My eldest daughter carved a storm trooper for her Jack-O-Lantern this year. She's a fan of Star Wars and the dark side seems strangely appropriate on Halloween. The zombie, haunted house, scary holiday is a great metaphor for the darkness around us all. Our church hosts a huge crazy party with candy, free food, games and fun as a bright cheerful option every Halloween. Tons of neighbors attend who may never enter the door of a church otherwise. This event takes a ton of volunteers, hard work, a small pile of cash and lots of donations. Any time we push back on the darkness it takes an investment. We call it Light the Night.
The book of Nehemiah follows the story of the royal cupbearer to the King of Persia. He's a servant in captivity who is greatly disturbed by the reports of destruction and ruin of his home town, Jerusalem. He gains favor from the king and heads home to help rebuild the wall of protection around his city. He rallies the people, fights off invaders, perseveres to complete the task. I love the book of Nehemiah. It's a beautiful reminder to me that I am on a great task to equip and protect my children and to fight to push back darkness. So are you.
"After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” Nehemiah 4:14
Oh my goodness. Yes!! Don't look at the nasty business around you and sink in fear. Remember the Lord. He is Great and Awesome. Fight for your Families. Fight against addiction and despair. Fight against the industries who tell your daughters that they aren't good enough and your sons that women are to be used. Fight against the soul numbing entertainment that blinds us to people and hardens our hearts. In the Resource section below this post, I listed several practical tools you can use to build protection in your homes. Fight for your families.
"So I sent messengers to them with this reply: "I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?" Nehemiah 6:3
We are all on assignment. With great and mighty work. Don't get distracted. Pick your battles. I am building a wall and I can not come down. I am interested in protecting my marriage. In honoring my parents. In raising courageous daughters. In being a peacemaker. In proclaiming the truth. I am building a wall and I can not come down. Set your sights on your most important work. Don't quit.
"They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.” But I prayed, “Now strengthen my hands.” Nehemiah 6:9
I am tired. I am weak. But my Father is able to strengthen my hands. He is able to strengthen you.
"Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10
Just like in Nehemiah's day the best way to fight your battles with despair and greed and hate is to embrace joy, enjoy gifts, eat some candy, share with your neighbors. Don't underestimate the power of laughter, of a good hug, of a smile. These weapons are mighty.
"You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you." Nehemiah 9:6
Oh my friends, on this night and in the days and nights ahead can you take your eyes off the darkness and put them on the highest heavens, on the starry host? God is in control. Go Light the Night.
If you are in Vancouver, we'd love to have you come join us at Light the Night.
Fight back on porn. Seriously. Buy a filter. Protect your family. This is the one we use. It's nice because it doesn't have ongoing fees after you buy it.
Debt kills marriages, drowns dreams and handcuffs generosity. Fight back. Try Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace. Worked for us.
Fight apathy, self centeredness and entitlement. A little caring is a great thaw for a hard heart. Operation Christmas Child is a fantastic program to help little ones get involved in loving someone outside their normal circle.
Yawn. I've been doing a lot of yawning lately. When I started dragging my wide awake children to bed two hours early so I could go to sleep I thought maybe I better call my doctor. Turns out I'm running border line short on iron and border line short on Vitamin D. Go figure. It only rains around here. Anyway, I told the resident chef about my issue and I stopped at the store for some heavy duty vitamins and moved on.
Later in the week I noticed that my sweet spouse was cooking steak. Repeatedly. Lots of red meat. Feeding me iron. What a great guy. One night as I was cutting into my tender medium rare steak I thanked him.
"Hey babe, thanks for cooking all the steak. It means a lot to me that you responded to my iron deficiency by cooking me all this beautiful meat".
"Well, truthfully we're only having steak because it's been on sale at the store recently".
Then he laughed and said "You better thank God, because clearly HE was watching out for you".
I'm reading a fantastic new book by Mike Foster called "People of the Second Chance". This book encouraged my heart. I gasped, cried, laughed and took notes. If you struggle with grace this is the perfect guidebook on how to usher the people around you into glory. It's a friendly, love-soaked, engaging read. One of the most compelling concepts is that we are all God's "Beloved". Mike's contention is that we should extend grace to those around us and OURSELVES because God loves us. No reason other than that. God loves you. God loves me. Revolutionary.
