The Mother In Law

NeeNee and Caleb in March. We do need to take more pictures with you Linda. 😕😉

I just spent the last week with my mother in law, Linda. Sadly, some wives cringe at that thought. I mean I get it. We’re deeply flawed human beings and the dynamics of this relationship can be complicated. But ours has never been. All praise and glory to God and many, many thanks to Linda. 🙂

When I was just shy of 16 years old and meeting Linda for the first time she warmly welcomed me into her home and life. At the time I was the only one who “knew” Jason was my future husband. 😉 To everyone else though I was just a girlfriend. As we got more and more serious Linda treated me more and more like a daughter. I have always felt loved and supported by her. I’ve never felt like we were competing for her sons affections. She was the one who helped him pick out gifts for me on special occasions and set up the best engagement surprise ever. I always, always have felt like she wanted me as her daughter in law. And when she talks about mine and Jason’s marriage, and how much love she observes that is exchanged between us… much he loves me….Or when she tells me what good parents we are…. what a good mommy I am….. and she means it….. She is proud and this means so much to me. I realize this is a rare and wonderful thing that we have.

After many long wonderful talks this week I realize that she has a special way of speaking truth and sharing wisdom and yet being affirming of not only mine and Jason’s relationship but decisions we make as a couple and for our family. She encourages us, prays for us, and trusts that we are seeking God and are “working out our salvation with fear and trembling.” She knows we aren’t perfect and that we may even have to make a few mistakes along the way but I have never felt judged or looked down on by her. And trust me, there’s plenty of opportunities there!!😂

I can’t even express how grateful I am that God has allowed her to be my mother in law and that she is the way she is with me. She is so incredibly kind, gracious, giving, genuine, patient, and loving. I am grateful for her example, her relationship with the Lord, her faithfulness in her marriage and her love for her family, even those annoying dogs! 😜 Linda is the glue in the Graham family and I know her super strength comes from our merciful Father in Heaven. I love her so much and I am thankful she has shown me what it can look like to be the mother in law.❤️


Flexibility, Compassion, And Grace

The days we have visits, sometimes, are our most difficult days. Lets just say my flexibility gets really stretched and challenged. To be honest, by nature I am not that flexible. No doubt this once very tightly wound girl has become more go with the flow but I still like schedules, preparation, and order. Those are all good things but when you are working with families that come from hard places sometimes you just have to chuck it all out the window and pray for grace. God is working on me in this area.

The Cancelled Visits

We have already experienced many of these. We orchestrate our entire morning around getting the babies ready; Timing everything just right so they are perky and pleasant for mommy and daddy and then we get the call, “They won’t be making it today.” Well yes, that can be irritating. I typically am thinking of the ways I can capitalize on not having two children 1 and under. “Maybe I’ll take my kids to the park.” “Maybe we can go to the library.” “Maybe I’ll bury my weary soul in Gods Word for the.entire.time..” “Maybe I’ll go grocery shopping, or clean, or take a nap.” All those awesome plans get jettisoned and it usually takes me half an hour to move on and figure out how to re-work my day. Not to mention the disappointment in the parents. All the thoughts that run through my head. Primarily, “What could possibly keep you from seeing your children? What is more important than spending time with these sweet little guys?”

The Visit and the Aftermath

On the days where we have “successful” visits the babies come home a mess. They are tired, over stimulated, and very fussy. They’ve been passed from person to person, some they don’t know, some they do. I can’t even imagine the effects this has on a 1 year old. How confused he must be….

Grace and Perspective

It would be very easy for me to develop resentment towards the parents in both situations and to become negative and lack hope in them. Yes I do see a difference in the boys when we’ve gone a week with no visits and they have kept a consistent schedule. Yes I do wonder if they’d be “better off” staying with us. I am sure these thoughts are natural. But as soon as I start thinking that way God reminds me that He is bigger than missed visits and disrupted schedules. That He loves these boys and their parents, too. That He has all power to heal and redeem and change the trajectory of an entire family. So I reject the hopeless thoughts and the compulsion to try and control and I pray for the babies and their parents. I ask God to give us opportunity to invest in the mom and dad and pour His love out on them as He has so graciously on us. And then I wait expectantly for those opportunities to arise.

