Why We Need Your Story

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Something I really love about life as a human is our ability to tell stories – specifically our own stories. And one of the things that makes me saddest as a human is when our stories are left untold. And since you’ve joined me through many different seasons, I’ll let you in on the one I’m in now.

I’m in a pretty settled season at the moment. Not a slow season by any means, but it feels like life has settled into routine – what I do for work, how I spend my free time, where I live, who I’m close with, my faith, my marriage, my children, my life… the calm after the storm. I’m so thankful for this season and the breath that comes with it. I’m still very busy with all the life things, but it doesn’t feel chaotic and painful like some seasons.

I find myself feeling almost apologetic about that.

I’ve been apologetic about my story many times in my life, for various reasons. I don’t think I’m alone in this. So today, I want to talk about why we hold back and why we need to find ways to put a voice to every season.

One of the obvious reasons we retain our stories is because we think they’re just too messy. We are pretty sure we’re the only ones that could have messed up these ways or have had these things happen to us. But for every story that I’ve finally let tumble out of my mouth as I fumble for right the words, putting sound to the darkness, I’ve found dozens of others who can say, “Me too. I’ve walked that trail, too”. The more I talk about it, the more I realize that I’m not alone, and the more I realize I’m not alone, the more community forms around me to help keep me on track.

When we’re willing to share the ugly pieces of our stories, we open up the opportunity to reach out and have others reach back to us.

Another reason we hold onto our stories is because we feel like they’re just too simple – too boring, too plain. For every thing I’ve done and every mistake I’ve made, there are heaps of things I haven’t done or haven’t been done to me. And when life hits a more settled season, a season where I reap the harvest of the difficult seasons that I’ve fought through, I struggle to be honest about the good times. I don’t want to discourage other people and I don’t know how long the season will last, so I don’t often speak about it.

Can you relate?

The danger now is that we’ve become apologetic about our testimony – the times when we can speak of redemption. Maybe we feel like we teeter on the edge of a cliff, hung in a fine balance, and admitting that things are going well might push us over. Or maybe we’re afraid that we’ll make others feel discouraged and that our joy or excitement will come across in negative ways. We do need to be sensitive to the pain of others when we are sharing our redemption stories, but we still need to speak of our progress.

We still need those stories.

I have walked some really dark trails in my life. If you buy me a cup of coffee some day, I’ll tell you more about it. Some days it helped to have people in my life walking similarly dark trails. But I definitely found surpassing value in the stories of those who had made it through – the stories of triumph and victory, the stories where light finally overcame the darkness, the stories of potential peace and joy that is to be found. I needed those stories. In my darkest days, those stories landed on my soul like water on the desert sand. They gave me hope that I’d eventually find a way out of my own pit. If there was grace to pull them out, surely there would be grace for me, too.

Have you walked dark trails and came to a place of peace? We need to hear those stories. There are masses of us out here hoping that there’s hope for us – hoping that there’s something more. We should never feel apologetic for our pain or our progress. All of our stories have a place. They all deserve to be put into words. Find your words. Speak them with kindness. Be brave.

Peace: The Maintenance and Fruit

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One recent morning, in my quiet time, I came across the well known verse in Psalm 34:14: “Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it.” (NLT) I paused there for a while. Thinking about all of that – about good and evil and peace.

In my experience, there’s plenty of emphasis in the Christian life on the concept of turning from evil and doing good. But what about that second part: “Search for peace, and work to maintain it”?

I thought about the peace (or lack of) in my life. There were entire seasons where peace seemed like just an unattainable theory. Wracked with turmoil, addiction, performance, depression, and emotional upheaval, I’d lost almost all concept of peace.

Then I thought about my life now. I’m sitting here taking deep clear breaths in the morning air. My mind is still. My life, though, is pretty full at the moment – with parenting and working and house-maintaining and all the things that go in between those titles. Needless to say, I sleep so hard at night.

There is busyness, but there is also peace.

I think about the Psalmist and how he threw in that little tag at the end, “work to maintain it”. I’ve found peace before. I haven’t always worked to maintain it.

What does that look like?

For me, peace looks like a thousand tiny choices in a thousand tiny moments. As I’ve said before, life is rarely the giant cataclysmic moments. Instead, life is made up of the daily. What we do in those daily moments determines the whole course of our life.

