Hope

design (35)As we drove along through the empty streets of our downtown, we were talking about how most of life’s events right now aren’t canceled. . . just postponed.

A minute later we saw the big letters someone had assembled in their yard with a lovely sentiment: “Hope isn’t canceled.”

We all smiled and nodded.

Then my 10 year old quipped, “Hope isn’t canceled, just postponed.”

We all laughed, but it did get me thinking.

In many ways, it does feel like hope is postponed right now. The news of the week was heavy, both as a nation, and some other news from some friends of ours that hit even harder. It was a hard, hard week.

Hope has felt a bit like a pipe dream. Something we don’t have the luxury of right now. We can have hope when we see the light at the end of the tunnel. We can have hope when we know that it will turn out okay in the end. But when we’re stuck in the middle, no end in sight, it seems impossible to have hope. Maybe later, but not now.

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” Proverbs 13:12

It’s not lost on me that this feeling of darkness and oppression is coming at the onset of Holy Week, the most important week of the Christian calendar.

I imagine that’s how Jesus’ followers felt when in one week’s time, He went from being heralded with palm branches and cheers of Hosanna to being arrested, beaten and then crucified.

Then hope went from seemingly postponed to downright canceled.

But was it?

The disciples didn’t have the luxury of having read the end of the story. And honestly, we don’t either. We know God has promised it will work out for our good and His glory. But we don’t know exactly how each chapter will take shape. We don’t know how many chapters will be devoted to our current situation. We don’t know how many chapters stand between the now and the glorious end.

But we do know that hope is possible even in the darkest hour because of the resurrection. That even when it seems it has been postponed, or even canceled, hope never is.

One week from now, we’ll celebrate that Jesus is alive. That Hope is alive. But today, if you’re sitting in the darkness right now, know you’re not alone. May you feel shoulders brushing yours, knowing that there are many of us sitting there, feeling the sadness with you. But may we all know that even in the darkness, there is a candle burning. A small light, but its power cuts through and reminds us that Hope is alive and death is overcome.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

 

 

Bittersweet

I will never forget that Tuesday morning. I was pretending to work, but I’m sure I was sending off yet another email to my mom or a vendor about last-minute details.

I had one more day of work in Birmingham, and then Mike and I would load up his car and drive the three hours to my childhood home in a suburb of Atlanta.

And then, at 8:45 a.m., suddenly, none of those details mattered in the slightest.

The first plane hit, and then another, and when all was said and done, almost 3,000 people would lose their lives.

It was a communal shock and grief l had never experienced.

But I also had personal shock and grief to experience that day.

It took me a while to admit how angry I was that “my day” was so deeply marred by the events of 2001. It felt incredibly selfish. I feared others would think I was upset about seemingly trivial details like flowers and cake.

That wasn’t why I was angry though, although, I would argue that I had every right to be upset about those details, carefully chosen both because it was our special day and because our young-20s bank accounts left little room for frivolity.

My heart was broken because of all the people who were unable to be there to celebrate with us that day. I was mad because the week that should have been exciting and fun and happy was instead full of tears and anxiety and fear. We felt our wedding—and therefore our marriage—would always have this heaviness, this weight…

This September will be 19 years since that week. I can tell you that our marriage has had its share of heaviness and weight, but not because of how our wedding day was changed. We’ve had the same struggles that all couples have, but we’ve also had the joys and highs that come with choosing to love one person forever. People do associate our wedding with the events of that week, but not in the way that we feared. We still have friends and family tell us that our wedding was their favorite because it was a glimpse of light in the midst of such darkness. It was a sign that life would go on, and it reminded us all that in the end, love wins.

I’ve been heartbroken once again this week, but not for myself.

I know there are people getting married with only 10 or fewer friends and family when they envisioned everyone they loved in the same room.

I know there are high school seniors and college seniors who’ve worked so very hard anticipating the walk across a stage with proud parents and peers cheering at the sound of their name.

