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the settling years

I haven’t written much. Sometimes it seems like the words have dried up and there’s nothing more to say. But more truthfully, we are adjusting to the years of intensity becoming a place we must live, not a just a short season.

Darryl and I sat on the couch last night, after all the kids were finally tucked in and sipped some hot peppermint tea together. Our home is full and blessed, but at the end of many days we carry the weight of the brokenness. It’s odd, this life is such a two-sided coin. On the one hand, these years have been tremendous years of learning, growing, depending on God. And on the other, such a stripping that a deep melancholy underscoring everything. We’re changed, and sometimes I don’t like it.  

The first four years of Calvin’s life were nothing but bare survival, literally trying to keep him alive from one day to the next and making major decisions at every turn. The last three have been more predictable; we’ve become used to being nurses around the clock and know how to navigate his fragility well. Now, the question of Francis Shaeffer’s book often burns in our minds: How shall we then live? 

How do we live when life never “gets back” to normal? What do we do in the settling years – the years when everybody else has moved on but we are still constantly adjusting to living with loss?

“The older I get,” Darryl said, “the more I see people settling in two ways. Either they become angry and bitter, resigned in their faith or they serve with love out of their brokenness.”

How many of us haven’t fallen into the first category? We grow up and face unexpected losses and life doesn’t always turn out the way we dreamed or expected. We hurt but then time happens and with it we settle into patterns of living with broken dreams.

We either become more receptive or more hard-hearted.

We grow in love or we grow in bitterness.

We grow in devotion or in apathy.

The settling years. 

Richard Sibbes said: “God takes it unkindly if we weep too much for the loss of a wife, or child, or friend, or for any cross in this life; for it is a sign that we do not fetch our comfort from him. Nay, though our weeping be for sin, we must keep moderation, with one eye looking on our sins, and the other on God’s mercy in Christ. If, therefore, the best grief should be moderated, how much more the other!”

God’s comfort is enough for any sorrow, any cross you and I are called to. It is enough to keep us from hard-heartedness, bitterness and apathy. So then why do I find so much of the latter in these settling years?

The temptation for followers of Jesus, living with broken dreams and loss, is to not lean in. Instead of depending on Jesus all the more in pain, we withdraw. Instead of moving forward in faith and hope, we retreat in doubt and despair. We internalize hurt instead of dwelling the comfort of Christ and using that to serve others no matter how broken we are.

It’s gotten a lot of us, and exposes what we may have really been living for all along.

These years are uncomfortable, settling in with altered dreams. But there’s a way to resist the easy street of withdrawing into ourselves and swimming in bitterness and anger. We can ask God to fill us with His Spirit so that we can rejoice in suffering and be filled with peace in believing. Perhaps the settling years are really an invitation to develop rhythms of joy and grace in our lives? A call to live as an ordinary people with an extraordinary hope?

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5

It Matters How You Live

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Last year at this time Darryl and I had our pastor on speakerphone around the kitchen table. I was recovering from a bad bout of postpartum depression and struggling to put my feet forward. Every view of Calvin sent me reeling, it was bizarre. I kept away from him and cocooned in my room, not able to look at him for fear my heart would break.

“I’m longing for heaven so much that I can’t seem to find the point of going on here,” I confessed. I struggled to find value and joy in the here and now. PPD has a way of distorting reality, reasons for joy abounded all around me but all I could feel was crushing grief and despair.

With appropriate treatment, rest and time PPD disappeared. But I’ve continued to wrestle with the temptation to look so much for the final restoration that the I undermine the present. God values this life tremendously, and so must I.

Salvation is the beginning point of giving glory and joy to Him, but what does He want from me after that? What opportunities do I have right now to grow closer to Christ and bring Him glory? We know our body is a tent (“for in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling” 2 Cor. 5:2), but are we just “doing time in the tent until we get heaven?” (Colin Smith).

Colin Smith, an gifted expositor, preached a sermon about the opportunities we have right now in the body, that we won’t have in heaven. We tend to focus on the challenges of life now and look forward to the opportunities of glory. But what about the reverse?

There is a challenge in glory. 2 Corinthians 5:10 tell us: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” This includes believers. So while we know that we will never be condemned if in Christ, our lives will still be laid out and judged. And all that is worthless will be burned up and all that has eternal value will be treasure laid up in heaven.

