This is my article that was published the Joyful Life magazine for their Summer Rest Issue 2021

TITLE | Learning to Be Content in the Story that God is Writing for You

AUTHOR | Ashley Carrel

Four years ago I stood in the living room of my house, took a big deep breath, and felt the presence of God near to my broken heart as my life crumbled down around me. Everything I owned had now either been boxed up into a moving truck or dropped off at the local Goodwill. Hours earlier, the house had been buzzing with women who had shown up with rubber gloves and buckets, ready to lend a hand to their friend who desperately needed it.

Now the house was quiet and still, and I stood alone, my mind filled with the memories that lived in each nook and cranny of this house. In one room, I heard the giggles of my two young boys and imagined the messes that followed behind them. In the kitchen, I imagined my husband and I making coffee each morning and stealing kisses before the kids woke up. So many memories of the beautiful life we were making together. Yet in this same house, trauma had reigned down and left the stains of its memories as well. It was here that my husband confessed to sins I never would have imagined him capable of—sins that would bring devastation and consequences to our family forever. Those confessions were just six weeks prior, and I was still reeling from how much life had changed in such a short amount of time. Overnight, I had gone from being the wife of a beloved pastor to the wife of an accused inmate—one big identity shift I was not prepared for. With one final glance at the barren space, I walked out the door, turned the key in the lock for the last time, and realized that was the end of life as I had known it.

That weekend I got on an airplane and flew back to my small hometown and a new life I never signed up for: I was now a single parent with hardly a dime to my name. Just a few months before my move, I was serving the caretakers of children whose fathers were in prison as part of one of the ministries of our church. I had spent several hours with these women without ever thinking for a second I would become one of them. In a twist of what seemed like cruel irony, their tragic story had become mine as well. I went from being the one serving to the one served. I had spoken to them of the amazing grace of Jesus in any and every circumstance—now I was forced to live it. I wanted to argue that Paul’s call to contentment in Philippians 4:11-13 did not apply to my circumstances. His grace may be sufficient for others, but I was not sure it could cover the darkness I was walking through.

As I’ve navigated this new season, there have been so many days where I have been guilty of arguing with God, telling Him the best way for Him to get glory. I was convinced I was a much better minister of the gospel when I was a pastor’s wife or a missionary. I struggled with feeling completely disqualified from serving and was frustrated I could no longer function in the church in the ways I wanted to. I was now living in real poverty, fully dependent on Jesus to meet my daily needs. I often found myself in counseling, crying and pouring my heart out, wishing my life was different so I could do all the things I used to do or had dreamed of doing. I wished for the family I once had to be repaired. I wished for the reality I was living to be fiction. I was never supposed to be a single mother.

ACCEPTING REALITY

My therapist gave me a great illustration for how I was living my life. She compared me to someone sitting in a canoe in the middle of a lake saying on repeat “if only I had a paddle, then I could get somewhere.” Yet there was no paddle available and wishing for those circumstances to change was doing absolutely nothing to help me. It was only when I accepted the reality I was in that I could begin to make the necessary choices to move forward. The ideal choice, such as a paddle, was not available, so I was going to need to think of alternative solutions for getting where I needed to go. It was like a light bulb went off in my head. I was stuck looking at how it should be or how it used to be instead of what it really was. This mindset was holding me back from experiencing peace and contentment in my life.

We all have areas in our life that we wish were different—circumstances we never would have chosen for ourselves, yet God has allowed them to be written into our story. Maybe you’ve dreamed of filling your home with children, yet you still do not have any of your own. Maybe you are grieving the loss of a loved one who you always thought would be there. Maybe you have received a diagnosis that leaves you weak and in bed. Whether it is a failed marriage, infertility, the death of dreams, or the loss of loved ones, many of us find ourselves questioning God and denying the reality of what our life looks like now. We sit there wishing for things to change, but nothing ever does. How can we be content when life goes the opposite of what we hoped for?

The beautiful article in print

LEARNING TO BE CONTENT 

One of the first things I had to learn was to not walk in my own strength, rather go straight to the Source of all strength. Countless nights awake, caring for a sick child by myself while still caring for a toddler during the day and working at night, left me exhausted and struggling with anxiety. There was not much I could do about the situation I was in, but I could change my response to it all. I did not need to put all my time, energy, and resources into changing my circumstances—that only bred more exhaustion. I needed to bring all of myself to God—to give Him my disappointment, weariness, and heartache, so I could find rest in the truth that His power is made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

I also learned to be faithful and obedient in whatever season I am in. I have a tendency to reminisce over the past and daydream about the future, neglecting the present. Instead of dreaming and wishing, I have learned to look for opportunities to love those God has put right in front of me. Even though I may not be leading ministries anymore or serving on a mission field, I can love and serve my own children at home. I can strike up a conversation with a mom at the local park who looks lonely. I can teach Sunday school classes at my local church. I can bring a meal to someone going through chemotherapy. There is something extremely healing in looking outside of our own circumstances and serving others, even when we don’t feel like it. There is a reason Jesus said “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Giving brings joy even into the darkest places and joy brings sweet, godly peace and rest.

Lastly, I have learned to take God at His promise that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). I do not always understand why God allows suffering to come our way, but I can be certain He always uses it for our good and His glory. He will always take our pain and put purpose to it if we will allow Him to do so. I have watched God use my very messy story to minister to others walking through similar hurts and brokenness. I have sat with women in my living room and been able to look into their eyes and say, “me too.” I have seen how my children ask deep questions of God in their prayers and connect the dots from their story to the gospel more than they might have done in our traditional life before. We often cannot see God working and are left confused when He doesn’t intervene to stop this chapter of our story from continuing. However, we must trust in His character, knowing that He is good and kind and is always at work in our lives. We must speak the truth over ourselves—especially when we do not feel it. Truth does not waiver, it sets us free.

