Keeping your heart alive to hope

It’s been almost exactly three years since I posted this previously, and I wouldn’t have thought to repost it except for seeing it on a friend’s FB page and remembering all God has done in the past three years. He is so good and faithful! We have walked through some pretty hard things, but God has been so good and gracious to bring us to the other side! We are grateful to be serving in a church together, enjoying our darling little guy, and excited about what lies ahead. If you are walking a tough road, may this post remind you that you are not alone. This journey to heaven is hard, no doubt! But we serve a great God who has overcome all….one passage that I held on to tightly during that tough season was 1 Peter 5:10: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” There will be an end to your struggle. And God will restore!

Adapted from the blog archives…

Perhaps you’ve seen bits and pieces of the story the Divine Author has written across the pages of our one flesh life this year. The job loss, the weeks of travel, the moments of joy and reconnection with family, the darkness of losing a mother I never knew but gave me so much in Paul, the renewed desire to give our lives fully to vocational ministry, the desire for little ones, new and unexpected callings, moving a-g-a-i-n, and the unforgettable brilliance of Grace in the midst of it all. It has been an uphill, tearful, and yet joyful season. I am quickly reminded of the Cross as I write, the Story of Grace in the midst of darkness, as the story His followers thought should be written one way had a dramatic, painful, and yet glorious eternal twist. It was the hardest and best Story ever to be written.

Perhaps you are living a hard story, a painful story that you never wanted and would gladly write yourself out of if you could, yesterday. I know. I’ve been there. In some ways, I am there. And yet, it’s in these dark and confusing moments where we find the deepest Grace, the most profound connections with those we love, and the most dramatic growth possible. There’s no other way to move forward sometimes, except through the darkest valleys. We all live for the happy days, the days when life ‘makes sense’ (at least to us). But we look at our reality and we ache: we see the wicked flourish, the unlikely prosper, the ungrateful and selfish expand their broken families endlessly. Disease abounds, governments make unwise decisions, women make choices that bring death and not the freedom they crave.

And yet. Or rather, but God…. This masterful HIS-story maker and life-story production manager is at work writing an epic story through our brokenness. He is turning the effects of the fall, our sin and the broken systems in which we live into something glorious, beautiful and breathtaking. If you are written into His eternal playbook as His adopted child it’s happening in your home, closer yet, in your very heart. Pretty amazing, I think!!

But it hurts. It really hurts. Some days, who am I kidding, most days, it is easier to distract ourselves from the pain with anything that works… could be something harmless, could be something damaging and deadly. You know what your go-to method is. [To be clear, finding ways to lift our hearts and bring us joy in good and godly ways is not to be denied. In fact, we are called to rest and allow our hearts space to breathe.] But our good God often allows pain to heal our hearts. The pain could be a result of our sin choices, the sin of others, or the brokenness we daily face because of the fall in the Garden (See Genesis 3). Life just doesn’t work the way it was meant to. Are there good and healthy ways to keep our hearts alive but at the same time not ignore the deeper work going on within us?

What happens to our hearts when life hurts? Does our heart stay alive to hope or does it slowing stop beating? Do our relationships die or do they grow stronger? Do our callings become stronger and more obvious, or do our dreams slowly die? This is where the battle lies, and the enemy wants nothing more than to turn our hearts to stone…to kill, steal, and destroy the life that is growing within us as we are daily renewed in Christ. How do we fight for our own hearts, and the hearts of those we love to keep beating with purpose, joy, conviction, and intentional focus on Gospel living?  There are never easy answers. At least I haven’t come up with any! But looking to the ancient paths God gives us are the surest ways to lasting hope and joy. May I humbly encourage…

The Living Word. Ingest it in small amounts, big amounts, listen on audio, read online, read the old-fashioned hardbound, read it in Spanish or Greek. However you can get His words into your soul, please DO. The Psalms bring me relief in hardship like nothing else. Read good Christian books, fiction too!

Prayer and confession. With a friend, as you shower, as you cry, give kisses, wash dishes, or wish the day would end. Pray honestly, one word at a time if needed.

