Thursday, March 22, 2012

my babies are His babies

As Christian women, I believe one of the hardest areas to trust on the Lord wholeheartedly is the raising of our children. Often times we take on the mindset of a "determinist."

"[We] figure if [we] can protect and shelter them well enough, if [we] can always be positive with him, if [we] can send them to Christian schools or if [we] can home school, if [we] can provide the best possible childhood experience, then [our] child will turn out ok." 
--excerpt from "Shepherding a Child's Heart" by Tedd Tripp

I have lived the majority of my parenting life in fear that one grave mistake will break my children in an irreparable way and I will have squandered the gift given to me to steward.  I have believed that if I could only stay home, home school, and be a specific mold of a parent, then both my daughters (and soon, my son) will grow up loving the Lord and making every good choice under the sun. 

But I was sorely mistaken.  Sorely wrong.

Life is full of unexpected circumstances that change the shaping influences in our children's lives--whether for the better or the worse--and sometimes, even as their parents, there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. I don't believe this reflects poorly on our behalf, but rather forces us to recognize that even though those chubby cheeks and gorgeous little eyes are ours for the stewarding, we are still not in control and cannot claim ownership, even of them. At the end of the day, the Holy Spirit gave us these little ones for the purpose of partnership with Him.  He desires that we partner with Him and allow Him to guide, lead and show us the way of a true parent; He is after all the Perfect Father. 

He is our partner in parenting, indeed He is the leader in our parenting.  We are merely to follow and demonstrate and teach His love. Whether we stay at home all 18 years or 18 days, whether we are able to home school or not.  The Holy Spirit is the author, finisher and perfecter of our faith and our children's faiths.  Circumstances do not determine faith, but rather our degree of faith determines the outcome of such particular circumstance. 

"All men are broken. And broken men break their children, who grow up to be broken men. BUT, I AM bigger than that. Your babies are my babies...
--The Heavenly Father

Monday, March 19, 2012

softening our hearts

I think life has a way of hardening us.

If you notice, children are seldom hardened in their little hearts and lives.  Although children are being hardened in their hearts younger and younger these days due to the widespread acceptance of wickedness, overall, children still remain the same.

There is an open, un-feared vulnerability about their every way that speaks to so many on so many different levels.  It's why children inspire so many to such great heights.

But as life evolves and injustice is lived among and difficult circumstances encloses us into despair, our hearts turn to itself for survival.  It creates within it a wall of stone that gives the illusion of safety and the appearance of comfort.

But this is sin. It is not right. It is not good or holy or righteous. It is not pleasing to the Lord and it serves no purpose other than an increase in our pride and wickedness of heart. His desire is the softening and molding of my heart to meld completely with His in perfect love, unity, selflessness.

"Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh." 
--Ezekiel 36:26
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"And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God."
--Ezekiel 11:19-20

It's quite ironic that both these Scriptures demonstrating to us that His desire is to give us a heart of flesh (a soft heart) are in Ezekiel.  One of the expressed purposes of this book is to confront the exiles of Israel which have been brought to Babylon.  In their hardship, Israel turned to other idols and to false gods to survive the heartache and trauma they'd endured. 

Much like we do now. When our marriage is on a fast track to divorce, when a newborn baby is being declared a death sentence, when our parents die an untimely death to cancer or some other horrible disease, when we receive terrible news that rock our entire core... Our hearts tend to harden in an instinctual attempt to survive trauma. When we know the Scriptures in Matthew 5,6 and 7 but cannot bear the thought of living through the persecution one more day. 

But it's all a lie. 

Only Jesus can remove the heart of stone.  Only He can heal the wounded and broken-hearted.  Only He can declare justice when injustice surrounds us. And only He is enough. I wish I had a "how-to" when it comes to giving over our hearts of stone-- of bitterness and un-forgiveness, false justice and self-centeredness-- but all I can see is the picture of a Potter molding His clay.
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His patient hands create the vessel which He purposed in His heart in the beginning, and when the vessel dries up and becomes stiff and unmovable, He showers the vessel with just enough water to make it bend and flex again.

His Spirit is our water.  His Word is our water. 

And that's the best I can do when it comes to a how-to.

