More than I could handle.

I had a friend tell me one time that every experience we have is a new opportunity to learn to trust God. I have hung on to this for a few years now – tried to remember in all the hard and good experiences of my life. It helps me to reframe them in this way. Similarly, I read a tweet from Adam Ramsey recently that said,

 “The more I realize that my trials are nothing more than servants of my sanctification, the more I enter into a wonderful freedom: honesty about my weakness, marked by hope rather than morbidity.”  

What a beautiful thought — a wonderful promise to hang on to. I’ve written before that pregnancy after miscarriage carries a specific weight with it – a certain degree of anxiety with a new level of trust required. But I feel the freedom now to tell you this story. The story about learning a new opportunity to trust the Lord. I want to tell you the story of a photograph. It’s a picture of my son’s hand at 19 weeks old, safely tucked away inside my body. It is so precious to me and Aaron. Let me tell you why.

I was seeing a midwife when we were in Hawaii. We both really loved her. She was the sweetest woman and made everything about this pregnancy experience comforting and exciting, which was exactly what we needed after our first loss. At our 18 week appointment she mentioned the option to do what is called a quad-serum screen. From what I understand, it tests the mother’s blood for different hormones and levels that may indicate there is something wrong with the baby. In this case, it checks for Down Syndrome, neural tube defects (like Spina Bifida) and Trisomy 18. Aaron and I decided to do the testing solely for the purpose of being more prepared and having the right resources in place should our baby be born with special needs.  

The blood test took a single minute and my midwife said she would call me and let me know the results before we went in the following week for the baby’s anatomy scan. Well, the day for our scan came and I never got a call. I tried to take this as a “no news is good news” kind of situation. We let the excitement of finally knowing the gender of our baby outweigh any possibility of there being a problem.

At the hospital, I laid down on the bed and the sonographer quickly pulled up a beautiful picture of our baby on the screen. She began taking measurements and photos but hardly said anything during the entire process. She mentioned that she was trying to get pictures of his brain, his heart, the in/out flow of blood through his umbilical cord, his hands and feet. All of this is normal – it’s exactly what they’re looking for – but it seemed to take a really long time, as if she were looking for something specific. As she moved the wand around on my belly, I asked a couple of times if the baby looked good and she only answered vaguely. Finally she finished and as she walked out to get the doctor, she left my chart on the chair. I tried to glance over at it because I saw in big, highlighted yellow letters ‘FYI’. FYI what?

Before I could see anything else on the chart, the perinatologist came in and introduced himself. I didn’t even know what a perinatologist was or why we were meeting with him but it quickly became clear. He sat down with my chart in hand and said,

“So last week you took the quad-serum screen, and this test checks for several different things...”

It was in that moment that I thought, “Something’s wrong.” I squeezed Aaron’s hand.

He went on, “The serum screen is not diagnostic, it simply identifies possible risk factors. Your risk factor for Down Syndrome and Spina Bifida came back low risk. However, the results did come back high risk for Trisomy 18.”  

I think I blacked out after that. I mean, I didn’t, but I could hardly focus as I felt overwhelmed at this blindsiding news. Our doctor continued to talk about exactly what Trisomy 18 was, which is also called Edwards Syndrome, and the mortality rate of infants born with this condition. These precious babies have severe physical abnormalities and are usually miscarried or stillborn.

Often you’ll hear the idea that God doesn’t give you more than you can handle. You especially hear it when you’re going through something difficult. I don’t know who really believes that because let me tell you something – this felt like entirely more than I could handle. Our miscarriage last year was more than I could handle. Spotting at 13 weeks with this baby and going in for an emergency ultrasound was more than I could handle (have I ever mentioned that this happened the same week our car was broken into and my purse was stolen? Yeah, more than I could handle). And now at 19 weeks, we were being told that our baby may have an abnormality. I simply could not handle it. As I explained it to my mom on the phone later, I cried and said, “It’s just too much!” 

I think everyone will find at some point in their life that the trials feel like too much. Too much weight to carry – a burden too heavy. For one reason or another we’ll feel our knees buckling under the load we’ve been asked to carry. I think that’s by design. We’re not meant to do it ourselves. God may give us more than we can handle so that we’ll give it to him and let him handle it. It’s never more than He can handle. The weight is never too much for him. And whatever trial you are facing can be used, if you allow it, to make you more like Him. So, will you surrender the burden to Him? Let it draw you back to Him in new ways? Recognize that this trial is simply sanctifying you and bringing you closer to His heart?  

