Thankful for this Day

Right now, in this moment, I am thankful.


I sway with my 16-month-old daughter, singing her the same two songs I always sing before putting her in her crib, “Jesus Loves me” and “I Love you Lord.”  She reaches up, her face two inches from mine and touches the tips of my eyelashes, then my ears and nose, with her chubby little fingers.  She smiles her gap-toothed smile, her wispy blond hair bits escaping from her tiny ponytail on top of her head and falling across her eyes.  I lay her down and quietly tip-toe out of the room.  My three-year-old son has already quieted down next door and I no longer hear him singing and making noises.

I push the button on the electric tea kettle, rummage through the cupboard for a tea bag, plop it in the largest mug I can find, pour the steaming water into the cup and sit down here to write. 

Right now, in this moment, I am thankful.  I am thankful for the sun streaming in through the too-many windows and creating bright geometric shapes on the couch.  I am thankful for the tiny hand prints on the windows because it means that there are tiny people that live in my house.  I am thankful that both children are sleeping at the same time.

I am thankful for the Colorado sunshine that has proven to be as dependable as promised thus far.  After living in Chicago for nine years total, I am thankful for the change.  Though Chicago had its own appeal–the diversity, culture, movement, rhythm, promise and pace, right now I am thankful to not be there.  

Growing up in Florida, my soul seems to have been conditioned to need sunshine more than most.  I am a sun worshipper.  And so Chicago winters would drill holes in my soul through which joy seemed to seep out during the months of January through May.  Though I know that joy is not dependent on circumstance, I have also found God to be someone who graciously gives us even creature comforts at times when we most need them.  And He knew that I needed a little sunshine for my soul.      

After living in a third floor apartment with two tiny children, with laundry in the basement, no garage, dishwasher or yard and no ability to control our own heat, I am grateful for these new luxuries.  Instead of making 12 trips to the basement in one week, I can now wash clothes at my leisure, watching as my children arrange stuffed animals for tea parties, collect miscellaneous toys in any receptacle possible and scatter cheerios and raisins on the carpet. 

A garage means I won’t have to shovel snow off my car in the mornings.  I can put my children in the car shoe-less, and I don’t have to haul them back inside if I forgot something (or leave them briefly and fear that someone will call child services on me).  And I can open the back door after naps in the afternoon for them to run outside in our backyard that is exactly the right size for our family right now.

Our neighborhood is so dark in the evenings that we missed the turnoff the first few times we came home at night.  We can actually see stars.  Chicago’s skies were always pink and I may have seen three stars on a good night.  And there was constant noise.  Now, we can hear birds, crickets and the distant whinny of horses from the back porch.  A smile creeps across my face on days sitting outside when the scent of horse manure drifts into our yard because it means that we are not in the city. 

The mountains stand serenely in the background of most of daily life.  It caught me off guard the first time I came out of Target to have such a stately background for a common store.  I’m surprised I haven’t gotten into a car wreck yet from gawking at them stretched across the horizon as I drive toward home.  They are a constant reminder of my smallness.  I am thankful for the awe that comes in feeling overtaken by beauty, overcome by God’s creation.

As my parents did not want to live in Chicago and we did not want to live in Florida, Colorado was our compromise place.  My parents are volunteer rangers at Rocky Mountain National Park in the summer.  They now live in the mountains and to get to grandmother’s house we not only have to go over the river and through the woods, but over the highest highway in the country.  Instead of rush hour being our reason for running late to their place, it is more likely elk or moose or the tourists stopping traffic to take pictures of them that causes our delay. 

I am thankful to be living in the same state as my parents for the first time in 18 years.  Now that I am a mom myself, I seem to need them even more.

After writing about The Narrowing in my previous post, this time of giving thanks is a load lifter.  Jesus, thank you for blessing me over and above all that I could have ever asked or imagined.  Thank you for your peace that passes all understanding.  Thank you for your forgiveness of me before I’m even willing to forgive myself.  I know that one day I can expect suffering, sorrows, trials, sickness and death, but today is not that day. 
Thank you for this day.  

Lately, I have been trying to start the day with a better attitude and have been singing aloud,

This is the day, this is the day that Lord has made, that the Lord has made,
Let us rejoice, let us rejoice and be glad in it and be glad in it.


This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.  Thank you, Lord, for your small and large gifts to us in this day.


What is the largest thing you can give thanks for today?  The smallest? 


Linking up with Thankful Thursday
 
 

Love & Marriage: The Narrowing

Love & Marriage:  The Narrowing

My closest friends know that I have a rebellious streak. And in spite of being a teacher by trade (and a rule enforcer by default as a parent), I may also be a little bit of a rule breaker.  So it should come as no surprise that I don’t do well with restrictions or limits.

Before getting married, I traveled to over 10 countries for various amounts of time (living in two). I learned Chinese, got my masters and planned to get my PhD (my Plan B since marriage didn’t seem to be an option–why not be super educated?). My “verse” was:  

“Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes” (Is 54:2).

And then I fell in love.

The Narrowing began with dating long distance, but became a real heading in the story of our lives when we got married and realized we had so much less time for ourselves and for relationships outside of one another. We were crazy in-love and happy, but began to notice our broad road narrowing as it sloped towards the horizon.

I suddenly felt like a bird tethered to the foot of another bird, exhilarated by the heights, but struggling to negotiate the tension that comes in flying while attached to another being.

Two years later, we had a child and The Narrowing became even more evident. We could no longer spontaneously go out with friends or stay up late. Our time for each other became more precious and our time for others practically non-existent. Baby number two came two years after that and the term “spare time” now elicited much eye-rolling and muttering of “must be nice” under our breath.

When we were dating, I told Adam that my biggest fear was that I would be cooped up with an infant inside a tiny Chicago apartment in the dreary winter. Within a few years, that is exactly where I found myself. It is hard to maintain your rebellious streak when you are nursing a baby around the clock.

