twelve years strong

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We sat rocking on the porch, a constant cool breeze tinkling the tines of the wind chime hanging nearby and it sounds like a hymn.  A pair of mourning doves cooing over and over in the branches right beside us, near enough to touch, flying back and forth together to their nest.  Over and over, the cooing song.  We drank steaming mugs in the warm sunlight.  And I almost missed it, the significance.  It didn’t settle over my soul until today,  the symbolism of the dove.  A symbol of peace.  Peace, my word for the year.  Peace, the word God has been speaking to me repeatedly in scripture at the outset of 2018.  I came across these words today:

“Mourning doves represent peace of the deepest kind, soothing and quieting our worried or troubled thoughts, enabling us to find renewal in the silence of the mind.”

Did you know mourning doves mate for life, raising their brood together with devotion?  Did you know mourning doves typically symbolize the presence of the Holy Spirit, hope and peace?

What a kindness from God, to remind us that in this season of marriage and parenting which is so busy, strained, loud and tired, that He offers us peace.  There is peace to be had in Him even in the midst of these busy, blessed years.  That He is with us and desires to be more with us.  He has brought us through some very great difficulties in the last 3 years specifically, some things we couldn’t have anticipated walking through.  It’s taken a toll on us in some ways, but in others it has drawn us closer together.  We’ve had a lot of rich discussions about what it means to be a Christian, and we’ve leaned into that conversation in ways that make us both uncomfortable at times.  We’ve had to extend way more grace to one another than we knew we would need, and we’ve seen our own sin and ugliness more clearly.  But, I always recall the words of Eugene Peterson: Our sin is never meant to be the main event, but God’s work on our sin, His work which covers our sin, is the main event.  All of our brokenness has given us a deeper understanding of His love and unfathomable grace.  I feel held by Him and seen by Him.

Brandon and I went away for the weekend, our 12th anniversary weekend, to a cabin in the mountains a couple hours away from home.  We went there last year as well and had such a sweet time we wanted to return.  Our lives are a lot noisier than we could have imagined not that long ago.  Neither of us realized how much quiet we had in our lives before, and how much we need regular doses of it to be able to think clearly and calm.  Brandon even remarked that his job is constant noise, working in remodeling with tools all day long.  We so love this season of raising a family together, but both being introverts does make it very taxing at times, to have so little retreat and rest.  When we’ve gone away to this cabin or make any measure of space for alone time together, we always feel like we’re taking a deep breath after holding it for so long.  It’s necessary, essential somehow to our makeup.  And we remember each other, how much we enjoy being together.

These cabins that we escape to are meant for spiritual retreat.  I’ve gone away to this place before alone for a solo retreat, which was so incredibly healing.  Still, it doesn’t feel wrong to use this place as an anniversary retreat.  It’s something holy, this being married, and we need to remember that.  We need to remember one another, and we need to re-member: to be put back together again after so many of life’s trials and difficulties and distractions pull at us all year long.  We need to do this work before God, in a sacred place, and it is so beautiful and sweet to do so.  These little cabins feel like sacred ground, and every time I have gone I’m afraid God won’t meet me/us there again like He did last time.  But He does.  In that holy hush, He speaks.  There is nothing more that we need to restore and reconnect with one another than first reconnecting to God as individuals, and then seeing each other again with fresh eyes.  We find our way back to God and to one another in the particular and peculiar quiet of creation, drinking deeply of its abundance, and in words and reflection.

 

It felt like it was a huge process getting to the cabins, with a lot of traffic and stops along the way, but when we made it, we got right out into the woods for a few miles of hiking to a gorgeous waterfall.  It made the shift into a quiet weekend more immediate, getting out into the dusky quiet woods, seeing deer, many birds, a ring snake, and the usual squirrels and such.  We lose our sense of being bound to time without children and their schedules and demands, and we just did what we felt like doing rather than keeping an eye on the clock.  When we got back to the cabin from our hike it was dark and we were starving.  In the morning we took our time, lingering long over coffee and books and quiet, then went to the Wataugua River for some fly-fishing.

Our little wren-bird came along and is so sweet.  She was a bit fussier than usual, but still very easy to have along with us and mostly quiet.  I didn’t get as much knitting time as usual because she was in arms more often, but I did a lot of reading.  The cabin had the book by Lauren Winner, Wearing God, that I’ve wanted to read for some time and had forgotten about.  It was fascinating and I read a good chunk of it, and now have it on hold at the library so I can finish it.  I must say, though, it is really one I want to buy and have on hand.

B and I have taken to gifting each other a traditional anniversary gift (using a list like this one here).  Last year was represented by “steel” (and B gave me a steel knitting needle).  This year was linen and silk.  I struggled a bit for what to give him in that category, but had felt prompted to revisit our vows.  Brandon and I wrote our own vows rather than saying traditional vows, which was special.  However, I don’t remember this many years later what it is we wanted to commit to specifically.  I felt like we need our vows to be visible, a regular reminder of what we have purposed and promised.  So I decided to paint our vows on a couple of canvases (linen, sort of?) to hang in our bedroom.  They turned out pretty close to what I imagined and I’m really happy with them.  Brandon appreciates gifts like this, so I think he was happy with them, too.  It took a lot of digging to even find where we had our vows stored away.  Reading over them again sent me in a tailspin of memories.  Oh, to be a new bride with all the naiveté and infatuation!  Yet I can’t help being grateful to be waayy beyond that now, with 12 hard-won years under our belts, and to still love each other a great deal, and a great deal more honestly.

Brandon gifted me with a couple of skeins of yarn (I’m wanting to try a brioche shawl, and am thinking the Marley Shawl by Andrea Mowry), a driftwood Lykke circular needle (I’ve had my eyes on Lykke’s for so long!  I can’t wait to cast something on!), and a new pair of lululemon leggings, which I so desperately need and love.  He said he forgot to check what year 12 represented on the gift list, but I wasn’t complaining.

