Freaky Deaky Warfare

We traveled to North Carolina over Christmas break to visit Jeremiah’s side of the family and per usual, his parents generously offered to keep the kids so we could go out for dinner or coffee - particularly because our time there fell right around our 11th wedding anniversary. This time around we took them up on it and set out to our favorite local coffee shop.

The weather was ugly - rainier and gloomier than even I like it. The restaurant was crowded so we grabbed two counter stools facing right out the window. Just like the weather, normally I’d like it this way, but that morning it all seemed extra insulting as we sat there, both staring out the window, nearly silent. Nothing but a stiff attempt at conversation every few minutes.

I sat there, barely blinking, just heavily staring. And then nearly crying. The thoughts poured in heavier than the rain: Look at us, nothing to say, no joy, no fun. Is this all there is in this 11 years of marriage. I’ve really screwed this up. Why am I so cold, so stonewalled. We can’t connect anymore.

Simultaneoulsy with my thoughts, we brought up Jeremiah’s first big sermon gig with our church happening just two days later. Of course we were going to talk about this - we should talk about this - but in the moment I took it as just another reason why our marriage was a failure. We can only talk logistics, I thought.

A week earlier, I was helping to set up for Christmas Eve services at our church and told some staff that my biggest prayer for this sermon opportunity was that Jeremiah would not get sick. He gets sick pretty often, and it’s always a respiratory thing, and it’s misery. He had been completely healthy all fall so we just needed one more week of health to get through the sermon.

Of course you know what’s coming. Once we hit North Carolina, Jeremiah got sick. Throat, head, the whole bit. Another insult at the coffee shop. I was panicked about my marriage and panicked about him being able to get through this sermon.

As we talked about it, still staring at the rain, Jeremiah mentioned something about spiritual warfare. A freaky deaky idea that we honestly don’t talk about much at all and that can feel a little well, freaky deaky. And although it was odd for Jeremiah to bring something like that up and it was odd for me to agree so quickly (given the strong silent treatment I was currently dishing out), it was the most relief I’d heard all morning.

I think I said something like, yeah duh, of course that’s what this is. I said, right away I can think of two really faithful, trustworthy, godly friends of mine who would say without hesitation that that’s exactly what was going on. OF COURSE Jeremiah is sick. Why are we surprised? He’s about to bring the truth and grace of the gospel a mere two days later to a significantly large crowd. He’s preparing to graduate and step into bringing the Word as a career. And then instantly I was like oh yeah even bigger duh - while Satan’s got Jeremiah tripping up is own self, OF COURSE he is going to go ahead and weasel his way in to our marriage, to my thoughts, to make me doubt and get us all in a disconnected mess even though it’s all a total lie.

See the mistake I always make is forgetting that this freaky deaky touchy feely warfare stuff is an actual reality. And sure, what a bummer that is, but also what an incredible relief. I can look at this one of two ways. I can stare out that coffee shop window and wonder where God is - wonder what kind of nerve he has to allow Jeremiah to get sick - wonder why he’s holding out on us - wonder why we can’t have all good and perfect things every day of our lives. OR I can turn away from the window, stare at my husband, thankful God has equipped him for leadership in ministry and in marriage, thankful that we have each other. I can believe the promise of God’s constant presence, deep unconditional love, and lavish provision. GOD is not the one against me. Never has been, never ever will be. And the fight isn’t with my husband either. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” - Ephesians 6:12

Interestingly, a couple days before Christmas we were hanging out with my brother and sister-in-law and we were talking about the train wreck that is adjusting to family and holidays and life as life goes on with marriages, moves, life, death, etc. My brother made a quick comment but I haven’t forgotten it. He said, the only thing that has stayed the same in the past ten years is you two being married.

And that, we all know, is an absolute miracle.

Without recognizing the all powerful warfare reality and without recognizing God’s more powerful love reality, my brother wouldn’t have been able to say that. Jeremiah and I would’ve been toast long ago.