Dr. Goh, our perinatalogist, went on to say he looked at the photos the sonographer took of our baby but that he was going to do the scan again. He wanted to look for specifics that she was unable to capture.  

I laid back down, practically holding my breath as he pulled a new picture of our baby up on the screen. He went through each physical marker and explained the way it would look if our baby had Trisomy 18 and the way it looked to him as he scanned over our little one. The baby’s head would measure small and be abnormally shaped, but our baby’s was normal. The heart wouldn’t be developed correctly, but ours was normal. Aaron and I started to breathe a little easier as he looked for all the physical markers that suggested our baby was sick, but none of them were showing up. Finally, one of the indicators that an unborn baby has Trisomy 18 is that these babies can’t open their hands – they’re always in a closed fist and have overlapping fingers. As he explained this, I remembered that when the sonographer was in the room, she was trying to get a good picture of his hands and count his fingers, but she never got one.

Then, as Dr. Goh was explaining that baby wouldn’t be able to open his hand, our baby, by the sweetest grace of the Lord, showed us this on the screen at just the right moment.

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Five perfect little fingers. Open hand. The most precious sight I simply cannot get over. None of the physical markers of Trisomy 18 were present in our little boy. Dr. Goh later said that Edwards babies always measure small but ours wasn’t. “You have a big kid,” he said with a smile.

Because the quad-serum screen is not diagnostic and even ultrasound photos aren’t a guarantee of baby’s health, our doctor suggested an additional blood test called the Harmony test. This test would draw my blood and look for pieces of baby’s DNA floating around in my bloodstream. Generally they can find enough of baby’s DNA to make a more certain diagnosis. I said okay because it was non-invasive, unlike other tests offered, such as amniocentesis.

So, after my blood draw, Aaron and I left the hospital a little shell-shocked. What was supposed to be a fun day of finding out the gender of our baby turned into a three hour hospital visit with a doctor who specialized in high-risk pregnancy. That’s not really how we envisioned the day going.

For the next week, I held on to the pictures of our baby. We announced to everyone that we were expecting a boy, amidst lingering fears that he might be sick. I journaled. I prayed. I cried out to God, really. Several days later I wrote in my journal, “We will find out the result of his blood test this week but I feel very calm about it - just giving it over to Jesus, who already knows. So I can rest.”

And later that morning, I received an email.

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I sent a screenshot to Aaron and then sat on the floor and cried big, thankful tears. We didn’t realize how tightly we had been holding our breath for the entire week until this very moment when we could finally exhale.

So, as far as all testing can tell, our precious boy is just fine - growing and kicking me at all hours, and last week we watched on ultrasound as he practiced his breathing. Oh, it was so cute! But, I know this isn’t the story for everyone. I know the story turns out differently – you get the news you most certainly didn’t want. Your baby is sick. You endure the pain and bewilderment of miscarriage. The test results aren’t positive. You get let go from your job. Your relationships aren’t fixed. Your depression lingers. There are trials in life that don’t turn around into good news immediately. You can’t see the point and your “why?” goes unanswered. I’m not forgetting you in this moment - I have been you before.

But I am saying that in all circumstances the only thing I know how to do is lean on the Lord to get me through. I don’t know what other option we have. Where do you turn if not to the One who can carry it all? Is it your pride that says, “I can carry this. I am strong enough to handle this”? Because I would imagine the moment will come when you can no longer handle it. You’ll turn somewhere — to someone or something else to get you through. The thing is, the only One who can handle it is the very One who created you. Would you give it to Him today? Let Him carry you on all the good and bad days - the ones you didn’t see coming and certainly didn’t plan for?

For the week we waited for the results, I prayed that our baby would be okay and even if he wasn’t, that we would have God’s hand of mercy to walk us through whatever was next. I have to say that my heart and mind were covered in a supernatural peace – unexplainable given the circumstances. I was given new measures of compassion, an extra dose of strength, and put myself at the feet of Jesus again and again. This is what he wants anyway, in all our days. In the ordinary days that we would call boring. In the scary and unknown. On the days we want to shout from the rooftops because the joy is too immense and on the days we just cannot get out of bed for the weight of grief. Let each new day be a new opportunity to learn to trust God and remember that our trials are simply to be used in our sanctification to help us look more like Him.  