But lately I’ve been wondering if The Narrowing isn’t as much a restriction of freedom as a freedom from restrictions? What if I stopped seeing it as an end and began seeing it as a means to an end? What if I started accepting that God may want to prune branches so that new branches may grow?

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (Jn. 15:2). 

It is fall-become-winter time and my son has started asking me why all the trees are dead. They aren’t dead, I answer,
they’re just preparing for winter. They are shedding their excess leaves to conserve their energy during this season.

I am a winter tree, stripped down to bare branches. Teacher, missionary, world traveler, student, friend- who-will-be-there-at-a-moment’s-notice and adventurer are no longer terms I can honestly use to describe myself in three words or less. Now, I am wife, mommy, cook, boo boo kisser, question answerer, pretend game player and bodily fluid wiper.  But perhaps one day vibrant new leaves will replace the ones that were “lost.”

In fact, lately I have noticed that the loss of leaves in our yard is opening up new views of the serene lake across the street, the expansive blue sky and the mighty mountains hiding behind houses that I couldn’t see when the trees were full.  Perhaps the loss of some of what I used to use to define myself is also opening up new views of God, myself and others in this season of my life.  


Any artist knows and respects the eloquence of empty space in a work of art.  The elimination of my extra road is teaching me to walk this narrow path with more precision and intentionality. 


I am being given the gift of lessening. 

Patty Stallings, in her article Pleasant Boundary Lines, pointed out that Jesus Himself was “unknown, hidden and unseen for most of His adult life.” He intentionally limited Himself and allowed Himself to take on the nature of a servant (Phil. 2:7). And we are called to be like Him. 

In the comments, she responded to my mention of The Narrowing:

“Leslie, when I first read your term “The Narrowing” on your blog a couple weeks ago, I thought how fitting for moms of young children. And moms of grown children. And women as they age. And women who take care of aging parents. And… well, the list could go on and on, right? The image that comes to my mind is squeezing through a narrow passageway and you have to shed all the excess “stuff” you are dragging along to fit through the narrow place. And as you do, your hands are freed up to welcome the new and the good on the other side of the passageway.”


My hands are freed?

Maybe this narrow road He has me on is not a road of restriction, but of freedom because I am walking within His boundary lines of love. The Narrowing frees me to walk with greater purpose, emptier hands and a lighter load. 
 
 “Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance” (Ps. 16:5-6).


What about you?  I’d love to hear some of your experience with The Narrowing in the comments!


Linking up with Testimony Tuesday and Sarah Bessey’s Synchroblog prompt

Our Defense Against Evil

Lately, my son has been wanting to play “bad guys.”  Meaning, he is the bad guy.  I find myself hoping other people don’t hear him talking about wanting to be the “bad guy,” because, as Christ followers, we are supposed to be the “good guys.”  I want him to be the “good guy.”
 
This morning, after news of the attacks in Paris, I watched my children eat their breakfast, sing their songs and make their goofy faces.  My three-year-old son has no idea that people were slaughtered last night.  My one-year-old daughter does not worry about her security or the state of the world.  They eat, they sleep, they play.  What kind of people slaughter the innocent? I think. 
 
The bad guys do. 
 
But my hunch is that the mothers of the killers in last night’s massacre did not want their children to be the “bad guys” any more than I want my son to be. 
 
I’m guessing many of the militants had children of their own back home eating their breakfasts, singing their songs and making their goofy faces while their fathers were away.  What do their mothers tell them when they hear the news that their husbands and fathers are not returning?  That they were away being the “bad guys”? 
 
Or do they truly believe that they are the “good guys”?
 
Truthfully, I have tried to hide from news about the evil in the world because it makes me feel fearful, powerless and guilty because I–at the moment–am happy and secure.  I feel like there is nothing I can to do to stop the imminent tsunami of evil, so I try to ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist. 
 
And the news is something that I can effectually avoid, thanks to modern technology. It is easy to shield myself from anything that may make me feel uncomfortable. There are plenty of phone apps which allow you to select a tame version of the news that will not cause you to ponder the problems of the world.  I don’t listen to the radio anymore, because I can listen to Pandora, and I don’t have interruptions of news during T.V. shows because we only watch Netflix.  So any additional news that comes to me is now via Facebook, which is more likely the latest mommy blog article or food recipe than an article about the atrocities of the world. 
 
We Americans like being isolated.  We don’t actually want to know what is happening across the ocean because it makes us feel powerless.  So we turn off the news and make it go away.
 
But then the bad guys strike again and we can’t escape into our holes. 
 
So what do we do? 
 
Though changing our Facebook profile picture to the colors of the French flag, tweeting, instagramming and posting pictures of the Eiffel tower with quotes and Scripture verses on social media are all ways we can show solidarity with the “good guys,” we all know the passion will dissolve within days and weeks.  We will crawl back into our safe holes, squeeze our children close and forget.
 
But the bad guys are out there, believing that what they are doing is good. 
 
Personally, I want to try to stop hiding and force myself to see.  War, famine, refugees, human trafficking, drug addiction, domestic violence, abuse, earthquakes, hurricanes and senseless violence are all too much for me to bear, so I will listen, I will learn and I will look until the pain and suffering begins to exceed what I can handle.
 
And then, in prayer, I will pour the evil back out to Someone who can hold it all without being overcome by the tsunami.  Someone who, according to the Sunday school song, in fact, holds the whole world in His hands.  My Jesus-following friends in Uganda called this type of pouring out of burdens and needs to God shundering.  They would pace the floor all night, waving their hands and speaking to God about all that was on their hearts.  
 
In my own quieter western ways, I will intentionally read the news, write down some world needs in my journal and then speak aloud to God for 15 minutes in the morning and, like Abraham, beg God to have mercy for the sake of a few righteous in the land.  
 
And I will pray for the bad guys. 
 
And I will pray for the children of the bad guys.
 
And I will pray for the mothers of the bad guys.
 
Because right now, from this side of the ocean, that is all that I know to do.
 
