to stand up when everyone else around you cowards. To be a servant leader whose life is marked by humility, honesty and love- not pride, position, and power. To be a man who is stable, responsible and teachable. To follow and obey God’s commands to value and treasure all human life because He is our Creator and the ultimate authority.

As you grow older, you’ll realize how difficult it is to do the right thing. This world and your flesh will tempt you to neglect God’s goodness and follow your own passions and lusts. Don’t give in to these lies. The wide road will trip you up and lead to danger, destruction or even death. Follow the narrow road where you’ll find joy, wholeness, meaning, peace and abundant life in Christ.

As your Momma, I know I’ll fail you at times and let you down because I’m not perfect. I struggle at times to do what is right. You already know that. But God is perfect and will never fail you. He is the one who will help you become a man who influences others and brings peace, joy, and life to everyone around him. Not chaos, sadness, and harm.

In God’s strength, I will do my best to help you understand the purpose God has for you here on earth. I’ll do my best to teach you that meaning in life is found in Christ. When you know Him personally, you will see that He heals brokenness, redeems the ugliest situations, raises the dead to life and transforms the hardest hearts.

arrows

3 arrows representing her 3 boys. Painting by my dear friend, Laura Short

I also believe that our home is the training ground for the mission you’ll be on one day. I believe that the discipline, love, security, and boundaries that happen in our home will greatly impact the man you’ll become. God has given you and your sisters (and brother on the way) as arrows for your Daddy and I to aim and shoot in the right direction.

One day, we’ll have to release you into battle where you’ll make your own decisions and choices. You’ll have the choice to put all that you learned about God’s word, life, and love into practice. And all Mommy and Daddy will be able to do is pray for you.

Until then, my precious child, allow the Lord to direct your steps. Follow His path and pursue holiness and righteousness. This world needs your voice. Your heart. Your life. Your leadership. Your God.

I love you and I’m cheering you on, son.

All of my love,

Momma

Children are a heritage from the Lord,
offspring a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are children born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
when they contend with their opponents in court. – Psalm 127:3-5

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New Article: I Love You, But How Do I Like You?

0035This week, I’m over at Start Marriage Right sharing some practical thoughts on loving your spouse for the long haul.

After my husband asked me out on our first date, we were inseparable. We couldn’t get enough of each other’s company. Our dating days were filled with joy, delight, anticipation, passion, and little conflict. But after we got married, into the newlywed years and beyond we started to grow familiar with each other… 

Read the rest on Start Marriage Right

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Contributing to the Book, Take the Date Night Challenge by Greg & Erin Smalley

888243oLast week Focus on the Family contacted me and asked permission to publish part of my article, Missional Marriage: 10 Practical Ways to Serve Other People, in their upcoming book Take the Date Night Challenge by Greg and Erin Smalley.

The book is based off the Focus on the Family event, “The Date Night Challenge.”

First, I’m super excited and grateful for this opportunity because I love contributing to good books. Second, I’m a huge fan of the Smalley’s and we have a lot of books on our shelf written by Gary Smalley. And third, this book is going to be a great read that will apply directly to our marriages. I don’t know about you, but my husband and I have really needed some ideas to freshen up our date nights. And we’ve actually been a little slack lately on making sure we’re going on date nights consistently.

I look forward to reading the different ideas and tools so that our date nights can be more creative and fun. It will release in a few months and I’ll most likely do a review and giveaway so stay tuned!

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From the Archives: A Prayer for Thankfulness in Times of Pain

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Today I wanted to repost a prayer I wrote last year. The original post can be found here.

Father God,

We acknowledge that you are the giver of all good things. We live and breathe because of you. From your hands, You supply all that we need and so much more. But we confess that sometimes we are:

ungrateful…

unthankful…

selfish…

sinful…

hurting people…

I confess that at times I don’t see all the gifts you have given, are giving, and continue to give in my life. I confess that my ungratefulness at times has left me angry, bitter, and wanting. My unthankfulness has made me blind to all that I have. I know my heart needs radical change.

Some of us are unthankful because we’ve experienced a great amount of pain and suffering this year. We’ve lost loved ones and unborn children. Our marriages and relationships are broken. We’re dealing with sickness, injustice, and depression. We’re struggling financially and need a miracle. Circumstances don’t seem to be in our favor. Ever. Some of us wonder why in the world you work the way that you do.

I confess that at times I have caused my own pain and have projected that hurt onto other people.

God, help us to lean into your grace when we’re weak and feel like giving up. Because Lord we are so frail apart from you. Help us to give you thanks because when we choose not to we know that our wounds and pain only grow deeper.

