The joy we find in the broken, the backward and less-than-successful things

I need a show of hands. How many of you out there are deeply entrenched in something that’s quite less-than-successful?

Is your church struggling with leadership, finances, or sharing the gospel with the world?

Does your marriage feel like long-running drudgery, full of low-grade despair or outright hostility?

Is your parenting a loosely cobbled together collection of decisions, aimed at hopefully producing a decent adult one day?

How about your career, your health, or your finances? If one or all of them are a wreck, then you’re reading the right blog post.

I’m right there with you.

It’s becoming more and more apparent to me that I’ve been called to some things that may never be shiny, fancy, or awe-inspiring.

I have recently counted up an offering at church and been somewhat dumbfounded at the low deposit total I saw on the spreadsheet.

Our small group, once a large, bustling, thriving evening each week, suddenly evaporated this month. This place of ministry was near and dear to my heart but, abruptly, it ended.

When friends share stories of churches they attend with special offerings of tens of thousands of dollars, or dozens of baptisms in one night, or the thriving ministries of the church, I get really anxious and teeter on the brink of despair.

What are we doing wrong? Are we not faithful enough for God’s blessing?

I’ve recently had some parenting struggles that I shall keep private, due to the fact that my children are no longer babies and don’t appreciate their junk being spewed all over the internet, but suffice it to say that I had to wonder if I’ve done anything worthwhile with my offspring the last fourteen years. It feels entirely possible that I’m just the tall woman with access to the checking account in the house, and they’re counting down the days until my rule of tyranny is over in their lives.

What am I doing wrong? Have I not prayed enough? Been strict enough? Been too strict?

And even though I’m on the very cusp of releasing my third book, a privilege other writers would eat a sock to experience, my writing career is so less-than-spectacular that I struggle monthly with whether to continue.

Other writers sell more books, get more blog stats, and gain more social media followers in the next twenty minutes than I’ve done in the last eight years.

Am I hearing God wrong? Should I focus on my spectacular career as an administrative assistant and let the writing go?

I tell you all these things not because I’m seeking your pity. I offer them simply to be real, and because I firmly believe that honesty opens up room for others to be honest as well. It’s not all going well. I’ve worked really, really hard for many years, only to realize many of my efforts can basically can basically be filed under “F” for “Failure.”

And maybe you feel the same way?

Here’s some hope for us all. I’ve been reading an old, old book I found in the church library. Forgotten for years, this copy of Humility by Andrew Murray* is now covered in coffee stains and my grubby fingerprints. Sometimes those old writers really have a way of cutting through the popular culture’s madness to really get at the heart of the matter. If something was important and true more than a hundred years ago, maybe we should still be paying attention.

(Just to be clear, the copy I have is a reprint from about fifteen years ago. I’m not spilling coffee on a hundred year old book.)

Murray’s point is simple: Humility is the path to holiness, and directly to God’s heart. Yet we often resist the very things that allow that humility to grow in our hearts. He writes:

Many Christians fear and flee and seek deliverance from all that would humble them. At times they may pray for humility, but in their heart of hearts they pray even more to be kept from the things that would bring them to that place. They have not reached the level of seeing humility as a manifestation of the beauty of the Lamb of God (pg. 91).

We want our churches to be shiny and popular and flush with cash. We want our marriages to be healthy and our parenting to inspire awe in our community. When our efforts are unsuccessful, we either double down with more effort or give up in despair.

But what if there was another way to look at it?

Could we take that lackluster career, that long-running battle in our marriage, or our pathetic book sales and realize that when we bring those things directly to God, we’re growing in humility?

No one’s going to look at our efforts and then be awed by our abilities. But maybe those struggles are making us into kinder, gentler individuals. Maybe we’ll show more grace to others because of this experience. Perhaps our ministries will grow deeper and more heartfelt, with more of the Holy Spirit’s power to show to others.

After all, Jesus was born to inconsequential people (in a stable!), never took the throne in Rome, and then died next to criminals. His best friends were a ragtag group of fishermen, tax collectors, and women. If our Lord chose the simple, humble things, who are we to expect some sort of shiny, glorious life?