"... so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word..."
-- Ephesians 5:26

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Speaking identity to our children

When I was barely eight years old (yes, two weeks after I turned eight) the unthinkable happened-- the unforgivable, really.  My mother passed away after having been sick for several weeks and hospitalized for three days.  It was sudden and none of us really knew how to manage.  I remember when my father and grandmother called me into the side bedroom in my grandmother's condo.  Several people were over the house, and I'd seen strange behaviors from pretty much everyone.  My grandfather had come to visit (from Florida, mind you); my grandmother had been balling on the family room floor and I'd gotten picked up early from school.  In my innocent eight-year-old mind, the thought of the most important person in my life (besides my Daddy) being ripped away from me wasn't even in a near vacinity.  When my Dad and Grandmother called me into that side room, my Grandmother's eyes were red and puffy from crying and my Daddy looked extremely nervous. That was the first time my thoughts betrayed me... "I hope they're not gonna tell me my mommy died" I remember thinking.  They sat in the white iron day-bed that decorated the room and Daddy picked me up and sat me on his lap. He braced himself and my grandmother swallowed hard enough for me to notice.  "They found out what's wrong with Mami."


"Mommy has cancer baby..."

In the half-a-second it took for him to utter the next sentence, my little brain went about a million miles per mili-second and I saw, what I thought, would have been my life with a mother who had cancer.  I saw chemo, I saw me carrying her through chemo, I saw kids at school talking about me-the girl who's mom had cancer-, I saw her fighting. And all the while these images are flashing through my mind, I felt like a bullet went straight to my heart.  I literally felt shattered. And I convulsed straight to Daddy's shoulder.

Sometime between the time that it took for me to drop my head into his shoulder, he uttered that death sentence to my heart...

"Nicole, Mommy died."

I don't remember anything after that.  My life had a black-out and I can't fully explain what I believe happened. The next thing I remember was walking out the door of that side bedroom and going out to the hallway to play with my neighbor, who'd been told the news just before me. I don't know how I reacted.  I don't know if I freaked, or cried, or sat in shock. I don't know...

Children find their identity in their parents.  I believe God ordains it so.  And when one parent, or both, are missing, so is a portion of a child's identity.  There is something fiercely deep about a Father's Affirmation and a Mother's Touch.  While I was sitting and praying to the Lord, I strongly felt Him lead me by saying... "Speak identity into your children daily."  Hearing His guidance reminded me of my struggles growing up, trying to find myself as a young woman.  And that led me here.

I would like to exhort you, to seek out the Lord on behalf of your children and ask Him who they are... And then speak it to your children, daily. A large part of my life and my identity went missing for a very long time in the absence of a mother, and I am only recently finding out what that identity is, by His grace and His mercy.  In that seeking and asking and knocking before the Lord I have come to realize that I don't want any of my children to lack a knowledge of their identity. 

My little girls are wives and mothers, princesses and heroes, beautiful and accepted. 
My little boys are husbands and fathers, mighty men and conquerors, strong sons.
And I am their mother, and they are my babies.
And every day I have been given life they will hear it from Mommy. 
Because Jesus told me to.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Parenting from Revelation

One of my New Years' Commitments (because resolutions are sooo 1999) was to study the book of Revelation in depth. Considering the first verse declares that it is actually a revelation of our Savior, Jesus Christ and not the death and brimstone book the majority seems to believe/teach, I decided to dive in heads first.  I decided to follow Mike Bickle's study guide as an independent study and listen to the corresponding teachings as needed, as well as read a topical book on Revelation as supplement. I'm still in the 7 Churches of the Revelation (ch 2-3) so I can't say I've gotten very far in the book yet (because chapter 1 is soooooo rich! :) but I am seeing Jesus in a different or rather, Rhema, light.

Jesus Christ is a perfect leader who is zealous for the purification of His Bride and will do whatever it costs to accomplish it in us. Whatever it costs.

So, in my Mommy-Brain/Heart, I am wondering how this revelation affects my parenting.  What does it mean for Jesus to be a Zealous, Intense, Perfect Leader in my day-to-day parenting?

I realized that in the same zealousness that Christ diligently addresses sin and lack in my life, so I am to be in the life of my children.  I am to be zealous for their holiness; I am to be diligently and fervently opposing everything that hinders love in their little hearts.  It is my mandate as a parent to shepherd their little hearts straight into the arms of Love Himself and to keep the wolves and the foxes that spoil the vine so very far away.

