A season with a crack in the door

I’m not sure how to start putting into words what it means to have Christmas truly be my heart’s season of hope.

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The world is a dark, dark place, tainted by sin and the works of its tempter.

Terrorism. War. Murder of babies. Mass shootings and bombings of civilians.

Divorce. Brokenness. Unfaithfulness. Corruption. Deceit.

Loneliness. Depression. Illness. Suffering. Death.

Anyone feel like rejoicing and singing a cheesy song about how Jesus is the Reason for the Season?

It is easy to look around in the world and miss that God is still sovereign. It’s easy to forget who ultimately wins the war.

A great Needtobreathe song played on the radio yesterday as I drove in the dark at 5:00 pm to get groceries. I cranked up the chorus to Rivers in the Wasteland…

In this wasteland, where I’m living

There is a crack in the door filled with light

And it’s all that I need to get by

In this wasteland, where I’m living

There is a crack in the door filled with light

And it’s all that I need to shine

 

That crack of light? It’s Jesus. Pure and simple, the radiance of God, who Himself is Light.

“I could ask the darkness to hide me

and the light around me to become night-

but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.

To you the night shines as bright as day.

Darkness and light are the same to you.”  Psalm 139:11-12

Today as we’re walking through a dark world (literally and figuratively), I’m seeing a crack in the door filled with light. This season, sometimes that crack of light comes through the twinkling of Christmas lights in my neighborhood. A clear moon on a cold night. The sound of an old familiar carol playing. A jingle bell. Snow crunching under a toddler’s booted feet. The laughter of my children. These are the glimpses of heaven. Of victory here on earth. And I have a reason to sing…. I have a reason to worship.

“All of my life, in every season

You are still God, I have a reason to sing

I have a reason to worship” –Hillsong, Desert Song

Anxiety’s Place in Thanksgiving

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

Anxiety. Ugh. It is that ugly partner to depression, the flip side of the coin. We who love the world and the people in it so much that we carry it, work too hard, care too much… pretty soon our hearts are beating hard with thoughts of everything that can go wrong. Do that for so long and POOF, we plunge into stress, tears, anxiety, and depression deep enough that we CAN’T care anymore. We have to go into apathy about everything else in order to hide and protect ourselves before we fall apart.

In THAT place, I cringe and turn away from the beloved Christian response to anxiety found in Philippians 4. I’ve read it too many times. Heard too many sermons. Had it quoted compassionately by friends. Misquoted by the well-intentioned. Let me just say that sometimes, after you’ve petitioned God to remove the anxiety, his answer is sometimes Zoloft!

But here I am, a couple of months past my own bottom, a few months into my serotonin levels normalizing, a few months into having a counselor give me permission to sort through the layers of myself that I previously had no energy to explore…

Philippians 4 is truth. And it pierces my soul – not with conviction to make me feel guilty (“ugh, I’m being anxious AGAIN!”) – but with truth that leads to light (as in a light bulb, “ah ha!” moment).

Dealing with my postpartum depression has led me to a good counselor, a licensed social worker who loves Jesus, has dealt with her own suffering a time or two, and can be the face of God’s grace to me. I’ve learned one of the best things she can do for me is hold up a mirror to myself through which I can see clearly. She sees things in me that I assume are normal or okay because I’ve lived with them so long, and she says, um, no. Not so healthy. One of those is the pressure I subject myself to (firstborn perfectionist, ahem). As I realized the enormous pressure I was putting on myself, underneath THAT I found worry. Worry that if I don’t get groceries, my kids will go hungry. Worry that if I don’t manage our finances right, we’ll end up homeless. Worry that if I don’t initiate intimacy, my husband will not be satisfied. Worry that if I don’t reach out to a friend, they’ll think I’m a bad friend and wonder if I care. But really, just worry I will fail. My mind was full of “I should…” “I should…..” “I should…..” “I should…”   Holy cats, PRESSURE!!!!!!! Basically, if I didn’t [fill in the blank], then the world was going to fall apart.