 
Dear God,
 
We pray for Paris and beg for your intervention in the world.
We pray against the plague of fear, which can spread like an infectious disease and instead pray for courage and peace.
We praise you for being a God who is not surprised by evil schemes and trust that you will bring all evil to justice in the end.
We pray that our world leaders would have wisdom as they make decisions that will affect many in the world in the days to come.
 
In Jesus’ name.
Amen.
 
Photo: “GeorgesGaren embrasement tour Eiffel” by Georges Garen. Licensed under PublicDomain via Wikimedia Commons –

In Rhythm with the Spirit


Orange clay,
distant drumming,
straw mats
and flowering trees. 

Africa.

The year 2000.  
I am 21.
 
A bright yellow re-purposed jug poured onto dusty hands, fingers rubbed free of grease from chapati and samosas and ten children holding ten fingers on the walk home from the road.
 
The water thuds twice inside the jug like the beats of a djembe drum.  A familiar song.  What song could it be? And then I smile.  It ruminates there the rest of the night when the lights go down to three naked bulbs in this village house where I have brought no music for six months.
 
Though I feel alone.  I am never alone.  You are with me.  You are with me.
 
Two notes yank me back in step with the rhythm of the Spirit of Jesus.  
 
Just as we are often unaware that we are breathing in and out, in and out and that our heart is beating at 70 beats per minute, keeping us in life, so, too, are we often ignorant of the Spirit pulsing all around us, pulsing IN us.  God has set us in rhythm in life.  He has given us rituals, routines, seasons, tides, reproductive cycles, prayers, festivals, feasts, six days of work and a command to Sabbath rest so that we may REMEMBER.  Music and dance only jump into the rhythm to whirl and twirl and draw attention to what God has done.
 
Watching children is the best way to fall back into rhythm.  Mothers sway in church pews even after putting babies in the nursery because they have been reconditioned.  On a playground, witness the pulse of children whirling, swaying, swinging, rocking, jumping, thumping, laughing, tap tap tapping out the rhythm of the jump rope skip song, slapping hands to Miss Mary Mack Mack Mack all dressed in Black Black Black, skipping, tripping and falling into a heap of rolling rolling children. 

And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

We, too, call out Daddy and are freed to play in the pulsing rhythm of life.
 
For freedom Christ set free.

But it is freedom to love, not hate 
have joy, not bitterness
peace, not anxiety
patience, not immaturity
kindness, not selfishness
goodness, not evil
faithfulness, not doubt 
gentleness, not harshness
self control, not self gratification
 
Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.  Staying in step with the Spirit leads the melody of our lives and makes even the dissonant notes harmonious, for there can be no melody without rhythm.

Marriage requires in-step-ness.  When spouses are out of sync, all other rhythms of life are awkward.  Mind, body and spirit must align to trace one another’s steps, anticipate the next move and let go enough to melt into the freedom of the dance. 

For you were called to freedom, only do not use your freedom for the flesh, but in love SERVE one another.

Offering our minds to our spouse in conversation, our bodies to one another in love making and our souls in prayer together to the sacrificial God of love, keeps us synchronized in our marriage rhythms.

Rhythm for rhythm’s sake can feel like monotony. Bored, we step without joy. A musician knows too well the effect their attitude has on their art and first assumes the mood of a piece:  allegrezza  (cheerfulness, joyfulness), amoroso (loving), anima (with feeling), calma (calm), energico (energetic, strong).   

We wash our minds daily with the words of Jesus as we would wash our hands or faces. We pray for allegrezza attitudes as we play the music we have been given. We prepare for a day of dancing His steps and giving in to His rhythms.  We allow ourselves to be ones who are led.

You may feel you have lost your rhythm. 
Be still.
Listen. 
Surrender. 

Tap, tap, tap your toe to the distant rhythm of the Spirit at work in you and in the world and soon you may find your whole body, soul and mind aching to step along.  It is for freedom that you have been set free. 



Scriptures: Galatians 4 & 5, paraphrased
Song: “Though I Feel Alone,” Waterdeep

Are you in step with the Spirit today?  How is He at work all around you?


Linking up with Velvet Ashes

Friend Dating: Why is it so hard to make friends in your 30’s?

I’m 36 years old and back at it again.  Making friends never used to be a problem for me.  I met my first best friend in preschool, managed to make friends as I changed schools five times from fourth to twelfth grade and even made some really solid post-college friendships.  But that’s when I was in my 20’s–and single. 

When I got married at 31, my former college friends and roommates still lived in the same city as me, so I wasn’t desperate for new relationships, but as they all eventually began to move away, I found myself alone again. 

When I was pregnant, I decided to start “friend dating.”  I picked out a few acquaintances who were close to my due date to meet for coffee, but it felt forced and unnatural and nothing more came of those relationships.

I assumed having children would usher me into the “mom crowd” I had been so in awe of as a single woman, but was soon disappointed to find that two moms talking at the park usually goes about as deep as two dog owners chatting at a dog park.  If anything, having kids complicated rather than simplified matters because not only did the mom and I have to click, but so did our kids AND our parenting styles.  Add in child number two, and you begin facing impossible odds.

This April, we made a cross-country move and I have been determined to make friends.  About a month after moving here, my son hit it off with another boy at the park.  His mom, who was carrying a baby about the age of my daughter, and I had a long conversation.  At the end of it, I took a deep breath and gave her my phone number.  We have gotten together about twice a month since then and, though I would call her my friend, it feels like we have just reached the point that I had already reached after just one week of living in the dorm with my college friends.

My husband (as has been the case with my friends’ husbands as well) has had an even harder time than me since he works from home and has little interaction with others. 

Sex and Netflix are our evenings right now (though not usually at the same time).  But contrary to Hollywood thought, we have discovered that we cannot complete one another.  Though God and our family are first priority, we also need other relationships to be healthy.  We have actually found that my meeting and expressing my “many words” with a girlfriend helps our marriage, as my husband is okay with the more condensed version of my thoughts. 

