And Peace on Earth

It is early in the morning. I am the only one awake. I’m sitting out in my living room, all the lights off except my Christmas Tree which is glowing softly. I had been lying in bed, wide awake, my mind fretting on a million things, so I finally decided to just get up. 

Right now I have one of the pieces from Handel’s Messiah running through my head. “Glory to God, Glory to God, Glory to God in the Highest…….And Peace, On earth……Good will toward men, toward men, Good will toward men, toward men…” which of course comes straight from Luke 2:14. 

Thinking back, this year has been insane. We have weathered some really hard things. I think about the violence our neighborhood and schools have seen this year. I think about the crazy ups and downs we’ve had with our foster daughter. I think about the stressful medical situations we’ve gone through with different family members. Loved ones who passed away. A lot of uncertainty in our country and the news always blasting gloom and hopelessness. 

It’s been a hard year. 

1 Thessolonians 4:13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.

This verse talks about grieving death. But I think it is appropriate to say that we don’t grieve, in general, without hope. Whether it is over the death of a loved one, over loss, over enduring trauma, or anything else that hits us hard. We don’t grieve without hope. 

The next verses in Thessolonians 4 go on to say that Jesus died on the cross for us and he will return one day and take all of us up to be with him. And so we know that this time on earth is just a chapter. Not the final credits. The story is just beginning. We look forward to eternity with Jesus. And that is our hope. 

And this brings me back to the angels singing Glory to God in the Highest and Peace on Earth, Good will toward men. 

It’s been a hard year. I’m sitting up early because my mind is worried about a lot of things. But, I don’t worry or grieve or live life as someone without hope. I know that I am at peace with God. Jesus made the way for me to be at peace with God. Before Jesus, all my sins made it impossible for me to come close to God at all. After Jesus, well here I am. I’ve endured a crazy year. I am looking at more craziness right now. But I have peace. I feel God’s good will toward me. I feel surrounded by his blessings and mercy. I am overwhelmed with thankfulness. 

I’m not sure how to spell this out clearly enough. I could make you a giant list of things I’m worried about. Legitimate things. Legal issues we have to look into concerning our foster child. Problems with the inner city schools our children are attending. Financial worries. The normal worries of, “Are my kids going to turn out ok??” The everyday worries, “This family is eating way too much junk over the holidays, how do we get back to eating healthy again??” Nagging worries like, “It’s only ten days to Christmas and I haven’t bought any Christmas gifts yet.” So many things that try to steal our peace. And yet, I am at peace. And Jesus is the one that did that for me. 

And so I sit up early and hum to myself, “Glory to God in the Highest”, and I hand my worries back over to God, get ready for another busy day, and know that I have Peace. 

Fat Fridays: Fatigue

I do not like being tired. I hate it. It feels like I have to do a task that requires 10 units, but I’ve only been given 4 units. And then what do you do? 

Fatigue is one of the leading reasons I started pursuing a better diet and exercise. I needed energy. Really bad. My poor diet messed with my blood sugar. I would eat too many carbs and then my blood sugar would spike and I would feel like I was about to pass out and I would have to lie down. My lack of exercise made climbing the stairs at my house a major event. I felt like I was dragging myself through each day. 

So, I changed my diet, I started really keeping tabs on my carbs, trying to not go over 30grams per meal or snack. I started exercising and felt my endurance growing by leaps and bounds. I now started running up the steps at my house. I stopped taking naps every day. I started averaging about seven hours of sleep, instead of needing eight-plus. I started taking a handful of supplements, like B vitamins and Vitamin D.  And while I will never be accused of being the Energizer Bunny, I felt fine getting through my day. 

And then this past couple weeks happened. Last week I was on a stress-high from the recent gun-violence in my kids’ highschool and our community. Then this week that stress turned into depression. I have barely been able to get out of bed in time in the mornings. I do all my early morning stuff of getting kids off to school, getting young kids fed and settled in, and then I crash mid morning. Fall asleep. And though I don’t sleep too long, it takes me several hours afterwards to get myself up and functioning again. 

I’ve been rolling with it. Been sitting on the couch reading to my little boys instead of trying to tackle grammar and math lessons (I homeschool my six year old). I haven’t attempted to fold the six baskets of laundry, just made sure the kids grab something clean out every night for the next day. I haven’t tried to do any heavy-duty cleaning, just the basic daily tidy-up. My personal trainer is still sending me daily workouts, but twice I’ve traded in a tough workout for a long walk instead. And I’ve just been trying to be patient with myself. Depression is something I’ve fought before and I know it will pass. 

