The Decade Challenge

 It’s weird to say that we are living in the year 2020. It is one of those years that science fiction told us that we should be driving flying cars and living on other planets by now. Though here I sit still living in my hometown and driving an old van through the streets of it. It doesn’t feel very “science fictiony” .  Although I am not flying through town on my hoverboard, my life has changed significantly over the years. On New Years Eve I sat parked in my driveway in that old gold van and scrolled through Instagram watching the photos pop up that friends were posting of their last decade.  My friends were posting their highlights of the last 10 years and most of them included marriages, children, careers and new homes. This is the typical progression of an American, so it wasn’t surprising in the least, but it caused me some great reflection on my past decade.

Some photos of me at the beginning of the decade. 1) saying goodbye to mexico before moving to Texas, 2) my engagement night 3) Wedding day

As I watched the photos of growing families and read the stories of how God has blessed my friends with great marriages, careers and homes, I felt the old twinge of comparison start to creep its’ way in. And as the famous Theodore Roosevelt’s quote says “Comparison is the thief of joy”. He was certainly not wrong in my New Year’s Eve social media scrolling session. The comparison game was strong and my joy was quickly fading. I saw what seemed like friends’ lives being built up and setting down deep roots. When I looked back at my past decade it consisted of breaking down and uprooting. Being that I am in my early thirties, the last 10 years is when I grew up for real and officially launched into adulthood. My decade started with great promise and expectation moving to a new city, starting a new ministry job and getting married. The beginning of this decade started out like many of my friends. Yet a few years in, tragedy hit and life changed. Along with that came great loss and trauma that I was forced to navigate through for the first time. I had been knocked down, but I got up again (Shout out to the classic lyrics of that great song by Chumbawumba).  Through the heartache the light always shone through and I was able to move forward and begin building something new. We had a new home, a new ministry and my family began growing.  Yet it was only a few years later when more trauma rushed in and uprooted life once again. It was a decade of getting knocked down, picking up the pieces, getting back up just to be hit again even harder. AS I sat in the driver’s seat of my van this New Years Eve, engine turned off and scrolling, tears flooded my eyes as I began to mourn all the things I have lost. I thought about all the things that didn’t grow bigger and stronger. I don’t have a stronger marriage, a more stable financial situation, or my own home. I don’t have a flourishing career and my home isn’t filled with the 3 or 4 children I had dreamed of. Was this decade a complete waste?  As my thoughts spiraled down with my tears and my joy was fleeing, I heard a still small voice whisper in my ear and into my soul. Gently, yet boldly with truth, he reminded me that although I don’t have any of those external markings of professional or personal success, I have more. His voice was kind and familiar. It’s as though I could hear him saying “I haven’t grown all of that, but I have grown you. You don’t have all of that, but you have me.” What a refreshing reminder for my soul.  

American culture emphasizes success in worldly ways; money, careers, possessions, family. Christian culture sometimes follows quickly behind. We can look at all the good things in our lives and call them blessings by God. Our dream home or dream vacation can be labeled a blessing. I guess it depends on your definition of blessing. Is a blessing a good gift that you are thankful for? Is it God’s favor and protection on you or is it getting your way just as you hoped?  I have often landed on the latter definition. However, here’s what I have discovered over the last decade: God’s favor and blessing often is poured out through suffering because that’s where we find him. His blessings and favor often don’t look like anything we hashtag on Instagram, it can be, but often not. Yes all good gifts do come from our Father above and it is never wrong to praise him for these beautiful blessings that come from his hand. But remember we can find him in the heartbreak and sorrow. We learn that it is our dependence on him, not our independence, that brings us life and freedom.   When we learn how much we need HIm, we find the joy he has to offer in His presence and that’s where I want to stay. And I don’t know about you but I tend to stay there more when I am hurting.

My family in 2020

The apostle Paul wrote in Phillippians 3:8  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (ESV). I have by no means gotten to the height of spiritual maturity where I can proclaim this as boldly as Paul did.  Yet after this past decade, I can read that verse and know it deep down in my soul that this is truth. I know Christ is the all I truly need in this world. I know everything else is garbage compared to Him. I know it. I have learned it. I just have to walk in it every day which is not an easy task.  

On the first Sunday of the new year our church sang the worship song “Jesus is Better”. If you are unfamiliar with the song, here are a few lines.  

in all my sorrows, Jesus is better 
make my heart believe 
In all my victories, Jesus is better 
make my heart believe 
Than any comfort, Jesus is better 

I love this song for so many reasons, but one reason is the way it doesn’t differentiate between the sorrows or the victories. See, It doesn’t matter if you are in a season of suffering or a season of rejoicing, Jesus is better than all of it. He is better than anything the world throws our way, both good and bad. Let us not get caught up in WHAT we do or do not have, but focus on WHO we have at all times, in any season, no matter the circumstances. He is the greatest blessing. Make my heart believe….

O Come O Come Emmanuel (A Repost of an older blog)

I wrote this blog in December 2017, one year after my world came crashing down. I had spent the day in a lawyers office finalizing my paperwork for my divorce.

