Friday, July 28, 2017

From Shadow to Light

John was a man well acquainted with suffering. He had witnessed with his own eyes and ears the death of his best friend and Lord. He had watched helplessly from the sidelines as Jesus was beaten to the point of being unrecognizable. His ears had heard the flesh-piercing sound of nails driven through his savior's hands and feet. Not knowing what was to come three days later, the sight, sound, and smell of death enveloped him. An experience he would not soon, if ever, forget.

 He had lost other a brother and many friends to martyrdom. He had himself been exiled to a lonely island for speaking the truth of Christ to an unbelieving world. In his lowest moments he must have questioned the purpose of his suffering. Why, if he had been following closely to Jesus, would his life look like this? Hadn't he been a faithful follower of Christ from the beginning? Why would God want this for him? What good would come of it?

Here is what I love about John's story: in the midst of his isolated exile Jesus showed up. In an extraordinary vision Jesus allowed John a glimpse of the future, and even more staggering, John saw Jesus himself in His glory. But this meeting was not in the midst of a thriving ministry or John feeling overly spiritual. John saw Jesus during a time of great weakness. Of loneliness. Of suffering. Possibly because it often during those times that we are acutely aware of our need for God. Walking through the shadows gives us eyes to see and ears to hear the Lord in ways that walking in the light doesn't.

I don't have answers to all the whys of our pain. I can't tell you specifically why God allows us to walk through seasons of sorrow, but I can tell you that there is great purpose in pain. My family continues to grieve the loss of my brother. It is our season of shadows. There are answers we will never have this side of heaven as to why he chose to end his own life. This world simply doesn't hold the answers we seek. But I know the One who does. God has been silent when I ask for answers to the why, but He is anything but silent about reminding me of His promise to walk with me through this monumental pain. And He is gently leading me back into light.

On days when I feel as though I'm caving in on myself I reach out to the Lord and I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that He is the one sustaining me. When pain feels like a knife slicing through my heart I am overcome again by my utter need for Jesus. He is my anchor in times of sorrow and the giver of hope in an otherwise hopeless world. I cling to His promise to one day make all things new, and this eternal focus gives me a lens through which to view my own grief. Suddenly the whys no longer plague me because I know the Lord. And I know that He is trustworthy and He is good. Yes he allows me to walk through trials and tribulations but these sufferings will one day seem light and momentary when I am face to face with my Savior.

The glory and magnitude of Jesus was too much for John. He was overwhelmed to the point of being unable to stand up. But Jesus looked at him and said, "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for every and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades." I wonder if John gave a single thought to his sufferings as he stood in the presence of Jesus. Gazing on the face of His Savior must have wiped away all his worries and fears. Jesus reminded John of His power and sovereignty over evil and death. I imagine the yet un-penned hymn lyrics would have rung true for him in that moment.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace

Suffering may seem insurmountable but Jesus is bigger. He holds it all in his hands. He is in control. And one day He will make everything right. And in the meantime He will meet you in your shadows and draw you to the light of His glory. One day at a time.



Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Moment Before the Rapids

I remember a pastor once equating life to a river; sometimes it's calm and peaceful, other times it's a raging stream full of white water, ready to capsize you any moment. There's no bypassing the white water. It's coming around the bend whether you're ready for it or not. We must use the calm, peaceful seasons of life to prepare for the rough waters ahead. Once we get to the rapids the time to prepare for them has passed.

I've been thinking about that a lot in the context of my brother's suicide. My life was meandering along just fine when BAM. Suddenly I felt like I was rocked to my core. What has followed has been the most emotionally traumatic experience of my life. I've never lost anyone close to me in this way.  I've lost grandparents, but in a way we all expect to lose those older than us. That's just a natural progression of life. No one plans to lose their brother in such a gruesome and unexpected fashion. How do you even begin to prepare for that?

This idea of preparing for the white water is hard to pin down. It's less about readying yourself physically and more about readying yourself spiritually. In the peaceful times of my life (which, if I'm honest, has been most of it) God has been teaching me to trust Him. To hold onto Him. Somewhere in the back of my mind for years now I've been waiting for tragedy. Waiting to find out how I will handle the suffering when it inevitably comes.

Everyone responds differently to pain, whether physical or emotional. Some shake their fists in anger toward heaven, accusing God of being a cruel dictator. At the opposite end of the spectrum are those that cling to God ever tighter, knowing that He alone sustains them. I find myself in the second camp.

I will never forget the phone call with my mom that shattered my world into a billion, irreparable pieces. She had left a teary voicemail asking me to call her back, and instantly I knew something was wrong. I almost wish now that I had savored the last few moments of ignorance before I called her back. I wish I could somehow un-hear her shaky voice telling me that Brian had shot himself. I wish I could un-know the truth, even if just for a moment to give myself a reprieve from the hurt. Mom breaking the news to me that my baby brother was dead brought me to my knees, and I spent the next 20 minutes weeping on the floor. It felt like the air had been sucked out of the room and I was grasping for something to hold onto.

The first thought that went through my head was one of disbelief. How could this have happened? How, when we all thought Brian was doing better, did we all miss what was going on underneath? How is he really gone? Is this actually happening? The second thought was unexpected. It was Revelation 21:4, "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning of crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." This is a verse I have been clinging to for dear life for the last 5 weeks. It is my hope. It is my reminder that the pain of this world, while suffocating at times, is temporary. God hasn't checked out and left us to flounder in our pain. Quite the opposite. He draws us near to Him, if we will let Him. The very fact that Jesus will one day wipe them away is evidence that there will in fact be tears this side of heaven. Our pain isn't a surprise to God. Nor is He unable to comfort us in the midst of it. When we pray for God to comfort us He does so by sending His very presence into our lives in powerful ways.

