Lora is now at www.loraarmendariz.com
As winter flew into spring my sweaters were switched to T-shirts. My husband is busier with the warmer months bringing extra challenges and chores to his job. The pastures turned green and the sun came out.
And about that time I found something new. It is a tiny little book called The Practice of the Presence of God. Created 300 years ago it is a collection of letters and writings from a man who had enjoyed a personal walk with God the last 40 years of his life. He enjoyed decades of continual peace and joy from changing is inner-monologue to a constant dialogue with God.
I've been searching for and begging for peace, strength, and joy from God for years. I study the Bible, follow the teachings of ministries, and read volumes on how to develop that relationship with Him.
Guess what...all those fruits of the spirit come easily when I simply include God in on my every thought.
My worries over our baby Micaeala's development became trivial when I started talking daily with Him about her. Every time I’d bring up concerns and worries that sickened me His peace would flow to my heart. From peace I found joy and a deep love for my daughter and the woman she will grow to be.
Patience left me with each new tantrum and test our two-going-on-three-year-old Adela tried me with. But when I'd complain and talk to Him about it I suddenly saw that I had all the tender patience I will ever need to guide her closer to the woman she will be.
I've never had to give so little fight for such a big portion of His peace.
There is sacrifice. I gave up self-serving inner-dialogue. It is hard to go on a tangent about how unfair life is when you talk to Him.
And of course, I had to sacrifice the very part of me that I believe to be completely and perfectly my own...my thoughts, my mind.
Me ten years ago, a year ago, a season ago, would have never considered letting that go. I would have argued to all eternity that it wasn't necessary. But, it is. Because the more you give up and let go to God, the more space you have for Him.
So, the next prayer you start, I challenge you not to finish it. Talk to Him all day long about the silly things, the big things, the anger, the unfair, the good, the great, the blessings.
He truly loves being brought that close to us.
You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, beause they trust in you.
If you are interested in this book just click on the image and you can find it on Amazon. :)
I saw You everywhere today, God.
You were in the laughter of my baby, a gift that fills my heart. You were in the kisses of my daughter and the feel of her arms around my neck. You were in the peace I felt as I waited for my husband to return home. You were in the strength I had to keep going as the coffee ran out. You were in the patience I found when nap time neared and frustration was high.
I remembered You when I realized I faced a visit from Micaela's new therapists with anticipation, not fear. I waited for them to pull up in our winter drive way and I wondered how You would show Yourself during our visit. I was not disappointed. Your Grace is ever present when I share Micaela's story and see the wonder on faces as they realize the miracle she is.
Today I was so close to you. Your presence is more beautiful than the greatest treasure. You peace is more precious than gold.
Oh, that I might never wander from this protection. That you might be felt so clearly everyday.
Help my heart to stay, not to wander.
Keep my eyes fixed on You.
Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.
2 Thessalonians 3:16
3...2...1 Happy New Year! Every year the start of a new calendar brings in a breath of hope for me. Hope that I can start something new within myself that brings me closer to the woman I want to be. It might physical...a diet, a work out regime; or mental...studying Spanish, editing a novel; or best of all, it might be spiritual...studying and praying to bring myself closer to God.
The past year taught me a lot about how important our foundations are. When times are tough you realize that a healthy body, a sound mind, a beautiful marriage, friendships, and a close walk with God are priceless. They are all things deserving of our investment. I didn't wait for the new year to begin before charging ahead with my goals. Yes, it has been hard to put new habits in place. Micaela finally got the "all's-clear" from doctors and we were able to move out to the ranch. My husband, Jovani, had been missing his girls and we surely missed him too. There are still boxes that need unpacking and corners that need cleaning, but I am recognizing that I can't forfeit today's peace for a chance at tomorrow somehow being perfect. Life doesn't work that way. Instead, I let the dishes sit in the sink while I use a quiet house to read my Bible. I use the girls' nap time to exercise so my body is renewed and strengthened. I treasure and and encourage my husband and our beautiful marriage, I try not to let a day go by without letting him know how much I appreciate him. Most of all, I am learning to listen to God's voice, storing away His truths, wisdom, and peace.
As the days start for to turn through 2015 I pray for endurance, I pray for good habits to last and for growth to continue.
I pray you all have begun your new year with hope.
My sister-in-law quoted something that I'm holding on to. She said, "If everyday in a year is a page, there is 365 pages in your book...that is a lot of opportunities to write days of greatness."
May the writing begin.
Photo by Luz Bratcher via Flickr
Baking!!! I love it! Oh it is one of my most favorite things about the holidays. I've been drooling over recipes for hours now, so so SO excited to start mixing, baking, and putting hopefully tasty treats in bags for the people I love.
This year, I kinda-sorta have a helper. Yes, she's two, but she is old enough to know that Something is Happening!
We've been blasting the Christmas Music.
We've been cuddling up on the couch as we watch Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas once...twice...possibly a dozen times now.
We've been pointing out all the decorations on people's lawns during our walks outside.