We are certain of God

Last night I sat around a table with my children, my husband and one of our closest friends. When we met this family a year and a half ago it was as if they were long lost friends. No, make that family. This friendship was orchestrated, no doubt, by God. We instantly formed a deep connection and knew that God united our families for His purposes. We all agreed that he didn’t just bring us together for friendship, though that is the icing on the cake, but that he had bigger plans beyond that. We just weren’t sure what. Jason and Stephen quickly went into business together, these two are like Peanut Butter and Jelly. They were meant to be partners. As far as the business world and making money goes the possibilities could be endless with this duo. So they began conspiring all the ways God could use their financial gain for His mission. Over the last year I have seen them work hard, make money, mentor employees and give when they’d rather keep. Being “bosses” has allowed our families to practice hospitality and love on individuals who work for us in unique ways. We constantly pray and point them to the God we serve, Who is gracious, and loving, and the reason we get to do what we do. But every time our families come together, we talk and wonder if God is calling us to do something else. There’s just this weight on our hearts for the scores of people, especially in our area, who have no relationship with Christ. We want to reach them! And while we know that God can continue to use us right where we are, we all have wondered if He is calling us to more. More risk, more generosity, more letting go, less safety, less convenience, less comfort. Last nights conversation was no different,….. Except that as we sat together, our families were suddenly hit, simultaneously yet unrelated, with the reality that everything you have can be taken from you in an instant.

A small storm came through yesterday with a trajectory, it seems, straight for Papa Johns. We had already been dealing with roof issues that the landlord neglected to take care of. Yesterday as the bottom fell out of the sky so did the roof inside Papa Johns. “Would you like your pizza soggy or soaked?” That was the joke cracking wit of my daughter Micaila. The store was floating and we’ll be shut down for I don’t even know how long. I’m thinking not only about our investment but our employees (and maybe how now I have to cook tonight :-/ ) And then I get a call from my friend asking for prayer because they are at risk of losing everything they own. Being a small business owner is no cake walk. Fortunately we do have insurance and lawyers and all sorts of things to protect us. But even greater, we reminded each other that we serve a God Who is the ultimate source of protection. As we sat together, what I was most encouraged by with these two men was how they acknowledged Gods sovereign hands in the midst of this. They weren’t scared, bitter, angry, or complaining. Neither men were worrying about the future except in the way that they don’t want to miss what God is trying to impress on them.

“Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.” Francis Chan

We put a lot on the table last night. And I pray that our families would continue to walk in obedience and grace as God leads us each day. I’m so thankful for His provision, thankful for my husband and our friends who encourage my faith daily, and thankful for the security found in Him.

This couldn’t be more fitting. From Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest.

“……And what we will be has not yet been made known.” 1 John 3:2

Certainty is the mark of the commonsense life– gracious uncertainty is the mark of the spiritual life. To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways, not knowing what tomorrow may bring. This is generally expressed with a sigh of sadness, but it should be an expression of breathless expectation. We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God. As soon as we abandon ourselves to God and do the task He has placed closest to us, He begins to fill our lives with surprises……….Leave everything to Him and it will be gloriously and graciously uncertain how He will come in– but you can be certain that He will come. Remain faithful to Him.

To read that devotional in its entirety click here, Gracious Uncertainty.

What if?

I have this photo album that I stick miscellaneous photos in and so there are pictures from when Jason and I were just married and living at the beach all the way through the years up to this past Christmas, which is what I was putting in. Those actually filled the album and so now I need a new one. I digress. When I opened it, it flopped to a spot that has been a tender place for me. Tender like a wound that on the outside looks healed but on the inside still has some work to do. Here laid photos of a little face I’ve had difficulty looking at, for many reasons, over the last 2 years. Maybe you have a hunch at what little face I’m talking about. It’s been just over two years now since we said goodbye to our first and only child we cared for through fostering. I will never forget that day when we had to make one of the most difficult and humbling choices to have her placed with another family. Overwhelmed just doesn’t seem to encompass my state but at that point I felt I wasn’t serving her or my family well. I wanted to hang in there but I didn’t know if I could. I didn’t know what the “right thing” to do was. Hang on or let go. I was unraveling. In the days, weeks, and months to follow I have asked God all sorts of questions.
“Were we not ready?”

“Why that way?”

“What was the purpose?”

“Did we do the right thing?”

“Did we damage her fragile situation more by having her moved?”

“Will we step back into that ministry?”

I have also continued to pray for that little girl. I pray that wherever we failed her, wherever any person has failed her, that God would reveal Himself to her and be her source of hope, healing, and strength.

Being foster parents was hard. Harder than we imagined, in ways we didn’t see coming.

So for a while now, I’ve looked back on those photos and it’s just been a big fat reminder of my inadequacy. Because toward the end, I struggled to even have affectionate feelings for her. That’s hard for me to admit here because that is a wretched feeling. I mean I’ll be honest, there are days I don’t particularly “feel” like being all lovey on my kids but they are my kids. I gave birth to them and because of Gods marvelous design it is natural for me to know beyond a shadow of a doubt I love them, even if I do feel crummy at the moment that I don’t want to hug all over them. With someone else’s child you question yourself. You think “what’s wrong with you, don’t you have a heart?!” And yet you are void of those feelings that make it easier to hug and hold this little child. I cried and prayed and reminded myself over and over that love is a choice, not a feeling. And I would hug her and hold her and sit her in my lap and just trust God would fill the gap. Today, for the first time, I looked at those photos and saw her sweet face and by her smile was reminded that she was a happy little girl and I remembered good times. I was having a moment when I didn’t feel like a complete and utter failure and it was sweet. And then it happened…..regret snuck in again. I thought “What if we had hung in there?” But as I sat there I knew deep down that God was in control, still is, and even through what is difficult He is sovereign.