We continue to navigate these rapids hour-by-hour. Eventually they will subside, though likely never completely. There will be moments of calm ahead, and what we do during those moments matters. We can begin to rely on ourselves thinking we've got it all together, or we can cling to God. Lord help us learn to trust you in times of peace so our faith may not fail us in the rapids. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Ashes and Bruises

These last three weeks I have been in this swirl of survival mode and of coming to grips with finding a new normal now that my brother is gone. I try to do normal things: having play dates, going grocery shopping, cooking dinner, even watching movies. I'm finding it all to be an enormous struggle. It's so hard to focus on conversations about normal things when all I can think about is the fact that my brother's ashes are frozen in the ground in a cemetery 80 miles away. How can life possibly feel normal when that is the reality we must stare in the face every day? Nothing about that is normal. Nothing is about that is alright.

The first Sunday at church after my brother died was harder than I imagined it would be. Normally I love being surrounded by my church family, and half the time I'm late getting into the service because I can't stop visiting with people. But last week was different. I've never wanted so badly to be invisible. I wanted the words of the music and sermon to wash over me but I didn't want to be seen. I'm not one for crying in public but that particular morning I was a mess. A friend of mine had made me a mix CD of several Sojourn worship songs, and I'd been listening to it on our way to Brian's funeral. One song in particular was running through my head throughout the visitation, and we sang that song on Sunday. It was a small detail, but one that sent me reeling. Perhaps I'll never again listen to that song without thinking about that awful day. The pastor who preached was someone I hadn't heard in awhile, then it occurred to me that the last time I heard him give a sermon was the one Sunday that Brian had come with me to Sojourn.  Seemingly insignificant details that brought on an overwhelming sense of loss.

While trying to keep from coming completely apart at the seams during that service I felt bruised. Like a bruise covered by a piece of clothing so no one around could really see the pain. That was me on Sunday. I sat in the midst of so many people who were oblivious to the absolute chaos that my life has become. Then it occurred to me to wonder how many others around me were feeling the same way. Our church is full of bruises like me. We are all stumbling around in our pain hoping that someone will help keep us standing upright.

The thought I keep coming back to in all this is how difficult it is to have something in my life that I can't fix. It's not like the loss of a job or a temporary illness that will eventually be made right. Brian is never coming back. All plans of getting old as a trio of siblings has been dashed to pieces. We can't fix Brian. There is no putting him back together this time. What a hard reality that is. That means this hurt will never fully go away. The swelling will go down eventually but the bruise will remain. Like an old veteran's war wound that acts up when it rains, there will be perpetual reminders of this loss for the duration of my lifetime. How do I move on from that?

I'm trying to give myself space to grieve. Yes, I trust in the promises of God to be near me and strengthen me during this nightmare, but that doesn't mean that the actual pain diminishes. Those of us who trust in Jesus live in an "already but not yet" kind of world. We believe that one day Jesus will in fact wipe away every tear from our eyes. Every moment of suffering will be forgotten because we will at last be face to face with the author of our very lives. In the meantime we are still part of this sin-soaked world, and the current reality is that we stand face to face with all sorts of unspeakable pain. I used to think that for the Christian suffering was somehow a lighter load. God makes it ok right? How naive I was. God allows us to feel the full weight of suffering not to crush us but so that we might look to Him for our strength.

Yesterday I read Psalm 74:25-36 which says, "Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart my fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." Somehow every time I've read that verse I've glossed over the word "heart." In times of suffering it is God who gives us the strength we need. Not just the physical ability to get out of bed in the morning and put our shoes on the right feet. God strengthens our hearts as well. He holds us together in the palm of His hand. He will walk through this unspeakable pain with me. He will work through His church to come alongside me and grieve with me. Grief isn't something we can fast forward through. We must do the hard work of trudging through it, but my hope is in the fact that I'm not trudging alone. God is my strength when my heart fails.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Close to the Broken

I'm good at accidentally smashing things. I recently knocked my coffee pot carafe into the faucet and caused a shower of glass to rain down all over my kitchen counter and sink. My gut reaction to a broken dish is to jump back from it lest a piece of glass finds a way to embed itself in my finger. I'm especially fanatical about it if my kids are nearby. "Nobody move!" I hear myself shouting. "Back up, back up, back up." It's good to be careful around broken things. Caution keeps us from doing more damage or bringing on more hurt. We humans are so fragile. We bleed easily.

We sometimes do this with people though, don't we? We see pain and suffering and our gut reaction is to back up. Don't go too close. That pain might be contagious somehow. I might hurt myself trying to help with that burden. Or I might make it worse because I have no idea what I'm doing.

Today I'm thankful that God doesn't react to our pain that way. This afternoon I read Psalm 34:18 which says, "The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." God doesn't need to jump away from our suffering to avoid inflicting pain on himself. He's already done that on the cross. God steps in to our sadness; our brokenness. Sometimes I think the more broken we are the closer we can be to God.

I know I'm not the only one for whom 2017 is off to a rough start. I'm by no means alone in my suffering. There are so many of you who are experiencing some sort of upheaval, whether big or small. Know this: God draws near to our brokenness. He leans in to our pain. He is close to us when we are crushed. God lifts us up and helps us stand, shakily at first but eventually with firmly planted feet. I hope that in your pain you will lift your eyes to the heavens and let God take hold of you. Praise God that He gives us hope for tomorrow.



Monday, January 2, 2017

The Affront of 2017

I usually look forward to New Years Day.  The notion of getting to start something fresh has always been appealing to me.  This year is different though. When you're grieving it feels like a slap in the face to hear people wish you a happy New Year. Happy? Really? Happiness is about the farthest thing from my mind right now.

Our neighbors set off fireworks on New Year's Eve at midnight, a booming reminder that life marches relentlessly on however ill prepared we are. I'm not ready for it to be 2017. It's a year that my brother will never see. I want to scream for time to just stand still for a minute so I can catch my breath and get my bearings.

