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Life Seasons

Devotional Faith Life Seasons

Will We Trust Him When Life’s Pain Does Not Make Sense?

April 25, 2017

It felt ruthless. Anything but caring, tender, or nurturing. It felt like taking life rather than giving it. But this is where my five minutes of research and a YouTube video had landed me.

“Boys, come here. I want to show you how we do this.” They stood on the opposite edge of the hole I had just dug in our front yard. Curiosity shone in their eyes. Carefully I pressed the blade up and out of the X-ACTO knife and began slicing through roots of the Dappled Willow. I could picture it a year from now, hues of white, green, and pink splashed across its leaves, dancing outside of our kitchen window.

And yet there I was, severing the life system it had worked hard to web together over its short life. My knife snagged itself on a thick root. I pressed the blade in deeper.

“We have to score its roots,” the boys’ eyes were locked on my task, “that way they can stretch out and grow into the new dirt.” They nodded. Yes, they understood. But not fully.

They could see the torn roots, the hole in the earth, and the potting soil ready to encourage our tree’s new life system. They could piece it together. But could they piece together that this was exactly what their Daddy and I had done to them a year ago? Could they look at this tree and connect it to how we had cut away at their own roots when we moved them away from all they knew, all the while asking ourselves whether this was the best for them?

Maybe they can see it, just as we will witness it in our Dappled Willow a year from now. That sometimes the cutting away, the letting go, the transplanting is all a part of sinking our roots down deep where we are given the most promise to thrive.

I feel it myself every day. The severing, the cutting, the pruning. I feel it deep as God redirects my roots away from shallow soil. He cuts, and I am sure that He feels my pain. But wait, He promises, I have so much more for you. Such richer soil. Life fullest. I know it hurts now, but just wait. Sink your roots down deep where they will thrive.

I feel it every day as He teaches me of marriage, motherhood, ministry, and following Him. He slices those misguided roots–sometimes a whole tangled web of them, and graciously He plunges them into richer soil. And right where I was left bleeding, I begin to thrive.

What roots of yours is He cutting away at today? Trust His hand. He wants us to thrive, to stretch out our roots beyond that tiny web that we once counted sufficient. He has more. So much more beyond that tiny tangle we’ve been clinging to. He wants us to dig our roots down deep and thick and forever where we will not be moved–not be shaken. And He wants us to trust in who He is when we don’t understand what He is doing. Then, with time’s passing, we can look back and see it–that we thrived. Roots cut and scored and sliced away at. We thrived.

Faith Life Seasons Motherhood

When Your Limitations Are Staring You Straight In The Face

February 9, 2017

I saw it coming, though ever so subtly. I would be sitting at a table talking with a friend, and the whole room would shift as if balancing on a delicate axis. I’d sip water and concentrate hard—on anything—until it would pass, only to have it wash over me again like a line of unending waves in the ocean. It quickly accelerated from occasional to everyday. I’d find myself sitting in a coffee shop working on a project, and having to brace the table before me to steady myself, although I wasn’t actually falling—yet. And so, on the day when it finally gave way, I was not too surprised to find myself collapsed on the couch for the whole of an afternoon.

It is difficult to remember that this used to be my regular existence.

Over a decade ago when I sat in that sterile room, my parents in those cheap chairs next to the exam table where I sat fidgeting; the doctor spoke it, “Yes, she does have Addison’s Disease”, and I wonder if we knew at all what it meant.

Back on that day, we wondered whether it would mean that I may not be able to have those three babies I kiss goodnight every evening now. Or that I should probably never try anything like running that half marathon I completed a couple of years ago, our third boy nestled safe in my womb as I crossed the finish line. I don’t think we knew back on that day, in that little room, when words of prescriptions and doses and tests were exchanged, really what kind of life I could expect to live. If I could ever chase big dreams like writing books or starting businesses or raising babies. We had no idea what to expect, aside from limitations.

Sometimes, on the hinge of words spoken or a diagnosis given or our own doubts crowding—we become a little afraid to dream. Because who wants to dream a dream that their limitations—be them physical, emotional, or other wise—will never allow them to chase after? 

In that first handful of years following my diagnosis, my parents fought hard to dissect this disease, and learn every little detail of how it might be affecting my body. And they fought even harder to encourage me to never stop dreaming. And then, five years after we sat in that sterile room, they handed over the position of Chief Encouragers to my husband, as we stood on that altar and exchanged vows. And as he took my hand, he eagerly took on that responsibility to never let me give up on my dreams.

And he’s kept that vow.