I can’t see all the areas you’re struggling today, so maybe none of this helps your exact situation. But I have a feeling that maybe it does. Reframing our humiliations as experiences that bring us closer to Jesus might be the most helpful thing we learn as we mature in our walk with God.

I believe there’s joy to be found in growing more gentle, kind, and reliant on the Holy Spirit. And if it takes twenty failures a day to get me to that place, then I guess I’m all in.

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Because Murray has been dead a loooong time, the book is off copyright and can be read on the internet. Here’s the link if you’re interested– it’s well worth the read! Link to Humility.

*The Amazon link is an affiliate link, and I’ll earn a tiny stipend off sales. The link to the online, off-copyright is not an affiliate link.

Let’s take a moment to celebrate January and the return to regular routines

January, we welcome you.

Even with your freezing temperatures and your howling winds and your snow drifts, we’re super excited to see you on the calendar once again. We’ve had all we can take of merry making.

Here’s our new backyard. I wish you could feel the 10 degree air, as that gives it a very nice Michigan touch. We haven’t seen the grass since Christmas Eve.

I’ve seen one universal thought on my social media feeds this last week: “WHEN WILL YOU SHORT PEOPLE BE RETURNING TO SCHOOL, pray tell?”

I’ve seen mothers hiding under the basement stairs to find a moment of peace (click here— it’s worth the time), I’ve seen fathers as far as the UK begging school to begin again, and innumerable posts from people snuggled up in their homes with their children because the snow outside is up to their armpits. For days and days.

Listen, I enjoy sleeping in as much as anyone else on the planet, but I also am ready for our regular routine that keeps the wheels from falling off our family bus.

School? Yes, please. Even though this requires me to alight from my resting chamber at 5:30 each morning, I am ready.

Regularly scheduled evening events? Bring them on, baby.

Teenagers who have structure to their days and homework for their nights? Amen and amen.

Captain Kitty approves of the new house, mostly because he’s allowed inside again. (There’s no carpet for him to destroy with his bodily fluids.) He has, so far, not abused our trust.

As if the holidays weren’t enough, we moved into our new house in early December. This means it took us two weeks to locate our underwear and a decent knife, which really threw us off. (Just kidding. We kept careful track of all underthings and sharp objects.) And then there was a retreat that I chaperoned and the kids attended. And then, and then….

It’s time to get back to normal, is all I’m saying.

The Christmas decorations came down the first of January and the kids are just finishing up the last of their wild Winter Break activities. Audrey’s sleeping off a lock-in (God bless the adults who stayed up all night with those kids) and Caleb will be returning from a sleepover soon. And then tomorrow we do nothing but prepare for the grueling, delightful, terrible, perfect week of school that awaits us.

It’s going to be brutal.

But so, so necessary.

Here’s everyone’s favorite place in the house. We haven’t been brave enough to try the fireplace yet, but maybe we will soon?

I don’t know about you, but my spiritual life thrives under the ordinary routine of regular life. When I know I have twenty minutes here to read the Bible, and fifteen minutes there to pray, God and I really have time to communicate. Then I also have regular time to write, to arrange my thoughts, and to ask God which of those thoughts will benefit you, the reader.

That’s my writing goal for 2018– to prayerfully seek what will meet your needs. I’m boldly asking God for insight on what he needs me to write because you (and I!) need to hear it. I’m so excited about what this year has in store for us all!

But none of this stuff happens when I’m in the middle of moving/partying/Christmas cookie eating/hosting parties for fifteen.

All of this happens with routine, schedules, and time to think.

Here’s a quote from my new book, which comes out in late February:

Jesus could have done a lot of things, but he chose to pray. It was that person-to-person connection with the Father he needed more than anything else. (I Could Use a Nap and a Million Dollars, pg. 88).

It’s not possible for us to use Jesus’s example for every part of our daily lives. For example, the Lord did not have to carpool five children to hockey practice three nights a week, or fold twelve loads of laundry on a Saturday, or scrub mildew off the tub. But this, this we can do.

Now that the holiday chaos has passed and our regular routines are starting back up, we can make sure to include the time we need to pray and spend direct time with the Heavenly Father.

