Spent.

anonymous barefooted melancholic woman embracing knees on floor
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We resumed homeschooling right after Labor Day (the irony is not lost on me), and I have been dead-dog tired ever since. I find myself pretty exhausted each day whether I actually get to exercise or not. There’s something about teaching that is both rewarding and depleting. I feel immense joy at seeing my kids learn and grow, whether we’re adding or dividing, learning to read, or memorizing a poem, but there’s also intense weariness that pounces on me from behind the moment I sit down. I’ve learned the importance of “self-care,” and I’ve implemented a day off for myself each Tuesday. I know full well that I can’t run on caffeine and fumes. Rest and renewal are part of God’s plan for us. So, my kids attend a drop-off homeschool co-op, and I am free to spend my day however I like. I like to exercise, read, write, and sometimes pick up a special drink at a coffee shop. Little acts like these have become very restorative to me in this full season of my life.

Now that I’m an adult in my 40s, I’m realizing a clarifying characteristic of adulthood is being tired. I look at my husband, a medical doctor, and ask, “Why am I so tired?” I do happen to have a medical condition that requires me to take a proper dosage of medication every day. If I don’t, over time, I will become very fatigued. Thankfully, I haven’t had to adjust that medication in quite some time and cannot blame my sleepiness on it. In his wisdom, my dear and loving husband reminds me that we have six children, four of whom are still homeschooled, a household that I run, women I minister to regularly, and the normal stress that accompanies life. I’m tired because I do a lot. Caring for souls is expensive, not monetarily, but in terms of physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional expenditure, the cost is astronomical.

This morning, as I was reading my Bible, I read 2 Corinthians 12 in which Paul is addressing the believers at Corinth. He has spent most of the letter reminding them that he has served them endlessly without compensation, without fanfare, without lording it over them as others had purported. Paul doesn’t complain about serving them, and despite their harsh criticism of his character, he declares, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls” (2 Cor. 12:15, ESV). He loved this church. He helped start this church! They had begun to disdain him for his weaknesses and sufferings, embarrassed that he was not as impressive as these new super-apostles who crept into the church at Corinth and poisoned the believers against him.

Paul previously had stated all of his suffering for the churches, how he had been imprisoned, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, adrift at sea (!!!), endless journeys, in dangers too numerous to list (though he tries!), hunger, thirst, out in the cold. The man labored for the church. He loved the church, warts and all. He also relates how he received “a thorn in the flesh” to keep him from becoming conceited about the revelations he had received from God. Despite asking God to remove it three times, it remained, and Jesus, Himself, spoke to Paul about it. He said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9, ESV). Paul concludes then that if he boasts, he will boast in his weakness so that the power of Christ will rest upon him. He tells the Corinthians, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10, ESV).

There are so many days when I crawl into bed, spent. I have labored until I feel there is not much left of me to give. I share Paul’s anxiety for those in my care. Are they rooted? Are they growing? Are they living in freedom? My weariness is proof of my weakness, and the only necessity is this: I need the power of Christ to rest on me. I am not enough on my own. My ministry to others is insufficient without Christ. It is only by His power and His grace being enough, I can keep going. Regardless of the sacrifices made, regardless of the hardships I face, I can rest in His work, and tomorrow, I can get up and most gladly spend and be spent for their souls, again. This is a life well-spent.

Trusting God Behind the Veil

The drive wasn’t bad for a road trip. It was longer than we normally drive in the car with six kids, but all in all, it was an easy day trip. After numerous trips to Colorado in my younger days, my favorite part of the entire drive was the anticipation of seeing the mountain skyline in the distance. The climax, however, was driving into Denver through the Eisenhower Tunnel and being greeted by the looming “purple mountains’ majesty” on the other side.

But we weren’t going to Denver or through Denver. We exited Interstate 70 onto Highway 24 to drive into Colorado Springs. I’d see faint outlines of what I assumed were Rocky Mountains, but then I’d lose sight of them. Highway 24 is full of rolling plateaus. That first day of August, the sky was heavy with clouds while the sun played hide-and-seek behind them. The sky was dramatic, and the landscape of these rising plateaus held a beauty all its own. I drank it in.

