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.

 

 

 

Finding Freedom

**make sure to watch both videos in sequence.

We struggle under the weight.
The failed relationships.
The strained marriages.
The wayward children.
The painful life not quite left behind.
The job we hate.
The words we can’t take back.
The words we can’t forget.
The sorrow of letting go either through death or circumstances.
The forever tight finances.
The hounding health issues.
Sometimes, we shove all of it, all the burdens, into our briefcases or purses or backpacks and lug them around.
We become accustomed to their mass and bulk.
Even comfortable under the load.
We don’t see that after a while, they don’t just burden us, but everyone around us.
Failure.
Disappointment.
Unmet expectations.
Unfulfilled dreams.
Past mistakes haunt.
Past abuses cling.
Careless, painful words echo.
Fear hangs.
We weave our tortuous way along life’s path with burdens strapped to us like extra appendages.
Or tumors.
We hide.
We fight.
We run.
We labor.
Eventually, we will buckle under the weight.

Is there hope?
As Easter approaches, I’m reminded that yes, Hope exists and my belief is renewed.

Writing about Jesus, the prophet Isaiah brings Hope:
Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.

Then a few chapters later, he wrote more about Jesus:

He has sent me to tell those who mourn    
that the time of the Lord’s favor has come,
and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.
To all who mourn in Israel,  
he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning,    
festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks    
that the Lord has planted for his own glory.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins,    
repairing cities destroyed long ago. They will revive them,    
though they have been deserted for many generations.

We do not have to live, breathe and move with our burdens defining us and disfiguring us. 
There is Hope.

Washing the Windows

A few weeks ago, I got rid of my 22-year-old lace curtains and purchased new (hopefully a bit more modern) ones. Because of the style change, my once-hidden windows were now fully exposed and the dirt was thick. So, I did it. I washed the windows*. Now, dear reader, you need to understand that my ancient home boasts 23 windows, 21 of which have storms–heavy, antique storms. It proved to be a Big Deal and my dear husband, although a trooper, was a little annoyed at the level of his involvement (which was both necessary and vital because I’m not that strong or handy). When we finished, it felt like a huge accomplishment and my nice, clean view of the outside world thrilled me. Literally, the house felt lighter.

I needed new curtains. I wanted new curtains. And my new curtains look great. However, my incredibly dirty windows overshadowed my new curtains. Until I cleaned the underlying grime on my windows, the appearance of the curtains didn’t matter much. But here’s the thing, washing the windows in my old house was an arduous task (which is why I hadn’t done it in so long). It required help from my husband. It required time and strength and elbow grease and ladders and tools and that was just the prep work. For the actual washing of the windows, it required cleanser and newspapers.** Washing my dirty windows wasn’t a quick or easy job and I can’t just do it once and never again. As long as I live in this house, the windows will get dirty and I’ll have to periodically repeat the process.

As I stood on the ladder, sweating and scrubbing, trying not to fall and honestly, cursing under my breath, I couldn’t help but think of the window-washing that our lives need. We can begin new habits. We can change behaviors, but until there is healing of our hearts, the change is only superficial. Until we do the hard work of removing the layers–prying away the storms– and scrubbing each clean, we won’t see the outside world clearly. We’ll be looking through layers of our dirt. The filth might be caused by childhood trauma, rebellious mistakes, or profound loss. But no matter the cause, if we’ve lived without processing and healing, the dirt builds up and our perspective clouds. It’s difficult to see people and situations truthfully or objectively because we view everything through our messy filter. We take things personally. We hold grudges. We envy others. We make excuses for our mistakes instead of owning them. We may think others are out to get us. Whatever dirt cakes our view makes others look yucky too. And it’s no way to live and it’s not fair to the people in our lives.

Grief is a hard road to healing. Counseling to overcome childhood trauma is a hard road to healing. Confronting family members and dealing with crap is a hard road to healing. Honestly evaluating your own choices and the motives behind them is difficult and often digs up even more stuff, and is a hard road to healing. Getting out of debt and dealing with financial mistakes and burdens is painful and is a hard road to healing. But if we want to be mature, healthy, functioning people, we have to clean up the crap and stop covering up the dirt and living with 22-year-old curtains.