As my new favorite Christmas song goes:

All glory be to God on high, and to the earth sing peace! Good will henceforth, from God to man: begin and never cease!

Begin and never cease. God is for us, not against us.

And by the way, by the absolute power of the Holy Spirit, Jeremiah KILLED that sermon! Go here to listen!

Drop Off Drama

Yesterday, I got accosted in the preschool parking lot.

‘Tis the season to be jolly ain’t all it’s cracked up to be when the stress of teacher gifts sets in, amiright?? Do you think the songwriter of Deck the Halls had to buy teacher gifts? My guess is no.

I’ll spare you the word-by-word conversation (I reserve that for my oh so lucky husband) and give you the gist. A fellow preschool mom wanted to know every last detail of my plan for gifts. Which teachers I’m buying for, what I’m getting, how much I’m spending. The whole enchilada. And she pressed me in my vagueness even as I was visibly trying to slide into my van and exit the conversation as soon as physically possible. I absolutely knew I was being vague because (1) I wasn’t confident in my own action plan and (2) I knew whatever I decided to purchase, the dollar amount would be far less than I’d like to admit. Look girlfriend, I barely know what my plan is let alone what you should be doing and it’s very subjective so let’s just get on with our morning.

I finally slithered my way out of that conversation and drove to, ironically, purchase teacher gifts. But man I felt horrible. I felt so less than, like my efforts weren’t enough. She made it clear she was planning to spend significantly more than me. And I hated that because of pride and materialism but also because I want to be able to give generously, to show people how much I appreciate them but nine times out of ten feel a complete lack of resources to do so.

Here’s the other scenario that happened this morning at preschool drop-off. A mom I’m a little more chummy with let me know she was dealing with a sinus infection, double ear infection, and her heat hadn’t been working for a couple days. She has a 4 year old son and an 8 month old baby who was covered in snot and I nearly cried thinking about the nightmare she was living.

God prompted me to grab her something, which ultimately was an over-priced order of soup from a local place. But WHATEVER, it was my joy to notice her and hopefully provide for a need – physical, logistical, emotional, any of it. Just for her to feel seen. I saw myself in her – the times I’ve been in over my head – and instantly I was reminded of the sweet friends who have noticed me during those times.

As I was driving around I was reflecting on these interactions - the teacher gift stress scenario and the friend going through the trenches of sickness. I had a fleeting thought that if I didn’t grab soup technically I could put that money towards the gift cards I was planning to get for teachers, which would beef up their value a little bit.

But why? Just to look better? Just to appear more able? Just because that’s what we should do at Christmas?

It got me thinking that maybe we’re all just supposed to love the ones God has put in front of us. We each have a very specific story with joys and hurts and I believe God uses our story to rejoice and mourn with people, to love them because of the love we’ve received. If we all went on loving the exact same people, there’d be a crap ton of people left out of love. If we all loved in the exact same way, we’d fail to meet people’s needs specifically and personally.

God prompted me to love that friend (who really is just an acquaintance that I talk with in the drop-off line and hope she likes me?) and he reminded me that I’m just running the race he’s marked out for me. Staying in my lane this morning meant bringing soup to a friend that is hanging by a thread. Accoster-mom’s lane is loving the heck out of those teachers with a cushy gift card. I don’t need to feel bad or wrong for not doing it all, and neither does she. Together, we’re loving a community.

Let’s stay in our lane always, but especially at Christmas. Let’s make room to notice the people and the needs that aren’t on our gift list. We absolutely cannot do it all and if we try to we’ll be left joyless and stressed and for sure in (more) debt. Let’s do our thing, the giving and the loving that brings us joy maybe even more than the person receiving it.

The Least Likely Peace Bringer

From my last post you know there’s some stuff looming around in life. Always is. And to my friends’ raw realities I can add a slew of difficult circumstances I’m walking through with my own soul and with my family. Finances, self-deprecation, missed opportunities.

