Look back, remember, abide

Two years ago, after nearly a full year of juggling the idea in my mind and praying that if it was to be part of our story God would make a way, I quit my part-time church staff writer/editor job. The reasons my husband and I discussed were many, and they were complicated. But more than anything else, I missed my kids—one finishing up first grade and one having just turned a year old. Logic told us that I needed to keep working. (Our bank account agreed.) But there was no avoiding God’s persistent nudging on the subject: I needed to give up my job, which I had slowly allowed to invade my off-hours, stealing my joy and my ability to be emotionally and mentally present. And we needed to trust Him to meet our needs. Two years later, despite the curveballs that more than once or twice tempted us to doubt, I can say with gratitude that He has met our family’s every need, and then some.

When I look back over my writing from these couple of years—both what I’ve shared with the world and what I’ve saved for myself, sacred—and remember, all I can do is give honor and glory to God for His faithfulness. I read my own words and shake my head, realizing He loved me too much to let me remain unchanged as my life shifted from one season into the next.

I recently came across a draft I’d written one year after leaving my job. I felt like a mess and a failure at the time and was struggling with whether quitting had been the best decision after all. Today I feel like like someone else out there might need the words. For me they are evidence, a reminder of God’s goodness and the fact that even in times of transition and even with all of my shortcomings, He has never abandoned me. He won’t abandon you, either. Be encouraged.

Continue reading “Look back, remember, abide”

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Remembering hope when everything feels wrong

He called me out to the backyard. Chin in hand, sitting at the kitchen counter, hunched over my phone, I sighed and looked up. “What?”

“Just come.”

Usually I’m the one dragging my family out back to appreciate particularly good sunsets with me. But this time he led me out and faced me away from the sunset, where the light was hitting a band of white clouds over my neighbors’ roofs in such a way that the giant puffs—sure sign of a Florida thunderstorm developing in the distance—were glowing. I held my breath as they in slow motion grew larger and drew closer, turning from white to peach to pink against the deep blue sky. Some portion of the moon hung in the sky above us. I stood motionless and stared, inhaling and exhaling slowly.

I looked at Dan. He asked if I was okay. What is okay, really? I’d been fluctuating between ends of the spectrum—deep gratitude and joy swinging to sorrow and confusion, and back again. It was a wisely cautious question on his part. I shrugged, knowing tears were close to the surface. He stayed close for a couple of minutes, then turned to go back inside where the kids were playing, leaving me to my thoughts.

The wind was warm after a record high day for April, the air refreshing on my skin—that perfectly sweet and smooth kind of breeze that you want to relish a little longer. Warm. Comforting.

A 3-year-old boy from church left earth for heaven less than two weeks ago. He is safe, whole, and well there. He is good now, better than good, but I keep crying. I think of him when my own preschooler drives me crazy. When she whispers love in my ear with hot little breaths. When she squeezes her arms around my neck so tight and plants wet kisses all over my face. When she practices a song in her class, where he is missed: “He’s got the whole world in his hands…”

When I lock eyes with her, she says, “I love you too, Mommy,” even though I haven’t said anything.

The breeze feels like life, beautiful and soft. And at the same time I am weeping for the pain it brings as it moves over my skin. I feel alive, and it hurts, and so I stand in my backyard and stare at the sky and let the tears come.

Continue reading “Remembering hope when everything feels wrong”

For the mothers

The mothers, the ones who lost their children this week—at a concert venue, at a nightclub, during a family vacation—I’m sure they sang songs of love over their babies, too.

My minivan didn’t come with any techy stuff, because at the time we purchased it, we were simply grateful to be buying a second car. Bare bones was fine with us—no media jacks, no DVD player, no automatic doors. Wheels, a solid engine, and a/c was all we needed, thank you Mr. Salesman.

Unfortunately, that means when it comes to music, our options are the radio or whatever CDs we have that still play without skipping. So yesterday morning, I did like I always do when I get tired of the local stations and fished one of the two CDs I keep in the car (JJ Heller and Ellie Holcomb, my favorites) out from under a pile of board books and shoes and stale pretzels on the floor. I blew the crumbs off and slid it into the player.

It had been—it has been—a long, long week.

I just needed to quiet some of the voices. No more news alerts popping up on my phone today, please Jesus. No more horrifying headlines to scroll through. No more “We interrupt this program for the following breaking news.” No more live conferences. It’s just been too much. Too much.

The CD player whirred (I sighed with relief, it’s working today), and JJ’s clear, soothing voice surrounded me and my girls on our drive. The title track, “I Dream of You,” is a mother singing love and sweet dreams over her child as she drifts off to sleep. I play it for my girls often, and I play it when I hold little ones in the church nursery. It always has a quieting, calming effect—on them and on me:

When you fall asleep
What will you dream
Castles and kings

The story’s been read
And you rest your head
Warm in your bed

My love, may you dream
Of beautiful things
’Til the dawn of the day bright and new

Wherever you go
I want you to know
When I dream
I dream of you

Fly over the sea
Float on the breeze
Careless and free

When your journey ends
Wake up and then
Dream it again

My Love, may you dream
Of beautiful things
’Til the dawn of the day bright and new

Wherever you go
I want you to know
When I dream…

I dream of gentle wind blowing in
Time seems to slow
Away we go 

Moonlight fills up your room
Darling, you are my dream come true

(by JJ Heller and David Heller)

The evidence of that morning’s round of crying had barely vanished from my face—I am a splotchy crier—and there I was, driving through suburbia in my minivan, kids in the backseat, just a routine morning, tears rolling down my face.