That's kind of one of those-- whoa moments.  What an honor.  What a responsibility.

"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding."
- Prov 9:10

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

my piece of humble pie

Post written while "out of commission" that I feel led to share now =)

I have to admit that I threw quite a tantrum Sunday night. I sat Sunday afternoon, quite upset, after spending all day at Church trying to find someone to watch our 16mo old for a few hours while I went to work. Finding a permanent babysitter a mere 10hrs/week has been quite a difficult struggle, and week-to-week, it's gotten tougher and tougher. So I am doing the dishes on Sunday and basic housework, pouting-- mostly to myself-- and whining before the Lord.

"I've babysat so many times before. You'd think I'd sown enough seeds to be able to reap babysitting when I need it."

"This is what I'm talking about Lord, I'm hidden. No one sees nor cares.  No one's willing to live community style and sacrificially. I'm the only one."

"I'm so over everything and everyone... Why do I even try?"

Wha, Wha, Whaaa!

Then, in the midst of a quite the ungrateful, whiny, bratty heart, I feel His voice whisper to me... "Nicole, what is this situation revealing about your own heart?"

... Aaaand cue mortified, repentant heart.

"Yes Lord. I'm a whiny, ungrateful brat. Yikes! I'm sorry. You are good. You are still so very good.  I don't love You for what You do, but for who You are. You are Holy and Perfect; You are Love and You are good! Please forgive me.  I am so ungrateful before you."

Then I start to list everything I'm thankful for.

About 15mins later I get a text... The babysitter we'd originally really wanted agreed to spend some time with our littlest- and she'd bring her sister.

Score! "You really are good God."

About 35 minutes later, a friend who normally doesn't call is ringing my phone.

"Did you find a babysitter? I know that [enter man name here]'s a guy and all, but he offered to watch her for you in the Prayer Room. I told him how frustrated you were and he offered right away."

Be still my heart. Someone[s] really does care.

The next day, all goes well and my day is filled with peace knowing my little one was well taken care of.

I get a text-- "Do you care if other people do your laundry?"

Because, of course, my laundry room AND bedroom were ridiculously loaded with dirty laundry. Ummmmmm....

"No, but please don't!" I reply. I'm mortified she'd even see how horrible our laundry room was. Bleh.

I come home from work to a spotless house (even cleaner than I'd left it-- because yes, it was clean!). I see her swapping out a load from washer to dryer. Oy. Ok, ok. One load.  We get to chatting and I'm so grateful to her.  She leaves, I sit and play with the littlest and then go into our bedroom.

Oh. My. Gosh.

What the Husband and I had left in total dissarray was now immaculate. There were absolutely no clothes anywhere, besides on our bed, folded. That same bed was made, the floor vacuumed, and the furniture dusted. Dear Jesus. Be still my heart.

I didn't know what to think first... Horrific Mortification or Jubilant Rejoicing.

This is the kind of stuff I thought only happened to other people-- wow. Someone[s] cares.  But dear God, how humiliating. My room was a mess. I mean, pig-sty mess. (Listen, we were recovering from a sick baby...)

So, right on cue, pregnant hormones go into overdrive and I start to cry-- hysterically.  Because I'd just eaten a big ol', fat ol' piece of that good ol' recipe of Humble Pie. And man was it BI-tter going down. Mmmm.

Just the day before, I'd been ungrateful and complaining of just about everything. Finances, babysitter, husband, blah, blah, blah.  And here I stood, having had my feet washed and dried after walking a mile in my own dung.

"Dear God, you really are good. How much I am in need of You!"

It is amazing how much one simple random act of kindness (and service) can break and annhiliate pride in an individual.  Am I serving that way?  Is my lifestyle declaring His goodness to those around me?  Is my service being used to annhiliate whatever may hinder love in someone else? Dear God, I have a long way to go. But man am I thankful that You are good and You walk with me all the way.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Family Brand: Life!

Last week, I began a series on our Family Brand. It is all about the characteristics, or rather "building stones" our family will set its existence on. Granted, it's Jesus... but in Him there are callings to which He's called us to. And this is the journey to setting down the building blocks for our family...

Family Brand Attribute #1: Life

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

You know, ever since we announced this unexpected pregnancy, my eyes have been opened to the stand (or lack thereof) society takes on behalf of "big" families and children in general.

