Starting Over

IMG_20170605_132750_502{He’s pretty sure he still fits in the infant car seat}

In a few weeks we welcome our daughter and transition from a family of three to four. A double stroller sits in the box waiting to be assembled and loaded into the SUV we bought to make room for two car seats instead of one.

Life already seems busy and full and I try to imagine what it will be like adding a newborn to the mix.

I’m excited. And I’m scared.

But I’m not scared about the right things —well, at least not the things I expected to be. I’m not afraid of labor —I know it will hurt and it will be a rough day but it’ll end with holding my baby on the other side.

I’m not afraid of sleepless nights —they’re still rather sleepless as it is and I know the bleary eyed haze of the first few months won’t last forever.

IMG_20170605_133102_598What I’m afraid of is being left behind.

I’m afraid of starting over with a newborn while most of my friends move forward with older kids.

This has been a consistent problem throughout my adult life —this being at a different stage at a different time than most of the people I’m closest to. Right now I stand in the middle with half my friends not having children and the other half with children already in school and decidedly out of the baby/toddler days.

Many of the women around me, even the ones who previously stayed at home, are going back to work as their children are more independent and spend their days at school or other activities rather than constantly at their side.

I like seeing these women find themselves again outside of their children and watching them pursue work and interests they’re excited about beyond the home.

IMG_20170605_132924_571But I’d be lying if I didn’t say it stings a little to watch everyone around me move onto the next step in life while I’m still years away from much beyond newborns and toddler tantrums.

Now I know this is a choice —I choose to stay home with my babies and even being able to make that choice is certainly a privilege. I could find someone to watch my kids while I go back to work but it’s important to me to be home with them for these first few years and we have the freedom to make that choice so that is what I do.

IMG_20170605_133234_951{Just the three of us a little longer}

But just because you believe something is right or best for your family doesn’t make it easy. Nor does it make it any easier to set aside your other hopes and dreams for a time while you focus on something else instead.

I know the day will come, and probably much sooner than it feels like right now, when my babies are taking off to school rather than crying at my ankles about something r.i.d.i.c.u.l.o.u.s. while I try to make dinner. This is but a chapter in the journey and a chapter I will probably often look back at and long for after it’s closed and done.

But today, today just weeks before I begin all over again with a brand new baby, I’m learning the importance of speaking truth to my heart and mind when the temptation is to dwell on fear or being left out while everyone around me moves on.

IMG_20170605_133412_231I need the truth that I’m doing what I’m doing for a reason —this whole making babies and staying home thing —it matters and it matters enough to put other opportunities on hold for a time.

I need the truth that God sees and cares about the life he’s given me and the work I do even if it feels silent and invisible.

I need the truth that babies and children are important —soulful and eternal —and it’s my privilege to influence and shape their tiny souls for a time on their journey back to God and all he desires for them.

I need the truth that life is made up of seasons and this chapter of babies and toddlers is just that —a chapter in the full story I will tell with this life I’ve been given.

I need the truth that God is walking beside me —when I’m tired, discouraged, feeling left out or left behind —God is there and will give me strength and love for each new day until all my days melt into his eternity.

I need the truth that my identity is found in Christ and who he says that I am —not what other people think of me, not what the world thinks of me and the work I do but in Christ and Christ alone. He is enough and I am enough in him.

I need the truth.

I need to daily strengthen my heart and mind with true thoughts to guard against the temptation to believe all the lies swirling around me that would pull me down and leave me defeated.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8 (ESV)

Begin Again

I stand at the kitchen window, warm cup of coffee in my hands, and watch the morning light wrap the sleepy landscape in pink and yellow. Birds flit in sets of two back and forth between the birch trees; the white of their feathers stands out against the black shadow of trees in the distance.

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I’m not a morning person by any stretch but being a mother forces me out of bed into the morning light. I’m tired, but I like the quiet that comes with the sleepy, waking hours. Everything is fresh and new and ready to begin again— however frazzled and worn out it might all have been just hours before when we went to bed in surrender to another day.

