When Holidays Hurt

I’ve been feeling it in the air for awhile now… Days are shorter, nights are longer. Skies are darker and breezes are colder. Changing seasons and impending holidays are often harsh, stinging reminders of loss and loneliness.

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The evening grows long as I look out across the waiting room and see the many sad or sick faces waiting patiently…or not. Some fidget, sigh, and look at invisible watches on their wrists. Some stare blankly into the unreachable distance or at the monotonous pattern of the enclosing four walls, perhaps replaying old scenes or longed-for visions. Some stare absently into their phones for distraction, relief, or escape. Still they wait. I know many of their stories before they utter a word. I know their history or I read their eyes. I watch their shoulders slump, their hands fidget, their lips frown or faintly quiver. I feel the weight and the want and the weariness.

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“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” plays through the overhead speaker, piped in like a merry elf entertaining ideas of fun, frivolity, and lightheartedness, in denial of the pain, the longing, and the loss that the season brings to so many people.

The door opens and closes. Another name, another face, another story. There’s the familiar cloak of usual sickness: flu, sore throat, bumps, and bruises. Those are easy. Passing pain, sickness, or inconvenience that at least offers the hope of speedy relief and healing. But hanging heavy on the heads and shoulders of many are weightier garments: coverings made of death, disease, dysfunction. There’s divorce, abandonment, rejection, loss of dreams and other not-so-merry reminders in every piped in song, well-placed decoration, and carefully thought out department store diorama.

His wife was just found dead. Her husband lost a long battle with cancer. Children’s Services is involved. Her dad kicked her and told her not to tell. Her daughter has run away. Her son is in jail. It’s two weeks before Thanksgiving. He just lost his job. Their house burned to the ground. The Alzheimer’s is so much worse. Hospice has been called in.Third DUI. Arrested for heroin. Suicide. It’s almost Christmas.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.   Matt 11:28

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I’ve been told it’s like a walking a treadmill…walking and climbing and struggling but never getting anywhere. Three steps forward and two steps back. But still they put one foot in front of the other. Some days are harder. Holidays are harder: days meant to gather and celebrate with people you love and people who love you. A time to reflect on blessings and health, the past and the future. So much to celebrate and be thankful for. But there are some who sit in quiet rooms all alone. There are some who sit in loud, clamorous rooms with many others, but are still alone. There are some who sit facing those who have mistreated, rejected, abused, or betrayed them. There are some who sit facing empty chairs of those who have left them through death or abandonment.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matt 9:36

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What does it look like to offer hope to the hopeless, rest for the weary, compassion for the hurting, and comfort for the grieving? Is there ministry in hearing, caring, and simply being present? What do you do when there’s no written prescription to ease the pain of heartbreak and loss and devastation? No first aid kit to stop the bleeding or cover the wound? No tender kiss to make it all better?

From the end of the earth I call to You, when my heart is overwhelmed and weak; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.  Psalm 61:2

It has been a slow, humbling process…the realization that I don’t have all the answers. The fixer in me can’t fix all the hurt, restore all the loss, patch all the holes, or fill the empty seats.  I can’t and I’m not meant to. And with that, another realization… that it’s okay. I don’t have to be the great fixer, the final answer, a redemptive savior. I can’t be.

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But what can I do? What can anyone do to make a difference in a world with so much hurt and loss and fear and hopelessness and uncertainty? Is it enough to have eyes that see and ears that hear? To give a gift that is both free and priceless: to be seen and heard, recognized, and acknowledged? Validated and assured that they matter, that their struggles are real, that their hearts and lives are important, that someone cares, and more importantly, that there is hope?  Yes, it matters. It all matters. I can be a hand to hold. I can choose to extend a hand that reaches, lifts, holds, supports, gives. A hand to guide, to direct, to point to the truth that they are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of a God that loves them and wants to fill the empty places and the empty seats. I can be a voice. A voice that speaks truth and dispels lies and speaks words of encouragement and validation. And I can just be. I can sit in the ashes, care in the silence, be light in the darkness, and warmth in the cold season of the soul. I can offer hope in the simple ministry of being present and attentive. I can care.

I can love. ❤

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“Why Is Life So Hard…”

“Why is life so hard?”  There…I asked it. Well…I actually said it. It was more of a definitive statement. No question mark required. I said it to no one in particular since I was home alone; and it was, at the same time, an unanswerable question,  a statement of fact, a hands-up-in-surrender moment, and an exasperated prayer. Life is so hard. Yet the ‘why’ hung in the air like a taboo sort of question, complaint, and ever-growing dark cloud ready to burst at any moment. Why ask why?

Pictures from my own recent struggles as well as serious battles and prayer requests of family and friends hung in the air: death, divorce, isolation, estrangement, sickness, a runaway child, an addiction, bad choices, job loss, financial crisis, broken trust, broken relationships…and so much more.

And like the force of a blinding flash of lightning clashing with a rumbling clap of thunder, the invisible dam of stoic strength and self-defense that had been fortified with years of training, trials, tragedy, and trauma finally burst in that tear-filled question-statement.

Tears are simply the raindrops from the storms inside us.

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But the question remained. Is there an answer or understanding we can grasp with our limited view and experience? I’m not a theologian, sociologist, or a psychiatrist; but I have lived, witnessed, and experienced great tragedy, loss, and triumph. I am just a traveler on a long broken road and I believe there are more theories and partial answers that create more questions than there is space to write or brain cells to brainstorm, but here are a few:

THE WORLD IS BROKEN. People are broken, hearts are broken, laws are broken, vows are broken, trust is broken, relationships are broken. Do you feel it? Have you seen it? Life is precious and priceless, but also fragile and fleeting. What lies in the aftermath, the rubble, of any great breaking? Pain, dust, and broken pieces? Brokenness creates fragments and scatters bits and pieces. Like flecks and shards of shattered, jagged glass that wound and cut and dig into deep painful places. And looking through the brokenness often obscures our view, like a distorted reflection through a shattered prism. But brokenness is also a picture. It shows us what went wrong and gives us an opportunity to repair or replace. To start over and pick up the pieces. To restore and to make whole. It creates hurt, but also hope and a chance for healing.

Jesus said in John 16:33, In this world you will have trouble…  And I don’t think anyone would argue with him.

The psalmist said in Psalm 147:3 He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Dare we believe it?! And seek it?

THE WORLD IS LONELY. Never have we seen so many faces and heard so many voices…and have yet been so profoundly alone. Alone in our homes, alone in our hurts. Behind a mask, behind a screen. Unseen, unknown. Alone.

King Solomon in all his wealth and wisdom understood: There is a man all alone, without even a son or brother. And though there is no end to his labor, his eyes are still not content with his wealth: “For whom do I toil and bereave my soul of enjoyment?” This too is futile—a miserable task. Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. For if one falls down, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to help him up! Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? And though one may be overpowered, two can resist. Moreover, a cord of three strands is not quickly broken. -Ecc 4:8-12

How can we show people they aren’t alone and unseen? Unimportant? Share a smile, hold a hand, make eye contact, give a hug, make time, ask questions, offer help, share the load. You may ease their burden for a moment in time.

THE WORLD IS HUNGRY. And seeking to satisfy its hunger with fleeting passions, importance, abundance, busyness, and untold distractions.

Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Isaiah 55:2

Anxiety and depression are at record levels. Addiction is rampant. Addiction to food, drugs, alcohol, work, or to pleasure. To relationships, recognition, and achievement. The ways we try to satisfy the hunger in our hearts or to still the quiet rumbling in our souls are countless and fruitless. How do you satisfy an unquenchable thirst and feed a hungry soul? Why does there always seem to be an insatiable hunger for more?

If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.

C.S. Lewis

THE WORLD IS CONFUSED. Wrong is right, right is wrong. There is no truth, no consistency, no identity, no clearly defined lines between right/wrong, good/bad, black/white, yes/no, up/down. Truth is relative, your truth is your truth, and on and on… But real truth remains truth regardless of who believes it, disputes it, tears it down, or tries to erase it. While those bold enough to stand and proclaim it are mocked or labeled as haters.

