Familiar Feelings in Unprecedented Times

 Last week was my son’s 4th birthday. I had planned a surprise overnight birthday getaway to St. Louis to celebrate. As the boys were getting ready for their normal school day, I pulled out the packed suitcases and to their amazement told them my big secret. The screams of joy and excitement were totally worth it. We quickly changed gears, packed up the car and set off for an adventure. We created some fun memories together. We played at a museum, stayed in a fancy downtown hotel, went swimming, had a birthday dinner, visited the famous St Louis Arch and topped it off with the zoo for my son’s love of animals.  We left on a Thursday morning and by the time we pulled back into the driveway the very next evening it seemed as if our world as we knew it had completely changed. 

Our family trip before the Quarantine

These days we are living in unprecedented times. For all of us last week looked completely different than this week. Last week we were living our lives without much hesitation or uncertainty. We had schedules and routines that we followed. We knew what to expect when a Monday came around. We walked into grocery stores without worrying if there would be enough of essentials on our shopping list. We met friends for coffee and family for brunch and didn’t think twice about the freedoms we had to walk in and out of these establishments. We dropped our kids off at school assured they would be safe and taken care of until we came back for them at the end of the day. We called our parents without much apprehension or concern if they were out and about it.  We couldn’t have imagined that in just a few short days our lives and our community would look completely different.  

Although I have never walked through a pandemic in my lifetime, I found all these feelings of uncertainty and drastic change oddly familiar. I had a strange feeling like I have been here before. As I stopped and reflected on all of this, I put it together. I understand what it is like to look forward to a week ahead full of plans and expectations and have one day change it all.  I have walked through the disappointment and loss of unfulfilled agendas. I have lived in a week that looks drastically different than the week before. My life has had radical change more than once. I have walked the path of complete uncertainty and unknown for the future. Truth be told, it’s not a fun place to be in at all. It’s a rough place to live.  I say this not out of self-pity, but from a place of empathy. Some of you may be in the same situation where this pandemic is activating past wounds of trauma and heartbreak and you can relate with me. Some reading this may be dealing with this type of level of anxiety and unpredictability for the very first time. I thought I would share what I try to remember in times like these. 

Not knowing what tomorrow brings makes you fully dependent on God for today

 It’s cliché but in times like these you really can only live one day at a time.  I have not seen the light at the end of the tunnel and felt like a season was never-ending. I have to focus on my today otherwise it all begins to overwhelm my heart and my head. My boys and I say the Lord’s Prayer every night before we go to bed. As we say “give us this day our daily bread” we usually don’t mean it literally as we physically lack for nothing. With this pandemic some of us are literally in situations where we can’t find bread or other essentials we might be used to having on hand.  Some are worried about the future of their jobs and if there will be one to come back to after this all blows over. We don’t know how we are going to accomplish homeschooling our children and working from home at the same time. As much as we want to worry about these things, we must focus on getting through today. It becomes a spiral of thoughts and worry with questions that don’t have answers today, so maybe it’s best to put them away.  We focus on the now, try our best to prepare for the next thing, and rest in the unknown. (easier said than done, I know!)

  • Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.- Matthew 6:34 

Reach out to your community to remember you are NOT alone! 

Often times in hardship we begin to distance ourselves from our friends and family. My experience is when the grief is too much, I go deeper into isolation, and in turn the depression and anxiety only grow. If I choose to go it alone, I am often crushed by the weight of carrying my burden. If I reach out to my people and share the burden, they help carry it with me.  This week we are actually being mandated to distance ourselves physically, but that certainly doesn’t mean emotionally. If we are going to get through anything challenging, we must realize that we were created for community and interdependence. It is not a sign of weakness to reach out for help or even just a hello. If today was a hard day, tell someone. When we open up and share our struggles, we usually learn that we are not alone in them. We may not be able to go out for coffee and talk face to face, but what a blessing it is in this time that we have apps such as Marco Polo, Voxer and Zoom. There are so many options for us to push against the social distancing and like friend of mine said and practice some “distant socializing”.  

Even in the darkest circumstances, get some perspective and look outward 

Walking through times of struggle I find it to be so easy to be all consumed with my own pain and difficulties. Even in my darkest seasons, I have found joy in the moments when I have seen the opportunity to serve someone else.  This is not advice to fake it until you make it or to push through and bare it. This is not saying your pain isn’t legitimate. There are true disappointments and losses to mourn over and grieve. It’s okay to sit in the sadness. You can hold the heartache in one hand yet grasp for some perspective and purpose with the other. However there is value to this idea of realizing others have it harder and looking up from our circumstances to think about someone in a more vulnerable position. I may be facing several disappointments, but this quarantine is not costing me all that much in comparison to so many. Today I read about refugees in camps who cannot leave to find food and have no way to feed their families. I have seen the families in our own communities who rely on school meals to feed their kids and have lost that for an indefinite time. I know those who are in the hospitals facing major surgeries or a critical prognosis just trying to survive through the threat of this virus. Gaining a bigger perspective helps get me out of myself and puts me on course to take action to help others. In this case, staying home may be the best way to help the vulnerable. Other ways to help are sending money to organizations such as Preemptive Love Coalition or World Relief who are helping those in the direst situations. You might call someone who is shut in or mail them a letter of encouragement. If we are not high risk, we could offer to do some grocery shopping for our elderly neighbors. There are so many ways for us to find joy in serving others.  Remember “we’re all in this together”

Friends, I know we are living in very uncertain times. Every time we turn on the news there’s more information that seems different than the hour before.  These familiar feelings of anxiety, uncertainty, and desperation are rearing their ugly head at me. They are trying to spiral into fear and paralyze me from living with joy and purpose in each day. However I remember that God is faithful in every circumstance. He is near to the brokenhearted. He is still in control. He still cares. He still is ever present. He still doesn’t change. I know this because I wrote this all down the last time I walked through these feelings and knew I would forget this time. Let us keep reminding each other of these truths as we walk this road ahead.  

