When this year wasn’t what you hoped for

This wasn’t the New Year’s Eve I had planned.

When I thought about the start of another year, and the days leading up to it, a visit to our family from The Most Dreadful Stomach Flu Ever just wasn’t on my agenda.

We had things to do. Projects to accomplish. My husband had specifically taken vacation days during this time with the hopes to tackle them.

But at 6:15 a.m. the day after Christmas, my alarm clock jolting me awake was a sudden urge to run to the bathroom and stay there for quite some time. Oh, the sickness.

On top of the nausea and stomach cramps, a strange, pressing, hot pain started creeping into my chest, rising under my ribs, filling the space in a consuming way. The pain grew so bad that by the afternoon, I couldn’t take it any longer. I couldn’t escape it no matter how I tried. It got harder to breathe. Something seemed really wrong. I told David we need to go to the hospital. I felt like I was going out of my mind from the pain.

At the ER, the medical team found my heart was beating far too quickly, and I was dehydrated. After some IV fluids, along with nausea and pain meds, my heart rate started to come down and the worst was over.

I spent the next couple days recovering in bed, sapped of energy and my intestines still in torment, though the meds kept everything in check. By Friday though, the bug had spread to my youngest daughter and then David, who also got a fever and back pain to go with it. This was not your average stomach flu. This was the Grand-daddy of All Stomach Flus. (It also dropped in on many other Scally family members, making love and joy not the only things we shared on Christmas.)

I have to admit, besides feeling sick and in pain, I was frustrated as the days dragged on, and disappointed–and truthfully, a little bit angry–when we had to cancel our annual New Year’s Eve plans. This was not how this week was supposed to go.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. I mean, this wasn’t how this year was supposed to go. As was the case for many people I know (some with far more significant reasons), for us, 2016 left a lot to be desired. I was ready to ring in 2017, with its unmarred calendar and a starry-eyed optimism that this was going to be The Year that we take on our list of goals with gusto and get things done. This year couldn’t possibly be as lousy as the last.

Yet here we are, ringing it in with Gatorade and chicken soup, the four of us quarantined by ourselves within these four walls.

Wah. Wah. Wah.

Then, that still, small voice whispers powerfully in my head, “When are you going to realize that your plans may not be MY plans.”

sick babe

A closer look at my full hands reveals a full heart.


Sigh.

This seems to be the lesson of my life that I struggle so desperately to grasp.

I mean, let’s take a look at my list of what I hope to accomplish in 2017. It tends to be full of temporary things. Organize the office. Finish the basement. Clean out the garage. Decorate the great room. Pick up more work. Write more. Read more. Travel.

But what if His plan for this year has nothing to do with my well-meaning checklist? What if it is, in 2017, to simply grow closer to Him, however that may be achieved? To be a godlier wife. To be a more Christlike mom. A more humble servant and a more proficient sharer of the Gospel.

Why is it so easy to get so short-sighted?

(I’m blaming the nausea. Kidding! Sort of.)

A few days ago, a post on Facebook caught my eye, about how to remember the blessings of the new year by writing down something you enjoyed or were grateful for on a slip of paper and put it in a jar at the end of each day. And then next New Year’s Eve, open the jar and be overcome by the joys experienced.

It’s a great idea I realized I don’t need to wait till tomorrow to start. As I look back on 2016, though kind of blah at first glance, it’s actually filled with ways My Lord met us in the darkness, took care of our needs, and continued leading us by His light.

With nearly nine months of health challenges for myself, we have never worried about paying one single medical bill. And that’s saying something, considering we lost nearly all my income due to not being able to work during those struggles, and MRIs, CT scans, ER visits, blood tests, and specialists aren’t cheap.

Though currently dirty, unorganized, and unfinished, we live in our dream home.

Though we get on each other’s nerves at times, I am married to my dream man.

And though they have added more gray to my head than I would’ve ever imagined I would have at 33, I am privileged to parent the daughters of my dreams.

Still, there’s more:

We have been honored to find new ways to serve at our church.

We are surrounded by family and friends, who have held us together with prayers and sustained us with support.