But, I have to say, I’ve been a bit surprised at the fatigue. I think, in the back of my mind, I always presumed that all my fatigue came directly from lack of exercise and an unhealthy diet. I never thought a lot about stress and depression being a significant factor as well. But, I think it is. 

The big reminder I’ve had to give myself is, even though my diet and exercise aren’t giving me energy right now, it would be a hundred times worse if I went back to my old lifestyle. I am still nourishing my body in the way it needs, moving it the way it needs. Fatigue is not an excuse to stop. It’s a motivation to keep going. No reason to make this any worse than it already is. 

Delight Yourself in the Lord

Delight yourself in the Lord. 

Last night in our church’s prayer meeting, this was the admonition of our pastor. 

I’ve been pondering on this since yesterday. How do I delight myself in the Lord?  How do I take pleasure in him? What does this look like in everyday living?

This past week I have been pretty numb. Trauma does that to me. I just kind of shut down for a while. My emotions get overloaded and they just turn off. For some reason, yesterday was my hardest day. I was fighting depression and hopelessness and it was a major feat to just put one foot in front of the other. Last night’s online prayer meeting was a breath of life that I needed. (By the way, this is just another example of why we need to be plugged into the body of Christ.)

This morning I woke up early. It is my husband’s birthday and I wanted to make him a special breakfast. I was up and so I was able to pause for a moment, look out the window, and see the beginning of a soft orange and purple sunrise. At the same time, I also noticed some of our bushes had flowered pink and white in our yard. Later on in the morning, I went outside on our deck and just sat in the sunshine. My little boys joined me and while I closed my eyes, soaking in the warmth, they chattered on about little boy things. Animals they could see in our yard. What if our cat was actually a WILD cat? What if our white cat was actually an ARCTIC FOX! I said uh huh, and yeah, in all the appropriate places, smiling at their antics, taking in the light. This evening we went for a walk after supper, and I noticed how the setting sunlight lingered on the green tree on the corner. The breeze rustled through the branches, the leaves shook and twisted, reflecting light as if they were glass pendants hanging from a chandelier. And through all of this there was a murmur in my head. Thank you Lord. This is beautiful. I love your creation. 

And I felt delight. 

Today was also a day for focusing on my children. Trying to give them some concentrated attention. We made trips to the library, read books out loud. Sat and cuddled on the couch. I made an effort to reach out whenever I could, tussle their hair, give a quick hug, listen with my eyes on their face. And through all of this there was a murmur in my head. Thank you Lord for these children. They are so beautiful. I am so blessed to be their mother. 

And I felt delight. 

Today I wrestled through some thoughts and ideas that have been wandering around my head. What is my response when my children’s schools go through such turmoil? And I felt peace. Maybe a change will be needed in the future, but for now, I feel that we proceed on the path that we are on. Walking in faith that all things work for good to them who love God. Trusting that if or when a change is needed in how we do school, God will make it clear. And there was a release of tension and a murmuring in my head. Thank you Lord. Thank you for your peace. 

And I felt delight. 

And you know, I almost missed it. Because all these moments were tangled up with messy life. Accidents, temper tantrums, impatience. Chores not done right. Kids fighting. It was not a day of meditation and calm. It was a normal day with kids and a large crazy house. But, tucked all throughout the day was beauty and thankfulness and peace. And I feel a murmur in my head saying Thank you Lord for this day. Thank you for your presence. Thank you for the meaning you infuse in my life. Lord you are Good. 

And I feel delight. 

Please Pray

It’s late Monday night. The younger children are asleep, the older ones are quiet in their rooms. Throughout the evening I’ve been hearing random gunshots in our neighborhood. After hearing five different shots, I called it into the police. They said they would send someone to check things out. But, the gunshots have continued through the evening. 

My highschoolers have been put on RED this week, doing virtual school instead of in-person school. Except, this time, it’s not for weather or covid, but because of a death. This past Friday, a sixteen year old boy was leaving our highschool and was struck by a stray bullet shot very close to the school. He did not survive. 