We need to create space for peace to grow. Sometimes that means letting go of things in my life. Quite often, that means just creating quiet space: negative space, where there aren’t any screens or noise or deadlines – where I can just sit and read and ponder and breathe.

For so long, I let those moments slide. I toyed with the edges, I figured a little bit of murky waters wouldn’t destroy me – but they began to, over time. I’d found peace here and there, but I certainly didn’t work to maintain it. I didn’t hold onto it in the way it needed to be held onto. I didn’t cling to it with all my worth. I would let the tide roll in and roll back out, taking with it some of the best of my sand.

I’m not perfect by any means, but I’ve come so far in this. And when you come far in something, it’s okay to celebrate that.

By now, I have definite boundaries that weren’t in my life previously. Those things don’t hold me back. Instead, they keep me anchored. They keep me at peace in the midst of the roaring storm. They keep me steady even in the calm, so that I don’t drift too far.

At first it was difficult, setting those boundaries. I don’t say that lightly. I mean it was like grinding my teeth and fighting against everything inside me that had drifted. It was blood, sweat, and tears. It was crying through the nights and fighting through the days. It was headaches and swollen eyes. But eventually, it began to pay off.

I think we all need to come to a place at times where we truly believe that God’s design for our lives is what is going to bring us the most fruit – the most love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. When I look at that list, what more could I want? I haven’t been alive very long, but long enough to tell you that what the world seems to offer out there really aren’t the things that are going to make us happy and bring peace.

Peace brings us happiness. But it needs to be maintained. Like a flower, we water it. And it brings us life. And the longer we maintain it and nurture it, the stronger it will grow.

I’ve found so much value in peace – peace of mind, peace of heart, peace of emotions – to not be tormented and conflicted daily with my choices. There is work. But there is peace to be had. And so much of it.

Search for peace, and work to maintain it.

What I Wish Someone Would Have Told Me About Parenting Littles

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Lately I’ve had a few discussions with other moms about the things people tell us in various stages of life, and how those things often don’t exactly help. In fact, many of those things just pile on the guilt that we’re already feeling.

I think back to the stage when I had a toddler and a newborn. Life felt like complete chaos. They were both challenging in different ways. My toddler had a few delays that made his toddler years extra difficult and my infant was colic and wanted to be held constantly. Time felt like it was dragging, like a little slug on a hot day… a slug that possibly fell asleep. Or maybe died. And we would just be here, forever, waiting for it to wake up. My head felt like it was under water. And my eyes like they had too many tears and not enough sleep.

Four years later… my boys are so much more independent now. They basically feed and clothe themselves and come up with their own things to do. At this point, I’m more of a facilitator or referee. We do more activities outside the home. My kiddos were built for adventure and I love that. I’m right there with them.

As I sipped my coffee this morning and watched my youngest flip his water bottle (why is this a thing??), I was flooded with guilt that I should have enjoyed those younger years better. I should have embraced them more, smiled more, taken in the “moments” more, not cleaned the house as much and just kissed my babies all day long. People told me “it’d get better”, and I suppose they were right. But that didn’t help the days when I felt like I was drowning. Some told me to make the most of those days, that the days were long and the years short, to embrace every moment…

Let’s face it, there are certain things that are just not that simple to embrace. Some of us can do it with ease and gratefulness, and some of us struggle with that. The longer I think about it, it seems like the helpful thing to hear in those stages, and in any stage, really, would have been this: Just do your best. Right here, right now.

Hey, if someone told had told me this then, or even today, I’d thank them and possibly offer them a cookie. If your best is putting in headphones for five minutes while the chaos ensues around you so you don’t yell at your kids one more time, then do that. If your best is grinding your own wheat, then do that. If your best is sending your kids to bed at 6:30 because they won’t stop fighting, do that. If your best is structure and home school and crafts, do that. If your best is keeping your house a clean space for your kids’ creativity, do that.

Our “best” looks differently for all of us, even depending on the day or season. Only we know what we’re really good at. But instead of getting wrapped up in what we should or shouldn’t be doing/saying/thinking, what if we asked ourselves what our true strengths were and tapped into those?

