Going through the motions

It is dark and silent, this place I have descended to in the past weeks. Holy hushed, almost. Like church during a funeral. A cave for the soul to hide, perhaps? I pray hard, eyes squinted shut, that some spiritual growth is revealed under the raw places soon - some messenger that this is worth it all. One foot, then the other, I say "yes" everyday by little increments: taking my pills, eating when I'm supposed to, getting up out of bed in the morning, going to work and delivering a lecture. If only there were a way to say "no" to pain.

Braiding rope

I know why the eyes are the windows of the soul. It's because all I love flows through these eyes. Images collected throughout the day are what make up the threads of the rope I'm hanging on to at the end.
Faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. His back arches heavy over children late into the evening, after hours of wearing his lead apron at work. Love bending close to the ears of the son. His heart pushes away the frustration of living with someone like me, and instead he makes a funnel for love to pour forth.
As Christ loves the church. The egotistical, stubborn, idolatrous, broken church. As Christ loves that church. And he does, this husband. He holds onto the Word like rescue while I tread water looking for my threads, the threads of that passage that I am to be living. Ah, submit and respect. Those are my threads. For a moment, through the camera lens, I am in obedience. Every time he makes dinner while I battle demons, I obey this command - respect. Oh, how deep is this love, the circle of family, the threads of he and I and Christ surrounded now by the layers of each of our children.

You can try to keep me down
You can try to keep me under
But you'll never get my will, 
You'll never take my will to fight
'Cause I was born at the bottom of this mountain
I'm scared and I'll probably climb it ,
Climb it till the day I die

All the things I know I needed
Just keeps me going
All the things I never had
Just keeps me wanting it more
Fighting for it all

You'll never take my will to fight

I need peace of mind and a hopeful heart
To lose this rage and move out in the dark
I am looking for rainbows and shooting stars
Just some peace of mind and a hopeful heart

And a miracle for this broken soul
A little miracle for this broken soul

I need peace of mind and a gentle head
As I try to change the way I am
And hope God forgives when I can't
~From Fighting For It All and Peace of Mind, Mindy Smith~

Revisiting confessions

Guilt, shame, despair, grief. Emotions entangle and threaten to drown out hope. Haven't I been here before? Haven't I confessed these sins?

Yes, I have. And He says they're forgotten and washed white as snow. Why, then, does my heart still bleed dark red sin, spewing a history, a litany of unforgivable details onto the fresh snow of today's vista?
But are you living with guilt that doesn't belong to you? You say, "Look at what I did! I deserve to feel guilty. I knew better, but I did it anyway." So you pound yourself with guilt and condemnation. It may be guilt for recent sins or for sins of the past. What does God say about this guilt? Romans 8:1 makes a simple declaration—“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” So why the confusion? Christians live with guilt that doesn't belong to them? We live by our feelings instead of God's truth. When we feel the flood of guilt, we assume God agrees with our feelings. "I deserve to carry this guilt. Look at what I did! How terrible!" Once we have confessed our sin, God will no longer use guilt or condemnation to remind us of our past. He wants us to enter His freedom, His peace-completely free of condemnation. The familiar and much loved promise of John 3:16 is followed by this powerful declaration. Jesus said, "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned." (John 3:17-18a NIV) True guilt is designed to lead us to repentance which leads us to God's peace in our hearts. So why do I Still Feel Guilty? The enemy-Satan-wants to rob you of God's peace and joy. He comes with false guilt, which feels exactly the same as true guilt from God. So how can I know if I'm feeling true guilt from God or false guilt? How do I know if I'm living with guilt that doesn't belong to me? You must use God's truth to evaluate your feelings of guilt. You must examine your heart and ask, "Have I truly repented of my sins?" You may want to write down the specific memory that is flooding you with guilt. Then put it to the truth test. Have I already confessed this sin? When did I confess it? Was I truly sincere? Have I been completely honest with God? If the answer to all these is "yes," then you can stand on the promises of 1 John 1:9 and John 8:36. If you confess your sins, He promises to forgive and cleanse you-not 2 months from now-immediately. If you have any doubt about the sincerity of your previous confession-confess it again and then instantly claim God's peace and forgiveness. (from Living Free)
Living by my feelings instead of the Truth. Wow. Does that describe the month I've had, or what! Feelings, feelings, feelings. Truth feels like an amorphous fog in a dark room. I can't grasp it. Can't ground myself with it.

I read these...John 3:16, Romans 8:1, John 8:36; I John 1:9. There is one thing I haven't done, though I've wanted to for over a year. There is one person I harmed that I could not say "I'm sorry" to. Regardless of this, I have to grip the TRUTH that I have been forgiven. I acknowledge the guilt, the shame, the despair - but I will not walk as though they rule my world. They don't. He does. And HE has set me free.