I kept expecting the mountains to surprise us, and we’d really talked it up with the kids. We’d set an expectation that any minute, they’d be confronted with a glory their mid-western eyes hadn’t experienced. But I began to have a sinking feeling in my stomach. Had I planned the wrong vacation? Was Colorado Springs the right destination? Would our kids be disappointed? Would this failure of my planning be added to the ever-growing list I’d made in my mind over the years? Every rise and fall brought a real sense of disappointment and worry.

The friends we were visiting live just a smidge north of downtown Colorado Springs. We were coming into town, and we were a mere ten minutes from their house. The sun was now fully out, and it was close to 5:00 when a barely perceptible line drawn across the horizon caught my eye. I lifted my sunglasses to verify I was really seeing something, lowered them again and cried, “There! There they are!” All sixteen eyes fixed on the horizon, and I felt in that moment that Jesus had surprised me. He wasn’t holding out on me, rather, He was waiting until the perfect moment to reveal His masterpiece.

Though darkness seems to hide His face, I rest in His unchanging grace.

“The Solid rocK,” Edward mote–1834

The outline of the Rockies grew more solid against the bright afternoon sky, though it was tainted with a thick haze, a result of forest fires to the west. which disguised the details of the mountains themselves. The kids finally saw them, and my heart lifted because my God does not fail. He established these very mountains with the command of His voice. They remain as a testament that we, too, are like a strong mountain when we trust in Him. “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 6:19-20, ESV).

In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.

“the solid rock,” Edward mote–1834

Sometimes, when life is hard, grief hangs heavy, and the valley of the shadow of death feels like a suffocating blanket, we have to choose to see His grace and rest in it. If He was willing to take care of our debt of sin behind the veil of the temple, entering as the sacrificial lamb, how much more will He do for us in our struggles?

“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things…Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”

Romans 8:31b-32, 34b, ESV

The sunshine doesn’t always break through the clouds immediately. We have to rest, knowing that behind the haze and clouds, there is majesty waiting to reveal itself. He is there even when we don’t feel lighthearted, joyful, or excited. He is there. There may be veil, but it is there, behind the veil that we remain rooted and grounded in His love. The storm will pass, but right here, right in the midst of it, He is our solid rock, our foundation, our God in whom we can trust.

The Pursuit of a Grateful Life

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When considering how to move forward in a time of uncertainty about the future, I’ve found that there are some practical, propelling steps that can aid us in forward momentum. I’m a big fan of Emily P. Freeman’s podcast, The Next Right Thing. And most certainly, doing the next right thing is the best way forward, but how do you go about figuring out what that thing is?

After I gave birth my my twin boys, I found myself in a very strange place of feeling paralyzed by all of the focus in taking care of them (and my three older children). I found myself a little sad, and maybe it was post-partem depression or just a function of my personality, but I needed a hopeful way forward.

Enter Ann Voskamp and her book, One Thousand Gifts. I read the book, captivated by her lyrical writing style and the similar ways she and I process the world through symbols. The greatest gift I received from her was the discipline of gratitude. A friend challenged her to count one thousand ways God loved her and His gifts to her. She began to see His hand in the good, the beautiful, and the hard. I was inspired. I began keeping a gratitude journal, and I’ve kept it off and on for nine years. I surpassed 5000 gifts this year. This is a discipline that is a lifeline!

However, what I’ve discovered in all of this gratitude-keeping is that gratitude can’t merely be written down or even spoken aloud. It has to be lived. I can sit down each morning, write in my gratitude journal, and then have complaints on my tongue within a matter of minutes. I can functionally deny the gratefulness I just expressed with one word of discontentment, because isn’t it true that gratitude and contentment are sisters? Isn’t it true that complaint and discontentment go hand in hand? Why do I slip so easily from gratefulness to complaint?

