How Grief leads the way to Deeper Peace and Greater Clarity

“When the old way is dying, we can cling to normal or we can let sorrow lead our search for something better. This is the summer of imagination… Today I pray that instead of grasping for what you used to have, you let your empty hands clasp in prayer. Optimistic clutching for normalcy only can give you temporary relief, but you were made for more than the normal you had. Only grief can grow your imagination for the goodness of the kingdom you belong to.”

—K.J. Ramsey

I’ve been to two funerals in the past month. The first was a memorial for my Grandmother who passed away in March, the week that everything in our state shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic. The second was for my Grandaddy who passed away at the beginning of August, and because of slightly fewer restrictions, we were able to have a small, mask-wearing-service at his home church in Fuquay-Varina North Carolina.

Aside from the season of fear and anxieties and generally vague grief that this pandemic has brought us through, some of you, like me, are also experiencing the sharp grief that comes with deep loss. Loss of a loved one. Loss of a job. Loss of money you had been saving in a 401k—we are all grappling with so much, but some of us more than others.

But it’s in this season that I am remembering and re-learning, that allowing ourselves to grieve over these losses, makes way for more peace. The kind of peace that is independent of circumstances, but that is rooted in something realer than what our eyes can see. The kind of peace that allows us to see our lives with greater clarity and imagination, showing us that our hunger for rightness in not foolish, but a good hunger that will lead us to our greatest satisfaction.

God’s Kingdom is here, and it is also coming. Every broken thing will be restored. The dead in Christ are only the seeds waiting for the proper time to grow into a new and fuller life. Our King is here; and He is coming.

The tension of the already-and-the-not-yet can be a difficult place to live. In the months following my Grandmother’s passing, before her memorial service, I found myself trapped in a grief I didn’t feel like I was allowing myself to process. The pandemic pushed pause on so many things, and I found myself being forced to grieve in different ways. In May my Grandfather gave me a box of my Grandmother’s hair things; brushes, clips, hair ties, combs—because he didn’t want to just throw it away—and I found myself staring at the grey hairs in the hairbrush she had probably been using for 20 years or more, wondering: Is this all I have left?

The question haunted me right into the grief I had been avoiding. I penned an angry poem or two, and that’s when it began to happen. Quite by accident, or quite by the Holy Spirit, my eyes began to clear and I saw what I had been missing. In my attempts to push aside my grief I had said things to myself like, “She lived a good life. She was ready. She’s with Jesus now,” all of which are TRUE and GOOD things to say and believe. But I was using them like a tourniquet and not a bandage. I was circumventing the grief, trying to cut it off at the source, by saying things that I knew to be true, but didn’t really feel or believe in my heart.

The reality is that death is always an unwanted and greedy hand at the table. My loss is great. My mother’s loss is greater. The grief I felt at waking up the morning that I heard the news, knowing I would never see my Grandmother again in this life, was crushing. And why wouldn’t it be? When I finally penned the angry poems and let out all my feelings of pent up rage and frustration, it was then that the clarity came. Crashing against the cold hard reality of death, I broke through into the realer-reality; her glorious eternal life. Grief was the path that brought me there.

Two funerals in a row is a lot, but it has given me time to practice. After my Grandmother’s memorial, I felt the peace that comes with a little bit of closure, and many tears shed with loved ones who also loved the one we lost. When I visited my Grandaddy for the last time a week later, I knew that though sorrow would come with the night, joy would come in the morning. The memory of the peace that would come through grief was recent enough for me to have not forgotten everything I learned for once; and for that I am so very thankful.

Dearest Readers; I know the burdens you carry are heavy. There are so many of you walking around with griefs much heavier even than the loss of a Grandparent or other loved one. The anxiety threatens to crush you some days. The little sorrows pile up and feel heavier than a wheelbarrow full of lead. The weight of uncertainty in this season, and whatever season will come after, adds its weight too.

But I want you to know; there is peace on the other side of this thing you are grieving, when you grieve it in the presence of God. Circumventing your grief with platitudes and comforting phrases (even when those phrases are TRUE), is not the way forward to a lasting peace and a clarity which sees the Kingdom of God at work even in our most deeply devastated and broken places.

This is your written invitation: Let yourself grieve. It’s okay. You are not alone. Your losses are not insignificant, nor do they go unnoticed by our heavenly Father. He is not looking down on you. He is not waiting for you to be stronger. He knows your frame; that you are dust, and He cares for you as His beloved child. The way to the joy of the morning is the sorrow of the night. The grief that needs to come, the tears that must be shed to wash your eyes clean so that you may rightly see what you cannot see right now.

The day my Grandaddy died, I told my husband I needed the beauty of the lake. We packed a picnic dinner and went out kayaking and paddle boarding at sunset. But I got sunscreen in my eyes and they kept stinging my whole way across the lake. I kept wiping them with the corner of my shirt until finally a wave of grief hit me and I began to cry. Later I realized that it was the tears that cleared my eyes from the sunscreen that had been stinging and clouding my vision.

May it be the same for you.

Go in peace friends. The way isn’t easy, but it’s the way we’ve been given—and it is good.

