Safe and Trembling (Dealing With A Wound From the Past)

It was one of those rare, warm days in February. And, since we live in New Hampshire, by warm, I mean it was above 32 degrees so the snow was slushy and the trees were dripping. I planned to walk with the kids on just some flat trails behind a nearby school, but the sunshine felt so refreshing and the kids begged so earnestly to hike to the top of some ledges, that I consented. As we got closer to the top, the trail was slick with wet ice. We kept to the edges of the path, where the snow was still crunchy and we had good enough footing to make it safely to the top. With a baby on my back and two preschoolers holding my hands, I admired the view while calling to the three older children to stay well away from the edges. It was beautiful. It was refreshing. It wasn’t worth the following two months!

On the way down, I had a handful of discarded mittens in one hand, and with my other I held the hand of my four year old. My baby girl was sleeping soundly in a carrier on my back. The other kids were ahead of me, making their way down the trail by keeping to the edges. I was already out of balance when I stepped on some slick ice. Somehow, as my feet lost control, I let go of my child’s hand and was propelled frontwards across the trail, coming to rest only when my outstretched right hand hit a fallen tree and stopped my body from going any further. As I tried to stand and to comfort the baby, who was now awake and crying, it only took one look at my wrist to realize that I’d badly broken it. I called my older children back and they assured me that the baby seemed fine and also let me know that the cell phone batteries were dead. I couldn’t call for anyone to help us. I needed to get the seven of us down from these ledges and home. I held my arm as still as possible and assigned the older kids the task of helping the little ones. Praying no one else fell, we went slowly and steadily and finally made it back to the van. Surprisingly, I thought, “I’m doing okay. This break doesn’t hurt that much.” I drove with my left hand and we arrived home, where again, we had to rally to get everyone into the house. It was with relief that I got to our home phone and called a friend up the road. She would call another friend to watch my kids and she’d bring me to the hospital. She said she’d hurry as fast as she could and I said, “I’m okay. It doesn’t hurt that much.” But, when my friend walked through the door a few minutes later, I felt pain shoot through my broken arm. We were saved. We were safe. Now, I felt like I was dying. As soon as we were on our way to the hospital, the pain became unbearable. Tears started pouring and I moaned as my arm felt like it was being torn apart.

My wrist had been broken for over an hour but it only started really hurting when it was safe for me to fall apart. The pain had been present all along. The injury was real and hurtful. But, my body was able to mask the pain in order for me to have the strength to get down that mountain and to get help.

After I broke my wrist, I needed surgery to put a metal plate inside and hold things together. It took a couple of months and some physically therapy to heal completely. But, by the spring time, when the snow had melted and the weather was truly warming up, I was all better. The kids and I set off on another hike, this time with some friends. We went up a familiar mountain that we’d climbed many times. For the last bit of the hike up Mount Cardigan, you leave the tree line behind and walk up it’s bald, granite face to the tower at the top.

This day, this first hike after my fall, the kids scrambled up the rocks, full of enthusiasm to get to the top, just like always. But, as we started up the rocky face, my heart started beating faster. This was a safe mountain, with good, solid footing. But, I needed to stop and take some deep breaths. I said to my friend, “Look at me… I’m literally shaking! This is crazy!”

Even though I knew in my head that I was safe, my body was sending danger signals. Somewhere inside, the trauma of that fall was being remembered.

I think our body remembers emotional trauma in a similar way.

When we go through painful experiences, often we are able to cope and even mask the pain in order to survive and to do what needs to be done.

It can be years later, when we are actually in a safe place, that we first feel the pain signals. And, it can feel crazy. We tell ourselves, “What is wrong with me? I should be over this by now. It shouldn’t hurt anymore.” And, we can try to squash the tremble inside with substances or food or exercise or Netflix or a whole host of things to try to not feel when our feelings don’t make sense. Or, maybe we can’t even find escape. Maybe we start sinking.

I’ve written before about my struggle with depression. A few years ago, it became an intense struggle, and very much related to that trembling shake inside of old wounds torn open by current circumstances. Thankfully, just like on that climb up the bald face of Mount Cardigan, I was trembling but I was in a safe place.

Depression was in many ways a gift for me, because it overpowered my, “I should be over this by now,” feelings, and drove me to seek help. I was able to tell my stories in ways that allowed me to walk through old trauma and heal in deeper places. I had to write them down and unravel myself. I had good friends who were willing to listen to my story, and love me in that hearing, and I also sought good, Biblical counseling and found help there.

Walking again recently with a friend, she asked me, “Lara, how do you know that counseling is working?”

It can feel like a messy, awful process.