This could be the greatest year yet, if only we put the right things first.

Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray. Later Simon and the others went out to find him. When they found him, they said, “Everyone is looking for you” (Mark 1:35-37, NLT).

 

 

 

 

We all have holiday problems, but that’s okay– it probably won’t kill us too badly

The new book (coming in February of 2018!) has a chapter titled thusly:

When Thanksgiving Includes a Table for Ninety-Eight

Because the holidays are supposed to be this joyous time of fun and laughter and cocoa and loving family togetherness, all gathered around the table. All ninety-eight of us.

But reality proves otherwise, year after year after year. Those joyous times are actually full of crazy relatives, hyperactive children who have been ingesting pure sugar (or possibly cocaine) since rising at 5:30am, and an angry woman in the kitchen, pretending she’s glad she’s making all this extra food again.

For example.

The other day I was in my kitchen, whipping together a batch of cornbread with a wee bit too much ferocity and WAY TOO MUCH resentment. I cracked eggs like they were responsible for my bad attitude and I griped out loud about all the cooking required this time of year.

I can barely keep up with the regular meals around this house, so when we start throwing in extra potlucks and dessert tables and transporting hot dishes across the county to church, I sort of lose it.

It’s not lost on me that– once again– I’ve covered this at length in a book I have written. I believe the Lord just thinks it’s just hilarious that I get to write a book and then must return to that book to relearn the same lesson. Sometimes hundreds of times.

But ANYWAY, the point of the holidays shouldn’t be about the food or the eggs or the drives or the hassle. A holiday should be one more chance to love others, one more chance to glorify God in our daily lives.

But this can be really, really hard when the ninety-eight people around the dining table are driving you crazy in ninety-eight different ways. (***Not that I know this from personal experience because the people who share the holiday table with me are shining lights of perfection, normalcy, and delight at all times.***)

Here, let’s go back to the chapter about this in I Could Use a Nap and a Million Dollars:

For this, we grit our teeth and choose to be flexible. We choose to accept differences and be content with the fact that our family members are who they are. We aren’t going to change them. They aren’t looking for our approval; they’re looking for pumpkin pie and a football game. They don’t care how many hours we spent on the decorations or the turkey; they just want a safe place to put the baby down while they talk to other adults. They might need a comfortable chair for their old bones, or a big glass of water for their back pills.

See? What are we so worried about? It’s all fine. There’s nothing here that can’t be fixed with a little flexibility and kindness, right? Among Christians, everyone gets a place. Everyone gets a seat. Weirdo or not.

I’m trying to relax a little and enjoy these loved ones. I’m trying to extend a seat with grace and patience and genuine affection, and I’ve got to be honest– it’s not super easy. And I know I also grate on the nerves of the others around the table like salt in an open wound sometimes. WE ALL GET TO BE A LITTLE CRAZY, OKAY?

Okay.

I need to remember this— when Jesus said to love others, he didn’t mean in some far off, mystical place. He means right now, right here, in this very time. These very people. The love and the grace start with the smallest things, deep in my heart. They don’t start with turkey or ham or gravy.

They start with the Holy Spirit taking my willing heart and turning me into someone who is loving and kind, despite myself.

Ninety-eight different ways.

 

When you write a book on stress, God may just let you live through some extra stress

Well, things around here are getting interesting. My stress levels are soaring and my mental health is deteriorating, as evidenced by the following recent text message to my friend Jen:

I wasn’t jiving, either. I was so wound up that a run/jog/stomping gallop sounded like a legitimate stress reduction option, and this is so completely out of my normal response to things that I was afraid of myself.

I scared myself. Some of you may remember a post from earlier this year about how I jogged for a few minutes and thought the Lord himself was going to have to arrive on a white horse to carry my carcass away– that’s how running usually goes for me.

Here’s the thing. We’re deep into this moving situation, a situation I basically created for myself. No one else in this family can take the credit for stalking houses online for years. No one else was determined to create more financial margin. Nobody cared one whit about these things, so I only have myself to blame.