We also decided to attempt to invest a bit more intentionally in our marriage this year, and came up with a “12 for 12” list, a bucket list of sorts for this year, with 12 dates or things we want to do together before our next anniversary.  We haven’t quite finished the list but we are trying to do some bigger goals and some smaller, more feasible things: run a benefit 5k, go to a concert, mountain bike at Tsali (where I’ve wanted to bike since high school), read a book together (this is actually something we’ve never managed to do!), camp out at a favorite mountain bald, build something for our house together, etc.  I’ll share more about this list as we go, I think.  I’m hoping we continue to make time for it, for each other, for our marriage and investing in FUN together because life can be bleak and exhausting if we don’t intentionally plan in some fun.  If you have any ideas or suggestions for us, let me know and it may make the list! 🙂

It’s true what they say–the older I’ve gotten, the less I feel like I know.  But if I’ve learned a few things about marriage, one nugget is this: it really does get better with time.  Are you in a hard season, friend?  HANG ON.  It gets better.  Are you in a good season?  It gets better!  Of course, there are exceptions to that rule, of course there are circumstances that can end or alter a marriage irreparably.  But in the usual sense, in an ordinary marriage that has seen and survived hard days, I am astounded time and time again how good it can be!  How it can keep getting better, sweeter, richer.  How the time invested and the obstacles overcome seem to give us such a depth of intimacy I couldn’t have imagined.  We’ve seen so much road together, it’s been so unexpected.  No one on earth knows me and my interior like Brandon does.  He holds so many of my secrets, and I his.  So many people say about their spouse, “If I had to do it over, I’d marry you all over again,” and I’ve honestly felt like I don’t know if I can say that.  That sounds horrible, I know, but it’s because I’m such a big chicken and I’d be too dang scared of the hard things we’ve faced together in marriage!  I’d selfishly want to protect myself and probably be a hermit somewhere.  But, oh, what I would have missed out on!  As C. S. Lewis says, “to love at all is to be vulnerable.  Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.  If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal.  Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements.  Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.  But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change.  It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.  To love is to be vulnerable” (The Four Loves).

Don’t be afraid to commit to love.  It is terribly inconvenient and challenging, but there is no greater avenue to experiencing and understanding God than to love another person and give up your life for them, to both receive and extend forgiveness time and time again.  To be made into the image of Christ together with another, as one.  There’s nothing like it.  Many of you know exactly what I mean, right?!

May God root our marriages more deeply in Him.  May He make this year sweeter than all the rest.  May we not be afraid to give ourselves to love, true love which lays down its life for another.  May we find Him in each other and through each other in ways that continually surprise us.  May we never grow weary of the good work of love!  And may He hold us together when we are falling apart.  He is able.

 

remembering

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Brandon and I slipped away for our anniversary weekend (May 12th) to celebrate 11 years.  Friday began with his parents arriving to our home (so thankful to them for their willingness to drive to us and watch the kiddos for the weekend!) and us transferring all the needed info to them, and then we left just before noon.  We decided to stop for lunch in Black Mountain on our way to our cabin in Banner Elk, NC.  We shared a pizza (with gluten in it!  So strange!) which immediately made Brandon’s day.  I had asked if we could stop at my favorite yarn store while there because I had a gift card to spend there.  We went in and Brandon surprised me: he had called ahead and had a gift waiting for me there, and also told me I could buy some yarn.  A “reasonable amount” of yarn, he said.  EEE!  So I bought a couple skeins of speckly hand-dyed yarn, which I’ve been dying to try for awhile now, and I’m planning on knitting a shawl with it.  Brandon also picked out a skein of brilliant blue/purple Wollmeise yarn for a hat for himself.  I am super stoked to try the yarn he picked!  It feels heavenly.  It’s really neat to see him take an interest in yarn with me, even though he’ll probably never knit.  He appreciates the artistry of it, I think, and he had fun picking out something for me to make for him.

From there we drove further up into the mountains, not wanting to arrive at our cabin too late.  I had been to this cabin before on a little solo retreat last fall, but I wanted to share it with B, knowing how much he would enjoy it.  We made a stop to the grocery store before heading up to the cabin.  We brought most of our own food, simple meals without much fuss or prep needed.  It was strange to not have to think about things being “gluten-free” or worry about cross-contamination in a different kitchen.  Our lives have changed so much with Phoebe’s diagnosis almost two years ago.  We have grown accustomed to it and we don’t mind the change at all, but we forget how much easier it is to shop/eat without concern about gluten.  It was a nice mental break for both of us.

There are some really beautiful spots in these North Carolina mountains.  We have seen magnificent mountains when we lived in Colorado so we sometimes dismiss these quiet hills, and then the beauty surprises.  Our little cabin was nestled with a couple of other cabins at the top of a mountain, a quiet haven with the scripture from Matthew 11:28 posted:

 “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

The rain was beginning to fall heavily, we got into our cabin and Brandon unloaded the car.  The cabin smells just like my aunt and uncle’s cottage in  Muskoka, Ontario–a wooden cozy cabin smell.  We lit the candles that were waiting, cracked the windows to hear the rain, turned on the little gas heater, unpacked our few things.  The rain grew into a thunderstorm, and we just sat in the stillness, knitting, reading.

I’m not quite sure why we had the best time, but we did.  Maybe it was just a sweet gift from the Lord, knowing we need refreshing.  Maybe its because we both built some surprises for each other into our weekend.  Maybe it was all the quiet.  B and I both are introverts and I didn’t realize how much we both crave some uninterrupted quiet.  Space to think.  I used to be afraid of being an old couple with nothing more to say to each other, but this anniversary showed me there is a place of comfortable silence.  A silence not because you are weary of each other, but because you rest in other’s presence without always needing to fill it with conversation.  There is a security there.  We know each other.  We love each other.  There is less striving than there used to be.

We also talked a lot about our marriage, where we are now.  We tried to remember every anniversary and which ones were our favorites, which ones were disappointments.  We reminisced about last year and how much we enjoyed our anniversary backpacking trip, but how exhausting it was.  He gave me a card with constellations on it and I laughed because I almost bought the same one for him.  It was our “thing” when we fell in love while working for a backpacking organization.  While we were apart often leading various trips, we would look up at the big dipper at night and know that both of us were looking up at the same cluster of stars in the same sky, and it sort of became “our” constellation.

Our lives have become so much about our children, as they must, but we needed to have some extended time just the two of us to remember each other.  To re-member, as Ann Voskamp would say.  Our remembering our love for each other, our commitment to each other before and beyond having children together–it re-members us, puts us back again, all the broken bits held together again.  We needed to remember that when all else fades into the background and its just the two of us, we still really like each other.

I’m not sure why, but I think we also recovered some kindness.  In all the mounting stress of these little years, the sleepless nights, the endless giving and dealing with interruptions, the financial strain of living on one income, the care-taking of a child whose health goes up and down–we have grown careless with each other.  We have lost some of our common courtesy, some of our simple gentle handling even in the way we talk to each other in response to hurts and offenses.

Have you heard Sara Groves album Fireflies and Songs?  I feel like the whole thing is about marriage in one way or another.  I think of her lyric “Run for your lives, all tenderness is gone in the blink of an eye.”  Isn’t it shocking in marriage how this happens, how the rub of life and the comfortableness with each other can creep in and cause us to loose our tenderness toward one another, the common kindness that we extend to strangers but now can’t muster up for the one we love the most?  We have grown careless with each other, and yet something jarred us awake to the reality that simple kindness and gentleness with one another is worth fighting for.  Better to have it than to fight to be right.