I’m thankful for mornings and evenings and that we get one of each, each day.

Each day we’re gifted the opportunity to (mostly) put yesterday behind us and begin again. Each night we may (mostly) leave the day behind and rest in preparation for beginning again tomorrow.

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We need not carry too much with us at a time for we are only given so much time at a time to do what God has asked. This is a gift—for we are finite and God knows our limitations.

We are given the counting of days and hours by a God who knows we can’t bare the weight of burdens given outside of time and limitations. The sun rises and sets and we’re given rest in God’s mercy. We’re allowed over and over to begin again with the morning light—quietly breaking up life’s journey into sustainable pieces of the whole and leading ever on to eternity when our fragile souls are at last capable of the weight of endless time and waking.

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But until that day, we rest. We walk. We begin again. We take the small portion assigned to us for these waking hours and carry on faithfully for one more day—just one more day at a time until all our days melt into eternity’s forever.

You need not carry the whole of life’s burdens today; that’s not what we’ve been asked to do. Yesterday is over. Today is brand new. Tomorrow has not come.

Pick up today’s load only and walk on faithfully. Rest tonight and begin again tomorrow. That is all. Anything more is not what God is asking you to do. He alone stands outside of time for he alone is able to carry that burden. Do not try to be God today.

Walk faithfully—then rest. That is all.

Faith & Depression

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Depression is a rather taboo topic among Christians. After all, Christians shouldn’t struggle with darkness when backed by all the hope and joy of knowing God, right?

Well…

If I’ve learned anything about myself as an adult, it’s that I feel everything deeply and this leads to highs and lows. I used to believe when I felt good that the high would last forever. Life was all worked out, everything was better now, and I’d never again descend into that ridiculous, suffocating darkness. Somehow I believed the same thing about the darkness–it was forever–nothing would ever change or get better, my life was a mess and there was nothing I could do about it. The end.

Nothing Lasts Forever

Eventually though, I caught onto the pattern, the ebb and flow of these all or nothing feelings. I started to understand that life is a mess of good days and feelings mingled with hard times and broken hearts. Outside of eternity, we are trapped in time and the changes time inevitably brings.

C.S. Lewis says it better in The Screwtape Letters:

“Has no one ever told you about the law of Undulation? Humans are amphibians–half spirit and half animal. . . . As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time. This means that while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for to be in time means to change. Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation–the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks. As long as he lives on earth periods of emotional and bodily richness and liveliness will alternate with periods of numbness and poverty.”

Simply understanding that the darkest days would not last forever was a game changer for me. I was able to ride out the emotion without feeling totally hopeless. I learned to acknowledge that life ebbs and flows and however bleak things may look today, they will surely change tomorrow or soon after. I learned not to lose heart–and that made all difference.

But this wasn’t enough. It helped knowing the hard times would pass but I still felt guilty for even having such dark feelings. Surely as a Christian I should handle life better and never allow myself to get so down in the first place.

It’s Okay to Struggle

Here, the Psalms helped tremendously. One Psalm is filled with praise and glory and the next the Psalmist decries all the heartache and hopelessness surrounding him. King David, a man who clearly loved the Lord and sought to walk with God did not hesitate to show fluctuating emotions.

Ronald Horton in Mood Tides states:

“An imperturbable evenness of spirits is not laid down as a norm in Scripture. Personal gains are occasions for thankful rejoicing. Personal losses are promptings to soul-searching and spiritual attentiveness. They are occasions for God to show His character in bringing something good from them and in the process mature our character as well. How else might we come to know beauty from ashes, honey in the rock, streams in the desert, a door of hope in the valley of Achor, lives revitalized and refined?”

Some of the lowest times in my life have led to the deepest reflection and strongest growth. Both struggle and blessing help my faith, but admittedly, I am more inclined to seek out God and his truth when my heart is hurting than when all is going well and I’m feeling self-sufficient. I’m learning to use the times when I struggle as opportunities to think, reflect, and grow rather than sulk.