This summer (in an attempt to make friends), I joined a study on a book that actually sounded pretty lame to me at first, called The Friendships of Women.  To my surprise, this updated version of a book first written in 1988, by Dee Brestin, put words to so many of my unexpressed desires for female friendships. She writes about how most women have a gift for intimacy that men just don’t have.  

“When I talk to my closest female friends, I feel my soul being sunned and watered when they ask questions, drawing out the deep waters of my soul, and as well when they empathize, rejoicing when I rejoice, weeping when I weep” (p. 29).

Women are designed for intimacy.  This is why two women can reach a level of friendship in months that it takes men years to attain (and even then it may never reach that level). 

As women, we need other women.

“Friendship is unnecessary: like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival” (C.S. Lewis The Four Loves).

I am writing this post mainly to convince myself that I actually do need female friends, because I have been wondering if I am expecting too much at this stage of my life, which Madeleine L’Engle calls “the tired years.”  But how to find them?

In 2012, the New York Times published an article called “Friends of a Certain Age,” about the difficulties of making friends after the age of 30.  The author mentions that sociologists consider three conditions important in making intimate friends:

1. Proximity
2. Repeated, unplanned interactions
3. A setting that encourages people to let down their guard and confide in one another

All three of these conditions are easily met in college and in the work place (especially when you are single), but what about when you work from home or have a family?  Marriage and family are a time suck (in the best sense of the word) and there just isn’t a lot of down time to shoot the breeze with potential new friends. 

In theory, I believe religious communities have an advantage over secular communities in this regard because they attend weekly services where all of the above can happen.  And yet my husband and I have struggled with this as well–maybe because we don’t often see other people at church more than Sunday mornings, so we really don’t have the “unplanned interactions”?  Or maybe the setting is actually not conducive to people “letting down their guard and confiding in one another”? Or maybe Christians actually just have unrealistically high expectations after reading the Acts passages about believers sharing all things in common, eating together, praying together and exemplifying what seems like amazing community?

C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves said that, “Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too?  I thought I was the only one.'”  A lovely sentiment, and yet just as the birth of a child is not simple, neither is the birth of a friendship.  (Am I sounding like a jaded 30-something yet?) So far, just being able to relate to someone has not led to the intimate friendships I desire, because we have not had the benefits of proximity, unplanned interactions or a safe setting.   

We have only recently settled on a church and joined a small group, so maybe the awkward asking-of-phone-numbers-in-random-parks can come to an end.  We have actually been invited to someone’s house for dinner for the first time in seven months and was just asked to celebrate Thanksgiving with another family. 

So there is hope. 


What about you?  Please leave your words of wisdom in the comments, I will definitely take them to heart.

Related: 
White People Are Boring 
When I Forget to Notice People

Linking up with Literacy Musing Mondays

A Team of Two

When I was first accepted to serve in China, I imagined being on a team of several strong believers and families who would simulate family for me, providing both my social and emotional stability in a foreign country. 
 
I never imagined that I would be in a remote city–with ONE teammate.
 
It is now ten years later and I just hugged Carolyn goodbye with yet another “See you sometime” farewell.  She is on home leave for six months and was able to stay with my family and I for a couple days.  It felt like China was last year instead of five years ago as we talked about our Chinese friends, laughed about ridiculous memories and discussed how the city has changed over the years. 

Leslie & Carolyn, August 31, 2005

This is one way that I am grateful for aging–for the distance to finally pause and look back, just as a runner runs out and is then surprised to look at how far they have come–and the beauty of the view from here.

 
Carolyn and I are about as different as you can get.  She grew up in a boarding school in Pakistan and really only lived in the U.S. during college. She is an introvert, loves cats and pours herself into a few relationships.  I, on the other hand, grew up in the U.S., am an extrovert, and have been accused of being a “friend collector.” But, though it was an unlikely friendship, we complimented one another in a way that made the “team” work. 
 
Even now, I often think of Carolyn during the holiday season.  We strove to create some semblance of normalcy when we were far from our home cultures in a place that had no concept of Thanksgiving or Christmas apart from cheesy Santa heads pasted up in storefront windows and gaudy fake Christmas trees in every color but green.  
 
We would plan Christmas parties with our fellow teachers and have a large meal with as much Western food as we could make using our tiny convection ovens.  On Christmas, we would read through the Christmas story, sing carols and drink hot chocolate.  My first Christmas in China, I worried about loneliness, but now that I am back in the states, I have actually missed how meaningful Christmas felt when I was far from the holiday clutter. 
 
One or two Easters, we climbed the local mountain (hill) for an Easter sunrise service–just the two of us.  I still remember huddling down as it began to snow and we sang hymns over the hillside.  Behind us, we heard wails of mourning as a funeral procession ascended.  It was such a contrast to the joy of resurrection to hear the hopeless cries of those who had no hope in death.   
 
The city we lived in did not have a legal church, so our only option for a Sunday church service was for us to worship together.  We’d take turns choosing a Scripture passage, download a sermon to listen to and sing hymns together along with Cyberhymnal on the Internet.  We were often off key, but we stayed fully engaged in the service because we WERE the service.
 
Life was so simple.
 
Leslie & Carolyn, November 7, 2015

Though I panicked when I heard that I would only have one teammate, God knew what He was doing.  Carolyn was steady, selfless and showed me how to build lasting relationships with those we rubbed shoulders with on a daily basis.  She encouraged me to take advantage of opportunities to visit my students at their homes in the countryside and take trains and buses to explore China. 

She was respectful of China, yet she had a great sense of humor and we would spend hours laughing about making fools of ourselves or about the quirks of Chinese culture. And her introverted personality gave me the understanding I would need to prepare me for my future husband, who is also an introvert.

 
Like so many friends since I got married five years ago, we haven’t kept in touch as I would have liked, but she is of the “pick up where you left off” variety of friends that I am increasingly grateful for the more narrow and insular my life becomes.
 