So walk free...
I can put one foot in front of the other...
Someday, I'll truly walk into His freedom.
Today, all I can say is that I'm walking down that path.

I have failed you, I have failed you
I have lost my way, lost my nerve
I’ve failed you
But I love you, how I love you
I have turned my back, left you last
but I love you
O setting sun don’t sink before I’ve found my heart
Heart don’t give up now while there’s still time
Time don’t beat your old retreat stay a little while with me
til I’ve looked the whole thing in the eye
I have waited, I have waited
for the big reveal, the even keel
I have waited
But there’s no one who makes it all come true
Just altars gathering dust while we bow to them
O night bring all your shadows and your silence
Silence make a hostage of my mind
Mind bring on your trickery
Black dogs nip on at my heels
til i’ve looked the whole thing in the eye
Swing low, sail high
All my days will rearrange to say I love you
O setting sun don’t weep for all the things you lose
morning comes as sure as it must die
dying is such mystery
yet I wonder will it be
when I’ve looked the whole thing in the eye
~Swing Low, Sail High, The Wailin' Jennys~

Standing still

If you stand still too long, the detritus of life begins to cling. Before too long, you look down and you can't see yourself any longer; only the barnacles of everything that's pulling you under the surface. Try to tear it off, and you'll bleed out.

He asks us to abide: stay under. Trust Him for oxygen when sobs wrack. Trust Him for a relief from this insurmountable pain of life that will someday come. That day when tears are wiped away.

But this year I asked for less. Revisionist that I am (aren't we all?), I want to say I want less of this. Less pain, less work, less abiding. But that's not what I meant by less. I meant less of me. Is this what it feels like to be reduced, refined, re-envisioned? Scraping off barnacles with a sharp stone while I struggle to stay here in the searing moment, sit with the pain?

Death is easy - you don’t know you’re a ghost
The fee is taken out nice and slow
While you’re walking around with your cardboard crown
We think we are kings
Wisdom warned us but our flesh is strong
we’ll find our own way we’ll  get along
Who knows what we need

life costs so much
Someone paid for the damage
the damage we’ve done
How else do you explain all these open graves we’ve got
Someone must have paid
‘cause life costs

I want to fly away, fly away. Get away. Be someone, someplace else. Get out of this old skin around bones that ache. All the world is gray but I know somewhere, sometime soon, the colors will bleed back in. Right? Tell me so. Make me believe.

You don't have to ask me why
Because I know you understand
All the treasures of my life
Are right here in my hand
Suspended in a moment
No more breath to catch
If you hold on to your end
Maybe we can make this last

This is the greatest time of day
When all the clocks are spinning backwards
And all the ropes that bind begin to fray
And all the black and white turns into colors

I don't want to build a wall
Or draw a line across the sand

This is the greatest time of day
When there's no you and there's no others
And all the rules grow wings and fly away
And all the black and white turns into colors
Grace Potter sang this song, "Colors", for me on Friday night

Oh, I hope this doesn't go on very long
before the skipping stone hits the surface of the pond

Happiness and Joy are Different

I don't want to be here again. But life doesn't usually go the way you want it to. One of the main difficulties I have with depression is that I can't figure out if it's the Potter's chosen way of shaping me right now, or if it is because of my inability to stay focused on Him.

But here we are. There's no denying that. Slowly, old coping skills are coming back, and for the majority of the day, I can ignore the rain cloud hovering over my head. One of the most successful ways for me to dig out of depression, get up out of my bed, and live normally in these seasons is something called Opposite Action. All you have to do is figure out something to throw yourself into 100% that will provide positive reinforcement rather than negative. I'm a mother first, and I carry a huge load of mother guilt, so Opposite Action for me often entails doing something crazy with my kids.

I grabbed a pack of suncatchers and paint at Walmart on the way home from work. Just after breakfast yesterday, I stayed out of bed, and we opened paint pots and set to work. The table was a mess. The children were in heaven. And for an hour, I forgot to be depressed.

After we finished, we packed up, got lunch in town, and went to the Y. We spent four hours, swimming, rock climbing, zip lining, playing basketball, running on the track. Once again, depression and it's invasive thoughts had no room to take foothold as we ran around the Y. We emerged, hair steaming in the sub-zero gray day.