I've been experiencing those waves of grief that everyone talks about. Some days are better than others, and today was a rough one. Something about it being a new year has made the permanence of Brian's death a little more real in my mind. Perhaps it's denial, or maybe it takes awhile for reality to set in, but I keep thinking he's coming back. How can he just be gone? How is it possible that I'll never see or talk to my brother again? Reality is painful. It's hard to come face to face with the truth that we'll never take another family picture with Brian in it. He'll never goof off with his nieces and nephews again. He'll never celebrate another holiday or birthday with us. Forever there will be a missing piece in our family. An empty chair. It's so surreal. And it's so incredibly painful.

I've been trying to articulate why the pain seems deeper these last two days, and someone pointed out that with it being a new year it's the beginning of having to move forward. As much as I might want to I can't stop time. The irritating tick tock of the living room clock is a constant reminder of that. It's true that we do have to move forward. Everyone that knew and loved Brian will forever be changed by his death, but by God's grace we'll keep going. We'll keep getting out of bed everyday and breathing in and out. Eventually we'll come out of the tailspin we're in and we'll get our feet under us again. We will figure out a new rhythm to our lives but that's not something we can expect to happen overnight. There are going to be plenty of bad days ahead but I have hope that there are good days ahead too.  

Monday, December 26, 2016

Walking in the Dark

I used to do preschool story time at the library, and one of my favorite stories was We're Going on a Bear Hunt.  It's a repetitive song/chant that the kids would sing along with. The story follows a family who is, as you may have guessed, looking for a bear.  They come to a myriad of obstacles that block their path: tall grass, a deep river, a dark forest, and well, you get the idea.  When faced with each seemingly insurmountable barrier the chorus repeats:
"We can't go over it 
we can't go under it. 
Oh no! 
We've got to go through it!"  
The family would then plow through whatever was in front of them, emerging victorious on the other side, only to be met by an even bigger challenge.

We've got to go through it. These words keep ringing in my head as I think about my brother's funeral tomorrow, and the long road ahead of grieving and healing.  We can't go over it.  We can't go under it.  We've got to go through it. We have to face this giant wall of pain that looms over us.  I'd give just about anything to fast forward through the next 24 hours.  I don't know how I'm going to deal with the pain of having to bury my baby brother.

When faced with unbearable pain the natural reaction isn't usually to run full tilt into it. It's natural to want to shrink back from our pain and avoid as much of it as possible.  But I don't think that's the best way to move forward after something like this.  Maybe our best option is to just lean into the grief and process our suffering in God's presence.  Something tells me that any attempt to deny my sorrow would be met with failure.  It will surface in one way or another.  Better to bring it out into the light and confront it no matter how horrible it is.

It feels a bit like I'm walking in the dark, groping my way along an unfamiliar path.  I don't really know what the next step is.  I have no idea what the next few days will be like, the next 6 months, the next 6 years.  I know that this hole in our family will never be filled.  There is a pain that we'll walk around with for the rest of our lives, but that pain needn't define us.  God has stepped into this darkness, and there is a light of hope ahead.  At the moment it is merely a flicker but it is there. I know God won't let go of me.  He is the anchor for my soul, and even though I don't have answers to what lies ahead I know that I don't have to face it alone.

I've been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support from our friends and family this past week.  There are so many people who want to mourn with us and help us heal.  It's been a blessing to see the body of Christ really be the body of Christ.  I'm so grateful that this painful road isn't one that God asks us to walk in isolation.  

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Last Photograph

People are always giving me a hard time for wanting to take group pictures.  I've always been one for  capturing memories, but there's usually at least one person in any group photo who grumbles as I reach for the camera.  That was the reaction I got from my brother and sister on Thanksgiving when I wanted a sibling picture.  I'm glad I was persistent.  That was the last photo we have of my brother.  I look at that picture and remember how happy we all were that night, unbeknownst to us that it would be the last time any of us would ever see him.  We talked and laughed; Brian played with his nieces and nephews.  We knew he'd been struggling with anxiety and depression but that night he gave us all hope.  He seemed to be on the upswing.  We had no idea that just three weeks later we would be grappling with all the questions that plague those who face the loss of someone they love to suicide.

I still can't wrap my mind around the fact that he is gone.  None of this seems real yet.  Maybe it never will.  We all have so many questions swimming in our heads but one thing I know with absolute certainty is that even in the face of the greatest tragedy and pain God is with us.  Not a moment has gone by when He has not been near.  Not a tear has slipped down our cheeks that He hasn't counted.  Not once have we cried out and He has turned a deaf ear.  God doesn't stop being good simply because we walk through periods of suffering.   I find myself leaning into God's goodness all the more since the news of Brian's death came barreling into my life.  I find hope in the truth that I have a Savior who has suffered.  God can relate to pain.  He's been there.  Done that.  Conquered it.

My joy is in knowing that, while my heart breaks, there is coming a day when all pain and suffering will be forgotten, as Jesus himself wipes away every tear from our eyes.  I don't know how many days I have left on this earth, and I know that every one of them has been permanently marked by my brother's death.  But I also know that a day is coming when Jesus will make all things new.  The temporary pain of this world stirs in us a longing for something more.  We seem to know intrinsically that heartache and pain is unnatural.  Because it is.  We move through a world wrecked by sin and it's our pain that points us heavenward.  Our hearts cry out for our hurting selves to be restored, and that is the promise we have in Christ.  One day our suffering will be redeemed and we will forever live in the light of His grace.  No more death.  No more tears.  Praise God for giving us reason to hope.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Preparing for Advent

The season of Advent is upon us, and it is certainly a time of divided attentions.  It's hard to ignore the lure of the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, yet we feel the pull to put it aside and reflect, to wait, and to experience the hopeful anticipation that our Messiah is on His way.  The joy of the Christmas celebration is missed if we neglect to slow down and consider what it is we are celebrating.