I giggle at myself. I never outgrew this love of the beauty that comes with the Holidays. I put up our Christmas Tree Thanksgiving weekend. I started singing Christmas Carols (secretly) around Halloween. And while most my family encourages the Holiday Spirit with a goodly amount of joy...this year I've got my own little girl to thoroughly, even ridiculously, enjoy every tiny thing with.
And I can start to talk with her about the story of Christmas.
The most precious story of a God that loves her THAT much. That much that he sent his son to save her.
So, I'm living it up. Me and my little helper are celebrating every little thing about the season. I want her to feel how special it is.
I think these moments with her might be the greatest gift I could get.
Photo by Vince via Flickr
All of us have or will have to experience times of difficulty, hardships, and defeat. Sometimes, when you are going through this pain it is a brutal thought to realize God allowed it. He allowed your body or the body of a loved one to be injured or have a horrible sickness. He allowed you to lose your job. He allowed you to be in a car accident. Or maybe he allowed even the loss of someone you hold dear.
Oh, and it is so difficult at these times to power through on a faith in our God. A faith that He is doing all things for good. A faith that there will be victory in this time of extreme defeat.
Its been a hard thought for me, for sure. During that rough pregnancy, the early birth and various sicknesses of our twin girls, and the continuing hardships I clung to an idea that faith would preserve me and prayer would protect me...but it didn't keep the things I feared away from me. I still gave birth early, lost a child, and had my world tossed and turned into complete insecurity.
Oh, it hurts that God did not stop it.
My perfect, holy, and loving God allowed it.
And then this morning I came across a story that put it all into new perspective for me. It was the story of Lazarus. (John 11) Jesus was told of Lazarus' sickness and chose not to go to him until Lazarus was already gone. But the death and subsequent resurrection of Lazarus was a powerful demonstration of God's power, glory, and love. Jesus, though it hurt him deeply to allow such pain for Lazarus and his sisters, knew what he was doing.
And in the end, he did all he promised to do. He saved Lazarus from death.
Then I realized that God's glory has been shown. Even in these times of hurt I have victory. And the funny thing is, to me the victory has been faith. Having survived things that could easily pull families and lives apart, we are stronger now than ever before. And then I saw it...
Faith preserved me.
Prayer protected me.
My heart was not hardened through the fire but has an even greater ability to love.
Isn't that a miracle?
My faith, though challenged dearly through this super-long and painful year that my sister accurately has dubbed "The Job Year", is just as strong and maybe even stronger.
But what brings tears to my eyes is the fact that I didn't do this. I know I didn't. There were hours of completely darkness, terrible days of weakness, anger, and despair. I did not keep myself from falling away from God.
God kept me close to him and didn't let me fall.
"For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock."
Do you make money? Have time? Have anything at all? You might not be a millionaire. You might not spend your everyday playing games and sipping drinks on a beach. But you do have something. God gives us things that we are to care for, invest, and help bring forth good fruit.
What are you a steward of?
A steward is a person who protects and is responsible for property, money, etc.
Lately I've given this idea a lot of thought. As a sleep-deprived stay-at-home mommy living on cowboy's wages, I don't feel like I've been given a lot to take care of. I'm not a millionaire. I have almost no time I can call my own. It would be pretty easy for me to say "You know God, I don't think I need worry about using my resources wisely. It feels like I have only barely enough to survive, anyways."
Oh, but that would be a wrong statement.
What did I do the other day when both girls were napping? Did I sleep to refresh myself? No. Did I try and do some writing? Cleaning? No and No.
I played a silly little miniclip game called Bloomin' Gardens. So nothing was gained, no good fruit bore of my immature antics.
I don't think any of us can afford to forget that we are constant stewards of a myriad of things God has entrusted us with. Those blessings that God entrusted us with surround us. They are absolutely everything..friends, cars, money, time, family, children, gifts, talents...the list goes on and on.
And each time we squander what He gives us, we find we have less entrusted.
There is a story about this in the Bible. The master gives each of his servants money to care for while he is away. When he returns he finds that two of the three servants invested his money in such a way that it bore fruit. He gives those servants even more to care for. But the one who took the money and hid it away was given nothing at all. (See Matthew 25:14-30)
Be a good steward. I know I need to be. When I open my eyes I see I'm surrounded by things that can bare fruit. I don't have quiet time, but I do have time to cook and clean. I don't have tons of money, but am still blessed with more than enough to save and give. I don't have sleep, but I do have two precious daughters whose lives I'm entrusted with to shape and help grow into adults that know God.
Nothing God has given me will bear fruit as long as I sit on my couch and play Bloomin' Gardens, bemoaning the fact that I'm exhausted and have run out of patience. How silly of me. How wrong of me. And how much better does life feel when I am a good steward. Suddenly I have more peace, a restful spirit, a joyful heart. Because it feels wonderful to be a good steward. It feels beautiful to be entrusted with blessings that give forth God's goodness to others as well.
What has God made you a steward of?
Photo by Mandy Jansen via Flickr
It is unjust, unfair, and completely unnatural to have to say goodbye to your child. When it happens your world is ripped apart by the fear and pain. For several weeks after Isabela's death I would go into a panic. It would hit me that I couldn't hold her, couldn't see her anymore and I felt like I couldn't breathe. In the midst of this I couldn't see anything else beyond that hurt and I was so incredible angry.
