When You Least Expect It

I stopped writing for a little bit. I have pondered just stopping completely. Just walk away. Reasons? I don’t have anything positive to say. No sense in dragging people down with my negativity. I have a lot of stress in my life that is tied into other people and their stories, and I have no freedom to share their stories and so I can’t talk about and explore all the reasons their stories are stressing me out. And probably the most honest, I feel myself in a deep dark place of depression and why would I want to share that with the world? 

Depression is a weird thing. I can stand back and be analytical. Yeah, the times that I get depressed are when I am emotionally stretched too thin. Too much on my plate. I’m overwhelmed. But then, there have been plenty of times that I have been in that position and not fallen into deep depression. So what’s the difference? How do I stop it from descending on me? I’ve tried hard to practice Self-care. I’ve tried very hard to keep my load at a bearable weight. I’ve tried very hard to be proactive about keeping depression at bay. And then there is a “Last Straw” moment and I feel myself sliding down into a pit. 

Today I sat in my chair in my room, opened the curtains so the sun would shine straight in my face. I sat there with my eyes closed and thought about Hope. 

Hope is such an elusive thing. I don’t know how to summon it up when I am at my lowest. But somehow, it has a way of wafting past my face when I am least expecting it. Today, as my eyes saw bright spots against my eyelids and the light warmed me up, I felt a stirring of hope. I realized that all my thoughts about God and his love for me and my inability to accept that on some fundamental level, all of that angst was not something I had to solve today. Today I could just focus on being thankful and praising God and that was enough for now. 

I decided to cancel my membership with the personal trainer app I’ve been using the past year. Not because they weren’t awesome and super helpful to me, but because I realized I needed to move forward with something different to fit where I am now, a year later. And instead of failure, it felt hopeful to start looking for something new.

Today I have decided that all the other myriad problems that are weighing me down can get fixed another day. Or never at all. Just deal with the problems that are right in front of me at this very moment. Cliche. But still true. Story of my life, trying to remember that and walk in it. 

Hope showed up with some sunshine today. I don’t know why. But I’ll take it. I don’t know how long it will last, but I’ll take what I can get. And on the days when hope doesn’t show up, I’ll keep putting one foot in front of the other. Seek out the light. Trust that it will show up when I least expect it.  

“Ravished”

Several years ago my older kids learned a dance to a song called “Ravished” by Jesse Cline and Ashleigh Brison.  It’s from the album “Breathe Ultimate Call”. I love this song. Every time I hear it I cry. I remember watching my children worship as they performed this song and it was like a foreshadowing of heaven. Watching your children worship Jesus is the ultimate goal for parenthood. 

Now, as I interact with my adult children and other people in the same age range, fresh, just starting out into the world, I feel like this song says everything that I want them to know. 

These are the words from the Bridge: 

Bridge 1

Whеn I was broken

When I was wounded

Like a hero, You saved the day

Your love has rescued me

But now that I’m made new

I found new life in You

And I’m never going back

Oh, You have my heart

You have my heart

And I found it all in You

And I’m sitting here crying because I want everyone to know this. Jesus is the answer. That’s it. There is no other way to get through this life. There aren’t any shortcuts. There aren’t any other paths that lead in the same direction. Jesus. That’s it. Accepted on his terms. He is Lord. He is Savior. Give your life to him. Surrender completely. It’s the only way to have happiness in this life. The only way to peace. The only way to Joy. How do you make it through this crazy thing called life? Jesus. How do you survive anxiety and depression? Jesus. How do you figure out what to do with your life? Follow Jesus, he’ll show you. How do you fix the brokenness in your life? Jesus. How do you become the best version of you possible? Jesus. 

I don’t know how to convince people of this except to say, Look. Here is my life. Here is how I’m getting through. Jesus. Everything I do, He is the only way that I’m doing it. And I would never do it a different way. I have found everything I need in him. 

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6

And my heart sings, “I found it all in you.” And I want everyone to have this same peace and confidence. Jesus. He is the answer. 