Lamentations 3:18, 21-24

Then I thought, “My future is lost as well as my hope from the Lord. .Yet I call this to mind and therefore I have hope. Because of the Lord’s faithful love, we do not perish, for his mercies never end. They are new every morning and great is your faithfulness. I say the Lord is my portion therefore I will put my hope in him”.

I opened up to this passage this morning and the words leapt off the page at me and pierced my heart. No better words could be spoken to me on this day. I am a person who remembers dates and anniversaries better than most. I find dates to be meaningful and tend to look back in nostalgia at certain dates in my life. I just adore the “On this day” feature on facebook as it allows me to go back in time and see what was going on in my life on this exact day up to 11 years ago! I can barely remember what I was doing last week at this time let alone years and years ago. It always gives me a chuckle to see what I thought was so important to tell the internet world at certain times in my life. It also reminds me of memories both good and bad that shaped who I am today. So without fail every morning I wake up and check that app and take a short trip back to the past. Today there was no need for that because today is one of those days that changed my life forever. (Out of privacy and respect for my family I will spare the details if you aren’t already privy to them). I will say that one year ago today, everything I knew and loved came crashing to the ground  and shattered in a million pieces. The life I had known was over in an instant. My thoughts and words were those of Lamentation 3:18- “My future is lost, as well as my hope from the Lord.” I remember walking outside in the cold in the wee hours of the morning, weeping and choking out very similar words to a friend on the phone. I could not see any light anywhere in my situation.  There was no hope to be found as I was desperately seeking for it in the darkness.  I tried grasping for some sort of hope, but it was slipping through my fingers as quickly as sand. I could almost hear Satan just laughing in my ear. He was loving every minute of this. He certainly looked like he was winning and God was sitting back letting him do so. I couldn’t begin to imagine how I would ever make it through that day let alone to today. Surviving this literally seemed impossible to me. I couldn’t eat or sleep. I could barely breathe. It was so incredibly heavy. I don’t say these things to be dramatic or to make you feel sorry for me. I say them because it is so important to understand the depths of my pain and grief, to be able to really give glory to God for where I am today. We must know the darkness before we can appreciate the light.

So I made it. Here I am one year later. Through all the heartache and loss, I can finally see the light. Its there and truly it’s been there the entire time. Hope is now something that can be grasped. That light and that hope is Jesus, our Emmanuel- God With Us. Last Christmas, when I could barely get out a prayer, I would just repeat over and over “Emmanuel, God With us, Emmanuel- God with us.”. It was a truth that I needed to cling to. It was the same truth I clung to in 2012 as I laid bloodied and bruised in an ambulance. It was the same truth I declared  from our church pulpit on a Sunday morning in December 2014, standing with my husband by my side and It’s the same truth I clung  to today as I sat alone in a lawyer’s office. I know  that Jesus  has walked every step of the way with me. He knows the depths of my heart and has entered into the pain for me. He has seen all the ugliness, the doubting, the anxiety, fear, the harsh words, all of it and yet his mercies  never end.  He offers such extravagant grace in such impossible situations. I don’t know how many times I have heard the phrase this year ” I could never go through what you’re going through.” Well the truth is that yes you could. We all can, because we have direct access to the one who holds all things together even when everything is falling apart. I am grateful that we have a God who cares, and not only that, but makes all things new. I could never begin to predict what 2018 will bring.  The truth is that more suffering may be headed my way, but I do know that there is always joy to be found if we keep seeking for it. The Gospel gives me hope that beauty is just around the corner. 

So I hope you find encouragement this holiday season if you are in a place where you cannot see the light anywhere you look. I know the feeling well. In fact, there are many days for me where it slips away and out of sight still. The holiday season can be such a painful time for those who are suffering. For me, Thanksgiving was incredibly tough. I was flooded with painful memories and reminded of all the loss I have experienced this year. To be real, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to peel myself off the floor to be able to celebrate this holiday at all. I did. Although I could see all the things I was grateful for, the grief was incredibly real. You know what, I think that’s okay. However, I have found that if I can manage to lift my eyes off of my circumstances and onto Jesus, I  find the hope I am looking for. I remember friends and family telling me last year “It’ll get better” and guess what, it did! It’s important to note that my circumstances didn’t change at all. In fact all my worst fears of where life could go happened anyway. There has yet to be resolution to my story and in fact I am walking straight into another difficult season as I write this. So often we try to push past the suffering and pray to get to the other side as quickly as possible, when in reality God wants us to lean into him and use this pain as a way to realize how sufficient he truly is. I am learning this daily. So on those days, where it feels like you won’t make it through whatever it is you’re going through, remember you will not perish because God is faithful always. He is faithful no matter what, in both the triumph and the tragedy. Christmas is the perfect time to call this to mind, as we are literally celebrating the fact that God loves us so much he became flesh and dwelt among us. He has experienced in the flesh, the pain of loss, grief and intense sorrow. Hebrew 1:3 says ” The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by the power of His word. This verse is a beautiful encouragement to me. So as I sit by the the lights of  my Christmas tree and listen to the carols sing of that divine night when God displayed his love for us. I will call to mind, the mercies and faithfulness of our great God. I will call to mind that Jesus is our Emmanuel and that’s the greatest hope we could ever have. “O Come O Come Emmanuel, Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel. “