*If you need someone to pray for you, leave a comment below. You can tell us what you need prayer for, or keep it between you and God, the choice is yours. And if you feel led to pray for someone, would you reply to their comment and let them know that you are lifting them up? Grief is done best in the body of believers.*

His hand beneath my chin

My twenty month old is my most timid of my children. Though a relatively peaceful and happy-go-lucky guy, he is easily startled and is the most likely of my kids to become frightened in a situation that feels out of control or uncertain. I’ve learned to warn his siblings that he’s going to need someone to hold him when I use the blender.

“It’s going to be loud, okay buddy?” I say in my most cheerful voice, smiling with my eyes to reassure him; but even still, he is afraid. There is little I can do aside from making sure he is held.

Last week it was the same thing when my husband was using a power saw in the backyard. The second the machine roared to life, he came running, terror in his face. I tell him: “It’s okay buddy. Daddy’s just using a tool. Daddy’s in control of it, he won’t let it hurt you.”

It dawned on me that this is how God parents us; he uses his tools to make good and beautiful things, but the tools are often loud and scary sounding. But he never chides us for being afraid—he understands that we are, one of the reasons that the encouragement “do not be afraid” is one of the most common in scripture. He tells us that there is nothing to fear, that he is in control, yet he also holds us securely until we actually believe that it’s true.

Someday my son will no longer fear the buzz of the saw, or the hum of the blender, or the thrum of the lawnmower. Someday he will go to my leg for comfort for a moment, and then turn right back around to appreciate the beautiful thing that his father is making from the pile of wood, from an overgrown lawn, or the smoothie that he will shortly be sipping courtesy of the loud appliance on the counter.

We hadn’t left the house all together since the day my grandma died in mid March: the week the pandemic really set in. It had been six weeks since my 20 month old had ridden in the car, but even with his fears of loud machines and unpredictable things, I didn’t see this fear coming. No sooner did I begin backing out of the driveway, then my son began screaming in terror at the top of his lungs. I pulled over to see if anything was wrong: a seatbelt pinching him somewhere? A toy lost over the edge of the carseat? Nothing.

I began driving again and he began screaming again. It had been a long day, and in my fragile, frenzied and finite mind I only felt the inconvenience of it. I had been looking forward to this drive as my first “outing” in almost a month, and now it was being ruined. I couldn’t comprehend why—why was he screaming? We pulled up to a stop light and the screaming slowed, but it began again the moment we resumed our trek. It finally dawned on me; perhaps he was afraid of the unpredictable movement of the car.

I reached my hand back to rest on his cheek, stroking his soft skin with my thumb until the crying stopped. That was how we pulled up to the office a few minutes later, and that was how I would drive in the relative peace I had been craving the 20 minutes back home.

Pulling into our neighborhood half an hour later it dawned on me how sharp the difference between my parenting and the parenting of God are. I was so frustrated at the child who would not stop screaming. I was angry at his irrational fear. I didn’t understand and I wanted it to stop. But what a grace that God never deals with my fears that way! He always and forever simply drives the car, craning his arm back so that he can cup my chin in his hand and tell me that everything will be okay. He tells me this on the days I believe him, and on the days that I do not.

I need that now just as much as my son did. I need that touch of comfort; that assurance that even when my circumstances are constantly shifting, uncomfortable, and totally outside of my control—that I am okay. God is still in control. He is still working for my good. All shall be well.

The One who knows all things; who knows where this car is heading, is also a God of infinite and kind compassion. He does not chide you for being afraid, though he invites your loving trust. He does not yell at you from the front seat to hush and be quiet, he meets you in the rearview mirror with his tender gaze. He cares for your fears, even as he does not promise to remove the scary situations from you. He will take you where you need to go, even if the way is frightening and you would just rather not go that way at all.

Trusting God, like my son in the car finally trusted me with my hand secure beneath his quivering chin, may just be the bravest and most beautiful thing you ever do. By this child-like trust, the world will know that there is something different about us; we are a people who despite every chaos and calamity, can still rest secure. We are a people who remember who they are in the context of whose they are. We are a people who will one day see this fearful journey for what it was all along; the sweetest most intimate journey of faith.

“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.”

Colossians 3:15 ESV

{Photo c/o Kyle Glenn on Unsplash.}

Come Away Awhile

As the world shuts down around us I keep hearing whispers that part of why this is so hard for our country and community is that we are terrible at actually resting.

I keep hearing that this is almost like a forced Sabbath in some ways. The only problem being that Sabbath is more than a list of things we do or do not do; it’s a posture of the heart. It’s a posture that hears Jesus whisper, in the midst of overwhelming needs, chaos, fears, and lack—to come away awhile, and actually listens.

I love that Jesus isn’t afraid to take his disciples out of the crowd, the pressing needs, the chaos of a life in oppression under the Roman government, to get alone awhile and rest. Though Jesus pokes holes in the Pharisaical interpretation of Sabbath with things like healings in the synagogue on that Holy day, He shows us in innumerable other places that he knows we as his disciples, vitally need rest. And he wants to give that to us.

My family and I are all healthy at the moment; but as I read in an article yesterday, “panic breeds panic”, and photos of empty store shelves and people lining up for miles to be tested for this virus now gone pandemic, and a peek at the stock market (*yeesh*) all serve me up a daily dose of fear right now. So Saturday morning I got out and took a walk.