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
Psalm 121: 1-2

 

 

My own sea-change.

In her book Present Over Perfect, Shauna Niequist talks about a sea-change. She borrows from Shakespeare and I’m borrowing it from her now because I think it is so fitting for my time here in Hawaii – my own sea-change – happening right in the midst of living in the sea. In her book, she explains it like this,

“The word sea-change is from Shakespeare, from The Tempest: a man is thrown into the sea, and under the water he is transformed from what he was into something entirely new, something “rich and strange.” The beautiful and obvious connection, of course: baptism. We are tipped backward into the water, and raised into new life. We leave behind the old—the sin, the regret, the failings, and we rise out of the water cleansed, made new. A sea-change if there ever was one. This is the story of my sea-change—the journey from one way of living to another.”

There are times in our lives when there is a distinct change – we notice we’ve gone from one way of living to another, like Shauna says. It’s the end of one way of thinking, of being, to another, entirely new way. I can think of a couple of other sea-changes in my life. Once as I neared my 30th birthday. And now again out here in the ocean over the last two years. My sea-change has caused me to leave behind some old ways, some old thoughts, some old habits of being, and take on new. Marriage has changed me. Losing a baby has changed me. Living away from my family and old friends has changed me. Being in a new place and a new culture has changed me. And it’s all encompassed in this time here in Hawaii.

The verse God put on my heart as he drew me out here two years ago is found in Psalm 139. It reads,

Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will lay hold of me.

Did you know Hawaii is the most isolated population center in the world? I didn’t know this until recently, but you can certainly feel the truth of it when you’re on these islands. We’re 1,000 miles from the nearest island chain and 2,000 miles from the nearest continent. So in truth, I have been literally dwelling in the remotest part of the sea. And you know what I have found? He is near. Perhaps even more near than I had previously felt.

I think it’s because we live in the middle of the ocean that songs about God and water cause emotion to well up in me. Songs where they talk about his love being like a wild ocean or how he holds back the waters or asks us to walk on them with him. This lyric especially gets me , “You call me out beyond the shore into the waves.” Now I know they’re meaning that metaphorically, but I listen to that song each time I take off on a flight to this little island in the midst of thousands of miles of untamed ocean because I really feel that’s what God was doing in my heart two years ago - calling me out beyond the shore. And now I’ve been here in the middle of the ocean experiencing my own sea-change.

I’ve found that sometimes he has to draw us out so he can pull us in close. So he can change us. Mold us. Teach us. Show us that he loves us in new and beautiful ways. He might not draw you out to the ocean specifically. He might draw you out right in your own neighborhood. Your own school. Your own friend group. Your own workplace. He’ll call you to new places all the time if you let him. If you give God the space to move, he’ll certainly walk in and fill it up in ways entirely unseen and unexpected. Have you experienced this in your life? A sea-change of your own? Have you given Him enough space to move and breathe fresh life into your bones? To call you out to a new way of life? If you let him, he’ll change you from the inside out. That’s what he wants to do - to fill up all your empty places and refresh your soul. Sometimes he just has to draw you out so you can hear his still small voice.

Maybe that’s the biggest problem - we don’t take enough time to be still and listen. We’re too busy. We’re moving quickly and on to the next thing before we even have a chance to think about or reflect on the last. That’s one of the biggest things I left behind when I moved here - the work of being busy. I learned to slow, to be still, to listen. To savor the small and often unnoticed. Because God does not call us to busy. He calls us to rest. He calls us to abide. In her newsletter earlier this week, Ruth Chou Simons reminded me that, “to abide is to enter into His presence and to linger longer.” Linger with Him. Linger in the moment. Our scrolling thumbs and four second attention spans think we don’t have time to linger. We take in information at such a rapid pace, the pinball is bouncing off all corners of our brain all the time. But there’s a sweetness that seeps into our hearts when we linger a little longer in the presence of God. I’ve learned that out here.

