Bright Things + Dark Times + Eternal Hopes

I woke up this morning around 2:30 am. Well, to be fair, Bennett woke up first. Greg brought her to me, I nursed her and took her back to her crib. In a rather unusual move, she didn’t go back to sleep immediately and I didn’t either. By 4:00, with my mind spinning, I decided to get up, get dressed, make coffee, and deal with my overwhelmed mind. But first I folded a load of laundry, put more in the dryer, and then started another one. And started the dishwasher. And started to pick up the basement, but then…I realized I was getting distracted.

I’m convicted. I have felt increasingly overwhelmed this week. A cold going through the family, Libby’s birthday, Christmas, Jude’s impending surgery, school and how we’ve accomplished nearly NOTHING lately…I just have felt like I’m being pulled in a million directions. Yesterday I realized I was withdrawing, crumbling really, out of self-preservation, and I think the kids have felt the tension. I know they have. I’ve done a great deal of apologizing these last several weeks. I wish it wasn’t the case.

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Greg has been working an extra job helping a neighbor that has invested in a house that he’s going to flip. This has been a blessing for us during a time of the year when things always seem even more impossible than usual!  I am so thankful for how hard he’s working, and I know the feeling is mutual. It’s just long days for everyone. I think I may have begun to unravel a bit this week.

I was receiving emails last week (last week!) with taglines like, “Get your last minute Christmas shopping done!” I wanted to throw a fit about that, but then I realized that by the time we make it through the surgery and initial recovery, Christmas is here. Somehow I’ve got to be ready.

In the quiet house these last few hours I’ve had to confess pride and self-reliance. “There I go again!” I need to remember that the Lord will sustain me in less than ideal circumstances. I easily start to despair when I sense any chaos or disorder. Sometimes I like to imagine that chaos and disorder have been the rule of life for me. Perhaps, there’s some truth to that. Maybe the context, though, is less significant. Maybe it’s my heart that needs the mending. Maybe I just needed to get up and remember that the Lord calms the storm that rages inside me. I do not need to be the doubting man in James, tossed by the waves. I have a firm foundation. I can weather the storms all around me because Jesus is steadfast.

So I am up. Asking for wisdom. Confessing. Praying. Rejoicing. I can approach the throne of grace.

I am much more comfortable getting all the things done than I am slowing down and being relational. It’s a war that I fight; that I hate! I do what I don’t want to do!

I read from Every Moment Holy this morning. I teared up at this reminder:

That by such stewardship I might bring
a greater order to my own life,
and to the lives of any I am given to serve,
so that in those ordered spaces
bright things might flourish:
fellowship and companionship,
creativity and conversation,
learning and laughter
and enjoyment and health.

As I steward the small, daily tasks,
may I remember these good ends,
and so discover in my labors
the promise of the eternal hopes
that underlie them.

A Liturgy for Domestic Days from Every Moment Holy by Douglas McKelvey

 

I often act as if the ordering is the point. But the “good ends” are bright things flourishing. I order so that I might serve best those around me. I desire the order and that isn’t bad; it just isn’t the point. I needed that reminder. Maybe you do too.

The youcaring fundraiser has raised over $5000 for us in our need to replace our family vehicle. I am always so genuinely overwhelmed when I see how people give. There are so many ways to spend money and it’s absolutely mindblowing to me that anyone would see fit to give towards our need.

We are praying about what is next. We have been approved for financing, but need to have a concrete plan for how we can account for a monthly payment in our budget. We also need to find a vehicle! The one we were closely considering sold already, and it’s surprisingly hard to track down the sort of vehicle we need. Obviously, with a family our size, we’re needing a bigger than normal van. I’m nervous about driving around what is really akin to a small bus! There’s hope that we might find something with a back up camera because I readily admit I’m not the best driver. Ha! I’m most eager to get us into something reliable and safe. Our current van, with all it’s weird electrical issues, failing transmission, and lack of space may very well end up giving me ulcers.