We prepare for many things in life; the coming of a new baby, a wedding, exams, even making dinner each night requires preparation.  We are a people who need time to ready ourselves for what is to come.  I think that was an intentional part of our design when our Heavenly Father carefully wove us together.  This same need to prepare follows us into the season of Advent.  This is meant to be a time to set aside the busyness of life to prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ.

This celebration is not only for the joy of the coming of Jesus into the world to be salvation for sinners.  While we eagerly look forward to celebrating our Savior's birth, Advent has a dual meaning. We are keenly aware that there is more to the Kingdom of God than this earthly realm.  For followers of Jesus Advent is a time when we wait expectantly for Christ's return.  We are reminded that our present suffering and pain is only temporary, and we have a great hope that one day all will be restored, and Jesus will Himself wipe away every tear from every eye.

It can be so hard to wait. But there is joy knowing that our waiting and persevering is with purpose.  So each day during Advent I encourage you to pause.  Be still.  Enter into God's presence and feel the weight of His love for you.  Allow yourself to be overcome by the magnitude of His grace.  Consider the lengths He has gone to in order to rescue you from sin and give you abundant life.  Rejoice in the truth that though we don't deserve it, God lavishes us with His love and mercy.  If you are a follower of Jesus rest in the knowledge that His death on the cross is sufficient for your salvation.  Let us spend this Advent season praising God for what He has already done and eagerly anticipating that which is yet to come.


Saturday, May 2, 2015

When Multiplying Feels Like Dividing

I've often written about how great our community group is.  These are the people we do life with.  We share our joys, our struggles, and the day-to-day mundane.  We encourage one another and build each other up.  We help each other move and take meals when someone is sick.  We play games, throw parties, and worship together on Sunday mornings.  We laugh together, cry together, and sometimes just sit in silence together when no words are necessary.  This is our family.

The great thing about this type of family is it's constantly growing.  New people are drawn into the fold and get to experience, and participate in the sweetness that is life in community.  The downside to this ever-expanding paradigm is that eventually your living room literally cannot hold one more person.  Our group, which gets together on Tuesday nights, grew to 28 people.  At times people were practically sitting on each others' laps.  (We're close like that, but still...)  With so many, it's hard to pour into individuals the way we ought to.  It's hard (if not impossible) for new people to feel comfortable and cared for.  And above all it's hard to develop the kind of relationships that foster growth in Christ.

The solution is what Sojourn refers to as multiplication.  That's when one CG becomes two-- the process we just went through with our group.  We appointed new leaders and hosts.  Half of the group stayed with us and half went with the other leaders.  It's bittersweet.  It's necessary.  And it is painful.  I can't tell you how many nights I spent in tears not wanting to have to go through it all again.  (Our CG multiplied a year and a half ago, and had grown from 8 to 28 in a matter of months.)  It's not that we never see those in the other group now, but it's hard to maintain that same level of closeness when we aren't part of each other's lives in the same way.  It's hard to say goodbye.

Now we are a CG of 13.  It's no longer necessary to bring every chair in the house into the living room when our group meets.  I don't have to double recipes for our Tuesday desserts.  Our house is no longer bursting at the seams come 7:00 on a Tuesday night.  But one thing there is more of is space.  Space not only to breathe, but also to share.  People who never felt like they could talk much in a group of 28 now open up and tell their story.  There is space to listen.  When you have so many people who have struggles to talk through, it's hard to hear everyone in the space of a few hours.  We're now better able to care for our people because we actually have the space and time to listen, dig deep, and pray.

 So yes, multiplying is hard.  There are no two ways about it.  But it's a beautiful picture of the expansion of God's kingdom.  When we're called to Christ we aren't called to remain stagnant.  By God's grace and through his power we're called to grow.  Not only in our own faith journeys but also as a community of believers.  We're called to be kingdom builders, and that's what I see in the microcosm of community group.  I see the body of Christ building up the kingdom brick by brick.  And it's a wonderful thing to be able to invite others into that process.  May we always be people who have room for more.

Friday, January 16, 2015

2014 Year in Review

Despite the fact that it's already mid-January, I'm doing a 2014 Year in Review.  Mostly in pictures.  Enjoy!

The first time James went to Sojourn in January 2014 was in style.  I only wish I had this same outfit in every size so we could continue enjoying Hipster James.  Alas...

 2014 was filled with lots of good family time.

James went to his first wedding (our friends Merritt and Mary) and he was thoroughly traumatized when Patrick put him on his shoulders.  


 I had so many great times with Claire last year.  This picture kind of sums up all of them.  :)

James is always getting piano lessons from Patrick, and here is his first piano tuning lesson from Grandpa.

We celebrated Mother's Day with my whole family.  It was great to have everyone together.

 My Dad, Seema, and Anika visited this summer.  It's not a great picture I know, but doesn't James look so much like Dad?

Our VBS theme at Sojourn last summer was Proof Pirates.  I got to teach my 4th and 5th graders and we had a blast.  Clearly, we went all out when it comes to costumes.  Go big or go home.

 We flew out to Colorado in August and James got his first taste of hiking in the Rockies.

 After Colorado we headed to California and James went to the beach for the first time.  Too bad the water was too cold to go swimming.

 We had a great time with John, Sarah, and Esther in beautiful San Diego!

This is one of my all-time favorite videos of James.  Apparently trampolines are hilarious.


With James, everything is complete silliness.


 Fun times at the Sister's Tea Parlor with good friends.  (I'm going to try to recreate the experience next weekend with a tea party for all our CG girls.  Wish me luck.)

 James got to meet Pax, his CG buddy.  (Even though James is always sleeping during CG.  They'll be good buddies as they get older though.)

 For my 30th birthday we went to Sky Zone.  It's this amazing trampoline park, and believe me it's a good workout!

