A Blue Period and My 2016 Reader Survey

They say it comes in different ways to different people. To artists like Van Gogh and Picasso, to authors like Jack Kerouac. It’s this place where it feels like a blanket of sad lays down on a life. It’s heavy and it’s confusing and it might make you question just about everything, including your self and your gifts. Do you still have anything to offer the world?

Jack Kerouac said, “I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.”

Maybe it’s a place most folks who tend to live life as a “creative” go through. I sat around a table with a few photographers last week and was amazed at how people working creatively in a completely different sphere can experience the same sufferings. Do you have anything worth giving?

Maybe for me, it was the “baby blues” that often come to visit when a new baby’s made an appearance, and they’re so full of joy and the world seems like a big mess. Maybe it’s the state of the nation I live in — looking at things and wondering how the heck this whole mess can get cleaned up, made right. The justice and the love and the mercy — how do we find them and live them? Maybe it was the four months I spent trodding word-by-word through Les Miserables. Maybe it’s trying to figure out how to do all the things I hope to do when there are all the things I need to do. But probably, all these things swirling together with a dash of discouragement and a whisper or two from the enemy of my soul combined to create my own little blue period.

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Seems to me that almost every time God whispers something deep and purposeful to my soul, my enemy is likely to come with his own clever ways and ask, “Did God really say?” 

So I’ve floundered and failed and fallen short for what feels like ages but is probably more like a good solid handful of months. And I’ve wondered and worried and asked — what about the miserable? What about the racism? The rioting? The troubles nearby? And the ones I know of, so much like these, back in countries I love on opposite sides of the globe?

Do I really have anything worthwhile to say?

Did God really say?

On a beautiful Sunday morning in a community of believers, we sang these old words made new — a hymn from the 1800s, remade for this century:

Earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t heal.

And I remembered those whispers from God’s heart to mine at the beginning of the year. He didn’t ask for the moon or a million prayers or my firstborn.

He certainly didn’t ask me to fix the world’s problems. He just whispered: Faithful. Be faithful.

And this is the truth that is changing the blue to a bright and hope-filled green for me: I can’t heal the world. On our own, We won’t heal the world. But heaven can. And if we’re faithful — if we will faithfully live out the radically counter-cultural love that God calls us to, we’ll pave the way for heaven on earth.

So these are the ways I’m moving forward right now. I’m asking forgiveness for my lazy, hope-less soul, and gratefully receiving new measures of hope, which are my own choice to take after all. And I’m asking, Lord today, today, help me to be faithful.

In a desire to start afresh with an eye toward faithfulness, I’ve created a little reader survey. Just 9 super simple questions, to help me understand what would bless your heart, and help you on your journey toward faithfulness, and ultimately, toward Jesus. I’m hoping to be faithful with the gifts I’ve been given, and to encourage you in yours, too. I hope you precious and dear readers and friends will forgive me for the ways I’ve been unfaithful, and pray for me, as I pray for you, to keep turning to Jesus and finding His will and His way. We will fall short, we will be forgiven, and we will keep going deeper into Him.

Will you please take a moment to take this survey? Your time and your genuine honesty would be a gift to my soul, friend!

I’m excited to start this journey afresh, and praying that in the days to come, it will bless your heart…

Be encouraged today. Earth has NO sorrow heaven can’t heal. And our part in the story? Is faithfulness.

xCC

Please click here to take my 2016 Reader Survey

For Moms Who Think What You’ve Got Isn’t Enough

“Mom?” He asks in passing as I’m organizing the covers on his brother’s bottom bunk.

“Yeah, Buddy?”

“Do you think you’ll ever be a missionary?”

The question came out of left field. I’m not sure where the word “missionary” came into his vocabulary or exactly what he has in mind when he hears it.

“Uh… I already have been, buddy,” is the best way I can think to respond. Life and kids and the to-do list are swirling around me — I make a mental note that this is fodder for a more important conversation later on, when there’s a bit more quiet and I can just look this one kid in the eyes.

“Remember the pictures from Chichen Itza you you brought to homeschool group for your presentation? Or how you were born in Scotland? And when we lived in South Africa?”

A lightbulb seems to go on. “Oh yeah. Cool!” He dashes off to throw shoes on and get outdoors, and I’m left to sigh and wonder: Will I ever “be a missionary” again? Or is where we are now where we are going to be?