Perhaps we don’t deserve a vehicle. Maybe we’ve outworn our allowable quota of need. We have, after all, always been living on the edge. I’m honest when I tell you that I have wrestled more these last few months about weakness and need than anything else. My mind and heart have been stretched in ways that I would never have wanted, but are probably necessary.IMG_0002

I watched all the perennials around our house die this fall. The hostas slowly began to shrivel up until I cut it all back and now it almost appears as if nothing is there at all but just death. It is not a secret that I am no fan of the Illinois winter. I was born and raised here but the winter makes me want to move far (far) away every year. Observation and past experience assist my weary heart in holding onto the fact that all the death I see will magically come back to life in a few short months. I don’t know that I will ever get over the wonder of how God does that. It all looks so bleak out there in our yard right now. Yet, under the ground, there’s something happening and it will spring forth with life and green and beauty again. I am holding onto that with all I’ve got!

This long extended season and even the majority of my adulthood (oh, and my childhood!) has just seemed like a struggle. Unpredictable. A bit chaotic! Yet something tells me that somewhere down the line, and in time, God will bring life to things that seem impossibly hard right now. Perhaps I have needed the Lord to shake me, so I can truly behold how unshakable He is. I may be a mess, but I am His. I wonder if the Lord is clearing away all the debris and dead leaves to make way for new growth and life.

Greg reminded me last night that I don’t need a van or curriculum or a haircut or a Dyson vacuum or a clean house or presents wrapped or even an orderly home to begin anew and love him and the kids well. I don’t need all my proverbial ducks in a row to love God and my neighbors. Huh.

He’s right.

Jude is having surgery this week to correct some significant bone issues on his left leg. My mom and stepdad will manage the care of the four other kids, while we juggle Jude and happy, but busy, Bennett. I’m bracing myself for what will be an exhausting week, but also relieved it’s finally here. We are eager to get on the other side of this! Jude is brave and even excited to go back to “his hospital” which has to say something. You would think he would never want to go back there, considering all his little body endured there! Our healthcare system is broken in so many ways, but in so many ways it isn’t. I praise God for the pain medication and the caring staff that gave Jude good memories of a horrific trial. I am calling that a win.IMG_9945

I’m firmly planted in the tension that this life brings…in the tension of need and providence, in brokenness and day by day sanctification, in the already not yet. I long for the day when winter melts away and we have no need for the sun because the Son lights our world. Advent makes more sense and seems more applicable every year. Waiting, waiting, waiting…hopeful waiting.

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A Long + Rambling Glimpse

File Nov 06, 11 01 45 AMIn the blur of what has been the past year or so, I have attempted to write an update on what’s been going on for Team Hill. I obviously never accomplished it. I was overwhelmed at how to condense it all. Plus, for at least of part of that time, I just didn’t have the words.

Sometimes there is just silence. That has been this year for me! I have felt like life, and the broken world we live in was squeezing out all of the oxygen in the room. All my energy has been devoted towards just breathing. I suppose this past year was mostly that…and it has been hard.

I have had to make friends with “lament” and discover the meaning of it, and the working out of it. I told Greg this morning that lamenting is like a faithful despairing, a hopeful, sorrowful grief. Like a leaning in, a leaning in towards Jesus, and laying at his feet my hurt, the frustrations, the unanswered questions. Lamenting is an intentional act. Even when our faith is wavering, we, by grace, go to the Source and entrust our darkest emotions and deepest doubts to Him. There’s faith in that, yes?

Can we move forward without first lamenting? Maybe that has been a bit of the life lesson I’ve learned this past year. It wasn’t even that I was unaware of that, that lamenting is needed. I knew that, and we had approached all this from the start with an openness and honesty. It just seems like this recovery effort is like an onion. Layer after layer! I found another layer this year.

Perhaps, too, it is a shout out to all the caregivers out there. God eventually gives us the space to feel, even if it seems delayed and out of place.

It’s not all been bad. There are always the glimpses of grace and joy that stir up affections and the anticipation of the glory ahead. Yet, somehow it’s the moments of weakness and the darkness that seem to stir my affections for Him most.

