stress

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).

 

 

The curious case of the full-grown woman who completely failed at her church’s meal ministry

I drop a bombshell of truth in the last chapter of my next book (coming February of 2018!).


This is my bombshell– a fact few people realize about me: I don’t actually participate in my church’s meal ministry. I can feel your horror and surprise from here. I must seem callous and uncaring.

It’s not that I don’t care, it’s that I don’t cook.

Not well, anyway. To be precise, it’s not the actual cooking that’s the trouble; the problem is that what I consider dinner is kind of weird. For example:

  • An English muffin with peanut butter.
  • A banana and a cold hot dog.
  • Noodles cooked in butter, and also popcorn for a side dish.

YOU SEE HOW THOSE IN NEED MIGHT NOT BE COMFORTED BY MY CHOICES.

I swear I ate these for dinner moments after I staged the photo.

Obviously I don’t feed my family these freakish combinations for dinner (not usually, anyway). As a mature adult I can prepare a real meal with protein and vegetables and everything. But I can guarantee you that most nights three of the four of us in this house don’t actually like what I make. And with our gluten/dairy/sugar/fat issues, we frequently eat a rotation of raw vegetables, a lean protein, and brown rice.

Still not exactly something you deliver to a new mother. “Here, beloved woman who just bore life onto the earth. I have a dried up chicken breast and a pile of lettuce for you. Be blessed.” That woman would take the lettuce and weep into it a little, probably.

I was part of the church’s meal ministry, taking food to those who were ill or had just had a baby, for quite a few years.

Until the day I had to take food to another family and I had a meltdown when I didn’t have the right containers to deliver soup to the new mother, and that was it for me. I just couldn’t handle the stress of deciding what to make, actually making it, and then locating the proper vessels for delivery.

I opted out.

I said no, and God did not, in fact, smite me.

My stress load lifted considerably, life continued, and I still had loads of other ways to minister to our congregation. I’ve taught Sunday school class, worked with the financial team, scrubbed dishes, and hosted small group at my house.

None of these things have involved crying into lettuce.

Even better– when I’m doing the things I love to do, the cooks in the congregation can do what they do best. They might not enjoy balancing the Sunday deposit from the offering, but maybe they can create an entire meal and then deliver it with joy.

GOOD FOR THEM. Good for all of us.

So this is my encouragement for you today: you don’t have to do all the things. If there’s something really stressing you out about your ministry or home or family life, you get to choose. You can let it go and serve elsewhere.

I promise this is true.

I promise you have options, and serving others takes many, many forms. Serve with your gifts, not with your guilt. You won’t believe how much more delightful life becomes.

What about you?

Do you have a particular thing you hate to do? What would happen if you opted out? I’d love to know.

 

 

Encouragement for Young Wives and Mothers: You are doing a great job. You’re not goofing this up at all. Pinky Promise.

I’m here to give encouragement to young women of all kinds.

I write to all of you, whether you’re married, single, up to your ears in children, or not.

You have this in common: you’re twenty-something-ish,  you’re a female, and you’re quite, quite sure you’re making a huge mess of everything.

Your romantic life and/or marriage feels like it’s in a shambles. Every day is full of irritations and possibly screaming fights. Or maybe it’s full of…nothing. Mr. Perfect has not yet made his appearance. Something must be wrong with you.

Your career is nothing like what you thought it would be. Instead you have a gazillion dollars of student loans hanging from your neck while you sit in a gray cubicle too many hours a week. Or maybe you’re home with the children and the student loans hang around your neck, which is a super terrible combination to endure. You must have gone wrong somewhere.

Your home is absolutely coming apart at the seams. The carpet is old and dirty, none of the appliances match, and you can’t find where that smell is coming from. You really should be better at this. 

Your children appear to be hooligans in the making. You are fully convinced your efforts to parent are wasted, because obviously if you were doing it right you’d have angels and happiness and possibly unicorns dancing in and out of rainbows all day.

encouragement for wives and mothers

 

Dear friends, you are wrong about all of this. This is the encouragement you need.

I’m willing to guarantee that you feel like a mess and a failure, but in reality you’re doing just fine. 

I’m about to turn forty in a few weeks, and I had the luck to come of age when Pinterest wasn’t a thing. I wasn’t assaulted with perfect images of clean houses or twenty-nine crafts to do with my toddler on a rainy afternoon.

When it rained my toddlers and I muddled through the day, watched a lot of Baby Einstein, ate some crackers, and took a nap.

Guess what– those toddlers are now 13 and 11 and they’re becoming truly wonderful people. They were not emotionally stunted by my lackluster crafting schedule.

I didn’t feel like my house needed to look like a showcase, because Instagram wasn’t reminding me sixty-two different ways of how beautiful a home can look when actual people don’t live there.

Waaaaay back in the day, Facebook was used for fun things like pregnancy announcements and requests to borrow a chainsaw. We finally all got smartphones and then things got ugly, when we could show the world our children’s perfect Halloween costumes or how matchy-matchy our living room sets were. Date nights turned into an opportunity to prove how deeply, madly in love we are with our partners.