In the morning, we slept in as late as we could.  We enjoyed steaming mugs in a drizzly rain.  We lingered long over books and bibles.  He geared up to go fly fishing–the first time for him in many months.  We spent most of the day on the river nearby, eating a picnic lunch there and staying until we needed to head back to the cabin to make dinner.  The next morning before we drove back home, we went to a different spot on the river and he fished again while I knitted.  It was mother’s day and it felt odd not to be home with my babies, but we enjoyed every minute away together without a hint of guilt.

I remember hearing someone share that the secret to their lasting marriage was falling in love over and over again, and I didn’t quite understand it at the time, but I think I do now.  I think it was the first time in our 11 years together that I felt like I was falling in love again, seeing Brandon with renewed eyes.  Yet it’s not the superficial, young and untried love of a newlywed.  It is love reignited, love that has withstood some hard tests and storms and still remains, steady and strong.

It wasn’t a fancy trip, we didn’t travel far.  We didn’t spend much and we didn’t do much. But somehow in the mystery of the simplicity, God blessed us with renewed love for one another.  With hope for a bright future.  With the comfort of His presence and the comfort of each other, all we have walked together.  All the intimacy between us, the secrets only we know: the darkest valleys, the sweetest victories.  All these miles traveled together, whether good or bad.  Hand in hand, with eyes fixed on our Prize, helping each other make it to the end, saying to one another as we go: I still see you.  I still love you.

Really we don’t need much
Just strength to believe
There’s honey in the rock,
There’s more than we see
In these patches of joy
These stretches of sorrow
There’s enough for today
There will be enough tomorrow.
Sara Groves, Enough

hiking the blacks

We shoulder packs in the rain, resisting those first sensations of getting wet, eventually surrendering to the inevitability.  We are getting our feet under us again.  We find a campsite near the road, just a quarter mile from the car, an old familiar spot from our college backpacking days.  We begin to set up our tent — always strange, this need to find shelter and make home wherever we are, especially in the wild lonely of the wilderness in the rain and growing dark.  No one else is here, the fog settles heavy over the parkway, the last lingering cars making their way home to the city below the clouds.  Good, let them go.

We are in good spirits because we know an adventure is ahead, whatever may happen, and we are in need of a little adventure.  A little unpredictable.  We soon find we cannot get a fire going, can’t even get a light for our stove.  The prospect of a cold meal on top of being now near-hypothermic and wet is dampening.  Our pride is a bit wounded — such things used to be second-nature, and now we find ourselves fumbling and making amateur mistakes.

But the wilderness is no place for the proud.

We swallow it, leave our campsite in tact and head the quarter mile back to the car, warming up there and cooking on the ground outside our car door.  The rain beats relentless, we peel off soaked layers and lament that we didn’t bring a few more backup layers, while we wait for our first sacred meal.  It’s amazing the hunger that comes over you in the wilderness.  The unexpected exertion, the cold, the yawning expanse, it stirs up something in us.  We laugh and talk about how happy we are, despite all that’s already gone wrong.  This is still fun.  If we’ve learned anything in ten years of marriage, we’ve learned that things will go wrong, and that you can either ride it out with some measure of joy in tact, or you can let it sink you.  The windows are fully steamed over now.  A wet night backpacking together somehow still feels like a vacation to parents of three children ages five and under.  Any time you retreat into the wilderness and come back alive, no matter what the circumstances or foolhardy mistakes made, is still a success of some kind, we say.

Back to our dark little wet tent we go, hurrying inside, listening now to the sounds of the dripping forest.  Just the pattering of rain now, no wind.  I am anxious — I am unpracticed at being out here in this environment again, and it takes time to give way to sleep.  I’m listening for bears, or some footfall, I suppose.

At first light we get up and get moving.  We left our food in the car, not wanting to deal with hanging a bear bag in the raining dark, knowing we would be driving to the next stop anyway.  We pack up quickly, and see some promising first rays of sun.  We expect the mist to burn off and hope to dry out our layers soon.

We debate now about whether or not we should head out to our next campsite, 4 1/2 miles away, or just keep car camping for the weekend.  It feels more uncertain now, and a lot more effort than it may be worth.  We brew coffee and oatmeal again by the car in the spitting rain and wind as we discuss and try to check the radio for the weather.  Brandon is resolute, I am questioning.  We decide to go for it, register our car at the top of Mt. Mitchell, streamline our packs and reorganize from our helter-skelter night, and head out.  It takes us four hours to hike those miles.  We forgot how strenuous this ridge line hike is.  We last hiked this range when we co-led a 21-day wilderness trip in our early years of marriage, and when thinking about how we wanted to celebrate our tenth anniversary this year, we thought of hiking the Blacks.  Six of the ten highest peaks in the eastern US are found on the Black Mountain range, four of which we would hike up and down during this trip.  Down from Mt. Mitchell, up to Mt. Craig, then onto Big Tom, Balsam Cone, Cattail Peak, Potato Hill, and finally a steep descent downhill to Deep Gap.  Our packs are heavier than necessary, we decided to forego lightweight in favor of having a few choice luxuries: a tent, coffee, books and journals, some knitting, fancier meals.  Brandon ended up carrying most of the weight, being my pack was smaller.

We make it into camp around 2 pm, fighting spits of rain and wind off and on all day.  We never seemed to break out of the clouds for very long, but had gorgeous views at different points on the hike this day.  I had wanted to go onto Winter Star Mountain originally and make camp there, but we are completely spent and Brandon tells me in no uncertain terms that this is the farthest we will go today.  We feel at home in this little spot on Deep Gap, and something in us relaxes and quiets and unwinds in a way that only the wilderness seems to do in us.  We chatter on here and there, but now we get busy with the work of shelter, fire, finding water, scouting around.  We nestle our tent under the three great spruces that line the campsite, their windward sides all blown naked.  We are very desperate and hopeful for a fire tonight, and labor for a good few hours getting it started and going in the increasing wind with all the wood soaked.  Still, it is not raining now, and we finally get camp settled.  I am reading, Brandon is nursing the fire.  It is silent out here.  It is vast.  It feels terribly good to only have to care for ourselves and tend to our essential needs, when most of our hours are spent caring for and watching over three little ones and their constant needs.  It feels like a necessary fast, a spiritual act of ceasing from the work of care taking.  Out here we don’t have to think about who needs a diaper change or a snack, who needs a book read or hurt feelings consoled.  (A special thanks, by the way, to Brandon’s parents for affording us this peace of mind while keeping our little ones happy and well-engaged!)

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Life for us has become domesticated where it was once wild.  We’ve forgotten the ways of the wilderness — the immensity that overtakes you and silences all human bravado.  A quiet that is almost deafening after so much noise.  The swallowing reality that you are not in control here — this is not your domain, this world belongs to the wild things, you are merely a visitor here.  You cannot control outcomes, you can only respond to what the natural world presents.  You are limited here, limited by resources, energy, the natural bounds of night and day, by weather, conditions.  Very little is sure.