Aaron and I will takeoff from this island for the last time in just a few more days. But I’m going home different. God brought me out to the remotest part of the sea to show me that even here he has not left me, forgotten me, or asked me do any of this alone. What patience and love and promises fulfilled I have seen while we lived here in the ocean. I go home now with a new sense of who I am and who God created me to be. I’m going home with a fresh desire to speak truth, to live boldly, to step out in faith, to be in tune with what God is asking and the ways he is moving in and around me. My own sea-change has caused me to begin a new way of living – one of reliance and trust on the One who can handle the weight of it all. Of being still and listening. A way of life where there is time to linger a little longer. And that’s what I hope for all of us - to experience a kind of change that leads to more of Him.

Knees to the ground, eyes to the Lord

/ Hello, it’s me / I was wondering if after all these years you’d like to meet /

Remember when Adele sang us those words? I’m wondering if I can borrow them now. It’s been so long since I’ve shown my face around here that maybe I need to reintroduce myself. It’s not that I didn’t want to be here. I’ve done some writing in the last several months, but they’ve been busy months. Most notably because I’ve been growing a baby! 

Aaron and I announced on Instagram a few months ago that we are expecting our precious little baby in September. It’s hard to believe that we are halfway through this pregnancy already, but the calendar says it’s true. Twenty weeks down and only twenty more to go.

A lot of things have been on my heart over the course of these first 20 weeks – many I want to share and many that will just stay in my heart, maybe forever. I have felt guilty for not coming to this space – for not taking the time to share like I have in the past – but then I read a quote recently that said, when it comes to God and our individual calling, “It’s not about production, it’s about transformation.” Transformation of heart – of life. Of looking more like Jesus. And while I have produced exactly zero posts for this blog, I can say definitively that my heart has changed. It has been strengthened and softened and forged in fires requiring deep faith and trust. Because, to be honest, I don’t know that I’ve ever been in a more anxiety-producing, full-faith-required, knees to the ground, eyes to the Lord in prayer kind of situation than being pregnant after suffering a miscarriage.

Aaron and I found out we were expecting our first little one last summer and then lost that sweet little soul only a few weeks later.  It was devastating for both of us. My soul was crushed under the weight but held fast to the promises of God. And then we waited several months before we decided to try again. My heart just couldn’t handle it – the grief and anxiety were too overwhelming at first. When we finally decided we were ready, I was certain I was not pregnant. Nothing about how I felt in those first few weeks felt like it did the first time. I had no indications that I was harboring another little soul. And even when I was two days late I was still sure I was not pregnant, but we decided to take the test anyway. Aaron could tell you how I was a wreck. There was nervous laughter that bordered on tears because suddenly I didn’t know if I could handle a positive.  

We flipped the test over and it said ‘pregnant’. And I burst into immediate tears. I want to say they were happy tears, but they were scared tears. They were tears of, “Oh no. This could go badly. I could feel that same pain again. No, I can’t do it.” Of course the joy came - the shock and the disbelief and the rejoicing again at new life. But I was still scared that I had opened myself up to that same level of loss once again. And I don’t speak as one who knows what it is like to experience infertility. I don’t speak as one who has endured months of waiting and trying and waiting some more. I don’t know what it’s like to suffer multiple losses. My heart breaks for all of those moms and dads who are still in a season of waiting. But I do speak from a place that has experienced grief and walked in that wilderness with arms outstretched to God in the deep agony of never knowing why. So my heart was certainly tender in those moments after reading that test.

Now, I’m hesitant to tell you this because you might find this odd, but the goodness of God came to me in that very first day we found out I was pregnant. As I stood in front of my closet that morning, I felt a very real knowing from God, a voice that sounded like my own, a thought that fluttered through my head that just said, “It’s going to stick and it’s a boy.” Um… what? It was such a weird thought to have, but I also knew exactly what it meant. Because in the midst of my miscarriage last summer, I always thought, “Why couldn’t that baby just hang on? Why couldn’t it just stick?” Was God really promising me that I wouldn’t have another miscarriage? And that we would have a son? Was I just hopeful and talking to myself?

In the days following that thought from him, I told God out loud, “Okay, well, I’m not going to doubt like Zachariah and have you close my mouth for the next nine months. I’m not going to doubt like Abraham and laugh at your promise. I just want to trust.” If that thought was from God, I wanted to trust. I wanted to be like Mary who said to the angel, “Let it be as you have said.” Let it be, God. Let it be. And in the weeks since we announced our pregnancy, when people asked what I thought we were having, I would say, kind of sheepishly, “Well, I think it’s a boy… because I feel like God told me it was.”