The Power of Worship

I started off this morning feeling off-balance. Unresolved conflicts. In the middle of a battle with myself as I try to adopt healthier habits. Children not as happy as I’d like to see them. The overwhelming amount of projects I need to do in my house. A dull February morning, the sunrise trying to push away the gray, but not quite managing to do so. The feeling of not having it all together. 

Then my fifteen year old came downstairs, dressed in cheerful pink, and turned on some worship music on her phone. I found myself singing along. And almost right away, I felt Hope returning. Jesus is good. He is on his throne. My life is in his hands. 

There is something about worship that recenters your perspective. As I write, the sunshine suddenly gets brighter, I can see more blue peeking around the clouds. My little boys are playing cheerfully. I feel a bit more confident that I can handle whatever this day hands me. 

The kids are memorizing Psalm 100. Every morning on the way to school, we practice our verses. It’s a good way to start the day. Though sometimes, I’m not paying enough attention to the words we are saying. 

Psalm 100

A psalm. For giving grateful praise.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.

    Worship the Lord with gladness;

    come before him with joyful songs.

Know that the Lord is God.

    It is he who made us, and we are his[a];

    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving

    and his courts with praise;

    give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;

    his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Worship does not change your circumstances, but it shrinks them back into perspective. Instead of me standing alone in a pit, it’s me holding the hand of my Father God as we navigate a bumpy road together. 

Come, Let Us Worship our God, Let us kneel Before the God our Maker, For He is Good and his Love Endures Forever. 

“Your Name is the Light in the Darkness”

This morning in church we were singing the Paul Baloche song, “Oh Our Lord”, and we sang the line, “Oh Your Name is the Light in the Darkness…” And I suddenly had a flashback of me, in my room, calling out to Jesus for help. On my knees in despair, unable to help myself, crying on the name of the Lord, and it wasn’t just one scene, it was many scenes going back for years and years. All the times I have called on the Name of the Lord for help. Lord, I don’t know what to do! Please help me! Desperate cries. And EVERY SINGLE TIME, he has helped me. EVERY SINGLE TIME. Oh Lord, how Majestic is Your Name! How powerful is your name! You have brought me out of the pit. Your name is a strong tower and the righteous run into it. Your name is the Light in the Darkness.

This weekend has been quite a roller coaster for me as I walked through a crisis with one of my kids. And I had that completely helpless, powerless feeling of, I don’t know what to do or say to help this child. And I love this child and I’ve got to help them. And I don’t know how… Jesus. Help us. Please. And he did. He did. Friday night was the pit of despair, and somehow Saturday and Sunday have been wonderful. 

People hear how many kids I have, and they shake their heads and they say, I don’t know how you do it! 

And I don’t know quite what to say. Cause really, I’m not doing it. It’s all God. But, any pat response I give will just sound light, frivolous. How do I communicate to a stranger that, There is no way I could ever parent this many kids on my own. I couldn’t even parent one kid on my own. This parenting journey involves me on my face regularly before God crying for help, mercy, wisdom, relief. And he is faithful to help. He listens and he answers. 

This past week I have been trying to make a conscientious effort to turn my thoughts to worship instead of worry. This week has given me a lot of things to worry about. We’ve even had some major crises. But, I have had an amazing amount of peace throughout.

You keep him in perfect peace

 whose mind is stayed on you,

 because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26:3

God’s name is trustworthy. 

for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:13

I’m here to give my testimony, my witness, my story. Jesus has never let me down. Ever. And I’ve walked some crazy paths. I’m walking a crazy path right now as I try to raise this growing family of mine. Every time I have called on Jesus for help, he has helped me. And it’s not because I’m some amazing Saint. I’m as sinful and messed up as the next person. The only difference is God has saved me, and continues to save me. And I continue to call on his name. 