Gratitude. There are apps, there are notebooks, you can text it to your friend, or post it on FaceBook, or across the sky. But thankfulness will breathe life into your otherwise dreary day as few other things will. Ask God to help you when you’re not thankful, and thanking Him for the Grace He gave on the Cross is a good place to start.

Honesty. With your spouse, a friend, yourself. There’s no need to look pretty when life is messy. I’ve tried it – with horrible results!! I like the Day One app for a place to record my thoughts and prayers.

Care for your body + soul. (Romans 12:1-2). Sleep, eat your veggies, take a walk or yoga class. Taking care of yourself, even when you don’t feel like it, will reap huge dividends. I find that taking care of myself physically and emotionally reminds me of my worth in Christ. You are worth the effort, friends! But – ahem – dark chocolate might help too!

Extra grace. Being hard on yourself when life is hard is just…pointless! But we all do it. God is looking at you with deep compassion even if you’ve made bad choices to get you where you are right now. Beating yourself up in the midst of your struggles will just compound the difficulties.

Fellowship. Hold onto friends and family. Tightly. Look for every chance you can to spend a moment together with someone you love, whether on the phone, over coffee, a movie night, doing chores, whatever! Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone new – I’ll bet he/ she needs a friend as much as you do, and sharing your struggles honestly will open up more of your heart as well as theirs.

Look to eternity. If you are His child, all pain and tears will pass away, and our joy in Christ will far outweigh the pain and suffering of this life. I know very well how hard it is to wrap your mind around this truth, so ask God to help you live with eternal hope. Preaching it to myself as I type!

Find rest in the fellowship of His suffering, knowing you will never face the depth of pain and sacrifice that He bore for your sins, but that He is also a gracious High Priest who understands. He will meet you there, in deep and profound ways.

I recently started reading The Hardest Peace and have been so deeply moved and impacted by Kara’s words. One point in particular that blessed me immensely are her comments concerning Proverbs 1:33, and the promise that as we rest in Him, He will remove not the disaster, but the dread of the disaster. Fear causes us to live in agony as we imagine the impossibility of future circumstances (often not imagining the God of Abundant Grace with us there!) But He will keep you in perfect peace as you turn to Him, as you walk the ancient paths… slowly replacing fear of pain, with faith in the One who suffered the deepest pain.

 

The journey to freedom in Christ

Today is a day to celebrate freedom, but we are remiss as believers if we do not celebrate our freedom in Christ…freedom from sin and death, from things that hinder our growth, from fear, pride and shame, among other things. I have been freed from many sins, situations, and hardships over the years, and I’m sure you have as well. Celebrate that! Share your story! Over breakfast we were listening to this podcast with author Jeff Goins (whose work often encourages me to share my story), and he was talking about his new book, Real Artists Don’t Starve. (I haven’t read it yet, but intend to and love all his books!) Artist or not, none of us are promised an easy life. Tolkein is mentioned in this podcast, which reminds me today of his book, The Hobbit. 

Bilbo Baggins is the main character and he reluctantly agrees to embark on a treacherous journey with some new acquaintances, 13 dwarves, and a wizard, Gandalf.  The goal?  To claim the treasure that has been passed on to the dwarves–if they can make it through Mirkwood forest and past the dragon.  At many points along the journey, Bilbo wishes that he never agreed to this.  But {spoiler alert!} once he acquires the ring, and learns that it will provide invisibility, he becomes quite a leader among his fellow travelers.  He is able to help them through many a pinch, and the incident we’ll discuss is no different.  The problem is that the dwarves are not that excited about his method of escape from their current dilemma:  capture by the Elvish King.

“Bilbo saw that the time had come to explain his idea, as far as he could; but he did not feel at all sure how the dwarves would take it.  His fears were quite justified, for they did not like it a bit, and started grumbling loudly in spite of their danger.  ‘We shall be bruised and battered to pieces, and drowned too, for certain”‘ they muttered.  ‘We thought you had got some sensible notion, when you managed to get hold of the keys.  This is a mad idea!’ ‘Very well’! said Bilbo very downcast, and also rather annoyed.  ‘Come along back to your nice cells, and I will lock you all in again, and you can sit there comfortably and think of a better plan–but don’t suppose I shall ever get hold of the keys again, even if I feel inclined to try.”