The further a society drifts from truth the more it will hate those who speak it

George Orwell

Jesus said, I am the way and the truth and the life.

My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.

Abraham Lincoln

THE WORLD IS AT WAR. Sometimes it’s obvious. The never-ending news reports show battle images of soldiers and weapons and planes and death. Of rape and violence and murder, Headlines scream of anger, fear, division, and conflict. War at home, war abroad, war in our streets, in our homes, in our hearts. War without, war within.

There’s a battle for your time, a battle for your mind. For your kids, your spouse, your friends, your peace, your identity, and your heart.

We fight against time and schedules, against growing older and growing colder. Against shadows, demons, fears, and imaginations. The people in our past, in our homes, in our work, on the phone, in traffic, on the Internet, and often our worst enemy…the person in the mirror. It’s a battle on all fronts: physical, emotional, and spiritual. No wonder we are tired and battle-weary.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.   

– Jesus, John 10:10

People are angry. They fight to be seen, to be heard, to matter, or simply to be “right.” Life is hard, but life is also good. Trauma, trials, and tragedy come…but so do triumph and love and laughter.

And in the battle, sometimes wisdom and encouragement can be found in the least likely places: the hug of a friend, the laugh of a child, the wag of a tail, the rustle of the wind, the crash of the waves. Even a seed planted long ago in an inspired, creative idea. My very favorite movie is the Lord of the Rings. There is brokenness, loneliness, hunger, confusion, and war. More than entertainment or escape, it creates a picture of life as we live it: triumph and tragedy, fierce opposition from enemies, the need for unity to stand and fight and overcome, light in darkness, hope in hopelessness, and the promise of a coming King. In both an intense and encouraging scene, as the battle raged, fighting seemed futile, and most hope appeared lost, young, brave Sam offered hope and encouragement for a battle-wearied traveler to continue:

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going, because they were holding on to something. That there is some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.”   

-J.R.R. Tolkien , The Two Towers

Does that answer the question of why life can be so hard? Maybe not. I still feel the hardness. And I know you do too. If not right now, then probable yesterday…or tomorrow. It will come. The brokenness, loneliness, hunger, confusion, and war… within and without. But I have to ask: Are you holding onto something? Even just hope…maybe especially just hope. Know that there’s something or someone worth fighting for. I encourage you in this season of hard…when all seem lost or you think you’ve done all you can do…stand, fight, and hope.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have trouble. But take heart; I have overcome the world.   

-Jesus, John 16:33

21 Things Being A Parent Has Taught Me

Four years ago I wrote this post when my older child turned 21. Today my youngest child turns 21, and there are so many more things I could add to the list. More memories, more laughter, more advice, more regrets, more “wish-I-could-have-a-do-overs.” But for now I’ll just leave it as was:

Today it’s official: I’ve been a parent for twenty one years! From first steps to first day of school, first car to college, first apartment to soon-to-be married… I have very few regrets. I haven’t done it all perfectly but here we are: not in jail, still speaking to each other, more good times than bad. Isn’t that successful parenting? I’m sure the title could read 21,000 things being a parent has taught me but I’ve narrowed it down.

  1. It’s not all about me. Oh, if everyone in the world could recognize that truth at the same moment how different the news headlines would read! Most women really embrace this truth about the time they feel the img_9638first tiny movements inside. How much more apparent it becomes with midnight feedings, a hundred loads of laundry, and a thousand diaper changes. It’s even more evident when big brown eyes look into yours and tiny fingers hold your heart.
  2. It’s not all about my children either. What a harsh realization when you discover that not everyone thinks your child is the center of the universe! This seems particularly apparent in the midst of play-dates and four year old soccer games. While you love your children and think they’re the best artists and athletes and scholars, sometimes other parents give their own children those titles as well. Teach them balance, respect, personal responsibility, and healthy pride in accomplishment.
  3. My heart is bigger than I thought. It was bittersweet when I first felt the deep pangs of parental love. Not that love for my own children was painful, but I suddenly became aware of all the people in the world, especially those that had never been loved as I loved my own. I saw people very differently. Either they were loved deeply and deserved my love and respect; or they had been denied that deep, unconditional love and protection and merited my compassion. The depth of that loss changed the way I viewed people in their pain and messiness.
  4. How to be brave. Noises in the night, scary looking insects, bad dreams, bad guys, and bullies can all seem overwhelming. What better way to overcome those fears than to become a fearless champion, knowing little eyes are watching? What about bigger fears? Sickness, stitches, broken bones, and bruised hearts? Parenting is not for the weak or the faint-of-heart.
  5. Spiders won’t kill me. Okay, this one should probably fall under the how to be brave category, but it was such a victory that it deserved its own bullet point. Enough said.
  6. I can’t stop all the pain. From lost stuffed animals, being left out of friendship circles, not making the team, to the death of pets and people, the sting and sadness of rejection and disappointment cannot be avoided. While I can’t stop it, dress it up, or discount it, I’m called and equipped to walk through it, providing support, encouragement, and hope along the way.
  7. The importance of presence. Availability. Attention. Acknowledgement. Who hasn’t noticed the eager eyes of children as they searched for a parent at a ballgame, a performance, or a school program? A field trip, a day of shopping, a quiet lunch for two? A funny movie on the couch?  When you are truly img_9630present, you are better able to really see, hear, learn, and know your children. You’re not only their greatest cheerleader; you also become a shepherd of their heart.
  8. Words are really important. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Speak life, truth, and encouragement. Tell them you love them, are proud of them, and are always available.
  9. How to say I’m sorry.  I messed up. I was wrong. Please forgive me. A little humility and humanity encourages grace and mercy. It says you can own your shortcomings and it models good communication and responsibility.
  10. Let go of guilt. “I wish I had..I wish I  hadn’t..I should have..I shouldn’t have..if only… Home school, public school, other moms, other kids..What if I make the wrong decisions? What if my kids end up in counseling because of me?” Let it go. Do your best. Pick your battles. Say your prayers. Love your kids. Repeat.
  11. Stop comparison. Younger moms, thinner moms, cooler moms, moms with more money, more time, and more creativity… Who hasn’t felt the drive to compete, compare, or self-degrade? Your children were given to you, not your next door neighbor, the preacher, or the lady down the street. You are good enough, smart enough, brave enough, and just what they need.
  12. Always eat dinner around the table. Mealtime is always good. Why? We love to eat. We love to laugh. There’s something about sitting around in a circle that encourages conversation and accountability. No television, no video games, no phone. It’s a time to recount events of the day, plan future events, and ask lots of questions.
  13. Cereal is okay for supper. It’s fortified with essential vitamins and grains. It’s cheap. It’s easy. Knowing that so many people in the world go to bed hungry, there is no condemnation in Frosted Flakes. Or pop tarts. 🙂
  14. Stepping over piles of clothes counts as exercise. So does walking around aimlessly, running in circles, and going the distance. Patience takes practice so that’s also a sport. Hiding in the bathroom counts as a cool-down routine.  🙂
  15. The car is a great classroom. It’s quiet. It’s confined. img_9636They can’t escape. The greatest lessons don’t happen in the classroom, but in the day to day moments of life when you can teach, share, and create real life and relationship. Believe it or not, they are listening.
  16. Make bedtime the best time. They’re tired. They’re vulnerable. They’ll open their hearts just to stay awake and to spend a few more minutes with you in the quiet darkness. What a sweet time to snuggle, to pray, and to listen to their hearts, dreams, and details of the day. It can be the great eraser of an awful, no good, very bad day.
  17. Take lots of pictures. There was no Facebook or Instagram when my children were little. Milestones and memories were captured in 4×6 glossy images in frames or behind plastic sheets. What seemed like too many at theimg_9635 time have proven to be never enough, but still offer glimpses into life and love and living.
  18. How to appreciate good art. Who needs expensive oils, French impressionists, and murky watercolors when hand-scribbled notes, finger-paints, play-doh shapes, fingerprint faces, and reindeer made of footprints can adorn walls and refrigerators?
  19. Laughing is the best. It reduces tension, stress hormones, and the need to hit something. Create inside jokes so no one else understands and you seem weird to other people.
  20. Remember to invest. Children are a treasure, a blessing from the Lord. Each season is to be savored and captured in word, photo, laughter, and experiencing each moment to the fullest measure. But…part of our investment is in teaching children to grow, stand, walk, move on, and create their own journeys. Then what’s left besides the memories, photographs, and holiday visits? What of the other relationships? The other investments? The spouse, the deep friendships, the knowledge and care of self, the spiritual growth that is left to explore and experience after the children marry, move, or follow their own paths? Cherish, but don’t idolize your children, as you make investments in other lifelong, life-changing relationships.
  21. How to let go. It starts the first time you leave them at daycare, with a relative, or a babysitter. It intensifies with the first “no” or “I can do it by myself”.  Then  classroom, camp, a car, college, marriage, moving away. There is beauty in freedom, success in standing alone, amazement as they fly. After all, they were only yours for a little while.

Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverb 22:6

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Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior  are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them    Ps 127:3-5

Independence Days

“With great power comes great responsibility…” Who said that? Winston Churchill? Someone during the French Revolution? Maybe it was Uncle Ben in the Spiderman movie? Opinions vary; but they tell you in Sunday school, when in doubt, just say “Jesus.”

Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.  -Jesus, Luke 12

img_9424Today, July 4th, is Independence Day. And in the wake of the aftermath of worldwide pandemic, violent, unpredictable rioting, political upheaval, a volatile social storm, and general worldwide uncertainty about the future, I am especially thankful for today’s freedom. It is a valuable gift that should be handled like a piece of fine china or priceless work of art; because once it is trampled upon or broken, it is often tossed aside and forgotten. But also like a treasured, well-ridden bicycle…constantly moving and exercised.

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord…  -Psalm 33:12

My family loves history and can recite all the important dates, people, battles, and declarations. I just appreciate it, enjoy it, and walk in it. Freedom as a nation is an incredible blessing. As I see civil unrest, hatred, and division,phonto I don’t take it for granted. I am thankful to be able to think and write and speak and read and travel as a free American. But freedom is so much more than a declaration written on old parchment paper and filed away in the archives under watchful guard. Freedom  begins in the quiet corners of the mind and bursts forth in the heart and spirit like shadows of the painted reds, whites, and blues showering the sky.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.  -Galatians 5:1

The apostle Paul wrote those words to a group of believers who were battling confusion and societal attempts to confuse or strip away their spiritual freedoms. We would be wise to tend his words:  Do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 

People have short memories and are easily swayed at times. Why would anyone choose to give up freedom and return to bondage? I have to wonder: Have people always been so angry? So confused and uncertain? Hopeless? Insufferable? I’m no psychologist. Or sociologist. I’m a fellow traveler but also an observer. And a learner. And someone who cares.

b2475e78-316c-433f-9fc2-cdc8fce01328If there were a battle flag to represent emotional and spiritual independence, I propose that it would bear three stars, representing hope, identity, and awareness. I believe true freedom grows from those tended, nurtured, well-watered places.

Hope that there is more than the day to day struggles and battles with our own, and other’s, fragile emotions and faulty lives. Hope that we are not alone. Lack of hope breeds futility.  You’ve heard it: Why bother? Who cares? Whatever! When people have no hope, they have no direction. They don’t care or commit. To anything or anybody. Like a drowning person often flails and inadvertently pulls their rescuer under with them, they simply struggle to keep their head above water and fight for the next breath. Lack of hope kills life, motivation, purpose, and direction.

Identity: An inner knowing and resolve that we are more than just a fleeting breath that passes through the earth and then returns to dust. People are confused and don’t know who they are, who they are meant to be, what good and life-changing purposes they are capable of. People desire to be loved, accepted, and fulfilled. Their lives to have purpose and meaning.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  -Declaration of Independence

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…  God, Jer 1:5

Lack of identity creates confusion and lack of direction. It mars the identity of and importance others. People become nameless, lifeless faces. Violence and disregard of life often follows.

Awareness that there is more than what we see, hear, feel, and touch: a fragile, temporal world filled with fragile, broken people. And that our cb86c896-68cb-4ec8-ac6d-4cdcff778412thought and actions affect more than the moment. They potentially have a ripple effect that can affect generations and alter history. Beliefs matter. Choices matter. Actions matter. It all matters.

I suppose the three could also be summed up in 1 Cor 13:13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. Faith instills hope, hope clings to purpose, faith clarifies identity, love kindles awareness, and awareness fosters love, identity encourages purpose, purpose gives hope, and on and on. It’s a beautiful circle of freedom.

Today I am thankful for American freedom and for those who have sown their time, efforts, prayers, and very lives into the fabric of our history. I am also thankful that, no matter what happens in society, there are inner, God-given freedoms that no one can take away. I am thankful to be ever-growing in hope, identity, and awareness of myself and others.

True freedom is not the liberty to do whatever we want; it is the strength to do what we should. That is also true bravery. May God grant us that strength.  -Ravi Zacharias

IMG_5320So many freedoms, opportunities, and blessings. Free country: I have freedom to speak and eat and read and go and do most anything I feel led to. Free will: I have the capacity and the gift to choose whom to be with, to love, and to serve. Free to _______ and free from _________. You fill in the blanks. I am thankful for the freedom to be, the freedom to do, the freedom to want and work and gain. I am also thankful to be free from condemnation, guilt, shame, and sin. No longer a prisoner. I am thankful for today: another Independence Day.

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.  – 2 Chron 7:14

Rainy Days and Wednesdays…

Today is Wednesday and it’s raining. Sitting on the covered back porchimg_9198 watching the rain and hearing the distant thunder, I found myself humming a familiar old pop song from the 70s: hummm, hummm hummm… rainy days and Mondays always get me down…

Although I was fully present, watching the birds splash around in the birdbath and then search for worms in the freshly wet soil, I was magically two places at the same time: my safe, dry, covered porch and the tumultuous stormy time when rainy days were not so safe and peaceful.

I had recently been scrolling through Instagram and found a post that had the old Carpenters song Rainy Days and Mondays embedded in her story. Maybe that’s why it was fresh in my mind. Smooth and melodic, it flowed beautifully from an angelic voice but a troubled heart and mind. It was my “go to” song back in college whenever I needed a good cry. Today I pulled it up on my phone and let the old melodies and memories wash over me like the rumble of the distant thunder and the cleansing of the pouring rain.

Then I came to a subtle, yet stunning, revelation: the song wasn’t making me sad as I listened to it today. Was it because it was a Wednesday and it changed the whole song context? Or was there a deeper work and awareness of a long ago place that had quietly, almost imperceivably, healed?

It made me realize and appreciate that I’m in a very different place now.

It also made me reflect on mental health…the reality, crisis, the concerns, the misunderstandings, and all the unknowns. Sadness, depression, anxiety, and all the diagnoses that get placed on troubled hearts, disturbed spirits, and confused minds.

img_9200It also reminded me of beautiful, young, troubled Karen Carpenter and the life and breath and talent that literally wasted away in front of cameras and producers and specialists and fame and the eyes of all who heard, watched, and loved her. She is still my favorite.

I had never heard of anorexia before Karen. Millions hadn’t. How might things have ended differently with an earlier diagnosis? Quicker, more specific intervention, more education, more counsel, the right medicine…? I have no answers. I understand they did the best the could with the information and resources they had at the time. Sometimes that’s all we can do. Where the brain, spirit, heart, and hurt collide is a pool too deep for most to navigate with clear understanding.

Then I ask myself the same questions…for myself, my friends, my family, people I see at work: How might life be different with the right intervention, the right friend, the right diagnosis, the right chemical balance, the right word at the right time, the right removal of the cloud that follows our minds and confuses our hearts and our thinking?

img_9160My first encounter with suicide was in high school. My friend wasn’t at the bus stop one morning and I just assumed he had slept in. No…he had put a gun to his chest and pulled the trigger. Gone. In a moment, I knew he was troubled. He was angry. He smoked too much and drank too much. I didn’t know at the time that he was medicating hurt and confusion. Years later my cousin did the exact thing. He was my favorite but I never told him. Maybe I should have. Questions without answers. Should I have? What if? Why?