See, I have two girls and expecting our first boy.  Biologically, we have one of each, plus my covenant (alternative word for "step") daughter. In society's eyes, our family's complete.  So, the common statement I receive (because it's no longer a question) is, "Awe, your second pregnancy... so you have the pair, a girl and the boy... so that's it, right... You're done!"

Um. Wrong.
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Since our courtship, Caleb and I have discussed baby names, family ideals and many more foundational ideas for our family and our relationship, but the number of children has never come up.  We've toyed with a number here or there, but truthfully not for more than 15 seconds and not in any real way. My number always seems higher than his, but then again, I think the most serious comment I ever got out of him was... "I'm done at eight. If we're still going after the eighth, I'm closing up shop." [enter a funny sorta "haha" laugh here]

Ha. Ha. My husband's such a jokester.

In all reality though, our family will be done when the Lord decides we've had enough children. We don't know what that'll look like. Enough could very well be after Haven Justice makes his arrival late May/early June.  Then again, we could just be getting started.  At the end of the day, our family desires to be one that stands for life, no matter what it looks like. As we seek to establish values that will make up the "brand" of our family, life is at the very top because Jesus is life.  And He is life more abundantly.  He is the one that establishes the home and blesses the womb.  He is the one who breathes life into little children and brings them, as gifts, into this world.  Because He's very careful and very much aware and thoughtful of these little lives, we want to be to.  Whether we allow the Lord to grant to us a quiver-full-plus household by the very fruit of our womb, we will stand for life.  Whether it's by consistently praying for our friends who haven't been able to conceive life due to some unexplained medical reason, our family will stand for life.  Whether it's by making the statement that life begins at conception and any attempt to rid oneself of such life is murder-- we will stand for life. Whether it's by adopting and taking in a child whose parents chose life but are unable to care for them-- our family will choose life.

No matter what the circumstance, no matter the cost, the demand for the sacrifice... Our family will choose life. And by the leading of the Holy Spirit, this is the very first stone of our family's brand.

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."
- Jesus in John 10:10

Saturday, March 10, 2012

being his helpmate even when it's hard.

One of the ways our family has been transitioning is in that my husband has recently opened his own business and is working tirelessly night and day to make it a successful source of income for our family.  I am so incredibly proud of him and blessed to know that he takes his role of "provider" in our family seriously.  I am confident the Lord will bless the work of his hands.

With this transition, however, comes a sudden shift for me in how I support my husband and how he needs me to be his helpmate. This season requires a greater measure of faith on my part on both my sweet husband and the Spirit of God that dwells inside of him.  Part of opening up a business is taking a sort of financial risk.  Being super frugal, this makes me nervous to the bone and truthfully, I wasn't crazy about the idea.  I trust my husband's abilities and his passion about this endeavor, but any sort of risk-taking makes me want to hide under my bed and gives me a sense of anxiousness I'd rather not divulge.  And on top of my anxious feelings, I am still called and required to be his helpmate.  Dear God, this is a recipe for disaster.

"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." --Phillipians 4:6

In the midst of this new venture it is incredibly easy to become a nag, to sound like that dripping faucet on a rainy day(Prov 27:15).  It is easy to worry over the money being invested rather than the heart of a husband who desires the unconditional support of his wife.  I hate to admit it, but I have more than once been that dripping faucet on a rainy day.  But yesterday, admist another minor melt-down moment, the Spirit of the Lord reminded me that I was created and designed to be Caleb's help-mate, for such a time as this and many to come. 

Being designed to be our husband's help-mate isn't always about keeping the home clean and providing warm, healthy meals on the table.  It isn't always about homemaking or child-rearing.  It isn't always about serving our husband in practical ways that make plenty of sense.  Sometimes, it's about trusting the Holy Spirit to guide him, even when it means your ideal of security is tested.  Sometimes, it's about praying not only for your husband but with him and offering up a thousand encouraging words, trusting and believing every word.

It is, however, always about trusting someone and something greater than your husband.  At the end of the day, the Lord is faithful, and by supporting the man He's given me, I am indeed obeying the Lord.  And He is one who rewards faithfulness in pursuit and diligence in obedience (Heb 11:6).