There are countless other celebrations and life events that have been years in the works, and there are likely more cancellations for all of us to come.

What I expected to be a sweet week 19 years ago turned out instead to be bittersweet. I would undo everything that happened that week if I had the power, but as I don’t, instead, I have with time, come to see the richness and depth in the bittersweet.

And while I would wave that same magic wand over the world right now and give everyone back their health, their small businesses, their regular school and work days, and their days of celebration, since I can’t, I pray instead for the richness and depth of bittersweet days.

That those who you can be near, would draw nearer still.

That the pride you feel at accomplishing something would be deeper.

That the excitement you feel about whatever is next would only be heightened in the face of your current reality.

And that the bitter pill of disappointment would blend with the sweet sip of celebration to create something deeper, richer and truly worth savoring.

leaving our wedding

How I’m battling the dragon of anxiety

If you’ve spent more than a minute with me, you know I’m the kind of person who feels things deeply. I also tend to absorb the emotions and energy of others. On my best day, I can stem the tide of rushing, even conflicting emotions, process what is and isn’t helpful, and move forward in strength.

But.

There are days this feels impossible. Days I feel everything that everyone around me feels so acutely that I can’t even figure out how *I* feel. Days that what I *do* feel seems impossible to carry.

Sometimes it manifests as anxiety. Some days as depression. Some days as just pure old stress and anger.

There have been times where medicine was called for, and I’ve heeded the call. But even during those times, and *especially* during seasons where medication hasn’t been the right answer for me personally, I’ve built my own toolbox to manage my emotions, instead of allowing them to control me. Sometimes my tools work better than others, but thankfully there are many of them, and usually one of them will at least temper, if not slay, the dragon.

This week, however, I admit I let the dragon roar loudly, so loudly, before I pulled out the ol’ toolbox. As I watched the world around me go batshit crazy, it felt impossible to hold back the fear and panic that I had been pushing down so long. But once again, I’ve opened my trusty box of tools and I’m doing the work to bring the Truth into focus.

None of my “tools” are that original, and none of them may fit your need, but seeing as how many people who don’t normally battle anxiety may feel it creeping in, I wanted to share what I’ve found most helpful.

1.) Community.

This one is currently going to be extremely hard for most of us, seeing as how our schools, churches, neighborhoods and groups are all shuttering for safety. We’re going to have to get creative. If you have a supportive spouse or roommate, let them know you may need some extra hugs or kind words. Missing coffee with your bestie? Consider “sharing” a cup over FaceTime.

2.) Outside time.

The winter months are the hardest for most of us. Or the rainy ones. For me, I know much of that has to do with not getting outside. This winter, I’ve tried to be better about that and force myself outside for walks instead of doing all indoor exercise. It’s been really good for me. While my family will be avoiding parks for a few weeks, bike rides and walks outside will still be a good option, and something we’re going to be intentional about.

3.) Gratitude.

I’ve recently resumed the practice of a gratitude journal, and it’s been extremely good for my heart and head. There are a lot of ways to do this, but I recently began following this suggested daily practice: writing down three things you’re grateful for, and expound on  at least one of them (dig deeper into why you’re grateful). This one in particular I believe will be very helpful for all of us who may feel overwhelmed at the prospect of navigating work and kids’ schooling at home, not to mention, not being able to get out and about. Reminding ourselves that there are a million things to be grateful for, even on our hardest day, has been scientifically proven to change not just our perspective, but our health!

4.) Generosity.

Getting outside of my head is much easier when I’m getting outside of mySELF. Looking for others who need encouragement, need reassures, need anything, reminds me that I’m not alone in needing others, and gives me an amazing sense of purpose when I might feel pretty useless. You don’t have to have a lot of money to practice this one either—simply sending texts or emails (or snail mail!) to people who might need a little lift can make you both feel better. I personally believe a well-chosen GIF is about the most generous gift you can give a friend.