Behind the Scenes – Three Years Later

It’s that time of the year when everyone starts posting their family photos and sending out Christmas cards. I followed suit and posted some family photos that were taken of me and my boys this fall.  The comments flew in quickly about how precious and beautiful the pictures were. The mix of gorgeous fall colors and smiling adorable children were enough to make anyone swoon. Our photographer Erin did an amazing job. She was able to make the love that we share shine through the camera. The photos turned out to be frame worthy and will be displayed for years to come in all their glory. However, there is a story behind these perfect pictures. A story that is not so beautiful or perfect. 

The story behind these beautiful pictures goes as follows : The hour leading up to our photo shoot was chaos in all senses of the word. We had guests at our house up to the very minute we left.  My three year old was exhausted and refused to wear the carefully coordinated outfit I had chosen for him weeks before. My 5 year old had grown overnight and his jeans no longer fit. My stress level started rising. As we were running late to the shoot, my toddler fell asleep and got precisely a ten minute nap. He was forced to wake up and needless to say he was not camera ready. He protested hard enough and  long enough for it to become clear we were not going to be able to make this happen. The tears starting welling up as I had really counted on getting these pictures done. I had given up all hope and was feeling quite humiliated. As I tried to make our escape, I learned that my van’s battery was dead and I couldn’t go anywhere for awhile. Another family had come and gone and we were still sitting in the parking lot an hour later crying and cold. Then in a moment, things began to turn around. After those 2 hours of struggle, the light broke through!  Our photographer seized the moment and the results are what you can see today on my social media pages and in this post. She was able to take a very messy day and produce something beautiful and lasting. It didn’t take long for me to follow this metaphor into my real life. 

 Today I have a beautiful family, 2 jobs that I love, great friendships and community. I am provided and cared for. I live with strong hope and faith. You may catch me at the gym or at Starbucks moving forward with life and pursuing future goals. I laugh a lot and can find joy in the simple things. I am raising two healthy, happy, little boys.  I have tasted amazing grace and have learned the power of God’s presence. I can speak with confidence in the faith I hold on to. What you see today is not the full story.  The beauty you see has risen out of three very long hard years. Often people say things like “ Don’t look back” or “The past is in the past” as a way of pushing forward in life and staying positive. I agree that looking in the rearview mirror all the time won’t get you to where you need to go. But I would also argue that one cannot fully appreciate the beauty of where they are now unless they acknowledge and remember from whence they came.  

As I sit here in 2019 and flip through my journaled pages from December 2016 and beyond and I read a more complete and accurate story. I read through the dark times and see my cries out to God asking him why he allowed all this pain in my life. I can see literal tear stains on the pages and  I can feel the anguish flowing out of them. The hope is small, and at times missing completely. Anger and anxiety run all through these pages. Depression seeps out. At the same time, I can start to piece the puzzle together page by page seeing glimpses of God’s grace and healing as time moves on. I can read about joy and the presence of God I experience often. Three years ago, I couldn’t begin to imagine that I would survive this intense of heartbreak, let alone be able to move forward in it. I couldn’t imagine creating something beautiful from my hopeless and disastrous situation. However, my God is bigger than my pain and He knows the whole story. He can turn things around and redeem the awful. He is the God who makes beauty from ashes. He is always at work.  I can look at these beautiful pictures of my family framed on my wall today and remember that in the middle of that photo shoot I had given up all hope. In the middle of that shoot, I could not imagine anything beautiful coming out of it. Yet here it is hanging on my wall on display for all to see.  The same could be said about the life I am living today

It’s good to know the difficult story behind the camera because it increases the gratitude for the beautiful photo results that show up in front of the camera. It makes it all that more appreciated. In the same way we appreciate a movie so much more when we see the behind the scenes footage and learn all that goes into making a film. Or a house you live in if you were the one swinging the hammers and painting the walls. When we understand the challenges and difficulties that are behind someone’s story and see where God has brought them now, how much more can we give glory to our great God? When we think back to our own stories and see how God has carried us through to today, gratefulness will not be manufactured but authentically reciprocated.  Today marks three years exactly from a confession that shook my earth and altered the course of my life. Last night I knelt on my living room floor and fell face down in worship as I replayed the last few years out. I have spent countless sleepless nights on this floor pouring my heart out and desperately clinging to hope. I haven’t figured out how to do this single mom life well, but I have figured out how much I need Jesus. His strength, grace and love have always and will always be there. I can look back to the hardest moments of loneliness and loss and be grateful as they have shaped and grown my faith in ways I never could have imagined. Don’t forget or reduce the suffering and the heartbreak that has happened in the past, for they are teachers that lead us into worship. Acknowledging the difficult past is a valuable ingredient for appreciating the present. Today I give praise to God for walking through the last 3 years with me. I thank all those who also walked with me and encouraged me in this journey. Each kind word or thoughtful gift did not go unnoticed. I am very blessed to be surrounded by so much support and love. Looking back has helped me move forward.