Because of the mothers.

I sing songs over my children, I do it all the time. I sing in the car and while I change diapers. I pray for them as they drift off to sleep, that they won’t be afraid and that their dreams will be happy. Those mothers, the ones who lost their children this week—at a concert venue, at a nightclub, during a family vacation—I’m sure they sang songs of love over their babies, too.

I cry for the mothers.

I ache for them. They are living through the unimaginable. Your babies are your babies, no matter their age.

And yet, I know that there is hope and the promise of peace. That those lullabies we sing to comfort our babies aren’t only for their little hearts. They’re for the mothers’ hearts, too.

Listen.

Our Father is singing over us, over all of this fallen world. He knows His children by name, and He weeps with us. He knows we might be afraid to close our eyes at night, that we don’t want to see what our dreams are bound to drag to the surface from the depths of our minds. He knows that the darkness feels scary and lonely and that right now, the daylight doesn’t feel much better.

He is singing a sweet lullaby of peace, the kind of peace that is beyond what we can comprehend. The only kind of peace that can bind up a broken heart.

A song for the mothers.


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Fighting fear in a fallen world

I should have known that after my previous post, the sleeping-in toddler would be replaced by the up-at-7 toddler. These things happen. I’m grateful though that I had those peaceful, reflective mornings that particular week. I needed them, and I love the sometimes simple ways God offers grace, like a baby sleeping an extra 45 minutes in the morning for a few days.

My heart has been heavy lately, and I’ve felt so distracted from my husband and children, spending my time and energy poring over news articles and blog posts and trying to discern truth from lies, postponing daily life requirements like putting laundry away and planning dinners (you’re welcome, Pizza Hut). I’m trying desperately to separate what I know in my heart to be true of our God from my earthly, human fears. I worry about the future, about my children’s lives in another 10 or 20 years. What will their world look like? Will they be safe in it? Are any of us ever really “safe” this side of heaven?

Do I really trust God with the future of this world and with my children’s lives?

Witnessing atrocities of the world via this beast called social media is enough to make me want to curl up under my covers and hide. I don’t want to go to the movies anymore, even if there’s a film I actually want to see (rare these days). Why go to the store when I can order online from the safety of my kitchen? I bought concert tickets yesterday, but my excitement was underscored by pangs of claustrophobia. What has happened to me?

Debate and politics make me feel anxious and confused, and on several occasions lately I’ve teased the “delete my Facebook” screen, heart beating wildly, because I just can’t take it anymore. (I haven’t done it, but the day might be coming.) There is so much garbage being circulated. It feeds our indignation. It angers us. It empowers us if it’s worded just right. We click and click and click, sorting through the thoughts and opinions of others, hoping to find someone — a politician, a blogger, a preacher, an activist, whoever — who gets it right so that we can hit that Share button and type, “This. Yes.”

All I know is this: If you believe God’s Word is indeed His good and perfect truth, the answers are there.

Perhaps we don’t want to look there because we already know what we will find, and it scares us. But if you believe in Him, here’s the thing: The answers are in your heart as well. You know.

So, I will take a deep breath and draw myself away from the computer screen.

I will not withdraw into the black hole of social media, phone in hand.

I will go do the things that need to be done today.

I will show Christ’s love.

I will care for my family.

I will trust that God is bigger than my fears.

I will choose — year-by-year, hour-by-hour, probably some days, minute-by-minute — to fight my fears with Truth.

He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. —Psalm 91:4

 

 

 

Thoughts on a Friday morning

My husband started—more accurately, fell into by the grace of God—a new job last spring. One of the bonuses I’ve discovered from this new and terrifying thing called self-employment is that he now sets his own hours—meaning he’s available in the mornings to help out with the a.m. shuffle, specifically driving our daughter to elementary school. No more 5:30 a.m. departures and kisses goodbye I have no recollection of! We never knew Morning Dad before now. We like having him here.

As the toddler (I have pledged to stop referring to her as the baby, now 18 months) has swapped up her sleep schedule on me again, this week I adopted a new morning routine in the half-hour I have between Dad and big sis’ departure for school and little sis starting to stir in her crib, her little noggin popping into view on the baby monitor screen:

I blow kisses and close and lock the door behind them, grab the book I’m reading (Simply Tuesday) and my Bible, fix up my coffee, and… climb back into bed. (Perhaps I shouldn’t be sharing this, as you now know my secret and it makes this stay-at-home-mom gig sounds so posh, no?) I read a chapter (usually through tears, because Emily Freeman and I are soul sisters and she just gets me), sip my coffee (still hot! Again, so posh this job *insert the laughing-so-hard-I’m-spurting-tears emoji*), and make notes. My house is silent but for my elderly cat’s random wails when she thinks I’ve vanished. I “psst psst” at her across the house and she curls up on the laundry pile mountain at the foot of my bed (sigh).