 James and Pax patiently waiting for their dinners.

 We went paint balling with some friends.  It's intense.

Leading community group continues to be the highlight of our week.  What an awesome group of people!

Our community group spent a day pumpkin picking at Galrein Farms.  Beautiful day.  Awesome friends.

In November I was asked to attend a writer's conference at LifeWay.  We spent 3 days writing a new kids' curriculum.  It was so inspiring to work with such creative people!


 The Freibergs came for a visit to Louisville and finally got to meet our family!

 We have a ping pong table in our basement that gets put to good use.  One night we had our whole CG downstairs playing Round Robin.  Awesome.


 We celebrated Thanksgiving in Mt. Vernon, MO with Patrick's grandparents and extended family.

 Holly is home for a couple of months from Zambia and we've been enjoying taking twin photos.

 December 16 was James' 1st birthday.  I got suckered into having a birthday party for him, but it turned out to be really fun.  The birthday boy was pretty tired but rallied halfway through and enjoyed himself as well.

Nap Time is for Wusses

Being a mom has been hard this week.  James has been having a hard time napping lately which means it's been ten times harder for me to get anything done around the house.  I've found myself inching nearer and nearer to the end of my already fragile rope and all because I have a one year old boy who just wants to play.  And play.  And play some more.  Apparently naps are for wusses.

He's sleeping now (praise the Lord) and I'm enjoying a few snatches of peace and quiet.  The funny thing is, whenever he's sleeping, I miss him.  I'm looking around at the playroom with toys strewn around the floor and the half drunk bottle of milk that's dripping onto my already gross carpet, and I think where is the time going?  How is it possible that he's already walking?  He waves bye bye now and makes funny faces to get other people to laugh.  He can clap his hands on demand and shake his head no.  When did that happen?!  His little personality is taking shape more and more everyday.  It seems like just yesterday that he was a tiny newborn.

In the midst of those stressful moments when he's screaming in his crib and all I want to do is drink my coffee and read Isaiah in peace, I find myself almost wishing the time away.  I tell myself that this phase won't last forever and that someday I'll have my time back.  But sitting here now I'm wondering if having my time back is really what I want.  When James is older and doesn't need me as much, am I really going to relish the time I have to do the things I want?  Or am I going to long for these days when he's little and needed his mommy?

I'm one of those people who loves to think back on the past.  I often wish I could go back in time and relive a day here and there.  I know that's what I'll be thinking 5 years from now.  So why do I wish my time away while I have it?  Those people who say "Enjoy every moment while your kids are young" are spot on and insane at the same time.  Not every moment is enjoyable.  Don't get me wrong, I won't miss the version of James while he's teething and does nothing but scream all day, and it looks like there's no end in sight.  Parenting is downright stressful sometimes and it's not realistic to think that each and every moment is one you'll want to cherish forever.  On the other hand, always longing for a future day isn't healthy either.  You could wish your whole life away like that.

What I want is to be completely present in each moment and to find joy even in the stress of parenting a one year old.  When I look back on this time I want to know that I wrung every ounce of joy from every moment, even the hard ones.  I want to remember how God gave me strength to climb back up that fragile rope and enjoy the time he gave me with my precious little boy.  I guess I'll be learning how to do that one missed nap time at a time.  

Thursday, October 23, 2014

James and the Great Pumpkin

Last weekend we took James to his first pumpkin patch.  Unfortunately he didn't get a good nap in before we left so he was rather grouchy the whole time.  It was still a fun afternoon with our community group, and the weather was perfect.

James and his buddy Pax

Our fabulous community group

He was reluctant to crawl through the grass at first but he got used to it.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Remembering My Anchor

Sometimes the greatest epiphanies come while listening to music in the car.  The other day I was listening to "Anchor of my Soul" by Josh Garrels and was struck by these lyrics:

Oh Lord of the wind and the waves
If you're with us we will not be afraid
No storm can ever separate us 
From Jesus, you're mighty to save
All those who would call on your name

When it comes to thinking about our future as missionaries serving overseas there is still a lot of fear that I'm working through.  It's a fear of not being able to be a good wife and mother when I'm not surrounded by friends and family.  A fear that I won't have the strength to carry on day after day.  The thing is, I will fail when I try to do anything on my own.  Listening to Josh the other day I was reminded that God has indeed promised to be with me wherever I go and will give me everything I need.  My problem is, while I believe it in my head, I don't think this truth has totally sunk into my heart.  

Philippians 4:13 says, "I can do everything through him who gives me strength."  We've all heard that one a million times and I tend to glide right past this verse.  But do I really believe this?  Do I live in light of this reality? 

Yesterday during my quiet time I started making a list of the things that I could do only with God's help.  My list started with big picture things like "doing missions", but as I went along I started writing things like, "being a patient mom," "teaching SojournKids" and "showing grace to other people."  God graciously pointed out to me that all the things I'm already doing are only possible in His strength, not my own.  God has been so faithful to be working in my life, why would he give up right as we step out in faith and obedience to go to the mission field?

In my imaginings of life in SE Asia I honestly haven't left a lot of room for God.  I've spent plenty of time thinking about the nitty gritty details of life and whether or not I'll be able to hack it over there, but I seem to have forgotten that God isn't going to forget me.  (Ironic huh?)  He'll continue to be at work in my life and will keep providing everything I need to do the things He's called me to do.  This thought has been so comforting the past few days and I'm sure it's a truth I'll keep leaning on over the next few years before we go.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Giving up the Fish

This morning I read the story of Jesus feeding the 5000.  It's one I've read many times, but something about it struck me differently today.  I imagined the scene: Jesus had been teaching the crowds in a rather remote location for most of the day.  It's getting late and everyone is hungry.  There were probably kids running around all over the place pulling on their moms' clothes asking for their dinner.  The disciples told Jesus to send the crowds away so they could go get food for themselves.  Who knows, they might have been a bit tired of all these people milling around and were looking forward to some peace and quiet with Jesus.  But Jesus comes back with this, "They do not need to go away.  You give them something to eat."  Talk about a tall order!  They told him the only food they had was 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish.  Not enough for thousands of people to chow down on for sure.  Jesus then says, "Bring them here to me."  He has all the people sit down in the grass, he gave thanks to God, and gave the food back to the disciples to pass out to everyone.  Miraculously, there was plenty for everyone, and even 12 baskets of leftovers. (Patrick would have loved that!)  Once again, Jesus provided what the disciples could not.