Psalm 94:18-19 – When I thought, “my foot slips,” your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up

The Lost Ornaments

It’s mid-November and the coffee cups have turned red, snow is on the ground, and the aisles of pumpkin spice are far gone being replaced by the aromas of evergreen and peppermint.  My amazon wish lists are filling up with ideas and the pressure to find the right gift is already being felt. The Christmas trees are up and the holly is hung in each store I wander into. Although Thanksgiving is still over a week away, it is safe to say that it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas. With all the seasonal joy in the air, I decided I might as well join in! This weekend my boys and I pulled out the decorations from storage. Our time had come.  Decorating the Christmas tree is one of my favorite parts of the holiday season.  Growing up I was given an ornament each year that was just for me. Each year the ornament collection would grow, and I would delight in hanging my special ones up on our freshly picked real live tree. They each had special meaning and related to something important in my life that year. That tradition grew as I started my own family. Each year I added a new ornament to our collection. Christmas ornaments make me feel nostalgic and remind me of the memories I have created over the years.  

Three years ago, I put up our Christmas tree with all the special ornaments of Christmas past and looked with great expectation to the holiday season that I love so dearly. Within the week, I was on a plane leaving behind all my unfulfilled Christmas plans and the ornaments that would have gone along with them. That Christmas season turned out to be the hardest one of my life. A friend shipped me a box with a few of my most important Christmas items such as our stockings and my favorite nativity set so we could have them in Illinois.  However, when I flew back to Texas eight weeks later to pack up my stuff, I discovered by some mix-up the box packed with all my Christmas ornaments was accidentally donated to a local Goodwill. I was devastated. All these memories dropped off to be either sold for a meaningless price or possibly just disposed of all together. Among the lost ornaments were all my childhood ornaments, a beautiful glass ornament bought in the festive markets of Venice, Italy, my sons’ first Christmas ornaments plus so many more.  Each reminded me of family memories and a beautiful life I have lived.  However, it was obvious I would never get these treasures back. I had lost so much that Christmas already, I just added these holiday mementos to the list.  

Each year as the holiday season comes around, I am confronted with the loss that has occurred in my life. Christmas was a season when I lost so much. However, at the same time I find so much joy and hope during this time of year. I often feel the tug of war going on in my head and heart with both emotions.  When I decorate my tree each year, I notice the ornaments that are missing. I remember the ones that should be there for my kids to see and hold. Those ornaments represented so much more than just keepsakes. Then again, they are just keepsakes. The items themselves are honestly not all that important in the scheme of things.  Regardless, I have done my best to add new memories to that tree. Today, I can look at my Christmas tree and choose to see the new additions we have added over the last couple years. I can see the homemade preschool ornaments that were made with love by my precious toddlers. I can choose to see the picture ornaments of my kids and see how they have grown in such a short time. I can choose to see the “Merry Christmas Mom” ornament the boys handpicked for me last year with such excitement.  I can look at our tree and choose to grieve the pain and loss that I have gone through, or I can look at my tree and choose to see God’s faithful hand over me and my family over the years and be grateful. Which one is more biblical? Which one is more true? BOTH. Both are true and both can be held at the same time.  

Some of the new homemade ornaments that have been added since 2016

I have been on path of learning to hold grief and joy at the same time and not feel guilty about either. There is a true and biblical place to grieve the losses in our lives. We see this all throughout scripture and even with our Lord Jesus. Jesus grieves over sin and death. We live in a broken world. This is not as it should be. As Christians we are not immune to suffering and in fact are promised it all the more. Many of us have experienced unimaginable pain. It does us a disservice to push past it and claim victory in Christ without processing the grief and hurt and allowing ourselves to feel it. We should lament. We should be broken for the brokenness of the world and in our story in particular. However, if we only see that part of our story, we will lose all hope.  We will stay in the dark.  The hope that Jesus offers us is the ability to be hurting so intensely, yet at the same time to be full of unexplainable joy. This joy that comes is not temporary and fleeting.  It comes from an anchored faith in the gospel. When we know that this world is not all there is;  When we know that God is compassionate and kind; When we know God has already shown himself faithful by sending Emmanuel to rescue us from the brokenness of sin and death;  When we know all this, we can experience true and lasting JOY. This is true of me as I have  come into the Christmas season the last few years. Yes, it can feel as if my heart is breaking over again each year, but I can also fall on my knees and delight in the truth of the holiday season. Emmanuel has come! God is with us! If the holidays are hard for you, I urge you to let yourself hold joy and grief at the same time. Remember the loss but focus on the lasting hope you have in Jesus.  