God complex much? Yikes.

So yes, anxiety in the mind is mental illness. But we are complex beings, which I pretend to understand but really don’t completely, because we are made by a Creator that cannot be completely understood. And there is a piece of anxiety – perhaps in the heart/soul? – that is sin. Because what I just explained about myself – putting myself in God’s shoes – that is not okay. Pretty sure that’s a form of idolatry.

So once I realized I was “should-ing” myself (unhealthy), I wrote the word “should” on my bathroom mirror, crossed it out, and wrote “imperfect progress” instead. “Imperfect progress” is a phrase I learned from Lysa Terkeurst’s book Unglued. We are all works in progress, we are not perfect, and rather than getting bent out of shape about our mistakes and steps backwards, it is much healthier to focus on what God IS doing in our lives, and let him continue making us into his masterpieces. Next, I wrote the word “worry” on the mirror and crossed it out as well, and replaced it with the word “pray.” (See how we’re getting back to Philippians 4?!) It was no coincidence I’m sure, that I have been reading Come Thirsty by Max Lucado as part of a women’s small group. That week we landed on Chapter 11, entitled “Worry? You Don’t Have To.” As part of the chapter, of course Max broke down Philippians 4:6! Paul’s answer to worrying less, he explained, has two parts: God’s part and our part. Our part? PRAY about everything. And have gratitude. The New Living Translation says, “Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done” (vs. 6).

“Thank him for all He has done…..”

We could be here all day thanking God for what he has done. God’s word is FULL of amazing works done for Israel. The Psalms and prophets are full of reminders to God’s people of his ever-enduring love and faithfulness, in spite of all of the Israelites’ unfaithfulness.

We could spend additional time thanking Jesus for his miraculous birth, life, and death, all on our behalf. At the end of his gospel, John wrote, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (John 21:25)

And how much more gratitude can we hold for the precious gift of the Holy Spirit? He is God’s very presence in us, as a helper, guide, and comforter.

Finally, we can remember the specific ways God has ACTUALLY and PRACTICALLY done amazing things in our lives. In my own life, he provided me with dedicated parents and a loving church so I could learn about him. He provided my dad with a steady job and sustained our family through difficult years in which he worked a ton of hours. He saved my brother from dying from cardiac arrest playing baseball in high school. He provided a dream in my heart for the career of athletic training and six years of amazing training and experiences that shaped my talents and skills in numerous ways. He provided employment for me immediately after graduate school. He introduced me to my amazing spouse. He carried me and mended my broken heart through a difficult, almost break-up. He sustained me through the stress and thrill of my job. He provided a new job for me out of the blue, knowing it was the best thing for me though my plans hadn’t counted on it. He molded my heart and my husband’s into one through marriage. He created two beautiful children for us to parent, and has somehow sustained us financially after cutting back to one income. He provided a church family for us into which we pour our gifts and receive great blessing. He stretched us and equipped us as youth leaders, when we felt like ducks out of water and totally incapable. And he has never left me in my latest valley through depression, in which I am discovering lush personal growth amid spiritual challenges.

Yes indeed, thank him for all he has done!!!!!!

And as I thank him for all he has done, my heart rests in peace (God’s part in Philippians 4). Why? Because through my gratitude I am acknowledging that the successes of my life rested on HIS SHOULDERS ALL ALONG. It was not me. And therefore going forward, my safety, identity, well-being, and security DO NOT DEPEND ON ME. POOF!!!!!!!! Pressure gone.

So this Thanksgiving? I am THANKING HIM FOR ALL HE HAS DONE. And that means more to me this Thanksgiving than ever before.

Weary…

I don’t feel like writing. I am weary. But five minutes. Five minutes will help. (Because self care is soul care.) Ready. GO.

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Written as part of the Five Minute Friday online community

I am weary. I am weary of the world and the crappy things in it. I am tired of it being broken, groaning as in childbirth, and in pain. Are we really not to the last days yet?