Perhaps you see the corollary?  At times, I see myself in the same situation as the dwarves….hearing the Lord’s voice leading me out of sin, shame, or another self-made prison, but not wanting to face the difficult road out. Isn’t it easier to remain trapped, than it is to risk freedom, and the treacherous path to get there?  We choose the comfortable, but deadly route, when freedom is right around the corner, beckoning us to come near.  I have chosen imprisonment far too many times.

As mentioned above, Jeff Goins shares a story of J.R.R. Tolkien being stuck as he was writing what we now know as The Lord of the Rings. C.S. Lewis was a contemporary of Tolkien, and in response to him feeling ‘stuck’, was able to help Tolkien get ‘unstuck’. You can listen in to hear more, but my point here is that freedom is not a solitary journey. We need fellow travelers to spur us on and lend a hand as Bilbo did for the dwarves and vice versa. Do you have a group of people doing this for you? Have you looked? Have you prayed for this? Don’t go it alone.

As Christians, we are all moving from death to life, through the process of sanctification, and we as a family have recently entered a new season of freedom. We have moved out of darkness into light. There will be hardships, for sure.  But these very trials and joys will all be a part of the story. Check out Steffany Gretzinger’s song Out of Hiding – I love this line -“and oh as you run, what hindered love, will only become part of the story…” What is holding you back?  Are you pressing on, pressing into the fight for freedom, or lingering in the comfy prison cell? On this day, in which we celebrate the freedoms that have been granted through the courage of our forefathers, may I challenge you to turn your mind to the battle that Christ won on the cross?

Galatians 5:1:  “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

Freedom is yours, if you will accept the journey….even if reluctantly, like Bilbo 🙂

 

Blue Apron review – is it worth it??

Hey there busy friends! I know you have lots going on, and I do too, so I’m sure you’re looking for time-saving tips and shortcuts. I just met with a group of moms last night for our summer book study, and the consensus was that we just can’t get it all done! (book spoiler: you don’t need more time, you need more Jesus ;-)) All that aside, though, exploring practical helps is definitely worth it. Here’s my lowdown on the Blue Apron meal service – you decide if it’s for you or not.

(I am not paid for this review, and we did pay for every week we used the service.)

Who/what: Blue Apron is a meal delivery service that provides a box of pre-measured natural, farm-fresh (not organic) produce and pantry items for three meals.

When/where: Weekly, if you like, or skip a week or two and jump back in when you’re ready! It comes right to your front doorstep in a medium size box (for two person portion) and nice big freezer packs that can be saved. The box will be fine to sit outside/inside a couple of hours if you are away, but I wouldn’t let it sit all day.

How: You get a box in the mail that contains everything you need to make three meals for either 2 people or the family size. I am speaking to the smaller size that we got. Meals come with a handy 8×11 stock paper meal sheet, that gives a summary of the meal on one side, with the items sent for that meal, as well as the prep and cooking directions on the back side with photos. I really liked their meal sheets, but the size is a little large when your counter is full of foods. (I like the Hello Fresh half size card a little better.)

Why: You want to have home-cooked meals and quality family time, but the meal planning, prep and grocery shopping takes more time than you have.

Now I’ll give you a little free-form blurb on what I LOVED, liked, and didn’t like so much, and my final verdict on if we will continue this service. We both loved the gourmet taste of the meals – totally worth the price to get such amazing meals almost every time, and we both agreed it was tastier and cheaper than going out. Who doesn’t love getting real mail!? I especially like mail that helps me avoid shopping, because even though P is a better shopping passenger than a few months ago, with two naps still some days, it can be hard to get out. Finding time to plan meals can be tricky too, although there’s several apps that help! (More on Mealboard.com another time.) I loved getting a box of yummy fresh food in the mail. That excitement never wore off, and it was such a relief to know the planning, prep, and shopping were all done for me!