And so, on weeks like these, when seasonal colds and stressful weeks culminate in my disease reminding me—hey, I’m still around—I’m caught a bit off guard.

We have a way of forgetting about our limitations. Somehow we become comfortable with them. We tame them. We create a system, balance the weights, and set up safe guards. It’s what my husband and I have been fighting for over the past years, as we’ve learned how to live a life abundantly—with a chronic illness. It’s a good thing. But then, when we finally become comfortable and well adjusted—we round a corner to find those inhibitions staring us in the face—the floor falls out from beneath us.

Whether they be physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual—whatever these limitations be, they have a way of reminding us that we are but clay and dirt and finite. We are limited. And it hurts, to want such big and beautiful and wondrous things for our lives, but to feel terribly hindered by things outside of our control. It hurt this week, in the midst of big dreams and plans and deadlines, to lay on that couch unable to even make dinner for my family.

And yet, I am discovering that my limitations are an invite.

This week, they invited me to lay and read that book I’ve been too busy to pick up. They invited me to watch my boys as they ran circles around the house in boy-made Superhero capes, exclaiming “It’s my pleasure!!” Every time I would ask them to grab my notebook or my blood pressure cuff.

My limits were my invite to not care about the dirty socks and half-completed art projects scattered across the floor, but instead to hold my toddler boy as he waited for me to fix his Lego truck. My limits were my invite to remember that I am, indeed, limited—and that’s ok. In fact, once in a while, I need to remember those limits. Because they have this stunning way of springing up within me a longing for that which is above and beyond and bigger than me and my limits. They make me ache for my Creator, who made me wonderfully, and calls me Very Good. The One who is my strength in weakness, my ever-present help. These physical limitations that drive me to that couch or my bed—they also drive me to my knees in prayer. And call me crazy, but it makes me a little bit fond of these hindrances.

Our limits have a thing or two to teach us about ourselves, our loved ones, and the pace of life. Sometimes they are our invite to rest, when we’ve been to stubborn to give ourselves a break. They invite us to ask for help, to accept grace, to stop. Refocus. Refresh. Restart. and Remember the One who gave us life, calls us to great things, and gives us everything we need—right in the midst of our limitations—to pursue those great things.

Back on that day when the doctor handed me a diagnosis I couldn’t, at fourteen years old, begin to understand the intricacies of, I couldn’t have anticipated the gifts hidden within. Limitations are funny like that, don’t you think? A blessing in disguise, if we choose to see and treat them as such. What is that limitation staring you in the face today? They stand there, intimidating and threatening and discouraging—and inviting. Take the invite today. The one that calls you to your knees, to rest, and to embrace a life that says that we are not enough—and that’s ok.

Life Seasons Living With Intention

Why My Favorite Part Of The New Year Is Not The New Year At All

January 1, 2017

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We are driving along a road in the Northwoods. We’ve wound our way along Lake Superior, glassy at the edges with ice creeping towards its center. Now a vast expanse of pine trees frame us in on each side. I look out into the depths of the woods, and I wonder just how many there are. Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, an eternity of trees all stretching tall and reaching for the sun. As we pass each one, they seem as a blur of pine needle and bark.

They play out before me like one of those flip books I played with as a child. The ones where you place your thumb across the edge of the pages, all stacked side by side, then slowly release them and watch as  each page turned adds a tiny piece to the scene. These pines do the same. And if I look hard, I see the intricate, beautiful details making up their story. I see one felled pine, arching high like a bridge, dipping its tip into the blanket of snow below. And then a white-tailed doe, gently nosing at that same carpet of white, in search of breakfast buried beneath. The pines tell of time’s passing. For years they have stood here doing their job of drinking in the snow melt and sunshine, growing ever so methodically in tune with the passing of hours. They grow slow, we pass fast. And only when I stare deep and focus my attention do I see the beauty of their work, and the treasures lying within their forest.

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I think of these things a week later, as my husband and I sit on our living room floor, surrounded by journals, notebooks, and mugs of hot tea. The steam dances above our mugs and we write, pausing every few moments to think and talk and dream. We do it every year, this planning and goal setting and dreaming of what 365 days can hold.

And although I love the excitement of looking ahead, my favorite part is actually found not at all in the New Year, but the Old Year. Before we look ahead, we first take time to look back. It is another sort of Time Counting, but in retrospect. We think back on twelve months and we pick them apart, searching hard around every corner of them for those treasures within. Just as on that day with snow flakes falling big and pine trees stretched out on either side of me. I had to look hard beyond the eclipsing trees to find the further beauty within them. And now I do the same, looking beyond time’s passing over 365 days, to discover just what they held for us. We start to write.