5.) Self-care.

This is a buzzword, I know, but I don’t mean go on a shopping spree (and certainly not at the moment!). This is another case where creativity is the name of the game while we’re all homebound. I personally am obsessed with baths. I can literally feel stress melt away during a long epsom salt bath. Also important for me is listening to music. I am working on compiling a dragon-slaying playlist on Spotify, so if you have any suggestions, please share. I start all my mornings with 32 ounces of water, but then it’s coffee and a candle while I read my Bible and pray. And yes, even a little Netflix and Disney+ (dig up some of your childhood favorites!) can take your mind off of things you can’t control.

6.) Movement.

Call it exercise, call it moving your body, call it whatever you want, just do it! Several years ago, I began a practice of exercising 5-6 days a week, and I’ve never looked back. It started out for my physical health, and yes, that’s still part of why I do it. But it’s certainly not the only reason, and lately, it’s not even the biggest reason. Getting my heart rate up because of a vigorous walk or lifting heavy weights feels GOOD, unlike when my heart rate is up because of stress. It doesn’t have to be intense to be effective. In fact, low-impact exercise like yoga can be incredibly beneficial to both your body and your mind. Just move, somehow, some way.

7.) Faith.

This will not be true for everyone, but for me, this is the most crucial of all. Remembering that I am deeply loved by God, unconditionally, and beautifully made in His image brings me back to center. During this season of Lent, I’ve been doing a devotional that has me start each morning by writing out one attribute of God and worshipping Him for it. Beginning each day remembering His strength, His love, His peace. . . it is precisely what I need to put things in perspective.

 

This is in no way an exhaustive list, and of course, it is highly personal to me, but if you’re feeling anxious and uncertain of what to do about it, I hope my toolbox might inspire you to make your own. No matter how you slay your own dragon, I hope you know, you’re worth fighting for. Your peace. . .  your power. . . your soul. . . YOU, are worth fighting for.

I hope you know you're worth fighting for

The new sacred

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Sometimes a sacred space looks like fluorescent lights in place of stained glass, and school desks instead of pews.

I’m in a group of women that gathers in a children’s Sunday School classroom on Thursday mornings to talk about God and share our lives with each other. And let me just tell you about these women. Smart as hell, Jesus-loving, neighbor-caring, family-focused…  Many are in the weeds of parenting. Some are in the throes or just the start of caregiving for their own parents. Some work outside the home. Some stay home full-time.

Their stories.

Their vulnerability.

Their brokenness.

Their joy and celebrations.

I am here for it all. This is a special group, and not because there’s anything extraordinary about any of us. But there’s something powerful that happens when you share the nitty gritty. When you pass the tissues and then a few minutes later, someone passes them to you. When you let down the walls and then keep them down so the real work can begin. When the time ends and you walk back into your ordinary day, but the words that were shared and the tears that were shed stay on your mind and worm their way into your heart.

I don’t know how long my path will intersect with any or all of these women. But I do know my journey will look different forever because they crossed it.

“Vulnerability is hard, and it’s scary, and it feels dangerous. But it’s not as hard, scary or dangerous as getting to the end of our lives and having to ask ourselves what if I would have shown up. … Show up. Be seen. Answer the call to courage … because you’re worth it. You’re worth being brave.” Brene Brown

On rescue and honest prayers

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Parenting always has its ups and downs, but lately in our world, there have been a lot of downs. We’ve been dealing with some tough stuff with a child, and it’s left us feeling discouraged and overwhelmed.

We’ve sought outside counsel, and are continuing to fight for her heart, but in the last couple of weeks, I’ve been dealing with my own heart issues when it comes to this situation.

Because at a certain point, I realized I’ve been asking God to take away this problem, to make things “all better,” but neglected to ask what He might be doing in all of us through this situation.