I suspect that we have all been in dark cloudy places of varying degrees…just “hanging around, nothing to do but frown…”  Not to minimize serious mental illness…I have seen it destroy minds and lives and dreams and families. Just to say that some feelings and experiences are universal. Sadness is universal and timeless. Anger is something we all experience. Discouragement weighs heavy in many seasons. Fear, confusion, comparison, self-defeat. Too many to name. I have wept. Jesus wept. I suspect you have wept too.

But out of angst, sadness, and near-defeat often come life-changing strength, encouragement, and inspiration. Some of the best poetry, songs, plays, stories, art, ministries, and outreaches have been birthed out of soulful desperation and darkness. And have also created platforms for awareness, for help, for hope.

Tell the story of the mountain you climbed. Your words could become a page in someone else’s survival guide.  – Morgan Harper Nichols

But there is no black and white. No magic formula that works in every season and situation. We can’t say to an anorexic, just eat. To the bulimic, just stop it. To someone depressed, just snap out of it. To someone in a bipolar rage, just calm down. There are a myriad other ways we unintentionally downplay or say it inappropriately: just do it, img_9197don’t do it, cheer up, get over it, just have more faith, pray more, get more sunshine….

Is there an answer? A cure? Hope? I don’t pretend to have all the answers. Mental and emotional health are complex. Relationships are complex and are often at the root of serious wounding.

But where we are wounded is often where we are healed, how we are healed, and how we eventually are able to offer help to another. For myself, it was a long hard journey. It continues to be a journey. But healing has been found in safe, healthy relationships and through seeking and believing the truth of the Word of God.

The world is seeking to know and be known. img_9161To have purpose and meaning. To belong. To be seen and heard.

“Nothing is really wrong…feeling like I don’t belong…” I’m not sure I really believe that line. I believe there is always something to be heard in that feeling. Something really is wrong. That sadness, that emptiness, that anger, that frustration, that _____. You fill in the blank. It is just sometimes so very hard to identify. To name. But it’s so important to attempt to name it. It says that it matters. It hurt. Is it sadness, anger, unmet need, unresolved grief, unrealized expectation or dream? It often takes two or more to look and see and pray and hope. It is so easy to lose heart when the battle rages from within and without. Jesus told us that in this world we would have trouble…but He also encouraged us to take heart, believing He has overcome. Take heart. ❤

If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.  -C.S. Lewis

Sozo is a Greek work translated many ways: safe, sound, healed, delivered, set free. I believe there is healing to be found: through faith, through time, through relationships, through counseling, through medications, through seeking truth.  I believe there is a God who creates and knows all the intricacies of his creation. Body. mind, and spirit. I believe He can heal completely. In this world or the next. But in the present, He can also use every pain and affliction for our and others’ ultimate good and his glory. He used Jacob’s limp, Joseph’s bondage, Moses’ lisp, Naaman’s leprosy, David’s adultery, the blind man’s blindness, the lame’s affliction, the demoniac’s possession, Peter’s denial, and so many more. He can use our darkness, depression, and what every affliction we find ourselves bearing. In due time and in the right season and situation. But for now we can offer hope and love. And we can strive to learn and reach out and hold close and hang on to those we love and value.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Cor 13:13

img_9212Nowadays I love the rain. Love a good IMG_7255thunderstorm. I still get down sometimes. Sad, angry, frustrated, confused. We are fearfully and wonderfully made to experience a full realm and range of emotions and reactions. But it’s never as dark and lonely as it used to be. Now there is hope, I pray you hold onto hope as well.

 

Broken Pieces

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  2 Cor 4:8-9

The sound of glass shattering broke the silence of a very still, quiet morning alone at home. I somehow knew what it was the moment I heard it from the other room. There in the floor lay the pieces of a small decorative plate that had been propped precariously on a bathroom shelf. It wasn’t an IMG_6233expensive relic and it didn’t hold any special sentimental value, but I cringed when I heard it hit the floor. A small thing really, but I had bought it as a little token of encouragement and remembrance: What sets your heart free? As I held the broken pieces, contemplating whether to glue it back together or to discard it, it mysteriously seemed both strong and fragile at the same time. Encouraging and inquisitive, yet humble and broken. There was one clean, well-defined break where it could have shattered into a hundred pieces. For a brief moment that humble little plate reflected the lives, circumstances, and expressions etched on a dozen different faces and places in my mind. My own heart included.

My mind flashed back to a circle of a dozen godly women who introduced themselves and then proceeded to lay their hearts and their hurts open and vulnerable within the confines and security of the huddled group. Each described various losses she had recently experienced. IMG_6238It had been months since I had heard their words and seen their faces but it felt brand new as I remembered how through tears, sighs, clinched fists, shallow breaths, and faithful prayers came testimonies of devastating losses: loss of home, loss of spouse, loss of security, dream, or direction, loss of job…and then what I initially thought was the ultimate loss: the loss of a child. They were each walking through various stages of loss, grief, healing, and restoration.  Today as my hands held the broken pieces of plate and my mind rehearsed the broken pieces and echoes of so many lives, I realized none of my precious friends had really suffered the ultimate loss: the loss of hope. Even through pain, lack of understanding, or brokenness, each faithful friend expressed faith in a God who sees and the hope of complete healing, restoration, and purpose in all the pain..

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.     -Lamentations 3:21-23

Looking back over the broken pieces held in my img_8598open hand…I almost missed it. One word  wedged rather nondescriptly between little ink blobs that appear to be butterfly wings: “surrender”

Surrender. Why do we make that seem like such a bad word? Like it means weakness or giving up? Surrender = cease resistance.

Cease resistance. Quit fighting. Be still. Maybe brokenness and surrender go hand in hand? Surrender = the action of yielding one’s person or giving up the possession of something especially into the power of another.(Merriam-Webster)

But choose wisely what and who you surrender to. Surrendering to hate, fear, anxiety, worry, addiction, discouragement, or denial will cement your heart in darkness and bondage. Surrendering to faith, hope, love, and the God who sees and cares and loves brings truth, hope, and freedom. Maybe what sets your heart free is to recognize there is beauty in brokenness, power in surrender, light in the darkness, healing in affliction, hope in despair.

A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out.
       In faithfulness He will bring forth justice..  Is 42:3

Well…It’s still just a small broken plate which many would have discarded; but it has found its new home on my foyer table: a reminder that we all have broken pieces and broken places, but also strength, beauty, and purpose. Even if it is simply to remind others that there is beauty and hope in each day. So today I am thankful that my life has intersected with others and, in our losses and brokenness, we have found common ground, connection, faith, and hope.  Let me ask this: What sets your heart free?