The tenth anniversary is supposedly the “tin” anniversary, representing both the durability and flexibility of your marriage, and so B and I clinked our tin camping cups over steaming Tikka Masala with chicken.  It is one of the most satisfying backcountry meals I can remember having.  We tell some stories, remember some other wilderness moments when meals ministered to more than just our bodies.

A couple of guys hiked in just before evening, we chat with them around our fire for a bit.  They are two marine friends stationed in another part of NC, and they drove six hours to camp out at this spot, craving the wilderness as we were.  The wind is howling now and we finish off our hot chocolates, then pack up the last of our food into bear bags, head off to our bear hang, just two beams of light bouncing in the dark.  Back in our tent, we zip our bags together and whisper thanks for the warmth and our few dry clothes.  We hope for a sunny, lazy morning with another campfire and coffee.

I sleep at peace this night, happy in the wilderness, though the winds now whip the tent mercilessly and the rain assaults the west-facing side of the tent in regular surges, like an ocean wave hitting again and again.  I wake up again and again, as the tent sides bowl over with the wind, praying for our marine neighbors who were sleeping in hammocks in a grove of trees nearby.  Somehow it doesn’t seem awkward now to invite them into our tent if they are out there in the elements freezing.  The wilderness will do that to you, break down the usual barriers and make you pull together when necessary.

We wake in the morning expecting for the calm that usually comes with the sunrise, but it is as wild as ever.  There will be no fire and no sunshine and lollygagging today.  We cook quickly in our vestibule, pack up, and head for home.  Our bodies are sore and blistered and the road ahead seems longer than our strength.  But we begin, as we must.

I am watching this husband of mine and I can’t help thinking how much this trip is like marriage.  You make these plans and you have all these dreams, you imagine all the sunshine and the sprawling in a hammock by a gurgling stream.  But here you are taking one laborious step after another under a load far heavier than you could have expected.  Here you are keeping pace with another while fog closes you in on all sides, erasing the trail ahead of and behind you, obscuring all sense of perspective.  Here you are, helping each other as you rise and to fall in the muck and mire over crest and trough while the rain pelts and the wind howls.  You didn’t think it would be like this, you didn’t think it would be this hard, this much of a fight.  Is everything against us?  And all the while you are lamenting this rain and fog, you cannot see that you are hidden in the cloud He has spread over you.  You forget that sometimes He makes the clouds His chariots and walks on the wings of the wind.  You forget that many waters cannot quench love, and that He comes to you like the rain.  In all this raining and all this wet, I remember again His words to me at the crown of the year, and my soul smiles.  Yes, He reigns supreme over the rising waters.

I am watching this husband of mine carrying an incredible load, carrying all his own gear plus the tent, cooking gear, bear rope, water pump, med kit, etc.  He bears the brunt of the burden.  He does this for me.  He cares for me, he is protective for me in a way I don’t often notice at home in our usual life.  Even after all these years, all these careless and hurtful words between us in our uglier moments, he hasn’t grown callous with me.  He is still tender toward me.  He asks if I’m doing okay, he asks about my bum knee, he reaches out a hand on the steeper sections, he lends me his dry clothes.  He will give me anything he can to keep me safe.  He offers to do most of the work so I can relax and read.  At the end of it all, he rubs my back in the dark.  This man is neither saint nor villain, though I often try to pin him as one or the other.  He is both, as we all are; imperfect, a mixture of grand failure and peculiar glory.  I spent so much time in our early years “looking for the music in the music box, tearing it to pieces, trying to find a song” instead of opening my hands to receive this mystery of a man, giving thanks for what is and isn’t there as unto a good God who knows best.  Finally I’m seeing that that’s where the fireflies are.

Even after all these years, when we strip away the noise, and the busy, and all the responsibility, we find that there is still love left here.  It’s beautiful, the way we move back into this space of being just us two.  It is a whisper to us of seasons that are to come, where our rhythms and our busy will change, but for now we stretch thin and strain hard.  For now we share weary smiles and winks over early morning coffee and children with tousled hair clambering all over us.  We cannot believe the goodness of the life we have been given in these past ten years.  We look ahead with confidence because of the faithfulness of our God.  When we pass through the waters, He will be with us.

uncommon grace

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Sometimes we grow restless and we chaff and squirm against what has grown common to us.  Sometimes we rebel against our boundaries and we ache for other borders.  We beg for a change of scenery, for fresh springs.  This wasn’t the land of our choosing, or so we thought.  Sometimes in our leaving and ultimately in our returning we find again why we loved these mountains in the first place.  Maybe one of our greatest sins is that we grow accustomed to glory and call it common.

And then we find our way back, our way home again and we remember: these mountains hold all our stories.

Look, over there!  That was the place where we first met.  There was the river where we had that boating trip.    Over there is where you proposed to me.  That valley is where we fell in love.  We hiked that ridge on our first 21-day course together.  I grew up picnicking over that hill.

These mountains hold our stories, memories, like markers.  Reminding us, rooting us back in the greater story, God’s story, the over-arching story of His kindness to us, His faithfulness to us, His sovereignty over us.  These mountains that we buck against like enemies are strong friends rising up all around proclaiming, “He is good!  He is loving!  He was enough!  He will be enough again.”

We can go on striving and tearing up the soil looking for something to grow, or we can surrender to what the Lord has done and is doing, looking instead for what is here, finding what is praiseworthy, finding all the gifts already around us.  We can go on striving, or we can be satisfied now because He is with us in this land that sometimes feel small and cramped.

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
    you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

Psalm 16:5-6

 

(Planning to have a longer post up tomorrow with more about last weekend’s backpacking trip!  Stay tuned!)

preparations

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This blog post was supposed to go up last Friday, but we were so busy with preparations that it didn’t make it.  For the last number of weeks, Brandon and I have been planning a weekend backpacking trip alone together without kids to celebrate our tenth anniversary earlier this month.  We originally met working together in a backpacking program leading trips, and we have led many trips together, but never, even after all these years, have we gone backpacking alone together just for fun without some sort of programming involved.

Our life has grown so domesticated in these child-rearing years.  Most of my life is spent within the walls of our sweet home, and I love it immensely!  But it can feel terribly tame sometimes, and I can be lulled into complacency by the false perception of control that a domestic life engenders.  I can stay up late knitting by the light of a lamp or reading well into the early morning hours of the night.  I can turn on a tap for water, and throw dirty clothes in a machine.  I can have access to all the information I need or want at the drop of a hat via my phone, which is usually within a few feet of me at all times, or via the computer.  I can check the week’s weather forecast and the local grocery stores current sales and plan meals accordingly.  It enables me to run a tight ship when I want to and to feel on top of what I perceive needs to be done.

