Forecast

The weather’s been sketchy the last few days. Today’s forecast boasts “Showers with scattered storms and patchy fog mingled with sunshine.”  Brad looked at the radar and started discussing the instability of the atmosphere. Little showers pop up and fall apart. The sun peaks out, heats everything up, then hides. The air, saturated with moisture, smells damp and springy. It’s difficult to plan any outdoor activities. Weather in Iowa is notoriously unpredictable, but this is different. This is shifty, changeable weather from minute to minute.

I’ve often compared chronic and major depression to a fog, skewing and distorting reality and making the journey slow and arduous. But the last several weeks, it’s felt more like today’s weather: changeable and unpredictable. One minute I’m walking in sunshine and the next, I’m caught in a downpour of painful memories, self-loathing, and isolation. It’s been exhausting, living in this low-pressure system. I’ve dealt with depression now for 30 years so I have the coping skills down and employ my full arsenal regularly. But sometimes, when the tears blind side and the inner accusations mount, my weapons seem useless and my attempts at alleviating the pain, futile.

John records for us in his book in the Bible that Jesus said: “The thief comes to steal and kill and destroy but I come that you may have life and have it to the full.” As I grow and walk through life, I continue to realize that the “full” life doesn’t mean a pain-free life or a happily-ever-after life. It doesn’t mean living in a sunny and 75º degree life all the time. It means living in a redemptive life. It means that nothing is wasted; no joy or pain that we experience is trivial or useless. Full life means growing and loving not in spite of the pain, but because of it. Full life means we’re never alone even when it feels like it. Full life means there’s always Someone going to bat for us. The writer of the book of Hebrews talks about the Great High Priest who constantly intercedes or advocates on our behalf. Even when it doesn’t feel like it and we can’t see the effects, things are happening behind the scenes. We have the best possible Person making sure we’ll be ok in the end. I know it’s true. It’s just, some days it’s hard to believe the Truth because the atmosphere is so unstable.

I’m glad it’s Easter tomorrow. Jesus coming, living, dying and rising again doesn’t mean the pain is gone on earth. It doesn’t mean there’s no struggle. It doesn’t mean life is happy and perfect all the time. It means there’s redemption in the pain. It means I don’t walk this road alone. And neither do you, my friend. I have no idea what your skies look like today. Maybe your marriage is failing. Maybe your kid walks a dangerous, self-destructive path. Maybe you’re staring retirement in the face without a penny to your name and it scares you to death. Maybe the brokenness and pain of the past cripples you to live in the present. I have no idea. But Jesus came to offer hope, stability, and redemption.

 

 

 

Healing balm

I just finished reading The Hunger Games at school with a few sophomore students. Two times, Katniss faces injury and needs medical help, once for herself and once for her partner, Peeta. In both instances, help arrives just in time. Both times, she’s provided with a goopy balm that brings both relief and healing. Both times she knew she needed help. She knew the situation was beyond her and both times she had no choice but to wait for someone to show mercy.

It’s been a whirlwind week and weekend. Graduation, parties, wedding stuff, end of the school year busyness and daily life kept us all on our toes and living moment to moment. We made it. We celebrated milestones and enjoyed it all. But honestly, most of the time, I was one step away from a wreck. Trying to hold it together emotionally and stay on top of home life and work and all the extras felt overwhelming. At each moment when I didn’t think I’d make it to the next without a meltdown, help arrived. Not in the form a beeping, parachuted tin of balm like Katniss received, but  in the form of people. Calming words, reassuring hugs, and surprise guests eased my burdens. My kids and friends and family stepped up and stepped in and provided an amazing graduation party for our daughter. My sisters and sisters-in-law threw a spectacular shower for my other daughter. My sweet mom did my laundry and dishes and held things down on the homefront. They were all a healing balm to my weary soul and I’m beyond grateful. I could not have walked through the last week without them.

