Gazing Upward
  • Faith and Living
  • January2nd


    Call me sentimental. Or old-fashioned. Or perhaps habitual.  The simple truth is… I’m a lover of traditions.

    Many traditions are tied to holidays or special occasions.  So as our first Christmas and New Year’s Day with a child approached in 2008,  I suddenly felt pressure to nail down the practices we would hold for years to come.  For some reason, I thought I had to have it all figured out from the get-go.  Adding to some family traditions which Scott and I had celebrated since our childhoods, we had begun to establish some new traditions after we married.  Scott assured me that we could add in family customs throughout the years. After all, would our 11-month-old even recall his first experience of traditions? And isn’t it fun to discover and establish new rituals throughout the years?

    Reading through Noel Piper’s beautiful and practical book Treasuring God in Our Traditions (a book that I return to often for ideas, direction, and encouragement),  I was reminded that “our celebrations are occasions to look back and remember what God has done in the world and in our lives.” (Piper, p.64)  Piper, wife of renowned author and pastor John Piper,  also shares this great quote from Milo Shannon-Thornberry: “Celebrations are the ritualized interruptions in the continuum of daily life which remind us who we are, where we came from and where we are going.”

    Now that our children are at ages where they can understand, communicate, and contribute, new traditions have been springing up.  And it’s so much fun!  Ever since getting married, Scott and I have entered each new year with a planning retreat.  Well, I say “retreat” with a liberal meaning.  The first two years, we got away for a couple of nights to do our planning and evaluating.  During the last couple of years, our “retreats” occur on our living room couch after the kids have fallen asleep.

    We originally got the idea from our pastor and his wife who have been doing this same planning every year. They even shared a basic outline of topics they discuss and evaluate. Scott and I elaborated on the outline and have covered everything from dietary/health goals to financial plans for the next year to marital goals.  We not only establish goals together but also make lists of our personal hopes and plans.  For example, I often make a list of books I want to read. Or hobbies I want to pursue. Friendships I want to rekindle. Or habits I want to build. We generally cover these topics: health/physical, marital, family, spiritual/ministry, career, hobbies, social, personal, and financial.

    Making a list of anticipated expenses, whether in housing repairs or vacations, we are able to prioritize which item needs attention first. So we end up being on the same page when those expenses come down the pipeline.  We’ve made goals of weekly or monthly dates, reading a marriage book each year, and other relational issues.  (And I bet all you parents of young children can guess which topic we annually address and vow to give time and intention to! 🙂 )  We’ve even included goals as silly as vowing to eat a green vegetable at least twice a week (we just aren’t vegetable lovers).

    I’ve never really been one for making resolutions. But our planning retreats are helpful in leading us to reevaluate our desires and plans vs our actual activities and pursuits.  We know that we will fall short of our goals and lists, but putting them on paper helps us be more intentional.  And it’s always fun to look back on past planning lists and see how God has worked.  Last year, I smiled as I reviewed  some of our dreams from years past.  From completed adoptions to my first published article, I giggled at the fulfilled plans which once had seemed like distant possibilities.  We have some plans and goals which remain constants every year, but reviewing them reminds us that they are priorities.

    Yesterday, in celebration of the new year, we sat down with our kids to help them determine their own goals and plans for 2012.  Carter’s top two goals were: (1) to learn how to fight bad guys, and (2) to not be scared when the toilet flushes!  He also decided he wanted to learn how to read a book all by himself.  Caroline hopes to study ballet, master English, and win Super Mario Kart on the Wii.  Grace declared she would be potty-trained, learn more ballet, and learn how to write her alphabet.  Their plans are not deep or even remotely spiritual.  In an effort to divert them from focusing solely on themselves, we encouraged them to set a goal of memorizing a  new Bible verse each month and to find a project to serve the community.  But it’s a start.  Next year on New Year’s Day, we can whip out the list and see what they have accomplished.  I also hope that they will take this tradition as an opportunity to trace what God has done in their lives and the community throughout each year.

    I have to confess that I failed my parents yesterday in not carrying out their own tradition of years past…making black-eyed peas and rice on January 1st.  But I must remind myself, it’s never too late to start a new tradition or bring back an old one.

    I’d love to hear what traditions you celebrate with your own families.  I should have posted this before New Year’s to garner ideas for this holiday, but we can print them and save them for 2013.  Whether it’s rituals for birthdays, Easter, Advent, or any other holiday/occasion, feel free to share how you make the celebrations special.

    Happy 2012!