My day wasn't gray at all. I believe this is the difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is a passing emotion dependent on all kinds of external factors. But joy is stored within, and for those of us who have placed our faith in Christ, there is a constant wellspring of joy despite external factors. Ever since Amelia's illness in 2009, I Peter 1 has been the passage that has helped me hang on to joy even when happiness is entirely absent.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:3-7 ESV)
Opposite Action is, in essence, what Christians have been practicing since the beginning of time. Moses was a man with a temper problem, a murderer, and someone who took flight at the first sign of danger, but he stood up to Pharoah through all the plagues and led the Israelites toward Canaan although he often felt like giving up and told God so on the mountaintops. Noah had never seen rain, but he built an ark out of obedience. Sarah had no hope left of bearing a child and her sadness over this fact is evident in her response to God's promise when she is an old woman, yet she continued to be with her husband, and a child was born from whose genetic line Jesus would eventually be born. Even Jesus, who begged His father for mercy in Gethsemane, walked out into the garden to meet the soldiers when they came to arrest Him, and endured the cross even though He could have easily saved Himself.

Why did all these people go forward despite their misgivings, their pain, their fear? Because their joy was not predicated on their circumstances, but on the salvation they knew was coming. I see it too, on the horizon of every season of depression - rescue. Someday He will wipe away every tear. And meanwhile, I can REJOICE because, despite all appearances of this life, there is an inheritance imperishable, undefiled and unfading kept in heaven for me.

Five Minute Friday

Detangling the lie

As soon as the snake saw his chance, he slithered silently up to Eve. "Does God really love you?" the serpent whispered. "If he does, why won't he let you eat the nice, juicy, delicious fruit? Poor you, perhaps God doesn't want you to be happy." The snake's words hissed into her ears and sunk down deep into her heart, like poison. Does God love me? Eve wondered. Suddenly, she didn't know anymore. "Just trust me," the serpent whispered. "You don't need God. One small taste, that's all, and you'll be happier than you could ever dream..." Eve picked the fruit and ate some. Adam ate some, too. And a terrible lie came into the world. It would never leave. It would live on in every human heart, whispering to every one of God's children: "God doesn't love me." (from The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name, by Sally Lloyd-Jones)
THIS is how God looks at us, every moment of every day
It's lies that create the clutter in our hearts, crowding out the Truth. When we're listening to the hissing, relationships crowd out, joy flees, the dark clouds descend to touch our earth. Does God love me? quickly turns to does my husband love me? Do my friends love me? Will my children love me when all is said and done? And suddenly there we are, stranded alone on a desert island of our own making, built with our fears and our tears and a steady inundation of doubt.

God unites. Fear isolates. When Evil sees me in a corner, keeping to myself, wrapped up in the clutter of thoughts, it strikes. Only when I open up that wounded heart and let the words of God and His children wash over the sore places, fill up the empty ones, scrub out the dirt - then I can walk in the light as He is in the light. There, in the light, relationships are still difficult; finding worth in myself is still an almost impossible task; dark clouds still threaten. He says, taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him (Ps. 34:8).I'm opening my mouth to let the flavor of His love sparkle over my tastebuds, washing away the bitter of the poison apple of doubt. 

Yes, it's disappointing to fight depression again after so long a hiatus. It's disenchanting to understand that a beast you thought you slayed was only injured and is back to wage war with you again. Yet the very same Truth that rescued my spirit last time will be what rescues me this time. God is always good, He is always loving, He is always there, and He will someday put an end to suffering.

Yes, today might be difficult. But I'm not going to "just get by". I'm going to get up and keep trying. Keep looking for the whispers of His love that rebuild faith and bleed joy and heal hearts.

Where there is desire
There is gonna be a flame
Where there is a flame
Someone's bound to get burned
But just because it burns
Doesn't mean you're gonna die
You've gotta get up and try try try

Funny how the heart can be deceiving
More than just a couple times

Ever worried that it might be ruined
And does it make you wanna cry?
When you're out there doing what you're doing
Are you just getting by?
~Try, P!nk~

Finding freedom in a demolished house of faith: Guest post at Thorns & Gold

Pain is a lost emotion in the sea of verses quoted about how Christ conquered death and there is no sting any longer.

Fear is drowned out and ignored because doesn’t He give us a “spirit of peace” instead?

I broke into a million pieces when I was 8 years old, but I had already absorbed these twin “truths” and I knew good Christians don’t break when they suffer. So I sat alone in the golden haze of the forest clearing, staring up through the stars of my tears at the yellow birch leaves. I was pulling myself together. Trying, at 8 years old, to do my duty to bring glory to God through impossible circumstances.

To read the rest, click over to Tanya Marlow's Thorns and Gold, where I am guest posting today...

Image credit

Switching strokes

She smiled, but there was sadness in her smile; even now she felt forebodings of the coming pain, the air she breathed was heavy with the storm that was about to burst. (Honoré de Balzac, Le Père Goriot, 1835)

The keys of the piano are heavy, and my heart thrills at the tension between unplayed and played notes and all the richness of resonance and volume and cascade the old brown piano holds hidden inside herself. I run fingers through the chords flowing from my memory, chords to a song of lament. Putting music to the emotion calms me, and there is even a smile hedging it's way into the corners of my mouth.