Not only is there a challenge in glory, but there is also opportunity here on earth that we won’t have in heaven. Here are ten things you have the opportunity to glorify God with right now, that you won’t have an opportunity to do in heaven:

Prayer: God is delighted when we come to Him. But prayer is something we will only have now in the body, you will not need to pray in the presence of Jesus.

Believe: Believing when we have not seen and do not understand is faith. In heaven, faith will be sight and you will not have the opportunity to trust things you cannot see.

Courage: The only courage needed will be the courage in this world because there are no dangers in the presence of Jesus.

Resist Sin: All battling with temptation is done now, there is no sin in presence of Jesus. It is a short battle, and an opportunity here and now to bring glory to Him.

Trust God: Trust Him now in what you do not understand; there will be no such situations in the presence of Jesus when all things will be made known.

Shine in Dark Places: Shine now as a light where God has put you in this world. There will be no dark places in the presence of Jesus in heaven.

Bearing Witness: Testifying to the glory of his name is only done here in the body, there are no lost people in heaven.

Give Comfort and Compassion: Now is the time we have the opportunity to extend ourselves for the cause of Christ, showing his love to our neighbors. There will be no hurting ones in heaven or those that need comfort.

Give Sacrificially: The only laboring in which you can extend yourself is what you do in this life. There are no sacrifices in heaven, the saints are resting from their labors. The only place you can push outside of your comfort zone and give sacrificially is here.  In heaven you will have all things.

Press on, eagerly and with joy. This is a short journey, one of great value no matter how much has been lost. Bring glory to Him, the one who desires us to be with Him forever. “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matt 6:20).

Monday Thoughts and Futile Ways

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I sat in church, knowing the sermon was true, that the words were what I needed to hear (God’s Word always is). But it was like the words couldn’t get past my brain and into my heart. We were sitting in the balcony, there was no legroom, I felt like I needed theater glasses to see the minister and we were late due to tipped over bowl of baby cereal and a clothing disaster.

I get so used to God’s constant grace, His gift of making me alive to Him and His Word that when my original coldness seeps into my life it is disconcerting. Our natural posture to the Word is one of deflection. This realization humbled me–He takes people like me (in deflect mode) and transforms me into something growing and living–ready to receive grace and truth.

Last night I prayed with one of our kids who’s learning what self-control is (and causing me to learn patience). We prayed for God to transform our hearts to hearts of flesh rather than hearts of stone. “I get it!” she said. “After church I had a brownie and ice cream. The brownie was hard and the ice cream was soft. My heart needs to be like the ice cream.”

Not exactly a pulpit analogy but it made perfect sense in her world.

Last night we heard a sermon on the call to be holy (1 Peter 1). Given my out-of-sort demeanor (okay, grumpiness) from the day I wasn’t feeling any victory or desire in this area. (It was as if my husband wasn’t getting my needs, i.e. that he should do everything and let me cocoon on the couch with my book, reasonable, right? Sometimes the reality of the constant needs of five kids makes me want to put my head under my pillow, but I digress.) As the Word was preached these words jumped out to me (bolded).

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written,“You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

The “passions of former ignorance” don’t have to spectacular public displays but usually are insidious sins such as discontent, envy, lack of joy, a complaining spirit. Am I being conformed by former passions? Or am I alive to the new passions and desires he has planted in me?

After all, I am ransomed from futile ways that have been passed down to me in our fallen humanity. But am I living as if I’ve been ransomed?

Praise God that I am not ransomed because I’ve proven myself worthy or good enough (I can’t stand on that leg too long) but rather only because of the worthiness of the blood of Christ, the spotless lamb. And because of this my hope is in God (not me) and I can go to Him this week and ask him to give me a heart “soft like ice-cream” that is ready to receive His word and allow His power to transform my days from general complaint to specific praise. 

Fill Your Mind

Woman Reading the Bible.

Bible reading is one of the most fruitful things I can do in my day but often it’s a struggle for me to be consistent. I’m tempted to live off the understanding I already have, the applications already found, and call it good. I attempt to live off of yesterday’s “bread”. Jesus addressed this:

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63).

The words. 