Will you teach us and show us that you are good regardless of the pain and hurt we may feel in this life? You are worthy to be praised in the valley and on the mountaintop. Remind us that you still:

turn ashes into beauty.

instill life into dead bones.

give the oil of joy for mourning.

soften the hardest of hearts.

change sinners into saints.

transform brokenness into wholeness.

wash our sins and make them white as snow.

redeem and restore the years the enemy has stolen.

And let us remember that you have already endured the ultimate shame and suffering on the cross for your glory and our good. Help us to persevere to the end until we see you face to face.

In the meantime, may today, this week and the rest of the year give us a renewed sense of genuine Thanksgiving in each of our hearts regardless of our circumstances. We love you.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen

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When A Big Fear Made Me Brave

990129_96584657Yesterday, I headed to my women’s Bible study at church. It was raining so I quickly shuffled all my kids out of the van. I checked them into childcare and grabbed a chai tea and scone for my second breakfast.

Our study focused on Romans 16 and how the apostle Paul poured his life and ministry into people and relationships. We were challenged to intimately know the women in our lives and be known, to help protect them from potential danger, and to work hard at loving one another well. I left challenged and encouraged to apply what I learned.

I picked up my kids and we ran to the van since it was now thundering and lightening and pouring down rain. By the time I got their little bodies into car seats and packed the stroller in the trunk, I was soaking wet. And so was my seat. I said a prayer as I pulled out and about a minute into driving, my steering wheel suddenly locked up. I couldn’t turn it to the left or the right.

Oh goodness. You gotta be kidding me. Oh no, I thought.

Prayer for Help

“John! Start praying for the van right now!” My four year old is pretty accustomed to begin praying immediately when Mommy needs help.

I had to pull over immediately and to my left was a turn lane so I stopped there. Thankfully the lane barely had any traffic and we weren’t on a busy road. I called my friend Jen who I was just at Bible study with. I didn’t have to say much until she said she was on her way to help.

I turned off the engine and restarted it and the problem remained. I figured my husband Jeremiah was busy working with patients so I called my dad and told him the problem to see if I could fix the issue. I also wondered if I was the problem but I was pretty confident it was serious. We agreed that calling AAA would be best. I decided to go ahead and try Jeremiah at work and I was able to reach him immediately.

Meanwhile my 9 month old, Hannah, is screaming in her carseat with a runny nose I couldn’t tend to. And my 2 and 4 year old were wondering what was going on as the thunder rolled and the rain poured and we were going nowhere.

I was on the verge of crying when I explained the situation to Jeremiah. I wasn’t sure what to do with the kids and the car seats and everything. Thankfully his boss let him off work to come help and it would take him 45 minutes to get to us. After I talked to him, AAA was easy to reach and on their way within the hour to tow the van.

Facing Fear

Jen arrived with her kids and had the brilliant idea of getting us lunch so the kids wouldn’t be starving and could be entertained. She left to get the food and Hannah settled down as I held her. She began cooing and bouncing on my legs, happy as a clam.

And for some reason my typically fiesty, strong-willed 2 1/2 year old, Rebekah, is sitting peacefully in her carseat and chatting up a storm like nothing was out of the ordinary. I had to take it all in because being stranded on the road in a big city with a 4 year old, 2 year old, and 9 month old (not to mention a pregnant belly) all by myself was one of my biggest fears. What would I do? Who would be able to help? How would I keep everyone from having meltdowns? 

My jeans were wet. We were hungry. The van was absorbing the cold air from outside. But I was so grateful. The rain and thunder had died down. God was providing for us. I soaked in the moment (no pun intended) where I knew it was going to be okay. That moment where God was saying:

It’s alright, Samantha. I’ve got this. I’m taking care of you. You don’t need to worry. I am right here with you in your fears. You can face them head on because I’ve got you.

One of my biggest fears was happening and it wasn’t so bad after all. Thankfully I hadn’t got on the interstate yet. No one was hurt. And my van hadn’t blown up. Yet.

Abundant Provision

Within 20 minutes, Jen arrived with a smile and a bag full of burritos, tacos, quesadillas, chips, salsa and cheese. Talk about giving us above and beyond what we needed. She also waited in her SUV behind us until Jeremiah arrived. 20 minutes later, he came ready to help with the kids and take out the carseats and put them in his truck. Then about 15 minutes later, the AAA guy had come at last.

Jeremiah and I got the kids in his truck and we drove home. It felt so good to feel heat again. The kids were calm.