The front room is dark, the bitter cold grayness of January's sunset casting the children's window decorations in relief. I am the frozen observer, and the only activity about my body is trapped inside the mind.

I had a false hope that the ocean of pain held in my story would eventually soak into the ground, disappear into the bedrock under my feet. As with all false hopes, the destruction of this idea undid me. Six months I've walked on water, with joy insurmountable. Someone suggested I turn my mind from the ocean, forget it's there. For just a second I looked down at the ocean, contemplating. Could I leave this behind? Instead, the hems of my pants were suddenly wet as I felt myself sinking back in. Escape from pain? Possible for some. Impossible for many.

My counselor's voice is a soothing melody over the phone lines. She tells me to swim through it. There's no ignoring the ocean. Now you must swim.

I do, stroke after stroke, those moments coming every now and then when I breathe in a wave of water and panic that I can't make this swim. Oxygen-starved brain cells create a firestorm of anxiety. But instead of trucking on with my poor stroke and my mouth filled with water, I will flip on my back and float for a while. I feel every teardrop that made up this ocean of pain. Still beneath me. But I'm looking up at the sky, and the deeps aren't so terrifying.

Maybe this is how you escape madness: to switch strokes in the middle of the swim, and stare at the clouds moving across the azure. I'm no less sodden, no less in the middle of the ocean. But at least I'm looking up. And up there is the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation nor shadow of turning. (James 1:17)

*Photos from Amelia's play camera

Yearning to walk on water

They've been life rafts through the rapids. Painkillers for the soul. The water-stained King James Version of my childhood floated me out of adolescence. The green one is the first I ever bought with my own money, on a night of desperation that found me in the bowels of the hugest Christian bookstore I'd ever seen one winter night in Minneapolis when I was 21. I felt like a rebel buying a NIV just because the cover spoke to me.

Pain is an ocean you can't cross swimming on your own strength. I remember the day in 2010 when I heard Jesus calling from the stormy sea while I huddled in the boat, begging for the hurricane to pass. All the underlining in my Bibles had not prepared me for this moment, this crisis of faith. Would I walk out onto that ocean of pain? Could I trust that He would make my footing sure?

I almost died in that boat before I finally decided to step over the side. But when I finally took that step of faith - to walk into my pain with Jesus beside me - it was the first step in healing. I was used up, battered, abused, discouraged, hopeless. With every step farther onto the ocean, my confidence climbed. Maybe His Word, those Words I had eaten and subsisted on for so many years of spiritual and emotional famine - maybe they were true - true enough to bear my weight if I stood on them. Maybe I could move the mountain of my own faith-challenged self if I had just that speck of trust.

Just like Peter, I fall in and almost drown again. As I'm flailing in the water, frantic for rescue from this pain I'm succumbing to, I can't for the life of me remember how I got up to the surface last time. I was a lifeguard once, and I still remember them saying that a drowning person who struggles drowns twice as fast. I've been using up my last reserves of energy flailing in the pain, and my head's about to go under for the third time.

I hear His voice, trying to calm me. Trying to remind me how I walked on water once, and that I can again. But maybe this time, I just need Him to calm the storm and come lift me up from the depths. Sometimes He does that. And sometimes not.

What's pulling me under isn't the dark underbelly of the mind, the pain bottled up, the wind whipping that ocean of hurt into a typhoon. It's the fear that follows, the fear that I'll be forever submerged in this pain. Panic is what's drowning me. All the words of thanks spoken in hushed voice into the wind of this suffering aren't pulling me to the surface right now. All the joy-finding, and the distractions of working, and the staying in the moment coping skills I've collected, they're no lift raft today. What I need is the faith to climb back out of the ocean and walk again.

Tonight, I will try to be still in the ocean of pain. Conserve my energy. Quit flailing. Maybe in the quiet, I'll be able to hold onto the rope of His love and He will pull me to the surface again.

White lips, pale face
Breathing in snowflakes
Burnt lungs, sour taste
Light's gone, day's end
Struggling to pay rent

And they say
She's in the Class A Team
Stuck in her daydream
Been this way since 18
But lately her face seems
Slowly sinking, wasting
Crumbling like pastries
And they scream
The worst things in life come free to us
Cuz we're just under the upperhand
And she don't want to go outside tonight
It's too cold outside
For angels to fly
Angels to fly
~Ed Sheeran, A Team~

It's all ancient history: Understanding God's perspective on our redemption

Sometimes life is in the details, when you go digging with your spade for joy through the day's dross. Others, it's in the blur, in the painting of the day, the fogginess of retrospect. 