So while I’ve had this seeming promise from God the whole time, I have still battled anxiety and fear. I’ve been excited and nervous, overjoyed and overwhelmed and every range of emotions - usually all in one day. And when I felt the worries of, “Oh no, what if…” I tried to come back to that thought – that understanding that God had given me. But because He knows me and my propensity for worry, God dropped another little reminder into my heart one day.

Last fall I came across a mama on my Instagram explore feed. She had posted a picture of her sweet little girl in the hospital and I clicked the photo because children in the hospital just wreck me. Through reading her post and then subsequently scrolling all the way back through her story (as one does, obviously) I found out that her three year old daughter was suffering from heart failure for, basically, no reason. She just one day fell sick and through a couple of ER visits for what they thought was a cold, they found that her little heart was in failure and she would need a heart transplant. Just the thought of that being one of my nieces or nephews or my own child crushed my heart. So I followed her account, not because of the tragedy of it all, but because of the way this mama so fully poured her heart out in her posts and trusted that God was good through it all. It was inspiring to watch her, though clothed in grief, bring praises to Jesus. By the grace of God, sweet Rowen lived through her heart transplant and is thriving. But it was one of her mom’s posts that I later recalled in the midst of my anxiety over this pregnancy.

Amanda (I don’t think she’d mind that we’re on a first name basis. Ha!) posted a photo of Rowen and went on to explain how one of the popular verses we love as moms is 1 Samuel 1:27. It says, “I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him.” You’ve heard this before, I’m sure. Or seen it printed on the front of a baby book or in a nursery somewhere. For this child I prayed. Gosh, how true it is for mamas everywhere. But the part that really Velcro-ed itself to my heart is what Amanda went on to say regarding that verse. She wrote,

“So many people cling to 1 Samuel 1:27 - “for this child I have prayed”... but they don’t go into verse 28 - “so I will give him back to the Lord.” It’s because that one sounds scary. That one doesn’t sound so good at all. But the truth is... THIS is the calling of Christian parents. Gotta give them back. If we believe we are His, then we must believe they are. They’re lent to us, not Him. We are to steward them well here... to train them up in the way they should go so that they can be sent out prepared to raise their own; to pass on this strong lineage of His love... For these children, I have prayed. And the Lord has granted me what I’ve asked of Him. So I will give them to the Lord. For all of their days, they are the Lord’s.” 

So I will give him back to the Lord. The weight of it still stings me and comforts at once. This baby growing inside me is His. I can trust him with the life of this baby. It was His very idea at the foundation of the world - just like I was, just like you were. This baby has been in God’s mind from the start. He knows its days and I can trust Him to care for this baby the way I trust Him to care for my own heart. I don’t have to control this – I CAN’T control this. As much as I feared experiencing the pain of another miscarriage, there was very little I could do to prevent it. If that’s what God had for us, we would walk the road again and He would be there in it. I have had to speak this truth to my heart almost daily.

As the more calm one of our pair, Aaron also reminds me, “There will always be something we can worry about if we let ourselves.” Always. Even after I pass the 12 week mark in pregnancy and the chances of miscarriage decrease. Even after this baby is born and held in our arms. Even when it is a grown adult! This doesn’t go away. It is the outflow of giving your heart to someone else. So I will choose to give my heart and this baby’s tiny 20-week-old heart to Jesus and let Him be the author of life just as He always has been and always will be. I will praise Him for the chance to be this baby’s mom and let gratitude flow for all the days of my life.  

When anxiety starts to creep in, I have to choose to remember, “This is not mine to control or worry about. Give it back to God.” Oh, this baby is mine to care for, protect, love, shepherd, hold and rock to sleep at night. But, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” We know that verse, right? I will do what I can to help this baby grow strong and healthy, but ultimately, it is the Lord’s and not mine. I can’t knit this little body together the way God is doing even now inside me. I can’t breathe air into baby’s lungs when it is born the way God will. I can't sustain its life the way the Lord will. This baby has been given as a gift to me and Aaron and I am so grateful. But I don’t have to be filled with worry or anxiety, wondering every second if it is okay, because I know God’s in control.

This is true for all of us - no matter our circumstances. Maybe you need to give your children back to the Lord - to trust Him with their lives and release that anxiety. He cares for you. He cares for them. Maybe you need to give your own heart over to him and let him lead in your life. Release your grip on the control you think you have because you don’t have it anyway. Remind your heart daily to lay all your cares at His feet. He is good. He can be trusted with all your dreams and hopes and hurts. With all your pain. With all your struggle. He will carry it for you.