Scripture gives us many examples of being content in dire circumstances. Paul tells us that he learned to be content whatever his circumstances, even when those circumstances included beatings, imprisonment, and shipwrecks (Philippians 4:11-13). We see Joseph, a victim of human trafficking, using his talents for God’s glory and saving nations from famine. We see Jesus, condemned to die a gruesome death on a cross, yet praying “not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). Let us learn from their examples. Contentment in a difficult season can only come from a life centered on Christ.

My eyes still fill with tears when I think about the heavy weight of heartache that was upon me as I walked out my front door and closed that chapter of my life. Grief is still very much present in my life today. I spend many nights drying my tears and those of my children, and there are still days that feel like the darkness is overcoming the light. Yet today, when I look around my new home that we have filled with new memories, I cannot help but be filled with gratitude. Family photos of my boys and me laughing together hang on the wall. Preschool artwork and first grade book reports are proudly displayed. Memories of wrestling matches, dance parties, and Friday family movie nights are frequently being made. I am daily fighting for joy and by His grace, I am learning to love the life I never wanted.

Mother’s Day Lessons from a Single Mom

“I could never be a single mom”. I said that after my husband was gone for 10 days to West Africa while I took care of an 18 month old and was 7 months pregnant. Those 10 days were so hard and long. I am sure I repeated these words again when my husband was gone at summer camp for a week and I was taking care of a 2 year old and a 3 month old. I drove 5 hours by myself to get some help from family because I just didn’t think I could manage a week by myself with two little ones. Being a ‘single parent” for a week at a time was exhausting and pushed me to my limits. I knew other single moms could handle it, but that was something I could just never do and was hopeful I would never have to do.  

My first Mother’s Day as a single mother, I remember being in my grandmother’s bathroom during the early hours of the morning with a crying baby covered in poop feeling completely exhausted and alone. There were no gifts, no flowers, and no cute photos taken, I sat on the bathroom floor, tears streaming down my cheeks wishing things looked differently. The images of the previous Mother’s Day were still vivid in my mind. The year before I was on the beach with my boys, one peacefully sleeping in the baby carrier and one splashing through the waves with his daddy in hand. That day felt like a lifetime away instead of just a year. I longed for that to still be my reality. Yet here I was living that single mom life I always feared.

My last non single Mother’s Day spent at my favorite place.

I am a four years into this single mom life now and I have learned a few things since that first Mother’s Day.  

  1. Never say never. The phrase “ I could never do ___________” is something we often say when it comes to our worst fears. Obviously we never want to walk through hard things. And we would never wish tragedy to befall our own families. However, what I am learning is when you say you could never walk a certain path, you are discounting the grace of God that is promised to you. I may have never thought I could survive single motherhood, but here I am crushing it. Ha, okay that was a joke. I am not crushing it by any means, but I am doing it. I never took into consideration how His grace is sufficient in every situation and no matter how dark and scary life looks, He is always there offering us more grace to walk through that moment and come out the other side. THere have been many days of this journey when I am down to my last straw and not sure I can get through the rest of the day, but that’s when I lean into the truth that God is actually with me and hasn’t forgotten me. Do I still have fears for the future? Yes, of course I could list off a tragedies that I can’t imagine having to bear. Sometimes I do feel like I am waiting for the next heartbreak to be just around the corner. I can be anxious about more fears playing out in my life. However the truth is the more I experience suffering, the more I have experienced supernatural grace poured out on my life. Because of this I know that whatever would come my way, God would be faithful in it and never let me walk alone.
  1. I can’t do this on my own, I need a village. I do not like asking for help, because I hate feeling like a burden for other people. When I became a single mother, I was in pretty fragile state and knew that I would need some help taking care of my two babies.  In the months to come, people showed up for me with clothes, diapers, and money. As much as I appreciated it, it was such a strange feeling to become the needy family so I often rejected that idea. However, the truth is we were created to be dependent on each other no matter our situation. God blesses community and desires for his people to support and care for one another. Over the last few years, I have had many times that I  needed help, but I refused to ask out of a sense of pride and wanting to be independent.  What I learned is to build a team of people around me who are in my corner, ready and willing to show up when I need them. When my divorce went through, they showed up with pedicures and a night out. When my child was in the hospital, they showed up in the emergency room with coffee, gifts and prayers. When I go through hard dates on the calendar, they showed up with a weekend getaway. When I had Covid-19, they showed up bringing meals and caring for my children. When I started grad school, they showed up to take care of my boys so I could get some study time in. When I was depressed after a hard weekend of parenting, they showed up by sending food to my door. When I want to serve in church ministry, they showed up to watch my kids so I can use my gifts.  I am blessed with a village of people. I could try to do this alone, but I would lose out on so many opportunities to see the beauty of community and interdependence that God created me for.  (I know that I am very privileged, and many single moms do not have this option)
  1. I learned that I really need God, and in that need His power is displayed. When I was pregnant with my first child, my brother-in-law dropped some wisdom on me that I will never forget. He said that parenting goes like this. One moment in parenting you will think you are crushing it and the next you will have no idea what you are doing so he encouraged me not to get too confident or too discouraged. That was the truest statement of parenting I have ever heard. It is unbelievable how quickly these moments change. I can’t tell you how many days I have gone back and forth between these two sentiments. I try to start each day before my children wake up in prayer asking God for his grace over me to parent my children with wisdom and patience. Honestly, it does not take too long after my kids wake up and cannot find their shoes or are fighting over the cereal box at breakfast when I realize I already need renewed. Parenting, whether single or not, takes a moment by moment approach of leaning into the spirit of God for help. I cannot pray just once a day for help and expect that is going to take me through. I have never taken the verse “ pray without ceasing”  as seriously except in this season of life.  I have so many days where I am at the end of myself not sure how I will ever pick myself up off the floor and carry on. Yet in these weakest moments is when I am reassured that God doesn’t need to be try to be better or stronger, He just wants me to lean into Him.  