  • December24th

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    This morning, I awoke to cheerful exclamations of “Santa Claus is coming TONIGHT!!!”

    This year is the first Christmas that has invoked true wonder and excitement in our children.  From anticipating Santa’s midnight visit to celebrating Jesus’ birthday with our gifts to each other, the kids have a gleam in their eyes that draws all of us adults into high spirits.  It makes me recall those few magical moments in childhood when I became so caught up in the beauty of the Christmas lights, the harmonious swell of the Christmas carols, and the  fascination of Jesus’ birth. When awestruck wonder transcended the reality of the moment, and the emotion was so intense I couldn’t determine whether it was extreme delight or pain.

    As an adult, those moments of joy (as C. S. Lewis names them) come fewer and farther between.  Maybe it’s because we have so many distractions and responsibilities.  Maybe our expectations have become tainted by past disappointments.  Maybe we feel weighed down with emotional, physical, or financial burdens.

    Christmas hasn’t always been an overwhelmingly joyous occasion for me.  Years ago, when Scott and I were broken up over the holidays, I moped and pouted while listening to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” on repeat.  For weeks straight!

    Two years ago, while visiting my parents here in North Carolina, I spent Christmas Eve in the Cary ER with a sprained ankle. And I fought back tears throughout the whole trip because Carter was going through a phase when he wanted nothing to do with me and wouldn’t even let me walk into the room where he and Daddy were playing.  It was probably my most difficult Christmas holiday to date.

    This Christmas, there are people around the world who are enduring tough moments.  In just the last day, I’ve learned of a critically ill 3-year-old girl who is hanging onto life by a thread. And a woman my age who lost her husband Thursday night to an 11-year cancer battle, left with their 2-year-old son and a baby due in February.  I have a friend who miscarried months ago, and their due date of December 26th looms without assurance of another baby to come.

    With these weighty situations on my heart, I clicked on’s calendar of pregnancy milestones. Each Saturday, I move into the next week and read of new progress that my lil’ bean is making. Today, the site says this: “Your baby sees light.”

    Though his/her eyes are still fused shut, our baby can sense light and may even move if a flashlight is shown at my belly.  Physically and biologically, this milestone seems amazing.  But the spiritual significance struck my aching heart even stronger.  How incredible and appropriate that this baby should sense light today…the eve of a miraculous birth when the Light of the World came to earth to dwell among us.

    It was this reminder of Jesus’ light that brought me encouragement this morning. Not just for myself, but for each person who feels trapped in darkness this Christmas.  Whether you’re mourning loss of life, your marriage, your plans, etc., there is a Light that will illuminate your next step. He may not reveal your whole path, but He will guide you that next step further.  And it’s usually that next and immediate step that seems so paralyzing.

    I supposed what I wanted to share this morning is that we can become numb and blind to the wonder and light of Christmas.  We can miss it as much in our bliss as in our pain. And some individuals are hurting so much that a celebration seems almost unbearable.  On this Christmas Eve, I’m praying that as we meditate on the most perfect Gift ever given, our minds will be illuminated with insight and emotion that transcends our current distractions or troubles and transports us to that magical place where we can experience true joy.

    “Silent night, Holy night!

    Son of God, Love’s pure light

    Radiant beams from Thy holy face,

    With the dawn of redeeming grace,

    Jesus, Lord at thy birth;

    Jesus, Lord at thy birth.”