It was still dark, but the light of dawn was just starting to color the horizon in pink and purple hues, and I kept hearing Jesus remind me to keep my eyes fixed on the horizon. Because this current moment, the world and its chaos, is not all there is. As I wrote in my recent publication with Fathom magazine, “this is all only/the breath/ between.”

And on my walk something new came to me; a chorus and a melody. When I got home I started tinkering with it at my guitar and FULL DISCLOSURE: I AM NO MUSICIAN. But I do love music, and I do love God, and I do need the Lord to remind me of the truest truths beneath chaotic and difficult-to-predict circumstances. I need to remember that his invitation to “come away awhile” is not contingent on all being easy and calm in the world, but is actually all the more critical the more strained things become.

Like Daniel praying in his room when he knew it was against the law—how could he stop praying at a time like that?

So I wrote this song. And like I said, I am no musician, and it probably isn’t very good. But I feel God tugging me to share it with you all, that maybe you would be blessed by what God is doing in my heart in the midst of a season that feels so unknown.

I plan to send the song out with my February/March newsletter in a day or so and you can click here to sign up and make sure that you receive it. (Be sure to confirms your subscription, and check your junk mail if you are already signed up and don’t see it!)

One other super boring housekeeping detail; if you follow me on WordPress but HAVE NOT signed up through one of my forms, you will get notifications of content in your WordPress feed, but that’s it. I am not allowed to email you unless you sign up through the form. If that’s you, just CLICK HERE to sign up and get ALL the good stuff.

May you remember in the midst of uncertain days dear readers, the wonderful words of James Bryan Smith.

“I am one in whom Christ dwells and delights. I live in the strong and unshakeable Kingdom of God. The Kingdom is not in trouble, and neither am I.”

James Bryan Smith

May we hear Jesus’ call to “come away awhile” in the midst of this present darkness, and may we actually listen.

By His grace and for His glory,

Grace Kelley

This One is for the Weary

It’s been a season of recovery. The weight of the world had been crushing me for so long, and I, ever the stubborn child, kept taking the load from God’s shoulders and putting it back on my own. A human heart was never meant to carry all that weight—all that grief.

It’s amazing how easy it is to fool ourselves. I thought for sure that I was trusting God. That I was living by His power and strength; but then the strength ran out. And I realized that all along this year it was my strength and not His.

My high capacity—my ability to “do” so much, is also one of my greatest weaknesses. I think I am working by God’s power, until I have no power left, and finally then realize that I have been leaning on my own paltry resources.

My own well has run dry; if you could call it a “well” . It’s easy enough to see now that my own source of water in the wilderness is a muddy hole compared to the sweet stream of the Holy Spirit’s power in the land. And now I am turning again from my own power, and drinking deeply again of His. I think this is what they call repentance.

I am being refreshed; slowly but surely. Maybe this is something you need too.

I think during seasons of intensity, hardship, and struggle it can be really easy to just keep plowing through. It can be easy to think that there is no other way—and of course, to some extent, you do have to keep going. There are people depending on you. Work has to be done.

All that is well and good. But I have found that sometimes I use these “have to’s” as an excuse to never sit still. It’s the control freak in me. It’s the pride to again accomplish all that needs doing by my own will power. And it’s also the fear: because I knew if I sit still long enough I’m going to have to wrestle with the emotional level of what is going on around me, and I don’t want to.

Sometimes the first step to finding God’s provision and refreshment in a dry and desert season, is to stop looking.

Huh?

Sometimes it’s just time to sit down, cry out to God, and wait. Sometimes we are missing the blessing of the refreshment He wants to offer us right here and right now because we are so busy running around doing ALL-THE-THINGS trying to manufacture a life that feels more manageable and under control.

For our family in this season, a rhythm that has served us with consistency has been the rhythm of taking a day of rest: of accepting from the good hand of God our Father, the gift of Sabbath.

Sabbath Rest

I know you might come to this phrase with a whole cart load of pre-conceived notions. Whether you grew up in a faith tradition that practiced Sabbath religiously, or whether you see that word here and think, “hey, we don’t have to follow the law anymore remember?” I hope you can set all those pre-conceptions aside for a moment and listen to the heartbeat of God in this passage of scripture.

“Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.”

Deuteronomy 5:12-15 ESV

This is what I hear God saying:

Remember—you were a slave. You were bound to work as long as there was a master standing over you. But now, you have been set free, and I am not that kind of master. I will uphold you the six days that you work, and on the seventh I will give you rest as a part of my provision for you, because I love you, and I want what is best for you.

For me, practicing Sabbath goes in direct contrast with so many of my sinful tendencies. My tendency to control, to be self-sufficient, to earn the favor of God and men by my work, to feel justified in my own over-inflated opinion of myself.

But it also stops me in my tracks when I want to just keep busy so I don’t have time to think: Sabbath is my invitation from God to stop, sit, and be with Him in the middle of whatever I am going through, and in the middle of all the big feelings I may be having about it.

Maybe this is something God wants to bless you with too: with time and space to just be still—to bring Him your cares and your struggles—to allow yourself to grieve all that needs grieving right now, in His compassionate presence.

Maybe this is a gift you are longing to unwrap, but you’re not quite sure where to start.

