a new decade begins & a spiritual father dies

On June 7, 2019, I turned the page onto a new decade. I chose to mark it by a long weekend at my favorite beach with our family of four. Despite predictions of rain for the whole weekend, the sun broke through, and we had glorious weather for the better part of our beach days. I never tire of the rhythm of waves crashing on the shore, soothing and powerful and constant. I love looking into the horizon of ocean meeting sky and feeling wondrously small. In all my doubts about God and faith and goodness and struggle and suffering, the presence of the ocean is a reassuring reminder that I am a created being, and that I have a Creator. The world is not up to me to run, nor can I alone solve its problems or complexities. In the face of the vast expanse of the sea, I get to be a part of the creation whose primary job is simply to worship. (I am not saying worship is simple. Far from it. It can be quite costly, actually, and quite powerful, and worship is always transformative.)

In our time away, I found space to reflect on this past decade. It’s easily been – to quote Dickens – “the best of times and the worst of times.” Shortly after my last big birthday in 2009, we moved from Philadelphia to Norfolk, Virginia, for Seth’s first job as an assistant pastor. Later that same year, I launched a counseling practice at our church. God blessed us with the gift of our twins in 2010. Our daughters began preschool in 2013, and they started kindergarten in 2016. Seth and I celebrated our first decade of marriage, and I published my first book that same year (2016). Then we uprooted our family from Virginia and moved to South Carolina in 2017 to live closer to extended family while Seth pursued his Ph.D. I went to Italy to visit my dear friend, Maria, in 2018. I began working on a second small writing project in 2019 (due to be released this fall). And – I lose track of all of the years – I became an aunt to 7 additional nephews and nieces this decade as well (through a combination of births and foster care).

2010: our tiny twin bundles of joy arrive
2016: celebrating our 10 year anniversary in the Bahamas with dear friends Karen & Dan
2018: A view from the Italian coast near Naples while visiting Maria & her family

Those are a few of the major milestones in the category of “the best of times.” The “worst of times” – well, I would rather not dwell on them in detail. But I have blogged through some of them in this space. I have written about others. Other stories have yet to be told. To summarize, they follow the themes of my personal struggle with depression and anxiety, striving to live and write “Unashamed” while being more aware than ever before of the ways shame has had a hold on my life, grappling with deep communal tragedy, fighting my own stubborn sins of pride and entitlement and anger and fear, navigating how to be a wife and a mom and a writer and a counselor without losing sight of my primary identity as God’s beloved daughter, striving to live out the truth of my own writing and teaching, and learning my story and how to share it. There have been mentors and counselors and friends and family members who are witnesses to these dark moments and who have carried me – and our family – through them. There have been authors whose words I have clung to to make sense of the apparently senseless and meaningless, and who have served as guides to me along the journey of both the highs and the lows of this decade.

And that brings me to the second part of today’s post. One of those foundational guides and spiritual fathers died on my milestone birthday. David Powlison, professor and counselor at CCEF, passed into glory on June 7, 2019. I expect there will be many who will eulogize him – as well they should – and many who will remember the impact he had on their lives. I am one of them. I was first introduced to David Powlison in the fall of 2004 as I embarked on my counseling degree at Westminster Theological Seminary. He was my professor in the foundational course of the semester called Dynamics of Biblical Change, and I shared an auditorium with a hundred or so eager students. His instruction changed the way I viewed the process of personal change/sanctification. He taught a few other courses that were part of my degree in Biblical Counseling. Each time, he offered creative counseling insights into the human heart, and he exuded a deep compassion for people that was contagious.

David Powlison carried with him a sense of wonder at God’s Word and God’s work in the world. Whether it was a class or a conference, I cannot remember, nor do I recall the context – but I distinctly remember the way he highlighted the wonder of “a goldfinch in flight.” To this day, I don’t notice a goldfinch without thinking about what he said. I had never noticed goldfinches before, but now I can’t miss them. And I can’t help but to notice the beauty of their wings in flight. And I worship.