Moved to Colorado!

Vast mountain explorations

Gray’s smooth transition into a new job

Signed contract for 936 Pennies book

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It begins slowly and then like an avalanche. And as we remember each of these gifts, our hearts lighten. The year behind us takes on a whole new look, one covered in grace and abundance, despite any heartache and struggle.

3 Family vacations

My family came out to Colorado

Paid off loan

Did fine owning only one vehicle, and had no issues with it

Gray built us a beautiful work desk where we can work side by side

Many family picnics

Met new friends

Found a church family

Sold a house

Bought a house

Spoke at a conference

Joined a wonderful Bible study

Good news from doctors

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And of course, this list is one sided. It is supposed to be. It does not tell of the loneliness and struggle woven throughout our move to Colorado. It does not hint at the emotional, exhausting process that buying our house was. It does not tell of our fourth child, lost in a miscarriage. It does not tell of the fear wrapped up in those doctor’s tests, a year after they hinted at cancer. Some of those gifts on our list could have never come to be, had it not been for the hardship.

Three hundred and sixty-five days can hold a lot within them. 

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It is a peculiar thing, looking back and realizing that this was both the most difficult and most wonderful year of my life. Maybe you feel the same way today. Or maybe you look back, and you only see the hard, the hurt, the ugly, the disappointment. Maybe you see very little, and you wonder just what good your 365 days did. Whatever you feel looking back on last year, now is the time to count. Search long and hard and in between every crevice of those days, and find the beauty. Find those moments that redeem the hurt, heal the wounds, and shine brighter than the dark.

Look beyond time’s passing, and find the treasures within. If you struggle hard and come up with five things, cling hard to those five gifts. And give thanks for this New Year in which twelve months lay before us, promising of beauty to be found, if only we’ll open our eyes to it.

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Before beginning our list of 2016 Thanks Givings, I looked back in my journal to find our 2015 list. It was good. But it was short. This year, as we wrote down gifts, the list was over twice as long. Perhaps the blessings were more abundant. God gave us a good year. But also I believe that the length of the list has something to do with our journey of Time Counting.

We are learning to look beyond the pines; beyond the ticking of the clock, and deep within to count those moments. The tree arching over white ground, the doe gracefully walking below the forest canopy. Our boys venturing into the forest in search of adventure, good news from doctors, friendships forged, picnic lunches between mountains towering. This is Time Counting. And perhaps it is the secret. Maybe our greatest chance at our best year yet in 2017 is not found in creating the perfect scenario, but in finding the beauty that is already waiting for us in these next 365 days. May we walk into this year with our eyes open wide to see it.

Life Seasons Writing

Will We Bring The Wildflowers With Us?

September 27, 2016

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If I have learned one thing through the process of writing a book, it is the value of time and seasons. This morning I walked through a nature preserve that my boys and I visit often. We spend many mornings here counting frogs among the pond reeds, catching grasshoppers, and watching the bees collect pollen from wild sunflowers. But this morning, I walked along the dirt path alone, winding my way slowly between ponds framed by late summer wildflowers.

As I walked, I thought back to the first time we came here, to that first walk we took along this path, collecting wildflowers of every shade of the rainbow. Months later, those flowers sit dried in a jar that hangs above my desk at home, and these yellow grass fields are dotted by only a few last flowers holding on to summer. The bees busy themselves traveling from bloom to bloom collecting the last of the pollen.

I think back to when the book was a hatchling idea, new and fresh. In the thrill of it all I wanted to sit down and punch the entire thing out in one mega burst of creativity, but I quickly learned that these things don’t work that way. Not well, at least.

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Today as I walked around those glowing fields, watching blades of wheat dance in the gentle breeze, I thought about the seasons that have sown this book together. Without them, the seams of it would lay open and wanting; an unraveled list of ideas and lessons, without the stories and experience to bind them together.

This story needed to see spring’s cultivation, and then the planting, sprouting, budding, blooming, dying, falling, and repeat. It needed to see the cyclical process of rebirth and regeneration, of failure, victory, and harvest. It needed to push through the dark and cold of winter, and witness the mercies that come with each rising of the sun.

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I’m tempted at times to hasten the work. This morning I sat with an agenda, and prayed for the focus to put my head down and get the work done. And I did, until I found myself exhausted of words. That’s when I knew that I needed to come here, and listen to the cadence of gravel crunching beneath my shoes until more words came.