I couldn’t believe how God was providing through my husband. I was reminded how God has created our husbands to be the protector and provider in practical circumstances like these. He joyfully carried the burden for me.

God used Jen to be the kind of woman we’d talked about in our Bible study. She knew me well and that I freak out in stressful situations, thrive on having a plan and being in control, and struggle with anxiety. It didn’t matter that she had her own 2 kids and a newborn either. She was there to encourage me and provide food for our bellies in our time of need. She brought a sense of calming to my spirit.

Living by Faith

The reality is that fear and anxiety have left me crippled and frozen at times. I worry so much about the “what if’s” and allow them to overtake my thoughts as if I know how something is going to work out. While this fear wasn’t categorized as one of the greater fears like death or cancer, it has been on my mind regularly when driving.

I also know that fear has held me back from living the abundant life in Christ. It has kept me from trusting in God’s provision. Mainly, from trusting in him alone. God knew that and used that experience to test me and grow my faith.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear. – 1 John 4:18

As followers of Christ, I think our lives would be radically changed if we lived by faith in God’s love for us. If we lived knowing He is our provider and in control. If we lived knowing that even if we have to go through the storm, He is still with us and it will be okay. He is God. We know the end of the story. What do we really have to fear anyway?

If we allowed that truth to settle in our hearts, would we make different decisions? Would we be more bold? Would we experience God’s love with a new kind of depth and meaning?

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Rom. 8:38-39

Well we eventually found out the problem to the van. A belt broke and was fixed within a few hours. Other minor repairs will be completed on Monday. After all the running around, we tucked our kids in bed, crashed on our beds, laughed about the day, and I felt a little more brave than I did the day before.

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Conflict Resolution: The Need for Face Time

0019I’m not writing anywhere specific today but someone I know who is really awesome and amazing is! My husband! Today Jeremiah is writing his first article for  StartMarriageRight.com, helping us discern how much we should share digitally verse face to face communication in our relationships.

He gives practical wisdom on what to do when you sense a conflict arising over any form of digital communication- email, texting, social media, Facebook, Twitter, etc. and how you can handle it biblically.

I think he did a great job and I really enjoyed editing the article. We would love to hear your thoughts or any wisdom you’ve gained over the years on this topic:

“We’ve all been there. We’ve either witnessed it or have personally shared the anxiety of working through conflict using digital communication. With life running at the pace of email, texting, Facebook and Twitter, solving conflict on these mediums has become almost as natural as breathing. But is this always the best way to go?”

Read the rest on Start Marriage Right

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Devotional: Sweet Surrender (Day 7)

crossThis is the final day of seven days of devotions I wrote for Heart Magazine. Thanks so much for journeying with me.

Sweet Surrender

Job 13:13-16

Perhaps one of the most telling verses in all of Scripture regarding one man’s faith in God was that of Job as he says: “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him…” Job was intimately acquainted with suffering in the deepest valleys. Even though his faith was shaken, he didn’t fail or fall. He knew God’s greatness and goodness and the power of Jesus Christ to uphold him so he was able to say such words with confidence that God would carry him to the end. It was the Lord’s strength that he leaned on- not his own.

I don’t know about you, but Job’s radical faith challenges me. Even if it costs my own life, God, you want me to trust you that much? And I know this is the very place God wants me to be in my relationship with him. His will is for my faith to be completely abandoned to the person of Christ. A sweet surrender that is not forced, but willingly chosen out of love. A faith that relies on the truth that no matter what happens in this life or what happens to me, God is working for my good and will take all the necessary means to help me trust him more fully.

Hope in Christ. Anchor your faith on his promises.

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Devotional: His Countenance Upon You (Day 6)

Father and childDay 6 of 7 Devotionals I wrote for the Spring 2013 Issue of Heart Magazine. Scroll down for the previous days.

His Countenance Upon You

Numbers 6:24-26

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”

Chances are you’ve read in Scripture or heard the above blessing before as it’s commonly quoted in benedictions across churches today. These encouraging words were a Hebrew blessing that priests prayed over their people every morning after the sacrifices at the temple. It was their “sending out” and a prayer for God’s present and future peace.

The words, “May the Lord lift up his countenance (or face) toward you…” provides a picture of God holding us up high in his arms and looking up into our eyes with great love and care as a father would to his child. It is a picture of pure delight, both for the child and for the father.

In the Lord’s presence, we find peace for today and peace that is to come. He alone is our peace when everything else around us is uncertain. Not only do we need this blessing prayed over us before we exit the church walls, but we need his light, grace, and peace in our lives every hour of the day.

You are his child. Let his face shine upon you.

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