And then, in the middle of it, we got the late-night call every parent dreads.  Our son and his girlfriend were in a car accident. Thankfully, mercifully, both my son and his lovely friend were miraculously unharmed but somewhere on CR 38 is a concussed deer who got the better of the 2005 Honda. In the dark, rainy night, Brad and I drove N & C back home and in the midst of relief, I worried. Although they were safe and sound, I could tell they were both shaken and my son was beating himself up over the accident. I tried to speak reassuring words. I tried to bring comfort, but it was still fresh and scary. Then, when we arrived home and walked in the door shortly before midnight, all his siblings were waiting to give hugs and listen to the stories. They provided relief that I could not. As a parent, it was an absolute joy to see and hear them surround their brother and friend with love and support and laughter. They were healing balm to an injured spirit and it was beautiful.

IMG_7078Paul says to the Roman people “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other.”  The entire weekend was a beautiful picture of community. At every turn, friends and family were sharing our joy, lightening our load and comforting us in our pains, insecurities, and shortcomings. We experienced servanthood and mercy and generosity and grace upon grace upon grace. Thank you, you beautiful souls, who lived life with us this weekend. Thank you for your selfless giving of time and talent and resources. Thank you for setting up and taking down and serving food and cleaning up and filling in the gaps and taking photos and making runs to the grocery store and planting flowers and giving hugs and speaking wisdom and for bringing joy. Thank you, my own dear children, for being there for one another and for providing a healing balm to one another in a fallen world. I love you all and thank God for you.

And to those reading, let this be an encouragement to show up for people. Be community for others. Share their burdens. Lighten their loads. Be generous with your gifts. Be a healing balm to a weary soul today.

It’s the little things.

it’s warmth and shelter in the middle of the storm
it’s card games and Mario Cart and wii
it’s lingering over books
it’s baking cookies and bread to enjoy together
it’s a selfless man who constantly and consistently works hard with no need for a spotlight
it’s food for sustenance and enjoyment
it’s soothing, soul-feeding music
it’s more than enough of everything even when my warped view tries to tell me otherwise
it’s reading Truth freely and without constraint
it’s sharing memories over old photos
it’s prayers prayed with the same, loving man for nearly 3 decades
it’s the love and affection and friendship of mothers and daughters and sisters
it’s laughter, unforced and free
it’s a future Hope of more than enough Grace
it’s everyday reminders that we’re not alone…
and there is a God…
and He does love us…
it’s grace in the little things and as well as the big.

It’s the little things.

it’s waking up to a world covered in a million white sparkles
it’s time spent with my sweet mom
it’s phone calls with my sisters
it’s the countless games of cards played around the table
it’s praying as each loved one came and left again
it’s finding meaning in the mundane
it’s knowing growth will come
it’s the words of hope and comfort that sooth the weary soul
it’s hope that life isn’t lived in vain
it’s experiencing peace and rest amid a strife-filled world
it’s conversations so long and meaningful that your coffee gets cold
it’s help with the dishes
it’s the joy of hearing familiar voices after long absences
it’s laughing until you cry
it’s sharing struggles and rejoicing in victories
it’s finding a draft you meant to post two weeks ago
it’s everyday reminders that we’re not alone…
and there is a God…
and He does love us…
it’s grace in the little things and as well as the big.

It’s the little things.

it’s waking up on a Friday after a challenging week
it’s knowing that in just a few hours the house will be full again
it’s the smell of coffee–it’s always the smell of coffee
it’s the 3 am snap-chats from the kids on the road
it’s experiencing shared joys and little triumphs with students
it’s meaningful conversations
it’s possessing the ability to express gratitude
it’s the crazy squirrel perched on the deck providing entertainment
it’s beauty in seeing prayers answered
it’s the gentle forgiveness offered and received
it’s listening to Christmas music
it’s the privilege of bearing one another’s burdens
it’s the reassurance that the dark days will eventually end
it’s the hope and reality of Dawn
it’s everyday reminders that we’re not alone…
and there is a God…
and He does love us…
it’s grace in the little things and as well as the big.

The Beauty

 

IMG_3650The screen and keyboard blur as my eyes fill with tears. Words fail me. Stories elude me. Only salty stains streak my face as I think about my mom. It’s her birthday today: 80 years young.

I realize that every child who knows a mother’s love, knows beauty.

But my mom’s beauty?  Well, it’s remarkable. She’s always been physically stunning, but the love and encouragement poured out by my mom to each person she meets is beyond the beautiful ordinary.