My days didn’t used to be so tidy.  The wilderness was so much a part of the structure of my days (being an Outdoor Education major in college) pretty much since high school, and it felt like second nature in my college days to read maps, know how to pack a light pack with bare minimums, to know the necessary knots, how to read the weather via the sky, etc.  I lived a life more dependent on the circumstances and conditions of nature that I cannot control.

I remember, too, how Brandon and I were when we led trips together.  The rhythm we found ourselves in, the way we worked like a well-oiled machine, the way he gently led and taught, and I supported and followed.  It’s how we fell in love.  Somehow in all the rat-race and the complete depletion that parenting can do to a couple, we’ve lost some of that.  We don’t have much financially to do anything really extravagant for this year’s big anniversary, though we dreamed of all sorts of ways we wish we could spend it.  What we both were craving was just a getaway, our first time away from the kids for a full weekend, and to be able to do it for next to nothing cost-wise.  I suggested backpacking, and the wheels began turning.  We wanted to hike this ridgeline, starting at the highest peak east of the Mississippi, that we hiked during a 21-day backpacking course we led in our early days of marriage.  We called it “the blacks” then, the Black Mountain range, and it is absolutely one of the most stunning areas in our NC mountains.  We had to sort of fly over this ridge during that 21-day course, and I was aching to be back there and camp on it, explore, and linger.

Most of last week was spent making last-minute preparations for the trip.  Brandon’s parents were happily willing to come and watch our three little ones for the weekend, which is a lot to take on!  Three kids ages five and under, two in diapers, and one with special dietary needs is not a joke!  So we were super stoked and grateful.

It was so fun pulling out our old now-ghetto backpacking equipment, checking everything and prepping everything, making lists and meal plans and looking at routes.  We wanted as luxury of a backpacking trip as we could have, while still being able to fit it all on our backs.  The process of planning and anticipating it was so fun, somehow breathing some new life into our marriage.  Having something to talk about other than battling insurance companies, bills and financial strain, tactics for dealing with children’s behaviors, petty arguments over who will take care of what, and so forth was really fun.  Having something to plan and orchestrate together beyond our usual lives, something that was just for us and by us, was relaxing and exciting.  We were hungry for the time and space to reconnect with each other.  We were hungry to experience God.

Friday afternoon, Brandon’s parents arrived and we packed up and headed out.  We arrived at the top of Mt. Mitchell in a full on blustery mist and drizzle, which developed into a full-on downpour.  Somehow, even though it wasn’t quite what we were imagining, we were ready for whatever the wilderness wanted to give us, ready to leave behind for a couple of days our tidy lives for a bit of adventure.  Phone off and camera left in the car, backpacks shouldered with grunts and moans, and we were off.

“He split the rocks in the wilderness,
And gave them drink in abundance like the depths.”
Psalm 78:15

He speaks grace

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We pull close to each other in the dark, in our usual way.  Legs and arms in a tangle, my head on his warm chest.  The hushed sounds of a sleeping home.  His breath is slowing as he drifts.  I am pressed heavy with the weight of a parenting failure.  I know I won’t sleep unless I confess to him.  The words creak out slowly.  He listens.  The tears come in a hot rush, the wracking sobs.  He holds.  He strokes my hair.

He speaks grace.  He speaks grace.

He tells me it is wrong, but that it is okay.  He forgives me.  He tells me the Gospel.  In my desperate fear that I will never overcome this, I will always keep floundering and failing in this area of weakness, that I will keep spiraling farther + farther down, he silences me.  He reminds me that the strength I have to obey comes from God who gladly gives me all that I need for life + godliness. He calls out the attack of the enemy on our family.  He commiserates with my weakness.  He, too, knows what it’s like to fail in this way.  He tells me the plan for the weekend, the plan in place to protect ourselves from falling into this ditch again.  We will take it a step at a time, he says.  We will do this together.  He loves me, even now.  Even as ugly as I am.  Even when I hate myself.  He loves me.  He holds me.  He doesn’t push away, he doesn’t hesitate to stay with me and to keep loving me.  He prays over me, he prays for me, he prays for us both.  He kisses me.

This is the beauty of marriage.  He can drive me crazy with how he leaves scraps of paper everywhere, how he leaves the laundry piled, how he forgets, how he moves so slowly.  I can drive him crazy with the disorganized refrigerator, my slow morning starts, my managing.  But in the dark of night–he is there for me like no one else.  He loves me at my absolute worst and my ugliest.  He doesn’t just love me at arms reach–he pulls me close.  He accepts me.

This is grace.  This is the Gospel.  This is the unfathomable gift found in an imperfect marriage between two ordinary sinners-turned-saints.  Christ in us, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27).

This is the uncanny, inexplicable love that Jesus demonstrated for us when He gave up His life for us while we were yet sinners.  While we were still sinning, utterly undeserving.  He loved.  He bled. He gave.

I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God;
Incline your ear to me; hear my words.
Wondrously show your steadfast love,
O Savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand.
Keep me as the apple of your eye;
Hide me in the shadow of your wings,
From the wicked who do me violence,
My deadly enemies who surround me.
{Psalm 17:6-9}

In the Name of Love

“I’d rather not talk about homosexuality again. But the world hasn’t stopped talking about it. And the Bible hasn’t stopped saying what it has always said. So let’s not be shrill and let’s not be silent.” (Kevin DeYoung)

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Yesterday was a heavy day, and I’m deeply grieved over the Supreme Court ruling.  Though I am not surprised, I am still grieved.  I am grieved because even though we can expect an unbelieving world to act unbelievingly, it is still wrong.  It is still grievous sin.  Even though we can expect unregenerate man to reject God’s ways and love their own, even when we are unsurprised at such things because we ourselves have great familiarity with our own desperately sinful natures, we are still grieved.  We who profess Christ, of all people, know that to choose to sin brings suffering.

The night before the Supreme Court ruling, our small group gathered and happened to watch an old David Platt Secret Church series on Family, Marriage, Sex + the Gospel and these two quotes from great former thinkers in the Church stood out starkly to me:

“If I profess with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that point at which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ.  Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the solider is proved.  And to be steady on all the battlefield [elsewhere] is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”
{Martin Luther}

“We must ask ourselves where we as evangelicals have been in the battle for truth and morality in our culture.  Have we as evangelicals been on the front lines contending for our faith and confronting the moral breakdown over the last forty to sixty years?  Most of the evangelical world has not been active in the battle or even been able to see that we are in a battle.  The last sixty years have given birth to a moral disaster, and what have we done?  Sadly, we must say that the evangelical world has been part of the disaster.  More than this, the evangelical response itself has been a disaster.  Where is the clear voice speaking to the crucial issues of the day with distinctively Christian biblical answers?  With tears we must say it is not there, and a large segment of the evangelical world has become seduced by the world’s spirit of this present age.  More than this, we can expect the future to be a further disaster if the evangelical world does not take a stand for biblical truth and morality in the full spectrum of life.”
{Francis Schaeffer, written in the mid 20th century}

Typically in my writing, I stay away from political hot topics like the plague.  I cannot and do not respect others in our social-media-saturated culture who capitalize on every political moment in order to be heard and have a moment in the spotlight.  I do not write this post in an effort to troll for blog views.  I am not even for a second deluded into thinking this will gain me any popularity.  But fresh conviction fell on me upon hearing those two quotes above the other evening.  In most cases, I tend to stay silent because I don’t want to draw argument, conflict, or hatred.  In most cases, I stay silent out of an effort to stay safe.  Today, I am mourning that greatly.  I have to confess I haven’t done my part to fight against same-sex marriage being legalized in our nation.  I don’t hope to correct that now, only to start standing for biblical truth in these extremely important as well as controversial matters.

