Where I live, we’re fully in the swing of fall routine, although the weather still feels like summer. In the mornings, the geese calls mix with the lingering music of birdsong, reminding me of the seasonal transition we are approaching from summer to fall. I want writing in this space to be part of my rhythm of this next season, and the one after, and the one after that … so I’m back for “Five Minute Friday” after stepping out for the last few crazy weeks of summer schedule-becoming-school-starting.
Five Minute Friday: Five minutes on a weekly prompt, no editing, just free-flowing words and stream-of-consciousness. And a supportive writing community hosted by Kate Motaung – head over to fiveminutefriday.com to learn more.
I think of the weeds I try to uproot in our backyard garden. The ones that are small are much easier to remove because the roots are shallow. But the ones I’ve missed somehow, perhaps because they disguised themselves for awhile, staying hidden in the foliage and blooms, those will take more effort. Their roots have become larger, entangled. And they’re more dangerous to the blossoms in which they’re entwined.
How similar the process of allowing Jesus, my heart-gardener, to uproot the sins in my life! The ones I see and notice small, those are more easily uprooted. But the ones that are more subtle, perhaps they’re the ones that are more dangerous. They’ve entwined themselves into my heart and my life, sometimes even masquerading as “fruit.” Those root systems – well, they can take years to uproot, even decades. My work? It’s to allow the Gardener of my Heart to do His work, painful though it might be. To abide more deeply in His Word, listen more carefully to His Spirit, walk towards the light of community even when it feels painful or blindingly too bright. It is here where the weeds of my life are exposed as what they are – lifeless distractions at best, life-choking deceptions at worst. It is here where sin can be uprooted, and the roots of my heart find space to go deeper into the live-giving Love of Christ.
My work? It’s to allow the Gardener of my Heart to do His work, painful though it might be. To abide more deeply in His Word, listen more carefully to His Spirit, walk towards the light of community even when it feels painful or blindingly too bright.
The essence of this weekly writing practice of Five Minute Friday: Five minutes on a weekly prompt, no editing, just free-flowing words and stream-of-consciousness. And a supportive writing community hosted by Kate Motaung – head over to fiveminutefriday.com to learn more.
Twenty years ago I was in my 20s. What an odd statement, mostly because it makes me feel so old! Although I wouldn’t go back to my 20s – let me make that clear – it was quite a decade of change. I graduated from college; taught school; volunteered in youth ministry and college ministry and bilingual kids’ ministry; pursued a different calling to seminary and counseling; got married; and lived in Chicago, South Carolina, and Philadelphia. I look back at my 20s as a decade of discovery – discovering who God made me (and who I wasn’t), who God was calling me to share life with, and how I wanted to serve the broken world in which I found myself.
I’m going to be honest: as soon as my timer finished, I felt disappointed in how little I had written and I didn’t want to post this. Yet as someone who believes that vulnerability and imperfection actually creates connection and isn’t a barrier to it – I’m going to publish this post. Some prompts are more inspiring than others, and some days I write more fluidly than others. This is part of the struggle of being and becoming a writer. Too often it’s the polished words that find their way into my hands, and I have to remember that’s rarely where they began. Every book has a humble, often bumbling, beginning. So I’m reminding myself of that with today’s words.
My twin daughters are 11-years-old (how quickly the time passes!) and one of them has recently become interested in reading books on the Holocaust. The protective mom side of me was hesitant at first because … wow … what a horrific era of modern-day world history. I wanted to shield her from that. And certainly, just a disclaimer: I am previewing the books she’s choosing in this genre so as to be able talk about them with her and to ensure she isn’t stumbling into subjects that are too mature for her. And yet. I’m also convicted that I cannot protect either of my daughters from the reality of our broken world, and nor do I want to keep them from learning about periods of history that illustrate this reality very clearly. We live in a broken world desperately in need of a Redeemer who will return one day to make All.Things.New. He came to give new hearts to those who look to Him in faith, and throughout human history, we the redeemed are called to work out our personal redemption from sin in the relationships, families, and communities in which our God places us. On today – Holocaust Remembrance Day – I think part of my redemption includes a purposeful remembrance. In meditating on that and why, I penned the words of this poem. I offer it as an invitation, not a condemnation. An invitation to remember and why we must remember, not just the Holocaust, but all the areas in our world today desperate for the justice we the redeemed are to bring through the power of our risen King Jesus.
It’s September, and change is in the air. The leaves haven’t yet begun turning, but there is a crisp coolness that invites their transformation in the coming months. School started for my daughters and my newly minted Ph.D. husband who’s now a dean at a seminary. In my counseling practice, summer clients brought their sessions to a close, and there is a new influx of fall clients.