Photo by Xavier Massa on Unsplash

But somehow in my moving fantasies I forgot about moving realities. I conveniently disremembered things like dealing with mortgage paperwork and making sure we’re communicating everything clearly and honestly with a buyer (through two separate real estate agents, mind you. It’s not like I can call this guy and chat for hours.)

Now I’m having panic attacks about all sorts of things and then I remember that I have literally written a book about stress and I wheeze, “God, you are super funny with all your ironic life situations,” and I try to take a full breath.

Tonight I came across a powerful section in Control Girl, by Shannon Popkin. She was relating a story about a time when she had been on her way to speak to a group of women when she became convicted that she was sinning in the exact area she was about to teach on. She repented through tears, right there in the car, and this is what she writes:

I would far rather approach a group of ladies with patched makeup and a contrite spirit than with a false sense that the lesson is not for me. It’s always for me (p. 176).

This is why her book speaks so deeply to me– I know she has lived the struggle and she continues to live the struggle. I could list other favorite authors right now (Emily P. Freeman, Leanna Tankersley, Myquillin Smith, Amber Haines, Sophie Hudson) and all of them have this one thing in common– they’ve lived the struggle and they keep living it.

It keeps them humble. It makes their teaching accessible. God works through their brokenness, and we benefit from a kinder, gentler, humbler version of each of them.

Part of me wants to push this away. If I’ve written a book on stress, then most likely I should have conquered stress, right? What right do I have to speak on a topic when it’s still a daily struggle?

Paul’s words ring true for me:

So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness. So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me (2 Corinthians 12:7-9, NLT).

This continual battle with stress and anxiety is driving me to God in prayer. I’m seeking him on a hourly basis as I recognize my frail humanity over and over again, all day long.

Writing a book on stress hasn’t made me some sort of expert who floats above the mortal world– it’s dragged me right through the thick of it. I pray you, my beloved reader, will benefit.

But even more, I pray that you’ll be encouraged about your own weaknesses. Do you feel like they’re keeping you from ministry? Do you feel like you’ll have something to give or teach only after you get your life together?

Perish the thought, my friend. Join us right here in the mess of life. We need your determination to seek God in all things far more than we need your perfection.

Also, I think perfect people tend to run a lot, and we all know how I feel about running…

 

Free to Lean (A reminder that a balanced life is not our ultimate goal)

Friends, I often wonder if we stress ourselves out. Stay with me here– is it possible, just a tiny, teeny bit possible, that our own life choices are the reason we have twitchy eyelids and blood pressure that’s somewhere near 250/134?

I think we’ve bought into the lie that we can have it all and should have it all and–in fact– are failing God if we don’t do it all.

Craziness. This is not a biblical idea, as Jocelyn Green points out in her new book, Free to Lean: Making Peace with Your Lopsided Life (affiliate link). She points out that Jesus lived a focused, passionate life. He had a ministry, it was intense, and it was short. It was a particular season of his life, then he died knowing he had completed his work.

He didn’t stretch out his ministry for fifty years, start five different ministries, then conquer five countries like we would try to do.

In fact, if you look at Jesus’s ministry by today’s standards, it really wasn’t that impressive. He brought a few people back from the dead, but not all the people. He healed a few people, but didn’t set up a miracle hospital to serve millions. He didn’t even get married or have any kids!

So why do we think we need to do it all?

If you’re tired of feeling stretched thin, if it feels like your life is a five miles wide but only an inch deep, this is the book you need. Green will help you find your God-given priorities, then will give you the permission to lean into your season of life without guilt.

There’s more to life than an overburdened schedule and a racing heart. And Green helps us hear from God to choose the priorities that require our focus and attention.

Let me close with a quote from the introduction of Free to Lean:

…The common refrain among time-starved, noise-saturated, overworked Americans is, “How can I achieve balance?”
We’ve been asking the wrong question. Nowhere in the Bible does God tell us to pursue balance. If you’re a believer, your purpose in life is far bigger than that. Jesus said that being His disciple requires us to deny ourselves, to lose own lives so we can find life in Him (Matthew 16:24-25). As we follow Jesus, with our crosses on our backs, we aren’t balanced–we’re leaning, hard, after our Savior, whatever that may look like in our own particular seasons of life (p. 17).