Know this: every day we are being sent a thousand messages, compliments of our sinful heart and the world around us. Sin poisons and its only anecdote is Jesus. Even if we are saved, sin will have dominion over us if we don’t live according to the Spirit, i.e. we live according to our flesh. Each day we’re blasted by a thousand messages, the only way to confront and filter them is to consistently have God’s Word intercepting and telling us the truth.

Don’t know what I’m talking about?

Mmmkay, let’s start in the bathroom. You get up, hop into the shower. Inwardly sigh at your figure in the mirror, it looks more like the “before” picture of transformations. Your flesh tells you that you must be more.Being in Christ is not enough (at least in this you argue) and this is certainly not what David had in mind when he proclaimed we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Make your way to the kitchen. Stacks of dishes are packed high and by the time you’ve kissed all the loveys out the door, you close the door and face a place that looks like a decent whirlwind just made its way through. This is so mundane. Wasn’t I made for more? Anybody can scrub floors and pack lunches. And this craving that society and our hearts has woven deep in us finds it’s way to our minds, bubbling discontent all over.

Pay a few bills, note the low balance left, let your mind wander to that modern farmhouse house of the young couple (definitely younger than you). Why do other people have it easier? How on earth can they live in a house like that? Whispers of resentment fill you, whispers sent to make you distrust God, distrust his love for you. Whispers that want to make you and stuff the center instead of God. It’s the age old trick.

Oh, lookey here, in the check-out line. You may not have realized it but you do now–you can hardly be a desirable woman (mercy, I’ve never met anybody this side of Photoshop that looks like that) and you most definitely are a yawn! in the bedroom. But don’t worry, get this magazine and join all the people have sizzling experiences every single day. Thanks, Cosmopolitan–so helpful. And fall trends? I’m guessing the winter bin that I just hauled up from the basement isn’t quite what they have in mind. All that talk about inner beauty fades into murky irrelevance.

Defeat and it’s only noon.

There’s a reason we are told to put on armor–the world is not our friend and faith doesn’t happen by osmosis. Our faith is strengthened only when we immerse ourselves with Him. His Word. His Spirit. While walking in the Word and Spirit, He equips us to deflect those arrows meant to deflate our joy and security in Christ. And Satan knows, the more he can pop that balloon, the more we will be just a shadow of the witness Christ has called (and equips) us to be.

Are we believing the lies spread thick everywhere–in our heart, the supermarket, blogs? Am I an easy target because I’m not in the Word? Are we wallowing in insecurity because we don’t understand (or want) security in Jesus? We can give those insecurities over to the cross. I need to repent and go forward leaning heavily on the One from whom all our meaning and value originate. Lord, I feel consumed with myself. What I am, what I am not. I’m seduced by the lies of my mind and the world. Set my mind on You, the only source of Truth. Forgive me, make me to walk in Your ways. Give me life according to Your Word. 

Tragedy and Resilience

My father-in-law, Jack, can tell stories for hours about growing up as a lad during the German occupation in Holland. His thick Dutch accent rolls on over the stories as we all sit snuggled on the couch listening to tales: tales of tricks the village boys would play on the Germans, stories of loss as their home was evacuated to be used as a headquarters, harrowing recaps of seeing men executed, and memories of a mother that died too young and left him, his brothers and a much longed for baby sister. Listening to him is like watching a life unfurl in front of you, from turbulent times to a hope for a better future, from scarcely surviving as an immigrant to a settled comfortable life on a Canadian farm.

(We finally convinced him to write some of it down and now we’re in the process of putting it together for the family to enjoy. At age 82 his memory astounds me. While visiting us last week he would throw out things like, “Back in the winter of 1952 I sanded those bed frames. They were black as coal.” He can recall every detail of how much he made (to the cent) as an immigrant in Canada, what a dinner of cabbage cost and how much the boarding house charged him per week.”I hardly had anything left over after I paid my room and board for the week. But at the end of every week I would go with a few Dutch friends and we’d spend 25 cents on a banana split. That was our reward for working hard all week.” He still looks satisfied as he thinks back on that banana split.)