And for a friend collector, this one is definitely a keeper.

When Jesus Asks Too Much of Us

4:20 am.

That’s the time my daughter has been waking up this week, thanks to daylight savings time. (Though it’s not like 5:20 am was much better). My daughter has been up at 4:20 am, my son at 5:20 am and my husband and I start our parental duties before the coffee flows.  And did I mention that they each had a stomach bug the last two weeks?

We are tired.

I adore articles and posts about rest, taking time to “be,” listening to God, and seeking out green pastures, but sometimes you just can’t hit pause–not when diapers need to be changed, trash taken out, kids put down for naps, the family fed and fed again, discipline dealt over the same issue for the bajillionth time and the housework completed (uh, started).

The other morning my husband took the kids for a few minutes so I could read out on the back porch. A spider was weaving her glistening web that she has most likely woven again day after day after day and I couldn’t help but think I am just like that spider. I sympathized with her fortitude and hoped I could have an ounce of her dedication to her task (because of course she was a “she”), but I also assumed she starts her days with a sigh, thinking Didn’t I already do this before?

The disciples understood bone-tired weariness. They went off in pairs doing ministry–staying at stranger’s houses by night, healing the sick and teaching about Christ by day. When they reported back to Jesus, He promised them a quiet retreat with Him. Instead, they ended up in a crowd of thousands of hungry people. And Jesus took them past their limits:

“YOU give them something to eat,” He said.

They must have looked at Jesus like He had two heads. The disciples were so spent–physically, emotionally and spiritually. Had Jesus dared to ask even MORE of them? Hadn’t they just spent every second over the last weeks serving Him? They didn’t even have any of their own food to offer, but had to scramble to find a few loaves and fish from a young boy.

When I had my second child last year, I felt I had reached my limits. I was up throughout the night to feed her and then had to serve my other child and husband the next day. As a mom, everyone wants a piece of you. I thought I couldn’t do more, but then a diaper would need to be changed again, a doctor appointment made or a baby fed and I’d somehow plod along.

In that time, I searched for promises of rest in the Bible and instead found this: “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak” (Is. 40:29). Strength?

All this time I had been searching for rest, God had promised me strength instead.

Sometimes, God wants us to exceed our limits so that we come to the end of ourselves and the beginning of Him. Now, I’m not talking about being a workaholic or not having healthy boundaries, I’m talking about good old fashioned responsibility–all that you have to do in a day that you just can’t get out of because someone will either die or be mortified for life if you don’t do it. The disciples didn’t need to go looking for new challenges to add to their lives, because simply walking closely with Jesus brought them past their limits on a regular basis. It is the same with us.

Last Saturday I met a couple begging on the streets–with a baby. All my heartstrings dragged me practically to my face and I had to hold back tears. My friends and I handed them a wad of cash within minutes of talking with them. That was the easy part. But I felt compelled to get their numbers and I have thought of them several times throughout the week. But, like the disciples, I’ve found myself thinking Jesus, what can I do? I already have my own family to feed and care for (and did I mention I’m exhausted?) Are you daring to ask even MORE of me?

YOU give them something to eat.

Writing this has been convicting, so I texted them a little while ago to meet up for lunch on Sunday. I have no idea what to do after that, but I have to trust that it is no coincidence that Jesus had me writing this and meditating on this passage this very week. But this is beyond my limits.

Jesus exceeds the time, monetary and physical limits we set for ourselves to take us beyond. And what do we find there? Past our limits?

I wish I could say I immediately find a bedrock of grace, strength and love. I wish I found kind words and compassion, but often what I find is how ugly, selfish, weak and sinful I am. Even tonight, I put my son to bed after a battle over which books we would read and which songs we would sing and I closed the door frustrated and angry, then guilty and saddened over my lack of patience. Sometimes, I let the weariness weigh me down as I complain that, like that spider, I will have to reweave the web all over again tomorrow.

But a friend once told me a story about a little boy who told his daddy he wanted to fast for the whole day. When his daddy got home from work, he asked the boy how the fasting went. Hanging his head, the boy told him that he only ended up fasting about 30 minutes before he got hungry and crept into the kitchen for a snack. With a huge smile on his face, his father embraced him in a huge bear hug and twirled him around. “Let’s go out for dinner to celebrate!” he said.

Yes, God calls us beyond our limits, but He is not a slave driver. He is our Daddy and He is pleased with our small gifts of service. At certain times, He will bring us to the end of our energy, strength and motivation in order to hear us say, “But Daddy, I just CAN’T. I’m empty. How can you ask so much of me?”

He wants to fill us.
He wants to strengthen us.
He wants us to turn to Him and believe that He will enable us to do all He is calling us to do.

And then He grabs us up in the air, swings us around with delight and says, “Well done! I’m so proud of you!”

God is able to do exceedingly more than all we dare ask or think according to His power that is at work within us (Eph. 3:20-21).  Maybe He wants you to stop begging for rest and start asking for strength? I think we’ll be surprised by the miracles that come when God asks too much of us and we offer what we can in obedience.

In what ways has Jesus taken you beyond your limits? How has He enabled you to keep moving forward in spite of difficult tasks?

Linking up with Velvet Ashes and Words With Winter

Writing is Narcissistic (And Four Other Reasons Not to Write)


As a little girl, I dreamed of being a writer like Anne of Green Gables and Jo from Little Women, but I have been reluctant to write for the following reasons:

1. What if I write and no one reads it, or worse, they read it and hate it?
2. I’d rather live my life than write about my life.
3. Blogging is narcissistic (someone told me that once)–why would I want people to think I only want to talk about myself?
4. I don’t have time.
5. It’s all already been said before, probably much more eloquently than I could ever say it.