Welcome to my real life. This is how my coffee table looks most days.
Girls, I’m forty years old and my coffee table looks like this every day. We never get it all together. NOR DO WE NEED TO.

Let’s blame the smartphones

I think that’s when things began to go seriously downhill. I blame the smartphones for it all.

And you, my sweet sisters, are doing the hard work of becoming adults with a constant assault of this nonsense in your faces all day long. No wonder you feel tired and ashamed and mismatched.

What you need is a double dose of encouragement, right?

You’re doing great, I promise. You’re loving your family, you’re taking great care of your home, and you’re working really, really hard. Show yourself some grace and choose some reasonable standards instead of that nonsense on the screen. Go find an older friend and inhale her perspective like the breath of fresh air it will be.

Tell her you’re going crazy and you need some help. She’ll remember how hard early girlyhood can be, and she’ll help you straighten things right out.

And if all else fails, don’t forget to nap and eat some crackers when it rains.

Young moms– I wrote a book just for you! There’s a Green Plastic Monkey in My Purse is chock full of ridiculous stories and encouragement to get you through your days. Plus, there’s a ton of biblical advice in there, too. Click here to buy from Amazon!Encouragement for moms! There's a Green Plastic Monkey in My Purse

A Prayer for the Stress

Dear Father.

a prayer for the stressI don’t even know where to begin. It’s all attacking me, dear Lord.

Hear me as I pray, O Lord.
Be merciful and answer me!
My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”
And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.” (Psalm 26:7-8, NLT)

So here I am, to talk with you. But first I need to gather my wits and my thoughts. Are you sure you even want me like this? Maybe I should get my life together first and then come find you.

I’m sure you’d like me better if I wasn’t such a dramatic mess at the moment. If my laundry was folded and my career was on track and my kids knew how to write a proper thank you note. Maybe then I’d be more presentable.

But then I read,

Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act. (Psalm 37:7)

And I remember that maybe it’s not about me getting my stuff together first. Maybe it’s about being still.

Maybe it’s about your presence.

Maybe it’s absolutely about waiting patiently for you to act. Not me.

You’ve led your people for thousands of years– through deserts, across the sea, and around the world. Why do I forget and assume you can’t take care of my life?

Be my rock of safety, where I can always hide. (Psalm 71:3)
Search for the Lord and for his strength; continually seek him. Remember the wonders he has performed, his miracles, and the rulings he has given. (Psalm 105:4-5)

I don’t know how to handle the current messes in my life, Lord. Not my parenting, my marriage, my finances, nor my career– nothing is truly under my control.

And that bothers me more than it should.

My lack of control bothers me like a thousand fire ants climbing up my pajamas while I try to sleep.

I love the Lord because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy.
Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath! (Psalm 116:1-2)

I know I’m a control freak, Father, and I know that causes about 97% of my stress. But please bend down to listen to me anyway.

Help me remember that the stress only lessens when my mind is in the right place. When my attitude is completely focused on trusting you and being thankful for your presence, I can breathe again.

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! Trust in the Lord always, for the Lord God is the eternal Rock. (Isaiah 26:3-4)

Remind me of those who have gone before, who accomplished great things because they were focused on one thing–your glory. May you glorify yourself through my life.

Lord, you will grant us peace; all we have accomplished is really from you. (Isaiah 26:12)

May you give me a proper perspective about all this stuff swirling around in my head. None of it is permanent. You are permanent. You are eternal.

And I am forever grateful for you,

Amen

 

 

 

When the dark, black doom of math homework falls over your Monday afternoon

I’m standing in the kitchen right now, with one eyelid twitching and a migraine starting somewhere in the middle of my brain.

A few feet away from me, my husband and son are wrestling the most ghastly page of math homework we’ve seen to date. Every problem is taking us, two college educated adults, at least five minutes to figure out so we can help him. There’s multiplying and dividing and evening up and possibly sacrificing a goat.

Thankfully I had to step away from the situation to make dinner. I don’t know what’s going on over there, but no one is having a good time.

We love this child. We don’t want him to grow up to be a dullard, but I think maybe it’s time to consider career paths that don’t include fractions.

For example, ballerina. OSHA inspector. Race car driver, banana harvester, cowboy.

Perhaps gym teacher, barber, or even mail man.

Caleb says the race car driver seems pretty cool to him, but the banana harvester thing might be okay, too. Well, hallelujah. We’ve narrowed down our options.

Romans 8:26Parenting is going to be the death of me, I swear. How on earth am I going to move these children through middle school to adulthood? Is this even a possible thing that might occur? I see friends with older kids and those children are actually growing up and moving out. It seems like magic. I certainly don’t know the secret of making it happen.

But then again, I see our young friends who have little children, and they’re still staring down potty training like it’s a magic occurrence. They have no idea how to get those kids out of diapers and into the next stage of life. And all I can tell them is that you try and fail and try and fail about three hundred times, and then eventually the kid gets it.