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As the last few old years have turned into new ones, our pastor has talked about praying for that “one word” for the year ahead. Based on the book by Mike Ashcroft and Rachel Olsen, My One Word, the idea behind the My One Word movement {which began storming Christian circles around 2010/2011} is to skip the resolutions and let a single word to become your focus for the year ahead, to inform and transform your walk with Jesus.

I sat quiet on the last day of 2015, giving thanks, and wondering about a word. Before this movement began, but for several years in a row between 2002 and 2006, I felt like the Lord continuously whispered to me the Word adventure. He had it in mind to take me on the adventure of a lifetime, and if I was willing to say Yes to His invitation and obey Him when He called me, I would get to enjoy an incredible journey with Him.

As I prayed and asked the Lord for a word for 2016, hoping a synonym for ‘adventure’ might perhaps pop up — I sensed a single, simple word emerging in my thoughts. Again, and again.

FAITHFUL.

I penned it down in my journal: “I pray you’ll grant me ears to hear Your voice and a heart to understand, and Lord, above all, this year will You show me what it means to be FAITHFUL?”

Let’s be honest. Faithful seems kind of boring compared to adventure.

But the whisper kept coming, and I had to trust: when God gives you a word, He has a reason.

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Now let’s be more honest. And let me warn you: this might not make sense. I found it easier to be faithful in the impoverished villages of rural Mexico than I do in the we’ve-got-everything-you-need world of modern America.

Even though we are giving to ministries that serve the poor on a monthly basis, it bothers me that I’m not hands on. Even though I’m working at writing words of encouragement to share, it bothers me that I’m not speaking them, or leading a Bible Study, for example. Though I’m asleep before my head hits the pillow most days, I still feel like my current day-to-day isn’t enough.

Our comfortable life makes me strangely uncomfortable. And sometimes you look at motherhood and think: Is this it?

At the same time, I get this unsettling, but settling sense that the Lord is saying “You’re right where I want you.”

But this is the hard part, this is what makes it so easy for the enemy to whisper that what I’m offering to Jesus is not enough: faithful looks different for everybody.

I wanted to be out doing the stuff…among the people…

But the Lord said, “Here is your home. And some children to homeschool.” Motherhood is isolating. And, homeschooling my children is isolating, but I can not deny for a second that God made it SO overwhelmingly clear that this was the way, walk ye in it.

I often want to be away where I feel like I have been called to go

But God has said, “I want you here.” Here, being back in my wee hometown. Here, often simply serving my many small children. We cannot deny how clear He has made this, repeatedly, this Be Right Here whisper.

And this is the complexity of faithfulness, friends: true faithfulness will never look the same twice.

What God calls you to do and what He calls your next-door neighbor to do might look totally different. More accurately, they will look different.

To gently paraphrase C.S. Lewis’s words at the end of the Chronicles of Narnia:

If God is the author of your story, it will be the story no one has ever read before that gets better and better with every chapter.

Sometimes faithfulness is going halfway around the world. Sometimes it’s serving God exactly in the place where He has placed you.

Faithfulness isn't about your position on the globe — it's about the position of your heart. Click To Tweet

I have to be willing to say yes to the slums in Serbia. But I also have to be willing to say yes to this life, right here, right now.

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This is what seems clearer and clearer: we’re all missionaries, and the mission we’re called to is faithfulness.

Right now, faithfulness looks a lot like being purposeful, and persevering in parenting.

Right now, faithfulness looks a lot like being careful with our finances and consistent in our work, making it possible to be generous to others.

Sometimes faithfulness looks like packing your bags. Sometimes it looks like unpacking, and setting roots in the soil.

Perhaps I needed this lesson: Away and missionary are not necessarily synonyms. Missional living is a willingness to share the love of God with the person in the slum, the person at the checkout, and even the tiny people God places in our care.

Motherhood may not have the glitz of dozens of other callings, but that in no way lessens how incredibly important it is to see it as a calling, and to lean on Jesus to help you serve faithfully.

Have you ever felt like everybody else had a better gift to bring to the proverbial party? Like the gifts you have to offer Jesus aren’t as “awesome” as everybody else’s?

What does God really want? Fattened calves and huge sacrifices? 10,000 rivers of oil? Our firstborn sons? Consider these words.