But, I think I answered her truly when I said that the biggest change I’ve seen is the ability to be more gracious with myself. When I tremble, I don’t hate myself for it. I can say, “Look at me- I’m shaking,” and accept that this is helpful information. Those emotions are real and they tell me something about my own heart. I can bring that knowledge to the present and use it to help me understand the places I’m prone to stumble.

And, I also know that those feelings of shame, insecurity or fear don’t determine my next steps. I can graciously accept that while they are sometimes traveling companions, they aren’t my map or GPS. I can keep climbing the mountain and embracing the forward-facing nature of this journey.

And, it helps to know that there’s another, closer traveling companion.

Our God sees the past, the future and is with us in this very moment.  Even if there are ‘fears within and trouble without’, He is a safe place for his people to find refuge and help. He’s better than a cell phone that dies on a hike. He’s listening always and his words to us are good. So different from the things we tell ourselves. Our self-condemning words can’t quiet us or stop the tremble. But, His love can hold us close enough to stop the shaking. And, as He walks with us through such painful trials, He knows there are views in the end that will be worth the journey. Let’s press on, with present grace.

The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. Zephaniah 3:17

Blessings and prayers for you on your climb upward,

Lara

 

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At the top of Mount Cardigan, the first hike following my broken wrist

Investing With a Whole Heart In A Disappointing Church

I’m not sitting down to the best of writing conditions. It’s April 19th and there’s snow falling outside my window. That alone leaves me a tad out of sorts. The kids are ready for sunshine and the energy level is a little crazy in here today. A little boy just used my chair to catapult himself across the room and there’s a girl molding peanut butter cookie dough into butterflies behind me in the kitchen. They are going to morph into unrecognizable shapes when they bake but she’s so excited about this experiment that I don’t have the heart to tell her. This is one of those days that I’m a little checked out as a mother. I’m here, and answering questions, but I’m sort of not here, you know? I’m tired and fighting off a head cold. And, I’m tired and fighting through some discouragement. So, I’m just plonking myself down in the midst of the chaos and I’m going to sort out what’s up with me. You’re welcome to come along.

I dropped my oldest daughter off at school today and had a good, long talk with God on the way home. It was nice, because it was one of those times I didn’t just trust that he was listening, but I really felt it. Feelings don’t change what is real, but it’s nice when they match up.

I talked to God a lot this morning about my church. If you measure things by vocation, I’m not really anything there. I’m not the pastor or an elder or director of anything. I’m just a mom that shows up and leads Bible studies sometimes for the women and kids. But my heart has been in this thing. And today, I wanted to quit that. I sort of still do.

I think it’s because of how much it hurts when people leave. I said goodbye to a good friend recently and had a conversation with another dear friend that was looking at another church. It sort of sent me tail-spinning.

Remember long ago, when our church plant was just starting, I wrote The Keeping Strength and asked, “What is going to make this church different from all the others that have disappointed people?” Well, it’s four years later and I know that we’ve disappointed people. People just plain disappoint. We’re not all that consistently impressive.

These days, most of us choose a church because it offers us something we think will make our lives better. Maybe it’s good teaching. Or, friends for our kids. Social opportunities for those cold winter evenings. Maybe we’re aware of our need for community and belonging. Sometimes, we’re strategic and service oriented and want to be someplace where our gifts will be used with the most bang for the buck. We can imagine a fertile, green pasture where we will graze with like-minded, Jesus loving sheep and baa out just the kind of worship songs that make our hearts sing.

But, there’s a lot of room to be disappointed when faced with a real life church.

My husband, this man with an extra dose of faithfulness, has always had a different outlook. He sees church membership vows like marriage vows. There’s a commitment there. Sometimes in church, like in marriage, you see things that are better in other places. There’s a pull toward those greener pastures. But, given a faithful theological foundation, you stay there and build on it. You dig in deep and serve and show up. You decide to belong there. And, it’s in that commitment and at times long-suffering, that we experience the richest church life. Just like in marriage. Sticking at it and working at it is what makes it so beautiful and satisfying when all is said and done. It’s not that everything is perfect. But some things are actually better than perfect- an imperfect church and an imperfect marriage are both things that allow us to experience grace and to grow. And, they both look ahead to the same profound mystery (Ephesians 5). Our imperfection leaves room for us to long for the perfect union of Christ and his Church. This is the the true marriage. The rest are shadows pointing back toward what’s most real.

So, Jon and I are all in when it comes to this imperfect marriage, and this imperfect church. We dig in and invest our all. We look ahead to the finish and ask God to help us display a little bit of what’s to come in the here and now.