Last year, I began the repeating spiral of discontentment, anxiety, and wanting to escape my current situation by running away. I could see that it was fueled by looking to the past or the future with the proverbial rose-colored glasses, but escaping it seemed impossible. It was my daily existence. I decided to return to a book I read many years ago, Calm My Anxious Heart, by Linda Dillow, in hopes of finding the help and inspiration to stop the cycle. Upon rereading this book, I was most struck by this manifesto written by a missionary in Africa:

1. Never picture yourself in any other circumstances or someplace else.

2. Never allow yourself to complain about anything–not even the weather.

3. Never dwell on tomorrow–remember that it is God’s, not ours.

4. Never allow yourself to wish this or that had been otherwise.

5. Never compare your lot with another’s.

Linda Dillow, Calm my anxious heart

Wow. When I read that, I was floored. This woman had no indoor plumbing, no air-conditioning, and taxing daily chores that we modern women in industrialized countries can’t fathom. It’s interesting that all of these admonishments are directed at the places we allow our thoughts to roam. When our thoughts run to fantasizing about a different life or circumstances, discontentment grows, and then it blossoms and gives birth to complaining. This is a daily struggle for yours truly.

Corralling meandering thoughts reminds me of that time in Anne of Avonlea when Anne Shirley’s cow, Dolly, repeatedly escaped and tramped into Mr. Harrison’s oat field, ruining his crop. Dolly just liked what she saw on the other side of the fence and stepped outside of her boundaries. I think our thoughts can be destructive like that old cow, but when carefully attended to and given limits, our focused thoughts will produce contentment in our hearts. Out of that contentment will spring true gratitude. How do we get from lip-service gratitude to deep contentment that overflows with a grateful spirit?

We have to repent for our complaints. I’m not talking about laments before God; I’m talking about griping and grumbling about how our kids don’t do enough to help around the house, or complaining that it’s too hot outside, and imagining that life would be better if ________________________________ was different. Pour out your laments about life to the Father; He can handle them and wants you to cast your cares on Him, because He does care for you (1 Peter 5:7). Earnestly repent for complaining. When we complain, we aren’t trusting Him. When we daydream about ideal days, we miss out on the fact that He is actually WITH US right now in this hard situation. I’ve been spending some time in Exodus this week, and it is really shocking to read the complaints of the Hebrews a short time after they escaped the oppression of slavery in Egypt. They had God’s presence protecting them in the cloud, they were led across the Red Sea on dry land, and God provided sweet water instead of bitter water. Still, they grumbled. And as I kept reading, I saw the complaints pile up. Paul addresses this in 1 Corinthians 10. He says,

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.

Paul the apostle, 1 Corinthians 10:1-6 (ESV)

It will not do for us to experience the love and deliverance of God if we yearn for more than Him and what He has to offer us in our own wilderness hardships. They ended up wandering into idolatry, and funny enough, all these idealized images of how life should be are just idols. We want to enter into His rest, not hardening our hearts, wandering aimlessly, seeking mirages of fulfillment in the desert. Let’s turn our backs on complaint.

We also have to discipline our minds and our mouths. We must ask Him for help to be vigilant against the pull to look elsewhere for contentment and satisfaction. We have to rein in those wandering thoughts, and replace them with truths about Him and His presence with us. This is really what we’re longing for, right? To know that we’re not alone in this? To know that He is with us and for us? He is. It’s in His very name, Immanuel, God with us.

We have to take action. When you’ve repented and asked for help, you then have to be responsible to re-focus. I’m sure it’s different for every personality, but for my personality, I have to GET MOVING. This can be as simple as gaining momentum by completing the tasks in front of me, the things I am responsible to do. It is important for me not to give my mind the unrestricted downtime of fruitless wandering–stillness before the Lord–YES!–free-range thinking and feeling that is unproductive–NO! Every time, I am led astray by these thoughts that are not rooted in reality. I have to focus on Paul’s list in Philippians 4:8 and ask myself, “Is it…

  • True?
  • Honorable?
  • Just?
  • Pure?
  • Lovely?
  • Commendable?
  • Excellent?
  • Worthy of Praise?