“What if?”

Wondering “What if?” is a tricky thing. Sometimes it’s good. If applied positively to the future you can dream and aspire and accomplish wonderful things. But sometimes “What if?” leads us to fear, resentment or for me today regret. Regret isn’t all bad, we learn from mistakes right? And a synonym for regret is repentant which is Biblical. “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.” Psalms‬ ‭51:17‬ But regret that is condemning and guilt producing is not where God wants us to stay. Repent, yes. But as you repent and turn don’t forget to move forward. Satan wants regret to steal your joy and the future God longs for you to have in Christ. Don’t let him.

I don’t know what your “What if?” is. I don’t know if it’s inspiring or paralyzing, if it instills fear, anger or regret. The fact is we can not change our past. We can learn from it and we must trust God with both it and the future. Our choices do matter…. and I pray my choices today, (including how I choose to use my past) and tomorrow would reflect greater dependence and trust in a mighty, powerful, all knowing, and loving God. I pray that for you, too.

I love how John Piper puts it “Nothing can blow you over when you are inside the walls of Romans 8:28.”

What I’ve Learned in Ten Years of Marriage

I have said before that God knew exactly what he was doing when he united Jason and me in marriage. Jason isn’t perfect but he is perfect for me. He doesn’t “complete me” but God uses him and our marriage to draw me to Himself, the one Who does “complete” me. I was going to do ten things but I have come up with eight. So here we go.

What I’ve Learned in Ten Years of Marriage

Stop comparing
It’s hard to not get sucked in to comparing your marriage and your man to other people’s. I have gone no where fast when I’ve made this a habit. It’s one thing to have goals and to desire a more godly marriage, but lay all of that at the feet of Jesus and allow His Spirit to transform you, your spouse and your marriage.

Appreciate each other’s differences
Sometimes we view others differences as negative; they don’t do it like us and that’s bad. I’d be lying if I said I never thought that in my marriage. But it’s also true for me to say that those differences are exactly what I need. Even those things I find so frustrating at points, give me a day (or ten years) and I realize “yeah I needed that from Jason.” God knows this, too.

Make Love not War
And yes I do mean sex. I have experienced first hand the damaging effects of infrequent physical intimacy. I used to think only guys “needed” sex and “he better meet my emotional needs….” but after ten years and God challenging me in my role as a godly wife I have experienced the blessing of making love often. I could probably write a separate post on this topic because God truly has worked tremendously in this area but I will suggest three things if you find yourself struggling here.
1.) Pray about it. Your heart, his heart, Gods Will.
2.) Pursue your man. Don’t just make him come after you, this communicates it’s some sort of duty. Be confident and go after him! Guys want to be wanted, too.
3.) Talk about what y’all like. No seriously. Yeah that seems awkward and at first it is, but it is incredibly important and breeds not only a pleasurable experience but openness, honesty, and trust.

Do not underestimate the evil forces working against you and your marriage
I can’t stress this enough. Satan HATES love, unity, peace, purity and godliness. (And that’s not an exhaustive list) He will try to undermine all things good and godly by any means possible. “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter‬ ‭5:8‬‬‬

Do not underestimate the power of God’s Word and prayer
Commit to soak (bathe if you will) yourself in the scriptures everyday. They are purifying, refreshing, and necessary.
“Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Colossians‬ ‭3:12‬
I highly recommend the book, “The Power of the Praying Wife” by Stormie Omartian. It taught me how to pray for my husband and I’ve seen God work powerfully through those prayers.

In ALL things walk humbly
This is a difficult one. Jason is further along with this than me. 😉
“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” Ephesians‬ ‭4:2‬‬‬
And my favorite quote from whom I am unsure, “Seek to understand, not to be understood.” Harder than you think but I promise it brings about mutual understanding.

Seek to be a God pleaser
The world is bombarding us with messages of “please yourself” and “do what makes YOU happy”. This may be one of the hardest things we come up against in marriage. Dying to self.
“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13
Just scale that verse back a bit and instead of laying down one’s life lets say to “lay down one’s rights.” In marriage you will have to lay down your rights and it will be a great act of love. My sister in law reminded me of this recently. In a nutshell “Your response is not about how you feel, it’s about what will be most pleasing to God.”
“For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” Philippians‬ ‭2:13‬
“So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you.” 1 Peter‬ ‭4:19‬

Reminiscence on sweet moments and why you came to love your man
I’ve found this especially helpful when we’re at odds. Sometimes I’ll write those things down. This softens my heart and stirs my affections for Jason.

