when it all sits a bit heavy

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It’s the first of February, the last day of the work week.  I realize I haven’t put up a regular old blog post in a couple of weeks and wanted to say a few words here.  January was quiet and simple for us, with a lot of sickness and thus we hunkered down at home.  With February comes some relief and hope that we will be out and about as normal soon.

I haven’t been taking many photos at home with my camera as I usually do, maybe feeling a bit uninspired and blue.  I’m sure it has to do with being sick and feeling incredibly worn out.  It’s taken every bit of energy just to keep school going for the children while I’ve been sick and wanting just to lie down in bed.  I’ve also been deeply saddened by things happening in the world around me that make me feel quite helpless: for one, the passing of the legislature in NY last week for full-term abortions and even post-delivery “abortions”, which hit me like a punch to the stomach.  I have felt nauseous over it whenever it comes to mind.  I honestly have no words to say other than I’m deeply grieved and I’m praying about ways to take action.

A newborn baby I was praying for passed away last week.  A woman battling cancer dances weary at the possible end of her fight and I can’t sleep, up praying for her, a woman I’ve never met but yet feel so burdened to pray for.

Also, those in the knitting community are well aware of the deeply divisive conversation/debate that has been happening regarding racism.  Though I am not anyone with a voice in the knitting industry, I’ve been reading along, at times very angry, other times anxious and always quite sad.  I have been surprised at how much it has affected me.  I think we can do better than this as a community, we can show more grace, understanding, and kindness.  Then I look around at my own children who squabble and hurt one another often throughout the day, and I understand.  If we can hardly get along with those we love the most, our very own flesh and blood, how much harder is it to get along with those who seem so different from us? How much harder to be kind to those whose beliefs we disagree with?  I find myself constantly instructing my children throughout the day to love one another, “be kind, be kind be kind,” to esteem one another more highly than the object their fighting over.  I weary from repeating it, yet the reminder is always needed.  Left to ourselves, this is humanity.  Even tightly-knit families have rifts and disagreements.  Maybe especially tightly-knit families.  We need to remember that peace with one another is to be treasured above being right, and is a goal worth sacrificing our own thrones and soapboxes for.  Does that mean we sacrifice truth and the fight for what is right and just?  Absolutely not.  But I do think we can stand for what we believe in and for a better world/more equality while treating our fellow man with dignity and respect, and not adding injury to insult.

Sometimes the brokenness of the world sits on us like lead.  It sits so heavy.  At times if I’m honest, I want to shield myself from all the hurt and ugliness, maybe even from my own complicity.  My hands are full of dishes, wiping snotty noses, throwing in the next load of laundry, pulling together the next meal, nursing the baby, teaching the next school lesson.  I am hidden away in my home raising little people — what can I possibly do?  I am reminded: I can pray.  We can pray — with the confidence that our prayers mixed with faith are able to move mountains.  Things that seems impossible, fixed, overwhelming, insurmountable — God is able to level them.  Conversely, when we feel like the very ground beneath our feet is shifting and the world around us rages, we can turn to God, our refuge + strength, a very present help in trouble who tells us not to fear even when the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the sea (Ps. 46).  He makes wars cease, He breaks the bow, shatters the spear and burns the war chariots with fire (Ps. 46:9).  We are destined for a kingdom where peace will reign.

And then the familiar and eternally comforting words of Romans 8:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.  For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:18-27)

He is interceding for us continually, He is working while we sleep, working in spite of and even though our weakness.  Let us take heart and trust Him to move the mountains while we sow the small seeds of hope and faith in prayer.  And if we have opportunity to take great steps, then by all means, let us take them!

How has January been for you?  Whoever you are reading along here today, I hope you know you are welcomed in this space.  Thank you for reading my rambling thoughts, however imperfect they may be.

xo

january

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A fresh new year—the ending of one year and the beginning of another makes us all pause, take note, consider, evaluate.  Even when we don’t want to, don’t have the energy to, or don’t believe in setting goals, intentions, or making resolutions–somehow we still in some way find ourselves reflective.  Even when we’re afraid all we say we will change and do and accomplish will inevitably fail, and all the ways we plan to better ourselves might end up like last year’s plans.  We still find ourselves wanting.  New Years resolutions–aren’t they filled with wanting?  And there’s nothing really wrong with that in some ways.  It’s natural for us to want to improve, change, increase, grow.  It’s good and right.  It’s the natural way for any living thing: to grow.