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Calm on the outside; freaking out on the inside

If you could peek into my house right this minute, you’d find us calmly going about our business in perfectly clean rooms.


I’m not even joking, friends. The house looks like we’re ready for potential buyers to walk in the door because we are, in fact, ready for those potential buyers.

The sinks are shiny, the showers look like no one has ever bathed in them, and the laundry is all done. The oven is clean and someone who shall remain nameless has been forbidden to bake pizzas until the house is sold.

It’s weird and I don’t really like it very much. It feels like we snuck into a show house and are pretending to live there.

It looks like this, but even CLEANER. No stuff stuck to the fridge, an almost empty counter. It’s spooky, folks.

The kids are old enough that they know how to not make messes, so they’re quietly going about their business in a tidy fashion while Eric and I read and write blog posts.

Outward everything is calm. But inside I’m totally freaking out. As evidence, I bring actual thoughts I’ve had since waking this morning:

WHAT HAVE WE DONE? OH, MY WORD, WE JUST BUILT THIS HOUSE FIVE YEARS AGO!! WHY IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT IS HOLY ARE WE THINKING ABOUT SELLING THIS PERFECTLY GOOD HOUSE AND MOVING TO A NEW ONE WHAT IF WE HATE IT OH MY WORD THIS IS A PERFECT SETUP FOR A SITCOM AND I THINK I NEED A VALIUM!

Notice how my thoughts become run-on sentences as the panic grows.

To counter these negative emotions, I also have perfectly sane and intelligent thoughts at exactly the same time:

This other house we’re interested in will really offer us some great opportunities. It solves a few problems (LIKE THE IDIOT CAT), it opens up financial possibilities, and the decorating decisions will be such a fun challenge. I can’t wait to rip that ghastly wallpaper right off the wall. What a delight this will be!

It’s like my brain is in a blender. All the outcomes will be fine, honestly. We love this house and will be happy to stay here for years, but the other house we have our eye on could really be a great adventure.


We spent a solid two weeks praying about this decision to possibly move, and Eric and I reached the same decision carefully and slowly. Neither of us pushed or shoved the other in either direction; no one whined or wheedled or begged. Those of you who know me in person will find this unlikely, but I promise I put the brakes on my usual personality out of terror I’d drag my family into a nightmare that would scar them for years.

But we finally did it. The sign is in the yard, the kids are actually getting their dirty laundry into the basket each night, and I’m actually getting it all washed the next morning.

Now we wait.

As much as I’d like to demand God hurries up and gets our future all lined up in either direction ASAP, I’ve learned that spending time with him in the midst of the uncertainty is a far better option. That’s where the closeness and trust grows.

We prayed ourselves into this situation, now we can pray right through it. And prayer doesn’t mean demanding evidence. It means we choose to trust that he’s working– even when we can’t see it from here.

It means choosing to be still even when our brains are feeling like blenders. It means scrubbing a tub and being thankful it’s clean whether someone buys the house or not.

I was feeling like a moron the day Caleb took this photo, but it actually illustrates my state of mind today– happy, but also insane a little.

It may, in fact, require a Valium in the near future. I’m no saint. I’m due for another round of panic here in about three minutes. Bear with me, and I’ll keep you updated on the situation!

 

 

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The seasons are changing, and I’m not just talking about pumpkin spice lattes.

I want to like pumpkin flavored things, I really do.

But I really actually don’t. It’s not the pumpkins’ fault– it’s just that they’re so terribly similar to acorn squash, a vegetable that is probably served daily in Hell’s cafeteria.

My parents, blessed saints that they are, have one small flaw, and that is the unending love of all squash and their byproducts. I will not bore you with stories from my youth where I begged and pleaded and whined at the dinner table because my parents were merrily gobbling squash up like it was some kind of delicacy and expected me to do the same.

You’ll forgive me if I gag a little at the memory and then can’t bring myself to drink a pumpkin spice latte. It’s basically a super sweet, liquid version of my worst nightmare, and I’m not excited that it’s the new autumn standard.