My heart is overflowing today with praise. I’ll leave you the words to this Matt Redmon song, 

Worthy, You are Worthy

Worthy, You are worthy

Much more worthy than I know

I cannot imagine

Just how glorious You are

And I cannot begin to tell

How deep a love You bring

O Lord my ears have heard of You

But now my eyes have seen

Chorus

You’re worthy

You’re worthy

You’re worthy

You’re worthy to be praised

Forever and a day

You’re worthy

You’re worthy

You’re worthy

You’re worthy to be praised

Forever and a day

Glory, I give glory

To the One who saved my soul

You found me and You freed me

From the shame that was my own

And I cannot begin to tell

How merciful You’ve been

O Lord, my ears had heard of You

But now my eyes have seen

How to Survive Mom Life

It’s been a crazy week. (How many times have I written that?) I told my husband, my actual list of stuff to do has not been that long, but my emotional load has been really heavy. We had a home visit this week from our foster daughter’s caseworker, getting ready for an important upcoming court date next week. Several of my children have had some struggles this week that have weighed on me as I try to help them through. National affairs still have me really tense. 

Yesterday I was feeling a bit shell-shocked. Then a friend posted an old blog post online from DESIRINGGOD.org written by Jen Wilkin. Here’s the link to the original post Women, Trade Self-Worth for Awe and Wonder . The basic premise is that instead of focusing on building up our self-esteem we should be focusing on the greatness of God. As we focus on Him instead of ourselves, we develop a healthy “fear of the Lord”. And a “fear of the Lord”, according to scripture, leads to all the good things we want in life. 

I was thinking about this all day yesterday. And I tried to put it into practice. As I felt myself getting overwhelmed with a situation, and I sent out a silent plea, “What do I do?” I remembered, focus on God, not yourself, and I started thinking about his Majesty, sitting on his throne, his Holiness, his Worthiness. And it helped. My problems shrunk back to a reasonable size when I compared them to the Awesomeness of God. And the heaviness lifted some as I lifted up praises instead of complaints. 

Guys, I’m just going to go on record and tell you that being a mom is tough. And it’s not that my kids are unusual. They are regular people with the regular issues that all people have. It’s just that being human is difficult. And raising humans to adulthood is difficult. 

Last night my husband and I snuck away for a very short date night. We went out to eat, but during the meal we were fielding calls from our teenager who was babysitting and was overwhelmed by two small children fighting over a device that neither of them were supposed to have in the first place. We also were texting with another child, and watching the time because we had to go pick up another child when her work shift ended. 

My husband said, this is just for a season, or something like that. And I said, No, we will be doing this for our entire lives. Our youngest is only three after all. By the time he finally has himself all sorted out we will have grandchildren heading into their teen years. Andy said that would be different. But, I hope that we will be involved enough in our grandchildren’s lives, that we will be able to share in their ups and downs. Anyway, the point being, the stress of being a parent isn’t going anywhere. It’s here to stay. And that is hard to accept sometimes. 

The other day, I found my mind just cycling through a woe-is-me kind of cycle. It was so Me-Focused. And it was tiresome. And I had this revelation that when my thoughts automatically turn to thinking about God instead of automatically obsessing about myself and my problems, when I can get to that place, my peace will exponentially greater. And I think that’s why Jen Wilkin’s article hit me so deep. Yes. Cultivate a healthy fear of the Lord. Yes. Focus on God’s might instead of my weakness. Yes. Spend my energy praising, instead of complaining. These are the things that will enable me to not only endure, but thrive in this crazy job of being a mom. 

The Spinning Clock

It’s Wednesday. Only two more days till the weekend. The weekend will go quickly. Then another week. Before we know it, that week will be over and then September will be coming to an end. My oldest child is turning twenty at the end of this month. And while I try to grapple with this landmark in parenting, I sit back and view the years. 