I say have learned a lot and want to offer wisdom, but the truth is very simply that I am a mess that’s doing her best…..sometimes.  These lessons I have learned, I am still learning. I have in no way mastered these lessons. I still say “I could never do ______________” or have fearful moments of what the future might hold. I still get anxious asking for help when I need it. I still feel utterly alone some days even with the village I have been blessed with. I still try to do everything in my own strength and fail miserably. I still give my kids too much screen time. I still long for the days of having a partner to share responsibilities with.  I still scream and yell at my kids when they aren’t listening. All of these things lead me to my last and only piece of wisdom that I have learned and try desperately to adhere to. 

I have learned that in all my faults and failures, that Jesus shows up for me everytime and that is all that I need my kids to know. I may get everything else wrong in this motherhood role, but if I can keep turning back to Jesus and modeling to my children His grace, love and forgiveness, I think we are going to make it.  

So this Mother’s Day as I eat the beautiful breakfast that I made for myself (that my kids threw in the trash) I am thankful for the gift of motherhood, yes even single motherhood. I am thankful for the messy life I am living with these two crazy boys. I am even more thankful for my God who continues to give me all the help I can get. If this is a hard Mother’s Day for you today, know that He sees you and cares. Whatever the reason its hard, your first single mothers day, you first Mothers Day without your own mom, or you are in a season of wishing to be a mom and aren’t yet, you are not alone. His grace will hold you through all of the tears and heartache. You can do this!

Christmas Eve Service – Anna the Prophetess

Do you feel weary this Christmas? Has this year given you new heartbreak and uncertainty that you did not see coming? The holiday season is centered around the themes of hope and joy, yet often in our own hearts those themes are nowhere to be found. When our hearts are breaking, it can be easy to turn away from the holiday cheer and give room for the thoughts that tell us that God is not near. However, when we look at the true Christmas story, we see characters that live hard lives of loneliness and sorrow, and yet they were drawn into God’s great story of redemption and given a place in history. Let’s take a closer look at the prophetess Anna.

Anna is introduced as an elderly widow woman of deep faith, who spends her days fasting and praying at the temple with eager expectation for the arrival of the Messiah. She has now come to the end of her life and she knows her days are numbered. Yet one day, just like any other day, as she is lifting her hands in prayer, she overhears the voice of Simeon, a friend and fellow prophet. He is presenting another baby boy to the Lord, a ceremony he has performed hundreds of times before. Yet, his voice sounds stronger and livelier than she has heard him in years. Something sounds different about this family. She races into the room in order to catch the end of the blessing that Simeon is proclaiming. Her heart begins to race as she listens and she is speechless for just a moment. Could this be true? Could this child in front of her be the one Israel has been waiting for? The one she has been waiting for?  She looks at Simeon for the confirmation that she can already feel is true within her heart. This is it! Her faith was becoming her sight. Tears of jubilation flowed down her withered cheeks as she takes the little boy into her arms and look upward in praise. How did she get to this place? What had led her to this incredible moment?  

I imagine Anna on her wedding day, a young beautiful bride full of hope and expectation as she looks toward her future. As she walks towards her groom surrounded by the love of family and friends, I imagine her to be dreaming of all that is to come for her. She has found a provider, someone to care for her through her lifetime. She doesn’t expect to be anyone worthy of great significance, yet she is anxious to begin the life that she has witnessed so many of her relatives have before her. She longs for the pitter patter of little feet to fill their humble home. She looks forward to a simple life as a faithful Jewish wife and mother. As the feast and celebrations continue, laughter and joy rings out, you can feel the excitement as this new life together begins.  

However, it doesn’t take long for the laughter to fade as the years go by. Friend after friend announces joyfully that she is expecting a child as Anna looks down at her barren womb and begins to feel incomplete. Tears well in her eyes each time she must endure another invite to a baby dedication in the temple. I imagine Anna and her husband celebrating their 7th year of marriage in silence and separation, the spark of joy has diminished, and they mourn the life they wanted. Why would God choose to withhold the greatest blessing of all from them? They had always been faithful and served the Lord. Anna although filled with sadness, still clings to the knowledge that God is good and loves his people. She continues to hope in a beautiful future. At least she has her husband, who is still kind and good to her. They would have each other to care for. She doesn’t lose hope.  

Then without warning a few months later, Anna loses her beloved husband, and she is thrown into a new wave of grief and uncertainty. It feels like everything is against her at this point. She is left broken-hearted and without much to her name. This young widow is at a crossroads of what to do next. Without a husband or children, she does not seem to fit into Jewish society well. Others encourage her to seek out another potential husband to redeem her situation and give her a second chance at the life she wanted. Whether unwillingly or by choice, this is not the story that unfolds for her. So where will she go now? Anna must be full of heartbreak, shame and hurt. She is desperate for her pain to be seen and to be known. She recognizes that what she is looking for can only be found in one place. Anna arrives at the temple with the few belongings that she might own and never leaves. She recognizes that the only thing to satisfy her heart completely isn’t in a husband or a child of her own but is in her great God. She comes with only herself to offer, and she is received in. She spends decades here in the temple establishing a routine of fasting, prayer and worship. Her circumstances have nothing to do with her joy and hope. She dedicates her entire life to knowing the heart of God and praying for the fulfillment of the promise that one day God would send a rescuer for her and her people. She experiences great intimacy with the Lord and becomes known as a righteous prophet, a title rarely given to a woman in her day. She keeps her eyes on the promise, trusting God in his character to be faithful and good.

When Anna looked down at the infant boy in her arms that fateful day in the temple, she wasn’t thinking about how she never got to hold a child of her own. She wasn’t sorrowful that she lived the majority of her life without a husband to provide and care for her. No, she wasn’t thinking about all she had missed out on. She was completely satisfied knowing full well that Gods love and care over her lifetime was better than any husband could have given her. She knew that this child in her arms was the ultimate blessing for not just her, but the entire world. She knew that she had lived a life worthy of the calling God had so graciously given her. If she had lived the life that she dreamed of as a young bride on her wedding day, a life of comfort and normalcy, she would have never been in this glorious moment and we would never have known her name. It was her heartache and suffering that had brought her closer to her Savior.