It made me think about how people cope with loss and how they develop resiliency. If I were in psychology I would research this: what makes people resilient after tragedy? From observing others around me who have gone through very difficult times I would hypothesize two factors (among others I’m sure) play an important role. The first is this: the more a person has to do to survive the less they will be paralyzed by devastating losses. This very pursuit of survival becomes a protective and healing tactic from deep emotional wounds. I would argue the second factor is the ability to eventually look beyond one’s self and invest in others around them. 
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I’ll never forget speaking with Yvonne, a Cambodian friend of mine.  She was recounting the horrific genocide that took place in the 1970’s when she was just a girl. “We were trying to get into Vietnam, hundreds of us Cambodians. We were so close, we just had to cross the river. We all ran into the water when suddenly they started shooting at us. I saw women around me falling face first in the water. Some were pregnant and had little children, others were old. But we couldn’t stop to help, we had to keep running.” After spending time in a Vietnamese refugee camp she was one of the few that made it out. She said what kept her going all those years was the need to survive. She didn’t deny the grief or horror but seemed to be able to compartmentalize them in a way that allowed her to move forward (note: not move on). Today she and her Cambodian husband have a ministry targeting government officials. They are spending their lives investing in Buddhist leaders, some of whom are former participants in the genocide.

I can tell you countless stories of Cambodian kids who’ve suffered abuse, burning, horrific human trafficking, and abandonment. Yes, they have issues. Who wouldn’t? But they are surviving and thriving. We’ve witnessed these kids becoming nurses and heading back to villages to care for others, becoming trained teachers of the Bible and being witnesses in their culture, some using creative ways (break dancing!) to get kids off the streets; they are resilient in the aftermath of tragedy.

There seems to be a theme in the lives who have had great adversity. They acknowledge the tragedy that has happened but they don’t stay there the rest of their lives. There is certainly a period of paralyzing grief and trauma but after a while they seem to put it to the side and add more identity to their lives. They work on surviving, creating a life for themselves, learning, and reinventing. And after the survival path is well-worn they are able to branch out and invest in society around them. The scars never leave and are integral in who they are today, however, they don’t limit their lives to the scars. 

I used to think I needed to overcome grief, that it was something to work through and get beyond.  Now I’m realizing there are scars we cannot escape, there is pain that may dull but never leaves. Minimizing the reality of grief is futile. Four years later there are days when losses hit me so hard I stagger. I’m forever changed by it. The friends I listed above are all changed by their grief. But instead of it limiting their lives they seem to have put a limit on how much tragedy would be allowed to consume their life. 

Instead of overcoming grief,  I want to learn how to live well with grief, for God’s glory and my neighbor’s good. I want that resiliency–I pray these broken dreams and painful days will produce deep perseverance and steadfastness worked by God’s grace.

 

He Dwells With Us

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There are brushes of providence that leave us shaken. Dark strokes that seem to consume and overwhelm the painting of this piece called Life.

And when the darkness is pushed below and the brighter strokes of providence begin again we look back, terrified at the yawning, groping darkness that almost swallowed us.

We look up, relieved that the Light of the World will never let the darkness overcome us. Because He has overcome the darkness for us.

And then we walk forward, humbly, realizing the weakness of our frame and the greatness of our God. And we rejoice in Emmanuel, the Light that shines through the thickest of nights. The one who dwells with us even while we grope through the darkness.

Have you felt those dark arrows of Satan that are shot at the believer’s hearts? Arrows that tell you there is no future for you. That sorrow will reign and chronic illness will have the last word. The flaming lie that whispers “Your Jesus is not enough for this,” and your heart chills with fear at the path before you. Faith seems foolish. Will we succumb?

I would. But Jesus. Fly to Him.

We don’t plan on dark arrows and sorrow when we begin life, do we? Postpartum depression and palliative care were not in my plans. I want to run from this sorrow. I want to bury my head under my pillow every time I hear him cough and empty his lungs just to fill again. I’m tempted to shrink back. To believe the lie that Jesus is not enough, that the sorrow of life surpasses the joy we have in Christ. And I would if not for the grace and preservation that God gives liberally to each one in Christ. He keeps me when I cannot keep myself.

Do you see? Even in these despairing places the cover of Life is all around us. He may let the darkness cover us, our souls may feel like they will never breathe again, but they will! This is but a slight covering of night that He will use to further awaken us to glory. Be patient in the nights of life; shout the words of truth into the them and know your night has already been conquered by Him who endured the darkest of all nights.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

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