Heading into December, I was about to wipe the calendar clean sub one holiday dinner with friends. Things are too much of an inconvenience, I’m too frustrated, and it’s all too stressful. I convinced myself that the wisest choice for my soul was to eliminate situations that would cause me any amount more of pain, resentment, or discomfort.

But as he does, God ever so slightly started shining some light in those dark, hardened places of my heart. The thoughts covered in truth and grace started creeping in and you better believe it was annoying. Annoying because I know the “right” answer and that answer means my pride plays second fiddle to the God who loves me and forgives me despite my constant failings. The right answer is the Holy Spirit pushing me onward to live and love like Jesus. I have a lot of guts thinking that I am able to withhold love when Jesus lived every second of his life perfectly and didn’t even consider it. Annoying.

So semi-reluctantly I added things back on my calendar - things that will have me rubbing shoulders with people in my life who’ve hurt me the most (whether they know it or not).

Shortly after the Holy Spirit nudge I was listening to my favorite podcast – The Next Right Thing with Emily P. Freeman and was so struck by what she said. Note: This is pretty much the only podcast I listen to at all because it’s short and peaceful and really meaningful and normal podcasts for a visual learner who bores easily are a mess of an experience. ANYWAY, she said this:

Peace isn’t dependent upon the room we’re walking into. Instead, because of Immanuel, we bring Peace with us when we walk into rooms.

She flipped my entire way of being upside down in one sentence. And sure it’s not necessarily a new concept of truth but that day it was wholly refreshing and eye-opening to me.

You know by now, I’m so so good at allowing my peace to be determined by my circumstances. HENCE WHY I’M A COMPLETE WRECK. Life is hard, circumstances suck, and consequently I’m a real treat to be around. But am I the only one who finds it quite easy and sickeningly comforting to blame? Blame the ones who have hurt me, blame the situations that are difficult or unfair. Gosh it can feel so good to not take any responsibility for the stress that follows me around like my very own shadow.

But peace isn’t dependent upon the room we’re walking into…we bring Peace with us. The lightbulb came on, the aha moment came – say it however you want – God taught me something. Peace in my soul and the peace I give is not at the hands of the situations I find myself in. I have the final say on the peace that surrounds me because I have the spirit of Jesus residing in me.

This is good news for us in a bunch of eternal ways but let me just be upfront here: my first thought was, this is good news for hosting our Christmas Eve party. Nearly every year in my lifetime we’ve attended or hosted the same party after church. It’s one of the most nostalgic and enjoyable traditions for me. This year though, I wanted to bail. The hosting fell in our laps and while last year we jumped at the chance, this year is a different story. A lot can happen (or not) in a year with relationships and faith and church life, which made this year complicated. And really hard.

But when I heard Emily say those words I literally envisioned my home and the people in it and I smiled. I am not at the hands of my circumstances to experience peace. I can be the Peace bringer. And I WANT to be the Peace bringer. My gosh, can you even imagine?! If you’re close with me you’re probably thinking, nope I in fact cannot imagine. Well sweet family and friends, I’m going to try. Because while holding grudges and prideful resentments can feel good for a time, that time is temporary and detrimental and I have been called to live wholly differently. And the idea of being someone who brings Peace into a space is really lovely.

In his recent sermon, our pastor from Richmond put it this way: If peace depends on external circumstances being peaceful, we personally probably stand little chance at finding peace. The Bible suggests peace is possible even when circumstances aren’t peaceful.

Praise God for that and praise God for his grace with slow learners like myself. If you’re white knuckling your less-than-idyllic circumstances and relationships kind of like I am, be encouraged – because of Immauel, God with us, we can bring Peace with us.

 

breaking December stereotypes

What emotions come to mind when you turn your calendar to December? Isn’t the right answer joy and love and excitement? Shouldn’t we feel festive and enamored with the hustle and bustle and anticipation of it all? It feels hard to admit to anything less than holly jolly kissing under the mistletoe.