There are a million ways to raise your children, and each child and parent is different. I by no means state that my way is THE way. For this family, though, it is. It is right for these children to be home, even though I fail at homeschooling, and housecleaning, and even getting up at the right time of the morning. Precious has been the verse, "Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:19-20 exc.)

It doesn't come every day, every hour, every crisis, as I beg it would. Now and then, in the cracks of consciousness, in the humdrum and even through chaos, He whispers. Confirmation. Blessing. Direction.

My kids don't learn a lot from workbooks. Homeschool, for us, is about the golden hours of opportunity, snuggled up with a book and Youtube, exploring the universe and listening to the songs of stars. Reading Psalm 148 together. Can you learn about the stars and NOT read Psalm 148? Yes. But to do it all together, mama and kids, eyes wide, tears flowing...that is a gift.
Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his hosts! Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars! Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the LORD! For he commanded and they were created. And he established them forever and ever; he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away. Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Beasts and all livestock, creeping things and flying birds! Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! Young men and maidens together, old men and children! Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his majesty is above earth and heaven. He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his saints, for the people of Israel who are near to him. Praise the LORD! (Psalm 148 ESV)
That morning, this morning of dancing and the evening of diving into our enormous universe, I woke up and fell asleep and woke up again and went to sleep again. I was buried under my insomnia and my guilt and my depression until 2 p.m. I went through the motions of making meals, I silently walked through rooms straightening up, but then I went back, and huddled in the burn-out sunlight on my bed. That morning seemed like an utter failure.
But the day wasn't over and who can grasp the enormity of the story of redemption? Who can look at the speck of life, the brief time given, in contrast to the ageless, faithful wonders of creation, and say, I must matter? Yet each hair on our heads is counted precious, each of our tears are caught in a bottle, each moment the universe is singing praise to heaven and we are failing...He is pursuing. He is dreaming of that second when you find purpose in the midst of your purposeless day, and think of Him. Remember HIM. Do you believe that? That He's waiting at the end of the day, and if you don't make it back to Him by the end of the day, He's there the next, and the next, and the next? Until you die. Waiting patiently for you to turn and recognize His hand in the painting, His gifting of the details, His fitting and molding of your life.
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:8-9)
Beloved. You are more beloved to Him than your children are to you. There is nothing you could value higher than God values your life, your days: your face and your words - He's longing for them! Whether I'm drowning in details or lost in the "big picture", He's waiting for me at the end of the day to whisper that I walked in the path. He's there to smooth the ruffles and to dry the tears and fix the hurts of the day. If I'll only remember to turn to Him.

When I do, there's no disappointment, there's no shame, there's no preamble to love, conditional like we humans love each other and Him. There is no "You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" God. He is WAY too big for that. There is only the God who sees the elemental YOU, the one He created for His glory, beautiful, clean and unscathed and totally redeemed. Your redemption is history and the rest of this mystery if your gift. Clean slate. Tabula rasa. A Father who no longer condemns us, but loves us and waits for us and makes our crooked paths straight. He doesn't demand our praise, need our praise, depend on our faithfulness for His grand plan to work. What does He do with our praise? He loves it, cherishes it, delights in it, waits for it.

Once you understand that everything is based on His love, and not His condemnation, you can come to the end of that failed day and simply rest. For you are His beloved, cherished, accepted child in whom He delights.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by our flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. If Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you...those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (excerpted from Romans 8)

Five Minute Friday

Keeping the critics

Criticism is poison dart whose effects linger long after the words are slung. Some bloggers call their critics "trolls", and disregard them or even unpublish their comments. I'm just not comfortable operating that way, in a rainbow world where I've skewed reality in my favor, keeping only those who agree with me around.

Image source
That doesn't make criticism any easier to handle, though. I went looking for advice last week as I tried to sort through some criticism, and several wise friends told me to look for the nugget of truth in the muddy mess before cleaning it up. I found it, thought about it all week, and I think it will affect how I write and think in the future. The next step is forgiveness for the hurt that accompanies receiving criticism - and hopefully forgiveness on the part of the person who I offended. Colossians 3:13 says, "Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive."
Image source
Criticism comes and goes. And there are certainly people who "troll" blogs just to stir up trouble. How do you handle criticism of your writing - your life? Does it make a difference to you whether the critic is an "IRL" friend or a random blog reader?

Fixing the pyramid: Marriage Letters

Your back is permanently stooped from bearing burdens. Everything I'm too weak to do, you are strong enough to carry. I marvel at it, your endurance, your love, your perseverance when I'm giving up.