And even more humbling, I realized that many times, I’m asking Him to make it all better so that it’s easier on me as a mom. Granted, there’s nothing wrong with asking our Heavenly Father to lighten our load, but doing it under the pretense of “help her” instead of “help me,” isn’t being honest with God or myself.

This morning I read this in a devotional by my favorite author, Shauna Niequist:“I prayed for the waiting to be over, instead of trying to learn something about patience or anything else. I prayed for it to get easier, not that I would be shaped in significant ways. I prayed to be rescued, not redeemed.”

I still want God to make things easier, and I’ll keep asking that. For her, and for me. But as of today, I’m doubling down on my prayers for transformation in my own heart, believing that rescue might actually look a lot more like redemption.

Words

IMG_4590“So please, oh please, we beg, we pray, go throw your TV set away, and in its place you can install a lovely bookshelf on the wall.” – Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

It’s not always the TV,  but it is often a screen of sorts, whether my laptop or phone, that keeps me from reading like I want to, and like, as a writer — and heck, a person — I know I should. So I really loved my October 40×40 challenge of reading twice a day. Each morning I read from a few different devotional books and Scripture. And each evening, I read from one of several books I’m reading. I finished a few, and got a lot further in a few more, and I have high hopes of finishing the massive stack by my bed before the end of the year… If I do, it will be the most books I’ve read as an adult in such a short amount of time, and I can’t think of a better way to begin the wrap-up of my last decade in my thirties.

A few things I’ve learned about myself: I enjoy reading more than one book at a time, but only one per genre, and no more than two or three at one time. So I enjoy having a non-fiction book on life or parenting, a captivating fictional book, and a devotional or theological book all going at the same time. I also discovered, thanks to my girls and their reading bowl assignments, a love for middle grade books!

Picking up a book instead of my phone at bedtime did wonders for my mental health as well, so I’m really trying to continue this habit… It’s amazing the allure that social media or even catching up on the news can have for me, but it’s also amazing how much my brain, heart and soul come alive when I allow carefully chosen and edited words to enter my psyche instead of the often hastily chosen or painfully rendered words and stories du jour.

As I continue to pour words into my world with books, my November challenge flips that with a goal to also daily pour out words — words of gratitude. I’ve started a gratitude journal with the goal of not repeating, or resorting to the obvious. October was hard for me, emotionally and spiritually, as I reflected back on the events of October 2017 that sent me spiraling, so I’m once again doing the hard work of digging in to find the beauty among the ashes.

While part of me is terrified that this challenge may end without me hitting my ultimate goal of 40 lbs gone, I am beyond thankful for the work that God has done in my heart and mind as I have embraced challenges that I pray are making me a better reflection of Him and a truer version of who He made me to be. Now excuse me while I go write that last sentence down in my gratitude journal…

With a dreamy far-off look, and her nose stuck in a book…

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When I started the 40 x 40 challenge back in April, I had two main goals: make the last year in my 30s really count by taking on some self-improvement goals and fulfilling some bucket list wishes, and get to my goal weight (40 lbs from where I was in April).

I wish I could report back that I’m making progress on that second goal, but since I’ve pledged to be open on this journey, I have to share that I have not made nearly the progress I had hoped at this point. I have not given up on the end goal, and never will, but I just have to be honest about where I am right now. I’ve got a great plan and wonderful support, but at the end of the day, I’m at the mercy of my own decisions each and every day.

However, I am plugging away at my monthly goals and really enjoying the unique challenges I’ve given myself each month. And now that October is finally upon us (although still no sign of the actual fall weather I’ve been told is supposed to accompany the month), it’s time for a new challenge! Every day in October, I’m committing to reading both the Bible/a devotional and also reading at least one chapter a day in a just-for-pleasure book. Ideally, I’m reading the Bible in the morning, and a book in the evening, but I’m not being legalistic on the timing. You wouldn’t think these two tasks would be very hard for someone whose ACTUAL PAID JOB is to WRITE SPIRITUAL THINGS, but alas, physician, heal thyself.