If so, then I have something that may help. I have created what I’m calling a Sabbath quick start guide for anyone who is interested in pursuing a more consistent rhythm of rest, and it can be yours for absolutely free. Just click the link and give me your email so I can send it your way.

There are so many more words I could write about the way this practice of Sabbath has blessed me: but the main thing I want to tell you is that the more I study what the scriptures have to say about Sabbath, the more convinced I am that it isn’t at all about doing one more religious activity—instead it is our written invitation to come to the Father, weary and broken as we are, to rest.

Sabbath is about accepting the rest that God wants to give to you as provision: even though it might not look the way you hoped or expected.

(But more on that in another post.)

For today, I hope you can ask yourself, what might my life look like if I took intentional time to rest and connect with the heart of my Father God, even and especially in this season of hardship I am going through?

And if you need another resource? Earlier this year I was delighted to partner with my friend Sarah Westfall, as she compiled the voices of so many women who are passionate about clinging to God in the midst of seasons of incredible heartache and loss. She brought us all together for a sweet little 30 day Devo called Be Still: Leaning into God when everything falls apart and you can get either your Kindle or paperback copy by clicking here.

If you have been following me on Social media, especially Instagram for any length of time, you know that I tend to share more about our Sabbath practices there than anywhere else. Starting the first Saturday of the New Year, I began a 12 week series of posts with practical tips on preparing for Sabbath and I’d love for you to follow along. You can find me there and on Facebook @gracekelleywrites.

Blessings on you Dear Reader. May the REST of God bless you today with the refreshment your soul needs.

Gracie

Out of the rock

Provision can come from the strangest places. Or maybe strange isn’t the right word: maybe more like, “unexpected.”

When you are walking through the desert; through a wilderness season, and you look around for water and there isn’t any to be found, it can be so life sapping. When there isn’t any water in sight, how can we hope for the refreshment our souls need? It feels pointless at best, and at worst, foolish.

We are searching for the thing: for the what of what we need to survive. But the more important thing to search for is the Who. The Who that provides for our needs. This idea keeps coming back around: that it’s not about the what, it’s about the who.

The Who that holds together every molecule of our being, the Who that ordains the location of every grain of sand in this desert; that Who can bring water out of the rock if He so desires. There is nothing too hard for Him.

To us; unexpected or strange. To Him; as natural as breathing. As natural as a mother, whose child tugs at her skirt saying, “Mama, I’m thirsty.” As natural as pulling a cup out of the cabinet and as simple as leaning over the kitchen sink and turning on the tap. As mundane as screwing on the lid with the child’s favorite straw in place.

It’s as easy at that. This water from the rock. It’s as natural and normal and spectacularly beautiful as a mother giving water to her thirsty child.

Yet, I so often hesitate to even ask. And when I don’t ask, how could I receive?

It’s pride mostly—and fear: they combine in me to form the deadly sin of self-sufficiency. Pride because I don’t want to need God to bring the water from the rock; I want to find it myself. Fear because, what if He doesn’t bring water from the rock, and I look foolish on top of everything else? What if I ask and I DON’T receive? Or what if His provision doesn’t look the way I want it to?

The truth is that it rarely does. The Israelites were led in hope to the edge of a promised land they would not enter for an additional generation, because though the Lord had brought them this far, they couldn’t imagine how He could possibly help them overtake the fearsome inhabitants currently living in the promised land. (Deuteronomy 1:19-46)

I am so like the Israelites more often than I’d like to admit. Oh how small is my belief! I so easily forget that the God who has brought me this far, will surely see me home.

“The LORD your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.’ Yet in spite of this word you did not believe the LORD your God, who went before you in the way to seek you out a place to pitch your tents, in fire by night and in the cloud by day, to show you by what way you should go.”

Deuteronomy 1:30-32 ESV

I am no better than they. I too have forgotten the way He has carried me through desert seasons past; the way He has provided so unfailingly for me in the midst of difficultly, loss, and pain. I have forgotten the miracles by which I have come this far. And even when I go astray, even when the path before me does a 360, whether as a result of my own disobedience or just the fallenness of the world, my God, He will lead me still.

“And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty hears int he wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you.”

Deuteronomy 8:2-5 ESV

Dear Reader, wherever you find yourself today, I hope you remember to look up and around. Open your eyes to the way God has carried you and led you up until now; and seeing His faithfulness, believe again that He is carrying you still.

If you need a little reminder of how to walk through the hard things of life with the hope that comes from remembering what God has brought you through, then I made this for you. It’s a short little PDF e-book called Scattered: Seven Days to Hope in the midst of Hardship. And for a limited time, it’s yours, absolutely free. Just click the link and subscribe to receive the link to the download today.

*PLEASE NOTE being a WordPress subscriber will not allow you to download this file because I am not permitted to email WordPress subscribers. So if you have been following me here for awhile, and haven’t ever received an email from me (other than a WordPress update) you may want to check and see if you are actually subscribed! I’d love to get this goodness into your hands.*

For when you feel confused

“Make a U-Turn at Roller Coaster Road.” The computer voice from google maps instructed. But to us in that moment, it might as well have been the voice of God.