What I LIKED: the packaging for what they call ‘meal knick knacks’ was cute, which involved tiny bottles and packages of pantry items that were pre-measured for that particular recipe. Think, speciality oils, vinegars, créme fraîche, and other goodies that I would never buy otherwise (or buy and only use a small amount, thus wasting much of it.) I also liked the meal inserts with helpful cooking tips, such as how to wash cast iron, the pollen crisis, or instructions on flash cooking green beans. It was always relevant and very interesting, leaving me feeling like a more experienced cook. Nice touch, Blue Apron!

What I DIDN’T LIKE: The meals are time-consuming, more time than I would prefer, though not more than I would expect for a gourmet meal. When I say gourmet, I must add that I would still consider these easy/intermediate meals, and you don’t need any special cooking knowledge or paraphernalia to bring the yumminess to your table.It’s not difficult to skip meals, and they send you reminders that your meal is coming, however you have to stay on top of it because I just forgot to skip one and am getting some things this week we may not like! (You get to choose from a few meals each week, as to which you’d prefer to receive.) Blue Apron has added some quick/easy meals each week, so I was able to use those near the end of our trial period.  I also didn’t like the cost. As I said previously, when you consider that these meals are easily gourmet-quality meals, and I learned so much (and made my husband a very happy man) while using this service, they are more expensive than I would pay on a regular basis.

Final verdict: We did end up deactivating my account recently, and I would say the main reason was the cost and time involved. If you love cooking, but not the shopping, and you have plenty of expendable income, than I would say go for it! But at $59/week  for only three meals and most meals taking at least 30-45 minutes, I’m happy to get back to my Instant Pot and spending less on my total grocery and household budget. 

What about you? Have you tried a meal service that you like? Please share in the comments!

What I Learned This Spring

I love Emily Freeman’s ‘What We Learned’ Link Up and I’m excited to reflect on what I’ve learned! Writing is a good way for me to reflect on these things, so thanks for coming along!

Boys will be boys – I have come to love hearing my husband and son playing together. There is a special bond there, that I don’t have with my little Sweet P, and it’s fabulous. I’m learning that it’s a relationship to honor, even if it’s messy, loud, or different. What things don’t you understand? Can we give them honor even if we don’t understand? I’m learning. And so thankful.

Life is in the details – So often I’m waiting for the next big thing to get revved up about, something to lead, encourage, something bigger than me. But I’m reminded that the call of the Gospel reaches into even, and especially, the small everyday details. The washed dishes, wiping messy hands, washing underwear, and picking up one more toy all draw me back to Christ, if I allow them to. I don’t need to go looking for the next big thing to be involved in, whether work, ministry, or otherwise. I’m called to my now. That is where God is with me. The great I AM.

It’s not about the food – We’ve enjoyed hosting family and friends over the past few weeks, and I’m reminded again that people don’t come for the food and finesse – those things will get done, and can be fun to fuss over – but not at the expense of relationship. This past month we enjoyed dinners, lunch time chats, and time with my mom (Grammy) and I’m so grateful God reminded me to rest, relax and enjoy.

I have to take care of myself – and it’s not selfish – Life as a wife and mom has slowed in some ways, and picked up the pace in others. The middle-of-the-night waking is not as frequent, but I have a much more energetic little guy now! I’m finding more quality time with my husband than when he was working second shift, but this is often found over things we do to serve others – and that’s great! Just different. In all this, I have to constantly remind myself to take little breaks. Nap time is great for that – even if it’s just 20 minutes to read something, paint my nails, or take a quick shower before I need to get chores done. These little self-care moments remind me of my worth as a child of God – more on that in the next point.