I’m a week into this challenge, and this is probably the one monthly goal that I will attempt to continue long-term. Reading my Bible and/or a devotional is something I do try to prioritize, but in all honesty, my consistency ebbs and wanes with each phase and season of life. Committing to every single day for a month I hope will help me carve out the space for that in my current phase of life. Currently I’m reading three different devotionals — all with a different theme — in the morning. They’re all very short, but each of them starts with a Scripture and ends with a prayer, and it’s so cool how every day, at least one of them hits me between the eyes.

But reading for pleasure is a hobby that I often fail to do, save vacations. Not only do I thoroughly love reading, it is also something that can better both my person and my career, so making it a regular part of my daily rhythm is something I’m aiming to continue as I roll into the next decade.

I just finished Crazy Rich Asians this weekend (really fun!), and I’ve started Matylda Bright and Tender, one of my daughters’ book team books. I’m hoping to read a few of their book team books pretty quickly so I can talk about them with my girls, and then move back in to the massive pile of books beside my bed (pictured above). They’re a mix of fiction, spiritual, parenting and self-improvement, so I’m planning to rotate between fiction and non-fiction. The best part about that picture is that I’ve purchased most of these during the last year, while I had supposedly put myself on a book-buying hiatus. Apparently I’m a book hoarder, not a book reader. Aiming to change that.

I’ll report back in November with all the books I’ve read… if you’ve got any “must reads” let me know. Actually, don’t. I’m on a book-buying hiatus, you see.

Trust, interrupted

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When it comes to worship songs, I put them into two categories: songs that I believe and sing from a place of certainty, and songs that I aspire to and sing from a place of longing. Both, I believe, are authentic. One is a praise; the other, a prayer.

“I Will Trust in You” falls into the second category for me. When we went through some really tough stuff last year, this song was my anthem, my hope.
“When You don’t move the mountains, I’m needing you to move.”
When your life is suddenly changed because of others’ decisions.
Fast forward a few months, and today I got to share that song with a room of middle school students and their volunteers. I was prepared for it to be a full circle moment for me (well, perhaps quarter circle; I’m still a work in progress).
“When You don’t part the waters, I wish I could walk through.”
When your kids’ hearts are breaking and they don’t understand why things are happening to your family.
What I wasn’t prepared for was when my watch began to vibrate as I sang, indicating an incoming call. No one would call me on Sunday morning. Except that just yesterday we spent 12 hours on the road, visiting my uncle’s hospital bedside to say goodbye. He has been unresponsive for a couple of days, and the end was near. I knew without looking at my watch this morning as I sang what that call meant.
“When You don’t give the answers as I cry out to You.”
When a loved one is taken, whether it seems “their time” or not.
The last six months have been a wild ride. Deeply painful and confusing, with peaks of hope and joy. So, basically, life. But as my arm vibrated with the news of my uncle’s passing this morning, interrupting my proclamations of trust, more than ever, I knew I could lean into these words as a prayer AND a praise.
“I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You.”

On being the one in the middle

one in the middle

If there’s one thing I’ve observed these last few months over and over again, it’s that some people are really not comfortable with others’ pain. And, I get that. I honestly do. I confess that I sometimes am impatient with friends or family members who don’t move on as quickly as I think they should. Isn’t that awful?! I think a perfect metaphor for this is how unsympathetic I can be when my children get physically hurt. I’m not talking broken limbs, but you know, that “tiny little cut that really doesn’t need a band-aid, but your kid won’t rest until a princess or superhero on a piece of plastic is securely attached to the ‘wound’” situation? No, wallowing over small insults isn’t a good habit, but there is a deep pain that can’t be ignored, and rushing someone through the healing process just because YOU’RE over it? Not helpful. Not Christ-like. And certainly ineffective.