Anna’s story doesn’t end there. Scripture tells us that she immediately begins to tell everyone what she has seen and heard. She cannot keep this blessing to herself. She ends her life proclaiming God’s faithfulness in the fulfillment of his promise. Anna leaves a legacy that ua remembered from generation to generation, a legacy of hopeful expectation, of humble servitude, and immense gratitude. Anna chose a life of praise after tragedy. We too know what heartbreak feels like, yet often times we allow those trials to define us and push us farther from our Savior instead of closer. As we celebrate the hope and joy of this Christmas season, let us take our sorrow and pain straight to the Lord and watch him transform it into a life of praise and purpose.  Like Anna, let us express our praise by telling everyone how good our God is to send us Jesus, and let us wait with expectant and eager hearts for his return.  

Christmas Memories

Christmas is just around the corner! Many people have sweet nostalgic memories of cookie decorating, ice skating, or gingerbread house making during this season. It can be a time of joy surrounded by the warmth of your family. For many others, Christmas can be a reminder of all you have lost. It may bring back memories that activate past trauma and you’d rather stay in bed and not face all the holiday cheer. My guess is that I am not alone when I say that I fall right in the middle of those two sides. I absolutely love the Christmas season and all the fun activities and food that come along with it. I love the holiday traditions I have started with my boys over the years and look forward to much of the merrymaking. However, Christmas has begun to come with a mirage of memories I would rather not have and no matter what holiday fun comes up, I still can’t shake the feelings of sadness that come along with the season.

I have written over the years much of my story and the heartache that I have experienced. In 2016 just a few short weeks before Christmas, my world was flipped upside down. I had already decorated my christmas tree, hung the stockings and wrapped presents. I had made my Christmas bucket list for our little family and was in full holiday swing, when I got news that changed everything. The following days and weeks that led to Christmas were filled with great anxiety and uncertainty. I walked around in a fog as packages kept arriving at our doorstep. All of sudden, we were the sad story of the season and as much as I was grateful for all the generosity, I truly wanted to just hide from it all.

Last year in 2019 just a week before Christmas, I was caught up in all the holiday hustle and bustle. We had a full schedule with Christmas parties and school concerts. Then my three year old son got sick and all the festivities came to a screeching halt. He was sick enough to miss out on an entire weekend full of fun Christmas hoopla and traditions. The doctors told me is was just a common cold and he would be fine, but his health kept getting worse as he became extremely lethargic and constantly fought a high fever over several days. I finally took him back into a doctors office to check on him. This time the doctor looked me straight in the eyes and told me to get him to an emergency room immediately. The 40 minute drive to the closest children’s hospital was awful. I had no idea what to expect when we got there. This was the last thing I wanted to be doing especially a week before Christmas.

I have been through hard things. I have walked through extreme trauma more than once that totally upended my life. On the outside this experience was not that. Ultimately my Lucas only spent 4 nights in the hospital and recovered. It has been a year since then, and I can now summarize his story well because it had a good ending. All turned out okay, and looking back it may not feel like that big of story to most people. To me however it impacted me in a way I never expected. The uncertainty of those 5 days and 4 nights felt like all time had stood still. As much as I want to tell you that I trusted God in it all and clung to his goodness, honestly that just wasn’t the case. My faith was shaken and fear ran wild in my heart and mind during that time. I could not capture my thoughts no matter how much scripture I spoke over myself and prayed for peace. In the middle of that week, I came home to grab some essential items and take a quick shower, and I completely broke down. I can remember sobbing from inside that shower doubting in God’s goodness and expecting the very worst. I gave into the feelings that God really has it out for me and I was destined to a life of heartache. My fears went to the very worst scenario, and I even imagined planning and attending my son’s funeral on Christmas day. I haven’t written much about this because I have felt ashamed at how quickly it felt like my faith was crumbling all around me in such a short time. Honestly I think I was surprised at how hard it was to calm my anxious heart. I figured I was an expert at this by now. I have a lot of experience in seeing through heartache and grasping for joy. This time felt different.

Watching the Polar Express together one night

I now can see God’s gentleness and kindness through that entire time. I learned again that God’s love for me isn’t dependent on how much faith I can muster up in a hard time. Despite my doubts and fears, God still was there comforting me and guiding me. I don’t have to have it all together and be this picture of strength that I think people want me to be. Those doubts and fears may have been consuming me then, but I wasn’t alone in them. I found that when exhaustion just got the best of me and I just couldn’t be strong anymore, God sent a team of people to care and love for me. Both physical and spiritual family loved me through that week bringing coffee and gifts and most importantly prayers. I felt so loved, yet once again despite being extremely grateful from all the generosity, I wanted to hide from it all as well.

When I look back at Christmas last year, I first think of the hospital and the fear of losing my son.I remember all the questions with very little answers the doctors had for me. I remember going almost a full week without much more than an hour or so of sleep at a time. I remember feeling so alone and weak. When Lucas looks back at Christmas last year, he remembers all the toys and gifts that people brought him in the hospital. He remembers Santa coming to his room and dropping off all kinds of wonderful presents. He remembers all his fun visitors. There is no sadness in his voice as he recounts that time. We need each other’s perspective. We can look back at this hard time, and see both the sadness and difficulty of the situation, yet rejoice in the joy that came out of it. It would not be a full picture without both sides of this story.

Church Nativity play

I truly believe you can always find God at work in your story, even in the messiest parts. I would even say especially in your messiest parts. Often times, it’s not until after the story has unfolded when you can see it better. I have lots of difficult stories that God has allowed in my life. This story of Lucas’ illness is one of the few where the chapter is closed and it is fully in the past. For this story, it took me reflecting back on it after the fact and seeing how God was moving and loving me through it all. Once I was out of shock and survival mode, I could see the truth more clearly. Now that it is over, I can see the joy of watching the polar express together. I can see the blessing of the many gifts that were given that brought a smile to my little boy’s face. I can see the friends and family that gave their time and money to encourage me. I can remember that in the midst of great sorrow, joy was there. I can remember that just a few short days after my son was hooked up to oxygen in a hospital he was playing a shepherd in the church nativity back to full health, a true miracle! I can also see how this week at the end of 2019 was preparing me for a long and uncertain 2020 of trusting in God’s faithfulness.