All the stress of life seems to be insurmountable in the middle of the challenge, doesn’t it? Whether it’s math homework or potty training or ministry or career problems, the stress we’re currently facing might need a big of magic to get us through.

But what if we had something more powerful than mere magic? What if the power of God rested on us and the Holy Spirit was able to help us beyond human capabilities? Wouldn’t that be better than relying on our own strength or ingenuity?

(Yes.) ((The only answer to that is yes.))

As I’ve been writing, things have calmed down on the homework front. We’ve thrown in the towel for the night and written a note to the teacher to help us all out. WE NEED THE TEACHER TO HELP US OUT, pretty please and thank you.

And in regular life, the part of life that doesn’t include stupid fractions, we need the power of the Holy Spirit to get us through. So today, if you’re facing a giant stressful page of math homework that’s about to kill you, I suggest you take a break and pray about it.

And if you’re facing anything else, I’m quite convinced God is good at many things, even when they don’t involve the black doom of math homework. Write your metaphorical note to the teacher and ask for his help!

***Are you interested in an eBook to help you with your stress? I’ve written a little devotional just for you! Click Here!
And thanks for reading. I appreciate it so much.***

 

 

 

Stress: Let’s do something about it (other than just sitting there and feeling miserable)

I don’t know about you, but when life gets stressful I often do exactly the wrong things. I tend to sit and brood while my mind spins. I come up with ever more implausible, terrible things that could happen. I create monster nightmares of the future, all while shoving too many chips and cookies into my face.

So shortly I feel stressed and fat. Delightful combo.

And then I snap at my children and anyone I find annoying. I nap too much to avoid reality or find myself at Lowes buying enough paint to redo the entire house. (Because who doesn’t love to repaint a house every two years? ) ((Yes, I am in counseling for my painting addictions.))

But mostly I sit and brood and worry about the future. I’m very good at that.

Are you very good at that too? 

If not, then feel free to move along to another blog post by someone else who doesn’t worry. But if you are also a Grand Master Brooder and General Worry Freak, then I invite you to do something better with your stress.

Instead of just nurturing it and letting it grow out of control, let’s face it head on. Let’s sit down with it and examine it. Let’s invite God into the conversation, letting him sort out the mess. Because, let’s be honest. Sometimes the stress is absolutely not our fault. We can’t be held responsible for a bad health diagnosis or the ensuing medical bills. We can’t force our children to be obedient at all moments of the day. Sometimes the stress attacks and we didn’t do anything to attract its attention.

But sometimes the stress is– stick with me here without needing the vapors– exactly our fault. Sometimes it’s the consequences of our sin or terrible choices. Sometimes it’s just that we’re sort of block headed and we’ve dug our own hole.

And when we’re stressed out, we often can’t see the way clearly. But God can, and he’s more than ready to help us sort out the stress. He’s waiting for us to come to him, no matter our emotional state, and then restore us with his peace and grace.

So let’s try that instead of brooding. Let’s do what Lamentations 3:40 says, and see what our loving Heavenly Father can do with our stress.

Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord. (bible gateway.com)

Want more? I’ve written a devotional on stress, with more thoughts just like this!
Click here and you’ll be taken to the Amazon page. 

Four easy steps to building your authentic community

You, right there. The woman in the car, reading this blog post on her mobile phone and wishing she had a new life.

You, the mother in the living room who has 1,342 children and only two arms.

You, the man who is married to the woman who has 1,342 children and even with your two arms involved, you’re feeling like your life is 1,338 arms short.

You.

Any person who is alive, I am speaking to you.

I’ve been carefully watching everyone lately and I’m seeing a recurring theme: everyone is stressed out. Everyone.

It looks like the person next to you has everything together and they’re dancing through life like a hippy in a field of flowers. Carefree, money in the bank, and having an excellent hair day.

Meanwhile, you feel like life has chewed you up and spit you back into that same field and the hippy is about to accidentally stomp on your face whilst she prances among the flowers. But you’re too exhausted to get out of her way, so you lie there and wait for the delicate sandal to the eye socket.

But here is the truth– all your friends probably feel the same way as you. Oh, sure– they might be having a good day. It’s possible. But in general, they’re probably worried about the same things. There are no perfect families, there is no perfect health, and there will never be enough money in the bank.

But we’re not fans of giant crybabies, so we all put on our Adult Panties and go about our business, pretending everything is fine. That’s why you think your friends are fine and dandy– they’re fakers.

I said it. Fakers!

I’m a faker. Maybe you’re a faker too.

What if we tried this instead:

  1. Stopped faking.
  2. Reached out to our friends and family and shared our real issues.
  3. Asked them how they are really doing. And then listened.
  4. Repeat forever.

We might eventually have a community where all the grass looked just about the same, and maybe we’d all be sitting on it having impromptu picnic lunches. Together.

A photo by Aranxa Esteve. unsplash.com/photos/pOXHU0UEDcg

 

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