This story illustrates more than just how Jesus denies the whole "no such thing as a free lunch" thing. Sure, we could take away from this passage that God will provide for us, but I'm pretty sure there's a deeper meaning here.  When the disciples brought their meager bit of food to Jesus they had to trust that he was going to do something incredible with it.  Doesn't that apply to our very lives as well?  I might not have much talent, wisdom, or skill, but when I give what I do have to Jesus, he's able to do remarkable things with it.

Perhaps the hardest part in this is the handover.  It's hard for me to want to totally submit myself to Jesus.  What if he wants to do something I don't like?  What if he asks me to do hard things?  That's a possibility, and it's certainly happened to me before so I'm sure it will happen again.  But here's where we learn to trust God.  We can trust that even when he asks us to do hard or even impossible things, he will ultimately use it for his glory.  And what's cool is that it's not really up to us to do the incredible things anyway.  All we have to do is be willing to let Jesus use our lives.  The rest is up to him.

So that's my prayer for today, that I could keep learning how to give up my bread and fish to Jesus and trust that he will do miraculous things with my life.  (Not a bad way to start the day really...;) )

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Upside Down Kingdom

Jesus is truly the king of turning the world upside down.  Have you ever noticed that?  As soon as people thought they had him figured out, he would say something that would be completely contrary to everything they thought they knew.  And he's still doing it today.  I read Matthew 5 this morning.  It's the passage where Jesus teaches that even if you've been angry with someone or lusted after someone, you've basically committed murder or adultery in your heart.  Love your enemies and cut off your hand if it causes you to sin.  At first glance this passage seems to be all bad news.  Jesus basically raises the standard of holiness to an unattainable level.  One thing is abundantly clear: we've all sinned.  There's no way around it.  Yes, the bad news is pretty bad, but there's good news ahead.

I tried to put myself in the place of his first listeners.  What must they have been thinking?  Probably pretty discouraged.  Maybe they felt like they had been doing alright.  After all, certainly not everyone was going around killing people or sleeping around.  But here comes Jesus throwing a wrench in everything.  He does that a lot.  

  Then I asked another question.  What if he'd said the opposite of everything he taught in this chapter?  What if he'd said, "Oh you know what, sure, go ahead and hate your enemies.  That's definitely the easier route, and hey, it's what everyone is already doing anyway."  What if he'd said, "Congratulations for not being a murderer or in general a wretched human being!  Well done!"  It'd be easy to come away from this passage feeling pretty good about ourselves.  I don't think we'd be convicted of our sin and we certainly wouldn't be convinced of our need for a Savior.  We'd think we were doing alright without God's help.  I'm sure we'd be proud of ourselves for not murdering and committing adultery, but I bet we'd judge pretty harshly those who do.  In fact, we wouldn't look any different from the rest of the world at all.  Thankfully, that's not what Jesus came to do, and that's not the kind of Kingdom he came to usher in.  

Being part of the Kingdom of God doesn't mean blending in with the rest of the world, quite the opposite.  It means living in such a way that we are set apart in holiness, but always with the hope of drawing others nearer to Jesus.  I think maybe we have this view of God's Kingdom as one with high, impenetrable walls and barred doors.  Honestly I don't think it has either.  I think the only thing keeping people out is their own refusal to submit to the King.      

What I see too much of (and I know I'm guilty of myself) is Christians thinking the Kingdom is super exclusive.  We act like we have some claim on Jesus and we try to stuff him into a religious box.  The thing is, he just won't fit.  We always want to load people down with burdens that Jesus himself was trying to remove.  We get it into our heads that in order to be fit for the Kingdom you need Jesus and _____ (fill in the blank with church attendance, Bible study, good works, etc.)  Thankfully that's not how Jesus actually operates.  He never required people to have it all figured out before they fell at his feet.  He didn't say to the woman at the well, "Lady, sorry, but your theology is whacked and your past is shoddy so you might as well just go back to living with that guy who isn't your husband because I can't do anything for you."  It's quite mysterious really, the way Jesus transforms people from the inside out.  We can't always see that transformation from day to day but it's happening.  When I submitted my life to Jesus I certainly didn't have all the right theology.  That would come later.  What I had was an awareness of my sin and my need for Jesus to do something about it.    

I'll confess that its sometimes tempting to think I have Jesus figured out.  In truth I might have about a billionth of a percent of Jesus that I even somewhat understand.  I'll be honest, I'm trying to follow him, but most days I'm not very good at it.  Because of that I'm continually thankful for the gift of grace and faith itself.  It's clear to me that without God's intervention, I couldn't come to him even if I wanted to.  That's why Ephesians 2:8 rings so true.  "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not of yourselves it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast."  There's a humbling verse for you.  We have no reason to congratulate ourselves for our faith because it's all a gift from God in the first place.  Jesus begins, continues, and finishes the process of our salvation completely without our help.  That's a truth worth praising God for!     

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The New Mommy Taboo

When you're pregnant with your first child most people are really excited with you and are eager to share their ideas on child rearing from how to make your own baby food to what kind of teething rings are best.  Advice flows in from all sides and it's easy to be swept away by the excitement of decorating the nursery and picking out baby names.  But there is a side to new-motherhood that no one seems to want to talk about.  As if it's a deep dark secret that no one wants to admit to.  And that is the shadowy cloud of postpartum depression that so many women silently struggle with.