I had brushed my teeth, done my hair, and I was looking for socks. I told you I was leaving, going to tend some friendships that desperately need tending. We'd already agreed. But there was this defeat in your voice when you said, "Will you be back for supper?" I looked at the clock. 4:30 p.m. No way. You looked forlorn. I asked you to sit on the blue chair and talk to me, and we sat across from each other in our messy front room. The first 10 times I asked you what you wanted me to do, you said, "I don't know," with your frustrated shrug and your half angry, half brokenhearted eyes. This time, though, I waited. I prayed. And you told me what you really wanted, laid your heart bare in a few simple words,

"I don't know what's best. I love these people, too. But I miss you. And I just wanted to have a quiet evening at home with you."

And so I put on my mismatched socks, and we cleaned up the kitchen island together. Then you made chicken piccata. We had a glass of wine, we laughed at dinner with our children, we ate that feast you'd made. It was so good - this time with you.

I remember a time I had you at the top of my priority list. We'd been on the rocks and adrift at sea, and I knew it was time, crisis time. Do or die time.

Sickness crowded in. You are so tender. Such a servant. A helper, a fixer. When I was drowning, you drained the water out of the house and settled me gently into bed, went to work rehabilitating our home, our routines, our lives. I forgot about priorities I used to hold dear, because my vision was cloudy, and I was so wounded.

I put myself alone on an island on that bed with God. I was distracted by the suffering of others, by my "calling" to help others. Our children were begging for attention. Family events crowded the calendar. Somehow, you floated upward until you hovered with our parents and our siblings somewhere just below our marginalized church life.

Last night, we talked deep into the soul of our son. The two of us, teaming up. It's been way too long. We've settled again for ships passing in the night. Trading responsibilities and stalling in survival mode. Why do we let ourselves do that?

I'm calling an end to it (again). I'm sure I'll have to do this re-arranging of the pyramid of priorities a hundred times if not a thousand. You get to be top priority, right next to God, where you're supposed to be. Because when I follow your lead, when you LEAD, everything falls into place. The stars align, the world starts spinning again, and pretty soon we're thriving instead of surviving.

So here's to day 1 of thriving again!

The many roads it took to get here

One day long ago I dreamed of being a travel nurse. We were just wed, two nurses, we had adoption paperwork in process and we dreamed of apartments in far away cities; burn and trauma units, children laying in beds under those city lights waiting for our hands, our hearts.

I was up in a deer stand in Minnesota when I felt the Spirit's nudge. I prayed for our first child, whoever he or she was, prayed a long list of dreams and hopes and fears. Six weeks later, I stared down at a miraculously positive pregnancy test. It was the second I'd seen this in 3 months, me with the undeveloped eggs and the atrophied Fallopian tubes and the low hormone levels. I, the infertile myrtle. My husband with the similar diagnosis. How could we conceive twice in 3 months of marriage? Would this baby disappear into the dark shadows of the ultrasound screen like the first had? I turned around to face the toilet, and vomited bile.

We chose the spot, we dug the hole
We laid the maples in the ground to have and hold

As Autumn falls to Winters sleep
We pray that somehow in the Spring
The roots grow deep

And many years from now
Long after we are gone
These trees will spread their branches out
And bless the dawn
~from Planting Trees, Andrew Peterson~

There was no disappearing, and my first baby emerged from my body 2 weeks late and shocking in her awareness and hunger. She pushed up on her tiny fists while lying on her father's chest that first night, her eyes wide and black, as if she were memorizing every detail of his features. In that instant, every dream I'd ever had disappeared into the hormonal mist and this babe became the entirety of my world.

A brief 18 months later, she was toddling and captivating everyone with her adult vocabulary, starting almost all her sentences with "Actually..." And on a cold and bright March afternoon, her sister arrived black-haired and rosy-lipped. I would look at them, sleeping together in the afternoon, their heads sweaty and covered in curls, and they were at once totally foreign and wholly familiar. 

The third and fourth came just as quickly. We had grown used to the fact that the doctors were wrong, and we would produce children by the grace of God, and our world revolved around them, the diapers, the nursing, the bonds like iron bands holding the barrel of our family tighter than any dreams could have.

But I still dreamed. The microscopic visions of motherhood burned my eyes by then, and I squeezed them shut and imagined telescopes into the universe and periscopes up from the underwater grave of home. 

I could hear the highway song

I dreamed that I was
A world traveler
Set me loose to find my way
Just get me out on the road someday
With my sails unfurled
So many mysteries
I wanted to unravel
If I could travel the world
~World Traveler, Andrew Peterson~

I was on two roads, one part of me home with my children and the other on a highway of longing for grand adventure. The distant cities still glittered in my imagination. The mystery was this tether in my heart, the tangle of four of the "least of these" planted right in the very fibers of my being.