    God bless and Merry Christmas,


  • December13th

    I have a dear friend who is striving to dig deeper in her faith…to figure out what she really believes and why she believes it. In the process, she is struggling with the ever-perplexing topic of prayer. After sharing some examples of conversations, I could completely understand why.
    You see, in general, our culture has strayed from a biblical perspective on prayer. We’ve left behind prayer as an opportunity for worship and gratitude to the Lord and whittled the discipline down to supplication alone. In both the Old and New Testaments, God calls us to pray. Often He calls for us to “stand in the gap” and pray on behalf of others. Intercessory prayer is one of the most precious God-given opportunities to take part in His great work on earth. However, I think we’ve missed that God most often uses prayer to change and mold our hearts, minds, motives, and desires. Because of our genie-in-a-bottle mentality, we expect God to demonstrate His love and faithfulness through answering our requests. This “name it and claim it” approach is not new but seems to be growing subtlely in practice and popularity. (I can go into how this approach evolved from misinterpretation of several Scriptures, but then this post will become too long. Email me or comment if you want me to elaborate and explain.) Let me illustrate the problems this mentality and approach cause.
    A particular FB thread shared the concern of a new mother whose baby may have some medical issues. Responses included promises that the baby would be healed because God is faithful, a statement to go and receive God’s blessing of healing and that the infant would be healed, and celebration of what the doctor will tell them tomorrow at their appointment (predicting positive news.) There are some major issues here. First of all, they are giving this woman false hope. They are claiming to believe that they know best by saying that the baby will be healed. What if healing is not God’s plan for this sweet infant? What if He plans to accomplish amazing things through the medical trials of the child and his parents? And is God only faithful if He heals? That seems to be the message implied.
    I’ll be honest in sharing that this thriving baby inside my womb has given me reason to celebrate and praise God. I feel loved because He blessed us with this miracle. And many have commented on God’s faithfulness because He has sustained this pregnancy. However, would He be any less faithful if I had miscarried? Would I be any less loved if He had allowed this baby to join Him in heaven? Did He perhaps demonstrate His love and faithfulness to me even more by carrying me through our previous losses?
    The truth is that God is faithful. Period. He is faithful through the good and the bad. When He answers our personal prayers, He is not any more faithful or loving than when He reveals a different path or plan. When He allows a tiny struggling infant or a cancer-stricken victim to pass away rather than be healed, He is not any less faithful or compassionate. As long as we’re residents on this fallen earth, we will not understand the magnitude and scope of His purposes and plans for our lives. As singer Babbie Mason wrote in one of her songs, “When you can’t trace His hand, trust His heart.” Remember who God is and trust His ability to lead us through the valleys. Some of the most mature and godly Christians I know say that they grew most in their faith and experienced God most intimately when in the midst of devastating circumstances.
    I don’t mean to sound so negative. There is much power in prayer. By all means, people should be praying for this particular family. Praying for the baby’s healing is one request. Praying for peace, wisdom, strength, emotional stability, connectedness for the husband and wife during the wait, a feeling of God’s presence, determination to trust Him no matter the outcome, wisdom for the doctor…these are all requests that can be lifted up to God’s hearing ears. But we MUST not forget that, as Jesus taught us to pray, we ultimately ask for God’s perfect will to prevail. And we must be careful what we say to others. We absolutely do not have the authority to make promises on God’s behalf. And while healing is a miracle that will no doubt bring glory to God, potential bad news tomorrow is just as much an opportunity for God to reveal Himself.
    The largest problem with comments such as I shared above is that a crisis of faith can result when circumstances don’t end up as we believe they should. If we claim that someone will receive healing because God is faithful, what does this say about our faith and our Lord when He doesn’t choose to heal? Do you see how damaging this can be for a young believer or a curious seeker?
    So my question tonight is, “How do you measure His faithfulness?” Suppress the Sunday school answer that’s popping into your mind and dig deeper into your heart. What do you really believe? I unknowingly struggled with this very issue a couple years ago (read post “A Beautiful Mess” for more details), so I now know that our hearts can harbor convictions that are contrary to what our minds “believe.”
    I think it’s so important to encourage each other by sharing our own experiences of God’s faithfulness, particularly during past times of hardship. I know my readers air on the private side given my ratio of emails to comments, but I ask that you please consider publicly sharing a brief experience in your own life of when and how God was faithful, through prayers answered to our satisfaction and through realizations that His plans were above ours. When outcomes didn’t fit your expectations, how did God become more real to you? I pray our testimonies will bring glory to God and hope to those who may be enduring dark moments.
  • December1st

    I’ve been working on this post for weeks. This may be alot of info to read, but I really want to share it in case it helps someone else. Since being diagnosed, I’ve found two other women who also have my condition. And my friend Andrea and I have marveled at the likeness of our symptoms. Both of our homeopathic doctors pretty much gave us the same diagnosis. She has been able to visit a rheumatologist, and you can read that info here. We’re assuming a rheumatologist will give me the same info.