One of my daughter’s teachers sent out a schedule for tomorrow and it is basically going to be grief counseling all day long. 

Very recently my own daughter was walking home from school and had someone firing off a gun half a block behind her. And I’m crying in relief. It wasn’t my daughter that got hit by a stray bullet. And I’m angry. WHY ON EARTH are our kids having to deal with bullets on their way home from school!! And I wonder how on earth to make it stop. And I think about the anger and gut wrenching grief of this young man’s family.  And I think about all the kids showing up to their online classes tomorrow, angry, mourning, scared it might be them the next time. 

I am so angry. And I am weeping at the pain of losing a child so young. 

And I want to know how on earth our family can be an agent of help in this community. It seems so impossible. The problems too big. Our influence too small. 

My husband and I were driving in the countryside yesterday. We have always longed to live in the country. We talk about farms and cabins in the woods. We toss around ideas of how we could make it happen. 

Yesterday, as we drove through the beautiful scenery, my husband asked, again, Why aren’t we living out here?? 

I didn’t answer right away, because we’ve had this conversation over and over again. But finally I spoke up. 

Cause God put us in the city and for some reason he seems to want us to stay there. 

Oh yeah. That’s why. We actually feel like God had a plan when we moved here. And we haven’t felt like it’s time to move on yet. 

But, on days like today, nights like tonight, I feel a bit of despair. 

Please pray for our high school as the kids come together for the first time tomorrow. Pray for safety for our children. Pray the family of this young man. And pray for change to come. 

Breathe

Sometimes I am shockingly disconnected to my body and what it’s going through. And then my body responds to a situation in a very normal physical way, and I’m like, What’s going on?? What is wrong with you?? 

The past two days I have been so tired, any time I sit down, I start falling asleep.

Crazy.

Am I sick? Vitamin deficient? Coming down with something? 

And then I stop and try to assess the situation.

Ok. I had to surrender my dog to a shelter on Monday. On Monday I also started a new diet/exercise program that I am sure is a shock to my system. On Tuesday I had an important meeting at the kid’s school, had to put myself forward and stand in the gap for a child that needs some special help. Everyone was nice, but any time I have to speak my mind in front of strangers, I get stressed. Last week my teenager was walking home from school and shooting broke out, half a block behind her. Now I am feeling hyper-vigilant as I listen to all the sirens throughout the day. It’s not been a tranquil month for relationships. In short, while I have decided to pump up on vitamins, stay hydrated, etc. I am also just trying to be kind to myself and acknowledge that maybe my body is trying to tell me something. 

Like,

You are Tired. 

The following are the words to the final chorus in the song  Breathe put out by Jonny Diaz.

When it starts to fall apart in my heart I hear you say just

Breathe, just breathe

Come and rest at my feet

And be, just be

Chaos calls but all you really need

Is to take it in, fill your lungs

The peace of God that overcomes

Just breathe (just breathe)

let your weary spirit rest

Lay down what’s good and find what’s best

Just breathe (just breathe)

Just breathe, just breathe

Come and rest at my feet

And be, just be

Chaos calls but all you really need

Is to just breathe

Just breathe

Source: LyricFind

Songwriters: Jonathan Smith / Jonny Diaz / Tony Wood

Breathe lyrics © Songtrust Ave

And that’s where I’m at right now. Needing to acknowledge my body’s efforts to slow me down. Needing to rest. I’m not up for solving any of life’s mysteries or thinking really deeply, or being anything amazing. I just need to rest at Jesus’ feet and breathe for a while. 

A Glimpse into Inner City Violence

Lately, I’ve been in a contemplative mood. My brain has been downloading stories from my past that I’ve been writing down in order to get them out of my head. I had written this story last week, wondering what to do with it. Then, today I found out two people lost their lives in a shooting last night, a couple blocks from our house. Since the stay-at-home orders began, in March, the gun activity has increased in our neighborhood. We hear gunshots several times a week. Sometimes we call it in. Sometimes we just don’t. Depends on how close it sounds. Anyway, it seemed a good time to share this story which took place in December of 2015. The end result of the events told was the death of our neighbor’s nephew who had been walking home from his night shift at McDonalds.  

Gunshots. Lots of Gunshots. Never-ending Gunshots.