As much as I’m super into all of that, that’s just not the whole story, is it?

Yesterday (December 1st) at noon I was at a funeral for the unexpected death of our friend’s father. Simultaneously, a friend in another state was having D&C surgery after miscarrying.

A year ago, a similar double-whammy heartache situation to yesterday’s. Then, it was a friend’s cousin who died of an overdose and another friend in the thick of an affair.

Six years ago, it was my husband sharing his secret of infidelity.

You guys, this is what nightmares are made of. These are some of our deepest fears.

If we’re open to it, real life is hard, messy, and totally unexpected. We just cannot possibly sweep it all under the rug. The more we do, the more exhausted we become. Struggle and suffering IS our shared reality and I’m here for the vulnerable solidarity of it all.

Oftentimes when I lead groups I’ll give the disclaimer that I’m not telling anyone to create heartache for themselves and I’m not forcing them into the trenches – but what I AM asking is that they consider making the choice to get real with what’s going on in their soul.

I’ve been in the dark and I’ve experienced the light and can’t know anything different now. There absolutely 100% is hurt going on whether we choose to own up to it or not. And I believe God wants to bring it out from under the rug and allow us to be completely free from it. I believe He wants to bring it out from under the rug and allow us to be completely loved and known by Him. He wants us to experience grace and provision and that will not and cannot happen until we choose the sometimes heart-wrenching work of allowing ourselves to be fully known – both in our joy and celebration AND in pain, shame, and loss.

I hope you will frequent this space, knowing you are not alone in your reality. There’s nothing to hide here. I want you to be able to laugh and cry along with me in our shared experiences of everyday chaos and of life’s biggest crises. It’ll probably be a mashup of both - a good ol’ fashioned laugh-cry which, in my opinion, is the best emotional expression there is.

As you’ll soon find out, I’m a pretty decent train wreck but I’m ok with that. When December comes you better believe I can experience the bliss and excitement of cold weather, holiday parties, and traditions - but I also know the sting of pain and life as it was never intended to be. I’m learning it’s not an all or nothing, but a both. Joy and sorrow. Life and death. And I’m here for it all.

Let's Roll

I’ve been trying to put all the pieces of some distant dream together for awhile now, wanting everything to be clear and tailored and official. But so it seems I’m really just stalling – stalling on a dream and stalling on a need as fear, insecurities, and lies all tactfully creep in. What’s becoming clearer and clearer to me is the more I wait to get started, the more wasteful it all becomes. In this so-called time of “preparation” for dreams to become realities my soul still longs for deeper purpose and joy and the world continues to roll on in the very hard way it does sometimes. And after hearing one too many stories these past few months of brokenness, I’m over it.

Enough is enough now.

The Lord has been good to show me quite clearly that there is a need to share my story. Most importantly, there is a need to share the real and sometimes raw side of life that doesn’t get much play on our social media feeds. When I’m in the pit, I’ve absolutely found hope in the stories shared from people who are also in the pit or who have been there before. It’s not negativity for negativity’s sake. It’s real actual life for hope’s sake. One of the most detrimental lies we can feed into is the one that says I’m the only one out there who struggles. When we refuse to get really transparent we fuel a lot of wrong fires in our own soul and in our circles. People are empowered to believe (really believe) in hope and truth and renewal as they see others experience all that beauty from ashes.

My purpose in sharing and writing is to bring courage through vulnerability – to say goodbye to “I’m fine” and “things are great” when they’re actually not. And ultimately, to remind myself and to remind you that the deeper the pain, the greater the glory. Every story is God’s bigger story of grace and of redemption. When we hide ourselves or sit on our stories we can’t experience grace and that’s a big deal to me.

So, I hope you’ll stick around. I hope you’ll laugh and cry and nod your head in solidarity as you read.

Hang on and keep going friend. You are absolutely not alone.