That was his larger point – it always was – to draw us to worship the God he himself delighted in. In worshiping, we change. We are conformed to whatever we love most. That is challenging, convincing, and hopeful all at the same time. I’ll end this post with a favorite quote from him, as I join a vast community that grieves his passing – with the hope he testified to – that we will meet again perfectly sanctified, in perfect communion with God and one another.

a snapshot of the glorious ordinary

ordinary

I haven’t written in this space in awhile. In fact, it’s been almost six months since my last post. I’ve asked myself a few times why I’m not writing as much. The simplest answer is that I feel like I don’t have much to write about. Yet this space is supposed to be “finding beauty + grace in the ordinary + imperfect.” So for me to think that life just seems too ordinary to write about is exactly missing the point – that the reason I began blogging in the first place was to record the wonder of the every day. To force myself to focus on the daily glory and grace that are flooding in, if only I have eyes to notice.

So in neglecting writing, I have kept myself from reflecting on life. Without further ado, here is a snapshot of what feels ordinary and certainly imperfect … but I record it in order to help myself (and you as well?) find the beauty and grace in it.

  • I work a traditional “9-to-5” as a litigation paralegal in my dad’s medical malpractice law firm. This constitutes the majority of my waking hours and it’s my weekday normal. Working for my dad and his partners in this field of medical malpractice (MedMal for short) has been like learning a new language. I am not medically trained at all, and yet a majority of my job has been reviewing, organizing, and making sense of medical records. Add to that the legal world of motions and hearings and objections and stipulated evidence – and it really has been a whole new world for me.
  • My husband is a full-time Ph.D. student, studying long-distance to get his doctorate in Christian Education from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) outside of Chicago. He is also the major home support – greets our daughters after school each day and keeps our home running (laundry, dishes, bills, etc.).
  • Our twin daughters are now in second grade. They have homework every day, and they’re reading up a storm. They love their school and their friends and their books.  We enjoy playing games as a family and riding bikes and going on hikes.
  • We are members of a sweet church-plant in downtown Greenville that loves the arts, the addicted, the poor, the adopted, and best of all, the gospel of grace. It has been a good season for us to simply be involved in a church as a family instead of leading a church.
  • Challenges that I wrestle with in this season include:  how to slow down time because it really seems like our daughters are growing up way too quickly; how to encourage our daughters to love one another with kindness instead of sibling squabbles; how to make the most of the limited time (nights + weekends) I have with family and friends; setting different expectations in this season of full-time work/husband in full-time school; finding time for reflection (and writing!).

I think part of the reason I haven’t written in awhile is that this season of life has been so very different for all of us. I haven’t known how to talk about my job as a litigation paralegal when my identity/platform/calling was previously as a counselor in the local church (for a decade). So much of my writings were a combination of insights/reflections from life as a counselor who was also a pastor’s wife and a part-time stay-at-home-mama of twin preschoolers. My life and roles now are just quite different. I’m the full-time working parent in our home currently; I’m the wife of a Ph.D. student; I’m the mama of elementary age girls who are increasingly independent (as it should be). They don’t even have to rely on me to read to them anymore – what a change that is!

And then the other reason is this stubborn, persistent struggle with burnout and depression over the past few years. I’m not sure I’ll ever write all about that in as public a space as this blog – yet I am willing to share more if it would help others. I’ve been through places of darkness that I did not know were possible to come out of, and yet God has brought me out through the Light of His grace as it shone through His people and His word. After years of pedal-to-the-medal going-going-going in every direction (home, church, career, writing) – I just couldn’t go any further. And I stopped. Fairly abruptly. And for much longer than I would have chosen. Depression was a source of the burnout as much as it was a consequence of the burnout.

Yet in all of the ups and downs of the past few years … and in all the very ordinariness of our current day-to-day … this verse is one I cherish. And I end tonight’s post with this, making it my prayer for you to know this, too, wherever your day-to-day life finds you these days:

“The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.” (Psalm 16:6)

Five Minute Friday: truth

After many months of hiatus, I’m returning to the blog – joining up with Five Minute Friday, hosted by Kate Motaung. Five minutes of free-writing on a given prompt. No editing or overthinking. So here goes … 

It’s so important that I named my daughter after it. Alethia, meaning truth in Greek. It’s easy to lose; hard to find sometimes. Other times it’s staring at you in the face, and then maybe you don’t want to admit what it is.

Pilate asked, “What is truth?” in the face of Truth Incarnate, Jesus led like a lamb to die on the cross.