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God? {Micah 6:8}

Forget what race the person is swimming in the lane next to you. Listen attentively to the voice of the Holy Spirit, ask the Lord to lead you and obey what He tells you to do — these are the gifts that please God. Just start asking, keep asking: what does it look like for me to be faithful?

And you precious Mamas doing the unseen things? Picking up toys and scrubbing dishes and nursing tiny souls at 3 am? You do have what it takes. “For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” Andy Stanley recently wrote, “Your greatest contribution to the kingdom of God might not be something you do, but someone you raise.”

And faithfulness to that calling? It may turn out to be more of an adventure than you think.

xCC

Do you struggle with comparing your walk with God with the “walks” around you? I’d love for you to leave a comment and continue the conversation.

What Are You Afraid Of?

She saunters out of her bedroom and it’s nearly 9 PM. She mumbles down the hall, her lowest low voice, still high and sweet as a song bird. The pony tail I twisted atop her head hours before now droops down at the nape of her neck and she whispers quiet:

Something’s waking me up.

You’re waking you up, I think to myself, say out loud. I’m certain she hasn’t fallen asleep yet, but she wants me to bring her back to her room and she wants a fresh diaper and she asks me to sing her a song: Can you sing me a song about me?

This girl who’s a mess of long strands that curl at the ends, this girl who ties strings around our hearts, she’s three years old. And sometimes there’s something, just something, that keeps her from trusting it’s okay to let go, and go to sleep.

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I was standing at the sink scrubbing one scuffed old pan with wearing edges a few weeks ago when the eldest came into the kitchen with a statement that grabbed my heart’s attention: “Mama, I need to go to the bathroom.” (That wasn’t the startling part.) “And I need to tell you something.” (That was.)

I’m all ears and eyes as I lift his seven-year-old frame onto the counter, hoping to catch a good, deep glimpse into his eyes to see what his heart really wants to say. “You know that movie we watched last week?”

I nod, certain he’s speaking about a PG animated film he saw at the theater.

“It had some scary parts and I don’t want to go to sleep because I’m afraid I’ll have nightmares and my dreams are so real.”

Tears begin to stream from his eyes, and then mine, and my husband and I offer comfort, encouragement, hugs, compassion. Hero Hubs reiterates two words again and again: “You’re safe.”

He saunters slowly back to bed and I silently pray that he’ll sleep with heavenly peace.

There’s something these kids are telling me, on the edge of my heart and the tip of my tongue, and I’m trying to put my finger on it.

There are always dark places we are afraid of.

There are always reasons we would rather just ask someone to hold us like a baby and stay near a little longer.

Maybe it takes a lot of bravery to admit what we’re really afraid of.

And why did Jesus say Perfect love casts out fear?

Is it knowing we’re loved that solves the problem?

I wonder, if in the grand scheme of things the Father doesn’t look down and wish He could just “fix” the problems — but He knows better. Knows what we need and what we want are different things.

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I can’t make the bad dreams go away, but I can tell the kid I love him and I’m here for him.

No one can make the fear of what people think, the fear of messing up, the fear that everyone is really just tolerating your presence, the fear that you don’t measure up… all those unspoken deep whispers in the dark that say “you are less than enough” … no one can make them magically disappear.

The Name of Jesus is incredibly powerful, but it’s not a lucky charm from a cereal box.

The message isn’t “Come to Me and I will fix it all better for you” — it’s “Come to Me because I’ll be with you in it — I already came for you, I am still coming for you, and I will come for you again.”

It’s “In this world, you will have tribulation but be of good cheer… I’ve overcome the world.”

I recently said yes to something I was afraid of doing. I thought it would be hard. I thought it would take up lots of time, lots of effort, and it could even not work out at all. Flop.

But I remembered: it’s not really about things all working out, life being easy, things going smoothly, never putting your hand to anything that might fail.

It’s about saying “You’re my Lord, and if You want me to do it, I’ll do it.” 

Those are the words that brought me to villages in Mexico where I tasted Jesus like never before. Those are the words that brought me to orphanages in Zambia — to places where I got to see poverty, and at the same time, true wealth. Those are the words that carried me over the ocean where I met the man, not just of my dreams, but also of my destiny.