“Are you SERIOUS?!?” We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry; but somehow this instruction from the google map seemed to perfectly sum up that had been going on in our lives of late.

We started down a path; prayed and sought and confirmed it. The change was coming; it was a big change and it was going to be hard, but we submitted to God’s leading. Then this: all the plans seeming to fall around our ears. We were left confused and more than a little annoyed at the little mechanical voice telling us to make a u-turn, but we were even more annoyed at God.

Why would he take us this direction, only to have us turn around this far down the road?

It didn’t make sense. It was confusing. We felt lost and wondered if he had forgotten about us for a moment; maybe holding the world in his hands really was as distracting as one would think. But no.

We knew there was purpose in this. Even in this. That this was the test of faith: would we follow him, even when it seemed like he didn’t know where he was going?

The thing to remember is that God has never been about the destination only; he’s always and forever interested in the journey. The in-between. The promised land, and the wilderness. Heaven, and the earth. The green pastures and the valley of the shadow of death. Yet he is our shepherd in both places.

“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters.

He restores my soul.

He leads me in paths of righteousness

for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil,

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff,

they comfort me.”

Psalm 23:1-4

Restoration and rest by the green pastures and still waters; comfort and confidence in the valley of the shadow of death. The promises of God’s nearness and provision are in both places, yet the promise for the ultimate destination is not what is focused on here. Of course it is wonderful when we think of the latter half of the psalm; of the table spread in the presence of enemies, and then, the dwelling in the house of the LORD forever. But hear what God isn’t saying: “Just hang on! Just hang in there!”

More and more I realize my own inability to white-knuckle it to the finish line. I do not have the wear-with-all or will power to “hang on” and “hang in” indefinitely; though perhaps I have deceived myself into thinking I do at times. When Paul and Peter speak of “keeping the faith”, maybe they really mean, that by God’s power and his presence, we keep it. You don’t have to look further than the Israelites, God’s own chosen people, to see that we are faithless creatures. I am no different. Faithless on my own, but faithful by his empowering spirit. His spirit that whispers to my soul, “Come near. Rest awhile. Look around for signs of my provision; here in the valley it’s my staff and my rod—in the verdant valley it’s the pastures and the water. But always, and forever, it’s me.

How tempted I am to trust in the provisions, more than the provider! How often I rest in seemingly secure circumstances, instead of in my always secure place in my father’s hands and heart. Do I look around the greenest valley and fear it’s removal? Do I stand in the shadow of death and forget the one standing next to me, who has already beaten death on my behalf?

Maybe that is what you and I need most, on days where we feel lost in confusion. Maybe we need to just look up and around enough, to remember that no matter where we go, we never go alone. Though the path may seem treacherous and we are frightened out of our wits, our good Shepherd goes with us. He goes before us. He stands beside us. He takes up the rear guard. And because of the indwelling power of his spirit, he also makes his home within us.

Where the Spirit of the LORD is, there is freedom.*

Even when I don’t know what is going on, and it feels like every other day is another u-turn onto roller coaster road; even when I don’t know exactly where I am going, or how I am going to get there, I can rest in the knowledge that I belong. I am safe. I am held. I am irrevocably loved.

(*Hillsong United Worship)

Cultivating Margin in the Midst of Hardship

I used to think margins were a luxury for the very, very rich. I thought that if someone felt good enough about their work done in the main hours of anything to cultivate spaces in between it all, then they must have been rich indeed. Or maybe they really just had money seeping out their ears while they slept on the couch after a movie marathon, and that was how they could justify the rest. It is as ridiculous as it sounds.

But just the other day the thought struck me; that it’s more than margins. It’s more like refusing to do the opposite of leaving margins. It’s refusing to cut it too close.

“Well, you probably missed that one,” we heard from under the furrowed brow of the man clicking on his computer at the Air Canada check in desk. My best friend and I had just enjoyed the most magical week on Prince Edward Island. We saw some sights, walked on the red sand beaches and ate Canada’s most famous Cow’s Creamery ice cream. But when it came time to leave early that Friday morning, we had forgotten that we needed to put gas in the rental car.

I secretly wish there had been a camera filming the action as we struggled to figure out a) how to open the gas compartment on a mini-cooper b)how to pre-pay in liters for enough gas to fill said mini cooper, and c) how to realize earlier that google was taking us on a 45 minutes detour instead of just telling us to make a u-turn, on our way back to the road from the gas station.

When we ended up on a one-way dirt track we realized it: we had cut it all way, way too close, and we were very possibly going to miss our flight to Toronto. But we had a hope, that since the airport we were leaving from only had two gates, that we would probably be able to sneak in 30 minutes before our flight left.

“I don’t suppose you can get two more suitcases on the plane Brody…” the grouchy man with the furrowed white brows spoke into the walkie, he seemed to be willing Brody to say no.

“OH YEAH…” we heard the cheerful voice on the other side, “No problem at all!”

We owe the happy ending of this story to a man with a cart who was not afraid to come and get our tardy baggage. We made it on the plane just as the sun was coming up over the Island, but as we stood on the stairway waiting to board, there was no doubt in our minds, that aside from blindly following google’s directions, the main problem was that we had cut it all way too close. Though this week of rest with my best friend was in so many ways a testament to my learned ability to rest in the midst of seasons of intensity and hardship, I had forgotten to leave margin at the end of it all, to leave room for inevitable hiccups that come when you are traveling, especially in another country.