Yet I sometimes hear in all our New Years talk a lot of discontent.  We chatter on about the things we want to attain for ourselves this year, the things we think we need to have to be happier, more comfortable, more seen and known, contented, successful.  In this I think we have to be careful.  Yes, let us reflect, let us learn to number our days–but not for our own glory and renown, but for God’s glory and the sake of the kingdom.  Let us evaluate where in life we have gotten off track in regard to His purposes for us, and endeavor to readjust.

Gratitude is good and right, too–seeing what we already have, seeing all the gifts of God’s grace, seeing how far He has brought us and trusting Him to carry us all the way Home.  Remembering that truly we need far less than we think, remembering that our happiness comes not in our feeding our fleshly desires but in denying them.  In letting God fulfill us, satisfy us.  Remembering that if we are discontent today with all the bounty we have before us, we will still be discontent tomorrow even if we attain more.  Remembering that God alone is our good, our portion, our inheritance–and if we are in Christ, we always have Him, and that is enough.  There is always joy available to us, there is always grace as long as we have breath, there is always the opportunity to be content.

In the years before I was a mother, I often would spend a portion of New Years Eve and day journaling about the big moments of the closing year, and the things I felt God had done in me and in my life, and then recording where I found myself at that present time and the scripture I sensed God was highlighting for me for the coming year.  This season of motherhood and being late in my fourth pregnancy makes finding such uninterrupted time for journaling scarce.  Instead of feeling “behind” because I don’t have all my reflections and thoughts in order by the first of January, I’ve been taking the whole month of January as a time of reflection.

It’s been a sweet month in that way.  The rush of the holy holidays behind us, children’s birthdays done for a year, and now stretching before us a string of ordinary days.  Back to our common life.  Mornings spent mostly at home working on school, house work, small projects here and there, organizing, cooking, playing in the mud and snow, trips to the library, neighborhood walks, books on the couch, pizza on fridays.  Weekends spent cramming in as much time with daddy, to-do list items crossed off before baby comes, running errands, worship and rest.  There has been a lot of journaling, listening, reflecting in the early morning quiet, when the world is still hushed and dark and I sit with the scriptures and coffee.

But the beginning of this year was also hard.  Brandon worked the first two weeks straight without taking a day off, working late into the evenings, and it took a toll on us both.  During that time I was also sick with a head cold, as well as some other body grievances, and felt pretty wiped out and depleted.  Phoebe has had some major setbacks in her appetite and eating, which has caused me to do a good bit of revamping our usual staples, recipe testing, and recipe hunting, which is all very exhausting.  I’ve had my share of breakdowns over the last month, nights when I just end the day in a pool of tears.  So yes, January: back to the ordinary, which can be sweet, but also can feel like a slow plod forward with a summit far off in the distance, obscured by clouds.  Sometimes I feel like I’ve lost my way and can’t remember what my course is supposed to be anyway.

It’s never too late to step back and take time, take stock.  Even if in your January there wasn’t much time for it, February is as good a time as any.

There are a few extra-biblical resources I would recommend to you if you’re looking for a few books to help you along the way.  These particular titles kept coming to mind throughout this past month, books that have grounded and inspired and set me on course.

  • The Songs of Jesus: A year of daily devotions in the Psalms by Tim Keller
    I believe this is the third or fourth year I’ve read through this devotional daily.  Some years ago I was studying the Psalms and bought this resource to help stay saturated in them, and I don’t know that I’ll ever really graduate from daily reading the Psalms.  This  book is helpful in that it is short and entirely feasible to squeeze in when you literally have moments to read before little children’s feet hit the floor.  It’s also one I frequently read aloud to Brandon or the kids if they are up early snuggling with me.
  • A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society by Eugene Peterson
    I read this years ago in college but am curious to re-read it lately.  This concept of our Christian lives being “a long  obedience in the same direction,” the endurance and seemingly slow returns of the Christian life rings true for me lately.  The world seems to be spinning ahead faster and faster, and we are a people more entitled and impatient than ever.  Yet if we do not remember and return to this reality, that our Christian lives will look more like a long obedience in one narrow direction, I believe we will lose heart and fall away.  We need encouragement in our endurance!  Also, this book happens to center around the Psalms of Ascent:  “I knew that following Jesus could never develop into a ‘long obedience’ without a deepening life of prayer and that the Psalms had always been the primary means by which Christians learned to pray everything they lived, and live everything they prayed over the long haul.” (Peterson)
  • Your Beautiful Purpose by Susie Larson
    This book, combined with Emily Freeman’s book below, were two that gave me permission to pursue some dreams and passions and desires of my heart, to make room in my life for creative expression (this blog, photography, knitting, reading) and to see God’s purpose in it.  The two books together seemed to have a conversation in my soul that helped me discern more of my purpose, which was incredibly freeing and fruitful.
  • A Million Little Ways by Emily Freeman
    See above. 🙂
  • Transforming Grace: Living Confidently in God’s Unfailing Love by Jerry Bridges
    This one came to me a few years ago in a terrible season of battling a besetting sin.  I needed to understand how God’s grace was literally transforming me when I felt that I was making no headway.  This is just one of those books I think any Christian can benefit from reading at any time, but particularly those of us who just can’t seem to get beyond moralistic living, those of us who always come to God with our performance in our right hand, whether for good or ill.