Being a mother is hard. I am finally realizing it’s hard just because it is; not because I’m doing it wrong, as one friend recently realized herself. How right she is. There is nothing like motherhood to help you realize what a hot mess you really are. I think I always was…. It’s just that being a mom strips you down to what really lies underneath all the stuff of fluff you live with on top of your deep down soul, and low and behold… we are sinners. Uck.

I am weary of life being full of hard things. Tomorrow is a hard thing. Tomorrow our church family buries a beloved baby girl, who met Jesus after being on this earth for only three weeks. She didn’t even get to go home and see the beautiful place and people that were supposed to be hers. Today I picked out what my own baby girl would wear to another baby’s girl funeral. They should have grown up to be friends. I know one is with Jesus and she is oh so happy about that. But we are not. That was not supposed to happen yet.

I am weary of the tears and hard days. The hard days that are dark, and you know the darkness will lift, and you know your kids and husband love you and are not trying to get on your nerves, but they just are because it’s a dark day. And guilt comes because you know it’s not them, it’s you. It’s you who are broken, just like the rest of this weary world.

STOP.

Thankfully, I don’t have the last word.

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – Jesus, John 16:33

“Dance”

It’s Five Minute Friday!  I’ve been gone awhile. But here you go. Five minutes from the word….

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Growing up I was not a “dancer” in the tutu-wearing, studio class kind of way. But I did like to dance.

I danced in the kitchen. In my socks, in front of the stove, where I could see a reflection of myself twirling. While my mom washed the supper dishes and listened to a CCM tape of some sort from her boom box. 🙂

I learned from Michael W. Smith’s gravelly voice that “love isn’t love ‘til you give it away” and questioned why people wear that “cross of gold.” I sung along as Amy Grant tried to balance the “hats” on her head. I never liked the song much – sounded minor and funky – and I didn’t really get it.

Back then I only wore one hat – that of a kid. But now… now I get it. I balance a lot of hats on my head now.

But one blessing of being a mom that requires me to wear and juggle and strain under so many hats: when music comes on and I’m at home with my little ones…. my kid hat comes out, and we do a little dance in front of the kitchen stove. Yesterday, we were rapping about “a man with a tat on his big fat belly…”

Happy Friday!  You should go do a little dance 🙂

Others in the Valley

Last week I wrote about blessings in the valley – how though I am going through a “low” period in life right now, God is showing me there are blessings here. Well this week I am learning something else.

Just from bumping elbows with others in my world this week, I have discovered I am not alone. I am not the only parent who has wondered what the heck to do when their infant will not nap. I am not the only mom to struggle with the decision to take medication while breastfeeding. I am not the only one seeking help from a Christian therapist who is real and gets it.

And you know how I realized I was not alone?

I said to those around me, “Hey, you know what, we’re struggling with this… could you pray for us?”

When I reached out, their reply was “Hey sure, and by the way, me too….”

So it turns out that I’m walking through this valley not just for God to teach me… but to be there with others too. I see positive ripples affecting those around me because of the struggles I have faced. My eyes are seeing the truth of Paul’s words played out in my life when he said, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10)

We are SO NOT ALONE!!!! And IN OUR WEAKNESS WE ARE STRONG because of Jesus.

Through our struggles he uniquely places us within the tapestry of the body of Christ, to weave together his plan of redemption for his Kingdom. It makes no sense to use weak thread, and yet he works through it – us – and makes “beautiful things out of the dust” (see song by Gungor).  He turns my valley of trouble into a place of hope.

I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her.
There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor (which means trouble) a door of hope. Hosea 2:14b-15a

How cool of our God is that?

Blessings in the Valley

Life is good and I am blessed, currently the roles of wife to an awesome husband and mother to two beautiful children dominating my time and attention. As wonderful as managing these blessings is, the last month I have come to recognize that I am one of many moms who battle post-partum depression. This doesn’t come as a surprise to me, though it is something I dreaded. In it, I will honestly say it sucks and is not fun. But God is showing me that his plan and path are leading me through this valley right now and that is okay. Valleys can be dark, scary and lonely places, full of rough terrain, hidden obstacles, and unknown dangers. However, God is showing me that the valley can be beautiful as well. As he leads me, he is giving me breaks in green pastures and beside still waters, where he says, “Here, child, here is my blessing for you. Receive it.”