But, I think this high view of things can crash into broken-heartedness at times. It hurts so much when people leave. Maybe it’s like that anytime you let yourself love someone. Love and grief are such close friends. When you let your heart be bound up in the joys and sorrows of another, and feel a sense of responsibility to care for their needs, and then they leave and go somewhere else, it really hurts. It’s a complicated hurt because it doesn’t really make sense in our world and culture. It hurts so much that I start to feel like I’m crazy and deficient somehow. I should be tougher and less possessive or something. I should trust God more and be able to just say “See you around,” to the people leaving.

But, wait.

I guess that is not actually trusting God more is it?

If anyone out there has any really helpful thoughts on how to love people really deeply but keep your heart from hurting when they walk away, will you let me know?

Or maybe.

Sometimes we’re called to things that hurt.

Sometimes pain is not an indicator of failure.

God gave us two great big commandments. To love him with all our hearts, souls and minds. To love others as ourselves.

This is following him and sharing in his sufferings.

And this is what the church is supposed to proclaim-

Jesus loves us.

He suffered for us. For the leavers and the quitters.

For the disappointing.

For me.

His love hurt him. And, he invites us to share in this love-hurt because he knows the joy that is coming will be worth it in the end.

Sometimes, pain is not a sign of failure.

It’s a sign that your heart is working. It hasn’t quit yet.

I started this post discouraged but knowing that discouragement never has the last word. Not when we are working our way toward the gospel.

And, I see it- I’m glimpsing it once again. This Jesus-changes-everything thing that sorts me back out when I feel like such a mess.

Thank you for coming along with me as I stretched to grasp it again today.

This is a rapid paced, hard scrabble scribbling- but it did its work in me.

Now, I get to go be present with my kids.

And, I have an imperfect but totally cool-looking, puffy (and delighted over by a little girl) butterfly shaped (sort of) peanut butter cookie waiting for me.

May you, along with me, delight in the imperfect and the disappointing today and keep loving big.

Blessings-

Lara

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7 Reasons Why I’m Not Skipping Church

7 Reasons Why I’m Not Skipping Church

I actually did think about it while I was peeling the potatoes for our soup last night. I could take a ‘mental health day’ and skip it. “Or, maybe I’ll get lucky and wake up with a headache.”

But, it’s 4AM on Sunday morning and I stumbled out here by the woodstove to write down my reasons for going. I smiled when I sat down in my chair and saw the full moon shining down at me through one of the loft windows. Once, I wrote a story about how the church loves like moonlight- a gentle reflection of the full sunshine glory of the love of God. So, here I am in this stream of morning moonlight, feet in my slippers and warm by the fire, to tell you why I’m not skipping church.