And one of the most notable as 2016 closes out for sure: since August, for whatever reason, I have not woke with daily, debilitating headaches.

I take that “whatever” back. He is the reason.

Suddenly, 2016 is not seeming so bad. Instead, I am feeling so blessed.

Christmas tree

May your reflection on the beauty of another year find more blessings than you can count.


He has met our every need. And He knew exactly what we needed and when we needed it to draw us closer to Him. I can say this with confidence even if my health hadn’t improved or if my year had been marked by even harder, more painful circumstances, because I know from His Word (and He has proven it repeatedly) that He is for me.

Bring on 2017. Count down the clocks and drop that ball. As long as my main goal this year is to pursue Him, nothing can go wrong.

And that’s truly something to celebrate.

“I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.” (Jeremiah‬ ‭29:10-11‬ ‭from The Message‬‬)

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The current Christian battle over forgiveness vs. consequences

As of this week, Wednesdays are looking a bit different in our household.

Several months ago, Liv and I had started a special breakfast routine every Wednesday morning. I’d pull her chair to the edge of the kitchen so the TV screen was visible, and as we munched on our English muffins and bananas, we’d watch a show that I’d recorded on the DVR the night before. The program: TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting.

It was one of the few shows on TV I felt I could comfortably watch with my toddler. Not that I agreed with or endorsed everything about the lifestyles of the Duggar clan–though there was much to like about the long-running program chronicling the lives of this unique family from Arkansas. Certainly, they are extreme in many of their views and beliefs. But they profess to follow Christ. They promote family values. They are conservative and modest. Their language is clean. And for whatever reason, Liv was enthralled with those 19 kids. She’d break out into a big smile during the opening of every episode when each kid is introduced by name.

By now, I’m sure that most of you familiar (and probably many not familiar) with the show have heard the devastating news reports regarding the apology last week from the eldest Duggar son (now 27) after a tabloid alleged he molested several girls while he was a teenager. I have no desire to rehash the details of what’s been reported that Josh Duggar did, but I do want to say I was very grieved by what I’ve read.

Not just by the allegations, which are heart-wrenching. But by the response of many Christians.

He was young. He made a mistake. His family handled it. He’s turned his life around. He apologized. We shouldn’t draw attention to this. We need to forgive.

As if collectively saying, “Nothing to see here, folks. Move on.” That further (or previously warranted) consequences needn’t apply.

These types of responses coming from Christian circles are something I’ve especially been wrestling with over the past couple years. I can’t say I’m surprised by them, as I’ve sadly seen these reactions several times throughout my life to a variety of situations. At churches, after pastors have committed a sin or crime that has disqualified them from pulpit service. At universities, after criminal reporting or counseling was mishandled. In families, after abuse.

He’s apologized. (Or, in some cases, maybe not.) He didn’t know any better. Look at all the other good things he’s done. We should show grace and forgive. No one else needs to get involved. We can handle this matter quietly ourselves. Nothing more here needs to happen.

Let me make it clear: I am not saying that we shouldn’t extend forgiveness.  But I am growing increasingly confused about something.

Since when did it become biblical that forgiveness and consequences are mutually exclusive of each other? 

By these responses I’ve repeatedly seen in Christian environments over the years, you’d think these concepts are at odds against each other. That  administering consequences means you aren’t showing forgiveness. That punishment or retribution for sin (or, unbelievably, crime) means you are forsaking grace. That, in some situations, we as Christians are above the law … or God’s Word.

Huh? 

Will someone please tell me where that’s biblical?

In fact, the Bible recounts many times where the offender receives consequences despite whether he’s apologized, asked for forgiveness, or all the other good things he’s done. Take Moses after he hit the rock instead of speaking to it as God commanded: he couldn’t enter the Promised Land. And David after he committed adultery with Bathsheba: he lost his son. Extremely godly people in other areas of their lives that still had to pay a price for their wrongdoing.