For so many years I lived a “cutting it close” kind of life. I respected following distance when driving to be sure (I was and am, a rule follower by nature), but when it came to cultivating any kind of personal margin to preserve my sanity; I wasn’t into it. I think I actually felt crazier when I tried to STOP what I was doing in order to rest. As newlyweds, my husband saw this monster of perfectionism up close and personal, as I obsessively cleaned late into the evening and refused to respect my bedtime. Always to my own detriment, and his. How would it be that years later, when I became the parent of a daughter who suffered from terrible tummy pain, that I would finally learn how to rest?

I think so often when we are faced with suffering of any kind, but especially the suffering of our children, it can be so easy to swing the pendulum the opposite direction, and try desperately, to control the situation. And to be sure; as parents we are called to steward our children as best we can, to keep them safe from harm and to help them heal when harm has been done. But there is also peace in realizing that it is not all up to me. There is a heavenly father who loves my daughter, who cherishes her, even as He cherishes me. He watches over Ellie on the couch when I take five minutes to go get a glass of water and wash my face. He comforts her in the quiet dark when I can do nothing more than sit next to her and rub her feet. When I am hungry in the middle of the night, having stayed awake every hour when I would normally be resting to take care of a little girl in flare-up, it behooves me to leave enough margin in my own heart, to accept the rest that God wants to give to me: to heat up a bowl of the soup a loving friend brought for me, and then go and resume my place next to her on the couch.

This is how I refuse to cut things too close; not that I take or fight my way for what I feel are my own personal needs—but that in those moments, I quiet my heart before the Lord, and I accept the rest that He wants to give me. I leave room. As I provide, I must also accept His gracious provision.

It is in the spaces in between; the space between the loading of the groceries and the drive home. The space between the laying down of the last sleepy head, and the laying of my own weary head on the pillow. The space between the alarm clock ringing, and the words I write so early on the page. These are the spaces that God invites me to rest in the fullness of who He is; and who I am as a result of that. He invites me to create space in my mind and my heart, to welcome Him into whatever difficultly, I am currently facing.

If you are suffering; or if you are walking through suffering with someone else, what would it look like for you to cultivate a little margin today? How can you accept the rest that God wants to provide to you, even in the smallest moments, so that you can endure the trials and cheer on others who are enduring with you?

Dearest Reader, it takes a recognition that we are not in control to sit down for a moment and rest in the midst of hardship, but in the end, that surrender is where peace comes. Here we make space for the small things that could become as urgent as a missed flight if left unattended. Here we make space to fill up a glass of water for ourselves, as well as for someone else. Here we make space to acknowledge that God is God, and we are not. We are finite, and so needy, and that is not a liability, it’s an opportunity for God to meet us.

Waiting in the Wilderness

Four years ago, April 2015, we were in the final stretch of our time living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After a long year lived far away from our families, which neither my husband nor I had ever done up until that point, it was almost time to pull the boxes we had saved from our move a year ago out of the detached garage of our apartment. To say I was excited was an understatement. I was counting down the literal days to the day when I could “reasonably” start packing for our trip home. In my defense, I think I was probably nesting just as much as I was preparing to head home. I had dreamed and planned my second baby in Wisconsin, but my plans included him being born in Colorado.

It had been a bit of a wilderness season for us out there, beautiful as it was and as many new friends and new adventures as we were privileged to enjoy on those strange shores of lake Michigan. In May of 2014, Willy drove a truck loaded to the gills with all our worldly possessions, and I, who had made my own parents grandparents only eight months before, said goodbye to them at the curbside of the airport, and held my own tiny daughter in my arms on a one-way flight to a place I’d never been.

Wisconsin was a season of waiting in the wilderness. We had been told right from the outset that the assignment would last a year, and though we felt this to be a blessing in so many aspects, it also felt like a curse. It would be hard to choose to get attached to people and to a place that we would certainly be leaving. And in turn, I found that people were hesitant to get attached to me in turn. That waiting place, like most waiting places, was extraordinarily lonely.

May 2015 my husband’s work informed us that they needed us to extended our time in Milwaukee by a month. And though 30 days was far from long in that grand scheme of our time there, that extra month that I had to wait to start packing felt like an eternity.

But there was one fear I held onto while I filled those boxes and taped and labeled them for our longed for journey home. What if they don’t recognize me?

I was 30 weeks pregnant with our second child when we finally made our journey home. I remember the heat of our new rental house on that July day; the stale air of a house that had been sitting empty, to me smelled like the sweet aroma of a longing fulfilled. But it wasn’t the growth of my belly that made me fear the lack of recognition by my family and friends; it was something much deeper than that. I was different now.

The wilderness had changed me.

Recently, we were talking with our small group about waiting on the Lord. We talked about seasons of waiting, what was hard about them, and what they produced in us. One of my good friends mentioned how seasons of waiting, are often seasons of being stripped down to the bare essentials. God whittles away our idols in seasons of waiting, in seasons of wilderness. In those times more than any others, it becomes easy to see what things we are truly waiting for—what we are truly hoping in.