It all serves as a reminder that this world we live in right now is a wilderness. We are not in the Promise Land yet. I cannot be fooled by North American prosperity and ease. This is a broken world.

June 21, 2014, shattered any sense of “your best life now” that may have inadvertently been a part of my worldview and thought pattern. I stood in opposition of any sort of prosperity gospel before that day, but it is likely that there were undetectable strands of it woven into my faith. Good riddance.

It is no surprise that “weakness” continues to be a theme the Lord seems to keep in front of me. We feel it all around us. We work so hard, and yet still find ourselves caught up in weakness. If there wasn’t that promise of God being ultimately in control, and working all things out for the good of those who love him, I would truly despair. Instead, the weakness I feel causes me to despair towards Jesus. He is my rock. He holds all things. He holds me.

I read some horrific headline the other day (pick one, any one, there’s plenty). It caused a knot in my stomach, and I shut my eyes tight. In that moment I felt the deep brokenness of our world and longed for home. Home.

But I am here, and there is work to be done. There is a day-by-day redemption taking place, and the movement of an unshakeable kingdom, despite all the apocalyptic headlines and chaos.* Surely I am not the only one needing to be reminded of the glory that is to come? And that it IS to come?

So I know that there is still truth, beauty, and goodness to be pursued this side of heaven. It’s just been a mixed up year, and I will confess the weariness and lament.

Heaviness aside…

I also confess great joy!

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“Bennett” – baby yawns are precious!

We had a baby! That makes Team Hill a party of eight. Bennett arrived at the end of March. She has been a great blessing. The delivery and recovery were smooth. The pregnancy was rough. Yet, here we are. She’s 7 months old, happy, busy; everyone’s joy. What a pleasant surprise, God. You always know best.

Our crew of six children and two tired adults makes for an interesting public phenomenon. So it seems, at least. The things people say!

I did not know that I would continue with insecurity in my mid-30s. I know you may laugh. But didn’t everyone older than you seem so confident when they were in their 30s?! Or is that just me? Regardless, I am learning to let it go. There is no shortage of naysayers in the world. It’s a given. I am learning and growing.

We are still homeschooling. Whether we should or not sometimes weighs on me. I am not immune to doubt. Most of the time this feels like a very gutsy experiment! I’m certainly not doing it because it’s easy, right? I will continue to sow in faith (and, yes, maybe some tears).

Jude is headed towards a big surgery in a few weeks. It took an entire year to figure out what needed to be done, who needed to do it, and when it needed to happen.

I would say in the grand scheme of things this is a small deal. I think of families facing complicated, challenging surgeries…this is not that. It’s significant and needed, but not that complex in the long run. Yet, even still, it took a whole lot of work to figure it out! Can you imagine what families experience when their child (or children) has more medically complex issues? I have pondered that a good bit. I find myself marveling at all the families we have met since the accident and the persistent and courageous parents at the helm.

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A rare family photo taken at Hope Heals Camp

We attended Hope Heals Camp this past June. A gift. We cannot afford vacations or time away, yet God saw fit to give our family a week in rural Alabama with a community of beautiful saints. Much could be said about that incredible week. I will share at a later date.

Despite the issues with his left leg, Jude competed at the Endeavor Games again this year. He loved it. He played soccer again this fall, scoring six total goals for the season. For a kid that has no feet, he seems to play “futbol” pretty well!

The children grow. They grow! The gift of repentance seems to be our main tool in our parental tool belt. We are stretched thin in this season. The world would have us despair. Six kids. How could we possibly meet all the needs? The Gospel and the ongoing redemption taking place in our hearts is on display for the kids to see…we have great hope in THAT. It is overwhelming. I won’t lie. Yet, there’s that platform of weakness again. God’s strength abounds.

Our family vehicle is dying, and we need to get our crew into something reliable, larger, and suitable for all the miles we will be putting on it. We know we have regular trips to Chicago to keep the Dude going. Yet, we cannot afford a monthly car payment of any amount. It has seemed like an insurmountable problem that has been looming in front of us these last few years. The financial weakness has been the biggest nemesis for me. “Why must THIS be a part of the story too?” Boy, have I wrestled.