In addition to exercising self-control in our minds and mouths, we have to exercise our bodies. Exercise disrupts thought patterns and gives us a chance to refocus on something different. I’m always amazed at the difference I feel when I get up out of my negative slump and move; I feel radically different. We’re not meant to be idle, dwelling on the negative situations in our lives. We’re meant to be movers, shakers, and world changers.

This is not an overnight journey, friends. This is a lifetime of surrendering your will for His, for following Him like a sheep follows her Good Shepherd, and for living the abundant life He promised which is more about the transformation He’s accomplishing IN you than just changing your circumstances. “He is with you, and in you,” (John 14:17, ESV).

When Feelings Try to Write Your Story

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Lately, I’ve been feeling a bit suspended in the air, like I’m dangling and not knowing whether or not I’m gonna fall or be lifted to higher ground. The uncertainty of moving forward with life continues worldwide. On every continent, people can’t plan for future days. I have felt like I’ve been riding a roller coaster of emotions for about four months, and I want to get off and get my money back!

It occurred to me today that the feeling I’ve been having is real, but it’s not true. All of our feelings (and thoughts!) are real and valid. They’re really happening, and we’re really experiencing them. But that does not mean they’re true. The narrative my emotions have been writing says that I’m suspended in air, unable to go up or down or sideways. I’m stuck. I’m not in control, and I’m just waiting to move on with my life. That is most certainly what it feels like. The truth is that while I can’t plan for the things I want to do, the places I want to visit, or the things I want and need to buy, I am not stuck. I can still move forward. Because of this feeling, I began telling myself this lie. All it has done for me is depress me and cause anxiety because when you feel like you’re hanging by a thread, it’s scary.

But what if I were to change the narrative? What if I were to tell my feelings to shut up, sit down, and listen? If I were to do that, I think this is what I’d see.

  • Instead of being suspended in air, unable to move forward, I am actually held and safe in Jesus’ hands.
  • Instead of being stuck, I’m free. When I’m in His hands, I’m free to be who He created me to be and to do the things He’s called me to do.
  • Instead of not having any agency or control, I actually can make choices and decisions within the boundaries given to me.

This is a radically different narrative. It restores the truth to me that I am loved by God, held by Him, and my very address is under His sovereignty (Acts 17:26). I am not going to fall; I am safe in His hands. I also see that because He loves me and is taking care of me, I can live out the gifts He’s given me. I’m not thwarted or held back in this season; I’m free to live as His beloved (Ephesians 2:10). His hands are not tied, and neither are mine. Finally, I see that because I’m made in His image, being conformed to the image of Jesus, and filled with the Holy Spirit, I have the power to choose to walk according to His plan for my life and make choices each day to deepen my relationship with Him and with others (Romans 8:14-17).

Are your feelings trying to steal your pen and write your story? Do you struggle too? I’d love to hear from you what you’re learning and how God is using this time to transform you into the image of His Beloved Son, Jesus.

Decision-Making in Crisis Mode

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Laurel, my neighbor and battle buddy during Coronavirus, and I were walking one day last week, and she wanted to run to the market to buy veggies for dinner. I happily went along, but I told her right away, “I have no idea what I’m going to make for dinner. I guess I need to think about it.” She was full of ideas that sounded good, but I just “couldn’t even.” Weariness had settled in.

We walked into the market, and the guy on duty got our attention to come over for our temperature scans. Satisfied by our lack of fevers, he waved us into the green sea of stalks and leaves dotted with the reds, yellows, and oranges of various vegetables. Produce is fresh from the farm here, likely picked the day before and dropped off that morning. It was a feast for the nature-starved eyes of city dwellers, to be sure, but I was just foggy-headed.

She loaded up, and I stood there thinking how fresh and delicious it would be if I did cook, but the motivation to actually buy the goods was lacking. If I buy them, then I am responsible to cook them. I didn’t have it in me in that moment. We got back to the apartment, parted ways, and I climbed the stairs to our fifth-floor apartment (we don’t have an elevator in our building). My husband, Dave, was happy to order take-out from one of our favorite restaurants instead. Crisis averted.