And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.   – Jesus, John 8:32

IMG_5426My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.  Ps 51:17

25 Things Being A Parent Has Taught Me

“Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.” – Anne Frank


Twenty five years…a quarter of a century…yet a mere bleep on the screen of history. That’s how long I have been a parent. From first steps to first day of school, first car to college, first apartment to newly married… I have very few regrets. But even with the best intent, I am a broken human. I haven’t done it all perfectly. But here we are in the shadow of life and laughter, tears and heartache, compassion in disagreement, faith in fury…but still love and more good times than bad. Isn’t that successful parenting? I’m sure the title could read 25,000 things being a parent has taught me or 25,000 things I’ve done wrong…but I will choose to see the beauty in living and learning:

  1. It’s not all about me. Oh, if everyone in the world could recognize that truth at the same moment how different the news headlines img_9638would read! Most women really embrace this truth about the time they feel the first tiny movements inside. How much more apparent it becomes with midnight feedings, a hundred loads of laundry, and a thousand diaper changes. It’s even more evident when big brown eyes look into yours and tiny fingers hold your heart. Being a parent made me a better person.
  2. It’s not all about my children either. What a harsh realization when you discover that not everyone thinks your child is the center of the universe! This seems particularly apparent in the midst of play-dates and 4 year old soccer games. While you love your children and think they’re the best artists and athletes and scholars, sometimes other parents give their own children those titles as well. Teach them balance, respect, personal responsibility, and healthy pride in accomplishment.
  3. My heart is bigger than I thought. It was bittersweet when I first felt the deep pangs of parental love. Not that love for my own6413dd73-88c3-4c82-9f36-bb23bdf4b46e children was painful, but I suddenly became aware of all the people in the world, especially those that had never been loved as I loved my own. I saw people very differently. Either they were loved deeply and deserved my love and respect; or they had been denied that deep, unconditional love and protection and merited my compassion. The depth of that loss changed the way I viewed people in their pain and messiness.
  4. How to be brave. Noises in the night, scary looking insects, bad dreams, bad guys, and bullies can all seem overwhelming. What better way to overcome those fears than to become a fearless champion, knowing little eyes are watching? What about bigger fears? Sickness, stitches, broken bones, and bruised hearts? Parenting is not for the weak or the faint-of-heart.  “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”(Joshua 1:9)
  5. Spiders won’t kill me. Okay, this one should probably fall under the how to be brave category, but it was such a victory that it deserved its own bullet point. Enough said.
  6. I can’t stop all the pain. From lost stuffed animals, being left out of friendship circles, not making the team, to the death of pets and people, the sting and sadness of rejection and disappointment cannot be avoided. While I can’t stop it, dress it up, or discount it, I’m called and equipped to walk through it, providing support, encouragement, and hope along the way.
  7. The importance of presence. Availability. Attention. Acknowledgement. Who hasn’t noticed the eager eyes of children as they searched for a parent at a ballgame, a performance, or a school program? A field trip, a day of shopping, a quiet lunch for two? A funny movie on the couch?  When you are truly img_9630present, you are better able to really see, hear, learn, and know your children. You’re not only their greatest cheerleader; you also become a shepherd of their heart.
  8. Words are really important. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Speak life, truth, and encouragement. Tell them you love them, are proud of them, and are always available.
  9. How to say I’m sorry.  I messed up. I was wrong. Please forgive me. A little humility and humanity encourages grace and mercy. It says you can own your shortcomings and it models good communication and responsibility.
  10. Let go of guilt. “I wish I had..I wish I  hadn’t..I should have..I shouldn’t have..if only… Home school, public school, other moms, other kids..What if I make the wrong decisions? What if my kids end up in counseling because of me?” Let it go. Do your best. Pick your battles. Say your prayers. Love your kids. Repeat.
  11. Stop comparison. Younger moms, thinner moms, cooler moms, moms with more money, more time, and more creativity… Who hasn’t felt the drive to compete, compare, or self-degrade? Your children were given to you, not your next door neighbor, the preacher, or the lady down the street. You are good enough, smart enough, brave enough, and just what they need.
  12. Always eat dinner around the table. Mealtime is always good. Why? We love to eat. We love to laugh. There’s something about sitting around in a circle that encourages conversation and accountability. No television, no video games, no phone. It’s a time to recount events of the day, plan future events, and ask lots of questions.
  13. Cereal is okay for supper. It’s fortified with essential vitamins and grains. It’s cheap. It’s easy. Knowing that so many people in the world go to bed hungry, there is no condemnation in Frosted Flakes. Or pop tarts. 🙂
  14. Stepping over piles of clothes counts as exercise. So does walking around aimlessly, running in circles, being flexible, and going the distance. Patience takes practice so that’s also a sport. Hiding in the bathroom counts as a cool-down routine.  🙂
  15. The car is a great classroom. It’s quiet. It’s confined. img_9636They can’t escape. The greatest lessons don’t happen in the classroom, but in the day to day moments of life when you can teach, share, and create real life and relationship. Believe it or not, they are listening.
  16. Make bedtime the best time. They’re tired. They’re vulnerable. They’ll open their hearts just to stay awake and to spend a few more minutes with you in the quiet darkness. What a sweet time to snuggle, to pray, and to listen to their hearts, dreams, and details of the day. It can be the great eraser of an awful, no good, very bad day.
  17. Take lots of pictures. There was no Facebook or Instagram when my children were little. Milestones and memories were captured in 4×6 glossy images in frames or behind plastic sheets. What seemed like too many at theimg_9635 time have proven to be never enough, but still offer glimpses into life and love and living.
  18. How to appreciate good art. Who needs expensive oils, French impressionists, and murky watercolors when hand-scribbled notes, finger-paints, play-doh shapes, fingerprint faces, and reindeer made of footprints can adorn walls and refrigerators?
  19. Laughing is the best. It reduces tension, stress hormones, and the need to hit something. Create inside jokes so no one else understands and you seem weird to other people. Tears will dry but laugh lines remain forever.
  20. Remember to invest. Children are a treasure, a blessing from the Lord. Each season is to be savored and captured in word, photo, laughter, and experiencing each moment to the fullest measure. But…part of our investment is in teaching children to grow, stand, walk, move on, and create their own journeys. Then what’s left besides the memories, photographs, and holiday visits? What of the other relationships? The other investments? The spouse, the deep friendships, the knowledge and care of self, the spiritual growth that is left to explore and experience after the children marry, move, or follow their own paths? Cherish, but don’t idolize your children, as you make investments in other lifelong, life-changing relationships.
  21. Be consistent and reliable. (Not perfect) As their parent, coach, cheerleader, and advocate. Be firm in conviction and what really matters, but always be a soft place to land and a safe place to rest. Then you will have a friend for the rest of your life.
  22. Pray. What could be more important, life-changing, heart-softening, and faith-building than lifting your children above a sea of chaos and confusion and into the watchful eyes and tender care of the One who made them and loves them most? “Any concern too small to be turned into a prayer is too small to be made into a burden.” -Corrie Ten Boom
  23. Feel the pain. A loss, a heartbreak, a failure, an unrealized dream, a prodigal… With love and life comes pain. It means you’re alive, you care, and something matters. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3)
  24. Don’t walk the journey alone. Find a tribe, a village, a support system, a rock when you are weak and drowning in a sea of confusion, pain, or overwhelming burden.  “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.  For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?  And though a man might img_4817prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Ecc 4:9-12)
  25. How to let go. It starts the first time you leave them at daycare, with a relative, or a babysitter. It intensifies with the first “no” or “I can do it by myself”.  Then  classroom, camp, a car, college, marriage, moving away. There is beauty in freedom, success in standing alone, amazement as they fly. After all, they were only yours for a little while.

Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverb 22:6

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Children are a heritage from the Lordoffspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior  are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them    Ps 127:3-5

2020: Seeing Clearly

I was in high school when Prince’s blockbuster song 1999 hit the charts. At that time, the year 1999 seemed like an imaginary, far-off possibility. As my friends and I calculated how old we would be when 1999 was finally ushered out, I discovered that I would be in my early 30’s! It sounded so old at the time.

Fast forward to New Year’s Eve 1999 and I wasn’t “partying like it’s 1999,” as the song suggested. Instead, I was sitting home with a 4 year old and a 3 month old…and loving it! King Solomon said There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens… It was a great season. What’s the old saying? The days go slow but the years go fast… 

At the start of a new year, many people find themselves reflecting on the memories,  challenges, changes, and blessings from the previous year. img_1863Others project ahead and resolve to change a pattern, a habit, a belief, or other situation. Let’s do both!

20/20! We’ve all heard the term denoting visual acuity…sharpness, clarity. So is it any wonder that much of the hype and excitement surrounding this particular new year focuses on seeing and projecting ahead? It’s a milestone! Not only a new year…but a brand new decade!