Looking back at some of those crazy years, how young I was, how much maturity I lacked, how much personal growth I had coming and didn’t even know it, I now feel a surge of pride instead of guilt. I’m proud that I held it together on those “drowning” days, doing the things that didn’t come naturally for me, getting us through those times, relatively unscathed. I’m proud that I stayed present and available. In that season, that was often the best I had to offer.

And now, dealing with the school things and the preschool things and more things that feel over my head, I tell myself to just do my best. That’s not a cop-out. I’m aware that I’m not just automatically doing my best. Sometimes my best needs to push me out of my comfort zone. I might be the best at preschool snack Pinterest fails. I accept that. But my actual best might be talking about friend problems with my kindergartener and reminding him that he is a great person no matter what. My best might be having worship jam sessions with my preschooler. My best might be bike rides and picnics and not so much the grinding wheat and home-schooling. So be it.

Focus on giving your best and don’t look back. When we look back we forget that we were knee-deep in diapers and we think, “I should have sang to them more” or something like that. You are not Mary Poppins. Or maybe you are. If you are, please sing. If you’re not, do the thing that is your best. Because your kids were given to you. And they like your bests.

 

A Light Has Come

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Every year I write a Christmas piece. I look forward to this part of the season almost as much as my kids look forward to proving to me that they did in fact guess what all their gifts were by shaking them. (In their defense, they have been under the tree since November.) Topics for my Christmas writing have ranged from various aspects such as the stable or the star to the gift of grace or the perspective of the camel (which was my first and is still arguably my favorite).

This year, as I travel through the Christmas season yet again, I am pulled back repeatedly to one single aspect, one that has never quite caught my attention in this magnitude before. I am surrounded by it but I stop and stare far more frequently.

I am captured by light.

At this moment I am surrounded by lights, many small twinkling Christmas lights that glow brightly enough so that no other light is needed. There’s something that stirs and quiets in me all that same time when I stop and take in a sight of beautiful lights. I can’t seem to get enough of them.

I love how John says it:

“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world.” (John 3:19)

I recently watched a depiction of what it must have been like for those receiving visits by angels concerning the coming of the Messiah – Joseph, Zachariah, the shepherds, and so on. While the events following and surrounding the telling of the news were so exciting, the thing that caught my attention and where my mind has stayed is this: the years of silence that preceded these announcements and what that must have been like when it broke.

For hundreds of years, God’s people were walking in silent darkness, wondering if they’d ever hear from God again. I think about the days when I feel like God is silent and the feeling of sorrow that comes over me for just mere days. The world had fallen under this silence for centuries.

Until one day.

It makes me think about the feeling of coming downstairs in the morning and pulling back the blinds to let the light in.

I think about the hungry and searching masses in the world who suddenly were birthed a new hope. I think about that thrill of hope for the weary world – the weary weary world that lost its strength and inspiration. I think about the priests who continued to carry out commands with no response, the prophets whose ears no longer received the words from their Lord, those who continued to look up day after day with no answer.

Until now.

I think back to the time of creation, how there was nothing and God breathed everything – how one of the very first things he did was created light. One of my children asked me tonight if God created darkness. I smiled a little and said, “No, darling, darkness is what exists without light. God created light.”

I like to think what creation must have been like. A light dawns and then several lights, and then billions of them – stars, planets, galaxies, filling the entire universe. I think about our planet spinning in the midst of all of this. I think about what a grand event that must have been, like the grandest fireworks displays and then so much more.

And I picture our earth again, having nearly lost its light, fallen into darkness, with just a few candles of hope flickering in the corners. And suddenly, out of this darkness angels begin to travel across the expanses to appear to weary, ordinary people. They come with lights and songs and promises. And their numbers increase from just single appearances to the great heavenly hosts appearing to the shepherds, just as the stars and galaxies dotted the sky at the dawn of creation. And then, a second dawn appears – the greatest of lights begins to shine in the lowliest of places.

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2)

Can you imagine the relief? The refreshment? The excitement? For those whose hope had lingered on, they would finally see the Light they had waited and hoped and prayed for. And for those living in darkness, they would see a Great Light whether they understood it or not. The darkness was being pulled back like a curtain.

Hope had finally been born. A light had dawned. Love had come.