Seasons of Change

Last weekend, I basked in the glory of the beauty of the fall colors around me. Today as I look out the window there is snow covering those multicolored trees and an icy chill is all around me. Living in the Midwest during the fall I should not be surprised by the sudden weather change, but as much as they predicted this dramatic climate transformation I was just as much thrown into confusion. Yesterday I woke up to snow blowing in every direction and my van frozen solid. I employed the help of my five year old to dethaw our vehicle which in turn wasn’t the most efficient workforce. I am sure my neighbors could hear my grunts and groans while I questioned my judgement of choosing Illinois as my home state. I frantically scrambled to get me and both boys to school and work while navigating through the unfortunate icy October conditions. You would think I have never done this before, but I certainly have of course. The first snow of the season always feels so new, yet so familiarly awful each year. It is as though I have completely forgotten what winter feels and looks like. As much as I knew winter was coming and a seasonal change was inevitable, I felt completely unprepared and overwhelmed by it all the same.

The colliding of two seasons

The weather can be a precise metaphor for life in general. We see it all throughout the scriptures. There are multitudes of verses discussing the changing of the seasons. It is such a simplistic yet profound imagery for us to understand especially if we live in a place where we experience 4 complete seasons. We know the seasons will change. We know that the season we are experiencing now won’t last forever. Yet, we often live like it will.  At the end of the summer, I do everything I can to be outside every chance we can get. I want it to last forever, and sometimes stay in denial that those colder temps will ever arrive. During the wintertime, the opposite tends to happen. I often get so lost in the despair of the cold weather and wonder if it will ever end. I have the complete knowledge to know that every season has an end and a beginning but tend to have a hard time living my life that way.  

The same can be true about my spiritual life. Whether in a season of grief or a season of rejoicing, I often get stuck in it and don’t live in the awareness that change is coming. Sometimes these seasons last a lot longer than the three months that make up the physical seasons, yet the metaphor is still the same. Life seasons change, yet we are overwhelmed and often surprised when they do. Sometimes the change is gradual, and we can slowly feel it coming. We might be given a warning. For example, this fall brought changes for my family’s schedule. My older son started Kindergarten, my younger son started daily preschool and I switched my teaching hours. I knew all of this was coming. This summer I did what I could to prepare us for the new season, yet when it finally came it was still difficult. These were good changes, but they were changes all the same. Sometimes the change is drastic, sudden and unexpected. Like a snowstorm swooping through an October day or a tornado that drops in the middle of a summer afternoon. Many of us understand that one phone call or one moment can alter the rest of our lives. I have walked through those days. One moment I am making plans for my day with a long to do list and busy weekend up ahead and the next I am in an ambulance happy to be just be alive.  One day I am planning what clothes my family of 4 will wear for family photos being taken this weekend, and the next day I am on a plane flying 1000 miles away as a family of 3. These times when change charges in unannounced and uninvited flip our world upside down.

Whether it is gradual or sudden, change is hard no matter what. There is a process of adjusting to new things. Some people adapt better than others, but all in all we each struggle in some way when our lives move into new seasons. The word “new” is scary to a lot of people. My children can struggle with new things even if they are good things. This week my son started a new school and he is taking the school bus for the first time. These are good new things, but he is resisting and wrestling against it. Like my son, I like to feel comfortable and familiar with the situations in my life. It is scary when I am forced get out of that comfort zone and move into something new or different. So how do we handle change as followers of Jesus?  Dr David Jeremiah said “ we can embrace change, knowing we serve an unchanging God”.  The world is ever changing around us. There is very little in our lives that stay the same for a great length of time. Jobs change, schools change, relationships change, economies change, politicians change, seasons change, culture changes, technology changes, attitudes change, but our King is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).  I find great stability and confidence in this truth. My adult life has been full of change and uncertainty. I am learning to live life openhandedly knowing that no matter what my plans might be, I must acknowledge that God is sovereignly in control. I know I can turn to Him in any circumstance and trust that His character hasn’t moved one iota.  

A new preschool for my son Lucas. He was so anxious about this big change.

So as the autumn leaves fall to the ground and winter winds come to steal them off their branches, I know that in every season there is joy and hope to be found. Even in the darkest season, we can find the light if we look to our unchanging Savior.  I also know that this season will not last forever. For better or for worse, change will come. There is no need to fear it, if we put our trust in Jesus. He walks with us guiding us through each step. His love is steady and sure.

Psalm 106:1 Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!

Facing My Fears

Carving a jack-o-lantern with my boys this year for Halloween

I have always been a fan of Halloween. I like the candy, the costumes, and the parties. Its takes place during my most favorite season. As a parent there are countless activities I love doing with my sons. We visit pumpkin patches,apple orchards, carve jack o lanterns and participate in trick or treating events. Nowadays I usually stay away from all the creepy things that come along with the holiday, but if we would rewind nearly 20 years ago you could easily find my middle school self in the basement of friends’ houses watching horror movies during a Friday night sleepover.   The Scream franchise had our full attention and devotion. My friends and I loved the thrill of sleuthing out the serial killer’s identity, while hiding under blankets and peeking out just in time for the final scare. Those same friends and I could be found at the local haunted house standing in long lines and paying money to be scared out of our minds by some ghastly horror scene being acted out. We would link arms and hold tightly to each other the entire way through. After we had taken our tour through the house of horrors, we came out laughing and ready for more. This became a tradition each Halloween. Fear was equal to fun and entertainment for us. 