And perhaps it’s knowing the Father’s love — being so sure of that love — that’s the thing that casts out the fear. That speaks brave to the heart: You can because He is…

You CAN because He IS.

And,

YOU can because HE is.

What are you afraid of? Do you believe in a God that’s bigger? A God that doesn’t promise it’ll all be perfect, but does promise He’ll always be there?

The greatest moments I’ve lived so far started with me saying yes to God saying come.

But every time I walked on water, I first had to get out of the boat.

xCC

Three Years Ago, Today

Last week I spent some time writing to process and reflect on the three years that have passed since I lost my Dad. Although it was therapy for me, encouragement from a few friends led me to share these thoughts here as well. As a prelude, as an encouragement, as a thought to accompany these words written with love here during this Holy Week, I would love to tell you that there is always death before there’s Resurrection. Those hard places in your life are often a God-ordained part of a bigger picture. He sees you. You are precious to Him, and hard is a well-worn path to holy. Instead of promising us a journey without tribulation, He laid down His life with a promise that He’d be with us through anything. 

So nothing–nothing–can separate us from the love of God.

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It was three years ago. Exactly three years ago, today.

There’s a baby sitting across from me at the table, on my husband’s lap. I’m ladling tiny scoops of applesauce into her mouth on a tiny spoon. Her eyes are tired but her mouth is eager. She patiently gulps tiny spoonful after tiny spoonful while I catch the slurps that slip out of the corners of her happy little mouth.

She’s the only one he never met.

Grief is like water in so many ways. When it first hits you, it’s like you’ve been dropped into rapids. The waves are swirling around you, and you feel flipped upside down and uncertain which way you need to turn to swim up. Where is the surface? When can I breathe again? When will it stop hurting?

I wipe the baby’s applesauce face and carry her to the changing table to slip her into a onesie that reminds me of him. The baby he never met. This striped yellow onesie I passed on to a friend when she had her first baby; she’s passed it back. “Arrgh” — it stares up at me, the scull and crossbones centered across her tummy — “Wipe me booty!” He would’ve loved it.

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Everyone’s in bed and I’m standing at the sink when my son comes in. “Mama, I need to go to the bathroom and I have to tell you something.” My heart freezes with worry of what the next sentence will be and tears start rolling down his cheeks. I lift his seven-year-old frame up onto the counter and stare into the watery eyes that glance up at me and return to the crumb-covered kitchen floor.

“You know that movie we watched the other night?” I nod, thinking of the PG-rated, animated film he saw one afternoon the week before. “It had some scary parts, and I don’t want to go to sleep because I’m afraid I’ll have nightmares and my dreams are so real.” He erupts into a puddle that brings tears to my eyes. I want to kick myself for not screening the movie to find out about it before letting him go.

His Dad and I give hugs, give encouragement, talk about fear and about faith, and reiterate the words we hope sink deep into his heart — you’re safe. We hug, wipe tears, say good night again and as I turn back to that one pan in the sink that still needs my attention, my thoughts are there to greet me.

Applesauce. The baby had applesauce for dinner.

It seems half a world away, the night one of my worst fears came with a phone call. We were on the couch eating ice cream when my Mom’s voice was at the other end of the line. The next moment I remember, my husband is driving and I’m sitting in the passenger seat for the hospital journey and it feels like my heart, my head, the whole car — it’s all ablaze with fear.

I remember seeing him lying there on a stretcher, somehow so much like the movies and yet, so strange and foreign because this is my real life, and there in front of me is my Dad.

I’ve only been back in town for eighteen months and it feels like this new chapter in our relationship has just started, and it’s so good. I just saw him that morning and he was so, so happy, it seemed like he was going to burst at the seams.

Did he know something I didn’t?

“You should talk to him. Tell him you’re here.” My husband whispers to me with sympathetic eyes.

I look at him lying there, but it feels more like his body is there and he’s not. “Hey Dad, I’m here.” Words escape me. There is only fear.

They’re starting another treatment and I need to leave. I find out later his friends performed CPR in a parking lot. His heart stopped. His brain might’ve been without oxygen for some time. Medical terms whirl around inside my head like those little water spouts we created in science class in grade school. How do I catch anything to put it in order and make sense of it? Everything is swirling.

 

My oldest daughter wore a Pirate dress to church this morning. A cross the pastor and his son made together, this big wooden cross that presided over his son’s wedding, it’s front and center. He speaks from the heart, from the little stage, behind the cross, and my mind wanders.