    As I’ve mentioned in a few posts, I’ve had some health issues over the last few months. Actually, the issues have been going on for several years. But no doctor could piece my symptoms together into a diagnosis. A brief recap of the last few years….we discovered through visiting a GI, rheumatologist, general practitioner, and homeopatic doctor that I had developed a high gluten intolerance, adrenal gland fatigue, and random occurrences of blue hands (suggested to be Reynaud’s Phenomenon). I am embarrassed to admit that I ignored the gluten intolerance because I didn’t think I ate that much wheat.
    Well, fast forward to summer and fall 2011. In an effort please Caroline’s palate, I was making all sorts of asian noodle dishes. And I was eating them too. And within a month, I could tell that something was not right. My immune system seemed to be shutting down. Scott and I even thought I might have lupus. Here are just a few of the symptoms I experienced:
    • bloating and digestive problems
    • mouth ulcers called “thrush”
    • yeast infections that would not respond to treatment (often one of the last symptoms to appear)
    • puffy eyes and eye infections
    • chronic fatigue that was worse than ever
    • sadness and depression (which had surfaced in May)
    • joint pain
    • peeling nails
    • brain fog
    • memory problems
    • unexplained weight gain (due to underactive thyroid)
    • various other issues that would pop up
    I couldn’t get into the rheumatologist without seeing my general doctor first (which I didn’t have time to do). In the meantime, I got an appointment with a highly recommended Christian homeopathic doctor (Dee Baudoin) who scans your body with a hand cradle scan that sends data to a computer. She was the first person in years to put all of my symptoms together into one diagnosis. I knew it all had to be connected!
    The conclusion? I have a severe form of candida albicans called candidiasis…essentially an auto-immune disease. All men and women have candida albicans (yeast) naturally in their body. Sometimes it gets out of balance and you might develop a yeast infection or thrush (happens alot when nursing babies.) However, sometimes the yeast can begin growing too rapidly and begin causing major problems .Growing mostly in your intestinal track, it can trigger food intolerances, most commonly to gluten. As your body begins failing to properly digest the gluten, it ferments into toxins, causes microscopic tears in your intestinal linining, and leaks out to your body (nicknamed “leaky gut”). The main toxin is akin to formaldehyde and is the toxin that decomposes bodies after death. So essentially, your body begins breaking itself down! Hence the immune issues. Candidiasis, if left untreated, can lead to multiple organ failure, and is detrimental for people who already suffer immune issues (such as HIV patients, etc.)
    How does this disease develop? It can happen after pregnancies, extreme diets, bites from ticks or insects (lyme disease), overuse of prescription antibiotics, diabetes, birth control use, etc. There has also been a connection to previous users of Acutane.
    Many doctors are not educated about candidiasis or how to diagnosis it, mainly because there is no pharmaceutical drug to treat it. And medical research is driven by pharmaceutical companies. However, our obgyn specialist said that there are some theories that candida is the root of many diseases since it causes the immune system to be so vulnerable.
    How to cure it? Unfortunately, this is the tough part. You can take anti-fungal antibiotics for a time. But in order to get rid of the yeast overgrowth, you literally have to starve it. So here is the list of items you must cut from your diet:
    • gluten
    • caffeine
    • alcohol
    • fruit
    • sugar
    • dairy
    So you CAN eat meats, vegetables, nuts and seeds. But of these, you can’t have:
    • potatoes, carrots, mushrooms,
    • peanuts or peanut butter
    • cured or smoked meats or deli meat
    In other words, I am starving!! And as you can imagine, it is doubly hard to eat from this limited menu when I have pregnancy cravings and aversions. Sometimes broccoli and hummus just don’t cut it. On the occasions when I have cheated, I have a yeast infection within FOUR hours (and this is an ailment I’ve never struggled with before) and often experience other consequences as well. Pregnancy hormones actually encourage growth of yeast, so that’s one strike against my healing. I am still in awe that this baby is thriving in my toxic wasteland of a body!
    Here are a few links if you want more info. Many individuals feel like hypochondriacs because they experience such a vast array of symptoms. If what I’ve written about here sounds familiar, if numerous doctors’ visits have proven no answers or relief, rest assured that you’re not crazy! And there’s something you can do about it.
    So this is probably WAY more info than you ever wanted to know about me. But based on my reading and research, there are tons of women (and even men) who suffer from this disease and don’t know about it. Feel free to email me if you want to discuss more. I’ve been discovering lots of great gluten-free products and recipes and would be happy to share!

  • November8th

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    I found these sweet devotionals last week and had to share. Sweet Dreams Princess and Goodnight Warrior, by Sheila Walsh, provide a precious nightly ritual which includes a brief Bible story, a related devotion, and then a prayer, praise, or promise. While the devotions aren’t very indepth or original, the wording is age-appropriate and captivates my little ones.

    Just a warning that both books are almost exactly the same in that they have the same biblical stories. But they cater toward boy or girl (oops, sorry….warrior or princess) in the devotion part. The author had my son at the word “warrior.” I actually like this format because I can read the story just once to both kids, and then I can spend special time with each one on the devotion. It’s a great way to wind them down before bed and bring their thoughts back to the God who loves them. The difference in the content of their prayers is amazing.
    Oh, and a fun little bonus….the warrior cover glows in the dark!