The Gospel writer, Matthew, recorded these words of Jesus to His followers:

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.  You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”  (Matthew 5:13-16)

I have often heard the argument coming from fellow Christians that we need not really engage in this fight for the legalization of same-sex marriage because well, of course non-believers are going to act in such a manner.  How can we expect to impose our Christian values and beliefs on people who do not know Jesus and do not desire Him?  We don’t live in a theocracy.  There’s separation of church + state.  While I agree in some measure with this, I am niggled by the words of Jesus above. What, then, does it mean to be salt?  Doesn’t salt have a preservative quality?  Are we not called in our day to be the very presence of Jesus amongst our people, to fight to preserve God’s design in every way we can?  Do we just throw up our hands in defeat because someone doesn’t believe the same way we do?  How would we apply this same attitude (of apathy + defeatism) to a different issue, say, abortion?  Racism?  Gluttony?  Sex-Trafficking of children?  Lying?  Simply because the sin exists, simply because there is a fraction of humanity that wants to condone it and say “live + let live, who am I to tell another what to do?” does not mean we stand by on those issues and stay insulated in our church buildings.  We are not surprised by the evil running rampant in the world around us.  We are grieved, but we do not despair.  We keep running the race, fighting the good fight, as the Apostle Paul says.  And what is the good fight?  In context of that passage, it is the fight to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.  While we wage war against the powers of darkness in our day, we do so with integrity.  With great love.  With steadfastness.  With humility, for pete’s sake.  With gentleness.  With passion and persuasion.  We don’t just allow evil to run wild in our day.  We stand firm against it, fighting to preserve not our ideas and notions that our country is a Christian nation (it is not), but fighting to preserve God’s design for mankind.

We’ve all seen the hashtag attached to the celebration of this legal decision: #LoveWins.  Love wins.

What is love?  Is it just feelings for a person?  Strong attachment?  Sexual desire?  Those things obviously exist in some forms of love, but is that all that love is?  I would argue that love is also this: always doing what is in the best interest of the beloved, never doing what injures the beloved.  When I love my children, I do what is in the ultimate best interest for them, often at great cost to myself, often sacrificially.  As it pertains to the issue of homosexuality, according to the Bible (which is God’s inspired message to mankind) homosexuality is wrong, it is sin (Lev. 18:2220:13Rom. 1:18-321 Cor. 6:91 Tim. 1:10Jude 7).  God designed man and as the Creator, He holds the blueprint for how man is best designed to function.  In a similar (yet not completely same) way, parents give birth to a child and know what is best for the child.  They are older, wiser.  In a normal context, they approach the child in profound love.  All decisions they make for that child stem from a place of love.  The child may want to do harmful and destructive things, but the parent’s job is to restrain and correct and train the child.  The child thinks he knows best for himself.  If it were up to him, he would choose to never nap, to eat sugary cookies all day long, to run wild into the busy street.  (I mean, have you spent any time around children?)  They are precious, but they are also precocious.  They are sweet but no one can argue that they are saints.  They have immature desires because they are small and young and do not understand the bigger picture.  They also have sinful desires simply because they are born with a sinful nature.  They don’t understand that their small bodies cannot function well or grow well by eating a diet of sugar cookies and chocolate milk.  They can’t understand that sometimes they need a good nap to feel better.  That’s why as parents we step in and make decisions for them, in their best interest.  In the immediate moment, it is difficult even for the parent who so wants to always please the child and make them happy.  But in the ultimate sense, the parent knows the child needs safety, good nutrition, structure, and loving care.

Similarly but in a far superior way, God created mankind and He alone knows how best we function.  He knows that sin feels so good to us in the immediate, but that it will always, always lead to destruction: ours and others.  He desires to protect us from that.  And so His law is for our good.  Always, for our best.  Always, it is in our best interest.  Always, it is in the best interest of the corporate community, the culture as a whole.

Because this is the way God loves us, it is the charge that Christians have as we operate in a world that does not recognize God or desire Him.  We don’t flinch, we don’t hold back in the name of tolerance or “love,” we lovingly fight for God’s best for all mankind.

We stand against homosexuality as a sin (as well as every other sin) because it is not in the best interest of any human being to operate outside of the bounds of God’s design.  We stand against it, lovingly, with compassion + humility, because the victims of this landmark Supreme Court decision will be our children.  They will never remember a world in which same-sex marriage was not normalized or legal, as opposed to God’s design for marriage which is between one man and one woman (Gen. 1:27-282:18-25Mal. 2:15Matt. 19:4-6Mark 10:6-9).  They will grow up in a world where they are told “whatever you want, however you want, you can have it.  It’s okay.”  If we are biblical Christians, we know this is not true.  That statement is a lie and will lead to great pain for our children.

What we must be telling our children is that there is a way.  There is one way.  It is narrow.  It is unpopular.  It will draw hatred.  It will draw false-accusation.  It will be uncomfortable.  It will require laying down your life and picking up the cross of Jesus.  But this is the way to life.  This is the way to joy, healing, freedom, forgiveness.

“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”  (Matt. 16:24-26)

What we must do is fight against the oppression of mankind at every turn.  When Jesus was walking on the earth, He said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).  When Jesus arrived, the kingdom of God came to earth.  It arrived, His reign began and will be fulfilled at His second coming.  Part of what I have been studying all year long is what the Christian’s role is in “kingdom work” as we live and move and breathe in our world.  I certainly am not close to having all the answers on what that looks like, but I do firmly believe that part of our kingdom work is preserving God’s design for the world and for mankind, restoring what is broken, and applying the redemption of Christ to all realms of the created order.

So, how do we do that now?  That’s a post for another day but I think we have to work at it faithfully in every avenue, whether social or private, political or in the church.  We engage in the conversation.  We mourn over the decision of our nation, and we work for reform, while we remain firm and steadfast in loving others, preaching the Gospel unflinchingly in the face of persecution.  We teach our children and train them in truth and in defending the faith.  We teach our children and train them in love, compassion, reaching out to those who make themselves our enemies.