Night is falling on a foreign sky
And distant cities are breathing out 
The lights, tangled on a long thin line
Like diamonds shattered on the ground
And the lights call out from distant cities

You come alive, like a melody
And you shine you shine, brighter than a new day
And I sing along, into the mystery
As the lights call out from distant cities

The tears, filling up my empty eyes
Pour like shadows on the ground
What found me here spreads across a million miles
Breaks the gallows, lifts the shroud
As the lights call out

I was looking for emotional reasons to link me to the life God had given me. But what lay before me was choices, a million tiny decisions. I learned, in that season struggling to stay home,while forcing myself, teeth gritted tight, to keep my focus square on the life God had blessed me with, was the call-and-response of living for Jesus. He calls, yes - but that call is not always an explosion of brilliance that triggers a tidal wave of love from my heart to His. Sometimes it was just a tiny whisper behind me, "This is the way. Walk in it." My response was not often a heart on fire, but simply a soul willing to put the next footstep down on the path He'd laid before me.

As I kept walking forward on what seemed like a dimly lit, poorly marked path, the emotions followed. The heart follows the mind sometimes. The tidal wave of love I heard about in worship songs and testimonies wasn't my experience. It was a soft turning, a quiet and gentle creeping up in the throat. 

Now the world turns again, and dreams and duties co-exist. I am no longer on a divided highway, pulled between east and west. As surely as I kept stepping forward, He bridged the gap between the desires of my heart and the portion of my life.

If you'll step inside this great glass elevator
It'll take us up above the city lights
To where the planet curves away to the equator
I want to show you something fine

You can see the roads that we all traveled just to get here
A million minuscule decisions in a line
Why they brought us to this moment isn't clear

Could it be that the many roads
You took to get here
Were just for me to tell this story
And for you to hear this song
And your many hopes
And your many fears
Were meant to bring you here all along

How I love to watch you listen to the music
'Cause you sing to me a music of your own
As I cast out all these lines, so afraid that I will find
I am alone, all alone

Could it be that the many roads
I took to get here
Were just for you to tell that story
And for me to hear that song
And my many hopes
And my many fears
Were meant to bring me here all along
We were meant to be right here all along
~Many Roads, Andrew Peterson~

Is there a disconnect between your dreams and your reality? Do you struggle to hear and respond to God's call in your life? Have courage, and take the next step. Someday, like me, you will step into the clearing and that crooked path behind you will be but a memory, for a time.

Photos today from the irrepressible Amelia.

The Hollie Rogue

A Word for 2013


to a smaller extent, amount, or degree: less exact.
smaller in size, amount, degree, etc.; not so large, great, or much: less money; less speed.
lower in consideration, rank, or importance

I've been whittled down over the years. Less health, less money, less happiness, less hair, less friendship, less community, less flavor and smell to the world. But I find myself on the upswing of the pendulum at the opening of 2013: cancer in remission, hair full and thick, job productive and paying well, new friendships springing up, church community welcoming with open arms. I don't want to grow bigger again. I don't want to expand. Not that I resent all the more God is sending our way - I am so grateful!
Losing hair by the handful in 2011
It is complacency and pride and excess I fear - I smell it on the winds of change, smell it leaking from my pores, smell it in our home and in my children. The warning words of John the Baptist ring loudly in my ears as I sense the return of greed, carelessness, and egotism oozing filthy from my soul:
John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ He must increase, but I must decrease.” He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:27-36 ESV exc.)
EVERYTHING flows from the Grace of God. I cannot claim any possession over it, responsibility for it, anything less than providential gifting of all these things to us, to me. The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it...(Ps. 24:1) Elaine Olsen writes of her own journey in Beyond Cancer's Scars:
I walk that fine line in this season of planting kingdom seeds, and I pray for a heart to know when my suffering voice is needed and when it is better kept silent. I must come to the end of myself. To arrive there, I've needed more than a lecture or a recommendation from others. I needed a hard humbling, a strong wrestling, an exhausted spirit, and a broken heart. I've needed my cancer to lead me there. I'm mostly there, but if I'm not careful to keep my heart in check, I'm capable of making more of my suffering than needs making or saying more about my trials than really needs saying. There is a "certain place" in all of our journeys where we, like Jacob, must stop running and rest our ambitions. A moment when we say, "Enough is enough!" and let go of yesterday's striving in order to take hold of tomorrow's promise - God's promise, a promise authored from the portals of heaven that pledges provision, protection, and preservation. When we are able to rest at that certain place, then we are able to rise in the morning with humbled perspective, knowing that the road ahead is paved with God's intentions, not ours. When we've slept in God's house and climbed God's ladder with our dreaming, then we awaken in the morning no longer full of ourselves, but rather, full of our Father. (p. 66)
I read this, and my heart leaps in recognition, "Yes! Yes, this is my struggle this year. This is the battle to be fought, and won with God's help. This is the cry of my heart!"