Wearing masks before masks were cool.

Most of the difficult parts of my stories are not wrapped up and over. I am still navigating the pain from them on a daily basis. God has not given me that clear vision of what he has done or is doing yet like he did with Lucas. He has asked me to walk steadily and dependently trusting on Him and his character. This Christmas we wrap up a year that was certainly filled with lots of uncertainty! There will be sadness as past memories of the way things used to be are remembered. There will be heartache over the loss that was experienced this year. Many of us may just want to hide from it all! I encourage you to take that pain and hold it one hand, while grasping for the joy of Christmas with the other. Truthfully Christmas is the perfect time of the year to find hope if you need it. Remember, Jesus came through the darkness and showed himself to be Emmanuel, God with us. Remember, he was a man of sorrow that came so we may have abundant life in Him.

When Life Doesn’t Feel Very Fair.

Anyone else look around at other people’s lives then compare your own and feel like you got the short end of the stick? In this era of social media, I think we have all been there. It’s easy to scroll through feeds and see the lives of friends and family that seem to have it all, and be left confused at what God is allowing to happen in your life. I have certainly been there. I am there. This month marks 4 years since the beautiful marriage I thought I had broke into a million little pieces and my entire life got flipped upside down. It has been four years of the deepest heartache that I have ever experienced. I remember in the very early stages people encouraged me that our marriage could survive this, and as much as I wanted to believe them, it didn’t. Within 48 hours of hearing my husband confess a series of lies he had been entangled in, he was gone and I was left alone, broken and betrayed without any answers. There wasn’t time to process feelings or fight it out. There wasn’t really time to struggle through the mess. It was just over.

My wedding day in 2011

I have spent the last four years watching friends struggle through marriage and difficult circumstances. I have prayed and pleaded God for their marriages to survive and guess what, they usually do. These friends of mine have fought for their marriage and some have experienced sweet reconciliation. Of course I rejoice with them, but honestly deep down I can feel that tug of unfairness and resentment. I often find myself in prayer asking God how I got dealt this hand, when it is no secret that He can save marriages and stop bad things from happening all the time. Of course, then I can spiral and pull out every hard thing that has happened in my life and wonder why. Why does my story have to look so tragic and hard compared to everyone else’s? Why can’t I just be a recipient of a rescue and miracle for once?

I know I am not alone in these feelings. Maybe you are feeling this today? As I was reading through the gospels this month, I was really drawn to the story of John the Baptist for the first time. John spends his life as a prophet preaching and preparing the way for the Messiah to arrive. Jesus chooses John to be the one who will baptize him to initiate the beginning of his ministry. John witnesses God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit all together in perfect harmony. John was given great favor as the forerunner to Jesus. . Yet as the story continues and Jesus goes from place to place doing unbelievable miracles, it takes us nearly eleven more chapters (in the gospel of Matthew) to learn how John’s story gets played out. We shockingly discover that he had been locked up in prison by King Herod for speaking the truth. Matthew 11 reveals the humanity of John when he asks for confirmation if Jesus was really the Messiah he was waiting for. He is undoubtedly confused and in despair. His circumstances do not match the expectations he had for the arrival of the Messiah. Jesus replies with a message saying ” “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard. The blind are recovering their sight, cripples are walking again, lepers being healed, the deaf hearing, dead men are being brought to life again, and the good news is being given to those in need.” Jesus tells John about all the people he is rescuing and delivering, and then makes it quite clear that John will not be one of those people. Jesus leaves out one small part of the messianic prophecy where he will ‘free the captives’. Johns knowledge of scriptures would surely be able to figure out that although he could, Jesus has chosen not to bring John freedom. He has chosen not to perform the miracle that John so desperately needed.

John baptizing Jesus

Even though I have heard this story my whole life, It wasn’t until now that I stopped to think about why Jesus allowed it to be this way. Honestly over the last several weeks, I have wrestled with God about it. Doesn’t it feel downright cruel of Jesus to abandon John in prison? He was healing complete “strangers” from places all over. He was raising people from dead and pouring out compassion on all who needed it. However, his own blood relative, the one who spent his entire life preparing the way for Him, He allows to be beheaded in an unjust act for royalty entertainment. I can only imagine the heartache and angst that John must have had. If I were John, I would be lost in my anger and heartache. Why would Jesus seem to save everyone BUT him?

I am by no means John the Baptist, but I couldn’t help but see myself in his story. How many of us feel like we are abandoned by God sometimes? Why does it often feel like God is showing up for everyone but us? We scroll through social media, and see how others are being healed from disease, marriages are being restored, job promotions are being attained, or children are growing and succeeding when our’s aren’t. We see people giving God the glory for the way He has delivered them from the same trials that we are faced with today, yet our trial is going nowhere. How is this fair? I am spent years asking these questions and pleading with God for these answers. When I get those thoughts in my head, and I battle with comparison of trials here is what I remind myself.