Why God Allows More Than We Can Handle

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I’ve been thinking about this for a while – this concept that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle. It seems like I’ve been hearing it more, or maybe I’ve just been noticing it more. The end of every year is a reflective time for me. I started thinking about this last year of our lives, how so many storms came all at once, how so many times I was drowning and felt like everything was slipping out of my reach, and I came to this one conclusion:

I don’t think that God gives us more than we can handle, but he sure does allow it.

Let me break it down for you a bit. You see, by this point I’ve gotten a little past the long-standing belief in my life that God gives us hard and terrible things on purpose just to make us stronger.

I watch my boys and I feel my love for them. I realize that life is hard. Very hard. Bad things happen in life, they just do. I don’t cause those things to happen to my boys and I try to shield them from it at every corner. But eventually I need to just step back and watch them take the test and fail once in a while. And sometimes, letting them fall under more than they can handle brings them back to reality and their need for help, no matter how painful it is for us all to watch and experience.

I would definitely stand in front of you and tell you that God has, at times, allowed me to fall under more than I can handle. I don’t think or believe that he “gave” me those things – I think that God is loving and I believe what Paul tells James about God giving good gifts to his children. But as I look in my life, I see God allowing some storms in my life to push me past the point of my abilities.

I can almost see him watching it all happen. He didn’t step back and take a nap. No. He cried when I cried. And he hurt when I hurt. And he held my hand through each and every step. But he did not stop the bad things – at least not all of them. He knew I needed to get swept under by the current that was far too great for me to “handle” for me to emerge with an understanding of greater things than I’d ever dreamed of.

If it were left to me and my physical capabilities, I would not be sitting here writing to you today.

You see, it’s at the very point where our own strength and ability to handle things runs out where we find something that is hidden and greater, something at the bottom of the barrel, something locked away in a reservoir that we’ve never had to tap into before. And that, my dear, is the purpose beneath all the struggle.

The thing that bothers me most about people saying that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle is the belief that God wants us to be able to handle all the things in life – and the underlying assumption that it will all work out somehow. Some things don’t work out. Some things are just awful… But they can be awful chances to grow.

The moments my faith has been refined the most are not the times when I feel powerful and capable and strengthened whether on my own or even by God. No, it has been the times when I’ve been a sobbing crumpled mess on the floor with no way to go further down than I already was. It’s the times when I’ve been so aware of my humanity and my inability to hold life together and make the necessary decisions to bring stability and take the next breath. It’s the times when my optimism, grace, and bravery have all run out and I’m ready to give up…

These are the times when I unravel something greater. These are the moments when I come to grips with the fact that there’s so much more than just “handling” things. There is a beauty that comes when we’re underwater, with our hands open, where we release our grip and let the pieces just crumble and shatter and realize we don’t want or need to handle it anyway and we simply let go – those are the moments that bring us to a point of rawness and clarity that we’ve never known before.

Crisis has this way of shattering away all the of the excess pieces, the things we’ve been handling and managing and keeping together. And when those all crash and burn, we’re left with empty hands and open eyes. And the only thing in front of us in those moments are the eyes of grace, looking at us in all our nakedness and bruises and distraught cries that have run out of words. Those are the moments when we see what we’re actually made of and it looks completely different that what we’re used to. These are the times when we see that grace doesn’t care if we’re handling things, it only cares that we recognize the gift we’ve been given in being able to be loved even at our worst.

There’s this crazy freeing moment when we are able to sit in our filth and the crumbled pieces of our lives and feel loved. I would dare say that is the most powerful shift of all – to be loved at our absolute worst. And darling, that can’t happen if we’re constantly able to handle everything. What a beautiful thing we miss out on.

I’m not saying that crisis is glamorous. I will never say it. Crisis awful and painful and shreds every piece of our being – but what I am saying (and what I will say until I die) is that I’ve found the most wonderful thing underneath it all when I stopped believing that God would somehow pull through in giving me strength to handle things.

I’ve found grace and I’ve found love and I’ve found that both of these extend much further than whether our lives hold together or not. And that is the most beautiful thing of all.

Why I’ve Stopped Fighting So Hard

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I spent a lot of my life truly petrified by my emotions. I didn’t trust them and I was certain they didn’t trust me. I took very seriously the concept of “taking every thought captive”. Whenever I felt myself slipping even the tiniest bit, I forced all my will to re-correct my path.