This Labor Day weekend we are up in NW Iowa at my in-laws, a wonderful place to be. Three days ago, I was tired, depressed, and the thought of packing up the family, being on the road for 4.5 hours with small children, getting in late and battling my fall allergies was just too much. Didn’t sound like fun. Would rather stay home. But we committed to go and so we did.

It turns out God was leading me to a green pasture.

Though yesterday morning my allergies were a hot mess and I had a bad headache, we were able to reconnect via playdate with some old friends, which resulted in mutual encouragement, camaraderie, and fellowship.

Yes, Lord, I receive your blessing.

Though getting to Grandma and Papa’s late meant the kids were extra tired, they have been sleeping at night and napping beautifully.

Yes, Lord, I receive your blessing!!!!!!!

Though it meant another late night, my hubby and I got to worship outdoors on a warm breezy evening with Rend Collective and thousands of fellow believers, which greatly strengthened and watered my soul.

Yes, Lord, I receive your blessing.

This morning my husband got up with our toddler and my allergies were minor enough that I was able to sleep in a little, then have a homemade omelet and coffee for breakfast.

Yes, Lord, I receive your blessing.

Though it was going to be a hot and muggy day, I had the desire and energy to take my toddler for a walk and explore the town park with him – so fun! Got so hot and sweaty, and the exercise felt wonderful.

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Yes, Lord, I receive your blessing.

While I sit relaxed on the couch nursing my infant, COLLEGE FOOTBALL IS ON TV.

Yes, Lord, I receive your blessing.

Thank you, Lord, for restoring my soul in the valley. I have everything I need, for you are with me.

 

This post is part of the Five Minute Friday link-up, this week’s prompt: “Yes”

Always With You

As I ponder this week’s Five Minute Friday prompt, “Alone,” I don’t really have words of my own. What my heart rests on, instead, is the words of others. The poignancy of friendship. The promises of God.

From some classics:

Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: What! You too? I thought I was the only one. –C. S. Lewis

Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.  “Pooh!” he whispered.  “Yes, Piglet?”  “Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw.  “I just wanted to be sure of you.”  ~A.A. Milne

“I made a promise, Mr. Frodo. A promise. Don’t you leave him, Samwise Gamgee. And I don’t mean to. I don’t mean to.” — Sam, The Fellowship of the Ring

From our Creator:

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…Do not be afraid, for I am with you…” Isaiah 43:1b-3a, 5

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” Psalm 139:7-10

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Friend – you are not alone.

(Photo credit: Ron Kaihoi in the gorgeous BWCA)

“I Found It!”

My husband calls to me from the other room, “Honey, where’s the special wrench and extra parts for the baby gate (that we installed two years ago)?” (as he’s installing the second one just like it, this time at the top of the stairs).

“The box in the cupboard, maybe?” I reply.

“The cupboard?”

“I mean, the shelf.”

“In the laundry room?”

“Yeah.”

He looks through it. No wrench.

I’m thinking out loud, “I know it’s around here somewhere. I’ve seen it.”

I check the bottom of the front hall closet. There was a Ziploc of random parts in there for ages, but of course at some point I put it in a better spot – that of course I can’t find.

“Maybe it’s up in the nursery closet.”

“Ah, yes, that could be.”

But Esther’s asleep, so that’ll have to wait until tomorrow.

15 minutes later, as I’m passing by the piles of crap on our stairs that just stay there until I’m organized enough to find a place to put them…

“Uh, honey?” I call.

“Yes?”

“I found them!”

“Where?”

“On the steps.”

“These steps?” as he walks towards me.

I hold up the Ziploc bag.

“We’ve had that gate for 2 years!”

“Yep.”