Do What’s Right

Though it may not be wrong to feel down, it is wrong to sulk, complain, and otherwise behave in a way that doesn’t bring honor to Christ. However we may feel it’s essential we continue to do what’s right. You can acknowledge that you don’t feel happy or joyful while still doing what is right and good.

Trust that doing the right thing is always the right thing even if your feelings don’t line up with your current behavior. Acknowledging and riding out feelings doesn’t give us a free pass to behave unkindly or to spread gloom and discouragement like confetti. Our actions must be in line with our faith even when our feelings are miles away from joy and comfort. We must always choose to do what’s right regardless of how we feel (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

 

I hope this is a help to you if ever you find yourself struggling with darkness or depression. You are not alone, Christian or otherwise, trust me on that. If you would like to reach out, feel free to get in touch in the comments section below.

We Forget.

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I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds. Psalm 9:1 ESV

I was glancing through my journal when I came across an entry from October 2014. This was a difficult time in life. I’d had a baby a few months prior and was going through a time of discouragement and loneliness.

The entry listed several different things I wished were different at the time and ended with the words “I wish, I wish, I wish” followed by the passage below I had read that morning:

May the LORD answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you. May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion. May he remember all your sacrifices and accept your burnt offerings. May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed. We will shout for joy when you are victorious and will lift up our banners in the name of our God. May the LORD grant all your requests. Now I know the LORD saves his anointed; he answers him from his holy heaven with the saving power of his right hand. Psalm 20:1-6 NIV

As I re-read the list of “I wishes” today, I was moved by how every single one of them–seven total–have been answered and allowed. These weren’t mere “wishes” but heart cries to my Abba Father and now I look back and see how God’s word did not fail in the promise to hear and answer my prayers.

While I was aware that life is tremendously different and miles easier than it was those two years ago, I hadn’t fully realized just how specifically and completely my prayers had been answered. I needed this reminder both to stand in awe of the God who does indeed answer prayer but also to remember to give thanks for all God has already done and not to focus only on what I would like to see happen next.

I’ve had some things pressing on my heart lately–things I worry about and have a hard time handing over to God. How good it was to be reminded that God is completely trustworthy with all my heart’s desires and disappointments.

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I needed to be reminded too that last time I had to walk through the valley first. I had to trust when my heart was hurting and I couldn’t see what was next or imagine how some of those prayers could possibly be answered. Several of the things on my heart two years ago have only recently changed and been supplied–but they have changed–and that’s all I needed today to face tomorrow with hope and confidence.

Today, I read again in Psalms (before discovering the journal entry) and marked both the passages this post opens and ends with; how fitting they are now in light of all I’ve been reminded of today.

For you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you. Psalm 9:10 ESV

We can trust God–totally, completely, with all our heart for all our lives. Test him and see.

When Time Touches Eternity

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In The Screwtape Letters C.S. Lewis writes,

“For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity.”

Each day we brush against eternity.

It feels like a big idea, like something far away and a long time from now. But every day I look eternity in the eyes when I hold my son or talk with friends and strangers. We carry eternity with us, it’s what we’re made for, and yet how easy it is to see only what’s directly in front of us.

This life demands our attention endlessly–always there is something else to do, something else requiring my time, energy, and concentration. I forget in the bustle that the people I spend so much time caring for and interacting with were not made for this life alone. We have eternity written all over us, woven throughout our souls and fibers. What I do here matters but it matters primarily because it touches eternity.

I’m trying to remember, especially at home with my people, that eternity is sprinkled throughout. It’s easy to think my life is small and mundane or that the things I choose to do with my time and energy matter little. But the way I teach my son, build our home, love my husband, care for those around me–all these normal, everyday routines add up to the stuff of forever. And forever matters immensely even if my day to day activities seem small and unimportant.