Less is more.

Less of me, more of Him.
More and more, deeper and deeper understanding of how much the small things matter. How precious are the relationships and how unnecessary the "things" of life.
Less striving and more resting. Let us not grow weary. Let us not waste our energy doing things in our own power and culled from our personal agendas, but let us draw from the deep well of the Spirit and let our feet be easily led onto His path.
The pills I swallowed in a single day in mid 2011
Less help from man, and more from God. Fewer pills to calm the soul, and more of the Balm of Gilead. Yes, God provided this season of healing, He provided the anti-depressants and the counselors. They have carried me so far from the most broken place of my life in 2011. But now I am ready to go further. I read in Jeremiah a passage that echoes loudly in the halls of my heart...
Prophets and priests and everyone in between twist words and doctor truth. My dear Daughter—broken, shattered, and yet they put on Band-Aids, saying, “It’s not so bad. You’ll be just fine.” The crops are in, the summer is over, but for us nothing’s changed. We’re still waiting to be rescued. Are there no healing ointments in Gilead? Isn’t there a doctor in the house? So why can’t something be done to heal and save? Then comes a message from the God-of-the-Angel-Armies: “Don’t let the wise brag of their wisdom. Don’t let heroes brag of their exploits. Don’t let the rich brag of their riches. If you brag, brag of this and this only: that you understand and know me. I’m God, and I act in loyal love. I do what’s right and set things right and fair, and delight in those who do the same things. These are my trademarks. Stay alert! It won’t be long now”—God’s Decree!—“when I will personally deal with everyone whose life is all outside but no inside..." (Jeremiah 8-9, The Message, exc.)
The prescription order sheet for my radiation in 2008
Yes, cancer ravaged. And oh, how we have suffered! But in all things, let me be wise about how I wear these diamonds He's made out of the carbon dust of the ashes of my broken body and heart. From the lecture I give on thyroid problems each semester, to the sharing of my story here and in person, let me hold my tongue when I hear His whisper in my soul. May He move me to share only what is appropriate and not boast in myself, but only in how suffering has helped me to know and understand Him.
The sign my children welcomed me home with after I miscarried Teddy in 2009
Less longing to be free, and more longing to serve my husband and my family. This year, let my heart melt every time my children run out onto the porch at my return, waving their banners of "Welcome Home, Mama!" Let me melt into the welcome-home kiss of the husband, let the counters be cleaner and the meals more on time. Less of me, my needs, wants, desires. More servitude.

An old blog banner from 2008 reminds me of the darkness of that season
Making "do" with patched jeans: Katy in 2008
As we walk into the harvest, the first season of plenty in so long, may we continue to "make do" with less. We don't need more. We are so rich in the things of this world already. So let this year be another year of saying NO to clutter, to excess, to careless spending. I believe He really intends to prosper us in the coming years with His provision financially. May we be wise with that provision. Help me control the finger that clicks "Purchase" on the internet and the hands that pull unnecessary things off the shelves at the store. Help me push away from the table when my belly is full even if my soul still feels empty. Help me be filled with more of you, and less of this world, Christ.

In this year of "less", let us welcome more of You into a barer home and a barer heart. Empty the halls, literally and figuratively, so that You can pour in the harvest. 
...to miss these three things-His house, His presence, His heaven-is to altogether miss the point of this life. God is the point of our lives: the sooner we get over the strong impressions we have of ourselves, the sooner we live as a people who can be entrusted with the story of the kingdom. Maybe this day you're stuck somewhere in between where you used to live and where you're heading. You're running fast and hard to get there, maybe even running away from the pain you thought you had left behind. Pain isn't usually the leaving-behind kind. Pain is a follower, and if pain is your portion, then I invite you to that certain place of God's allowing so that you might find rest beneath His night sky. What is birthed there just might be the hope that will carry you through to morning. Come; enter into your certain place. God has something to finish in you so that He can begin His new work through you. (Beyond Cancer's Scars, p. 67)
I say with Samuel, "Here am I, Lord. Speak, Lord, for I am listening." I say with John, "This is the assigned moment for Him to move into the center, while I slip off to the sidelines." (John 3:20 The Message)

Make this the year of LESS. And because of that, MORE. More of Your story, more of Your complete satisfaction, more of Your love pouring out through us. Make me - and all of us, this family - empty vessels through which You can pour out onto any thirsty ground that surrounds us.

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