In His Word, God clearly outlines there are consequences when we make wrong choices, which is something we all have done and continue to do. If we are believers, we should know the consequences serve a bigger purpose. They exist to teach us something and to learn how to better follow Him. The same goes for parenting. As a mom, I demonstrate my love for my daughter by offering both correction AND forgiveness. If I choose to discard the former in favor of only the latter when my daughter said “sorry” or “all done” in her small toddler voice, she would quickly learn that it is no big deal to go her own way, despite my instruction. It’s never easy to administer something my daughter doesn’t want after she’s made a poor choice, but I do it because I care about her deeply and want her to remember to choose differently in the future. Our Heavenly Father also corrects because He cares.

Of course, not all consequences for our actions will occur here on Earth. The Bible tells us about the judgments to come for both non-believers and for those who have placed their faith and trust in Him. We will one day all be accountable for our actions before God.

So back to my confusion over these reactions. The way I see it, finding the grace to forgive doesn’t mean you forego legal or biblical consequences. These concepts should not conflict. 

But the consequences will bring hurt and pain, you say. It will cause a job loss. It may mean jail time. It will be embarrassing.

And all those things might be true, and if our spirit is right, no one should be celebrating over that. But for some reason, many are OK with shielding the offender if it means avoiding the shame (and often inconvenience) of enduring those things. Most unfortunately,  in doing so, such a decision essentially elevates and protects the offender over those he’s offended. 

Sometimes the fall-out and repercussions of sin (and particularly crime) are ugly. God commands we forgive. But He also commands we follow the law and His Word. We shouldn’t forsake one over the other. As Christians, we should promote environments where these concepts are not at war, but peacefully and unashamedly exist together. 

“No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening–it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.” (Hebrews 12:11)

Do I really want God’s will for my life?

Tomorrow, we celebrate Easter and the resurrection of Christ.

To many, the day is about hidden baskets of goodies, chocolate bunnies, pretty new outfits, and spending time with family. To the Christian, the day is about rejoicing in what Christ did for us on the cross and his triumphant victory over sin and death. He is risen, indeed!

It should be a joyful week, but I woke yesterday physically aching. I wasn’t sick, and it wasn’t the pregnancy. It was as if the fingers of a hand were wrapped around my heart, clenching, squeezing, pressing deep, as I wrestled with the thoughts spinning around in my head.

We’ve been preparing for Easter a bit differently this year … and I have to admit, it’s throwing me for a loop. Typically, in years past, I’ve used this time to reflect on Christ’s death, the three days in the tomb, and His miraculous ascension from the grave. However, this week, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the night before the crucifixion.

Starting on Sunday, our pastor has been focusing his messages on the hours leading up to Christ’s betrayal and his prayer with the disciples in the garden of Gethsemane, recorded in Matthew 26. Three times, Christ, in agony before the Father, prayed the same prayer. After the final time, He was handed over to those who would murder Him.

When we met for prayer meeting on Thursday night, our pastor pointed us back to the same passage. At our church, we do prayer meetings unlike others I’ve attended. Pastor takes a Greek word and its English meaning, asks us a thinking question that we discuss, and then we break up into groups for our first session of prayer, which is centered on the discussion and praising God for who He is and what He has done. Then, we regroup to focus on requests and needs of the church.

This week, the Greek word was thelema and the question was what it means to be an individual. As we began to share answers about what makes us unique, pastor wrote the answers on a whiteboard in two different colors, drawing our attention to the set of answers that was less tangible, yet distinct to each person. Then he asked us a question: what exactly was Christ praying about in the garden? What was it that He gave up for us on the cross? Of course, there’s the obvious answers: His physical body and a life that up until that point knew no sin. But in Matthew 26, He prays, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Christ was praying about giving up His will (thelema), in exchange for the Father’s. Pastor asked us to consider: could we do the same? Could we give our will up to follow God’s will for our life?

Instead of praying in small groups, pastor said he wanted us to get alone with God and think about the things that make up our individual will–our desires and goals for our life–list them out, and then prayerfully commit each one to God, even if it meant giving them up in exchange for something different God has in mind for us. I spent a few minutes composing my list, the things I want and desire. David. Our marriage. Our children. Our health. Provisions. His job. Our home. Safety. Our family. Our friends. Our freedom. Our church. When I began to pray about giving each one of these things that make up my will over to God, even if it meant ultimately losing them, I could barely get out the words. Was I really willing to potentially give any of these up?