In 1972, Johnny Nash released a song titled I Can See Clearly Now:

I can see clearly now the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind

9a356e0b-95a8-4f20-8bed-2c7ef0ad0277As the new year approaches, a primary question I offer is: What will it take for me to see clearly in the new year? In relation to the song, other questions to consider: what obstacles are blinding my true vision or causing distortion in what I perceive? Also…what are some things I can leave behind in this decade as I forge ahead into the next? Please stick with me and we’ll look at 10 things to leave behind and 10 things to embrace and bring with us into 2020.  Let’s leave behind:

1. Comparison: Oh…I’m so guilty. I remember first reading a small laminated copy of the poem Desiderata (Latin, meaning “things desired”) in high school: If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. As an awkward teenager, I really needed to hear that! But peer pressure and the desire to perform, or conform, doesn’t stop once the diploma is in hand and you walk off the stage. With the rise of social media, to some extent we’re all living on a stage! I’ve lived it, I’ve raised two children, I’ve walked side by side with other women, and I’ve seen and talked with hundreds of other people who have fallen into the trap of comparison. Teddy Roosevelt once said “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

The apostle Paul said:

…let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t. -Romans 12:6 (MSG)

No one is immune, but I believe woman are especially vulnerable to comparison. Am I good enough, thin enough, smart enough, talented enough, mom enough, Pinterest-worthy…you get the idea. I challenge you…and me…to stop the comparison and to be mindful of each blessing, opportunity, and person we have in our lives. Celebrate each breath and the ways our bodies live and breathe and move and function. Comparison? Leave it behind.

2. Negative self-talk: It so often goes along with comparison. Again, I’m guilty. It may seem so innocent…unless you really listen: I’m so stupid. I’ll never get better. Nothing good ever happens to me… But listen again to the apostle Paul:

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. -Ephesians 4:29 (NIV)

If you believe in the inerrancy of scripture, shouldn’t this verse apply to how we talk about ourselves as well as others? How about the wise words of motivational speaker Christine Arylo: “Be nice to yourself… It’s hard to be happy when someone is mean to you all the time.” I often ask people I counsel if they would speak to a small, impressionable child the way they talk to themselves. Or speak the same words to their best friend. Speak kindly to yourself. Truth…but in love.

3. Discontentment: Part of the terrible triad mix & match equation! Comparison + negative self-talk = discontentment. Pretty sure we could interchange the variables in multiple ways and still end up with similar responses: (discontentment + negative self-talk = comparison, etc…) How quickly and easily we forget that we img_1870are often currently living the life we once wished for or prayed about. Count Your Blessings is an old hymn written in the late 1800s:

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

In no way do I intend to minimize pain, suffering, and other difficulties. Life is hard and the world is broken. But there can still be beauty in the midst of the brokenness. Jesus told us that “In this world you will have trouble.” (John 16:33)  Is thankfulness the opposite of discontent? Probably not…but it at least offers to loosen the heavy cloak and lighten the burden of discontentment. Be thankful for one thing today. And then another…and another. And you will find that discontent becomes smaller and more quiet in the coming year.

4. Worry: It has many different names and expressions…anxiety, panic, nervousness, apprehension, fear, dread…  The entire verse from John 16:33 says “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” 

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? -Jesus  (Mt 6:27)

I don’t intend to minimize serious mental health concerns. Bad things happen. Terrible, fear-creating events that are totally out of our control. Anxiety is an ever-growing, increasingly serious, pervasive condition in our society. Thankfully, it is also very treatable with professional help, time, and ongoing commitment. But day-by-day worry is a choice often hidden behind habit and personal experience. Let’s commit to look clearly ahead at 2020 with intentional vision to see our daily concerns and struggles as they are…not minimized and not magnified. Also, pray about and seek to identify the triggers that threaten to steal your peace and create fear and worry. Turn off the news, silence the phone, limit social media. Put boundaries up between you and those people and situations that create anxiety and strife. Then you will be able to see more clearly.

5. Bitterness: As I typed that word, I thought another terrible trio: bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness. (more about forgiveness later…)  Where does one start and the other begin? Possible ways to identify these dangerous feelings: bitterness leaves a bad taste in your mouth or a scowl on your face. Resent = resend. Are you replaying/re-sending the same words, events, and injustices over and over in your mind and heart and attaching chain2faces to the feelings? That’s resentment. Unforgiveness = unforgiving = unwilling or unable to forgive. It’s the inability to let it go and to move forward unshackled from an offense.  Where there is one there are usually the others; and they weigh heavy on your journey. Leave them behind…like unloading rocks from a heavy backpack or taking pebbles off a scale until it’s perfectly balanced. You do it one hard thing at a time. What do you need to take off the scale and leave behind this year?

6. Misplaced anger: Anger gets a bad rap. Appropriate, well-played anger motivates people to rise up to defend their families, their countries, or their causes. To pursue a better life. It fuels passion and creativity. But misplaced or unrestrained anger has the ability to destroy relationships, families, and individuals. It seems to be a common go-to emotion. But it’s really a temperature gauge. A check engine light. It may need a skilled mechanic to diagnose it and shut it down while it’s still just a warning. What, or who, is pushing your button or flipping your switch? Just as a compass points north, misplaced anger points back to something or someone. Often a grave injustice… but sometimes just a drastic misunderstanding. It’s 2020…inspect it, repair it. Put anger in its proper place and use it wisely.

7. Apathy: Shake off the dusty cobwebs of apathy. Apathy is a lack of feeling, emotion, interest, concern, or passion. It’s the whatever or who cares attitude that has become so prevalent in recent years. It is desensitization to the injustice and cares of the world. To suffering and loss…or to growth and achievement. It is neither hot nor cold…simply  lukewarm. Pray for a heart to see and a passion to care about what’s going on around you. Seek motivation to move out of your comfort zone and be aware and engaged.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.  *

8. Overindulgence:  There’s an old saying: Too much of a good thing… It can be finished in multiple ways: is a bad thing, leads to obsession or addiction, makes you miserable, etc… Think for a moment. Consider when something that has brought you temporary pleasure eventually caused you pain, guilt, loss, or other negative consequence. The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 6:12 “Everything is permissible for me,” but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me,” but I will not be mastered by anything.  Food, medication, alcohol, television, or even excessive cell phone use can lead us into distraction and escape…away from quality time to invest in relationships and our own physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Seek balance. 20/20.

9. Busyness: Our society is busier than ever. Our days and hours are full of appointments, activities. and various must-do-and-be-at activities. Our schedules are full but many times our hearts and our spirits are empty. And…we are tired, we are stressed, and we often feel disconnected even in the middle of the crowds and busyness.  A few questions to consider: What is essential? What is life-giving? What promotes emotional and spiritual growth or a tangible reward? Check your schedule. I’m not advocating hitting eject on every nonessential activity; nor is it good for you to be  secluded or uninvolved. Just consider ordering and prioritizing your time in 2020. What will really matter at the end of this year…and the next?

10. A bad habit:  Just one! You may have a list of a dozen, but consider one simple habit, quirk, or pattern that plagues you and has likely followed you for years. Too many times we reach the end of the year (or the end of ourselves!) and make unrealistic goals and commitments. Then we become discouraged or self-critical. Let’s forge ahead with 20/20 vision. Set a clear, realistic goal. Don’t set yourself up for failure or disappointment by planning a complete overhaul. Focus on one small change. One bad habit you can drop at the back door of 2019 and enter 2020 with better focus, clarity, and direction. Envision one step, and then another. Be realistic and optimistic. 


Don’t give up now! We’ve talked about what to leave behind in the old decade. Now let’s look at 10 things we should bring with us into 2020 to have a brand new start! Let’s commit to:

1. Reach out to a friend! Someone you haven’t seen since high school, someone you’ve noticed at church, that quiet person at work… You may already have a hundred friends…you may only have one. The number that you have is not the important factor. Quality > quantity. Explore the new and cherish the old! Be real, be honest, be you. And let them be real, be honest, and be themselves.  Laugh, cry, hug, have fun. Be serious, be silly, just be. You may not think you need a new friend, but a brand new friend may need you! 🙂

2. Talk to somebody. A friend, a pastor, a counselor, a stranger… Many people are starving for connection and conversation. Make small talk in elevators and grocery check out lines. Reconnect with high school friends. Talk about the weather and the flowers blooming. Talk about hopes and dreams. Talk about disappointments, pains, and things you wish you could do over. Tell somebody something that makes you happy, sad, expectant, or maybe even a little fearful. Talk about the hard things. Talk about the secrets. Tell your story to someone you trust…even the most painful things. See a counselor if you need to. Everyone needs to be heard.