We’re in a different waiting room and I look down at my phone and open a Bible app and stare down at the words, this eery promise I’m not sure what to make of.

Romans 8:38-39 is the verse of the day. “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

The love of God — can it find me here? And what does this mean? Neither death nor life, nor angels… I want to take these words and make them into the promise I want from them: the promise that there won’t be death right now. That this won’t end in death. That’s the promise I want and try to cling to, heart and soul.

Turns out, that’s not the promise at all.

A new treatment begins and text messages crisscross the country and my brother and sister find their way to the bedside, too, and we all just sit and wait.

 

The cross is in front of everything at church this morning, right in the center of the service, and nearly every head in the room is bowed to pray for this pastor in town with cancer, so beloved, one we’re all rooting for. His daughter and I went to school together and it’s three years since I saw my Dad lying on that bed in that hospital room and I don’t want her to go through the same thing. I feel like if I bow my head the tears will flow, will just gush right out, so I stare up at the ceiling instead, until the incandescent lights make me close my eyes.

It was three years ago, today.

When I can open my eyes again, we move onto other prayers and my thoughts drift to the hospital room and my brother and sister far away, and my phone vibrates with a text message from my sister — Thinking of you guys today.

I’d only been home eighteen months. Dad promised if we came home he’d buy a boat so we could all enjoy time on the river together. We moved back and he held up his end of the deal, drove up one day, pulling a boat on the trailer behind him. We were delighted.

Grief changes from white-water rapids to a stream. The water’s still moving, and you’re still on the journey, but it’s slower. It’s calmer.

I remember looking at my two little boys at the time, my Dad steering that boat, the bow cutting through water, watching our sweet little town go by from the water. Two dear friends from Germany were visiting for a few days and everything just seemed picture perfect.

A little less than a year ago, friends invited us down to their house on a lake and we packed up swimsuits and children for the weekend. We rode their boat around the lake and my heart ached a little. That Saturday afternoon my youngest son made a joke and turned his head to look at me sideways, with a half-smile-half-smirk proud-of-his-joke face and a nod. It was the spitting image of my Dad and as soon as he wasn’t looking, I burst into tears.

It can feel like those smooth grief-waters unexpectedly drop off into some falls that dash you around for a moment or two, and spit you out again, so that you can just keep on floating down the stream.

It was three years ago, we paced around that hospital room for six days. We cried. I prayed for a miraculous recovery and an amazing Renaissance — the beginning of a new chapter for my Dad. We watched him breathe, and it sometimes seemed like every breath was a little harder to take than the one before. I rubbed hand sanitizer between my palms again and again, going back out to the lobby to nurse my three-month-old little girl.

My Dad was away the day she was born — returning to the town where he was born for the first time ever, at the age of sixty-four. Down in Louisiana when we sent the news that she arrived safe and sound. Funny how things happen. We took pictures the day he returned, the day he met her, her jet black hair and tiny infant eyes taking him in, him always wearing a hat and something purple. Every picture we have of him meeting one of our children for the first time, he’s wearing a hat, and something purple.

 

I squirt more hand sanitizer between my palms and a doctor is standing there to greet me. His long white coat reaches to his calves and he’s not much taller than me, but he has the look of a man who knows what he’s talking about, even if he isn’t able to be very gentle in the way he delivers it.

Applesauce. He says applesauce.

Normal brain activity looks like something. I can’t remember the words he used to describe it. Maybe lines? Maybe waves? Maybe sparks? It must look like some kind of purposeful action happening.

But this brain activity? It looks like applesauce.

Applesauce is not good.

“Basically, everything that made your Dad who he is is gone. We can keep him alive like this, but there is almost no likelihood he could recover. He could be in long term care like this for years, but he would probably never wake up.”

I’m a bit like that eldest son of mine, afraid to go to sleep because I don’t know what my dreams will be like. I’m scared.

It feels like that hospital room was a fish bowl, and we swam around in it for nearly a week. It was hard to come up for air. But that tiny whisper from that one verse I wanted to cling to — I heard it there and I felt it there. Maybe right now it feels like I can’t breathe, but maybe somehow it is still going to be okay. Nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Infection spreads to his lungs and it looks like his body is doing what it seems to have done his whole life — it’s working so hard. But now it’s working so hard, just to breathe. Six days have passed and we all sense it — there is going to be a letting go.