As I joined over 1,000 writers over the past month in the challenge to write for 31 days, I have done battle with the above demons that whispered to me that I was wasting my time.  Here is how I have sought to slay them: 

1. What if I write and no one reads it, or worse, they read it and hate it?

Adah in The Poisonwood Bible puts her writing compulsion in this way:  “I go home by myself and write poems at my kitchen table…all the noise in my brain.  I clamp it to the page so it will be still” (p. 532). 

I have always called my journal my personal counselor.  Writing in and of itself is therapy to me, though until now it has always been private.  But the past month of writing about my journey back home after living in China has been a healing process and has brought me closure on many levels. 

I have had to stop worrying about an audience and just write for myself and out of obedience to God.  It has been my way of working out what God is working in me (Phil. 2:12-13). 

And as for the fear that what I’m writing is terrible? The way I’ve comforted myself in that regard is to remember that I can still grow, improve and deepen as a writer. 

Just as I may have to take 1,000 digital pictures to get one good shot, I may need to write 1,000 posts to have one that could be considered outstanding. 

Writing is a process, a journey.

2. I’d rather live my life than write about my life.

I’ve always been afraid that writing would take time out of living itself, but now I know that it enhances and adds to life rather than subtracting from it.  Now, I approach my days with anticipation, searching for meaning and beauty to share with others instead of allowing those moments to sneak by without comment. 

Writing is changing my perspective on living.

3. Blogging is narcissistic (someone told me that once)–why would I want people to think I only want to talk about myself?

All art is narcissistic.  Writers believe they have something to communicate that should be shared.  One of the writers this month mentioned that she has to remember that she may be writing for “just one”–just one person that may need to read that message that day.  In this way, writing is not narcissistic, but self-giving. 

The first time I shared a post publicly on Facebook, I felt like I was standing naked in a crowded room for others to snicker at and criticize.  But what if one person was encouraged by seeing my flaws?  Maybe they, too, have a dimple or a blemish in a similar spot and finally stopped feeling so alone?  In this way, writing is selfless. 

Writing is being naked. 

If you are doing it right, the clothes come off and you are left standing completely exposed and vulnerable.  It can be terrifying. But it can also be liberating. 

Like with a lover, the first time the clothes come off is the hardest, but soon you may even begin to experience the freedom from shame that comes from being loved in spite of–or even because of–your nakedness.

So, no, writing is not narcissistic.

If the writer steps into the light of complete vulnerability and shares his or her story so that others might also be freed from shame, writing is a sacrificial and selfless act.

4. I don’t have time.

We always have enough time to do what we prioritize.  I am a runner, so this has forced me to treat my time like a puzzle at times in order to keep running.  It, like writing, may mean early mornings, late nights, a dirty house, left-overs or take-out, creativity in scheduling and less time for personal hygiene (just kidding…kind of).  And if it is truly a calling, it will become strangely addicting, so you may find yourself trying to sneak in even more writing than you had planned. 

5. It’s all already been said before, probably much more eloquently than I could ever say it.

One of my favorite books on art is Walking on Water, by Madeleine L’Engle.  In it, she says “If the work comes to the artist and says, ‘Here I am, serve me,’ then the job of the artist, great or small, is to serve.  The amount of the artist’s talent is not what it is about.  Jean Rhys said to an interviewer in the Paris Review, ‘Listen to me.  All of writing is a huge lake.  There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.  And there are mere trickles, like Jean Rhys.  All that matters is feeding the lake.  I don’t matter.  The lake matters.  You must keep feeding the lake'” (p. 23).

Feed the lake. 

Never before has the cliché “You have to start somewhere” meant more to me than it has in the past month.  My contribution to The Lake might only be a small thimble of water.  That is not my concern.  I am called to be faithful to pour out what God has poured into me as an offering to Him and Him alone (Col. 3:23).  I am to “serve the work.”

At the beginning of the challenge, the organizer, Crystal Stine, reminded us that it wasn’t important to pick a topic that had never been written about before, because most likely it had been.  Instead, I was to pick a topic that I cared about because though someone may have written about it, I have never written about it.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the first step in calling is willingness. 

Am I willing to take a risk and write?

Runners run, bikers bike, climbers climb, writers write.  I have never called myself a writer before, but I think I may have just convinced myself that I am, in fact, a writer.

I am a writer.

I am a WRITER.

I AM a writer.

…and the last garment falls to the floor.


How have you “fed the lake” in the last month? If you are a writer, would you add any other reasons to this list?