I’ve especially noticed in this time of quarantines, social-distancing, and a pandemic, making decisions is just harder. In February, we were waffling back and forth about whether or not we’d return to the US. It was an every single day discussion with arguments for both staying and going. And what we eventually realized is this: you can only make decisions with the information you actually have, not with all the suppositions and possibilities. When we boiled it down to the known, we were finally able to make a decision based on those facts.

I’ve been wrestling internally with future decisions about our life. There’s someone I love dearly who has been in and out of the hospital this past week with heart problems. I feel the pull to be closer in proximity even though I wouldn’t be able to visit him. There are family members and dear friends we had hoped to visit this summer, but the world is such a muddled mess of numbers, peaks, and predictions that we don’t feel confident enough to buy tickets. There are political issues going on in our host country that have sparked anger and sorrow in our hearts for the mistreatment of other foreigners because of their nationality and skin color.

All of these circumstances overwhelm my soul if I let them. And boy, have I let them this past week! When Overwhelm waltzes in uninvited and pulls up a chair after grabbing a cold one from the fridge, indicating he intends to stick around awhile, I often don’t put up a fight. Instead, I roll over and play dead, hoping he’ll just leave me alone. My other response is to make myself busy so I don’t have to entertain the brute. I find myself wondering what the right response is to Overwhelm?

Overwhelm, verb

1. •Upset, Overthrow

2. a •to cover over completely: submerge

b •to overcome by superior force or numbers

c •to overpower in thought or feeling

Merriam-Webster

Based on the definition above, it seems like Overwhelm is a control freak, stomping around telling me how to feel, trying to control my thoughts and forcing me to worry while water-boarding me. Overwhelm is a jerk. Interestingly enough, it is this same Overwhelm who robs me of the ability to make big and small decisions. When I let him boss me around, I cannot think my own thoughts; I’ve got his negative track running through my head. When I don’t fight back, he has no problem trying to drown me. And when I ignore him, I may feel better momentarily, and I may be able to move forward through my day, but it doesn’t erase the feelings which have taken root in my heart. I’ve just chosen not to dwell on them presently; however, a time is coming when I will have to face them, and this causes dread.

So what’s a lady to do when it’s time to face the decisions, unmade and looming stormily over her head? First, I’ve got to imitate the patriarchs (and many matriarchs, I’d surmise) of the Old Testament and “inquire of the Lord.” I have to bring these heavy decisions and maybe even the little ones like dinner—because truthfully, they’re just a byproduct of not being able to make the big ones—and tell my friend, Jesus, about them. He already knows, but He likes it when I lean on Him and see Him for who He is—my Provider, my Protector, my Brother, my Friend, and my Savior. And you know, when I bring it to Him (often again and again in a single hour), I remember how strong He is and how much He loves me. I remember that He cares about my life. He cares about dinner. He cares about my brain fog and the worry and indecision.

After talking to Him, I have to remember who I am. I’m His. I belong to Him, no matter what. I am, always and forever, safe in His care. I remember I’m made in His image. I have agency. I am empowered by the Holy Spirit to be wise and discerning. I remember all He has taught me has been from a heart of kindness and gentleness. I remember I can only make decisions based on what I do know, not on what I can’t see or know about the future.

Seeing Him and seeing myself through His eyes reminds me I am free to decide. I will not always make the best decision. My best friend Nicole (Check our her latest song HERE about this very topic) reminded me last week of how He isn’t surprised when we make the wrong decision, but He gives us so much grace for whatever decision we end up making. Our “wrong” decisions aren’t outside of His sovereignty in the earth. He is the masterful conductor bringing all of these decisions into harmony, though a stray note may be played here or there.

As my friend, Emily P. Freeman (she doesn’t know we’re friends, but we so are), says on her excellent podcast, The Next Right Thing, “…Do the next right thing in love.” What does it look like to do the next right thing in love? I think it’s something like this: Walk with Jesus, hands wide open, identity secured, knowing whatever decision you make is gonna be okay. Whenever Overwhelm comes around, kick him to the curb. You’ve got a life to live.