We gather around his hospital bed and a chaplain comes in to pray with us. She says after talking with so many folks about him, it seems like he was a Renaissance man — she uses that very word I’d prayed and I think it’s a whisper from above, that the Renaissance I was praying for already happened. I realize he wasn’t the same Dad I had growing up. He’d become so gentle, so different. He found faith and it mattered to him.

The chaplain prays Renaissance and I cry because I know we are going to say goodbye.

It was three years ago today. My husband suggests we go out to lunch after church and I enjoy the break from arriving at home and trying to think of something for everyone to eat as quickly as possible. At home the children play outside. The boys run around with friends from the neighborhood while the girls nap the afternoon away and I strum my guitar for a few minutes and let my thoughts wander where they may.

An afternoon thunderstorm rolls in and we watch a movie together. It’s three years later and I nurse this new baby girl, the one he hasn’t met yet, and life keeps moving. The baby has just started solids and she slurps applesauce and sandwiches toast in a pan for dinner. I wash the pan in the sink and think about fear and kids’ movies and applesauce and the water running from the tap.

We pile onto a bottom bunk for prayers and give thanks for friends to play with and food to eat and reflect a bit on all the good things about the day.

I sit down to write and reflect on it all: the day, the three years, the journey through grief. I remember the U2 song Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own playing in the background when I sat at the dealership to sell the boat. I remember the purple dress I wore as we all stood around his bed, in agreement that he would be an organ donor, and we watched him take his last breath. I wore purple and I left behind yellow flowers. My oldest son sat beside me at the funeral and told me it was my turn to put my tulips — yellow ones that hadn’t opened up yet — on the casket. I asked him to do it for me, and his four-year-old legs promptly carried him up to lay them gently where they belonged.

Grief is more like a cold, gentle stream around my ankles now. The loss still stings like cold water, time flows and I feel further from remembering the sound of his voice, the light in his eyes. But I can, I do, remember the gifts. How he applied for a passport and braved the journey when I lived overseas. How he met half his grandchildren in airports, his face beaming with joy underneath a purple baseball cap.

Counting the gifts has shown me the steady hand, the steady love of God that I never lost throughout the ordeal. The still, small voice that warned me at the start of it all: death cannot separate us, was the voice that whispered at the end of the week, “Your Renaissance prayers have been answered already.”

I’m left in awe of how something so bad can somehow still be… good. How something so bitter can make all of life seem that much sweeter.

Like a smile from a toddler, proud of a good joke, the streams of life seem to keep flowing sweetly on, even if they are interrupted at times with white-water rapids.

The love that promised not to leave me found its way just a little closer.

It was three years ago, today.

 

 

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xCC

About the Things New Year’s Resolutions Won’t Resolve {Part Two}

With one Hero of a Hubs out of town for a few days, I’ve been a little “busier” than usual. I’m sorry for the delay in posting part two and blessed that you are reading these words today! I hope you’re encouraged. Thank you for your grace!

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In an attempt to not overwhelm you with thoughts on moving forward when New Year’s Resolutions won’t resolve something, I decided to continue the story with a part two… Once you’ve given some thought to what you can do, and given an eye and an ear to considering what God is doing, I have one more thought to share with you on how to move forward when some hard place isn’t changing. {If you haven’t already checked it out, Part One is Right Here.}

Go Find Somebody to Love {Kinda Like the Queen Song?}

Just a few weeks ago, I sat down across the table from a dear friend for a catch-up and a cup of coffee. I hadn’t been out of the house without a kid for any reason except the groceries in weeks and I probably looked like Buddy the Elf when Santa’s visit is announced as I opened the door of my minivan. We chatted for a long time about different situations in our lives. The good things. The hard things. The things we wish were different but don’t know how to change.

As we climbed back into my car at the end of our coffee moment, these simple words seemed to flow out of my mouth without passing through my brain for long: “Gosh, my friend. Having coffee with you is better than therapy! I don’t really need anyone to solve my problems, I just need to be reminded I’m not the only one who has them.”

Can you relate, mayhaps?

So what’s the lesson?

You should absolutely look to Jesus in the midst of the hard places, but remember that He has also given us each other so that we bear one another’s burdens and thus lighten the load.