Where there is no guidance, a people falls,
    but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.  -Proverbs 11:14

3. Read a book! Read fiction. Image result for dr seuss the more that you readRead nonfiction. Read children’s books through your adult eyes and experiences. Read magazines and cereal boxes. Studies consistently show that the majority of people quit reading once they are out of school. But reading stimulates creativity, improves memory and imagination, and enlarges your borders. Oh, the places you will go! Visit a library or bookstore. Look and touch and smell and let the words leap off the pages and into your mind and imagination. Even better…into your heart and soul.

4. Read the Bible. Even if you aren’t a believer… Give it a shot!  It is full of history, wisdom, scandal, poetry, romance, music, and revelation. Challenge it. Open it and enter in questioning, doubting, wondering…   2 Timothy 3:16-17 says All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.  Seek and you just might find what you’re looking for.

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5. Write! A pen, a pencil, a keyboard…it doesn’t matter. Write your story, write a poem, write a prayer, write a letter to an old friend. Writing is like holding a key that unlocks feelings and memories and ideas. Keep a notepad or a space on your phone to jot down quick ideas but later find a designated time to write…let it pour out freely and unedited until your thoughts find their home on paper. “Stay faithful to the stories in your head.” -Paula Hawkins

6. Pray. Prayer is simply talking with God. The apostle Paul’s mandate in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 is Pray without ceasing. Spend hours on your knees in a designated space, pray as you’re going to sleep, pray in the car between errands…but make this year a time to seek God in prayer. Meditate, reflect, sit in silence, and listen. It will improve both your vision and your hearing. 🙂

Prayer is the helpless and needy child crying to the compassion of the Father’s heart and the bounty and power of a Father’s hand. -E.M. Bounds

7. Forgive. I wrote a post a few months ago titled Forgiveness Is Cake. No, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Forgive anyway. Very intentionally. Very specifically remember the person who shamed you, mocked you, bullied you, or outright abused you; and cut the chains that bind you to all the bad feelings, the anger, and the hurtful memories.

Colossians 3:13 says: Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins say: Your health depends on it…Forgiveness is not just about saying the words. It is an active process in which you make a conscious decision to let go of negative feelings whether the person deserves it or not.

I challenge you, and me, to walk into 2020 unshackled and free. Even if your walk is merely a limp. Don’t do it for them. Do it for yourself and for those you love…for your peace and your freedom.

img_18838. Go! Somewhere you’ve never been! Just go! Fly, ride, hike…travel. Visit somewhere new and different and scary and off the beaten path and out of the box. The mountains, the beach, the quaint little hometown square. The local restaurants, the hidden trails, the cozy coffee shops, the loud lounges, the quiet gardens. Explore and live and laugh! And take lots of pictures!

9. Go! Yes I know I’ve already said that…but go back to a familiar place. Where your memories are warm and cozy or where they need to find peace and healing. Where you met Jesus, where you met your spouse, your best friend’s old house. Your first church, your high school, your first date. The cemetery. Go and remember and see with new eyes. Better acuity. 20/20.

I thought if I could touch this place or feel it…this brokenness inside me might start healing.   -Miranda Lambert, The House That Built Me

10. Move! No, don’t call the realtor just yet! But move your body…stretch your arms, twist your hips, bend your knees and elbows! Walk, dance, tumble, climb… Celebrate your mobility, your flexibility, your strength, your stamina. Someone once said the best exercise is the one you’ll do…so just do it!

Exercise is a celebration of what your body can do, not a punishment for what you are or what you ate.  –unknown/paraphrased

Well…It’s just another 10-things list to consider for the new year: ten to embrace and ten to leave behind. As I neared the end of the list, I realized there were so many more I could have included. There really is no perfect 10. But I think the additional four I would have included to embrace in the coming year could act like a big bow-and-ribbon to wrap around the others as you read back through them: faith, hope, love, and compassion. Wrap yourself in those last four and it will make an all-encompassing beautiful gift to give to yourself and to others. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Col 3:14)

No…it’s not an all-inclusive list of how to make 2020 the best year ever…but it’s a start!

Paul said in Philippians 3:13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on… Consider one thing you can do.

Welcome to 2020…not only a promising new year, but a brand new decade! Press on. With clarity and acuity…20/20

 

*quoted by JFK, ? per Edmund Burke

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friends in Low Places

I was in my early twenties when Garth Brooks’ smash hit Friends in Low Places debuted. There was something about the earthy guttural growl andselective focus photography of man playing electric guitar on stage sweet southern twang of the song, along with that little bite of sweet poetic justice, that felt right at home in my life as an early twenties single woman living in Nashville.  Although I still find myself occasionally indulging in the nostalgia of the newer oldies, the song had a very different meaning to me then than the phrase does now…Because I indeed really do have friends in low places.

Very low places. Hard places. Tragic places. Not  “where the whiskey drowns and the beer chases my blues away” places glorified in the old country song. Years of living, learning, losing, and letting go removed all the glitter and gloss from the drama of broken relationships, revenge, half-hearted commitments, and unhealthy patterns of dealing with life and loss.

I have friends in much lower places than that. Dark, lonely places of loss, abandonment, rejection, abuse, addiction, confusion, sickness, disability, job loss, financial ruin, and difficult diagnosis.

In this world you will have trouble. -Jesus

Well-rehearsed preachers, prosperity gospel, Pollyanna promises, and the proverbial rose-colored glasses can all try to deny the reality of pain, suffering, and loss that everyone will eventually face; but Jesus himself warned us. Prepared us. But He also said:

But take heart! I have overcome the world.

Take heart. What does that even mean? Other nick-fewings-ka7REB1AJl4-unsplashtranslations say: take courage, be of good cheer, be brave, be courageous, have confidence…

I like “take heart.” It sounds active and involved. It lets me choose. It’s almost tangible. I can picture myself reaching out, or reaching in, and taking my heart. Speaking words of hope and encouragement. Be strong. Be brave. Be careful. Be kind. But be alive. Be teachable and be available for strengthening, encouraging, and reassuring…then for offering up as a humble sacrifice.

While we may not choose sickness, cancer, divorce, addiction, abuse, mistreatment, injustice. We can choose to take heart, take courage, be of good cheer, be brave, be courageous, and have confidence.

Proverbs 4:23 says Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.

heart brass-colored padlockGuard it. Above all else. It must be extremely valuable. I picture it like an ancient city. With walls and towers to protect against enemy onslaught and invasion…but with gates to swing open to welcome friends, provision, protectors, allies, healers. A fortress, not a prison. Guard it as one would diligently, methodically guard a storehouse of plenty and provision during famine, war, and threats of enemy plunder.

Because isn’t that really what we are up against: famine, lack, loss, wars, and threats of enemy plunder? Not merely threats to overtake peace, joy, and hope…but heart-sickening, soul-crushing blows to us and those we love.

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8

But what does that have to do with friends in low places?

In the book of Galatians, the apostle Paul tells us to “Bear one another’s burdens.” Other translations say: carry, share, help, practice carrying, offer a helping hand.

img_8817Loving one another is sometimes hard. Bearing burdens is hard. When they hurt, you hurt, but…Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. 

Being present and available can be scary when you don’t know what to say or do…For if one falls down, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to help him up! 

The world can be amazing and beautiful, but confusing and scary and cold…Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? 

But we are so prone to isolation and secrecy and self-protection…And though one may be overpowered, two can resist.