As I have grown into an adult, I no longer find fear to be fun or amusing. I stay as far away from horror movies or violent television as I can. A once avid roller coaster fan, I now find myself struggling to embrace the idea of being flipped and turned upside down with the trust that just this one harness will keep me from falling to my death. Instead of me pursuing fear, fear is now pursuing me. Something transforms in us as we mature. Many of us who loved scary movies or riding thrill rides as a kid, now struggle with true anxiety. I believe anxiety could be considered a fancy word for fear that takes control.   As a person who struggles with anxiety, fear is not something I go looking for. Instead it finds me and paralyzes me from living a life of freedom. For so many fear isn’t something just played with on Halloween, but it is the last thing we deal with before bed and the first thing that greets us in the morning. I have had a lot of experience living a life full of anxiety over the last decade. I am no expert on anxiety but I have observed a few things regarding it. For example: Fear rages most when we feel alone. Therefore, the power of fear can be lifted and often released by the presence of community.  

Like most households I have nightly bedtime routine with my two children. I tuck my boys into their beds each night, read a bible story, pray together, and sing a quick song. I turn off the lights, close the door, and approximately 5 minutes after that I will hear the sound of my five year old son calling my name. I go to check on him and he tells me he is afraid. Nearly every night for the last couple weeks, he tells me he cannot sleep and fears someone or something coming into our home to get him.  He doesn’t have this fear in the middle day. He doesn’t stop in the middle of playing a board game with me and worry about intruders. He doesn’t call my name in his classroom at school fearful of being harmed. See fear always comes when we feel the most alone. My son is fine until the lights go off, his little brother has fallen asleep and he is lying there wide awake in the dark feeling alone. What brings him comfort is one more hug and reassurance that I am right there in the room next door. I haven’t left him alone in his fears.  

I can completely relate to my 5-year-old. I have experienced a lot of trauma in my life and faced some of my worst fears. How have I been able to walk through them and come out on the other side? Knowing that I wasn’t left alone in my fears. This came through having a community around me. Friends and family have gathered around me encouraging me and supporting me in my darkest hours. Even if the words weren’t always the right ones, their physical presence gave me the courage to know I don’t have to do this all alone. The night that I survived a brutal attack, my sisters drove down to be with me. I woke up in the middle of the night and there they were sitting at my bedside all night ready to serve and help me.  There was an actual guest room that they could have used, but they chose proximity and that mattered. I wasn’t alone and I could fall back asleep knowing they were there.I have countless examples of people showing up for me in hard moments that in turn gave me courage to keep going. I walked into a courtroom to finalize a divorce with my mom by my side and friends on call praying for me fervently. I have sat in an emergency room with my child while friends and family held my hand and cared for me. I have spoken vulnerably in front of a crowd with a prayer warrior mentor standing in my corner. I have walked through depression and anxiety with close friends listening and willing to sit in the hard moments.  It is in community when fear loses its power over us. Good community takes fear and sucks all the lies out of it.  When we have someone holding our hand in that courtroom, doctor’s office, or a funeral home,  fear can be pushed backwards. Something we thought impossible to face all of sudden becomes possible.   

So when does fear take over and mostly consume me? Like my kindergartner, it’s when I am laying wide awake in the dark feeling alone. When I feel alone, fear attacks me like an enemy charging the front lines ready to capture my mind and my heart. Sometimes it succeeds and other times I am prepared for battle. I know that as much as friends and family attempt to support and rally around me, they will never fully satisfy my lonely heart. They cannot be available 24/7 to give me the courage I desire. As humans we like to be able to rely on other humans to get us out of our trouble and rescue us. I often put too much weight on my relationships  to become my saving grace in a storm, but that always ends in disaster. People will fail us. It’s inevitable. The expectation for them not to do so is setting yourself up for disappointment. In those darkest hours of the night, when there is no one to text and no one to turn to for assurance and safety I realize I can turn to the very one who speaks light into darkness. He is always there ready for me to come running to him for my peace of mind.  As a child I memorized Hebrews 13:5- 6 which says  For he has said, “ I will never leave you nor forsake you. So we can confidently say, the Lord is my helper, I will not fear; what can man do to me?”  I wish that I could take the truths of this verse I have quoted for decades and rest in them, but honestly I find myself doubting the validity of what God is saying here all too often. I do feel alone. I do fear man and the capability of evil that is in them. Those feelings can often overshadow the truth, but it doesn’t change it.  