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During those previously-mentioned days at the Pawn Shop, once I stopped focusing on the things about my circumstances that I didn’t like, I opened my eyes and began to see the people hurting around me. God-given opportunities to pray for other people, to share His love, and to show kindness to the people I encountered each day started popping up.  I even found myself in the home of one of my co-workers, leading her in studying the Bible for the first time. I made plenty of mistakes and totally fell short on countless occasions, but still, God saw my heart and was willing to use the humble efforts I could offer for His glory.

Fast forwarding a decade, I’m back in my hometown, homeschooling two of our four children. While the Tank, our second eldest, gets heaps of playtime throughout the day (since he’s 4), the Bear, being the oldest of the crew, has a pretty decent amount of schoolwork to get through each day before he can call it quits.

He’d rather be playing a game or running around outside or illustrating a story (one of his favorite pastimes is writing and illustrating! Be still my heart!) I love him and wish he could be doing what he wants all the time, too. But, I love him enough to know that the Math lessons, the memory work, the spelling and science and history — these hard things are important for him to become the best version of who he is destined to be. 

Could this be how our Father sees it, too? Could the hard things be important for us to become the best version of who we are destined to be? Our own hardships allow us to recognize hurt in the people around us, enabling us to walk with them through hard seasons. And if we can take our eyes off of our own circumstances and look at the hurting world around us, we might be surprised to find that even if our circumstances don’t change, the way we feel about them just might.

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Even though we live in the same town, every once in a while we find a good reason to pile the kids and the stuff in the car to trek across to my Mom’s house to spend a night or two together there. And a wonderful, funny thing happens each and every time I go. My pace tends to slow down a little. I feel more relaxed and just have a sense that the whirlwind of things that normally keep my mind occupied are going to sort themselves out and it’s all going to be okay. I linger in the shower. I take extra time enjoying my coffee. My pajamas are on early and off late, and I let the kids enjoy themselves and loosen the reins on our usual rules a little.

What is it about being there that makes it such a happy place for me?

I’m 100% sure it’s because I feel loved.

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My Mom definitely has the gift of hospitality, and loves to make things special for us every time we visit. And what her example teaches me is that we gain a sense of self worth when other people make us feel like we matter. When the people around us make efforts to bring us comfort or joy or peace or even just a tummy full of food that makes us happy, the underlying message is truly I’m glad you’re here, and you’re worth caring about. 

Deep down, I wonder if that’s what we all want to know most: that we are loved, and worthy of love.

So, there’s this unexpected way to be surprised by joy in the midst of life at its hardest: Go find somebody to love.

Jesus put it this way:

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. {Luke 6:38}

Lifting up and esteeming other people — taking the time to find somebody to love, and showing love in a way that communicates to them Hey, you matter — can make your life feel like it’s worth living, even in the hardest of seasons. Seeing other people experience joy can so often bring us joy, especially when we know that our actions were the spark of it.

Maybe it’s paying for the order the car behind you placed at the drive-thru, or starting the adventure of sponsoring a child on the other side of the world. Maybe it’s a meal for a stranger in the park or a smile for someone you pass in the street.

Like so many of God’s ways, what seems upside down is the right way up: when we are hurting the most, down in the darkest places, there’s no better time to stretch out our hands and love others.

 

When we want to clench our fist, we’re better off stretching out an open palm.

When we’re aching to just curl up in a ball, we’re better off stretching our arms wide to embrace someone who needs it.

Maybe your year is already off to a tough start, and maybe there are things you’re walking through that a New Year’s Resolution just can’t take care of.

But you can make a resolution to keep showing up, keep loving others, and keep giving.

Go find somebody to love, and you might be surprised to find Jesus and joy right there — and sense afresh how much God loves you.

xCC

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About the Things New Year’s Resolutions Won’t Resolve

If we took a poll, I’d guess on average 10 out of 10 people like the idea of a fresh start. At least 9 out of 10. And the start of the New Year feels like this ginormous blank sheet of paper, laid out before you and divided into 365 separate boxes (366 this year!) and the possibilities for filling those boxes are endless.

The goals pile up: fitness, rest, doing the things that you’ve dreamed of doing, saving up for something big, perhaps giving more… and everyone takes a deep breath and hopes they can stick with this thing or that thing they’re committing to, because at the end of these 366 days, something will be really different if they do.