But we are called to be present to  share the love and hope of Jesus…Moreover, a cord of three strands is not quickly broken.  (Ecc 4:9-12)

img_8872Not one in isolation. Not two struggling to get by. But three strands! While often symbolic of a wedding ceremony, what does that look like in our day to day relationships and interactions? Especially with our friends in low places? You, your friend, God Almighty…

I haven’t always done it well. Honestly…I have probably failed more than I succeeded at  the face-to-face ministry of presence. But how I have wanted to be the faithful friend who sits in the ashes in the midst of another’s deepest pain and grief. How I have loved and prayed and lamented! I feel it in my very heart and soul sometimes. Real tangible pain and sadness. My friends in low places have walked hard roads recently. An unexpected loss of a young husband, the death of a child, a distant husband, an unwanted divorce, a congenital heart defect, prodigal children, addiction, tragic financial loss, betrayal, old wounds surfacing, a suicide attempt, a botched surgery, a bad mammogram, a pending biopsy… And more, so much more. Evidence that…yes, in this world we will have trouble.

Courage, dear heart.  -C.S. Lewis

Luke 5 recounts the story of a man in a very low place: Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus.  When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.

This  man was unable to take care of his very basic needs. He couldn’t stand, walk, or get to Jesus. His companions lifted him and bore his stretcher, shouldered his load, and brought him, weak and helpless, to Jesus. The man may have had good intentions. He may have had great self-discipline and solid determination, but in his own power he was simply unable to bear his own weight, make his own path, see above the crowd and confusion, and find his healing. He was in a very low place…but he had friends.

Maybe sometimes the best we can do is to carry our friends on a stretcher to the feet of Jesus.

Consider this: Maybe praying for their physical well-being and peace, as well as img_7254being present and attentive to their physical and emotional needs is a type of guarding their heart…

Take heart. Can you picture yourself reaching out, or reaching in, and taking their heart… Speaking words of hope and encouragement: Be strong. Be brave. Be careful. Be kind. Be alive. Be teachable and be available for strengthening, encouraging, and reassuring… Then helping them offer it up as a humble sacrifice…to a God who sees, cares, heals, and redeems. And what an honor to sit, walk, stand, or simply just be with the hurting and the broken. Shoulder to shoulder or face-to-face, but definitely heart to heart and spirit to spirit.

A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.

Low places…we’ve all been there, are there, or will be there at some point. But what a blessing to be able to cry out, “I’ve got friends!”

 

Another Prayer For My Hometown

In 2017 I wrote a post titled “A Prayer For My Hometown.” img_5200At the time, it was to address a specific situation happening locally. There was an outside hate group that threatened to come in to stir up division and discord…right here at our little town square. It was trouble threatening us from outside our boundaries…uninvited, unwanted, unsupported.

While that was addressing a specific time and event, I’ve noticed something interesting about the post: it has been viewed by people from 35 different countries in the past year. Thirty five!  It is by far my most widely read post. South Africa, Philippines, Russia, South Korea, Pakistan, India, Kuwait…just a few. Queue Walt Disney’s melodious musical tones of “It’s a Small World After All…”

I traveled to Guatemala on a mission trip in college. Since then, I haven’t really traveled very far. I don’t speak another language. I don’t really engage in varied cultures. But as I thought about people from all over the world sitting at their computers or on their phones doing a search for words and prayers for their hometown, the world suddenly became very familiar and very small to me. bd7936c9-c694-477f-a3b3-8c2473696a27It became my hometown, my familiar space, the place where I live and work and worship and love. I saw so much more than colors on a map.

As I have thought about the needs that would drive people to seek and to pray, I don’t believe it’s simply a black and white issue, a right or wrong issue, a peace or chaos issue, or an us and them issue… I believe there is an underlying common theme of human frailty, hurt, and need…and hope. People are hurting, people are searching, but so many people still cling to hope. And sometimes that is enough.

You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come…

I don’t really understand war. But parts of the world are always at war. Always. I don’t understand merciless killing or torture or captivity or terrorism. I don’t understand deceit and hatred based simply on appearance or social stature. The band Nickelback imagined it well:

If everyone cared and nobody cried,                                                                                                  If everyone loved and nobody lied
If everyone shared and swallowed their pride
 Then we’d see the day when nobody died.

But that’s just a song. Of course people die. And people do cry. Some deaths are mere echoes and celebrations of a lives well-lived. Some church1tears are joyous and cleansing and freeing. Some tears come from depth of pain and need. King David cried. Jesus wept. I have cried. I imagine you have too. Tears of sorrow, pain, loneliness, helplessness, anger, injustice, and hope. Tears for ourselves and tears for others. My heart hurts for people who are lost, displaced, discouraged, hopeless, or in fear. For people who feel cast aside and forgotten. Unwanted. I see it in the news and pages of magazines. I see it in people’s faces that I encounter daily. Some are in physical wars, others in emotional and spiritual battles. But many are searching for solutions, for remedies, for a moment of peace and hope in a sin-ravaged, war-torn world.

While I don’t really understand actual war,  I know that there are things and people and ideas that are worth fighting for. When I think of all the people in countries where their own government suppresses or sabotages them, where their children go hungry or die from treatable diseases, where the poor are treated as less-than or disposable…What can I do? Are they the ones who are searching for prayers for their own hometowns?

Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places…

When I see the devastation and loss and incredible tragedy as natural disasters are unleashed with destructive, uncontrollable, unpredictable power destroying everything in their paths…  When people lose their homes, their hopes, their communities…What can I do? Who is praying for their hometowns?

At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold…

I have recently traveled to several cities close to home where terrible tragedies have brokenchurchhappened. Two church shootings, other public shootings, serious widespread fires, racial unrest, tornadoes, unexpected violent deaths… When people are intentionally wounding others: abusing, exploiting, rejecting, abandoning, killing…What can I do? When people are overwhelmed with crippling fear, crushing anxiety, and debilitating depression…trapped inside their own heads, battling torment, mental health, or addictions….what can I do?

…but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved…

Yes, there are some tangible ways I can intervene. I can spend money and time and effort and kind words…but sometimes the bigger battle is fought on a different battlefield. When I can speak, I will speak. When I can give, I will give. When I can go, I will go. But sometimes… I can pray. I will pray. So this is my prayer for my hometown, for me, my family, my friends, my neighbors…and for you and your hometown too:

img_5729Lord, I pray that you will give me an abundance of faith, hope, and love…A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over… (Luke 6:38) I pray for: faith to seek and to believe, hope to want and to know, love to care and to intercede.

In addition, I pray for hunger. Not for satisfaction of an earthly longing, but for an insatiable desire…a hunger for truth, for action, for kindness, for mercy, for justice. He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8) 

Lord, could I pray for world peace and brotherly love, with an end to war and strife? An end to abuse, addiction, murder, and disease? Yes, but you told b5d10f36-f91d-4d3e-906d-b4d2cce03689us in John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  So I pray for God-given peace regardless of circumstances.  For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Tim 1:7) I pray that we will not lose heart but will look to you.

I pray that each member of the church body will arise to the full function you have designed. Lord give us eyes that see worth, value, purpose, and God’s design. Eyes that see your way where there was previously no way. Eyes that see your image on each face we encounter and your hand on each unexpected miracle.

Give us ears that not only hear the cries of the lonely, the destitute, the needy….but also the gifted, those designed for service, the divine ideas whispered to our spirits in the quiet times.

Give us hearts open enough to love deeply but strong enough to be solid in conviction and truth. Sensitive to you and your leading but guarded enough to be aware of the enemy’s schemes.

Give us hands that reach the unreachable, that hold onto truth and hope, and that hold our families, our friends, our brothers and sisters, close and point them to you.

547275cc-c827-4d14-83e0-c081ec2a20a9Give us feet that stand firm on your word, your truth, your promises. Feet that go where you lead and create a path for those who are lost or searching to follow.

So while these may sound like simple personal prayers for the individual, healing begins with one. Encouragement begins with one. Discipleship begins with one. For as I am overflowing with faith, hope, love, and truth…I will be changed, my neighbors will be changed, my world will be changed. I will be praying for you and your hometown.

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Prov 31:8-9)

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.   (Mt 24:6-14)