  1. Comparing trials gets me nowhere and distracts me from my own calling. If I look at other people and judge that they are not suffering as badly as I am, it only encourages me to go deeper into self pity. It takes my eyes off what I am called to do. A great example in scripture is when Jesus is talking to Peter after the resurrection and before he ascends into heaven. Jesus tells Peter he has great suffering ahead of him, and Peter’s very first response is to point to his friend John and say “what about him?” I can resonate deeply with Peter here. Misery loves company right? How does Jesus respond? He says ” If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” This feels unfair to our human nature, but actually is an uplifting message that takes the weight of comparison off our shoulders. Don’t worry about anyone else, but yourself. Jesus is telling us all to keep our eyes forward on him and his plans for us, and to stop looking to the side. My suffering and your lack of suffering doesn’t have anything to do with each other. I think I need the reminder that God has allowed this path for me, and I must respond with obedience and humility trusting Him as I go.
  2. Acknowledging that it isn’t all about me helps give me a bigger picture. If you grew up around church you probably heard a lot of Bible stories as a kid. Often times Bible stories were taught with YOU as the main character. Whether it was about David, Daniel or Esther, the Sunday school teacher drew some sort of parallel that put us right in the middle. Many church kids like me grew up missing the gospel completely. I grew up thinking the Bible was about me, not Jesus. This kind of thinking can flare up in dangerous ways when trials come our direction. If we don’t have the bigger eternal picture of everything being for God’s glory, trials will knock us off our feet and land us in those feelings of hurt proclaiming God is unfair. Scripture tells us that our suffering produces endurance, character and hope. ( Romans 5:3-4) He is always at work and uses all of our pain and heartache for good. There is an eternal glory that outweighs everything we experience here on earth.
  3. Trusting in God’s character brings peace. It is easy to only look at the circumstances in front of us and if they don’t look good come out with a judgement call against God and his character. We might declare that He is unfair and unkind. We are often left shaken and broken wondering what happened to this God who promised he would never leave us? For me, this is when I must go back and remember who God has shown himself to be over the course of my entire life and all through scripture. Hebrews 1:3 tells us that Jesus is the exact representation of God the Father. When we read through the gospels there is no denying that Jesus is full of compassion, kindness and empathy. Truth be told, when I seriously look at my life, with all of it’s trauma and heartbreak, I can see God’s goodness all over it. Even in the darkest times, I can look and find that Jesus cares for me and is always there with an unfailing love. I do not understand why he doesn’t choose to step into my story, yet he chooses to intervene with others, but that doesn’t change WHO he is. I must trust that I follow a God who knows all things and sees what I cannot. I trust that it is in his kindness that He is walking with me through the deepest valleys.

John the Baptist was a holy man, who although he had some doubts in his despair, knew the bigger picture of the grand story of redemption. He was focused on his mission that He was given to prepare the way of the Lord.He wasn’t delivered from an unjust death, but I imagine in his final moments that God spoke great peace over Him and showed Him his goodness as he walked into eternal glory.

As I walk through the memories that surround me on this anniversary of loss, I hope to keep my mind and heart on Jesus. I want to soak in the truths that He cares for and loves me deeply, even if my story has turned out to be one of significant loss. I pray for you if you are reading this and the holidays bring up painful memories of loss. Whatever your situation may be, whatever you are grieving, whatever your story may be, my prayer is that you will know that God has not abandoned you or left you alone in your troubles. It is okay to be discouraged when things turn out differently than you expected. Like John, it is okay to check in with Jesus to make sure He is who He says He is. Although he doesn’t always deliver us from the trial, he knows about it, he cares about it, and He is working it all out for your good and His glory.

Looking Back

It took me years to claim a title as a writer. Even as I write that today, I can feel my heart race a bit worried someone is going to call me out and expose the fallacy of that statement. Truthfully, this season I expected myself to be writing up a storm while our nation was walking through so much chaos and heartache. However, I mostly sat frozen unsure of what I could offer the world right now. So I mainly just listened. Although I haven’t always shared my words for everyone to read, technically I have been writing since I had braces and collected beanie babies. Recently, I lifted the lid of a large brown box to reveal journals of every color and size that spanned over 15 years of life. I flipped through the pages and witnessed time flying by. Of course the earliest I had to skip over because I didn’t need to read about who sat next to me at lunch or how basketball practice went that day. I fast forwarded to college, missionary adventures and becoming a newlywed. During these times, I had so much passion for life and faith. As I read, I could sense my fierce fearlessness to take on the world with an optimism that God had great plans for me and my future.

Sept 2012

In September 2012, at the age of 26, life flipped upside down for me in just one moment. The assault was brutal and by God’s grace I miraculously survived, but I was forever changed. You can see the transformation in my journals. A dramatic shift takes place in my writing as that fierce fearless girl full of faith came face to face with unimaginable trauma and had no idea how to navigate it. I had experienced a supernatural encounter with Jesus while walking through hell and back. All of a sudden, there were more questions than answers that showed up on the lines of my journal pages. My faith that I had always claimed since I was a child went on a roller coaster ride. In the weeks and months afterwards, I wrote much of how I was struggling. 8 years later here I am flipping through these pages, feeling some of the same emotions still. I read my own words and realize I have actually learned a few things along the way.

I feel like I am going crazy. If only I had more faith would all of this just go away” Oh my heart hurt as I read this journal entry I wrote shortly after the assault. I spent way too long trying to react and respond with the right kind of faith and condemning myself when it didn’t seem to hold up for me. Within weeks, I was in biblical counseling memorizing verses left and right and declaring His goodness to everyone I met. I spent hours reading the Bible and in prayer everyday. I did all the “right” Christian things, but was still suffering from nightmares, extreme fear and anxiety attacks. I was still crying myself to sleep every night. I often worried that I was failing my faith or it was failing me. Today I know that if you have walked through suffering and trauma, it is okay to be broken. Being broken doesn’t mean you’re not trusting Jesus, in fact it might just mean He is nearer to you than you realize. (Psalm 34:18, The Lord is near to the broken-hearted). I like to camp out in the Psalms for awhile and soak in all the lament and heartache that David so vulnerably expresses. If a man after God’s own heart can say over and over that he is hurting and struggling to trust in God’s goodness, than I can too. Trauma is real and does real complex damage to the brain. We are blessed to have the scientific knowledge to understand this and strategies to overcome it. I have taken a while to learn that having a therapist and seeking out mental health treatment, does not take away from the sufficiency of Jesus in my life. Saying “Jesus is good” and “I am struggling” in same sentence doesn’t make us a hypocrite, it makes us authentic. I am learning to be honest about my faith, and with that comes great freedom.