Linking up with: Literacy Musing Mondays
and Crystal Stine

Photo: www.pixabay.com and www.canva.com

Day 31: A Blessing {31 Days of Re-Entry}

For the one who feels grateful and hopeful,
may you rejoice and give thanks for this chapter in your life (Phil. 3:1).
For the one who feels alone,
may you have courage to keep moving forward and to know that God will never leave you or forsake you (Deut. 31:6). 
For the one who feels like a failure,
may you trust that God is the One who accomplishes His purposes and that sometimes we are to wait in faith for Him to bring the harvest (Is. 55:11).
For the one who feels lost,
may you dwell in the shelter of the Most High and abide in the shadow of the Almighty (Ps. 91:1).
For the one who feels uprooted,
may you soon be able to put roots downward and bear fruit upward
(Is. 37:31; Jer. 17:7-8).
For the one who feels powerless and out of control,
may you keep your eyes fixed on Jesus as you walk on the waves (Mat. 14:22-33).
For the one who is leaving under bitter or tragic circumstances,
may God comfort you as a parent comforts their child (Is. 66:13).
For the one who is unsure of the next step,
may God’s Word light your path one step at a time (Ps. 119:105).
For the one who is not sure who they are anymore,
may you accept that you are hidden with Christ in God and that you are a child of the King (Col. 3:3; Jn. 1:12-13).
For the one who is burnt out and weary,
may you transfer your burden to Christ and find rest for your soul (Mat. 11:28-30).
For the one who left behind conflict with teammates or nationals,
may you do what you can to have peace, but then leave the conflict at the altar and move on (2 Cor. 2:1-14).
For the one who needs rest, but must keep serving, giving and working,
may you be given strength (Is. 40:28-31).
For the one who has made great sacrifices,
may you receive the joy of knowing that Christ, our broken bread and poured out wine, loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7).
For the one who feels disillusioned, jaded or cynical,
may you find faith even the size of a mustard seed to ask God to help your unbelief (Mat. 17:20; Mk. 9:24).
And for the one who saw miracles, answers to prayer and souls saved,
may you boast in and praise the Lord for all that He has done (Ps. 34:1-3).
May you feel the pleasure and presence of Christ as you walk forward into this next chapter of your life
and experience even more of His fullness and grace. 
Though your place may change, the Person you are planted on never will,
for He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb. 13:8).
Amen.

~~~~~~

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This post is day 31 of the series “Re-entry: Reflections on Reverse Culture Shock,” a challenge I have taken to write for 31 days. Check out my other posts in the series:

Day 1: Introduction
Day 2: Grieving
Day 3: No One Is Special
Day 4: Wasted Gifts
Day 5: I Never Expected…
Day 6: Identity: Through the Looking Glass
Day 7: Did I mishear God?
Day 8: When You Feel Like Shutting Down
Day 9: Caring for your Dorothy
Day 10: You’re Not the Only One Who’s Changed
Day 11: 12 Race Day Lessons for Serving Overseas
Day 12: Confessions of an Experience Junkie
Day 13: Longing for Home
Day 14: Readjusting: Same Tools, Different Work Space
Day 15: Book Review: The Art of Coming Home
Day 16: The Story of My “Call”
Day 17: Is Missions a “Higher Calling”?
Day 18: And Then I Fell in Love
Day 19: Is God Calling You Overseas?
Day 20: Life Is Not Seasonal
Day 21: What I Took and What I Left Behind
Day 22: Groundless, Weightless, Homeless
Day 23: When the Nations Come to You
Day 24: The Call to Displacement
Day 25: Scripture Anchors for Re-Entry
Day 26: In the Place of Your Exile
Day 27: Resources for Re-entry
Day 28: A Time for Everything: A Prayer of Leaving
Day 29: Journal: 8 Months After Re-Entry
Day 30: 12 Survival Tips for Re-Entry
Day 31: A Blessing
(Day 32: Writing is Narcissistic (And Four Other Reasons Not to Write)–a reflection on this Write 31 Days experience)

Day 30: 12 Survival Tips for Re-Entry {31 Days of Re-Entry}


As we’ve established, any number of metaphors can aptly illustrate your re-entry experience: trapped underwater, on a boat in raging waters, emerging from another world like Dorothy in Oz or Alice through the Looking Glass or the story behind the word re-entry itself– the feeling that you are re-entering Earth from outer space.  No matter the metaphor, whether you feel a tremor or have your whole world collapse (just to add another metaphor to the mix), I hope that these tips will be useful in getting you stabilized. 

1. Leave Well
Leaving begins months before you actually leave.  Be sure to leave ample time to sort through and give away anything you won’t be bringing back with you (which, if you have truly strived to make your foreign house your home, you may have a ton).  Sort, give away and sell your possessions well before you need to do your final packing and goodbyes.

Make a bucket list of places you want to visit in the last six months of your stay.  Another really insightful blog series called Falling Forward: Thoughts and Tips on Transition, mentions this as well as intentionally meeting with friends to tell them how much they have meant to you.  If you’re like me and have a hard time doing this, I find writing letters or notes to friends meets the same need.  But however much you would like to skip this step, grieving will actually be more difficult if you don’t try and reach some form of closure before you leave.  

2. Prepare
Come back to this blog series!  But seriously, read articles, books and talk to friends BEFORE you leave so that you have a better idea of what to expect.  If you are reading this now before your departure, then you are already on track.  If you can, attend a conference as soon as you return, but be sure to book it well in advance since many of the good ones fill up early.  It’s kind of the idea of reading marriage books before you are engaged because once you are engaged you’ll discuss the wedding more than that actual marriage to follow. 

You may be in too much of a fog when you return to actually crack open the books or seek out the help you need.  Find and read them beforehand (check out my resource page here).  You may also want to prepare your loved ones by telling them that you may need a little extra TLC in the coming weeks and months.

3. Express
Cry, journal, talk, pray, email or text friends–do whatever it takes to work out your emotions.  I had no problem with the crying, praying or journaling thing, but I had a hard time finding people to talk to who could actually relate to what I was going through.  Find someone who understands and if you can’t, the website Velvet Ashes has some connection groups for women to  join online for encouragement and accountability.  

I can’t speak for men, but being married to one, I would imagine that this tip of surviving re-entry would be the most difficult to tackle.  Perhaps find a female friend to listen to you?  We’re usually pretty good listeners:-)

4. Be a Tourist in Your Hometown
Though Chicago had interesting sites galore, because I didn’t have the attitude of a tourist, I didn’t look for opportunities to explore and be an adventurer in my hometown. I think having that mentality would have helped with my transition.  Even if you live in Dixon, IL, population 16,000 (my husband’s hometown), you could find at least one or two new places to explore.  Take on the attitude of an observer and learner just as you did in a foreign country.

5. Do the Next Thing
You may have heard of this poem by an anonymous poet, but quoted by Elisabeth Elliot, titled “Do the Next Thing.”  For a while, this is how you are going to need to live.  You may need to find a new job, housing, buy a car, acquire new stuff and get reacquainted with friends and family.  Just worry about what you need to do today.  Then do the next thing.  And then the next thing after that.  God will show you, lead you and guide you, but, as Amy Carmichael mentioned in  Candles in the Dark in her devotion titled “The Next Step,” the lamp unto our feet may only light our footsteps one step at a time (Ps. 119:105).

6. Give People a Chance
Your loved ones, while they may have read all your newsletters and correspondence, will most likely not have a framework for what you have experienced.  Imagine talking to someone who has literally gone to the moon.  You would be fascinated…until they start boring you with the technicalities of cargo, equipment and heat shields.  Give them grace and give them information over a period of time and not all at once. 

Along with this, it is easy to assume that people you meet have NO idea what you have experienced, and they may surprise you with their own stories.  Just be prepared with a 20 second, five minute and 15 minute answer to the question, “How was your time in X?”  Read their body language carefully to see if they are the slightest bit interested before you launch into the long answer (shifting eyes and a quick excuse to get another drink is a sure sign of “get me out of here”).  You have lovely stories, just save them for those who love you the most.  And be prepared for people to ask you if and when you are going back.

7. Adjust Your Attitude
This is a difficult one because it will actually be difficult to control your attitude at first.  You are going to love being back, but then, much like culture shock, you are going to hate. it.  And depending on where you lived, you will especially hate the materialism, the fact that you have to choose from 247 bottles of salad dressings and have to decode the newest food and diet fads.  I practically had a break down in one of the biggest Whole Foods in America because I just couldn’t choose what to eat in their café section.

But you need to tell yourself the same thing you told yourself when you moved to an entirely new culture: 
“This country is not better or worse, just DIFFERENT.  It’s just different.”  Say it out loud.  “Not better or worse, just DIFFERENT.”

8. Have Patience
I mentioned in an earlier post that you will want to know how long this foggy, drowning, lost feeling will last and I hate to tell you that it will last much longer than you think it should.  Just as grief begins to spread out into slow, lapping waves, like a boat that has gone by and left its wake, your grief over leaving your old life will return months and even years after you have come back.  A big fear I had was that I would forget all that I had experienced, so one positive aspect of this recurring grief is that it forces you to remember.     

9. Take Root and Bear Fruit
If you are a Jesus follower, my advice to you is to cling to Him.  And as you do, He will enable you to begin to put down some roots in the city where you are living, which will lead to bearing fruit (Is. 37:31).  It may take a little while, but eventually you will need to accept that God has led you home and that He has new ways He wants to bless, grow, mature and use you.  Though your world may feel like it’s spinning hypnotically around, God is in control and He is the same at home that He was abroad.  He is your constant and His Word is a great stabilizer.

10. Find an Outlet
Depending on where you live, you may be able to find other cultures right in your town–even if it’s just an ethnic restaurant, a 7-Eleven or a nail salon.  Since coming back, I found a place to tutor Chinese women trying to get their citizenship, volunteered at an ESL class (with my baby, I might add), hosted an international student party, had a Saudi Arabian girl live with us for a year, and taught at a private Christian school in Chinatown (it all sounds a lot more impressive than it is-some of these were only for a short time–just giving you ideas!).  If you live anywhere near a university or even a community college, most of these places have international students who would love to befriend a native speaker. 

11. Go Back
I had the opportunity to go back to Uganda seven years after I first left, and China, a year after I left. It was so helpful to return to those places to remind me of the realities of living in another country when I had begun to romanticize my previous experience.  Going back to China, it was strange to feel so at home at a place, and yet have so much clarity about being back in the states.  If you have the chance, returning to the place where you lived is a helpful way to further bring closure to your experience.

12. Reflect on Your Experience
You have changed.  You have faced challenges, learned new languages, seen God answer prayers in miraculous ways, been used in spite of your weaknesses and been given what you needed exactly when you needed it.  

Or maybe your leaving wasn’t under the best of circumstances and you feel bitter and wounded.  You feel angry at God and doubt whether He even led you there to begin with.  

Don’t just jump back into the rushing current of your hometown busyness, but take the time to reflect and consider where you have come from and where you are going.  Sit quietly.  Listen.  Get away. Have a silent retreat.  If you have kids, then try and spend some time alone as a family for a week or two in a place where you can decompress. 

If you can, don’t start a new job immediately, but take the time to sit and interact with your experience.  Check out the prayer on this post and insert your own story into the lines.

This is not the end of your story.  This is the end of a chapter in the story of your life, but you are ultimately not defined by this isolated experience.  You are deeply loved by a God who gave you the gift of living in a place where you didn’t fit in order to change your perspective forever. 

And this is not the end of the gifts He wants to give you, beloved child of the King.  This is just the beginning.

What tips would you add to this list?  Which ones do you think will be most challenging for you?