Yes, love wins.  God is love, it is His name.  He has won, He will win, His love will always win.  Our way is never the way of hatred, but it is to stand firmly and with resolve against whatever causes harm, whatever injures.  Whatever desecrates, whatever detracts.  His love won me when He sent His Son to die for me even while I was yet a sinner (Rom. 5:8).

I remain hopeful and at rest in the awesome security of God’s sovereignty over even this grievous action.

 

Related reads that I have found encouraging and helpful:

But What Does the Bible Say? by Kevin DeYoung

So-Called Same-Sex Marriage by John Piper

 

Go on wild adventures

I see my dusty, rusty mountain bike lying forlornly in our garage. It’s crammed behind things like double strollers, a dishwasher we’re trying to sell, a radio flyer wagon + tricycles.

It reminds me of former days.

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Days when we had dogs instead of kids.
When we had freedom + spontaneity instead of nap + nursing schedules.
Days when we didn’t have to schedule a babysitter to go on a run or a bike together.
Weekends that were spent entirely outdoors on a snowboard or a bike, looking long into the sunset.. instead of weekends rummaging through massive consignment sales and looking long at piles of laundry.

And yes, Brandon had long hair:

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I don’t mean to be too nostalgic.. but let’s face it, I’m a nostalgic type.  When we were first married we were fools and moved across the country to Colorado and had the best adventure ever.  Just a newly-wed couple on an adventure together.  I introduced Brandon to my favorite mountains and got to teach him how to snowboard.  We hoped to settle down out there (idiots), but God led us back east not too long later.  I’ve often regretted those years, wishing we had been practical, gone and gotten our graduate degrees, saved up for a downpayment for a home (still working on that one).

But, listen.  You can’t buy the memories we made.  And now that we have three little minis running around??  Let me tell you it will probably be awhile before we get a season like that in our marriage again.  It was a blast.  It was the gnarliest test of faith for us in SO many ways.  We went out there without a clue where we would live or work.  We drove a gorgeous dreamy Land Rover across the country and had car problems along the way, toting a heavy trailer with all our (scant) earthly goods behind us.  We (read: I) journaled and cried and prayed the whole two (or was it three?) days of traveling. We showed up in Breckenridge, Colorado, my old haunts, and reached out to the body of Christ there and promptly were given a place to stay temporarily till we found a rental.

I cannot tell you all the fun and adventures and heart ache we had in those many months.  How God shaped us in so many ways as a couple.  It wasn’t all fun at the time, but looking back, it was GREAT fun and I’m so glad we did it.

So.. to you younger girls, maybe to you newly-weds, here’s what I have to say:  Go have an adventure with your spouse, if you can.  While you’re young.  While you have a little time to waste.  Don’t be afraid of making impractical decisions, sometimes.  Our investment in those early years into having fun together and taking risks together has VASTLY paid off in these years where we are a little more tethered to home and to the mundane.  It is a storehouse, a treasure-house of memories and laughter for us.  AND it is motivation for us to continue to pursue what we love together and to dream about a future where we can set off on those kinds of adventures again.

Don’t get me wrong.  We fasted, prayed, sought counsel.  That move was BATHED forward and backward in Scripture and prayer.  So don’t get me wrong: Be led of God.  PRAY about it.  We did, and we were convinced it was what the Lord was calling us to do.  At the time, I couldn’t make sense of it.  At the time, I thought unless we were heading off overseas for missions, it couldn’t possibly be God’s will.  I had no idea that in order for God to prepare us for some of the seasons we are facing now (and, I’m confident, that we will face in the future in the long haul and crazy faith-walk of raising a family together) He needed to take us through some of the faith-tests we experienced there.  In a lot of ways we flopped and flailed on that journey of faith, we were hurt and we hurt others.. But even that has not gone to waste.  We have learned so much about loving better.  If I’m honest, I’m only now starting to make sense of some of what we experienced during that time. I’m only starting to realize God’s infinite wisdom in using what is foolish is man’s sight to accomplish what is mighty in God’s.

It wasn’t practical.  Many of our friends went on to grad school and to secure jobs, many of them have homes they own while Brandon and I are still working toward that goal.  And I don’t think they made a poor choice and we made a better one.  We simply have to trust God’s process with each of us to be unique and different.  But I can tell you, in a culture that is wildly practical and tells you to be sure you take all the proper and wise steps (yes, even the Christian culture is guilty of this at times) and only calculated risks, you may not be hearing many voices that are telling you to trust God.  To not live in fear of making some missteps along the way.  To be wise, to seek counsel, yes, but not to be afraid to take wild risks.  To trust God’s leadership when so many are criticizing.  To be brave in pursuing God’s voice as the ultimate source of authority in Your life.  To not be afraid to be a pioneer.

Maybe for you that means pursuing going overseas when family is telling you it’s too dangerous.  Maybe it means looking into that start-up.  Maybe it means going back to school.  Maybe it means trying for a baby when you don’t have all the finances worked out yet.

Don’t get me wrong:  I’m not talking about just doing whatever you want and calling it God’s will.  I’m talking about that thing you may know deep in your soul that He’s beckoning you to do, but you are pushing down because the practical voices and the fear of stepping out are telling you to resist.

The wildest adventure you can ever go on is the adventure into God’s will.  The adventure of trusting Him entirely with your life.  Your finances, your education, your location, your future.  It is the scariest, most foolhardy, most hilariously terrifying and exhilarating adventure.  He is NOT boring, my friend.  Walking in obedience to Him has been the wildest ride and craziest joy of my LIFE.

The reality is, all of our journey with Jesus is just one wild adventure after another.  Some are more fun than others, some are painful and dang hard.  DANG hard.  Parenthood is the next big adventure we’re entering into.  But now, Brandon and I know each other, we know how we handle the unknown.  We learned in that early season of marriage how we each handle adventure and risk and unknown.  We fell in love leading adventures together for a backpacking organization, for pete’s sake.  God built so much into our hearts and marriage in that season where the adventure was FUN and the risks were relatively small in comparison.

And one day, we will decline and our strength will fail and we will enter the face great adventure, death.  And then we will just be carried right into His presence.  I mean, come on!  What greater joy than to know that all of our earthly experience has great purpose, is leading us onward toward Home, and is going to culminate in seeing HIM.

I adore Him so much because He is so much fun.  He loves to give us good gifts.  He calls us to seasons of walking through darkness and deep valleys.  He beckons us out into spacious places where are souls breathe huge.  He leads us in ways we cannot quite fabricate.  I promise you, He is so much the better boss of our lives than we could ever hope to be.

Trust Him.  Lean in.  Listen.  Obey.

It’s going to be awesome.

Okay.. enough rambling, I have to wake the kids from their naps.  And just in case you were wondering, yes, I’m planning on getting back out on that bike SOON.