Friday, March 9, 2012

Since becoming a parent, I have immersed myself in many to-do's and how-to's and list of ways I need to be a better parent, a better wife, a better homemaker and a better woman in general.  I have read many books, blog posts, articles and have sought more counsel in all these areas than I dare to admit.  I have made it my goal to become the very woman in Proverbs 31.  But in all my searching and seeking, striving and doing, I have missed the heart of the woman in Proverbs 31.

"... but a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised."

The woman in Proverbs 31 did all she did not to achieve a position of honor or to earn the praise of her family, but rather she did all she did out of a place of nearness and closeness to the heart of God.  The service of the Proverbs 31 woman was not a means to an end, but rather an outpouring (the result) of the rooting and grounding of her heart in the Word

"... the purpose of the Father's heart is intimacy, and even the fulfilling of task is to be in the context of intimate partnership [with Jesus]." -- Gary Wiens, Come to Papa

As a mommy and a wife, it is absolutely imperative for us to stay plugged in and connected to the heart of the Heavenly Father and that the ministry to our family is an extension and overflowing from that connection to Jesus.  Every time I wipe my children's bottoms, serve my husband a hot meal, or clean (and pack!) the toilets in our home, I want it to be an outpouring of my intimacy and relationship with Jesus.  

Out of that place of nearness to God, her family rises up and call her blessed.  Out of that place of nearness to God, the heart of her husband trusts her.  There is no to-do list that could fulfill the role, there is no how-to or formula that could make us that woman.  It is only the grace of God and His mercy that make us into the image of a "worthy woman and the wife of noble character." 

By His grace and His mercy. Amen. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Purim: A foundation in our traditions!

One of the foundations we want to establish in our family is a sharing in the Hebrew culture and Hebrew customs. Though we are not Messianic Jews, we do believe in partnering with Israel and the heart of God on behalf of His people and the little piece of land that is so special to His heart.

Sundown today marks the begginning  of Purim, a Hebrew celebration marking the deliverance of the Jewish people from death at the hands of Haman, the wicked of prince in Persia. "Religiously observant Jews around the world will participate in the Fast of Esther on the 13th of Adar.  They will fast all day on Wednesday (Mar. 7) until sundown. This fits perfectly with our Global Bridegroom Fast this month which is Monday, March 5, through Wednesday, March 7.  This means we will be fasting with Jews around the world not only commemorating the Fast of Esther, but in intercession for the same enemy Israel faces today."

In celebration of Purim, our family has decided to start a small tradition to honor and celebrate with the Jewish nation. After dinner time, we decided to watch the TBN movie One Night with the King. It follows the story of Esther pretty closely and accurately. We also bought Purim cookies-hamantachean- that our Church sold on Sunday for such a time as this... These Purim cookies are shaped like Haman’s hat, his ears, his pocket (triangular).  Eating the cookies is symbolic of getting rid of Haman. 

In honor of Purim and these yummy Hamantachean cookies, here is the recipe our Church family used to make them.  These will be a household regular for our family from now on! Mmmm.!

2/3 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup orange juice (no pulp)
 1 cup white four
1 cup whole wheat flour 
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 table spoon cinnamon 

Cream butter and sugar. Mix in the egg. Mid in the orange juice. Then alternate mixing in 1/2 cup of the flours adding the baking soda and cinnamon on the last one. Refrigerate per night or at least 2 hours. Roll out, cut into circles with a cookie cutter. Add desired filling and fold into a triangle shape.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Our Family Brand

I was sitting in the prayer room, in my very worn and very well-known chair. It wasn't my typical day to be there, but I needed to be there nonetheless. The prayer focus is on families, and I begin to really press into His presence and pray for the amazing little gift God has given to me-- these three little blessings and my insanely amazing husband.

Then, I begin to feel His Spirit speak to my heart and He starts to tell me all about our "Family Brand." A brand is a mark made by burning or otherwise to indicate kind, grade, make or ownership. Because of the amazing gift that my family has been to me, I am committed to ensuring that everything our family indicates points straight to the One who has made and who owns our family and everything it's about.  I want our family brand to demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ and the order He has ordained perfectly for our family. I want the Arrazolo's way-of-life to show off who He is... And I want you to join me.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be on a journey to figure out exactly what our Family Brand is and I'll be sharing it with ya'll along the way. My prayer for you is that you will seek Him out too and that you will know what your Family Brand is and what it's all about...