But I doubt you came here to read about my childhood food issues, so let me get to the point. Fall is coming soon, if it hasn’t already happened in your part of the world. Some of you are cheering, and some of you are weeping a little as you gather up your flip flops and put them away for another long, cold winter.

The weather changes, and so does our life. Nothing gets to stay the same forever, nor should it. We may dread the coming cold, but resisting it is futile.

I am re-reading Victim of Grace by Robin Jones Gunn for what has to be the fifth time. Her journey as a writer and a child of God gives me encouragement whenever I’ve lost my own way, and I have this section highlighted in my copy:

Why are we caught off guard when the seasons change? We wonder if we’ve done something to precipitate the loss of the previous abundance and all the vibrant evidences of God’s wonder-working power. All of nature willingly surrenders to the changes in the physical universe, yet nothing in our human nature allows us to simply let the season be what it is and trust that the hand of the Great Gardener is still at work in us, carrying out his bigger plan for the world as well as for our lives (Victim of Grace, pg. 126, emphasis mine).

Maybe you are like me, headed into a season of uncertainty and change. Our kids are in middle and high school and Lord knows nothing stays the same when your kid walks through the doors of that new experience. We’re also considering some big changes around here to our careers, our house, our cars, and even the cat.

When things become challenging I often look for where I am at fault. I almost never stop to wonder if this is simply a new season from God’s hand. My human perspective is limited and focused directly on my own experience.

I share this tendency with the Israelites, who crossed a barren land and ended up at the sea. Like Logan Wolfram says in this Hope*Writers podcast, these were people who’d grown up in the desert; they probably weren’t real great swimmers. What they saw was a roadblock and quite possibly a cold, wet death, but God was about to work something amazing on their behalf.

Or like Jesus’s followers, who buried him and then huddled in misery, wondering how they had been so wrong. Jesus was dead. Their dreams were dead. But they just had to hold on a few more hours until God restored their dreams beyond what they could have ever imagined.

Our dreams are too small. Our hope is too fragile. We’re banking it all on one small outcome, and that outcome often flows from what we know and value right here— we aren’t ready for the season to change. We aren’t anticipating the great things God will do in the next season because we’re too freaked out that the last season is over.

What if, instead of panicking and deciding we’re doomed, we decided to trust the slow work of God? What if we could let the season simply be what it is, without fretting and dreading what it might become?

I think that might lower our stress levels quite a lot, frankly. We might enjoy the changing of our seasons a little more as the leaves fall and the winter creeps closer.

Maybe for you a little pumpkin spice helps everything. I’ll take a cider and a gluten free donut, thank you very much.

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True story: I recently had a tantrum that involved throwing my phone.

This map was useless. Just trust me.

Recently our family found ourselves navigating around the city of Los Angeles.

As you might imagine, things got ugly.

We’d been in California for a few days by that point, long enough to get lost about twenty zillion times, long enough to realize the traffic was sort of ridiculous, and long enough to realize we were never sure if we were in a safe neighborhood or if we were about to be ax murdered.

We really, really didn’t want to get ax murdered on our family vacation.

I took this picture at Universal Studios, where there was an honest-to-goodness fake murderer in the background!

So Eric and I took to using both of our phones to navigate. He uses Google maps and I use Apple maps, and between the two of us we usually could figure out what to do. YOU WOULD THINK that two adults using two GPS sets of directions would arrive promptly at their desired destination, but no.

Finally we gave up on our original destination because the neighborhood was just too sketchy. Usually we’re a little braver than this, but it had been a long day and our nerves (okay, my nerves) were shot. I didn’t have the emotional energy to walk through a tent city of homeless people to get to the Mexican market, and I’m ashamed to admit that. But it’s the simple truth.

After giving up on the Mexican market, we headed to The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles. Formerly a bank, it’s now a grand and glorious place chock full of books. It should have been the funnest time ever, but I was pretty sure our rental car was going to get towed or stolen or something while we perused the books. As soon as we walked in the security guy demanded our bags, which was kind of unsettling.

The Last Bookstore has all kinds of bookish delights like this one.