That year was a stretching time. That summer, removed from every support system, like scaffolding, we wondered if we could stand on our own two feet. Now, when I look back on that time, though I still feel the ache of that deep loneliness I experienced there, I also see roots of strong relationship between my husband and I. When the last piece of scaffolding fell, and the last apron string was cut, we held on to each other, and to the God who had brought us to the wilderness for a reason.

As a people pleaser in a season with very few people to please, God revealed to me that my longing to be useful and needed, had the potential underbelly of inflating my ego. My longing for connection, though good, revealed my unbelief in the sufficiency of God and His presence with me in all circumstances. It was there that I battled idols of entertainment, which made my hollow life feel less lonely, but which were steadily whittling away the time which God had purposes and intentions for, if only for a year.

My definition of a full life changed dramatically that year. When we had once had friends for dinner almost every night of the week, for months there was nothing. By the end of our time there, I was overjoyed to have one playdate every other week, and I deeply enjoyed the one night a week when we were privileged to host our neighbor for dinner.

Our waiting changed us. That time created in us a pure desire to not only be apart of community, but to help create it. That time cemented us in our marriage in ways that would not have happened otherwise. That time revealed to me the idols in my heart that desperately needed to be dethroned. And it was there again, and the desk in my living room, that I finally began writing again. The Lord began to stir passions in my heart, many of which I couldn’t yet name.

All this and so much more. And I wouldn’t trade that wilderness for anything; not because it was easy, but because it was just another step on my journey to becoming the woman that God has always planned for me to be. I’ve seen glimpses of her in a window pane sometimes, just a sideways glance, nothing more. She’s beautiful and fearless. She loves fiercely with bold affection. She speaks words of truth and is always ready to hold out a hand in forgiveness and in grace. She knows that her life is not her own, and she’s okay with that. She trusts in the sufficiency of Jesus in the midst of all circumstances, and she helps others do the same.

I want to be her. I want that more than anything.

And if the wilderness has helped me get there? Then I thank God for the wilderness.

When all is unknown, and nothing feels comforting

It feels like a full fledged onslaught. The battle for my mind is raging every moment that I am present to my actual feelings and thoughts; and if I’m not present, then I’m just plain numb.

We heard these words of doubt last week: “I’m stumped.”

From a doctor, especially your child’s doctor, those are words you never, ever, want to hear. She looked sad. She looked tired and concerned. She has labored for us and with us for well over a year, and now, we are at the end of her expertise. The end of her possible answers.

“That’s what specialists are there for,” I heard her say. And I wonder if she wasn’t just saying that for us, but for herself. To remind herself that it’s okay that this time she didn’t have the answers we were looking for. In fact, we seemed at a loss for answers at all.

We have run out of non-invasive options. Our next right thing is to head to the pediatric gastroenterologists at Children’s Hospital, and hope they can help us find an answer. A diagnosis. Something, that will help our baby girl feel well more than 50% of the time.

The last time I was at children’s hospital, I stood as a witness as one of my best friends received the news that her 18 month old daughter had cancer. What had seemed like a fractured ankle from a crib injury ended up quite different than any of us could have anticipated. I can’t say I’m excited to go back there.

No solutions feel very comforting right now. Even if it all goes perfectly “well.” Sometimes the diagnosis makes things a lot better, other times, it’s the devastating last blow that seals just how much “worse” it all is.

And even if it’s not worse. Even if it’s all fine; I’m not excited to put my daughter under extensive and invasive tests. I don’t want to watch as she fades from consciousness from anesthesia. I don’t want to let anyone wheel my baby away on a gurney. I don’t want to put her life in any one else’s hands. As I looked at the faces of the pediatric gastroenterologists on the Children’s Hospital website, I just kept thinking to each face, “Do I trust you to take care of my baby girl? How about you?

The truth is I trust no one. And I know enough now to know that I can’t necessarily even trust myself: I mean, I haven’t been able to keep her healthy have I? No matter how much I slam down the control all around us and our life in attempts to keep her well, it’s never enough. I’m sure there’s been a time more than once over the past year and a half, when I’ve encouraged her to eat something that ended up making her sick. I try not to dwell on those times, but sometimes I do.

All I know is that I know her, and I love her. I remember when she was one-year-old she smelled to me like butter, and sugar cookies. That when she’s happy she doesn’t always smile, but her face is smooth and peaceful. She doesn’t always show her pleasure in the demonstrative ways you’d expect from a five-year-old. And she’s always been that way. I know that she’s happiest when she’s making art. That she’s an extrovert that needs her alone time. That she is more thoughtful and capable of compassion than I often even give her credit for.

A little over a month ago, I found myself making an hour long drive with a car full of sleeping babies. And through the gentle words of a scripture lullaby CD, I heard an almost audible whisper:

If you never find the answers, will you still trust me? 

And through the tears, my whispered answer came, “Yes.” 

The challenge now is one of memory: remembering the peace that comes when I choose to rest in the sovereignty of God. Remembering and keeping before my consciousness moment-by-moment, that God knows her and loves her even more than I do. That He has not abandoned her. And challenging as this thought is, that He has good for her, for us. Even here, smack dab in the middle of this pain; this terrifying unknown.