Some very gracious people have recognized our need. My sisters have responded by setting up a youcaring site with the hope of helping us get into a van that will meet our needs and keep us on the go. Friends, strangers, and our brothers and sisters in the Lord have already begun to move in compassion and generosity on our behalf.

We are grateful, humbled, and hopeful…

Our hope is always in Christ. I don’t pretend to know how this need will be met: just that it will be met. Somehow and in someway!

We are grateful for the support, whether in monetary support, sharing the information with your own community, or both. I keep telling the kids that we have to expect that God is fully aware of our pressing need and will provide. We will keep working hard while trusting that God is faithful, aware, and working this out in unseen ways, on our behalf, and for His glory. The need is urgent, with what feels like a rather lofty hope that perhaps we might be able to purchase a vehicle before Jude’s surgery at the beginning of December.

So though I am far, far out of my comfort zone, and I have this heightened awareness of weakness and dependence on the Lord, I’m excited to see how this works out. It removes the feeling of being overwhelmed, to one of eager anticipation. This is God at work.

“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

*I wrote this post yesterday, without yet knowing what was unfolding at a small country church in rural Texas. Oh, the absolute heartache. My words seem more emphatic to me today as I lament with the Church. I long for the day when every sad thing becomes untrue. It’s impossible to process what is taking place in our world, without crying out for the Lord to come back and make it all right. I know you must feel that too. 

 

A Strong Weakness

I remember telling someone how I was entirely insufficient for the context and situation we were in. We had just arrived home from the hospital. Our family of 7: the 3 year old new double amputee, the brokenhearted Dad, the postpartum Mom, the newborn baby…all of us back home with the other three children, each of them hurting and needing attention too. I knew that I wasn’t enough. I think I must have stunned the person with my bluntness. They attempted to give me a pep talk, wanting to wash away my difficult statements with positive thinking.

 


 

Weakness is a funny thing. It isn’t very popular. Who wants to be weak? Yet, it’s necessary. I’m thankful that I knew that I wasn’t enough, that I knew I wasn’t able to meet all the needs, that I was going to need help. No need to keep on fooling myself, right?

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It’s an honest, realistic evaluation, and I’ve had lots of reality checks over the last two years. I’m always brought back to weakness.

I know, I know. This isn’t a “believe in yourself” pep talk. I’m out of step with our culture.

Good.

At some point weakness finds us all.

Theologian J. I. Packer says:

When the world tells us, as it does, that everyone has a right to a life that is easy, comfortable, and relatively pain-free, a life that enables us to discover, display, and deploy all the strengths that are latent within us, the world twists the truth right out of shape. That was not the quality of life to which Christ’s calling led him, nor was it Paul’s calling, nor is it what we are called to in the twenty-first century. For all Christians, the likelihood is rather that as our discipleship continues, God will make us increasingly weakness-conscious and pain-aware so that we may learn with Paul that when we are conscious of being weak, then–and only then–may we become truly strong in the Lord. And should we want it any other way?

Weakness Is the Way: Life with Christ Our Strength, J. I. Packer

 

Greg and I have said over and over again to each other, to friends, to strangers, to any media: we have been given a platform of weakness to show God’s strength.

When we’re sharing our story, we’re sharing our weakest moment in parenting.

We’re sharing our financial weakness, our physical weakness, our spiritual weakness.

We’re sharing how we’re stumbling through bouts of depression, anger, and paralysis by way of being utterly overwhelmed.

We’re sharing how our marriage, bank account, bodies, and children are feeling the strain and tension from what happened two years ago.

If Greg hadn’t backed up the mower. If the kids had been inside that day. If I had stayed on the swing with Jude for just a few more minutes…

Weakness, weakness, weakness. We start there. We’re still there.

We’re not perfect parents. Exhibit A-Z. We could give you a full run down. Weak, imperfect. Our hope? Christ.