Today is “the point at which time touches eternity”–now, today, what you’re doing with the people right in front of you is what will matter forever. Don’t forget that and don’t believe the task before you is small or unimportant.

Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end (Ecclesiastes 3:11. ESV).

Frosty Enchantment

God says we are made in his image—we humans somehow carry with us the likeness of the God who made us, in part, like himself. But it is in nature I best see the breaths and fingerprints of my God. That’s not to say I don’t see God’s handiwork in people—it’s just that people are always in motion, and for me at least, more difficult to study and learn from. But nature moves at a steady pace and watching the stars drip evening light out of the night sky or listening to the magnificent roar of thunder rumbling down around us somehow speaks far more deeply to me about the things of God.

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We are just two steps into November and already frost kisses the brown and gray things with glittering light—robing all that now seems dead in one last moment of beauty and enchantment.

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It’s a rare moment these days when I find time to pull my camera out. But sometimes the light or the shadow out my window pulls too strongly to stay busy inside and I find myself instead kneeling close to the ground, enjoying the weight of the camera in my hands, and trying click after click to capture what it is that brought me outside searching in the first place.

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Today, it was the frost sprinkled like star dust through the grass and leaves and the way the morning light danced in rainbows through the frozen drops of dew. And it’s here, knee-deep in grass, camera chasing the sun through frost, that I see God in my midst. I see him making dead things beautiful and breathing glittering light into things we might think are done and gone and no more needed.

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I see God making me new and somehow beautiful in his sight when I would be dead and useless apart from his light. I see the enchantment of frost sparkling on leaves and in that light, I see his light, shining too in you and me.

He can make you new. He can give you life. He can make all things beautiful in his time. I know, because he’s doing so in me.

Chasing the Light

Yesterday I woke to the most magical morning light; golden fingers dancing across autumn leaves lit the day with fire. I don’t like peeling out of bed in the morning—the covers are so warm and the world so cold—but I would wake with the dawn any day to catch the world clothed in amber.

Today the morning sky blushed in pink—deeper and richer shades melted into each other until the sky reached a grand finale of gold.

I suppose I didn’t notice the morning sky before we moved here—the trees blocked my view or perhaps the house faced the wrong direction. But here, in this house we’ve worked so hard on for these last two years, I feel like I’m dancing in a painting as the sun comes glistening across the field and, for a moment, every leaf and blade of grass drips in glitter.

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I have thought many times over the last few weeks, that perhaps God knows me quite well and hand-picked this small corner of the earth for me. I feel as if this picture I’m dancing in were painted by him, etched out by his finger and left as a package waiting to be opened with each new day.

I grew up in the wide open prairies and often I have missed the grassy fields and endless spaces. Here, an open field sits directly across from us and I always think as I watch the light dancing through the tall grass that it looks very much like the home my heart knows. A row of maples stands at the back of the field and before their leaves gave way, they stood together in red and orange and gold. Now the leaves are gone but evergreens stand behind the bare maples and oaks and make the view out my window look always a little green—green—such an important thing to my soul.

So I see God in this place—in the grassy field, and colorful maples…in the evergreens and the fog rising from the wetlands like feathery magic lacing through the trees.

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It’s not so bad waking up and facing a new day, a new challenge, or even the same monotony if you can at least start that day with the fresh, brand new morning light.

God is light and I see his fingers painting light all around me, ever reminding me that he is there—he is here—with me always.