A cashier recommended a local place to eat, which was really just a lot of lunch counters in one big space. Since no one in our family ever wants to eat the same thing for dinner, this seemed like a genius idea. We set out from The Last Bookstore and began walking the few blocks to Grand Central Market.

And I’ll spare you the details of the trauma, but I couldn’t eat my dinner after I paid $16 for it. It was cross contaminated with heaven knows how many kinds of wheat, and also it looked like some sort of horrible, monstrous stew cooked by the devil. Even Eric looked at it with suspicion, and he’ll eat almost anything.

As we left the market I tried to give the perfectly good meal to a homeless man–I mean, I was afraid of it but it really was good food– but he refused it. He told me he doesn’t eat shrimp because of the bacteria. (I am not making this up.)

I was a little taken back, but just walked away and set the food on the top of a garbage container. My mood had fallen to a dangerous level by that point.

Our car hadn’t been stolen, which was good because by then all of us were pretty much desperate to get back to our rented apartment.

The door to our wonderful apartment we found through Airbnb.

On the way back, our dual-direction system failed us, and Eric’s phone started giving us completely different directions. Since he could see the map on his phone, Eric chose to follow his directions instead of mine, which is when I yelled, “Fine, you just figure it out!” and then threw my phone to the floor.

Like a child.

Or, more accurately, like a forty-year old redhead with a temper that flares under stress.

My phone didn’t care. Siri continued to patiently direct us home from the floorboards of a rented Kia. It would have been funny if I hadn’t been twelve shades of furious.

The children sat silent in the backseat, not sure what to do with a phone-throwing, starving, nervous wreck of a mother.

Why do I tell you this story? I mean, other than the obvious reason that stories involving tantrums are pretty much always funny… later.

It’s because there’s a tendency to only present our best selves on social media, which I’ve blogged about before. But also, I read a great article today on how Christians today have a wide array of authors, pastors, and speakers to follow, and often those leaders are only seen from a distance. It’s not healthy. Real life and real problems can be hidden behind a facade.

Another display at the Last Bookstore.

As a writer, I walk a dangerous line. I love to talk about what God is teaching me and how the Bible connects to our daily life. But I don’t want to get too pretentious about it. My real life friends know I’m not perfect, what with my whining and swearing and griping. But it’s easy to gloss over those less-than desirable personal traits as I write, due in part to the fact that if I typed out all my actual thoughts you would be confused and very, very afraid.

Whether I’m comfortable with it or not, writing is a form of leadership. I have a responsibility to offer up the truth about myself, and sometimes that involves my fear of poverty-stricken areas, self-pity over dinner, and throwing my phone while I have a fit.

And all of us have the responsibility to seek to become more and more like Christ each day. Not more like the authors we read. Not more like our pastors. Not even more like Corrie TenBoom or George Elliot or the Apostle Paul. We fail ourselves and others when we put Christ aside to follow another human.

Because humans sometimes throw phones and pitch little fits in the Kia, mmmmkay?

We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are (Romans 3:22, NLT).

 

 

Why Your 20s Might Be the Hardest Decade of Your Life

Dear young women,

Have you had any of these thoughts recently?

  • My children will surely turn out to be hoodlums because they are completely immune to my parenting efforts. And they might never actually be potty trained.
  • My career is in the toilet. I went to school for six years, accumulated a mortgage-worthy amount of debt, and now I work in a gray cubicle answering the phone all week long.
  • I will never have enough money in the bank to cover these bills, let alone the vacation/house/car/other-terrific-thing I want to have.
  • My romantic life is doomed.

While these things might in fact be true right now, I have a word of encouragement for you.

What you’re experiencing right now is most likely due to your current age, not your destiny.

It’s just that you’re in your twenties and life sucks right now. You’re probably out from your parents’ protective wing, you’re trying to do all the grown up things you’ve been trained to expect, and you’re finding them hard and awful and terrible and very, very expensive.

Also exhausting. We can’t forget the soul-sucking exhaustion that clouds your mind.

You women in your twenties are currently working your adorable behinds off, but it’s still way too early to see any encouraging fruit. You’re changing diapers and getting re-pregnant (I swear that’s a thing), and you’re cooking dinners that small people throw across the room.

The money is tight, if there’s any money at all.