What that good might be? I don’t know yet. But I’m on the hunt for it. I’m ravenous. I’m parched. And I need to taste that spring of water that never leaves you longing for more. Especially here in this desert season, as I feel myself walking towards this valley of shadows and death. Come near to me Lord Jesus.

I believe He will.

If you too are walking through a season of suffering, or uncertainty, or both; I’m so glad you are here. I hope to create a place here where we can Cultivate a Fruitful Life, and I know that paradoxically, God often does His best work in the soil of suffering. Will you let me kneel down in the dirt next to you? CLICK HERE to sign up.

Praying for you Dear Reader. I know you’ve been through a lot. I have too.

But together, let’s keep before us, the truth of Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (ESV)

If you are planted in the soil of suffering like I am right now Dear Reader, then maybe, just maybe, God is in the middle of cultivating fruit.

Last Night We Rested

It’s Sunday morning, and the sun is streaming like gold to color the bookshelf, the wall, the baby swing, in the most heavenly of light. 

This weekend was crazy for us, as I’m sure it was for many of you if you live in the United States. Giving Thanks with friends and family always takes an extra bit of effort, but it’s worth it. 

Our Sabbath preparations this week looked different then. We drank coffee, seriously considered eating pie for breakfast, and then packed up our kids bags to head up to Fort Collins. It wasn’t Black Friday anymore, which meant that fewer people were on the roads and in the stores, and we did make a couple pit stops to glance around for presents at stores in Denver where we don’t normally have the chance to shop. We stopped for lunch.

By the time we were nearly home, my husband was feeling more than usually exhausted. We thought he might be coming down with something. So because of wonderfully thoughtful inventors of gluten-free and sheep cheese frozen pizza that I recently discovered,(Capellos!) we made one final stop and then headed home for a Sabbath evening, even if we couldn’t have the whole day.

I told the kids we were going to have a pajama party. We all got in comfy clothes and pulled out some old quilts, because there are now too many of us to sit all on the couch with a comfortable elbow room between us. And we ate pizza and snuggled and watched The Santa Claus because it’s finally after thanksgiving and there is nothing holding us back from watching any Christmas favorites anymore. 

Partway through the movie, I felt a nudge from my tired husband. I looked at him, and he looked at me with such love in his eyes, that I knew that every part of tonight was exactly how it should have been. Our children were snuggled under a quilt eating pizza on wooden trays over the carpet. We were drinking tea with honey, and our baby boy was nursing happily. I think it was even snowing outside a little. 

It took a little serving on my part to make everything right, but don’t worry, I left the dishes for this morning. And Sabbath can sneak in in those beautiful moments when we slow down enough to do just exactly what our family needs.

I went to bed early, the suitcases splayed open on the floor and most of their contents displayed haphazardly on the floor in the search for the tooth brushes. The bathroom too was left quite a disaster, as the after-movie bath left half the floor flooded because of some rather *ahem* exuberant splashing on the part of my three year old.

But that is all okay. 

I think I learn a little about the heart of God in Sabbath as I help to create it for my family, as well as enjoy it myself. He calls us to lay all the things down for awhile. To stop and rest and be.

He makes us to remember that He alone is God. And that the world does not need my activity to turn it. He calls us back from our idols of work and productivity, a clean house and even from an easy next day sometimes. As variable as our idols are, the Sabbath is designed to help us root them out. 

My sister asked me on Friday what I thought about someone saying that Jesus fulfilled the Sabbath. (In reference to no longer needing to practice this part of the law.) 

And here is the essence of the thoughts I gave her, more or less: Of course. No one has to keep perfectly the law to be saved. That was the whole reason why God gave the law in the first place, to show us that apart from him we cannot keep the law and that we desperately need a Savior to make us right before God. But just because we don’t have to do something, doesn’t mean that it isn’t God’s heart for us, or that it wouldn’t benefit us. After all, Sabbath was a part of God’s design before sin even came into the world at all. On the Seventh Day God rested from all the work that he had done, and he called it Holy. I personally believe that the Sabbath is a provision from God, one that we are wise to accept and embrace for the sake of fruitfulness in our personal lives as well as continued zeal for the ministry to which God has called each of us. 

I’d like to dive into this more. The “Why?” behind Sabbath may just be the thing that is keeping you from practicing what I believe to be, one of the most fruitful habits of all.

The garden is under the weight of frost and snow. The goats have dried up from their milking. The darkness comes earlier each evening and stays longer each morning as the winter solstice approaches. And it’s time to rest. 

In the midst of Advent, rest may just be the thing that keeps us grounded and centered on the true meaning of Christmas, which though it has very little to do with Tim Allen’s The Santa Clause, has everything to do with being invited by a loving God into a season of joy and feasting as we reflect on how our God is a God who provides exactly what we need: and what we need more than anything is him with us. Immanuel. Rest can help us slow down enough to tune in to all these truths. 

Today we go to Church. And Isaiah will probably take a nap on my lap again. And when we get home we’ll probably take it slow for the second afternoon in a row, and that is perfectly good. Jesus was never in much of a rush, and you don’t have to let the hustle and hurry to celebrate his coming capture you more than his radical love for your precious soul does. 

Blessings on you this First Sunday of Advent. May you rest in the one who gave everything to make you his.