Personally, I find September to be a good time to set new goals for health and spiritual practice. I want to read the Bible daily, journal, eat more healthily, exercise more regularly, and make time to be present with the people I love. There’s something about the pages of a new planner that invite me into a season of new beginnings. (And I love new beginnings. I usually take the opportunity for them a few times a year – January, of course, as well as my birthday, that falls in June, and September, the beginning of the school year.)
And then there are the unexpected transitions. My parents sold their home recently, and, along with my two brothers and their wives, we enjoyed reminiscing over the memories that these four walls held for 27 years of our family history. It’s the only home the grandkids (11!) have ever known for Gigi & Pops. All of us adult kids with our families have spent at least a few months living there when in transition from one home or place to another. There are stories of pranks, heartaches, joy-filled celebrations, family pets, laughter-saturated dinners around the table, tear-drenched heartbreaks, backyard adventures (a mountain biking course that caused more than a few injuries), the infamous front porch swing with Mom’s not-so-subtle interruptions, parties hosted, more than your average number of driveway collisions, and heartfelt prayers through both the joys and sorrows of our family’s life. To say there is an accompanying flood of emotions for each of us would be an understatement. Yet as Ecclesiastes reminds me, there is a time and season for everything. And just as surely as there was a time for making this home our own – when I was just starting high school and my brothers were still in middle and elementary school – this is the time for saying farewell to this home. So there have been many days of boxes (and memories) packed over the last several weeks. There has been the assurance that the memories aren’t sold along with the house – those are always ours to keep – and the happiness in knowing that a new family will get to begin making their own memories in that beloved home.
This fall is also my 20th college reunion, which I find just about impossible to believe. It can seem like only yesterday that I was a recent college graduate. Yet I remember being a senior in college, and some 20th-year-reunion-friends coming by our campus house to walk through and reminisce. We felt like they were so old. Now to think that will be us??
Another milestone recently celebrated is 15 years of marriage. Again, it feels like yesterday that I said “I do” as a 20-something young bride to a 20-something handsome young groom. We knew nothing of the adventure, challenge, and joy that marriage would bring us. We knew God, and that He was faithful, and it is to Him we have clung through the hardest times and the best of this past decade and a half. A quote I love was from a sermon by Reverend John Leonard during our formative few years at Cresheim Valley Church: “When you say ‘I do,’ God says, ‘I will.'” That truth has been an anchor for us through some stormy seasons, both storms without and storms within.
Our beloved twin daughters passed their milestone of 10 last September, and they’re days away from turning 11. Their birthday is always a time of remembering God’s faithfulness and protection, from the anxiety-ridden 10 weeks of bed rest to their premature delivery at 35 weeks and a week-long stay in the Children’s Hospital when they were but days old. To think that they are now strong, healthy, growing girls entering their “tween” years is truly a testament to God’s sustaining faithfulness in their lives and ours. We know we will be clinging to God’s grace in new ways over the next several years! And it is an amazing privilege to be parents of these two creative, smart, funny, strong and tenderhearted girls.
And then I zoom out and think of the transitions our country and world is facing. Covid-19 is spiking again, and we are all weary of fighting this battle. We are all doing our best, the best we know how. Our healthcare system is overwhelmed, and doctors like my brother are overworked and exhausted, yet carrying on in their faithful care of the patients entrusted to them. Troops withdrew from Afghanistan, and before they were fully out, the Taliban took over. It’s heartbreaking, especially considering all of the families who gave beloved sons, daughters, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, and parents to this years-long battle. I think we all have the question, “How long, O Lord?”
And so in this season of transitions, both big and small, welcomed and dreaded, hope-filled and grief-laced, I find myself forced to anchor into the One who is Unchanging. The One who knows there is a time and season for “everything under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 3)- and whose presence is the only unchanging constant through all of life’s transitions.
Fall. I think of apples ripening, bright orange pumpkins on thresholds, the aroma of a pumpkin spice candle (and a latte to match), and back to school. A new rhythm – a new start. But this year? It’s a bit different. My 4th grade twin daughters are returning to school one day a week – the other four will be e-learning. I am grateful for this one day of school. They’ll have a teacher to student ratio of 5:1. That’s pretty amazing! But the other four days? We’re surviving.
I’m trying to focus on the positive – that this comes at the best time for our family, since my husband is working from home on his Ph.D. (anticipated completion date of spring 2021), and I am working part-time at 20 hours/week. I am grateful for one day of in-school instruction, because this will provide some semblance of “normal” for my daughters in terms of school and learning. And yet.
We still don masks for any errand. We are masked at church every Sunday. (And this is necessary – a practical way to care for the vulnerable among us.) I find myself settling into our current state of things as “the new normal.” And I guess that’s good? But I want more.
I want to go back to the days pre-virus, when school was a given and mask-wearing was for hospital surgical suites. When social gathering in groups wasn’t something to which I gave a second thought. When “Zoom” was only for the rare occasions of connecting cross-globally.