Haha! We are so organized 🙂

 

Courtesy of Five Minute Friday Prompt: “Find”

10 Reasons My Husband is an Awesome Gift to Me

(Five Minute Friday Prompt – “Ten”)

  1. He is the calm in my storm
  2. He hugs me, holds me, cuddles me, and gives AMAZING massages
  3. He’s a Twins fan
  4. He’s really good at listening and just letting me cry
  5. He sings the sweetest lullaby to our children, IT IS MY MOST FAVORITE THING EVER
  6. He is fun. He likes LOTR, wings and beer, baseball, board games, coffee and ice cream, bonfires, and staring at the stars. And he ENJOYS watching So You Think You Can Dance with me 🙂
  7. He follows the Lord
  8. He’s willing to do the right thing, even when it’s hard or out of his comfort zone
  9. He makes me laugh
  10. He will be my best friend forever

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Love you Chad Eric Hatting! (Can’t wait for our date tonight!)

 

Judy and the next generation

I can’t imagine not knowing the Lord. I can’t imagine what my life would be like without Jesus as my Savior. I would be a mess. (Not that I’m not a mess now, in certain respects. But it would be much worse!) I would be a groveling mess, aching to be loved, chasing after whatever would make me feel like I belonged and had meaning. I would have even LESS patience with my kids. I would expect my husband – or whatever man was in my life – to fulfill me. I would no doubt be seeking to maintain happiness and status with possessions. My heart would have no peace. My life would be filled with worry and fear.

But in his wisdom, God placed people in my life that taught me about him. My parents. Grandparents. Aunts and Uncles. Pastors. Sunday school teachers. VBS and AWANA leaders. Many, many adults who poured into my life. Who talked, sang, demonstrated, and modeled the amazing theology of “Jesus Loves Me.”

Now, it is not by their hard work that I am saved. I am only saved through the grace of Jesus Christ, and the moving of the Holy Spirit in my life to see my need for him and accept his forgiveness. BUT –

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” Romans 10:14

In 1992 at First Baptist Church in Willmar, MN, one spunky lady volunteered to be the AWANA leader for the third grade girls. Her name is Judy Treptau, and today is her (??th!) birthday.

For 11 years, Judy instructed me. She loved me. She spent time with me. She laughed with me. She cried with me. She listened to me. She goofed off with me. She scolded me. She prayed with me and for me. She sacrificed for me. Is Judy perfect? She would be the first to tell you, no. Was her theology 100% accurate all of the time? Probably not. Did she know everything about the Bible? No. But did she love Jesus and live to tell me about Him? You bet. I am not the only one with such a testimony about Judy.

I wonder – where would the church be without people like her?

Apparently there was a generation of Israelites who didn’t have Judy:

“After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.” Judges 2:10

How sad and horrible is that?

Passing on our faith is so crucial. Witnessing to anyone in our world who does not know Christ is important. But as a young mother having to realize my purpose anew, my eyes are being opened to the importance of passing on my faith to my children. Our pastor is emphasizing this in his current sermon series. Yesterday’s Scripture was from Psalm 78:

“My people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth with a parable; I will utter hidden things, things from of old – things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done. He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children.” (vs. 1-5)

Parents, instruct your children and other youngsters in your world that need you. If you’re not a parent? The next generation needs you, too. It takes more than just a mother and father to pass on the wonderful life of following our Lord! It takes a community, a family of believers, to walk alongside the next generation and make disciples.

Remember the instructions of the Shema – a central Jewish prayer and the ancient cornerstone of our Christian faith, given by God to Moses for the people of Israel:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.  Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:4-9

If Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, Phil, Gary, Brad, Judy, Nancy, Susie, Dave, Bruce, on and on…. If these men and women had not played their role in the body of Christ… who knows where I’d be?

So thanks Judy. Thank you for being a part of the body, for weaving your life into the tapestry of the family of God. You have left a legacy which is now being passed onto the NEXT generation…. for now I am the mom, the youth leader, the aunt….

“…so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.” Psalm 78:5-6

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Judy doing my makeup for prom, circa 2002
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My family today