Last night I sat on a pew in a beautiful Methodist church in my city, surrounded by some of my close friends along with some women I am just getting to know. I soaked up some amazing truth from Jen Hatmaker’s message on the Good Samaritan, and the power of community to carry us through dark seasons. I cried with every other “mommy” in the room hearing, once again (it gets me EVERY time!), Nichole Nordeman’s poignant song on the fleetingness of childhood. And I laughed until I cried at the two women’s “funny because it’s true” stories of being a mom.

But what I didn’t expect was how painful the night would be for me too. Jen Hatmker experienced some deep hurt last year, and her reflections on that season were so real and true for me in the season I am in. It was hard to hear, but so important. I wanted to document some of the words that resonated intensely with me.

*Denying our pain is only going to short-circuit our transformation.
*Christians love a quick pain arc. We like tidy bows. But some suffering is slow.
*You are not bad PR for Christianity if you are still hurting long past the point of impact. (Cue the ugly cry in the church pew for party of one here!)
*You have a Jesus who will sit with you long past the point that others will. (Cue ugly cry 2.0.)
*[Unaddressed] Acute pain will turn into chronic pain that will turn into a damaged person. And damaged people damage others. People who don’t transform their pain, transmit it.
*We have a great capacity to persevere. Nothing in your life is too dead for resurrection.

And finally, the truth that confirmed that what I am doing (i.e., everything in the list below!) is exactly what is going to get me to the other side of this:

*Treating yourself kindly looks like doing the work. Counseling, relational work, setting boundaries, therapy, medication, community, prayer and meditation. No matter how brokenhearted we are, we have what we need. God has given us the tools to become healthy and whole.

Jen also shared a beautiful truth I’ve heard before about female elephants, how they protect each other during childbirth, surrounding the vulnerable one and giving her what she needs in her moment of pain and suffering that will ultimately bring forth new life. We all take turns in the middle, and no one stays there forever.

When you’re the one in the middle, man, it sucks. But when you look up and see that beautiful community of women surrounding you, protecting you and loving you, it gives you what you need to do the hard work. And one day, you won’t be in the middle anymore.

To the women who have been my herd these last few months:
Thank you simply isn’t enough. But know that I am indeed doing the work, so I hope you won’t have to keep protecting me too much longer. But thank you for not rushing me. Thank you for never making me feel that I should be “over it” (even though I have felt that way towards myself so often). Thank you for standing side by side to be one of my “herd,” even though so many of you don’t even know each other. God is using you in my life in a big way, and one day, I’ll be honored to do the same for you.

A clearer reflection

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I used to brush my oldest daughter’s hair every day. But now, at nine, she’s starting to take a little more interest in her appearance. Thankfully we’re nowhere near the “hours in front of a bathroom mirror” stage, but we’re finally at the “understands the basic premise of hygiene” phase.

Only one of the four of us is a morning person, so we usually wake with just enough time for the girls to put on their uniforms, head downstairs for fruit and kefir, fix hair, and take a bowl of dry cereal to the car. I still have to fix Lily’s crazy curly hair, but now Amelia brushes her own.

Today I noticed that she wasn’t running off to the bathroom to brush her hair, but instead, was using her reflection in the kitchen sliding glass door. I praised her for her ingenuity, and she shrugged and said, “When it’s dark outside, I can see myself better.”

***

I’d venture to say that none of us wants to experience the dark side of life. But the truth is, darkness comes to us all at one time or another. But when there’s Light inside of us, we can actually see ourselves better in that darkness. It’s in those dark times that we see ourselves reflected most clearly. What we’re made of. What’s inside of us.

And the even better news is that this reflection is just a glimpse of what’s to come. “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

If you look around and see darkness right now, I’m your people. Let’s commit to focusing on the Light that’s inside of us instead of the darkness that surrounds us. If we do, I think we’ll like what we see staring back at us, because it’s made in the image of God. A God that we can’t know fully right now, but who fully knows us and loves us all the same.