We ask, “What is truth?” out of confusion. Desperation to know. Refusal to admit it because then it has claims on your life.

streams

Truth should be sweet. Refreshing like purified water. There are so many half-truths and deceptions floating around our world. To discover truth in any form is beautiful. Or at least it should be.

But for me, truth too often seems dry. Unconnected to my life. Which is the furthest thing from the truth. It roots me, anchors me in storms. Telling it leads to freedom and connection and community. Even when it’s hard. Always when it’s coated in love. It’s how I grow. Receiving and telling the truth in love.

Truth isn’t dry when we remember it’s always to be joined to love. Many more will argue with truth who cannot argue with love. So let’s wed the two together, as they’re meant to be. And then truth is attractive – winsome – sought for – and secure.

An honest prayer for Thanksgiving

As we move into the season in which we seek to pause and give thanks, to celebrate God’s provision with a bountiful feast, I want to offer a meditation and a prayer. {While I also seek to acknowledge how this season can become an occasion for #thanks-shaming. I.e. Why don’t I feel more grateful for all that I’ve been given? I wish I was as grateful as ___ seems to be, etc. If this feeling of thanks-shaming resonates with you, read more in my series about shame here.}

May I lift my gaze to what is good in my life, for even the darkest of nights can be illuminated by a tiny pinprick of light, like a star bursting through the black canvas of of a night sky.

May I have eyes to see the beauty around me, hidden though it may be.

May I use Thanksgiving as a time of focused practice in noticing what I’ve been given.

And in giving thanks, may I see those with whom I am asked to share my abundance. May I see the poor, the marginalized, the orphaned, the widowed, and the ones at my own table who are lonely and carrying sorrows in isolation. May I be generous and open-handed with all I’ve been given, as God has so generously been towards me. 

because we need hope, peace, & comfort

I have been writing and thinking and praying a lot about hope this fall. There are many reasons I crave hope this season. Like the headlines flashing across our screens and calling to us from the morning paper, and the usual stress of trying to balance home, church, and family life. (And our family’s life now includes our twin daughters going to kindergarten full-day. Despite the great school they attend, it’s been an adjustment for all of us!)

We have also experienced waves of greater-than-usual overwhelming circumstances in our lives and in the lives of our family and friends. Like a hurricane that “breezed” through (pun intended) and left a ton of chaos in its wake;  friends who’ve had miscarriages; a friend battling leukemia; extended family health issues requiring more care from my husband and me; the death just last week of my great-aunt Julie; and a bit more travel than usual for me this fall.

As I’ve tried to take stolen moments along the way to pause, be still, and know that God is God (Psalm 46), I feel how much I need comfort for my own heart. Not only does chaos swirl without, it also rises up from within. I need a peace that’s bigger than the messages I feel bombarded with and *wish* worked, but just haven’t – like “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” or “look for the rainbow after the storm.” While I’m all about the rainbow and the strength needed to keep moving, I need something that lasts as long as the storm.

And the only thing I’ve found that can outlast the storm is the hope of a God who is there. A Jesus who meets us in the storm, and then rides it out with us. As I spoke to a group of beautiful women, including many family and friends, at my aunt and uncle’s church in Columbia, South Carolina, last week, I was praying hope over their hearts, and I spoke the words I myself need to hear – a few of which I’ll share below. May your heart be encouraged as well … in all the places where you find yourself in need of hope, peace, and comfort today. 

john-16-33-quote

 

john-14-27

 

 

 

 

 

“Humble Roots” – a preview of a book

Usually I wait until I’ve read (and reread and highlighted) a book before giving a review. There is a stack of books waiting to be reviewed right now. [Sidebar – I even have one to giveaway … coming soon, hopefully in the next few weeks.]

But the introduction of Hannah Anderson’s newest release is so compelling to my heart this morning, and speaks right into the midst of our anxiety, that I couldn’t help but pass along a few quotes that are calming my own heart – in hopes that it will also bring peace to yours.

humble-roots-book

Humility frees us to flourish as the human beings we are made to be: to celebrate the goodness of our physical bodies, to embrace the complexity of our emotions, and to own our unique gifts without guilt or feeling like an imposter.