I know many people choose a “word” for the year.  I find God often seems to choose a word for the year for me, a scripture.  (Sometimes I think we are skeptical that God speaks to us in this way, but I have found that if I ask Him to give me a word (scripture) over the coming year, a focus, a truth that He is planning to weave into the fabric of my life in those days–and then I wait for Him to answer–I find that He has always answered.  His primary means of speaking to us is through His Word, and He loves His Word (see Psalm 119) and delights to answer a cry from a heart hungry for His Word.  I think we can be confident that praying this is praying in accord with His will (1 Jn. 5:14)).

He seems to highlight and repeat a certain scripture to me, something that speaks to a current need or struggle or question.  This year, the word “peace” came up in my soul so unexpectedly.  We live in tumultuous times, yes, but in my own home and heart, there is a cry for peace!   And then, this scripture came up time and time again, everywhere I turned.  It will be my focus for the year 2018, and I leave it with you, too, as an encouragement onward in your own race!  I hope that in this new year, you and I both find ourselves walking a bit more closely with Jesus, growing in grace.

“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever, Amen.”
Hebrews 13:20-21 esv

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grief surprises

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Last week I went with a friend and all our kiddos at our local Nature Center.  It’s such a fun outing for the kids with a lot of space for them to run around and explore, a nice interruption to our usual Monday activities.  I think my friend and I both came pretty exhausted and spent, we didn’t cover much ground in terms of sharing updates or our hearts.  We just sat together and barked occasional directives at children.  It was simple, it was good.

*

When I got the phone call back in June of 2015 about Phoebe and her diagnosis with Celiacs disease, I was literally just getting the kids ready to walk about the door for my dad’s 60th birthday celebration.  I was supposed to pick up balloons and was hurrying to get the kids and myself dressed and ready in time for the 30 minute drive to nearby Black Mountain for the family gathering.  The nurse told me the diagnosis, and I could tell in her voice there was the sorrow of having to give bad news.  The words hit like a punch and then like a wave, washing back and forth over me again and again.  I wanted to cry but it was like everything inside me just froze and I had to press hold on it all so that we could go to my dad’s celebration.  There was a swirl of emotions, even excitement and joy because we finally had an answer that made sense.  After that, I never could really seem to get to the sorrow I felt.  Over the next few days, I went into “go mode,” immediately researching, placing holds on every book about celiacs at the library, visiting many different grocery stores in our area, cleaning out cabinets and getting rid of food, washing and replacing kitchen utensils.  There wasn’t time for anything else yet.  Tears came here and there, but never a good deep cry, never the feeling that I was able to “get” down to the buried emotion.  There was mostly anxiety and a tightness in my chest that just wouldn’t go away.

That was six months ago.

A few days ago I had a really difficult day at home with the children.  It was “one of those days” (all the mommas said amen), everything going wrong, with lots of yelling and failure, and it felt like a heavy hand just trying to push me down flat.  We stopped and prayed many times throughout the day, the children and I, but the heaviness just wouldn’t lift.  After the kids were in bed, Brandon and I were talking about it, I was crying, confessing, he was listening.  Then suddenly it was like something in my soul cracked wide open and it finally spilled out.  All the grieving.  All the fear, the terror, the exhaustion, the sorrow.  The sweet release.  The letting go.