That night, my sleep was restless and filled with vivid dreams. In one, three children of friends were missing. By the end of the dream, only two were found. Another dream dealt with a weighty confrontation and forgiveness. I woke on Good Friday heavy and hurting. As I began to read my devotions over my morning coffee, I stopped when I got to Luke 9:23-24: “Then he said to the crowd, ‘If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.'”

Could I really give up what I love and cherish to follow Christ? What if doing what seems hardest is ultimately for God’s best?

The past two years have been marked with some major life moments for us that have changed the direction of our lives. We found out we were going to become parents. We moved to a new house. And then in late 2013, we left our church, which was a very challenging decision. It was not one we felt prepared to do, and it hadn’t been part of our plans. My husband had grown up in that church, attending it for all 31 years of his life. It was incredibly difficult when it became clear that God must have something different for us, and we fought with God, begging for a different course. The circumstances were complicated and messy, with its effects and consequences far-reaching. David describes it as the hardest time he’s faced in his life.

The tough choices weren’t over for us yet, and as 2014 wore on, we began to question whether I should remain at my job. That was a decision, as I’ve written about here before, I previously couldn’t fathom. My identity had always been so tied to my career. In August, I left to stay home with Olivia.

We didn’t really know, and most likely still do not fully realize, how life-changing these decisions ultimately would be. It didn’t take long for it to become painfully obvious that what initially felt like the worst was much better than we could possibly imagine. As we let go of our desires and what we held dear, God showed us how to value His desires for us. This time of crying out to God and seeking answers brought us closer to Christ and to each other. I found that spending my days with Olivia was more fulfilling than any role I’ve ever held. We joined a new church, where God began to grow our faith in new ways. Each message seemed directed at us, as God taught us about what it really means to follow Him and how He did not promise us that path would be easy–in fact, just the opposite. But the rewards would be eternal.

Then why was I still finding it so difficult to place each part of my will entirely in God’s hands? What if, after two years of challenges, it got even harder? What if, after learning so much and finding a home at this church, in the future it means a new pastor or a different church? What if David loses his job or I am called to a new one? Or what if it means the scariest things, losing the things I love the most? David? Our health? Our children?

But what if it does? For weeks, I have been following the story of Kara Tippetts, a young mother who recently lost her battle with cancer. I’ve been awed and inspired by the grace she showed, knowing her life was coming to an end, and the absolute peace she had, knowing it meant she was exchanging it for the glory of being in the presence of her Savior. As I’ve read of her life and death, I’ve wondered not only if I could do the same, but what if I were in her husband’s shoes, knowing I would lose my spouse? I’ve seen firsthand over the past two years the joy of accepting God’s will in my life despite hardships, but if it meant losing David or our children, would I still follow Christ?

As I prepare to celebrate tomorrow the significance and enormity of all Christ has done for me, my heart is gripped with these thoughts, and I am praying my answer would be yes. I am praying that He will help me have a heart that desires His will and the full life it brings, since His death was for me. And I am praying that as I turn my will over to God, He will give me peace through each step of pursuing His.

“Thy way, not mine, O Lord,
However dark it be:
Lead me by Thine own hand,
Choose out the path for me.
Smooth let it be or rough,
It will be still the best;
Winding or straight, it leads
Right onward to Thy Rest.

I dare not choose my lot;
I would not if I might:
Choose Thou for me, my God;
So shall I walk aright.
Take Thou my cup, and it
With joy or sorrow fill
As best to Thee may seem;
Choose Thou my good and ill.

Choose Thou for me my friends,
My sickness or my health;
Choose Thou my cares for me,
My poverty or wealth.
Not mine, not mine the choice
In things both great or small;
Be Thou my guide, my strength,
My wisdom, and my all.”

Thy Way, Not Mine, O Lord by Horatius Bonar

Lord, help me give it all to You.

Lord, help me give it all to You.

“For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:25)