The truth, however, is that in many respects, and certainly in spiritual matters, we are all weak and inadequate, and we need to face it. Sin, which disrupts all relationships, has disabled us all across the board. We need to be aware of our limitations and to let this awareness work in us humility and self-distrust, and a realization of our helplessness on our own. Thus we may learn our need to depend on Christ, our Savior and Lord, at every turn of the road, to practice that dependence as one of the constant habits of our heart, and hereby to discover what Paul discovered before us: “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).

Weakness Is the Way: Life with Christ Our Strength, J. I. Packer

We return, again and again, to the Gospel. We’re weak. We’re helpless. We need to trust ourselves a little less. To be human is to be limited. But Jesus is our sufficiency.

The only true rest we have is in a sovereign and good God that is somehow working all this pain and heartache out for our good and his glory. We said that at the bottom of this pit, and we’re still saying it as we make our way out. 2 years. Today. 2 years.

I’m not overflowing with lots of wisdom, emotion, or lofty thinking today. I feel a bit weary, honestly. My body may be trying to get sick. I probably look like a deer in headlights. THERE IS SO MUCH TO DO. I am increasingly aware of the weakness that is in me. In turn, I’m seeing how my weakness is worth boasting in as I know that God’s strength will shine forth. We need that strength even more today than yesterday. He has been and is faithful!

With that, I have some brief updates:

We returned home last week from a trip to Oklahoma. Jude competed in the 2016 UCO Endeavor Games, track and field. He brought home five gold medals in the 20m, 60m, 100m, 200m, and long jump. More importantly: he had FUN. It was deeply encouraging for all of us. We met new people. We wore ourselves out. We visited family and friends. We checked out everyone’s legs all weekend long. Ha!

In a few short weeks we will be headed to Chicago for a new round of feet makin’. Jude the Dude is growing! He’s losing teeth and getting new feet.

Jude will also be getting running blades soon. He’ll have options! He told me he’ll “probably want to wear the blades the most though.” I’ll share more about these running blades soon. It’s a big deal! Something worth celebrating.

 

a few links

My time slot to write is past. The day is starting here at the Hill home!

But real quick…

We’ve had a fair amount of traffic on here, especially considering this space is brand new! I recognize that some of our visitors are coming from the Peoria Journal Star article. Welcome! Some of you are coming from Jude’s CaringBridge. Thank you for sticking with us!

The Peoria Journal Star’s Laura Nightengale recently wrote up a story about Jude that we’re excited to share with you. Andy Abeyta has some great photos and a video to go along with Laura’s article.

You can also check out Limbs Matter to view the PSA that we participated in last July. See if you can spot Jude the Dude! It was an incredible group of people that were a part of that weekend last summer. Please share this website on your own platforms. Spread the word!

The local paper in Germantown Hills wrote this article not long after we went to Orlando last year.

Marvis Herring from WMBD checked back in with us around the same time.

A good friend wrote about our story at her popular blog Messy Mom.

So, yes, I’m letting all these other people fill you in for now!

Jude jumping

From our platform of weakness

There’s much to say. As usual!Judestandingonbike

For those that may be new to our story I hope you find this space to be an encouraging testimony of faithfulness. God has been faithful. We’re simply on the receiving end of his great mercy. Our family has weathered a storm, and in some ways the storm just keeps raging. Yet God has given us his strength to endure the rain and wind again and again.

We want this space to simply be a means for us to communicate God’s continued care for our family. Judah & the Lion has a lyric on their most recent album that says “I want to sing about hope in desperate situations,” and I’ve sort of clung to that as a mission statement.

Quite honestly, some days it still feels like we’re still in a desperate situation. We’ve weathered additional storms this past year that have left us even more exhausted. Yet there’s a certain hope that keeps us going.

Greg and I often refer to the platform of weakness we’ve been given. This is how we view all that has happened. Our family’s darkest hour has served to spotlight some really incredible attributes of God. We’ve been given a platform of weakness to show God’s all-sufficient strength.

Jude’s CaringBridge gave us a space to update family and friends about Jude’s recovery. We’re hoping this space will serve in the same way…while also inviting other people into the story that God is writing.

Thank you for being a part of our community. Stay tuned for further updates about Team Hill!