I wish I could say that this is easy, but it’s not. It’s a journey - a daily walk of faith from now until eternity. But that’s where my heart has been these last 20 weeks. Knees to the ground, eyes to the Lord. Waiting. Learning. Listening for the voice of God. Holding on through that first trimester nausea (yikes!) and doing my best to feel thankful even in those moments.

At four weeks and two days pregnant, God gave me the knowledge that, “It’s going to stick and it’s a boy.” And last Monday, at 19 weeks and 2 days, we received confirmation that we are expecting a baby boy! What a precious gift! God is so good. Through it all He has strengthened my heart and my faith and grown my belly to hold this precious baby boy for a little while longer - another 20 weeks or so. What a sweet blessing it has been so far.

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Ask first.

I’m turning 34 tomorrow and I’m really glad about it. The kids at school the last couple of weeks have guessed me to be 20 and that’s so nice because who doesn’t want to look younger, but at 20, I was a striving, self-loathing perfectionist who just wanted to find a husband, so I’m not at all interested in going back there. They also guessed that I had not yet graduated college (bless them!) and that’s nice too, except that in college I was aimless - wandering into a major I had no idea what to do with while dating and messing up and trying to date again and messing up more and complaining that no one liked me while not giving the good ones a chance and chasing after the bad ones who were not emotionally available. So, no, thank you. That was exhausting. When I told the kids I was actually going to be 34 they said, “You can’t be 34! My MOM is 34!” It’s true, little 7th grader. I’m old enough to be your mother.

But I’m glad to be turning 34. I feel like I’ve fought for 34. I’ve earned 34. When I turned 30 I rounded a corner in my life that really changed a lot for me. Like Iris says in my favorite holiday movie, “I think what I’ve [found] is something slightly resembling gumption.” Indeed. When I turned 31, I started dating Aaron and when I turned 32, we got engaged. I turned 33 with a new last name, in a new city, practically on a new planet (mentally and emotionally). I worked and worked and worked on the house we’ve made into a home. I carried a baby until God said it was time and then grieved for months over the loss. When I was 33 I came home with a kitten that honestly pulled me out of sadness.

So I’m turning 34 now and I feel good about where I’m at in the world and in my body and my heart. I hope that’s something you can say at every birthday. There were many birthdays I couldn’t say it. There was one that I woke up in the morning and stood in the mirror and cried - I think I was 28. But that was before I found my gumption to say yes to some things and no to others. So I hope you can say you’re glad with where you’re at in your body and in your heart and if that’s not true, that you are working on becoming that person you’d be happy to be. Even if everything else is out of your control in your life, you are always in control of the kind of person you want to be - if you want to walk in integrity, honesty, whole-heartedness, love. A question posed in my Bible study recently was, “Who are you becoming before God?” and that stuck out to me because I realized I never considered it before – not when I was 20, not in college, not until about five years ago. I felt like an entity that the world acted on and around with no power of my own to create or form it – only to react as it came at me. This is all very untrue and the minute I realized I had some agency in it all is the moment I started working on the person I wanted to be and inviting God into the process. He was already there anyway, but at least I started to acknowledge him.

Last year I wrote a list of things I learned over the last 33 years. I still think all of them are true – I’ll stand by all of them this year too. But when I think about the last year and when I think about the year ahead, the lesson I want to remember the most was taught by a five year old on an airplane.

Aaron and I flew to Arizona in September. I’ve told you this before but I’m a nervous flyer. Some people can fall asleep on a plane in an instant but I’m pretty much wired to 220 from the moment I step on the plane to the moment I walk off, taking in all my surroundings, observing people, their demeanor, the flight attendants, the pilots - whether they seem competent (as if I could ever judge that. Ha!). So Aaron and I take our seats on this flight to Phoenix and as we’re settling in, I notice that behind me is an older couple and across from me is a man with a child on either side of him. The boy across the aisle from me was probably only four or five, but he sat back in his seat with his seatbelt on, visibly excited, and trying to look across Aaron and I to see out the window. His little flip-flopped feet shot straight out from the end of the seat and occasionally kicked back and forth, but he never made a sound, just content to be with his dad and wait for takeoff.