Her defining Faith,
Her pervading kindness,
Her ever-present gentleness,
Her genuine humility,
Her inventive creativity,
Her wise instruction,
Her servant-leadership, 

Her quick smile,
Her easy laugh,
Her compassionate heart,
Her tender tears,
Her soft spirit,
Her fierce grace and

Her authentic, freely given, over-flowing, self-sacrificial love,
impacts every room she graces.

The words written in Proverbs truly do describe you, Mom:

Who can find a truly excellent woman? One who is superior in all that she is and all that she does?
    Her worth far exceeds that of rubies and expensive jewelry.
She inspires trust, and her husband’s heart is safe with her,
    and because of her, he has every good thing.
Every day of her life she does what is best for him,
    never anything harmful or hurtful.
Delight attends her work and guides her fingers…
She wraps herself in strength, carries herself with confidence,
    and works hard, strengthening her arms for the task at hand.
She tastes success and knows it is good,
    and under lamplight she works deep into the night…
She reaches out to the poor and extends mercy to those in need…
Clothed in strength and dignity, with nothing to fear,
    she smiles when she thinks about the future.
She conducts her conversations with wisdom,
    and the teaching of kindness is ever her concern…
Her children rise up and bless her.
    Her husband, too, joins in the praise, saying:
“There are someindeed many—women who do well in every way,
    but of all of them only you are truly excellent.”
Charm can be deceptive and physical beauty will not last,
     but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Honor her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise.

We honor you today, mom. May your heart be full!
Love you.

It’s the little things

it’s climbing into a toasty bed on a cold, damp night
it’s the smell of fresh-baked brownies mingled with the sound of my daughter’s laugh
it’s early morning texts from a far-away friend
it’s long, slow conversations about everything and nothing
it’s purpose-filled work
it’s finding scraps of paper etched with handwriting and wisdom from a beloved
it’s the privilege and strength to pray for hurting souls
it’s soul-feeding words found in unlikely places
it’s the hope and anticipation of seeing loved ones
it’s laughter in the midst of pain
it’s creamed, blueberry honey on a big bowl of oatmeal
it’s gradual peace in letting go of past hurts
it’s knowing your dear ones sleep in safety
it’s the unexpected gift of grieving
it’s typed messages on What’s App from Costa Rica
it’s being enshrouded and enfolded by a Love I cannot fully comprehend
it’s everyday reminders that we’re not alone…
and there is a God…
and He does love us…
it’s grace in the little things and as well as the big.

 

The Prayer of a dying man

*I posted this entry the morning my dad passed away. Two years ago today, his heart stopped beating, his eyes stopped seeing, his lungs stopped drawing in oxygen and this dying prayer was his last. I miss him every day. At the risk of sounding cliché, please, don’t take for granted those whom God gives you to love. Death is a certainty so please don’t waste this day of life, but offer it in worship.

CIMG0089A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs are never gathered from thorn-bushes, and grapes are not picked from bramble bushes.   A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.    ~Jesus

“Give me a worshipful heart”, he prayed.

Even as his breaths weakened, his spirit whispered praise.
Even as his body failed, he offered himself in worship.
Even as his mind struggled to keep events, dates, and linear reasoning intact (yes, he used the words “linear reasoning” in his last days), his heart remained steadfast.
Even as he languished with pain and discomfort, he spoke of the privilege of suffering if suffering for God.
This  intelligent, analytical, systematic, studious, loving and kind man, in the end, still offered heart and mind to his God.
The words of Paul to the Colossians became his dying anthem:

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,  of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known,  the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.  To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.  Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

Hand-me-downs and leftovers

I’m all about hand-me-downs and leftovers. The youngest of three girls, I grew up in my sister’s clothes and, in general, loved it. Even today, I still benefit from my generous (and incredibly stylish) sister. And leftovers? They’re my friend. Chicken chili or lasagna the next day? Even better than the first time!

But hand-me-downs or leftovers in a relationship? No, thank you. No one wants to feel like they’re getting leftover time, money, affection or attention. No child wants to feel like they come second to work or church or siblings. No friend wants someone who only calls when it’s a crisis or they need something. No spouse wants to feel the leftover energy or affection or love from their significant other. Hand-me-downs and leftovers leave us feeling like we don’t deserve any better. We don’t just feel loved less, we feel unloved, un-cared for and ultimately rejected.