I was fortunate, and oh-so-grateful to have a friend who shared her experience with PPD with me.  I heard how she had plodded through years of her kids' lives before she was able to get help and how she felt that she finally had her life back after all that time.  I'm thankful for her transparency because it prepared me for what was to come.

The first few weeks after we brought James home from the hospital were tough but not overwhelming.  It took us a few nights to get into a routine of being up every few hours, but thankfully we had a lot of help from our parents.  In fact, I'm not sure I would have survived without my mom and mother in law.  They were truly instrumental in keeping me sane during an otherwise crazy time.  I figured since I had made it several weeks and feeling pretty good, I was in the clear from PPD.  I was so wrong.

When James was 7 weeks old I started a new job.  I was only working 3 days a week for a few hours, but something about having to be away from him triggered what seemed like a total emotional breakdown.  And I'm not an overly emotional person.  I felt like I'd been hit with a train and was suddenly overwhelmed easily by simple tasks around the house.  When James would cry, waves of anxiety would wash over me and I felt paralyzed.  It seemed as if the world was caving in around me, and it was truly terrifying.  I would go to bed at night praying to not wake up the next morning.

I'm fortunate to have the most amazing husband on the planet and he would swoop in and save me from these frightening panic attacks.  I don't know what I would have done without him.  Patrick encouraged me to call my doctor, which I resisted for a long time, because I didn't want to have to be on medication to feel normal.  I was afraid of becoming dependent on pills and forever feeling like the "real" me just couldn't hack it anymore.  But I realized I was doing a disservice to my baby and husband.  I hadn't been myself in a long time and wanted so badly to feel normal again.

Let me offer this bit of encouragement to anyone reading this who's going through something similar:  this is normal.  I've heard a lot of women say they felt guilty for having feelings of depression or sadness because they should be happy with their new baby.  Let me tell you, I love James with a fierceness that scares me sometimes, but what I was experiencing was completely outside of my control.  When your brain takes a hormone bath like the one after childbirth it's a wonder any of us stay sane during our kids' first years of life.  Sometimes you just need a little help getting back in sync.  And that's ok.  I was on meds for a few months, and have successfully weaned myself off of them, and I feel completely like my old self again.  Anti-depressants don't have to be for life.  And just because someone suffers from PPD doesn't mean they'll have to go on medication.  There are certainly other ways to get help, and it might look different for different people.

I went back and forth for months about whether or not to blog about this because it's hard to publicly admit my own weaknesses.  I like to be the person that has everything together and who doesn't have to ask anyone for help.  From a Biblical standpoint that's nothing but pride, and a sin I've had to repent of time and time again.  I felt compelled to write because as I talked with more and more women I realized that most people aren't talking about this issue.  That means there are new moms out there who are suffering alone, and it doesn't have to be this way.  It's ok to need help.  It's ok to not have it all together when you have a baby.  The sooner you can admit your need, the sooner you'll see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Trust me, you don't have to suffer in silence!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

What I Thought I'd Think

I'm now 5 months in to this new mom gig, and in a lot of ways it's nothing like I expected.  Before James was born I had this caricature in my mind of the frazzled, sleep deprived mom with unwashed hair, piles of laundry mounting up everywhere, and a screaming baby on her hip.  Everyone was telling me to enjoy my life and freedom while I still could as if all fun and joy would come to a screeching halt as soon as my son was born.  I assumed I would live in this constant state of longing for the days gone by of when I was free to do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted.  From what I was hearing it seemed to me that a lot of people resent their kids for encroaching on their lives.  Yikes!

Well now James is here and I know that the vast majority of my preconceived notions were all wrong.      Sure I've been sleep deprived and sometimes the laundry just has to wait, but I don't find myself pining away for the pre-James days.  Quite the opposite actually.  I can't begin to imagine life without him.  He has brought so much joy and laughter to our lives, and I'm so thankful that God gave him to us.  I don't find myself cringing when he wakes up from his nap because I'm not finished with whatever I was doing.  Truthfully, half the time I can't wait for him to wake up so we can play!

I don't claim to believe that motherhood will always been sunshine and rainbows, and I've already experienced plenty of difficulty.  Some days will definitely be harder than others (as will the nights.)  But being a mom is awesome, especially being James' mom.  :)  We've started on such a cool adventure as parents, and I wouldn't trade that for the world, much less being able to sleep late and get the laundry done.  

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Being a Pilgrim People

The Christian faith seems rife with paradoxes.  We are to flee from evil yet love our enemies; it's not by works that we're saved yet our works point to our faith in Christ; we serve one God yet He is manifested in the three persons of the trinity.  The list goes on.  One of the most compelling paradoxes is the idea that believers are to be in the world but not of it.  We are to be pilgrims of sorts, on a journey toward something greater than the here and now.  We live in this world, yet it is not our home.  I'm actually often comforted by this fact.  I look around the world and see the pain and suffering and I long for something better.  The good news is that Jesus gives us hope for eternal life in which all suffering will vanish.

One thing that sets apart believers from nonbelievers is this hope of something yet to come.  We believe that the words of Revelation 21:4 will ring true when it says of Jesus, "He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."  A day is coming when we will never again be downtrodden or depressed, persecuted or in pain.  Jesus will triumph over evil and will once and for all defeat Satan.

I love the Narnia series.  At the end of the last book C.S. Lewis captures the wonder and hope of eternal life when he writes,  "All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and that title page; now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read; which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before."  I love to think that my life now is only the cover and title page and that the story itself is better than anything I can dream of now.