All through scripture you can find the command “Do not fear” usually followed with an immediate reassurance of his loving character and presence.  The Lord knows we fall into fear as soon as the unexpected comes our way.  God tells Abraham “Fear not, for I am your shield and great reward” (Gen 15:1). God tells Isaiah “fear not, for I have redeemed you and called you by name.” (Isaiah 43:1) The angel Gabriel tells Mary “Don’t be afraid, for you have found favor with God”. ( Luke 1:30). Notice that in none of these passages it says “Fear not because nothing bad will happen to you.”  In fact, Abraham still was childless for many years. Isaiah is believed to have been martyred. Mary still lived through being pregnant out of wedlock in a Jewish culture, a refugee in Egypt and watched her son die a gruesome death (and she was found favored!) I think in our American culture Christians will all too often say things like “Don’t be afraid, just trust in God” in a way that’s taken out of biblical context. What they often are implying is that if we trust in him then our fears probably won’t come true. But there are times when our fears actually do come true. I have lived through facing three of my biggest fears : Assault, miscarriage and infidelity/divorce. What brought me strength in all of these situations wasn’t some false hope that my circumstances would change somehow, but clinging to the promises of our King that he will never leave me or forsake me. He walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death. Jesus is Emmanuel, which literally means God with us. He came down to earth to prove his love for us. We can look to Jesus to see that God makes good on his promises and desires to be with his people especially in those hardest most terrifying moments.  

            If you are the one feeling alone today in your fears, tell someone. Don’t walk it alone. You were meant for community. Reach out to someone and let them into your fears. Just like most of us wouldn’t dare walk through a haunted house all by ourselves or sit alone in basement watching a horror movie, neither should we think we could walk through our biggest fears without someone next to us.  If you have already have a community supporting you then be grateful for that, but don’t forget to look to Jesus first of all.. He makes us brave. He calms the storms and raises the dead. He heals our diseases. He understands our sorrow. He never fails us. He is drawing near to you. Draw near to him and know that you are not alone.  

The Purpose in Perseverance

       I had this brilliant idea to sign up me and my five-year-old son to run an obstacle race challenge challenge together. He has a new enthusiasm for the American Ninja Warrior television show.  So I thought this would be a fun way to fuel that fire, get us active and make a sweet memory together. Let’s call it a mother son bonding experience. As the race got closer, I started having more doubts. Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea. My son had cried walking the two blocks home from school because it was too strenuous just a couple weeks ago. There were tears of exhaustion on a casual, fun family bike ride one recent evening. This is the same kid that after going hiking, ingeniously came up with his plan of “drive thru hiking” as an alternative so he wouldn’t have to walk any further. Needless to say, he doesn’t have the reputation of being my most resilient child. I wasn’t sure how this was going to go.  

After crossing the finish line!

      The day of the race came, and he was never more excited! He was ecstatic and told everyone at church that morning that he was running a real obstacle race! Doubts swirled around in my head, but I didn’t falter and let them show. I gave him the very enthusiastic mom thumbs up and high fives needed. I tried to mentally prepare myself not to be that annoying mother that shames her child but uses words of encouragement and praise. Although I knew with my competitive nature that might be a challenge. As we stood on the starting line covered in bubbles and foam (because every good race should start that way), my son grabbed my hand and told me not to let it go. I could feel his anxious excitement. We counted down and the siren went off and off we went. We ran through the fire hoses and around the fields to the first wall climbing obstacle. We got through it together, although my son did get mad at me for “helping others win” when I gave a hand to some young girls beside us. That competitive nature must be genetic or something. It wasn’t but just a few minutes later when the exhaustion settled in.  My precious five-year-old was tired and not sure if he could finish. We had 10 more obstacles to go.  He so badly wanted to win the race, I could see it, but boy was he tired already. Being one of the youngest competitors, nearly all the other runners had passed us up and were out of sight. I looked at him and said, “Do you want to win?” A resounding yes was his reply! “This is how we do it”, I said. “We win if we don’t give up!” We win if we cross that finish line.” We win if you just keep going”. This little motivational speech was all he needed to hear to endure the heat and long distances for his short little legs. We carried heavy weights, belly crawled under wire, crossed muddy creeks, ran through tires, and climbed up and down large walls.  Although we didn’t finish first, we “slip and slided” through that finish line second to last with big smiles on our faces and a great pride in our hearts. I saw my son beaming with pride as they draped his medal across his chest. All those challenges laced with sweat and exhaustion had been worth it now. He looked up at me with bright eyes and a wide smile “We won mom! We didn’t give up!”.  

For the past seven years, the month of September always hits me hard. September 8 is the anniversary of a brutal attack that I survived. Each year around Labor Day, my body starts to feel the tension and anxiety. I find it harder to get out of bed and do normal every day things such as prepare breakfast or take a shower. It usually takes me a few days to realize this is PTSD at its finest. My counselors have told me multiple times that the body remembers trauma even if we are not consciously remembering it ourselves. Even though this phenomenon takes over my body every September I am always surprised by it. I want to be okay. I want to be past all of it and be able to move forward. Maybe this year will be different I think, and when it’s not, depression slithers in and I am caught as the unsuspecting victim once again. Seven years of fighting through all these emotions. This month I have tried to write to commemorate the anniversary, but a blank screen glared back at me for weeks.  I wanted to be able to write a post about the gratitude I feel, I could not get my fingers to type anything without feeling like a complete phony. My desire is always to do my best in being authentic. I aim to be raw and genuine not withholding the hard stuff, but I always desire to land my writing in a place of hope. As I sat down to write over the last few weeks, hope escaped me. I was nowhere near that landing zone. I was landing in despair, defeat, and discouragement. How can I encourage others when I’m not even finding it for myself?  