I don’t know what your view is today.

Maybe you’re realizing just how dingy the windows are and you’re sick of it. Seek help. Ask someone you trust (or at least respect) where to begin.

Maybe you’re in the middle of a hard road to healing. If you are, you can do it–truly, you can do this–your view will not always be so cloudy. You will see the sun shining brighter.

Maybe you’ve walked that hard road and are experiencing a fuller, healthier life. If that’s the case, travel alongside someone struggling today.Tell them your story. Be a voice of encouragement and hope for them.

No matter where you find yourself this morning, I pray for God’s strength, healing and hope for your heart.

*side-note: it started raining within 24 hours and didn’t quit for several days. Of course.

**my Mom-in-law’s cleaning tip from eons ago: use newspapers instead of paper towels or rags–it’s cheaper & won’t leave any lint or residue.

When the washing machine breaks…

The washer broke yesterday. Daryl, the repairman, asked if it sounded like a jet engine when it was spinning. Yes, Brad answered. It’s the bearings, he replied.

I demanded much from that washer and it delivered. Over its lifetime, I estimate it washed almost 9,000 loads. If the old washer could talk, it would tell tales of late-night loads of barf-filled sheets and early morning spins of the basketball uniform worn the night before and needed immediately. Four kids and two adults (and lots of college kids) used it for jersey’s, Pizza Ranch uniforms, sweaty running gear, dusty work clothes, frosting-filled aprons, towels, and the occasional delicate.

It had a good run; then it died.*

And the washer dying? Almost sent me over the edge–into a full melt-down mode. In the middle of telling myself to get a grip and stop freaking out over the washer dying, I stepped back and thought of our lives the last few weeks.

In the past 16 days…
We welcomed one child back home and said goodbye to another.
We celebrated an engagement, two new jobs and a birthday.
We ate meals, worked our jobs, cleaned our house, hosted guests and made two unplanned trips.
We bought a wedding dress.
We mourned with a broken-hearted sweetie.
And the washer broke.

It was the dead washer that broke this camel’s back.

My friend sent me an Andrew Peterson song earlier this week called Be Kind to Yourself. He wrote it for his daughter, but it speaks to me in the middle of my mess. Many of us are good at being kind to others, but being kind to ourselves can be difficult. Every fault, every frustration, every past mistake, every instance of shame & regret, every dumb word spoken comes rushing back in moments of frailty and we mercilessly beat ourselves up. I’m so frail, people. I suspect, no matter the tough mask you wear or the high walls you build, you’re frail too. And instead of being kind to ourselves in our frailty and humanity, we scold ourselves and try to muscle our way through it. If you’re like me, something stupid like the washer breaking may make you doubt God’s love. It’s ridiculous, and yet I believe we all do it. We doubt that the Creator of the Universe could actually love us. I regularly doubt it. I’m not proud of that fact, but it’s true. Doubt is why I write so many “It’s the Little Things” posts; the posts are my exercise in practicing belief. I believe learning to be kind to ourselves is also an exercise in practicing belief.

Yes, I need to get over myself and look at the big picture. Yes, I need to rejoice and give thanks for the countless blessings given to us. Yes, I need to remember and believe and practice faith. And yes, in all of that, I can be kind to myself and not beat myself up for feeling stretched thin.

I don’t know what your broken washer is today. I don’t know what *thing* will feel like too much. I don’t know what may cause a meltdown in your heart today. I guess I just ask you to join me in trying to remember God’s love and be kind to yourself in the middle of the good, the bad and the ugly.

 

*(side note–perhaps that should be on my tombstone: “She had a good run; then she died.”)

 

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.