Couple days ago a friend and I had one of those two minute conversations in the parking lot that make up so much of what mom friendships look like. Life is too crazy for long lunches. We make do with car window chats that remind us we love each other. This week' s session included reminiscing about childhood pets. I had a dog and a cat named Pricsilla and Aquilla. Oh yes, we did in fact name our pets after the apostle Paul's friends in the New Testament. Terrible pet names. Hard to say. Mid chat, my friend's daughter ran up and showed us the picture of her cat. We grinned and told her, while gorgeous, we thought it looked more like a antelope. Or a dinasaur. She shrugged. We grinned. Short little chats keep us connected.
Later that evening I received this text.
"I literally just read this tonight. It is part of the reading I was to do today!!! So funny!
"Give my greetings to Priscilla and Aquila and those living in the household of Onesiphorus."
2 Timothy 4:19
Ha! My dog and cat and a dinosaur!
I love when God tucks a little message in to say that He sees us. He hears our big requests and our trivial fun. He loves us. A little chat that keeps us connected.
God works little signs and wonders and answers and beauty into my ordinary days. Sometimes I don't take the time to give him credit. Sometimes I try to thank the wrong source. In reality, everything good in my life is from God. Like steak and the Onesiphoris and all my second chances.
The Language of Grace
One year ago I began experiencing some extremely challenging anxiety. I’ve always struggled with worry, situational insomnia, and difficulty turning my mind off. I’ve always been able to get myself back to a stable place.
But this was a whole new level.
It caught me completely by surprise, and my usual methods of grounding myself were not enough. This past year I have been doing the work to learn how to control the anxiety instead of letting it control me. And I’ve realized that through doing this, I am learning to speak the language of grace.
I shiver from the inside out; my limbs are tingly and weak. The breaths I take are shallow and rapid, and my chest feels like something is weighing on it, keeping my lungs from fully expanding. With shaky hands I firmly ask my three young kids to be quiet.
Mommy needs you to be very quiet and listen to the music now.
No talking please.
They comply. I turn on my song with the sweeping fiddle and the soothing voice of Allison Krause. Your grace provides for me, she quietly sings. I take out my frankincense oil and rub it in my palms. Cupping my hands over my mouth, I breathe in deeply like I was taught. I close my eyes, exhale, and let my breath and the fiddle slow my body and brain down. The kids are still quiet. They know. I tell myself that it is hard to get all three kids ready and out the door alone, it’s hard to tend to their needs when so much heaviness is upon my heart. I accept what is happening to me. I turn the key in the ignition and start down our road. This routine has become an almost weekly occurrence. The first time it happened I thought I was going to pass out, alone with my children. I had to call my family for help. It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever experienced.
At my church women’s group, anxiety seems to be a common theme. A couple of weeks ago nearly half our group asked for prayer for this. The more I have shared and asked for prayer and support for myself the more I hear me too. One woman told me she had anxiety when her kids were young like mine, with tears in her eyes, recalling how difficult it was. One woman said she has been having panic attacks off and on since adolescence. One woman said she feels like she can’t breathe just talking to me about her anxiety. Another tells me how her limbs get tingly like mine. Another says she wakes up in the middle of the night in a complete panic.
Is this just a random coincidence? I’ve been wondering. Is there some deeper sociological influence?
Or is it that no one feels comfortable talking about it?
I tend to think it’s the latter.
Nearly every woman I have talked with who has struggled, or is currently struggling with anxiety tells me about it in whispers, eyes down, with shame. Why is it that we are open to talking about back pain, a low functioning thyroid, high blood pressure, but we are ashamed of talking about our battered and bruised brains?
I have learned that not openly talking about it, stuffing it down, and pretending you are fine only encourages the anxiety to continue. I’ve learned that grace is the key to overcoming it. My counselor calls it mindfulness. She has taught me to accept it, voice it, and talk to myself with compassion when it hits.
I have three kids under the age of five.
I’m healing from some painful things.
I’m feeling anxious.
It’s ok that I’m feeling anxious.
Anyone in my shoes would feel anxious.