To recap…

hand-me-downs from your stylish sister that save you money–good; hand-me-downs of affection–bad.

leftover food–good; leftover time, energy or love–bad.

Apply that to a spiritual relationship and it magnifies the feelings of worthlessness. If you think you get God’s leftovers or His crumbs, then you constantly feel like the kid with dirty shoes who can come in but needs to wipe their feet and stand in the corner. No warm welcome or seat at the grown-up table for you. No sir. Be quiet and wait until someone more important offers you what’s left. Be happy with hand-me-downs and leftovers from God’s children who are well-behaved, more faithful and frankly, just better than you.

Yeah. That’s how I’ve felt lately. I’m not gonna lie (and believe me, I wish I could), September was a crappy month. Many times I wished someone would wake me up when it was over– just like the Green Day song. Saying goodbye to kids (real, grown-up goodbyes), grieving both old and new losses, coming to terms with past hurts, dealing with physical illness, and enduring depressing thoughts left me cold, sad and tired. To be brutally honest, the cumulative effect of all this gunk, is thinking, feeling and believing that all I get or deserve from God is hand-me-downs and leftovers. Why should I get anything else?

But here’s just one of the many problems with thinking and living this way: if you live thinking you’re impoverished, you believe you have nothing to offer. You either believe what you could offer isn’t good enough or you believe that you don’t have enough resources. And then, perhaps, you get some weird self-pitying pride mixed in there and the whole thing turns into an ugly mess of self-accusations and self-defamation and a faulty, dangerous view of God and self. Brutal.

So how do I (we, if you can identify with anything I’ve written) interrupt the cycle? One way to start is by remembering and believing Truth.

If we believe we’re children of God, then here’s the Truth:

We’re not given hand-me-down rags; we’re dressed in the King’s own robes. 

We’re not invited to a rickety table of leftovers; we’re invited to a feast.

Because of God’s love and Jesus sacrificial gift of his own life, we’re invited to share in His bounty and sit at his table.

“Is anyone thirsty?
    Come and drink—
    even if you have no money!
Come, take your choice of wine or milk—
    it’s all free!
Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength?
    Why pay for food that does you no good?
Listen to me, and you will eat what is good.
    You will enjoy the finest food.

“Come to me with your ears wide open.
    Listen, and you will find life.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you.
    I will give you all the unfailing love I promised to David…”

Seek the Lord while you can find him.
    Call on him now while he is near. ~Isaiah 55 1-6

I know when you’re struggling it’s difficult to see Truth, let alone believe it, but I pray these words bring hope and encouragement to your mind and heart today, friend.

Firm Footing

May your gracious Spirit lead me forward on a firm footing. ~David

In the dim light and sleepy-ness of the before-dawn day, we hugged and said goodbye, not sure when he’d return. I remember his baseball cap slightly askew and his antsy departure. Gone six months now, he’s embracing his adventure and loving life. I’m proud of him.

The old, slightly run-down, Dairy Queen served as a strange backdrop as we said goodbye. Because of work and flight schedules, we couldn’t take her to the airport so instead, we stood on the asphalt and embraced and cried (well, I cried). Now she’s 3500 miles away, speaking a different language, experiencing a new family and finishing her degree. I’m proud of her.

We packed his car and in the dark, rainy night, said goodbye. He wanted to go alone; it’s his journey. He’s not there yet– to his final destination. Traveling the familiar highway through Nebraska, he’s over halfway to his home for the next eight months. I’m proud of him.

Although the setting was different, we said goodbye to each child the same way: huddled as a family, heads leaning in, petitioning the same God. We pray for safety. We pray for direction. We pray for blessing both for them and those they meet. But mostly, we pray the same prayer that David prayed: May your gracious Spirit, God, lead them forward on a firm footing.

I took two leaves out of the dining room table after a weekend of company, and realized (yet again) that we won’t need that big table for many many months, serving as a tangible reminder of my changing family. And as the leaves fall from the trees and we experience the drift from summer to fall, I try to embrace this changing season of life.

And the prayer remains the same: May your gracious Spirit, Lord, lead us forward on a firm footing.