My daughters, when they were born, were blessed to have many amazing nurses. Among them was a lady my own age with a brilliant smile and such a positive attitude that she could move me to see hope even in the worst circumstances. But beyond the sweetness of her eyes and her determination to love and care for the babies around her, she holds a heart that has experienced devastation. At six months of age she lost her baby girl to SIDS. Then she had a baby boy born three months early the next year. She did bring her boy home and he is now a healthy, rolly-polly two-year old, but she has experienced great tragedy in the last few years. She told me that her heart had its own seasons of anger and a deep sadness, but you would never know it today.
Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day and as I sit here and look back over the last few months, I am struck by just how much God has held and carried me through this great hurt. Though I would never wish such a thing on any person, Monique's loss of a daughter (See picture of Laila above) and fight to keep her son have been a huge blessing to me. Having a friend that intrinsically understood this journey has helped me survive and move forward.
I look back and remember that day that Monique asked us to be a primary nurse (a nurse that always took care of our girls). Even that day, months before we would lose Isabela, God had already established a blessing for us. I love it that Monique chose to be a NICU nurse. One would think she would prefer to distance herself from the work that no doubt reminds her of all she has been through. But instead she chose to become stronger for her trials and use it all serving others.
God, thank you for my friend, Monique. Hold close to you our daughters and carry gently the families who have lost such precious babies.
Above photo of Laila, allowed by her mother, Monique
"You reap what you sow." What am I reaping these days? Death, hurt, pain, and so much grief it threatens to choke me. Then my devotional today talked about reaping what you sow and I felt that someone had slapped me in the face.
Really? I sowed this hurt? What seeds did I plant that justifies my awful pain? In the last six weeks I've lost a daughter and my mother. And that horrible question, "Why?" gets whispered to God almost hourly.
And, oh God, I so dearly want to feel near you. But with all this pain sometimes the hurt tears me from peace. Is this hurt something I'm deserving of? Why is it happening to me? To my family? To my loved ones?
But logically I know I did not sow these seeds. I did not create that rare in-utero condition that made my twin girls be born 3-months premature. I didn't somehow give my mother a neurological disease that made her suffer for the last two years. And I had no control over Isabela, my tiny 2-month old girl getting a common virus that her little body couldn't fight.
I swallowed back the tears and stared at the words in my devotional again. "You reap what you sow." and a voice that I usually can't hear beyond the pain, whispered to me. Look deeper, beloved.
So I did. And I remembered.
I remembered hours holding Isabela close to me, loving her, letting her touch and become an intricate part of my heart. I sowed that seed. I did. I sowed seeds of love and will never have regrets of the time I spent or did not spend with her. I loved her and have memories of her. I reap hurt because of that love, but I also reap a sunshiny part of my soul that knows I gave her two months of life where she knew her mother's arms, smile, voice, and love.
I reaped what I sowed.
There are memories of my mom, too, that fill me with joy for her and thankful for the friendship we shared. I laughed with her, cried with her, shared with her my hopes and dreams and shared my life with her. I have reaped a full and loving lifetime of memories with her. I sowed those seeds of love with my mother and have years of joy to warm my heart even though she is gone.
The tears could be swallowed back no longer and I saw then that we cannot experience what is around us and feel responsible for it all. We do reap what we sow, but we sow among the thorns of life, among the rocks, in the storms and droughts, and also within the good soil.
I know all Christian have these thoughts, wondering if our hurt is the result of God disciplining us. But sometimes things happen as a result of living in this world. For living isn't easy, but there is beauty to be found in the flowers we have sown among the weeds.
At first I was afraid to love them. Ashamed I even dreaded going into that room where their little bodies lay under plastic, hooked up to monitors, their lungs moving as machines ensured their lungs would breathe and liquid running into their veins made sure they kept on living. Every time a doctor walked up to us I felt like I was dying, just a little. Every time the phone rang my heart would drop. My world was torn and I was trapped in a nightmare. If they survived, the doctors said, they would stay in the hospital for months.
I stood on the brink, ready to jump into one of two deep pools. Because I could no longer stay where I was and remain sane I could feel my heart falling either into a deep resentment for what God had allowed or a faith that would challenge me to see each moment as a gift.
I stood on that brink far too long, building up walls, trying not to have to take responsibility for anything.
But then I jumped.
Suddenly a face obscured by plastic tubing was beautiful. The eyes that blinked out at me from below an IV line were precious. And those girls that scared me more than death itself became my daughters.
I fell deep deep into a love that will never break.
God gave me this. He gave me the courage to take a chance on a broken heart. He gave me the strength to step forward when fear was holding me in place. He showed me how to laugh during times of grief and smile even when disaster seems eminent.
And today I’m holding my girls again. My arms wrap around their growing bodies, devoid of IV lines with lungs that nearly hold their own in the world. I know, as surely as if it were a palpable, touchable thing, that grace is real. That miracles happen.
Newborn photos by Falling Star Photography
Lora is a Christian writer, wife, and mother who travels the world with her husband, living and working on ranches.