In November, just 2 months after my attack I wrote “ I feel like I am being trained to respond the “right way”. I wish the voices would just be still. I don’t wanna hear all the ways I should change my thinking or what techniques will help me get over this. I want them to listen and just hold hold my hand. I just want them to recognize my pain”. I can feel the pain of not being heard or seen as a person as I read this. I probably would have felt guilty saying this outloud years ago, but now I know how important this truly is. I was so blessed to have so many people who cared for me in this season. So many people with good intentions wanting to encourage me with verses, quotes and songs. I am forever grateful for those. However, learning to just listen and hold space for someone’s pain has the ability to show love over all else. I still wish for this in 2020. The friends who have stayed through everything are the ones who have sat and cried with me, not knowing what to say. They are the friends who do not fear the awkward, but recognize that grief is a long journey and stay anyway. I see Jesus always drawing near the broken and lost, acknowledging them as people with frail humanity and loving them with his very presence and availability. I long to be more like Him when I interact with those who are hurting. I know that it is incredibly difficult to bear someone else’s burdens when we have our own, yet that is what Christ has modeled for us. True love doesn’t look past other people’s pain so we can feel better about ourselves.

Spending time in nature has brought a lot of healing

In April, just 7 months after my assault I wrote this “ They say time heals, but they must mean that a lot of time heals. I had no idea that I would still be struggling with this so long after!“. I smile and shake my head as I read the words ” so long after”. Here I am 8 years later, still dealing with pain and heartache that are repercussions of this one event. I wish I knew and accepted then that I didn’t have to have it all together and figured out in just a few months. I needed grace for myself to take the time to walk through healing. I think the older I get, the more I understand how precious time is. And when I say precious, I don’t mean it in the way that would encourage you to go faster and work harder, but in the way that encourages slowing down and being patient. There is a season for everything and I believe in stewarding the season we are in. I am guilty of wanting to push past this season and not see what God is doing right in front of me. I want to get to the point, where the pain is less, the fruit has been produced and all is well. I want the next season to come without the work of sowing and watering. That is not how this life works though. I am learning to pay attention to how God is shaping me now and the purposes he has for me now, not next year. I have been walking through hard seasons for awhile now. It feels like this season of struggle and waiting are never-ending. I know that the truth is that no season lasts forever. Summer eventually turns to fall, fall into winter, winter to spring and then we are cycle back to summer again. Grief may come with us for a lifetime, but the seasons come and go bringing both new difficulties and new victories. I have had a great amount of healing and growth over these years. My wounds are slowly being healed with each day that passes. I can look at my physical scars on my body from that came from that day 8 years ago, and be reminded of God’s deliverance, God’s providence and God’s goodness to have walked with me through all these years. Those scars are a part of me forever, but they aren’t the first thing I see anymore. In fact there are days that go by when I don’t think twice about them. I am encouraged to know that can be true about my emotional scars as well.

I imagine I will always be one to write out what’s going on inside my head and my heart. Writing brings me clarity and a calm to my soul. Writing down the questions I have in this season,helps me look for the answers in the next. I am thankful for the gift of being able to look back on the last decade or so of life and know that even through the doubt and the anger, it is clear that Jesus has held me fast. This is through no work of my own, yet a surrendering of my story to His story. May God be glorified as we continues to work on me in the years to come.

Too Many Sad Stories

The Story Of Job

Like many other parents, I have the nighttime routine of reading bedtime stories to my children before tucking them in at night. Our last book of the night is always a story from one of the children’s bibles that we own. Our newest bible is called the Laugh and Learn Bible. In it’s very description, it was designed to make reading the Bible fun for families! Last night I opened up to the fun and whimsical story of Job. In this fast forwarded kids version, we see Satan asking God to test Job’s faith and God allowing it. First all of Job’s animals get stolen, then his sheep burn up and die, and then a house falls on top of all of his kids and they die! My sons’ lips begin to quiver and their hands go in front of their faces, but wait then Job gets super sick and his friends and his wife get pretty mean to him and say it’s all his fault. At this, my boys’ can no longer hold in their emotions and tears begin to flow. “This is way too sad!” Why does the Bible have so many sad stories in it?” “I wish we could just throw this story out of the Bible!”. Their exclamations made me stop and reflect. The book of Job is a pretty heavy story for anyone let alone for small children. My first reaction was to skip through it and go the cute happy stories in the Bible like David and Goliath, wait ….like Daniel in the Lion’s Den…wait like Queen Esther….wait like Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego.. wait like Jesus on the cross…. Okay well truthfully most of the Bible is full of really heavy stories even if we do try to lighten them up with fun illustrations and focus on the “happy” part. How often do we as adults wish we could just throw out the sad stories and skip ahead as well? For example, many Christians are quick to quote Proverbs which is filled with uplifting seemingly easy remarks of how life can be better for us, but often forget that the other two books of wisdom are Ecclesiastes and Job. Those books show us the reality that life is full of trouble for the righteous and unrighteous alike.

In order to answer my kids and help them process the reason the Bible is full of sad stories, I told them it’s because it’s true. It’s real life and in real life, sad things happen to people all the time. I saw the light bulbs clicking and the connections being made before I ever drew them, “just like us” they said. Our family has experienced heartbreak and my children have not been shielded from it. In fact they are the ones who may suffer the most. Last night was one of those nights when all that heartbreak came flooding out of them. So many tears and so many questions that feel nearly impossible to answer. “Why would God allow this to happen?” , ‘It’s not fair at all”, “What happens if you leave us too and we are all alone?” Oh how I wish my kids weren’t asking such questions at such young ages. I lay there in their bed with tears streaming down my face knowing I don’t have all the answers. Honestly, when these moments come up, I really want to push through and just cheer them up. I want to change the topic and make them laugh instead. As a parent I don’t want to face the pain of my child, however as a parent it is my duty to validate their pain, not brush it to the side. It’s uncomfortable to sit in the grief with them, but it is also healing. It is in these moments where I find opportunities for the authenticity of our faith to come on full display. See I also realize that as much as I wanted for my kids to have a suffering free life, the fact that they don’t is the very thing that is making them push into God and learn more about His heart for theirs. It’s in the sad stories, that we find God and his care and compassion the most. In the story of Job, we actually don’t get all the answers, but we are directed towards the character of who God is. This is where I can take my boys as well.