Look Up

We just celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary, Darren and I. We sat trying to decide how to celebrate. All either of us wanted was to get away for a few days—away from work, and house remodeling, and life’s routine. We talked about Quebec City or Acadia or Niagara Falls. And we talked about fresh air, and crisp river water, and camp fires beneath the stars. And that’s when we decided camping would be the very best celebration this year. So we packed, and goodness, I’m amazed how much stuff it takes for us Americans to sleep on the ground properly. This was Roman’s first time camping in a tent and it takes as much stuff for one baby as it does for 8 adults I think. You should have seen our car, loaded down with tent, and pack n play, and bike rack, and a million other things to help nature out with our high maintenance ways. And then we were off, up to Vermont, to the woods and river and biking trails—up away from work and routine and all that wears us down these days. The sky was playing games and just starting to spit rain when we arrived. We moved fast, taunting nature back, and got our tent up just before the heavy rain came. We stay huddled together in our tent that evening watching Roman run from one end of the small space to the other. We made sandwiches for dinner and went to bed as soon as it was dark, listening to the sound of the rain beating against our little shelter all night long like a song. setup DSC_0468 We woke to a cool, foggy morning. We and everything else felt damp but how good it was to wake up with the sun and our baby boy snuggled between us on the floor. A crackling campfire was built and soon red potatoes and kale were cooking for breakfast. DSC_0330 I like the pace of nature and our pace in nature when we work with instead of against the morning light, and dew, and cool air wrapping around us before the heat of the day comes and pushes us back inside. So we took our time that morning, tasting our breakfast not just eating it. We took sauntering walks and breezy bike rides and looked at each other, not past to the next item of business. DSC_0763bikecarrierDSC_0815 DSC_0817 We filled our hearts, and lungs, and minds with all the good thing of nature and quiet time together. We held hands and held our son and snuggled close together around campfires at night. DSC_0436 One night, our last night, I walked back to our tent alone in the dark. I thought about the sweet days we had enjoyed and was sad to see them ending. I tried to soak up everything around me one last time–the smell of the woods, sound of the river, feel of the night air wrapping around me—and the stars, I thought—don’t forget to look up at the stars one last time for they look nothing like this back home with all the other lights hiding them. So I looked up at the night sky and all the millions and billions of tiny light freckles poking through from heaven to earth. How enchanting the night sky is and how mysterious. When I got back to the tent, Darren traded watching Roman with me and started to walk the dark path himself. I told him, “Don’t forget to look up” —and off he went with eyes to the sky. I watched him walk away and heard those words echo back to me in my head— “Don’t forget to look up.” momandrome DSC_0417 Don’t forget to look up. I have thought about that phrase many times over the last two weeks since camping. I’ve thought about it when the waves of life have washed our feet out from under us and brought us humbly to our knees. I’ve thought about those words when I’ve grown overwhelmed or discouraged and can’t find my way. Don’t forget to look up—not just to the stars, but to the God who made the stars. Look up to the God whose light shines through to us, not just in a million freckled bits of light but in our hearts and lives every day. Look up to the God who is present and in control and loves us even when we think perhaps he has forgotten. Don’t forget to look up—first, always, to the God who is there in every bit of light in the world, for he and he alone is The Light of the world. Look up.

The Vulnerability to Pray

9d883252495e0bafba09370dbdbd643dNot long ago I sat in a room of people sharing prayer requests with each other and noticed something: Most every request was about someone else, not the person sharing it. This made me think, how much easier it is for us to share the needs and vulnerabilities of others than it is to share the needs and vulnerabilities of our own hearts and lives.

There’s nothing wrong with sharing a request for someone else—generally, these requests are shared sincerely with genuine concern and most people are happy to know others are praying for them in a time of need. But still, why is it so hard for us to say things about ourselves like:

“I’m struggling with…”

“I’m hurting from…”

“I need help with…”

“Please pray for me.”

Prayer is a humbling thing. Prayer is an acknowledgement of need for help from a power higher than us. When I pray, I confess that I can’t…I can’t for myself, I can’t for those I’m concerned about. Prayer acknowledges that only God can and so we turn our hearts to him in prayer asking that he would.

So admitting to others what I can’t do, can’t control—this is a humbling thing. How much easier it is to ask for prayer on behalf of someone else I know who’s hurting or in need. How much safer to keep my own needs and vulnerabilities to myself.