I have an image of a large clock and the hands on the clock are spinning, spinning, spinning. And I am walking in a circle, washing the clothes, cooking the food, cleaning the house, changing diapers, hugging babies, and the clock keeps spinning, and the cycle keeps repeating over and over and over again. Buy the groceries, fold the clothes, hug a child. Mow the lawn, drive to church, Christmas, hug a teenager. Celebrate a birthday, sweep the floors, scrub the toilet, wave at the young adult as they head off to college. Turn on the heater, turn on the air conditioner, pack up all the childhood memories in a box, send them off with the young adult who used to be your baby and is now moving across the country ready to start their own life. And the clock keeps spinning and spinning. 

And occasionally I yell STOP! I try to hit pause. I make a survey of my life, our lives. Where are we? What’s happening? My almost twenty year old is firmly established far away, working, going to school. My eighteen year old just let us know that he is also heading out of state soon, pursuing his dreams. I have a junior in high school who is starting to make more solid plans about her future after high school. I have a freshman in high school who might start driving soon. My baby boy has now joined the youth group, stepping into the ranks of TEENAGERS. My elementary kids are rushing through the grades, climbing, climbing steadily up the ladder. My little five year old is reading like a big boy, the three year old no longer needs diapers and he is starting to engage in some pretty grown up conversations. And the clock has been spinning and spinning. And even as I try to get a good grasp on where we are right now, it keeps spinning. The kids keep growing, time keeps zooming past. 

And I think about the book of Ecclesiastes. (1:4-7)

Generations come and generations go,

    but the earth remains forever.

The sun rises and the sun sets,

    and hurries back to where it rises. 

The wind blows to the south

    and turns to the north;

round and round it goes,

    ever returning on its course. 

All streams flow into the sea,

    yet the sea is never full.

To the place the streams come from,

    there they return again.

But, as I was imagining that clock spinning and spinning, the cycle of life, never-ending, I also saw something else. As I was cleaning, and cooking, and washing, and drying, there was a song on my lips that floated above everything else. A song of praise. A song of worship. And it was continually floating upwards, a beautiful melody going up to the heavens. 

And I think, this is life. We are on a treadmill that we can’t get off. The seasons continue to change. We have babies and they turn into adults, then they have children of their own, the cycle never-ending. Governments rise and fall, cultures change, times of plenty come, times of going without, and the clock keeps spinning. Every day we do our part, feed our bodies, sleep, get up and do it again. 

But there is beauty. There is purpose. There is gentleness, and passion. There is comfort and joy. There is the wonder that as we tread out our paths, we are not alone. We are loved by our God. And our work and toil is pleasing to him. The compassion we show others is beautiful to him. Our perseverance is acceptable. And though sometimes we can only see a never ending grinding of daily tasks, our lives are like a fragrant offering drifting up to heaven. 

And even as my children seem to be slipping out of my hands, gone to the world of adulthood, even as the clock hands seem to be spinning faster and faster, even as I straighten my spine and tackle yet another day of cooking and cleaning and washing and folding, I can still have joy. Knowing that contrary to the sentiments of the author of Ecclisiastes, life is not meaningless. My life is a drink offering poured out on the altar. My life is a noble journey. My life is a Holy Quest.

So. Spin clock. Fly past, time. Each day is another day to serve God through the works of my hands, the love I share with others, and the faithfulness in the small things. 

The Committee Meeting

As I was mopping my floors for the first time in a long time today, I had a funny thought. What if God had done interviews of my family and friends when I was somewhere around 19 years old. And he said, Hey, I’m looking for someone to have 10 children and run a household and keep everything in order. What do you think about Esther? I’m pretty sure that none of my family members or friends or roommates would have nominated me for the job. Esther? She’s rather messy. Housework and Esther? Nah. She’s kind of absent-minded too, not real detail oriented. Honestly, I don’t think Esther is much of  kid person, I don’t think she’s even babysat much, and she never tries to hold other people’s babies at church or anything like that. She’s not exactly the crafty, fun, play with kids type. She’s rather sarcastic, that surely can’t be good for raising children. All Esther wants to do is play her piano and read books. I can’t see her taking the time away from that to raise a family. 