I’m doing the best I can.
I am not alone, God is with me.
Just this little bit of self talk can bring me back down to a semi normal state. I have been amazed at how simple it is. The simplest things are often the hardest to learn though, right?
A few weeks ago I was at a women’s retreat at the beach. I was with a small group out to lunch when my friend became frustrated over something and felt her anxiety symptoms come on. She verbalized that she was frustrated with herself for being frustrated about something so small. Our pastor’s wife (who speaks grace fluently) gently said, give yourself some grace. Later back in the car my friend explained how hearing that had really helped her calm down. We all had a good discussion about how we are too hard on ourselves, and how difficult it is to learn grace when it hasn’t always been modeled for us.
It’s not something we see in our culture. It’s not always present in our families or communities. We are taught to come down hard on ourselves, figure it out, pick ourselves up by our own bootstraps, solve our own problems, pretend that we are fine.
But that’s not the language of grace.
That’s doesn’t reflect my relationship with God.
God doesn’t communicate with me in that way.
Instead, God speaks gently to me, even when I mess up and especially when I’m struggling.
There was a period of time when I didn’t hear grace spoken from God because I was confused about how to have a relationship with Him. I was projecting my own image of who I thought He was back on to Him. It was only when I learned to be my true self with God -no pretending or justifying- that I began to hear and experience grace. God’s grace means that I am deeply known and accepted. Every personality flaw, negative attitude, mistake, and poor reaction is met with:
It’s ok Tara.
I can see why you think that.
I know why you reacted that way.
I know where that comes from.
I know who you are.
I made you.
Let’s try something else.
I will help you.
I love you.
That is the language of grace, of the Spirit at work, and it is what I am trying to learn. It’s present all throughout scripture. It is the upside down new way of living that has been given to us through Jesus, which our culture does not always understand and does not fluently speak.
I’m not usually one for silver linings. Sometimes things are just plain hard. But it has been a great gift to not only learn grace for myself, but teach it to my kids at the same time. When my son screws up big time, gets his Legos taken away, and finds himself worked up into such a massive crying fit that he can’t sleep, I work to speak grace to him. He sobs, I can’t stop crying. I don’t know how. I teach him how to breathe and help him think of something happy. I tell him that he made a mistake tonight but he can try again tomorrow and I give him a long hug. He is calm within minutes. The next morning I cup his face in my hands and tell him I love him and that last night was rough, but that God says each day is new. At a birthday party when his temper escalates over a specific cupcake that he didn’t get, I take him into the other room, hold him on my lap, tell him I understand how hard it is, and help him breathe until the emotions subside. He didn’t get the cupcake, but he got help and grace from me and is learning how to self soothe.
I am teaching him the language. We are learning together.
I don’t know how long this level of anxiety is going to be with me. I get so frustrated by it, wishing it would stop so I can get back to a place where I feel like I can manage life. But I know now that those kinds of thoughts are counterproductive. So I accept where I am, try be honest with myself and with others about it, and thank God for allowing me to learn His language through these trials. I learn it through singing hymns, writing little mantras on my chalkboard, sticking cue words on my refrigerator, and writing verses in my journal. I practice it by talking gently to myself, accepting what is, and slowing down so I can hear the Spirit speak grace to me.
Teach me your language, I pray. Tune my heart to sing thy grace.
Have you ever been dragged somewhere you didn't want to go? To court? To a difficult conversation? To the doctor? Have you ever been under the authority of someone you did not choose? Did not trust?
This morning I was sitting at my kitchen table eating Count Boo Berry cereal with my children. My unopened ballot lay on the table before me. I think mixing our national election cycle with the foreboding scare and dark themes of Halloween is not ideal. Perhaps if our election season was in the Spring we'd be more hopeful. This morning I was grateful for the story of Ezra.
The book of Ezra follows the people of Israel in captivity. They've been conquered, defeated, and enslaved. Their cities lay in ruin. Their temple was burnt to the ground. And yet. God was still in control. Able to move. Helpful. Compassionate. The same as before. The book shows how God draws his people back to Israel to rebuild the temple.