Diffused Light

In 12 hours I’ll be back home again…not the ideal thoughts on the Monday morning after a break, but it gave me the motivation I needed to get up and get going. I like my job. I really do. But each morning I wake up dreading the day for whatever reason. No, it’s not “whatever reason” it’s that when you struggle with chronic depression, mornings are particularly hard. The day ahead feels daunting. I’ve found over the years that once I’m going, it’s fine; it’s the initial thoughts that need to be overcome. Anyway, this morning I got up, got dressed, read my devotions, and chose to put on a smile. I don’t mean a poser-fake sort of smile, I mean the this-is-your-life-you-are-truly-blessed-even-if-you-don’t-feel-it sort of smile. Every morning I have to remind myself that how I live this life and view this day is a choice–depression or not.

Anyway, I walked out my door and I found a stunning white fur-covered world. Fog caused frost to settle all over the trees, decks,power lines, the antenna on the car and each leaf and twig and blade of grass. Anything and everything that the fog touched, frosted. I was beautiful. Stunningly beautiful. An otherwise dismal, cloudy day transformed to a magical world. Once again, I thought of the beauty in the midst of the dismal. Beauty in pain. Beauty in suffering. Beauty in confusion. Beauty in the fog.

The roads were fine, but the fog hung thick and allowed only limited vision. As I drove through the cloud tunnel, the monochromatic world around me, I saw a small break of diffused light. It wasn’t bright yellow. No round orb was visible. But a brighter light glowed and for that moment, it allowed me to see a little further down the road. Instead of the 100 feet in front of me, I could see a bit more asphalt.

Once again, I was reminded how much depression is like fog. The sun isn’t blocked out completely, but vision is impaired. I often deride myself for struggling to get out of bed in the morning, but driving through the ground-level clouds, I thought how natural it is in the diminished vision to slow down, be careful, and just concentrate on what’s immediately in front of you. As soon as I look beyond the day (or sometimes the hour) I’m overwhelmed because all I see is hazy white. My vision is impaired. But if I simply look at the road in front of me, trusting that the pavement will lead me, I’m ok. Alert. Possibly on edge, but ok.

I have no idea what your fog or struggle is today. It may be finances, a crappy marriage, hurting kids or chronic illness. I have no idea. But I pray that, whatever your situation, you will look to God and take heart. The Light of Christ will never leave you even if His light and presence are diffused by struggle. And believe it or not, there is intense and immense beauty right in the middle of (and sometimes because of) the fog.

Seek

 

Don’t get lost in despair; believe in God, and keep on believing in Me. My Father’s home is designed to accommodate all of you. If there were not room for everyone, I would have told you that. I am going to make arrangements for your arrival. I will be there to greet you personally and welcome you home, where we will be together. ~Jesus

I am the vine, and you are the branches. If you abide in Me and I in you, you will bear great fruit. Without Me, you will accomplish nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is like a branch that is tossed out and shrivels up and is later gathered to be tossed into the fire to burn. If you abide in Me and My voice abides in you, anything you ask will come to pass for you. Your abundant growth and your faithfulness as My followers will bring glory to the Father. ~Jesus

So many questions whirl around in my head regarding the future that I easily “get lost in despair”. I wonder about my own direction and purpose as I view my emptying nest. I wonder about my kids’ futures as they try to determine their own paths. I  can quickly feel overwhelmed and small. Then, I’m drawn back to the basics. Called gently by my loving God to the simplicity and power of these two actions: to seek God and seek good. As we seek God and seek good, He draws us to Himself; it’s the essence of abiding in His love.

Seek God…seek good…

I have no idea what this year will bring. I have no idea what the road ahead holds. But, no matter what my home or bank account or job looks like and no matter where my kids are, I know as I seek God and seek good I’ll be exactly where He wants me to be.

Seek God…

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart~Jeremiah

Seek God and live. ~Amos

Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” ~Jesus

Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.~Jesus

Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. ~Jesus

Seek good…

Seek good and not evil, so you can live. ~Amos

 Learn to do good;
    commit yourselves to seeking justice.
 Make right for the world’s most vulnerable
the oppressed, the orphaned, the widow.
Come on now, let’s walk and talk;
let’s work this out. ~Isaiah

The Lord told you what is good,
    and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
    and to walk humbly with your God. ~Micah

Love your neighbor like you love yourself. ~Jesus

 

 

 

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.

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.