Scripture memory changes me – This past month I was invited by a new friend to memorize Scripture. I actually said HELP! and she invited me to join her :). This is not an easy thing for me, although 15 years ago I was quite adept at memorizing body parts and cell structures! Having accountability to memorize, and even just writing the bimonthly verse (that’s right, only two a month) on my kitchen whiteboard, has changed my thinking tremendously and I’ve experienced growth in areas where I never thought I would overcome sin. Philippians 4:8 is on my board now; over and over I am reminded of my worth as God’s child by the first phrase – thinking on whatever is TRUE. I am His child, no matter what thoughts the enemy throws my way.

What about you? What have you been learning lately?

When your heart aches on Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day can bring all sorts of feelings, and they are not always pleasant. Maybe you want to be a mom and haven’t gotten there yet. Perhaps your spouse is not as invested as you’d hope or he/she is nowhere to be seen. You might be missing your mama, or an ‘out of the box’ child could be causing you pain. There’s a myriad of reasons you might ache on this weekend for moms, and I am no stranger to those feelings. I ached for a lot of years, waiting to get the ‘mom’ title. Sure, we moms love being moms most days, but this world is far from perfect, even on the best days. Do you resent the idea that you ‘should’ have babies but don’t want to? I’ve been there too. What are you longing for today? I’ll share part of my story, in hopes that it would encourage you on this good, and sometimes, hard day.

We got married later in life, and then we waited for the ‘right time’ to have babies – definitely not an easy road, with a lot of longing and wrestling and discouragement. I actually didn’t desire marriage and babies as a young woman. But God had good plans for those seasons, changing my heart and preparing me to serve as a wife and mom. The many difficulties, including a miscarriage, led to sadness that gave way to despair some days. And my heart changed, really wanting marriage, and quickly after marriage, longing for children. Would I always carry sadness in my heart? Maybe you are waiting too. Or perhaps you have children, but in some way, your heart still aches. A difficult adoption, struggles with parenting, or financial concerns might tinge your joy in mothering too. The list is long. If so, my heart goes out to you. Waiting for a good thing is not easy. It’s not easy when the unknown looms long and hope goes knocking on someone else’s door, happy moms living the life you crave. Or even worse, you hear women complaining about what you would be delighted to enjoy.

I get it. The question ‘why’ is hard to resist, despite the fact that God IS good, and all His plans for us are good and loving. That doesn’t mean we will get answers, and the hard fact is that God doesn’t owe us answers. I had to really wrestle with His goodness and sovereignty on my path to motherhood. How could a good God deny the gift of motherhood for so long? Could I live a joyful life even if this gift was not granted? Some days I wondered. But in the midst of it all, a contentment and joy apart from motherhood grew and developed, something that was not dependent on whether God gave us children. A deep sense of God’s goodness, and the knowledge that He can be trusted, was hard won but so satisfying. It’s in these hard times that our faith must grow, lest we fall to bitterness. The latter was not something I wanted, so I persevered and fought for joy. Many stood with me and finally the day came when I held our dear son in my arms. But your story might still carry an ache, and to be perfectly honest – ours certainly carries them. What about you? Are you a working mom longing for more quality time? Are you struggling with postpartum depression or anxiety? Month upon month of fertility treatments? Waiting for marriage? All these and more can make the journey feel unbearable.

How can we find joy when our hearts ache? For all of us, we must find our hope in the Gospel. There is a sweetness with Jesus that cannot be found but through trials. He alone is our greatest joy, and I pray you will persevere and rest in that love. I found so much comfort in knowing that Christ suffered too, and frequently found myself in deep fellowship with Him and His sufferings. That connection is not found in holding a child, but only in knowing God and letting Him hold you. God the Father mourned as His Son suffered, too. Life is not free from suffering, even as believers in Jesus Christ, even when we receive the good gift of being a mama.

In it all, God is near and we are asked to come to him. “I am with you as you pass through the waters, and when you pass through the rivers you will not be overwhelmed. You will not be scorched when you walk through the fire, and the flame will not burn you.” – Isaiah 43:2 (ESV) We may be ‘afflicted…perplexed…” BUT (see 2 Corinthians 4:7-12 here) God has not left us. It is hard, just like labor, but He brings us through, and there is great joy on the other side. This is another verse that I have held close, and I tell you friend, it is absolutely true! “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 1 Peter 5:10 ESV

God has not walked out on me as I’ve struggled, and neither have the people who love me. Be kind to your aching soul, but remember to celebrate what God has given. Acknowledge any pain, reach out to others who may be longing too, even if you are not. There is healing on the other side. And there is a Healer. Though our desires may not be met on this earth, our hearts will be held by the One who knows us and calls us by name.