 

Ok. So probably my friends and family would be too diplomatic to voice their true feelings, but I’m sure they would have thought at least some of that. 

 

I am visiting, once again, the amazing discovery that God doesn’t always match our callings up with our gifts. Or, to put it another way, we don’t need to work on the areas we are strong in, we need to work on the areas we are weak in. 

 

I can just see it: A committee meeting. God proposes to a couple angels, I’ve got a position open for Stay at Home Mom of Ten, I’m thinking that I’m going to put Esther in this position. The angels raise their eyebrows (I’m going to presume they have eyebrows) and look cautiously at each other. Umm. God, we know that you know everything, so you must be right, but we really don’t see how this is a good fit. Can you explain? 

 

Then God would say, Look, you see how she has been lazy and selfish about helping her mother out with washing dishes for her entire life? Every time she has to wash dishes she has a temper tantrum. See, I’m going to put her in a position where she has to wash up the dishes after 12 people, 3 times a day. She’s going to learn how to change her attitude, stop treating it like a death sentence, and in fact, one day I will teach how to make that time of serving her family, a time when she can put on worship music and worship me. 

 

The angels nod in amazement. Wow, Esther washing dishes and worshiping? Is that possible? 

 

Then God would continue. You see how she’s really messy and doesn’t take care of her belongings? I’m going to surround her with a houseful of people who are equally messy and who also don’t take care of their belongings. She’s going to learn how annoying that is and start taking steps to change it. She’ll also have the ironic position of trying to teach her children how to take care of their belongings. Esther’s mother will find the whole situation very amusing. 

 

The angels grin, yes, I’m sure that will be good payback for her poor mother who’s had to deal with her mess for years. 

 

God will smile, and continue. Yes, and you see how absent-minded she is? I’m going to make her have so many details to keep track of that the only way she’ll be able to do it is by clinging to me and my strength and power every day. She’s going to become a lot more reliant on me. 

 

And you see how she doesn’t even notice the existence of children? I’m going to change her heart and make it so child-focused that she won’t be able to enter a public place without seeing all the kids. And she’ll have a heart for them. And she’ll start praying for them and being kind to them. Only I can change a person’s heart like that. And I’m going to use her own children to make this change. 

 

You see how proud she is? She thinks she’s really smart. I’m going to let her be a mom to ten children and she’s going to learn very quickly that she really doesn’t know much at all. And instead of trying to do everything out of her own ability, she’s going to learn, slowly, how to rely on me for wisdom and direction instead of her own intelligence. 

 

I’m going to take this girl and make her a woman with a heart for me. 

 

The angels get all excited…How long is this going to take God? 

 

God smiles, Her whole life. But what a journey it’s going to be!

 

 

 

Stories From My Journey to Worship

I think one of my favorite journeys that I have been on is the journey of learning how to worship God through music. As a child my family sang a lot. My father had in fact been in a musical group all through his growing up years with his siblings, performing on the Christian Radio Station where his parents worked, performing for churches in the states when his family would come back on furlough (usually a year long break from the mission field, a time spent visiting supporters and speaking at many many churches and events). Music runs pretty deep in my family. My father plays the guitar and my mother sings alto and my brother and I quickly learned how to sing the melody while our parents harmonized and then later learned how to harmonize ourselves. I loved to sing for the sheer beauty of it. As a teen my brother and I and our friends formed a tradition, whenever we were driving in a car together, coming back from a trip to the beach or some other type outing, we would sing together. We would sing worship and praise songs and hymns, and usually the songs had parts and we would split into parts and it was the perfect way to end the day, driving home, tired, making beautiful music.