"In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing: 'This is what Cryus king of Persia says: "The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah.'" Ezra 1:1-2
You see it don't you? God is able to move the hearts of anyone. Even leaders you don't like. We can calm down and trust our Father.
"Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the Lord, both morning and evening sacrifices." Ezra 3:3
Despite your fear of people around you. Love them anyway. Sacrifice to the Lord. I'm not promising you safety. I'm not promising it won't hurt. The very nature of a sacrifice is painful. However, I will promise you that love is the best weapon against fear.
"For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel." Ezra 7:10
Decide today. Where is your devotion? To a political party? Ideology? Sports team? Plan on being disappointed. It's likely you'll be dragged somewhere you do not want to go. Your best outcome may end in a tie. I'm staking my future on devotion to the Lord. I mess that up almost daily. But He does not.
"What has happened to us is a result of our evil deeds and our great guilt, and yet, our God, you have punished us less than our sins deserved and have given us a remnant like this." Ezra 9:13
People keep asking me "how did we end up with this mess of an election?". Oh dear heart. It was our fault. We as a nation have chased after greed. We've ignored the cries of poverty. We've played when we should have worked. We have thought we could do whatever we wanted and escape any consequence. We've treated what is sacred as profane. We've judged. We've hated. We've kicked God out. We've sold our children. There are narratives on both sides of the election that are true. AND YET. Take Courage dear heart. God is faithful. He champions peacemakers and rebuilders. He equips those going to battle to restore.
"Rise up; this matter is in your hands, We will support you, so take courage and do it." Ezra 10:4
I'm going to vote. The full ballot. I'd ask you to do the same. Even if you have great questions at the top of the ballot. Read the rest of the pamphlet and vote on your bond measures, vote for your city councils and your state leaders. Put a stamp on the ballot and mail it off.
Say a prayer.
Trust your Father.
And then. Get to work. Fight Fear. Build bridges. Love your neighbor. Love your enemy. Feed the hungry. Visit those in jail. Hug your kids.
"It's okay to pray a hedge of protection around those you love - God is our Refuge, our Shield, But He is also our Banner - the God who goes before us, the God who fights for us! Jesus didn't die just to keep you safe. He died to make you dangerous!" Mark Batterson, Chase the Lion
This is an interesting view this week. The Bible Project again draws us to look at the big picture. The story of the Bible charging forward through history to the culmination of the need for a Savior. This one made me ponder.
I'm spending the weekend with 75 of my closest friends. No really. It's church ladies' retreat weekend. I'm related to 5 of the 75 so those ones count in the friend and family column. Some of these girls I've known all of my life. Some are new acquaintances. But by the end of the weekend we'll all have more in common. We'll have shared stories, shared faith, shared laughs. Gifts to carry home.
Earlier in the week I had a conversation with my friend Elo. She paints. You should buy one of her paintings. Read Here for details. We chatted about how art reflects the beauty of what God made. We talked about how the best writing expounds only what He has already said. Elo paints because God is a creator and she is made in His image. She said I write because Jesus is the word. Art. Words. Such fun gifts from heaven.
I got off work late so drove down by myself. The entire drive was gorgeous. I watched the sun play with clouds and fog roll down fir trees. The sunset of brilliant pink and blue washed over the changing fall colors. Gorgeousness. It was a gift from heaven.
The speakers tonight talked about friendship. They talked about investing in others, about being open and vulnerable to allow people in, about forgiving and communicating.
They talked about how behind every successful woman is a best friend giving her crazy ideas. So true! But sometimes those crazy ideas lead to beautiful places. Friends are hard work. But they are worth it. My favorite quote of the night was "I love you and that's all that matters."
The last couple days have been full of gifts. Grace and forgiveness and sunsets and art. Safe travels and friendships. All gifts from God. Those little and big things are His way of saying "I love you and that's all that matters."
What gifts are you thankful for today?
"Don't cry, baby." I can hear my mama's voice saying it even now. She said it with sympathetic eyes and a big firm hug. Like most moms, she said it when I fell and skinned my knee, didn't get invited to the cool kid's birthday party, or broke up with my boyfriend. It was a good way of comforting me and patching up my broken heart. It worked. I knew my mama loved me and I could go on.