And yet, what power there is in prayer and in humbling ourselves enough to pray with sincerity and vulnerability. How much better could I know and pray for my friends and family if they were willing to say, “I’m struggling with…” “I need help with…”.

I’m not a fan of vulnerability. No, I would rather feel safe. I would rather take my own needs and concerns directly to God and leave everyone else out. Thankfully, I do have direct access to pray but that’s not how God intended the church to work exclusively.

God meant for us to need and help each other. He meant for us to know each other beyond the surface, down to the very heart and soul. But if we are too proud to be open and honest with each other we will never know or understand the depth of help and support we could truly offer in life and in prayer. I can’t help with a need I don’t know about or pray for a concern that’s never been shared. The more we keep to ourselves, the less we can offer in prayerful support.

This is a hard lesson for me. I would like to pretend it’s not something I need to work on. But the truth is, 90% of the time when asked how I’m doing, I just say, “fine”—whether that’s the truth or not. It’s easier, it’s safer…but it’s not the way God meant for me to relate to others.

I had a close friend ask me recently what the best and worst thing is in my life right now—simple questions that lead to deep answers about what brings me the most joy and most heartache in my life right now. She answered the same two questions and I learned a lot about what she’s going through and how I can better pray for the needs of her heart right now. This again got me thinking about how important honesty and transparency are if we truly want to know and help each other beyond the surface. How thankful I am for friends who see through my cheerful “I’m fine” and “good” when asked how I’m doing and push me towards truth and honesty.

Though it’s scary, it’s also so very good to be known. I feel the most loved by the people who know me best…the people who have seen me at my worst and know the things about my heart I would share with no one else. Really, there is much safety in vulnerability for here we find out who we can trust and are most loved by.

So don’t be afraid to humble yourself and tell the truth about the needs in your life. Though it’s scary, you will likely find many around you are happy to pray and help as best they can if only you are willing to let them in.

Seasons.

Life is full of seasons, made up of seasons. There are seasons of abundance and joy and dry seasons when the soul is weary and parched. It reminds me of the land I grew up on in Missouri and the way we talked about the weather like it was money–because rain, too much or too little of it, could mean everything to a successful crop and harvest.

This winter season feels like the longest I’ve ever experienced. I usually declare it spring as soon as we’ve poked our toes across the line into March but there doesn’t seem much point in doing that this year with the snow still falling and forecasted as far out as we can see. This winter has been made up of long days cooped up in the house taking care of a baby and long nights waiting for Darren to get home from work and class. And I’m starting to feel a little parched, dried up, in need of some cleansing rain.

I’ve been discouraged, tired, overwhelmed. I’m ready to be done with winter, done with house remodeling, done with busy days that keep my little family from being together and enjoying each other.

I want to quit.

But I remembered yesterday, that life is made up of seasons–seasons of abundance and dry seasons without rain.

This discouragement, this weariness, this wanting to give up and walk away–this is just a season without rain. Seasons change. Winter, no matter how stubborn, always gives way to spring. The flowers always poke through, even if they must first poke up through the snow.

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I’m thankful that seasons come and go, ebb and flow in and out of life like the tide. I’m thankful that the longest, darkest night always gives way to dawn. But I’m even more thankful that right in the middle of the dark and dry spells, there is water and light and hope. There is God. And God doesn’t change, he doesn’t ebb and flow or fluctuate. I don’t need my life or circumstances to change in order to be refreshed–I can be refreshed right here in the desert by a God who always brings light and hope and renewal.

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Soon, the snow will melt. I will feel the sunshine on my skin and be able to go outside and stretch my legs. I can’t wait. But until then, I’m using these cooped up winter days to find the light and rain I need in my soul. This season will pass. I will look back at this winter and these first months as a mother and see this time I’m now in from a different vantage point. I have to remind myself of that–that this is a season. No matter how overwhelming a day or period may be, it will pass, it will change. And even when I’m in the middle of a long, discouraging stretch without change, God is always the same–always present, always renewing, always what my parched soul truly needs for actual, lasting change.