I jerked awake, frozen in my bed as the gunshots went on and on and on. My body seemed to revert back to that childhood belief, if I don’t move a muscle, the monsters won’t see me. A voice was yelling in my head, GET OUT OF BED! HIDE! GET ON THE FLOOR! And I just lay there, frozen, wondering when a bullet was going to hit me. Because, surely those bullets must be aimed at my house. It was so close, my eyes were squinted shut, just waiting to feel the thud of a bullet.

And then…it stopped. 

Silence. 

I lay there for one more second and then my Mom Brain turned on. THE KIDS!! What if a bullet came through the walls and hit one of them??? I jumped out of bed, grabbed my phone and started dialling 911. As I dialed, phone to my ear, I ran out of my room, looked into the bedroom next to mine. Stood in the doorway, listening. Listening for awake children. Listening for signs of distress. 

Nothing. 

I ran into the room, bent over the bed. The boys were asleep. I yanked back the blankets. No blood. No wounds. The operator answered my call. 

Hello. My name is Esther Heneise. I live at *********** and I need to report a shooting. As I was speaking on the phone, my oldest daughter ran out of her room. 

MOM! What was that??

I motioned for her to climb into my bed. I continued to answer the questions on the phone as I paced around the upstairs, checking bedrooms. No. I didn’t know how many gunshots there were, but it went on for a really long time. No, I’m not sure where the gunshots were coming from, but it sounded like it was right outside my house in the street. 

Then I suddenly remembered my nine and eleven year old daughters who shared a room downstairs, what if the bullets had got to them?? I ran for the steps, phone still pressed to my ear. Just as I got to the top of the steps, both girls came running up in a mad scramble. Hanging onto me when they got to the top. WHAT WAS THAT???

I motioned for them to join their older sister in my bed. The three of them huddled together and watched me as I paced around my bedroom. Trying to communicate to the operator what had happened.

The operator asked me if I had seen anyone. Seen anyone? No. I had been in bed! But this made me run to the window. I looked out, my windows giving me a clear view of the little side street that runs past my property. Wait. There were two men outside. I could see them in the road, under the streetlight. I quickly told the operator what I was seeing. Two men, and they are starting to run. There they go! They’re running down my street….Wait, no, they are out of the street now, they’re cutting through someone’s yard, heading towards Magnolia. 

Suddenly, the operator stopped her questions. She said, you’re breathing really fast, are you ok?…..What? Oh. Um. Yeah. I’m just really freaked out. I’m all alone at my house. My husband is gone and it’s just me and eight children. 

We talked a little bit longer and then I hung up the phone. My girls were laying in my bed, the blanket pulled up almost over their heads. Their eyes stared big and round at me. 

I leaned over the bed. Gave them a hug. Here. Just stay here in my bed. Sleep here. I’m going to go and check on the little kids again. I’ll just sleep with the little girls. 

I walked out into the hall, peeked into each bedroom again. Then pulled out my phone again. I tried calling my husband. The phone rang and rang and rang. No answer. True, it was somewhere around 1am in the morning. But, he was also out on a camping trip with our oldest son and his boy scout troop. He didn’t have good reception out there anyway. 

I felt extreme frustration at that moment. Without fail, any time my husband was gone overnight, something momentous happened that I had to deal with by myself. I went and looked out the window of my bedroom again. There were now policemen down there. No flashing lights. No sirens. I could see several officers walking around with flashlights. Our neighbors on the other side of the side street came out of their house. Spoke to the policeman, gestured towards their house. The policeman walked around their house as well, shining their flashlights. 

Then, all the activity suddenly focused into one place. Now they were all there, pointing their lights at the little side road, bending down, looking at something. I stood staring out my window. I had absolutely no desire to go downstairs and look out the windows down there, I had no desire to step out on my porch to see what I could see. At that moment in time, my upstairs felt safe and everywhere else felt dangerous, scary. I continued to watch. I don’t know how long I stood there, but eventually, the policemen all piled into their cars and drove away. 

I wondered if I would ever find out what had happened. 

My big girls had fallen back to sleep and I quietly walked out of the room and headed over to my little girls room. The two and four year old shared a double bed and there was plenty of room for me to climb in. I snuggled up to their warm bodies. Pulled the blanket up high and lay there, wondering how on earth I would ever fall asleep. I prayed. Asking for God’s protection on us. And as I lay there, a surprising peace settled over me, and I slept.