Humble Roots is not a sequel to Made for More [Hannah’s first book which I reviewed in 2014  here], but it is the other half of the conversation. At the same time, it’s also a conversation all its own, one that can be explored and savored for its own sake. If, however, you have read Made for More and it inspired you to think about yourself as a person destined to reflect God, Humble Roots will help you think about yourself as a person dependent on God to do just that. And remembering this simple but essential reality – that “You’re not God” – will lead to the spiritual and emotional rest you long for. 

Happy, restful weekend to you, friends and readers!

[PS – Would love to hear from you about my blog’s tagline if you would complete this one question survey here. Thanks for all of your input so far! I really appreciate it.]

when your friend has leukemia

I first met Jen at Myrtle Beach when we were part of a college ministry summer project. She was as joy-filled and gracious then as she has proved to be in the 18 years since. We later were roommates while we were both at seminary. She was a co-conspirator with my husband when we got engaged, leading me into New York City despite my initial resistance and saving my engagement pictures from the gaudy St-Patricks-Day-themed outfit I’d first chosen. She was a bridesmaid in my wedding. We were in Philadelphia for several years together. And then she got married, and they moved to a farm in New Hampshire to pursue their dream when Seth and I moved to Virginia. We were pregnant with our first babies at the same time, their due dates only days apart. After years of living states apart with sporadic phone calls and emails to connect us, reconnecting in person last year was as if no time had passed. When we caught up over lunch, she listened empathetically as I spilled out my heart that was on the verge of burnout. Just like she always does.

Then cancer came along into this beautiful mother-of-three-kids’ life. A diagnosis of chronic myeloid leukemia in March. It came out of the blue, one of those fear-inducing stories of going to the doctor because her back hurt and finding out that in fact the major problem were the bruises that didn’t go away. She pursued treatment, and it seemed to be working well until an unexpected turn into blast phase happened a few months ago.

Today she undergoes a bone marrow transplant thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor. (Did you know that you, too, could register to help another in this way? Go to “Be the Match” for more information.)  And the many, many of us who love her are praying for her today, day 0 as it’s termed in the transplant world, that this would be the rebirth of new, healed blood cells for this friend.

If you’re reading this, and you want to join along, we would all be honored if you lifted her up and asked for healing with us.

a-prayer-for-healing

 

 

Five Minute Friday: hidden

It’s been a good albeit long week of summer. We watched a summer movie ($1 at Regal), shopped for school shoes (already!), I had an interview on the Debbie Chavez show, we played at the pool a lot and did a lot of indoor activities trying to stay cool during a sweltering week. Today I take a break and return to the blog, joining in Five Minute Friday.

Five Minute Friday is my favorite of writing link-ups hosted by Kate Motaung. Her description draws me back every week, and the community of FMF keeps me writing – “This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation. Just write.”

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Hidden holds intrigue and promise, like a buried treasure waiting to be found. It’s a new life blooming within a mother’s womb. A long cherished love that awaits the right time to be expressed.

Hidden is also shame-tinged. It’s where I store my latest failure – bolted, safe, secure, for no one to see. If you’ve been abused, you know the burden of a hidden secret.

Hidden is good or bad, depending on what it is we are hiding and why. If it’s the latter – the long-buried secret – it needs the light for healing and freedom. Those sorts of burdens aren’t meant to stay hidden and borne alone. Speak about it with someone safe. Feel the burden begin to lighten.

If it’s the first – the type of hidden that’s like a treasure waiting to be found – I can think of no better analogy for what the Bible calls us children of God: “hidden with Christ in God.” We are God’s treasured ones, kept close and precious. Our glory is waiting to be revealed. 

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Five Minute “Friday”: help

I love this weekly writing exercise/community, and I return after a few months’ absence. Because it’s always there waiting. And it’s *only* five minutes.

Five Minute Friday is my favorite of writing link-ups hosted by Kate Motaung. Her description draws me back every week, and the community of FMF keeps me writing – “This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation. Just write.”

helpIt’s a word that can save a life. But I find it almost impossible to utter. It feels so, well, helpless. Who needs help in my self-sufficient world? I’m doing just fine, thank you.