~~~~~~

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This post is day 30 of the series “Re-entry: Reflections on Reverse Culture Shock,” a challenge I have taken to write for 31 days. Check out my other posts in the series:

Day 1: Introduction
Day 2: Grieving
Day 3: No One Is Special
Day 4: Wasted Gifts
Day 5: I Never Expected…
Day 6: Identity: Through the Looking Glass
Day 7: Did I mishear God?
Day 8: When You Feel Like Shutting Down
Day 9: Caring for your Dorothy
Day 10: You’re Not the Only One Who’s Changed
Day 11: 12 Race Day Lessons for Serving Overseas
Day 12: Confessions of an Experience Junkie
Day 13: Longing for Home
Day 14: Readjusting: Same Tools, Different Work Space
Day 15: Book Review: The Art of Coming Home
Day 16: The Story of My “Call”
Day 17: Is Missions a “Higher Calling”?
Day 18: And Then I Fell in Love
Day 19: Is God Calling You Overseas?
Day 20: Life Is Not Seasonal
Day 21: What I Took and What I Left Behind
Day 22: Groundless, Weightless, Homeless
Day 23: When the Nations Come to You
Day 24: The Call to Displacement
Day 25: Scripture Anchors for Re-Entry
Day 26: In the Place of Your Exile
Day 27: Resources for Re-entry
Day 28: A Time for Everything: A Prayer of Leaving
Day 29: Journal: 8 Months After Re-Entry
Day 30: 12 Survival Tips for Re-Entry
Day 31: A Blessing
(Day 32: Writing is Narcissistic (And Four Other Reasons Not to Write)–a reflection on this Write 31 Days experience)