Shortly after our departure, I noticed that the older gentleman behind me was reaching forward to offer the little boy some candy. A wrinkled hand held out three wrapped candies – among them the little butterscotch ones that are like a rite of passage into the world of being a grandpa or something – but he held them out to the little boy, nudging him on the arm so that he would notice. The little boy turned to look at the man, and then looked down at the candy, his ears perking up a bit like an excited pup. He turned to his dad to ask if he could have it, but his dad wasn’t paying attention. “Dad,” he said, and then turned back to see if the candy was still being offered. The boy didn’t reach for it. He didn’t take it. He just looked at it again. When he saw that it was still there, he turned back to his dad with urgency, in case the man was about to withdraw his offer. “Dad,” he whispered again, this time tapping his dad on the arm. His dad finally turned to look at him and the boy pointed to the offered candy. Looking back at the man holding out the candy, the father smiled and nodded his head with approval. It was only then that the boy reached out and chose a piece of candy and gave another to his sister, unwrapping it with delight.

I turned to Aaron to try to tell him the story, but I started tearing up. Is there something about your thirties that makes you cry at everything? No? Just me? Cool. So I’m trying to relay what just happened because I thought it was so sweet. Doesn’t everyone just want their dad’s approval? Dad, can I have this? Dad, is this okay with you? Dad, will this make you proud of me? I think it’s early in our lives that we learn to want this kind of approval – partly because it’s disciplined into us for our safety, but also because it’s wired in us. We’re relational, we want connection, we desire affirmation and approval.

What does this have to do with turning 34? This year I want to approach my decisions the way this little boy approached the offered candy. He asked his dad first. What if we approached our life decisions by asking God first? Before we make a move, before we take a step, before we make a decision, I want to run it by God. “Hey, dad, can I have this? Should I do this? Would this make you proud of me?” I think that’s what it means to have a relationship with him. I think that’s what it means to come to him - to ask what he thinks and then seek out the answer in his Word. So often in my 20s I was asking, asking, asking, but not waiting for an answer – not listening for an answer by searching it out in the Bible. I just asked in vain, listening to my own voice, and then going my own way. “Can I have this? No? Too bad, doing it anyway because I don’t see any other options.

More than anything I’ve learned lately, it’s that I don’t want to take a single step, take anything offered, move toward anything in my path unless I have first tapped God on the arm and asked if it was okay. “Is it okay if I do this? Is it okay if I say this? Is this from you?” I don’t want to move unless he gives his approval. We should want to please the heart of the father with our words, with our actions, with our lives and not move toward it, whatever it is, until he says it’s okay.

And if he doesn’t say okay, I want to learn to accept it and move on. If I don’t get the nod to go ahead, I don’t want to reach out. So often I think I know better, planned better, have better ideas. I think my feelings are more important than what he thinks. But if he doesn’t approve, I don’t want it. I’ve done enough my own way in life to know it leads nowhere good. As Lauren Daigle sings on her new album, “I’ve searched the world to find my heart is Yours.” I really have. I feel that lyric in my soul. So even when it doesn’t feel good, even when I don’t agree, if it’s not what he has for me, I don’t want it anymore.

Thirty-three was a big learning and growing and changing year for me. It was high highs and really low lows. But one thing that remained steady was the faithfulness of God to walk with me in it all. He is faithful and trustworthy and his plans for us are good. If he promises goodness, then why would I not want what he wants for me? Why would I not seek that out first?  

I want to turn my heart in that direction – away from selfishness and self-centered decisions, away from going my own way and making choices that might feel good in the moment but don’t lead to lasting joy. I want to turn to God first and let him direct my steps – in what I say and do, where I go, how I shine his light into the world around me. Like it says in Proverbs, “She opens her mouth in wisdom and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” That’s what I want for my 34th year. Wisdom and kindness. I want to know the heart of God more. I want my awe and my wonder to be aimed up at him. I want my eyes to be bright with hope and wisdom to shine out of my face, a reflection of him who gives it out to those who ask. But there it is again, it’s in the asking. It’s tapping God on the arm and saying, “Is this okay?” And accepting his answer. The good news is, I think the heart of our father is like the heart of that father on the airplane. He wants to say yes to good gifts.

Walking into 34 tomorrow, I feel confident in the faithfulness of God to answer me when I ask. I just have to remember to ask first.