Except when I’m not. Like tonight when one of my 5-year-olds defied me in front of her grandparents, and I messed it up. I was angry and frustrated and overwhelmed and out of my league. I was also ashamed for my daughter’s behavior in front of her grandparents and my response in front of them, too. Why couldn’t I just have said, “help, please”?

It’s a lie that as a parent I can do it all and be it all for my kids. But it’s a lie we all deceive ourselves into living by more often than not.

I wonder if this false stigma with the word “help” is what contributed to the tragic death in our church community of a mother and daughter two years ago today. Afterwards, we all expressed the sentiment – “If only she’d asked for help …” We all wished we could have jumped in. But how many of us would have been willing to ask for that help if we had been in her shoes? On my hardest, darkest day of parenting, it took all I had in me to finally, finally text my trusted friend and neighbor with the simplest of requests – “Will you help? I need a hug and I can’t deal with bedtime tonight.” She was over within minutes, and I felt simultaneously grateful and humbled. 

It’s the hardest, best thing in the world to ask for help. Because we know there’s One eager to help us when we ask. And He’s sent people into our lives who are as eager to assist us as we are to give them a hand when needed.

So do you need to ask for help? Don’t delay. Help is on its way.

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If you find yourself to be entertaining thoughts or ideas of suicide in particular do not hesitate to ask for help. If you’re not sure where to turn, contact the crisis text line by texting “GO” to 741741 or call the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255. 

 

 

 

 

scattered chaos – or a story?

A half dozen (or more) children’s books are scattered in piles of two or three around the perimeter of our living room. The one most recently read lays atop our ottoman beside a discarded ballet slipper. Its pink partner sits in front of my husband’s recliner. A pink polka-dotted blanket is on top of the rug, and a paper airline peeks out from underneath the couch. Blue sparkly Cinderella shoes and fuzzy pink slippers grace another corner, and the pink bin of Legos sits opposite. A plastic green cup with a straw sits proudly beside the remote controls. Cushions are all in tact at the end of this day – and that says something.

In my more frustrated moments, I’d say this is scattered chaos. I look around and feel annoyed that I didn’t ask my daughters to pick things up before they went to bed. I’m annoyed with myself for not picking up more before grabbing my laptop to write a long overdue blog post. But then I try to remember how this mess tells a story of a full day well enjoyed by two five-year-old girls. The books are from reading time at the end of the day, me in one chair with one twin and my husband in another chair with her sister. Before this there were dance parties (hence the ballet slippers and Cinderella shoes) and a yoga session (note the blanket on the floor as makeshift mat). One twin adores her slippers and hates cold feet, so she wore them downstairs until the day’s play began. Another girl was thirsty before bedtime and so she brought in her ice water with a straw while being read stories.

In ten years, the mess will look very different.

In twenty years, we’ll miss the days that left behind such a scattered chaos.

I wish – I pray – that I would have the long view as I parent during what feels like a long summer in the midst of a long season of gloriously imaginative play and charming smiles punctuated by sibling conflict and mommy frustration.

My word of 2016 has been “rooted.” I haven’t written about it here before because, well, the book has taken a lot of air time. But it’s because of the book’s publication that I chose this word as a focus and prayer for this year. It can be too easy to get lost “in the clouds” of a book release, becoming a published author, engaging in speaking events I’d only dreamed of before – and forgetting my roots. The lovely, hard, sanctifying thing about motherhood and marriage is that my family roots me and grounds me in reality. There is laundry, and the dishes pile up when neglected, and meals need to be cooked and planned, and these ones I love are always present. Loving me and counting on me for their rootedness.

This task feels too immense. And it is until I remember where I am rooted. Deep in the eternal love of God, secured for me by Jesus Christ, spoken into my heart and soul by the Spirit. To be rooted in him, all I need to do is rest and abide and remember. Reading the Bible and praying and worshiping in our local church community help immensely. roots

The truth is that as I look around my living room this evening, the scattered chaos and the story it tells reminds me where I am rooted. Physically and emotionally – here with my family at a house in Virginia amidst a neighborhood and community of friends. Spiritually – I am rooted in a story that often looks to human eyes like the scattered chaos of this room. But it is telling a bigger story of redemption and hope and joy as the life of God is known through my work and play and parenting and marriage and friendship.