So what will I do with all of this? I seek to be grateful and to be satisfied and to make the best of uncertain (unwanted) times. I mourn the days pre-coronavirus that I didn’t realize would be so rare. And I seek to forge ahead in this “new normal.” Not to put my dreams or prayers or hopes on hold. Part of this is why I’m launching an endeavor I’ve been thinking about for a long time – life coaching. I think there are others, like me, who are tired of waiting for the coronavirus to pass before taking hold of dreams and goals in life. Maybe you need a nudge to pursue your dreams – to fulfill who you know you were meant to be. I would love to come alongside you and help you. To help you give words to where you are, to dream about where you want to be, and to assist you in getting there. Interested in learning more? Click here.
Know that I am grateful for you, my readers who continue to follow me – faltering and infrequent though these posts may be. We are in this together, and it gives me great joy to know that maybe my words will help give voice to an experience you have – that we can connect in this way. I’d love to hear from you. What do you miss about pre-coronavirus days? What are you grateful for in these present days?
It’s the last day of the month, a month of new. Resolutions that fuel the libraries and gyms and health-food aisles of the grocery store. Resolutions that promise Life and that *this* will be the change, and *this year* will be the one when I’m that best version of myself, and change the world and my life and my waistline and my soul. And every year, I am right there in the mix of the resolutions, the promises to myself and to God and to my journal pages that I will be more, and better. I love the promise inherent in a new year, and I’ve written about that before.
But what about all of the unexpected hurdles and broken dreams that are going to be part of this year, too? Our pastor said that no one ever makes suffering part of the “resolution/goals” for the new year, and he wisely warned that suffering will be part of this year, even this new decade full of promises and clear vision. And already, this has been true. There are two young mom-friends battling cancer. My daughter got a concussion (!), which scared me to death. Other friends and family are carrying heavy burdens, and I hurt with them and want to take the burdens away. I’m recovering from a bout of severe depression, crawling back into the light of hope, but it’s not been easy.
Yet still, I want to think that my January resolutions can save me, can help re-create me. And they can’t. A resolution alone isn’t enough. So when I ask, how’s your January going? I am actually wanting to offer hope, that no matter how it’s going or how it went, that every day can be new because of new mercies. That’s the promise smack dab in the middle of the saddest book of the Bible – that mercies are new every morning, not just every January. So take hope, my friends, that whatever you are carrying, whatever resolutions you’ve failed, whatever “old” has crept into this “new year/new decade/new you,” that there are mercies that are still new every morning. Find real hope and real life in these promises:
Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:
The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never case.
Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. …
The Lord is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him. …
For no one is abandoned by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he also shows compassion, because of the greatness of his unfailing love.
Lamentations 3:21-23, 25, 31-32 – New Living Translation
I still remember the empty ache the first Christmas we spent without my grandpa, “Papa,” we called him. His recliner stood in the corner like a memorial. Laughter felt forced. I kept waiting for him to appear in all of his jovial grandfatherly-Father-Christmas fun. He loved to wear his new clothes with the tags still on them, as a way of being silly and funny. He would read the story of Christ’s birth from Luke’s account in his booming, Southern Baptist voice. He had a larger-than-life personality, yet a down-to-earth way about him. I learned only after his death how well known of a politician he had been. For me, he was always a grandfather who paid attention; who loved me; who was the life and heart of every gathering. And his absence was glaring that first Christmas after his death.
It’s been over 25 years, and I can still grow sentimental and sad to think of Christmas “before” and Christmas “after.”
I think about others I’ve lost since then, and there is always that grief that gives Christmas a blue tinge, as Elvis crooned so well. Like Beverlee, who hosted grand holiday parties with her beloved Collier for church members and neighbors in their suburban Philadelphia home. And childhood friend and next-door neighbor, Kristen, who died long before we had the chance to have joy-filled Christmas holiday reunions like we’d always thought we would. I remember close friends and family members who are grieving afresh this Christmas – a sister who died, a father who passed away, a mom whose death came too soon, miscarriages and lost hopes and loves.
And in the grief – both mine and the grief I feel with friends – I can find myself fearful of who may not be around the table next year. That grief steals the joy of the present. Yet Christmas and grief can co-exist, can’t they?
For you, and for me, who are the grieving at Christmas … I write to say you aren’t alone. I write to remind myself that I’m not alone either. Sadness is part of living. But I write to say that I don’t want it to take the joy of Life away this Christmas. I write to say that grief can be deeply comforted by the Truth of Christmas: Emmanuel, God with us. I don’t mean this to be trite … it is a truth I am fighting for every day in my own heart. Take comfort in the words of this melancholy, yet hopeful hymn:
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).
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.
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)
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.
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.