Sledding in the Summer

Have you ever gone sledding in the summer? What about waterskiing in the winter? Odds are that you haven’t done that before because it would be ridiculous and nearly impossible to pull off well. There are certain activities that are just meant for some seasons and not for others. I was recently shuffling through photos and found a picture of me and my boys at the local swimming pool last July. As much fun as that time was, it would be absurd for me to look at that picture on this cold day in February and make the conclusion that we ought to pack up our swim bag and head down to the waterpark after school. It’s absurd because I wouldn’t be taking into consideration the difference of the seasons. Although swimming outside is enjoyable and a great activity to do in the summer, February is not the time for it. We must wait until the weather warms up and the pool opens its doors for the summer.

What does this obvious observation have to do with anything important in our lives? I know that I do this same absurd comparison both spiritually and emotionally. As I scroll instagram, I can find myself in a comparison game and catch myself saying things like “I should be doing that”or “I wish I could go there”. I look back to my own past photos, remember all the great things I was doing years ago and feel the weight of the life I am living now being so very different. I feel a less important working part time and raising kids as a single mom, than when I was traveling the world and serving the poor on daily basis. I have come to realize that when I do this, the spiral of shame and guilt comes in strong. Just as our year comes in different seasons, so do our lives. We have seasons of suffering and seasons of rejoicing. We have seasons of singleness and seasons of relationship. We have seasons with young kids and seasons as empty nesters. We have seasons of spiritual growth and seasons of spiritual melancholy. We have seasons of work and seasons of rest. We have seasons of abundance and seasons of need. It can be tempting to look other people in other seasons than us and begin to compare unrightly. It is as if we are trying to go sledding in the summer when we try to push things into seasons that are just not the right fit for this time.

Pool fun last summer

One of the greatest blessings in my recent life has been being a part of a writer’s group. We talk almost daily using the Voxer app and are intentional about meeting up once or twice a month for encouragement and support. These women constantly inspire me with their strength, dedication and hard work. There are 7 of us and all of us are in different seasons of life: Single, married, divorced, a mom of littles, a mom of elementary students, a mom of high schoolers, recent empty nester and a great grandmother are some of those seasons represented in our little tight knit group.  It could be easy for me to watch these women in different seasons and life circumstances and think my output of writing should look the same as theirs.  If it isn’t, I could begin to feel the shame that I am not good enough. Some of these ladies have written books and bible studies. Some are in the midst of writing great things and being published, and some like me are struggling to get a blog post out once in a while. What they have encouraged me with is to remember my season and to do what I am called to do in it. I can look around at the season that I am in and in contentment walk through it open handedly. Paul describes this in Philippians 4. He says “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation. Contentment is hard if we are in a season we did not choose, but it absolutely possible.

Living in Illinois during the winter is hard time to be content. The weather can be brutally cold and we long for those warm summer days to return. During the summer my boys and I play outside everyday and we love swimming. This week my boys and I went swimming at the YMCA. It wasn’t the beach or a waterpark, but because we love swimming, we chose to do so in a space that was available to us. We made it work with what we had and it was awesome. Last week we also made a snowman, made snow ice cream and hot chocolate while we watched a movie by the fireplace. Winter is not our favorite season, but I have learned to find the joy and do what we can in it. If we wasted our winter season away longing for a new one, we would miss what is right in front of us. In the same way. I never want to use seasons as an excuse not to be doing something God has called me to do or to be obedient to his Word. For example, just because I have young children and a single mother, doesn’t mean that it’s not my season to serve the church and those around me. it just might look different than how I did it pre-children. I may not be able to go late night youth activities anymore, but I can serve on Sunday mornings when there is already childcare provided. I may not be able to fly to Africa or to the Mexican border to do missions work, but I can love the people God has put right in front of me in an ESL class. I can look up and see the immigrant, the orphan, the widow and the poor in my own community. I can disciple my sons from my very own home and teach them how to live like Jesus. It’s not the same as others I know doing great things, it’s just different and that’s okay. Ecclesiastes 3:1 teaches us “ For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven”. We don’t need to fret if today isn’t the season you wish to be in. We must try to see the beauty of what is possible for today. Go swimming inside or build a snowman, write that book or a blogpost, take that missions trip, or serve at the local food pantry, teach that class or take that class, go after that dream job or stay at home with your kids. Whatever your season embrace it. Don’t long for the next season to come along and miss what God has for you today.

Riding his bike in February. Making do with our season

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!