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Tuesday

I load dishes in the dishwasher, scramble together my current stack of books, bible, journal, computer, shoving them into my hastily emptied diaper bag.  Tugging my pink beanie down over my ears, I head out into the cold + dark, smiling at the few scattered snowflakes still floating down.

It’s Tuesday.  And I’m hurrying.  I only have two hours.

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Tuesdays are quickly becoming my favorite.  This sweet guy has given me Tuesday evenings all to myself.  We talked at the outset of the new year about some of our goals + hopes for this year and I asked him if it would be okay for me take one night a week to invest a bit more intentionally in writing.  (Or to just lose myself for a bit in a book without the constant mommy-radar that I have up when I’m home, listening and responding to little cries.  Or just to scroll mindlessly around the interweb.  OR to take a nap in the car, I don’t know.)

I had said how I felt like I could never turn my brain off.  There are certainly times during the day when the kids are sleeping and I have time to get a few things done or relax, but in the back of my mind is the constant awareness that I’m on-call to take care of them if they need me.  It’s usually fine, but on occasion, it can wear an introvert right out.

It’s one of the most beautiful things about marriage lately, the way we can be a team.  The longer we’ve been married, the more we’ve learned that we all function better as a family if each of us has the opporunity to recharge in the particular ways that we each need.  It’s been fun to make a habit of asking each other what we can do to ensure the other spouse rests.  Sometimes what gives the soul rest is a good hard run in the quiet wilderness where the only sound is your labored breathing and feet on soft ground.  Sometimes for my husband, rest is having time to tinker around in the garage and work on his motorcycle or woodworking projects.  It’s important for us to make time to connect with each other and go on dates.  It’s important that we make time to be all together as a family.  It’s important that we connect with the kids.  In the midst of all of that, it’s easy to neglect our own souls.  Lately we’ve been working on taking turns holding down the fort so the other person can do something that feeds their soul.

And don’t go thinking that we just have a good marriage.  We have been married nine years this May.  NINE.  It’s no small miracle that we didn’t kill each other the first five, but here we are, not just surviving anymore, but (dare I say it?) thriving.  The marriage we have now still needs a lot of work, of course, but it is one we have fought hard for.  Any progress we have made has come with a lot of blood, sweat, tears + prayer.

This season with three little ones under 4 years old is a very busy season.  In order for us to not burn out, we’re learning we have to be intentional about working hard when it’s time to work, and resting hard when it’s time to rest.  Playing when it’s time to play.

“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.”  Eccl. 3:1

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A time for decaf americanos and words in cozy coffee shops late at night.  So, there it is.  It’s Tuesday again, and I’m writing a little and just savoring this strange-vaguely-familiar-yet-sort-of-foreign sensation of remembering that I’m still an individual.  

So.. here’s to husbands who hold the 2 month old while they give the four and two year old a bath.  Here’s to husbands who do all the dishes (even though they hate it), who read scripture and sing bible songs over sleepy children as they tuck them in bed.  Here’s to husbands who believe in their wives and speak words of courage over them when they think they have nothing to offer.  Here’s to husbands who tell their wives to dream.  Here’s to husbands who sacrifice.

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I’m so thankful for mine.

 

 

 

Every Bitter Thing is Sweet

The book drew me, beckoned to me, really, from the bookshelves at Barnes + Noble. I was looking for a gift for my sister, and it wasn’t what I was searching for. But something about it spoke to me. Maybe because the title and theme speaks to something I continue to struggle with and seem to learn over and over again with God: Every Bitter Thing is Sweet.

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How can every bitter thing be sweet? Truly, can we say every bitter thing? Can we really taste the goodness of God in our darkest of days and trials? Will God hold up under the weight of that, under the weight of our darkest questions and scrutiny?

Sara Hagerty is familiar with bitter trial and circumstance. In this precious book, she explains some of her story, her struggles in early marriage, her struggles for many years with infertility. Her struggle with a God who spoke to her and gave her a vision of a child toddling across her bedspread, and then closed her womb to this possiblity. The struggles through multiple foreign adoptions and the seemingly endless setbacks and disappointments. And all the way, she traces the glory of God shining brilliant in these darkest moments.

In her book she reveals how God took her, a child who believed in a God whose love was best displayed in blessing, and transformed her into a desperately hungry soul. She writes her story of encountering a God who cares to carve out spaces in the soul, empty, hungering spaces that He can fill.

“A satisfied soul loathes the honeycomb,
But to a hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.”
{Proverbs 27:7}

What if our places of discontent and brokenheartedness, what if we discovered that these places are the very holy + sacred ground of God’s deepest riches, the “treasure of darkness” that Isaiah 45:3 talks about?

Here’s a little excerpt from the first chapter:

“The Bible resting on my chair showed wear–how could it not? My friend, my best friend in this hour, was the Author. The book I’d once used to plan youth ministry talks, the book I’d once used to quote pithy sayings and to confirm opinions I’d already formed, that book had found its way into my deep.

The God behind it was proving Himself to be fundamentally different than what I’d supposed for at least a decade, maybe more. But I was finding Him. In the places I had feared most and spent a lifetime avoiding, He was meeting me. My worst, my very worst moments were getting rewritten without circumstances changing. I was getting acquainted with the kind of deep satisfaction that bad news can’t shake. He was showing me Himself as strong enough. He was letting me hide in Him, letting me find a safe place.

And so I cradled my midnight questions while mamas cradled their babies, and I let God’s psalms tell me He cradled the answer in Himself. I felt forgotten, but I heard God speak that He had not left me. I felt weak, but I heard Him promise an overshadowing. I felt anxious that my constant fumblings would annoy Him, but I heard Him say He delighted in me.

And I felt hungry.

I wasn’t this hungry when God was a distant coach, forcing me to perform.
I wasn’t this hungry when I had a life easily explained, easily predicted.
I wasn’t this hungry when everyone understood me.

Pain had created space. Space to want more. Space to taste a sense of being alive. An alive that would grow to be my favorite kind of alive: secret, hidden to all eyes but mine and those nearest to me.

This had to be the hope of a lifetime, Him and Him alone.”

If you’ve ever wondered about this God, this mysterious God who both gives and takes away, and how anyone can love a God who gives the strange gifts of hardship and hunger at times, you would be helped to read Sara’s story.

If you’ve ever battled fiercely with hard circumstances and painful seasons and have wondered how to make sense of it all, you would be helped to read Sara’s story.

Essentially, if you’ve ever lived the human experience, you would find sweet company in Sara’s poetic prose.

Triumphant, encouraging, beautifully crafted. Sara Hagerty not only shares with you her journey to a deeper hunger for God, she stirs up your own hunger, too. I highly recommend it!

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Book Look Bloggers sent me a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. I am not required to give a favorable review and the opinions expressed are my own.