My boys don’t know it yet, but what they were crying out for was justice, hope and a call for redemption. They are crying out for the gospel. My pastor explained last week that we are all longing for Eden when all was right and perfect in the world. I saw this never more clearly than in my children’s tears this week. We know this is not the way it should be. No matter what situation we are in, we know there is something very broken and sad about the lives we all live. We have spent the last months and weeks with a pandemic and racial injustices at the very center of our attention. We see children being separated from their families at the border and living in despicable situations. The brokenness of it all is on display. For me, I have the privilege of saying that it’s just too heavy, and I would rather look away and be comfortable. However I know all too well, that as a follower of Jesus I am called to enter into the despair and mourn with those who mourn. I am called to not look away from the sad stories, but to call for justice, pray for mercy and shine the light and love of Jesus wherever I go. I think this is true in our parenting too. Christian parents often view sheltering our kids from hard things as important and necessary and in some cases that is true. Of course we want to protect their hearts and minds from unnecessary heartbreak . However, we do our kids a disservice if they think the world is all rainbows and unicorns or even if it’s just about them being happy. There is great value in showing our kids the hurting world around us. First,it gives us opportunity to look off of ourselves and actually serve those whose lives look a bit harder than our own. Most importantly, it turns Jesus from a nice guy who loves me, to a hero who rescues and saves from death and hell. It makes Jesus actually relevant to our lives as he becomes a desperate necessity rather than an extra add-on we talk about sometimes. If there is anything I have learned over the last years as I have walked through hardship, is that I need Jesus every moment of the day. When do I forget my need for him? It’s when life feel stable and alright. So as much as I want to take the sad stories out of my life, I know I need them to keep me near to my Savior. They make the days of rejoicing all that much sweeter.

So if you are parent I encourage you to take those opportunities of sadness that your kids experience and don’t push past them. Use them as a way to invite Jesus into them. When they hear the news and learn of injustices, don’t try to silence it, but lead your children into prayer. Teach them that Jesus is near to the broken hearted. I have far to go and much to learn in all of this. Today I am thankful for God’s grace and wisdom, and even for all those sad stories.

Good Friday

As I have been walking through this lenten season, I have been reading through the Gospel of Mark. I love rereading the accounts of Jesus’ life on earth. One of my most favorite parts of the story is his relationship with his disciples. He chooses these 12 men who are kind of rough around the edges and pours his love and wisdom upon them for 3 years. He teaches and guides them in the strangest ways. They are curious and ask the dumb questions and argue over silly things. Often times they miss the entire point of the story while others they grasp the truth he is teaching. The patience Jesus demonstrates towards them is outstanding. They get a front row seat to the miraculous healings, resurrections and provisions that Jesus performs and then they still worry about what they will eat the next moment.  

After the infamous Last Supper, Jesus announces that all will desert and deny him in due time. Peter, who was one of Jesus’ closest disciples and friends, begins to protest. He speaks with full assurance in his faithfulness to his Lord. He says directly and confidently, “though everyone else will fall way, I will never fall away”. (Matthew 26:33). I believe Peter is speaking with great intentions and out of devout devotion for his teacher, yet he misunderstands his own human heart condition and forgets the authority of Jesus in that moment. Ultimately, he thinks more highly of himself than he should. We know that in just the turn of the page, Peter who spoke with boldness out of loyalty and love, will use that same boldness to speak out of fear and self preservation to deny any kind of connection with Jesus at all. In just a moment, he is quick to turn away from His beloved teacher and friend.

In my opinion, one of the most dramatic passages of all scripture is the account in Luke 22:60-62. But Peter said, Man I do not know what you are talking about. And immediately while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter and Peter remembered the saying of the Lord how he had said to him. “Before the rooster crows today you will deny me three times. This passage shakes me to my core. The emotion that Peter must have felt. I can picture it. Jesus looks directly into Peters eyes and connects with him. I imagine it to be a pained look of heartbreak, but one still filled with great compassion and love. It goes on to say Peter ran away and wept bitterly. The amount of disappointment and shame he must have experienced is overwhelming to think about. He had so badly wanted to stand with Jesus until the end, yet he had failed.

I think Peter’s story stands out to me because I can so easily see myself in it. I am guilty like Peter of making outlandish claims that may sound like faith, but really are disguising my pride and self-exaltation. I would never do such a terrible “fill in the blank” sin. I would never hurt someone I loved. Everyone else might do it, but not me because my faith and love for Jesus outweighs them all. However, it doesn’t take much time, maybe just the turn of a page, for me to fall away and lose my way. When I disregard my sinful heart condition and the relationship that Jesus has forged with me, I begin to forget a lot of very important things. I forget that Jesus chose me and that He loves me. I forget that he has done great things for me, that He has done miracles. He has resurrected my life and breathed anew into it. He has spoken truth and blessing over me. I forget my complete dependency I have on Him and I begin to think more highly of myself. I forget that I am capable of great sin and that’s why I need a rescuer.

Good Friday is the best reminder to all of us of the desperation of our sin and shame. None of us are good enough. Jesus went to the cross because of our sinful human heart condition and the incapability for us to save ourselves. If we truly grasp the truth of what the gospel is telling us, we know that is foolish to say “I could never” because the capability to do great sin lives inside each of us.We ought not to think we above sin. Jesus gave up his life for us while we were still sinners, not yet repentant. We were still in rebellion and denying who he was.  Jesus hung on that cross the same day that his closest disciples betrayed him, and he still loved them anyway. What extravagant forgiving love he models to all of us.  

Good Friday reminds me that even though I have had significant hurt done to me, because of Christ’s example on the cross I can walk with forgiveness and love. There is great redemption in Peter’s story. After the resurrection, Jesus appears to the disciples and it is Peter who jumps into the sea excited to see his risen Lord again. He does not allow his failure to keep him from finding joy in Jesus again. Whatever the sin or failure that has happened in our lives, it is then when we need Jesus the most. He is always waiting there with forgiveness and compassion in his eyes. What a beautiful Savior we have been given!  

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