The richest of experiences can be found in the waiting, it seems. At least, that’s what I have found in both book writing and boy raising. The passing of time is an essential ingredient to every story. Stories unfold when we take notice of the seasons, and their transitions from one to the next.

As I walk, I see the bench that the boys sat on a few months back, and the dock that they ran out to as they chattered to one another about fishing. I walk past their favorite spot to stop and watch the dragonflies, and the bridge they lean over to spot the crayfish under the water’s surface. And I see the thread that ties these memories together, the seasons in which they’ve found their place in our story.

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Every one of our stories, they require these seasons. And we get to choose, as we step out of one season and into the next, whether our stories will sour as like milk, or age and mature as like a fine wine. We get to choose, as those wildflowers lose their petals and shrivel up, whether we’ll preserve them in a jar to carry on with us into our next season. We get to choose what we leave behind, and what becomes a part of us.

Seasons are the framework in which our stories exist, and where life’s questions find their answers. What in a previous season seemed terribly obscure, confusing, and frightening, may reveal itself in striking clarity as we walk into a new season.

Our job is this:  in our current season, we must walk slowly enough to notice the right-here right-now lessons; ones that will give us greater understanding for navigating what comes next. Our task is to walk these paths with great attention, collecting wildflowers and time’s gifts– the memories that will serve as an anchor to us wherever we find ourselves next.

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Our job is to stop lingering in a past season, and not to fret the season coming next. Instead, let’s savor the season that we’re standing in right now. Let’s saturate it in joy, attention, laughter, rest, and purpose. Let’s weigh it down with all of our consideration for the small things that are really the big things.

Whatever your season looks like right now—it is yours for the making. Let’s mark it with such extravagant beauty that will impact us, and those closest to us, for every season to come.

Family Life Seasons

The Sacred Pause Between Seasons Of Life

May 26, 2016

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I froze in front of the refrigerator.

I had been moving at a high, efficient speed. My friend was watching our two older boys, and the baby was asleep. It was time to pack. But then came the task of taking down the photos and art from the fridge, and it brought my momentum to a halt.

Three months ago we pulled in late to this driveway, unloaded our meager belongings with the help of friends, and set up camp. Not home. Very intentionally, we chose not to hang up photos, and to hold off on buying a new bed for the boys. Boxes would remained packed in the garage.

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For their sake, we needed our boys to know that this was temporary. So that when we move into the next house, and unpack their toys, hang framed memories on the walls, and setup their new bed—they’ll know it in their hearts–That we are home.

These past three months have felt excruciatingly temporary. Transient. Uncertain. And at times, quite lonely.

The heart of our family has ached for a place to call home.

And yet, as I stood before the fridge, carefully taking down photos and art projects, I saw it. I realized just how much life has taken place in this very short season.

From our family adventures into the mountains, to quiet mornings at the kitchen table; watercolors guiding our creativity, and mountain breeze flowing in from the open door–this season has changed our family.

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We’ve celebrated two brithdays. And we’ve lost a child.

We’ve grown friendships, and fed the homeless.

Our little boy made the newspaper. We sat by a quiet road and watched a moose meander his way through a pond. We drove all day to behold the Collegiate Mountain Range.

My husband and I have sipped wine while watching the sun descend behind the mountains, dreaming together about what is next, and celebrating just how far we have come.

We were longing for four walls and a spot of green grass to call home—all the while Colorado was etching the letters “Home” onto our hearts.

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So many memories have quickly woven themselves together into our hearts, establishing this place as home. This short season has been riddled with difficult days. Overwhelming emotions. Uncertainty. Doubt. Fear. And heartache.

And I am amazed to stand back now, looking over these past few months, and to behold just how much life they represent.

Three months hardly seems long enough to make its mark as a significant piece of  person’s life. And yet here we are.

Sometimes it is these short seasons—often the very difficult ones— that foster the most growth within us.

Those lonely seasons, the ones that hold heartache, and cast a shadow of doubt upon your plans—it is these seasons that show us who we are, and how much we need this loving God who will hold our hand and pave the way before us.

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Maybe you’re in the middle of one of these short, uncertain seasons. Or maybe it has been a long one. And yet you find yourself standing on the brink of what is next; balancing between two seasons.

May we never step forward into the next season before pausing to think back on the one we’ve just walked through. Let us stop, take account, and see what this season had to teach us; and the growth it performed in our hearts.

Let us appreciate it in all of its rawness, for the emotions and unexpected hardships, for the glimpses of beauty and the subtle reminders of why we chose this path in the first place.

Let us take a sacred pause, and give thanks.

And then let us step forward.

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