Finding contentment : on babies and garbage men

Last week on a walk with Little P, our garbage man was joyfully bustling about his work, and I casually said, ‘Good morning! How are you?’ (not expecting a response, really!) Much to my surprise, he looked me in the eye and said ‘I’m tired’! I wasn’t ready for that, so I just observed his hard work and joyful attitude, and went on my way. I thought about this as we walked towards the park, and just as we rounded the bend, a big fancy truck zoomed past, almost pushing us off the roadside. I was shocked. Clearly, they had no time for a baby and mom enjoying the day – much more important things to be done – and yet my garbage man took the time to give me a happy, honest reply and relay his humanness. The morning was a beautiful one, low humidity, and a gentle sun that peeked behind a few clouds – thoughtfully blessing us with warmth. The trees are green and beautiful lately, and blooms were everywhere. The tulips and spring flowers bobbed cheerfully in the breeze, and my sweet boy babbled happily at the birds, flowers and puppies we saw along the way. He is full of wonder at the smallest things, and picking dandelions in our yard is his new favorite activity, as well as being outside as often as possible.

What about us? Are we forgetting that each day holds joy, wonder and contentment in small and profound ways? How can we acknowledge our vulnerabilities to each other? What simple joys are we missing as we rush through life? Just some thoughts and prompts to focus your thoughts on this morning…. Truly, we can learn a lot from the joy and contentment of babies and people of every worldly status. Jesus certainly thought so and His life is alive in us. Lean in, friends. There is joy and wonder to be found in your busy, stressful day – let’s be on the lookout for those treasures.

Waking up to wonder

 

Saturday, 5:00 am. Woke to the sound of my baby’s cries and remember that he still takes a bottle early in the morning – I should get up and do that. I go to the bathroom, return to our room, try to ignore his cries, and I am reminded that this phase won’t last much longer. I tiptoe to his room next door, and bring the bottle, comfort and cuddles that won’t last forever. As I tuck him back in, I hear the birds chirping, beckoning me to sneak out and watch the sunrise – something I haven’t done in a very long time. I tie on my running shoes, and open the door to a world of wonder – trees blooming, birds chirping happily, sun just beginning to wake up. So too, my soul comes alive as I remember how God invites us into His presence if we but listen. I’ve been trying to listen more closely. And it’s hard, but good. I’m turning from the noise, temptations, and distractions, to see what good things God might be waiting to give just around the corner.

I love the MSG paraphrase of Matthew 6:30-34 –

“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

34 “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.

7:00 am. I make a family recipe – Pfannkuchen – and listen to waking and rustling upstairs. Baby babble, happy laughter and tickles, chasing and throwing on the bed…My home is waking up, and I am ready to serve. I’m not always awake at this point, but today feels different. God has been whispering and calling to my heart, and it doesn’t feel as hard to repent from bitterness that has settled in over weeks and months.

9:00 am. Walk with my guys around the neighborhood. These walks are both good and hard, as are most things. Conversations bring connection and also conflict, but I find that God’s earlier preparation of my heart to look for what He has done, and not grasp for what He hasn’t yet, has softened me and brings sweet connection with the ones I love.

11 am. Dishes washed, and my heart has been washed too. I’m alive to God and though the battles still crouch at the door (Genesis 4:7), I’m more in tune with God and what is truly real.

What about you? Are you awake to the work of God in your life? I’m finding that small steps early on prepare my body, mind and soul to rest in Him all day. Our Warrior King has won the victory over all sin, flesh and evil. Will we walk in that? Put on those shoes. The birds are chirping and He’s waiting to open the door for you too!