I am so grateful for Gods grace in our ten years of marriage. We don’t know it all, we definitely are still a mess but we certainly have learned a lot, the greatest thing being surrender to Christ. You can implement all sorts of plans, methods, date nights, but your heart must be surrendered to the King to experience the satisfaction He longs for you to have in your marriage.

Here’s to ten years! And to wrap this up I can’t resist but link our wedding song. I played it this morning while we flipped through our wedding book. A Page Has Turned by Bebo Norman

When I grow up….

Today I was really missing my mom. I know God brought our family to Georgia, away from all our family, for reasons more important than my comfort and pleasure but there are some days that I just ache to be near my mom and dad. But God uses this longing to teach me that it is Him who can supply everything I need. So if you too find yourself missing a loved one, maybe even for different reasons, pursue Christ and let Him be your Comforter and soul Satisfier. 

For several years now after Christmas my mom and dad have caravanned with us back to Georgia. At some point during their visit I am usually conspiring ways to get them to stay a little longer. I could have them a month and it probably wouldn’t be long enough. This year I was able to talk my dad into journeying home alone and letting mom fly back via Spirit Air. I got to keep her an extra 8 days. 🙂 

When I grow up I want to be like my mom.

Some would probably say “You ARE your mom” and in many ways I am like her. I saw this great plaque that made me laugh. It said “Mirror, mirror on the wall, I am my mother after all.” 🙂 But what I mean is I want to be like my mom in the way she loves Jesus and is wholly, unashamedly, downright dependent on Him. I mean, whether we see it this way or not we ALL are dependent on God but my mom recognizes this need for Him in her life and daily, moment by moment at times, she brings herself into the presence of her King and yearns for His grace, will, and wisdom. My mom is not perfect but her love for Jesus is without question.

“Seek the Lord and His strength; yearn for and seek His face and to be in His presence continually!”‭‭ 1 Chronicles‬ ‭16:11‬

God has graced my mother with many great qualities. She is a servant. If she CAN do it she WILL. We joke about how she says yes to everything. My mom has labeled herself with M.A.D.D. (Ministry attention deficit disorder) and sometimes laments over this characteristic. We tend to long for that individual ministry calling but I don’t think this is a defect or flaw if we don’t identify one. I think God needs individuals who are willing to come alongside any ministry to assist those with specific callings. I like to consider these the “Divergents” of ministry. I mean who doesn’t wanna be divergent? 😉

My mom is easy going and fun. She has this awesome ability to tackle tasks without getting overwhelmed. I can be staring at a mountain of paperwork, doctors appointments, and list of to-dos and she’ll be cheering in front of me “Just take it one thing at a time.” As we organized and post Christmas cleaned, she had such a “we can do this AND laugh/have fun” approach. Her attitude and quoting of scripture and truth repeatedly takes away my tendency to become anxious in certain situations and points me to the Source of peace and joy.

She is crazy gracious. Thank goodness for me…. She sees people from such a loving-merciful perspective and extends compassion and truth in ways that clearly identifies the power of the Holy Spirit within her.

…..that clearly identifies the power of the Holy Spirit within her……

This is how I want to be like her. I want to consistently act in ways that clearly identify the Spirit of God at work within me. And the key component I saw in my moms relationship with Christ is a beautiful marrying of mutual pursuit. He pursues her and she pursues Him. She pursues Him in His Word and in communicating with Him. He speaks in her heart and she seeks to obey. She listens FOR Him and talks to Him. She pursues Him honestly and repentantly. It is consistent. It is daily. Every morning I heard her rise early, denying precious hours of sleep after bunking with my children. (Being that they are bed hogs this is just not quality sleep.) At times in the day or evening she would retreat to her room to read or pray. One night we both escaped to her room and proceeded to cast all our cares and cover every base we could conceive of in prayer. 

What my mom reminded me though is how our relationship with Christ should be pursued like our sweetest most precious earthly relationships. We think about Him always, we talk with Him every chance we can, we ask for and value His opinion, we trust His wisdom, we heed His instruction and we treasure Him above all else. 

So Mom, thank you for making Christ your treasure, even at points above time with family. May we all learn from your beautiful example.

“But may all who search for you be filled with joy and gladness in you. May those who love your salvation repeatedly shout, “The LORD is great!”‭‭ Psalms‬ ‭40:16‬

*After finishing this post my mom called me to share about an old journal she ran across. The journal exposed some of her early struggles (like rising early to commune with God- exhaustion is definitely the theme for young moms) in her pursuit of Christ and it was a wonderful reminder that sanctification is indeed lifelong and often slow. Dear Lord, help us to never lose heart or grow impatient with the process.*