As I grew that good advice got twisted around in my head into a half truth. There's an oldies song that goes; "Big girls...they don't cr-y-y-y. They don't cry". I figured out that my problems were trivial compared to other people's and I learned to focus on helping relieve their situations. I learned to passionately chase after the God who turns ashes into beauty and works all things together for good. I was focused on the dancing, problem was, I completely ignored the mourning. While I was busy waiting and searching for all the happy endings around me, I forgot something very important. Jesus; he was fully God and fully man. Jesus wept.
Weeks before my 30th birthday we discovered we were expecting our first baby. It was December and I raced to the store and bought two newborn onsies, one that said "Grandpa's Little Helper" and one that said "I love my Grandma". I wrapped them up and put them under our tree. Turns out that same Christmas my precious niece opened a package that announced that she would be a big sister soon. In that same time period we discovered my sister-in-law was pregnant as well as my sister's sister-in-law. Cousins, cousins and more cousins! It was a joyous Christmas season.
Shortly thereafter, my husband and I were giddy sitting in the waiting room waiting for our first ultrasound. We settled on a name for a boy while we waited for my name to be called. Back in the clinic we chatted happily with the doctor as she went about her tasks. Then she got very quiet and asked for another doctor to come in the room. While the doctors searched for our baby's heart beat, mine went numb. My husband held my hand, searched my eyes and asked if I was all right. I wasn't. Weeks went by and there were follow-up ultrasounds with the hope that I was off in my counting and that the baby's heart would jump start. It didn't and my numb heart froze.
You see, I learned years prior to bottle my feelings and pretend they weren't there and they didn't matter. Now I was face to face with big, ugly emotions and I didn't have a clue how to release them. I was a professional emotion bottler without a corkscrew and terrified I'd drop my bottle and shatter and spill all over the place.
God is good all the time. All the time, God is good. Those were hard words to say during that life chapter, but I knew they were true. It was painful to watch one baby after another join our family. It was even harder when more pregnancies in our family were announced just a few short months later. I felt heartbroken, overlooked, forgotten and left out. I wasn't though.
My husband was so kind in those days. My parents and in-laws were overwhelmingly supportive. And my sister let me come over and cuddle her newborn for hours at a time. It helped. I treasure the notes from friends who said they saw my pain and they were praying. I will always remember a friend from church who threw her arms around me and wept and wept on a Sunday morning.
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Romans 12:15
I went to counseling and I learned something very important. I learned to grieve and grieve well.
God made us; body, mind and soul. He created emotions and they are meant to be experienced. The people of the bible knew something I didn't. They knew the art of expressing their hearts. They tore their clothes and threw ash in their hair. They wailed. And all the while they trusted and believed the God that turns ashes into beauty. They cried big tears and let God be the one who bottles those tears.
You keep track of all my sorrows, You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book. Psalm 56:8
Jesus himself wept. I learned to cry. Big, ugly, heart wrenching, tummy hurting tears. And I learned to experience and then let go of the pain.
We have a special Christmas tree ornament we hang each year in honor of our sweet baby who never made it into this world. It sits near the top and smells of cinnamon. I made it in the shape of a heart. It makes me thankful for the Savior that was born at Christmas and who continues to mold and teach my heart. He molds my heart through grand joy and great pain.
To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the LORD has planted for his own glory. Isaiah 61:3
My mama told me many times that being a parent feels like your heart is walking around outside your body because you love those little ones so deeply and so fiercely. She's right. I'm forever thankful for the baby I will never see this side of heaven. I'm also grateful for his energetic little brother. It meant so much to me when we went into my son's 1st ultrasound and the technician said. "Look at that beautiful heart". I pray he will choose to follow God with all of that beautiful heart.
You have turned my mourning into dancing for me;
You have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
That my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever. Psalm 30:11-12
Feelings aren't always facts, but they are real. Process them. Spend them. Know that Jesus sees you, identifies with you and loves you. Then move the heck on. If you can't; go get help. There is too much joy in this world. And there will be even more in the one to come. Jesus promised. No more tears in heaven.
"He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever." Revelation 21:4
I love Jesus. I think my two daughters can change the world. I think you can too.
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