I think and dream and pray in these few minutes. As I close my books and place the cap back on my pen, my soul feels quiet and ready, expectant for what the day holds instead of dragging toward it out of necessity. Here I am, God. Present in this moment, hopeful that I will be present in all of the moments You’ve given me today. Please use me today. Teach me what it looks like to be who You made me to be, here in this simple Friday morning. 

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Afraid of the dark

I’ve always been afraid of the dark.

When I was little, my greatest fear was that a burglar or kidnapper or general bad guy would climb into our house through my bedroom window. I don’t know what I thought this bad guy would do at that point, but the fear of someone sneaking, in the darkness of the middle of the night, into the room I shared with my little sister was enough. At this age, my solution was to set up our bedroom so that my twin bed was directly under the window. Then, if the bad guy did get in, he’d probably hop right over my bed and not even notice me. (Sorry, sis.) Problem solved!

When I was a little older, I moved into a room of my own. The window in that room was huge, covering almost all of one wall, and looked out into the front yard and the street. In that room, it was the shadows of the trees outside my window, magnified by the outside lights, that freaked me out. My bed wound up next to the wall closest to the window so that I could at least roll over onto my side and close my eyes to try to ignore the creepy shadows that moved when the wind blew. What I imagined those shadows to be ranged from bad guys to wild animals to dinosaurs (thanks, Michael Crichton).

For some reason, the college apartment I shared with three other girls didn’t frighten me as much. My room was on the second floor of our little townhouse-style place, or maybe it was just that naive college-student mentality that I was awesome and nothing would ever hurt me. (Oh, if I could go back in time and lecture myself…)

When I got my first real job out of college, I was excited and terrified to rent a tiny one-bedroom apartment and live alone for the first time. I wound up adopting a cat to keep me company, but that’s another story. (Did you know that cats live FOR-EV-ER?) My apartment was nestled into a corner of the complex, on the second floor. I often left the TV and lights on at night to make it look like more than one person lived there, and of course I had my vicious cat to protect me from bad guys and dinosaurs.

Jump ahead a couple of years, I’m one-year married, and my husband and I decide to move away (my first time leaving my hometown). We both accepted jobs in South Florida, but I had to move right away to start my new position. He was still finishing up a semester of school, so I lived in our new place alone for about a month. I don’t think I slept much of that time. Between the police sirens I heard at night and my creepy neighbors, I came to dread the evenings and the darkness of night. I never left our place after sunset, scenes from Law & Order: SVU flashing through my mind. I convinced myself that I could be kidnapped in the grocery store parking lot. I slept in our guest bedroom because it was closest to the front door, and You’ve Got Mail played on a loop all night long on a tiny TV/VCR combo until my hubby and the rest of our stuff finally joined me.

These days, I’m secretly relieved that our older daughter leaves a bathroom light on at night because it means I can see light from our room, too. There’s something about being in total darkness that makes me panic. And now that I have two kids, and the accompanying responsibilities, and a job, and life to lie in bed pondering, the darkness brings not only fear, but worry. And when I worry, I don’t sleep. And when I don’t sleep, I turn into a crazy person, and my fears and worries become more irrational… you see where this is going.

For Christmas, my husband gave me a CD (yes, we still buy CDs) of Ellie Holcomb’s album As Sure As The Sun. I listened to it on repeat for weeks. It hasn’t left my van. All of her lyrics—rooted in Truth—speak to my heart, but those from “Night Song” resonate with me most:

Morning feels so far away, questions keeping me awake
Will you sing, sing your night song?
All these lies that are owning me, all this fear makes it hard to breathe
Will you be, be my night song?

The truth that sings into my darkness
The melody of love that leads me on
The voice that comforts all my sadness
Oh, even when the suffering is long, be my night song

Unmet longings steal my mind, calm my heart with your lullaby
Will you sing, sing your night song?
The sound of love surrounding me, promise that you will never leave
How I need, I need your night song

The truth that sings into my darkness
The melody of love that leads me on
The voice that comforts all my sadness
Oh, even when the suffering is long, be my night song

How I need to hear God’s lullaby at night—truth singing into my darkness! I wept in the car when this track played for the first time, because yes. I don’t need to lie in bed in the middle of the night, wide awake, consumed with fear and worry. His voice comforts all of my sadness. His melody of love chases away my irrational fears and leads me into peaceful sleep. He promises that He will never leave. His song calms my heart.

Fear is all-consuming when it goes unchecked. But when I call out to God for peace and calm on those restless nights? It goes. And I sleep.

 

You can listen to “Night Song” here. Music and lyrics by Ellie Holcomb, Christa Wells, and Nicole Witt. 

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