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Shortly after bringing Ezekiel home from Ethiopia, Ben's job began to change and he began traveling back and forth from San Antonio to Portland every month. He'd be gone five days of the month and spent more time in the office, which I look back at as the most exhausting and overwhelming time of my life.
A four-year-old, three-year-old, infant, and a six-year-old who spoke almost no English and with whom we were having major disciplinary issues.
I remember collapsing onto the kitchen floor one afternoon, bursting into tears. As I sat there on the cold tile floor holding baby Imani, Anton and Laith both crawled onto my lap, cuddling and comforting me while Ezekiel stared with wide eyes a few feet away. I wondered how on earth I could do this.
I have so much respect for single parents and military families. I could barely endure a week per month by myself.
Lord, is this really what we're supposed to be doing?
You've got to give me more strength for this! I absolutely cannot do it on my own.
That day was a turning point for me. I certainly wasn't at rock bottom, but I was drowning.
I needed to cling to him tighter.
I had to, or I wasn't going to survive.
But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not faint.
Though my soul hurt deeply at the thought of being so low that my young children had to get on the floor to comfort me, the fact is, I was in desperate need of their love at that moment, and God used their sweet tenderness to remind me of his truth. As I sobbed on the tile floor, being cared for by my precious preschool-aged children, God gave me the word firstfruits.
I continued to cry out to Him. Firstfruits? I searched, confused.
Help me understand what you mean, Lord!
I knew that firstfruits are offerings of the first and best crops to God, which is often spoken about in the Old Testament. An offering given in acknowledgment of God’s abundant blessing.
Definitely not giving Him what is left over, but rather giving Him the best of the best, first.
Though we have already tasted the firstfruits of the Spirit, we are longing for the total redemption of our bodies that comes when our adoption as children of God is complete.
(Romans 8:23, The Voice)
What was I giving Him? The leftovers. The leftovers of my time, my energy, and my heart.
He was reminding me I needed to put Him first. Above everything. Though I was going to Bible study every week, I wasn't really spending time with Him. My quiet time, my devotions, my Bible reading and prayer time, it was sporadic and hurried. My heart was for Him, but I was in survival mode and He'd somehow gotten left behind in all the craziness and exhaustion that had become my life.
I was being tossed like a ship in a storm. I felt alone and overwhelmed.
I was exhausted by the challenges in Ezekiel's behavior, his hurt these days clearly at the surface. I knew nothing could separate me from the Lord, that He was stronger and more powerful than this storm, but I was lost in the waves and the wind.
What I realized that day, though, is I needed to have right perspective of Him. I needed to lean into Him and live in a posture of humility. I felt an urgency to be bold in prayer, regardless of how I felt.
I needed—no, I had to take the time for Him or there would be nothing of me left.
I was encouraged that these things, joined with giving him my firstfruits, would not only help me stay the course, but also become an unconquerable force.
But I also needed practical help. From flesh-and-blood humans. This was considerably more difficult for me.
I wasn't sleeping much at night since Imani wasn't, Ben was gone what felt like a lot of the time, and I simply couldn't get ahead of anything. The house never seemed clean, the laundry never ended, the sink was never empty of dishes. I didn't know how to ask for help.
I had family and friends who would have dropped everything to help me if they'd known how much I was struggling, yet I felt I had to have a brave, smiling face all the time.
I felt that I had no business asking for help from anyone. This was the life Ben and I chose.
We chose to have this many children. We chose to have a family that is outside the norm, full of things we're still learning how to deal with.
How to teach a child English. How to help a young boy heal his hurt and loss and understand that we love him, no matter how hard he tries to push us away. How to help two towheaded preschool-aged boys to not feel ignored or replaced or that our adopted kids were more important than them … though they're requiring a lot of extra attention.
Take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name.
(Deuteronomy 26:2, NIV)
Well, I didn’t have a lamb or crops to give, but I certainly had my firstfruits of time.
At that point, however, I simply couldn’t get up any earlier. I was so sleep-deprived and exhausted from Imani waking multiple times a night that there was no way. No. Way. I could get up earlier.
I felt the Lord direct me, saying to give my firstfruits during naptime.
Rather than scurrying through the house cleaning up, doing laundry, and that ever-constant stream of dishes, I was called to first sit and be with him. Then do my tasks after.
And it changed everything.
I don't mean to say that everything became sunny all the time, but it was suddenly manageable. My attitude improved, and I had a full grasp on things.
Jesus loved me back to life. My season changed.
Somehow the Lord multiplied my time. I had more strength and could run further in the day-to-day tasks. My presence and patience with our children was fuller, more attentive, and loving.
I somehow experienced divine efficiency and supply, and through it all, I confidently leaned on him, knowing it was his power, not my own, that was getting it done.
It wasn't until about two years later that I felt God stretching me once again. Encouraging me to wake up earlier and spend an hour with him before our children begin to stir in the morning, he released me of my precious naptime in the middle of the day.
In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you
and wait expectantly.
Whenever I talk about it, people seem rather shocked that I rise several hours before my children. Assuming I’m some sort of crazy morning person, they always announce to me, “Oh I could neeeever do that. I’m just too tired. I need my sleep.”
Oh, if you only knew, I want to tell them.
I so struggle getting up in the morning. Ben says I’m just like the kids, exhausted in the evening yet forced to actually crawl into bed. I want to stay up! I've always been more of a night person. I don’t know why. So when my alarm chimes, I just want to cozy even deeper into my blankets and enjoy the warmth of my bed.
Get up! Get up! I urge myself.
Grab your Bible and make a coffee—go! I tell myself as I convince my sleepy body to push back the covers.
Every morning I ask myself:
What’s more important: my relationship with Christ or with my pillow?
My day is genuinely so much better once I’ve started it in the Word and in prayer. My attitude is better, I’m more focused, more joyful, less likely to snap at my kids and husband. Even Ben notices it.
Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.
My mind often races, full of the things I need to do, groceries I need to buy, and schedules I need to manage. So I’ve learned to have a journal next to me.
Once I quickly scribble down whatever it is that’s rattling through my brain, keeping me from truly being able to concentrate, I can move on and move closer in my time with my Lord.
I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
As my time magnified, the way I saw things also changed.
I began to realize what an honor it was to care for my family.
Keeping the house picked up didn't make me a glorified maid, it was my privilege to take care of them in this way.
I'm not going to lie and tell you that I suddenly turned into Mother Teresa or walked around with a halo over my head, never complaining when the kids spilled their milk for the fourth time that day.
I still prayed daily that God would work in me to give me a good attitude, patience, and strength that I wouldn't lose my temper with my family because things weren't as perfect as I wanted them to be.
My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees.
Your instructions are more valuable to me than millions in gold and silver.
You made me; you created me.
Now give me the sense to follow your commands.
May all who fear you find in me a cause for joy, for I have put my hope in your word.
As my time of intimacy increased, my whole being began to blossom.
The storm, which I felt was going to drown me, instead made me stronger … because it led me back to Him.