My view of Lake Michigan from a bluff in St Joseph Michigan.

As I have struggled and inched my way through September I may not have landed in a river of hope and joy, but I have learned a few things while sitting and listening for God’s voice to break through. A few weeks ago, I sat on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan in the early morning hours. The lake seemed to go on without end and was majestic in nature. My eyes were taking in a glorious view, but all I could feel was my heavy heart beating in my chest and sadness overwhelming my soul around it. As I sat above the beauty of creation and the tears flowed freely, I asked God when this pain was going to stop. I begged for the healing to come once and for all. I beseeched him for purpose in all this pain. Truth be told, I often don’t see an end to the suffering. I know that Jesus brings hope and joy. I sing about that all the time. I can cite a plethora of verses telling me that Jesus is better.  However all that was just knowledge in my head and was not seeping into my heart like it often does at other times of the year. You might be in the same boat as me. You may have heard someone tell you “this too shall pass” , but often as a fellow writer KJ Ramsey says sometimes it feels more like “this too shall last.” We are not guaranteed that our pain will end here on earth. In fact, we are guaranteed that trials will continue to come our way until our dying day. As believers, we may be able to find the joy and hope that is in Jesus on most days, but what about those days, weeks or months where his love isn’t always penetrating our hearts and filling us up. What about when those hard things seem just too hard and impossible to overcome? What do we do then? Friends, I will tell you the same thing I told my son a couple weeks ago, we persevere!  

My son learned an important life lesson during that obstacle race. He learned that when things are hard, the key to success is perseverance.  I have already used this on him multiple times this week when he tells me something is too hard for him. I remind him the difficulties of the race, but that he crossed that finish line. He seems to understand perseverance a bit more because he has experienced the benefits of it. Truth be told, this is a lesson I am constantly learning and struggle with daily. Perseverance is defined as “the steady persistence in a course of action, or a purpose, especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement”.  Perseverance takes effort, sweat and tears. It is not passive. You cannot sit by while the challenges of life come at you and overcome them. Perseverance is active and intentional. It’s a decision to stay in the race and fight through the adversity that stands in front of you. When those walls look too high to climb, it’s setting our eyes in the knowledge that there is a finish line ahead and prize that is worthy to be attained. Then we get through each obstacle as it comes. We cannot worry about what is up ahead and around the corner. We focus on what is in front of us now that God is giving us the grace to do overcome today. And when that exhaustion comes at us full force and we are ready to take a seat or throw in the towel, we remember that unlike a physical race we are not operating out of our own strength. We remember that our ability to spiritually overcome does not come from within us, but from Christ himself. I do not need to pull myself up from my bootstraps and bolster my own faith to get to the finish line. In fact, that would cause me to fall on my face in failure all the more. Hebrews 12:1-2 encourages us in this- “Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and the perfecter of our faith” (CSB). It is Jesus who is our source of energy and strength in this spiritual race we are running. As my son was competing in his obstacles, I didn’t run ahead or lag behind, I stayed by his side with a helping hand and an encouraging word. How much more so is our heavenly Father doing this for us? Even when it’s too dark to see through the fog and it doesn’t seem like his presence is a reality, He promises that he never leaves us. He is there with a strong helping hand reaching out for us. We just need to reah back and take it.  

We must call to mind the truth that behind every trial, we have a God who is working it for our good and his glory. He is for us, not against us. Romans 5: 3-5 goes as far to say this “We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who has been given us”. (NIV).  Even in those darker days, I cling to this verse and trust the process that God has laid out for me. My feelings want to say that this suffering is meaningless and the pain is pointless. My feelings want to believe that God isn’t listening to me or redeeming my story. However, I know that my feelings lie. I have decidedly chosen to believe in my heart the truths of God’s word. I believe that he is using every single tear drop and redeeming every part of the pain for a greater purpose. Nothing is in vain. I know that if I persevere long enough that the hope eventually comes back. It always does. I trust in Romans 5, that in my perseverance I can know that God is growing my character. And as my character is growing, hope begins to blossom in my heart once again. And as hope begins to blossom, I am now able to fully recognize that it was worth it all because God’s amazing love is overflowing from the depths of my heart. What a beautiful outcome and reward we have for us if we just hold on and endure.  

  I can understand perseverance a bit more because, like my son, I have experienced the benefits of it. Each October comes like a breath of fresh air. I may call it new month mercies (totally made that up, but I’ll go with it).  Because I live in a broken world and I am a human being, I will repeat this cycle over again and again in my lifetime. One day my faith will become my sight and I won’t have to persevere anymore. Until that day, I keep on fighting through and grasping on to hope. I want to encourage you today if you are in a dark season that feels never-ending, don’t give up. Keep going. Trust the process that your perseverance is building character, and that character brings about hope, and this hope does not disappoint! Our heavenly father is telling us “Persevere, keep going! You win if you don’t give up! You win because I have already won the race for you!”