Every good thing that we experience on earth is merely a rehearsal for heaven.  A glimpse of what we will experience when we see Jesus face to face.  Sometimes I long for that day with every fiber of my being.   But until that day arrives we will be like pilgrims traveling the road of this life as we wait expectantly upon the Lord.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Washing of Feet

A couple of weeks ago at Sojourn we heard a sermon on John 13, the passage in which Jesus washes the disciples' feet.  This passage can be a tough one for us since the details are so culturally distant.  In America it's not a social custom for servants to wash the feet of dinner guests so the absence of such an act aren't missed.  Yet there is still so much for us to gain from this passage, and if we consider the implications of Jesus' actions we can learn a lot about the nature of God.

Obviously the act of washing someone else's feet is incredibly humbling.  To get a taste of this, last week in our community group we actually washed each other's feet.  I know that the cultural context is much different, but it was still a powerful lesson in humility.  Our feet were relatively clean, but in Jesus' everyone wore sandals and their feet would be covered in dirt, dust, and who knows what else.  Needless to say, those were some feet that truly needed washing.  The craziest part of our foot-washing experience was imagining that it was Jesus himself washing our feet.  We serve a God who kneels.  A God who serves.  A God who loves with an unconditional, unimaginable kind of love.  With his act of foot washing Jesus demonstrated a sacrificial love that asks for nothing in return.  I had never given much thought to the fact that Jesus washed Judas' feet mere hours before he would betray him.  If anyone didn't deserve to have their feet washed by God himself it was Judas, yet Jesus did it anyway.  And I know that the same is true for me.  I don't deserve to be made clean by Jesus.  I can't do enough good on my own to merit his love, but thankfully I don't have to.  I rejoice in the fact that I serve a God who comes to me and offers me everything even though I have nothing to give in return.  Talk about scandalous love!

In his sermon Kevin said that the greatest battle for the Christian isn't against sin but is to believe that God really loves him or her.  I'll admit that lately I've struggled with this myself.  Maybe it's because it's just so staggering to think that the God of the universe would really want to be personally involved in my life.  Maybe it's because when I'm honest with myself I know that I tend to run away from God in a lot of ways.  I know deep down that I'm unloveable because of the sin in my life, but the beauty of Jesus is that he loves the unloveable.  Titus 3:5-7 reminds me that, "he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.  He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life." 

I'm at a point in my life where I just need to soak in God's grace and continually remember that it's not because of anything I've done or will do that has earned me his love.  It has always been (and always will be) about what he's done for me.  He's washed my feet and made my clean not because I deserved it but because he is good.  Praise God! 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Navigating New-Mommyhood

I got a lot of parenting advice while I was pregnant.  Advice is great...when solicited, but more often than not I had seasoned mothers piling on a bunch of things that I absolutely must do or my child would fail at life.  I'm learning that an important part of parenthood is learning to take advice with an added measure of grace.  I'm glad I had so many people who cared enough to try to prepare me for what was coming, but let's be honest, there's no way to be completely prepare to be a mommy for the first time.

The day we left the hospital with James was ever so slightly terrifying.  It's kind of a wonder that they let clueless people leave the hospital at all with teensy helpless babies.  We got home and I had this moment of panicked what now?  All my life I'd heard that your maternal instinct kicks in when you have a baby and you automatically know what to do.  Apparently my maternal instinct decided to take a raincheck, because I had (and still have) plenty of moments where I was holding a screaming infant without the slightest clue what the heck was wrong with him.  Perhaps the maternal instinct is something you acquire over time.

I can't believe how fast he's growing!
And then there's the breastfeeding.  I would like to personally punch in the face whoever said that breastfeeding comes naturally and the baby just magically knows what to do on his own.  I've had plenty of friends struggle with this aspect of caring for their baby, and the first three weeks were tough for me too.  All the lactation consultants told me, "If it hurts, something is wrong."  Well we worked at it for days and sometimes it just hurts even though you're doing everything you're supposed to.  I think it's one of those things that you have to give your body time to adjust to and toughen up for.  Things in the nursing department aren't smooth sailing for us yet, but we're certainly getting there.

He's cute even when he's angry.
The hardest part by far was dealing with the emotional tangle aptly called the "baby blues."  I'd been warned about this so I at least knew what I might be in for.  I assumed that since I had such a vast support network of family and friends the random bouts of crying might be kept at bay.  Boy was I wrong.  The emotional roller coaster you're on after having a baby isn't just about being sleep deprived and overwhelmed by this new responsibility, though that's certainly part of it.  For me it was a feeling of loneliness like I'd never experienced.  This is weird to me since most of the time I'm surrounded by other people.  It was especially rough there in the beginning, but over the last week things are settling out and I've been feeling more like my old self.

This is how we spend most of our time.
Becoming a new mommy has been one of the most humbling experiences of my life.  During my pregnancy I kept thinking that I wouldn't want a lot of people around when we brought James home and that we should bond as a family of three for those first few days.  After our first horrible, sleepless night at home however, I was singing a very different tune.  Since then we've had one of our moms stay with us every few nights to help out with him at night, and it's been a huge blessing.  I believe my initial issue was one of pride.  I don't like asking for help with things that I know I should be able to do.  Recovering from surgery showed me how much I help I really need and how blessed we are with family and friends willing to give it.

Lest you think my experience as a new mom has only been negative, think again!  It's amazing to me that God chose us to be James' parents, and I love every minute I spend with him.  It's so cool to see how he grows and changes each day, and we seriously spend hours just staring at him.  It's no wonder I don't get much done around the house.  I love the silly expressions he makes when he's falling asleep and the way he holds onto my finger so tightly.  I love that he's such a snuggly baby and wants to be held a lot.  I love how tiny he is, though I'm sure he's almost to 8 pounds by now!  I love watching his big eyes take in everything around him and know that he's learning so much already.  I can't wait to see the little person he grows into!  I'm ecstatic that I get to be his mommy and watch him grow everyday!  What better blessing could I ask for?