But, for many of us, there are hard places in our lives right now and some of them won’t be solved with New Year’s resolutions. Sometimes it’s a diagnosis we’re facing. Sometimes it’s wanting to be at home with the kids but the finances won’t allow it. Sometimes it’s wanting to be out and working and you just can’t find anyone to say yes. Sometimes getting married and having kids seems like a dream that will never become a reality.

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For different reasons, it can feel like someone else is holding the reins to your one very precious life — and you just hope and pray and trust that they realize how significant the impact their action or inaction will be for you.

So what do you do when there’s a place in your life that a good ol’ resolution won’t resolve?

How do you move forward when you feel like something or someone is holding the hands on your clock to keep it from ticking on?

Perhaps there are a million different ways to handle being stuck in a Valley of Postponement but I’d like to narrow it down to three simple encouragements for somehow moving forward even when you’re sitting still.

Do What You Can Do

Maybe you can’t make a resolution to change this tough thing you’re waiting to change. As the famous old prayer goes, “God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

Never forget to take a step back and look at what you can do to make a difference in your situation. Maybe you’re hoping for a promotion in the workplace, and that decision firmly rests in someone else’s hands. But are you putting in the effort, aiming to add the value that will earn you that promotion? Are you actively searching for that opportunity you’re hoping for? Rolling up your sleeves to do your part?

When facing challenging situations in the past, in addition to praying and doing my best to listen for that still small voice, I’ve occasionally asked myself a question that almost seems imbecilic: If one of my friends came to me with this problem of mine, what would I tell my friend to do in this situation? And then, I’ve been surprised at how quickly the obvious answer has come, and I’ve laughed at how complicated I’ve made it.

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Be truthful with yourself. Are you listening to the leading of the Lord and giving yourself the best advice, or is a defeatist attitude enabling you to sit back and say “This problem of mine is 100% in somebody else’s hands”?

Put briefly: Pray, AND, Do What You Can Do.

Look For What God Might Be Doing

Once upon a time I was on a beach in South Africa, off for a peaceful walk by myself, puzzled over a worrying whisper of the enemy that had been troubling my heart for a few days. I stared down at the sand as I walked, and suddenly noticed a section of sand that looked like sand but somehow also looked different. I reached down and realized it was a little rock, lying on the sand, perfectly colored and speckled to look just like the coarse and speckled sand that covered that distant shore.

As I held it in my hand and thought for a moment, I heard the Lord whisper, “Just because you can’t see what I’m doing, that doesn’t mean there isn’t something there. It doesn’t mean I’m not at work. I am at work, even though you might not see it.” I’d almost missed that little rock that looked the same as everything around it — but there was something there, a tangible something, indeed.

Have you ever heard The Message version of those simple words from Jesus about not worrying? This shed a whole new light on the idea of trusting and taking it one day at a time for me.

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” {Matthew 6:34, the Message}

Remember that change is still happening, God is still moving, even when you can’t see it or quantify the difference. Today, you are closer to the day when change happens, even if nothing in your life says so, simply because you’ve lived one more day.

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Sometimes we can feel like we’re trapped in a situation, when truthfully we’re much more free than we realize. We can feel like we’re stuck in the mire, when truly, we’re on holy ground, and God is training us with our future in mind.

I worked in a Pawn Shop for a year after finishing my masters’ degree, and it seemed like a valley of postponement because I was dreaming of leaving the country to minister in another part of the world. Once I began to recognize that this was a God-ordained place where my Good Father intended to teach me something new, I started paying attention. Through the challenges, and in a place I never expected, I learned lessons incredibly important for my soul that became very precious to me in the season that followed.

Where we are at this very moment is often much more God-ordained than we’d like to believe.

So. You feel like you’re taking a look at the part your can play in the situation, but maybe you haven’t spotted a speckled rock on the shore of your challenges at the moment. Still, in this hard place, you can choose to keep looking, and even to trust that things are happening that you can’t see.

This is a good day for you to look for what God is doing today.

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this post, so I’m going to hit the pause button and return with a second installment and one more encouragement for how to move forward in places where a New Year’s Resolution just can’t resolve what’s happening for you. I hope you’re encouraged, and I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Look out for part two tomorrow!

xCC