This worked for a while, for the smaller battles. But as I got older and fought bigger demons, I’ve learned something about fighting: Not everything can be corrected – not instantly and, sometimes, not ever.

Some storms need only to be weathered.

The small phrase that continually saves my life from destruction is: “Do the next right thing.” I used to think this involved doing something good to counteract the bad. But as I stumble my way down the beaten path of life, I realize that sometimes the next right thing is simply being still – letting the storm pass.

Some storms completely wipe us out. We have no strength on our own. And sometimes, I dare say, God only gives us just enough strength to not be drawn down into the deep void of our addictions, depression, emotions, and insanity.

I wear myself out on the battlefield over and over again. Sometimes, it’s because I’m fighting with my own strength. But often it is because I’m fighting when I simply should be standing. I’ve come to peace with the fact that sometimes the bravest thing I can do is to just stand (or sit or lay down) in the place where I am. If I can’t move forward today, it’s okay.

It releases so much pressure – realizing that every moment doesn’t need to involve taking new ground. In some moments, the real victory is simply guarding the ground that we have.

I’ve found myself curling up on my bed for hours, taking long walks alone while I come to peace with my thoughts, standing by the window watching the world and the hours pass by, hoping I’ll eventually feel okay again. Every day that I’m not swept away by the darkness is a day that I count as a victory.

I think we are so hard on ourselves in these times. We are discouraged that we face battles to begin with. We feel so defeated when we don’t overcome or counteract the dark things in our lives. But maybe it’s simply a matter of perspective.

Maybe the real victory isn’t necessarily that we can over come our darkness, but that it has yet to overcome us.

Some days we fight and we take ground and we wave that victory flag with the help of our Savior. And some days we simply stand as the battle rages in and around our frail existence. I’m finally accepting that these victories are essentially becoming equal in my life.

If all you can do today is stand still, you’re in good company. And you are loved.

Why It Matters that You Realize We All Mess Up

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When you’re in the middle of a mistake in life, it feels like you’re the only one who could possibly make that mistake. You feel so stupid – how could you have done this? Other people help you feel this way, too. They help you find a place on your island where you feel like the rest of the world would never mess up like you did. You’re surrounded by the silence of voices who have never told their stories. You’ve never heard from anyone who has messed up like you have. Most people never admit their biggest mistakes.

We alienate ourselves in the moments when we most need companionship.

We feel alone. We feel like everyone is talking about us, looking at us, thinking about our mistakes. But the truth of the matter is – while some are, most aren’t. Most people spend more time thinking about themselves and what they are doing than about us and our mistakes. But it doesn’t feel that way.

It feels like all eyes are on us.

When we feel that way, it’s easy to adopt it as a new identity. We switch into preventative mode – where we spend most of our energy trying to not make that same mistake again.

It’s a shame because we could have great freedom in just recognizing the mistake and moving on from it.

I took up a couple sports hobbies on the side recently. I’m still in between surgeries and not in my best physical shape ever, so it doesn’t seem like the best time. But I realized that I’m excelling at them more than I have in a very long time – maybe more than ever.

The reason? I let myself mess up and I take risks. And when I fail, I try again like it’s my first time.

When you’re on the court and you make an error, it feels like all eyes are on you – like everyone has drawn their breath collectively and cannot believe that you could make that error. You feel like a failure. If you’re like me, you spend the rest of the game trying to not make that same error again. We don’t admit that everyone around us is messing up. We grow timid and careful. We don’t excel. We mostly just try to play in a way that we go unnoticed.

I don’t want to go unnoticed in life.

With a lot of grace and compassion for myself, I’ve reached a point in my life where I can finally admit to myself that I’m not alone on an island. Other people make the same mistakes that I do. Does it make my mistakes better? No. But it doesn’t disqualify me from the game of life. It shouldn’t stop me from going right back out and crushing the ball as hard as I can the next time.

Perhaps one of the greatest lessons in life that I’ve taken with me from these recent years is to have grace for myself even if no one else does. Even if the loudest voices in my life are trying to disqualify me, only I can walk off the court. They are just voices. Voices from a crowd who have all made mistakes, too – whether they’ve admitted it or not.

Keeping getting out there and trying again.

And you know what? There are a lot more of us cheering you on than you’ll ever know.