As I got older I slowly started focusing a bit more on the words that I was singing. I think I started doing this at the suggestion of a worship leader or pastor, and it kind of stuck with me. When I went to Biola University I was exposed to a lot more of the modern style of worship: words printed on a screen above the stage, all electric instruments with a good set of drums, easy, repetitive type songs that never quite have a clear melody line. It was the kind of music that you kind of spaced-out a bit when singing. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the music. It was just very different from what I was used to. But I started noticing something when I attended various worship sessions. There seemed to be a different attitude in the people who were singing. Like, it wasn’t so much about whether your voice sounded perfect or you played a really good solo, or sang a song that was technically difficult. It seemed to be more about disappearing into the song. What I mean, is that the song, the words of the song, who they were about was the focus, not the music that was being created. I enjoyed this new way of singing, I enjoyed the feeling of peace that was in the room and I slowly started learning how to turn my focus on God instead of the music.   

One of my big moments on my worship journey happened when I was twenty. I attended Biola for two years and then “took a break” (that never ended) and went overseas for a year. I spent my first four months in Haiti. I lived with Laurie and Jules Casseus, my old piano teacher from Haiti. I was kind of crashing emotionally and trying to figure out what I was doing with my life and Aunt Laurie ended up doing a lot of listening as I poured out my troubled thoughts. I was staying with them over Christmas (my first Christmas away from home!) and I was quickly caught up in all the Christmas Music performances. Aunt Laurie has a beautiful voice and she had been asked to sing “Oh Holy Night” at a church function in the nearby city of Cap Haitien. She asked me if I would accompany her on the piano and so I dutifully practiced with her and we quickly got it ready to perform. The night of the performance we drove into Cap Haitien to a large concrete church that I had never been to before. My hazy recollection of the church is that it had a large balcony that went around the entire upstairs with the section in the front of the church becoming part of a large stage-like area where the pastor preached, people sang, and I don’t know what else. My memories for architecture aren’t that great though, so I might be a bit off on that. I do remember that I was shown to a little alcove where there was a small, inexpensive keyboard, jury-rigged to a questionable sound system. There was no sustain pedal for the keyboard and so I quickly looked through my music, figuring out how to accommodate to a much smaller keyboard without a sustain pedal. I’m not a big fan on being the center of attention so this particular set up was a dream come true. I was sitting back, kind of out of the way, there were a lot of different people on the stage, and I was simply accompanying, so the focus was on Aunt Laurie. I had this. Aunt Laurie was singing in French. The words to the French version are actually not translated directly in our English version. We’re actually singing something pretty different when we sing the song in English.

Here is a literal translation of the final verse from French into English which I found handily on Wikipedia:

The Redeemer has broken every bond:

The Earth is free, and Heaven is open.

He sees a brother where there was only a slave,

Love unites those that iron had chained.

Who will tell Him of our gratitude,

For all of us He is born, He suffers and dies.

People, stand up! Sing of your deliverance,

Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer,

Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer!

So, here I am accompanying on my little keyboard and Aunt Laurie reaches the final verse. She’s singing and suddenly the whole church rises to their feet and starts singing along, “People, stand up! Sing of your deliverance,” and suddenly I’m not accompanying one person, but instead I’m playing along with hundreds and hundreds of people. But it didn’t matter because I was singing along too and I think I may have been crying a bit because what happened felt like Jesus had suddenly walked onto the stage and everyone saw him and they all stood up and started worshiping him and no one wanted it to stop. I think we ran through the chorus several times, I’m not sure.

After the service we drove home in silence, through the dark, unlit night. We got to the top of the small mountain pass that was close to our home and the driver pulled the car over at Aunt Laurie’s urging. The car stopped and the motor turned off. We climbed out of the car and stared out at the valley below us and then looked up. It was the most clear I have ever seen the Milky Way. It was like we were surrounded by stars and they were dancing in the sky in their own form of worship to their creator and I experienced the meaning of the word “awe”. We just stood there in silence and my heart felt like it was going to explode, it was so full.

The memory of that night has stayed with me, I think because it was a rich experience of worship through music in a way that I had unknowingly always been longing for. Focusing on Jesus, using the music to communicate my love for him, my awe of him, my longing for him. The music was just the conduit. Worship. It’s about focusing everything on him and saying, You Are Worthy.

jeff-nissen-562124-unsplash