Your marriage is new and fresh and often really uncomfortable, like a pair of jeans just pulled out of six hours in the dryer.

The work is hard. The ability to see the reward is mostly absent and the harvest is a long way off.

The work you’re doing right now will pay off, but it might take a while to see the results.

“A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions,” he said (Matthew 7:17-20).

In this passage from Matthew, notice that Jesus mentions fruit on a tree, not cucumbers on a vine. Trees and fruit take a long time until harvest, which is sort of comforting when your two-year old is throwing a tantrum and you are thinking that perhaps you’re raising a future lunatic and not a responsible human being. Maybe what we see right now isn’t the final product.

Hopefully.

Good trees eventually produce good fruit. You are a good tree, if you’re faithfully seeking to obey God by living a Christ-honoring life. Are you reading the Bible? Are you focusing on who Christ is, what he means to your life, and then asking the Holy Spirit to change your heart? Then you’re a good tree. Your eventual fruit will be AMAZING.

But when you’re in an early season of planting, it’s almost impossible to remember the future good harvest. Especially if your planting season involves pregnancy AND a toddler AND a junky car AND an empty bank account.

Girls, you’re totally doing it.

Don’t lose hope. Just look for your very own resident forty-year old. Notice that she’s quietly drinking a latte while her children intelligently discuss North Korean politics text their friends about YouTube. Notice that she feels okay about life most days, or at least okayer about life than she did when she was your age.

Children eventually grow into fabulous human beings because you’re raising them with love and patience (usually).

Your marriage can stretch and grow over time. The more you invest in loving one another well, the more you’ll enjoy the whole experience as the years pass.

Eventually your finances should level off, as long as you’re sticking to some basic wisdom about saving and spending and living within your means. I know it seems hopeless right now, but I promise all the money sacrifices will be worth it one day.

The fruit will come. You’re doing what it takes to get there, and we’re cheering for you.

 

 

Permission to rest when your brain feels like it’s been put through a blender

“Caleb!” I hollered. “I woke up from my nap but now I can’t get my butt off the couch!”

I could hear the bleeping and clicking of video games as my son registered my comment. It took a half beat before he shouted back up the stairs, “So stay there then! You can just sit there!”

I can?

I’m allowed to just sit on the couch when there are closets to be cleaned out and laundry to be folded? I felt guilty about the closet/laundry situation but my brain was still too tired to let my body off the couch.

I watched a few puffy clouds float by out the window.

It felt good. My brain started to put intelligent sentences together, which is why I finally got off the couch and picked up this laptop so I could write out those (semi) intelligent thoughts for you, my dear reader.

I know our family isn’t alone– we’ve had some big stuff on our plate the last two weeks. I thought perhaps my mind would explode, which it did not do, but now there’s some residual stress that still needs to leak out somehow even though all the big decisions have been made and life should be returning to normal.

Can you relate?

At one point, when my brain was the most stressed out, I emailed my friend Susie twice because I needed some clarification on stuff for the Breathe Christian Writers Conference. She responded and I read her emails a couple of days later. I was shocked. My original emails made NO SENSE.

Was I drinking when I wrote these? I wondered to myself. I honestly had to think back to make sure I hadn’t overdone the Riesling while emailing.

Nope– I recall being quite sober but quite, quite frantic at the time. It’s to Susie’s credit that she didn’t point out that maybe I should think coherently before typing things.

Stress does hard things to our brains and bodies. It’s okay to acknowledge this and then treat ourselves kindly as we find space to recover.

Sit on the couch for an extra hour and stare out the window. Water the flowers slowly. Sit in the backyard and hope a hummingbird shows up at the butterfly bush. Accidentally toss your phone into the garbage.

Whatever it takes. You have permission to do what you need when your brain has been through the blender.

And when your brain has recovered enough to put a few coherent sentences together, don’t forget to pray. The greatest healing comes when God is allowed into our addled minds to do what he does best– bring grace. Bring perspective. Recover joy.

We’re spending the end of today on the beach with friends. I can’t wait to watch the waves roll in while my brain continues to sort itself out. May you also find some peace, however you need it.

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