See, grief is not something we manage.  It isn’t something we are in control of.  We want to hurry our souls through our pain — but it cannot be wrangled and managed as easily as our calendars or our laundry piles.

Grief surprises.  It lays dormant for all these passing days, then suddenly it breaks open over us and we are caught in the downpour.  We process it as it comes.  We are not in control here, we are carried on this journey.  The way of the heart is a mystery.  Grief cannot be packaged, hurried, tamed.  It can be silenced — but it will have its way, eventually.

Partially I think what triggered this surfacing of my grief is that most of Phoebe’s symptoms have stayed exactly the same, even with the gluten-free diet.  We are in conversation with her pediatrician and we will continue to pursue whatever options necessary to help her, but it has not been as easy or as simple as most of the books and doctors have implied.  A simple change in diet has not really made much difference at all, at least not yet.

It’s not spring yet.  We are still in a winter.  Others might think us silly for mourning so deeply something that, compared to other’s suffering and pain, is relatively minor.  I even think myself silly and frequently catch myself scolding my own soul.  But I am learning: grief cannot be controlled, managed, bossed around.  Silly or not, it must be acknowledged and allowed its time.

Our God knows.  He knows the way He has made each of us to work, He knows how sensitive we are, how slow or quick we are to process, how weak or strong.  He knows exactly what He’s doing, even when we do not.  That can make me angry, or it can be the greatest comfort.  When He seems to apply a pressure on me that is far greater than I can stand up under, when He carves a wide open space and leaves it empty — I want to be angry with Him, and sometimes I am.  But I also believe Him.  I believe that He knows best.  I believe His ways are higher.  I believe His plan is perfect.  I believe He is good, that He is light and in Him is no darkness.  I believe He loves me.  He loves me.

He loves you.

He is a safe place for our grief.  We can lay it all out before Him, piece by piece as it comes, and trust Him to carry us through it.  To show us why it hits so hard, why it hurts so much.  He is patient with us, suffering long with us.  He abounds in mercy and steadfast love toward us.  He goes with us, never retreating from our sorrow, never trying to hurry us on without bandaging each hemorrhaging part.  If we are really confident of His love for us — if we truly believe that nothing we can do can ever diminish His love for us, or increase His love for us — then we are free to come before Him in truth, without hiding.

It wasn’t coincidence, it couldn’t have been, that on Sunday as I worshipped with my church family, I held my Phoebe close as she stood on the chair next to me, singing out the words to the song “Oceans.”  The words took on new meaning, as I couldn’t help but think of the Scripture the Lord put on my heart for the year 2016.  I couldn’t help but think of the Scripture I had read just that morning only moments earlier in the car on the drive to church, the one I scribbled in my journal:

Let not the flood sweep over me,
or the deep swallow me up,
or the pit close its mouth over me.

Psalm 69:15

I couldn’t help but think of the lyrics:

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

What if the great and deep unknown He asks me to walk in isn’t some romantic call to overseas mission work, or women’s ministry, or a cute etsy shop business, or any other venture that I might find thrilling and appealing, but the hard, daily, and exhausting grind of learning how to feed my daughter, nurture her, and trust Him with her health even when it is terrifying and uncertain?  What if the place “where feet may fail and fear surrounds me” isn’t the wild poverty of Africa, as I once assumed it would be, but is the place of sickness and disease in my own home?  When I pray the prayer “take me deeper than my feet could ever wander,” what if He answers that by taking me through a deep grief?  When her growth is declining rather than improving after being on a gluten-free diet as a family for six months?

“When something breaks down or does not go as planned, we are given a glimpse of our great need.  Like a vast emptiness.  We pray for solutions, crying out for immediate help, but God desires to give us more.  To give something real.  Something we can see with our eyes and feel on our skin.”
(Christie Purifoy, Roots + Sky)

God sometimes carves open a wide yawning space within us and leaves it, seemingly, empty.  As if He is content to leave us aching, hollow, and groping.  We cry out for answers, we are hungry for His voice, we wonder how this can be the abundant life He promised us.

When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace.  
For I am Yours, 
and You are mine.

If you are grieving a loss of any kind today, know that I’m praying for you. Spring is coming.  The seasons always ebb and flow, like the ocean waves coming and going on the shoreline.  A wide open space is hungry ground, open to receive seed.

Behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone.  The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come.

Song of Soloman 2:11-12