  1. My pastor has been working all week on his sermon. He has lost sleep and time with his family and fought personal battles we won’t see when he’s preaching. Those forty minutes he’ll be standing in front of us are the condensed blood and sweat of the long hours spent studying and praying and the squeezing of his own heart. And, this man isn’t a professor; he’s a shepherd. This isn’t a message he’s come up with to share his smarts with the world. This is a message for the people he’s prayed over and wept with. This is a message for me. I could fake illness and listen to a great online sermon, by a super mega-church preacher. That would be like heading to McDonald’s for dinner when a home-cooked meal, made with love and thinking about my tastes and nutritional needs, had been placed on my very own table. I’d be crazy to leave what has been prepared for me, with great sacrifice and love, to eat alone food that’s mass produced. So, I’m going to go local, pull up a chair and listen with ears to hear what this man has to say.
  2. My kids need to be there. They need me to be there. They need to hear their daddy and mommy’s voices singing, together with the church, their love to the One who is bigger and stronger and wiser than us. They need to see us pray. They need to see us be hugged and give hugs. Our children have seen our church. They’ve seen meals being shared and babies passed around and wood being stacked and boxes moved. And, they have seen, for almost every single Sunday morning of their lives, that we gather together on Sunday mornings. That this is more important than resting up for Monday or running those errands we didn’t get to on Saturday. Because something happens when you just show up week after week after week. It’s this miracle of belonging. My kids have the security that comes with being connected to, and part of, something bigger than just us. Here are people they trust and will go to for help or advice when they get older and would rather not come to me. Every Sunday reinforces that they are loved and called to love big because they are part of a really big family.
  3. My church connects me to historical, Biblical Christianity. We still recite creeds and confessions of faith at my church and some of them date back to the early centuries of the church. Something happens in me when I stand up and hear our voices speaking the truth that has been spoken by those that have come long before. It grounds me. I’m small. But this is so big. I’m drawn up into that great cloud of people who have been and still are confessors of God’s mercy and grace.
  4. Also, I am a natural born idolater. I have one limited mind that filters truth through my own personal experience and knowledge of the world. If left to myself, I’d create a God that fits with what makes sense to me. I’d put God in a little Lara-understands-now-box and put a tidy lid on him. Make a personal idol that sort of looks like him in some ways, but is my own twist on what divinity should be. When I go to church, I’m brought in contact with doctrine that has passed through thousands of years’ worth of brains, living in different cultures, times and places. This is not my own personal Christianity, this is a Christianity I need to personally come to and have my mind be sharpened by. And, my ideas are also challenged by the contemporary saints. Those sitting and standing around me during our morning service, with lifestyles and politics and parenting methods and perspectives on the world that are different from my own. The church isn’t like a club where we pull in the people we have a lot in common with and keep out the people who make us feel insecure. It’s more like the emergency room, where we find ourselves stumbling in with a diverse group of people sporting their own aches and pains. We’re brought together by our need for the same Physician. Our differences also sharpen us, scraping off the edges of personal preference and clearing our eyes to see what is at the true heart of things, which is Christ and faith working itself out in love.
  5. People will know if I don’t show up and I’d have some explaining to do. That week after week showing up, and being known, means that I have accountability in my life. It means if I’m struggling, and would like to stay in bed with the covers over my head, I can’t do it in secret. I’m going to church because if I skip it I’m just prolonging the question, “How are you doing?”, and will have to answer for it anyway. This hasn’t always been true. In college, before marrying ‘the man who will never skip church’, I was less consistent. I would bounce around some and take little church sabbaticals. I’d head to the ocean with my Bible and call it good. Call it better even. But, that meant that people weren’t always tuned in to where I was and I could hide under the radar. And the funny thing about hiding is that it starts out feeling safer than being known, but it ends up feeling like you are forgotten and uncared for.
  6. Going to church is a way that I love others. I need to be there to notice and see the faces of this church family. If they are going to experience a hug, and tangible love, it has to be arms that are present to embrace them. If they are going to hear a word of greeting and encouragement, there needs to be a voice there to speak it. My arms and my voice and my eyes are needed there.
  7. Going to church is a way I experience the love of Christ and renew my faith. Our church passes the bread and wine (err… grape juice) every single Sunday. It makes the service ten minutes longer. Every week. It means I’m trying to balance a cup of grape juice and trying not to spill it while handing crayons to my restless kids. Every week. But I need this. Every week. This broken body of Christ, for us. This new covenant in blood that speaks a better word, for us. Every week, I ask myself a question. “Is this really true? Can this really be for me, Lord?” And it’s by faith that I give thanks. It’s by faith that I take this bread and juice in my mouth and swallow it into my own flesh and say “Yes, Lord, this is for me”.

Now, as I still sit by the fire, that full moon is setting red and rich behind the hills to the west. The sun will soon be rising.

And, before long, I’ll be off to church.

Blessings on you today, friends.

Lara

A Pool of Water in a Pavement Desert

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This night came slipping in like the world was pulling a dark blanket up over her sleepy head. I left the children in the yard at sunset, the dog bounding along beside me into the woods. I chose music loud and fast. “Stress to strength, stress to strength” has been my determined chant this fall. And I ran, trying to only think the things that would make me run hard and steady, while the sun slipped behind the trees and then the hills. The dark came creeping silently in behind, claiming its bed between the trunks and branches, settling into all the crevices of the woods.

I stopped and turned off my music in front of three pointed pine trees. They stood still and quiet, their branches without definition in the dark, like paper cutouts reaching their tops into the blue-blackness of the sky. There below, I became as quiet as they were and I was reaching, too.

This fall I’ve felt my limitations. Homeschooling five middle children and keeping up with my oldest in high school and not forgetting about the preschooler trying to slide between the books and other kids to make his way into my lap. And, still a wife, too, discovering that even after seventeen years of holding one man’s hand, there’s room to know him more and love him better. And, beyond our family in the woods, there’s our family around the country and concentrated in little Maine towns. There are the people in our church and in our town and at the school and in the store and I just want to do well by them all. And, sometimes, as I near forty, I wonder about myself. There’s a little restlessness that sets in and I question, as this world keeps turning and waking and sleeping and waking again, am I as awake as I can be? It’s like my head has suddenly poked out of the baby years, with the sleeplessness and round belly and knowing exactly where I should be. Sometimes I even think about taking some classes (in something?) or creating a part time job (doing something?). But then, that restless peering ahead seems silly, like I’m trying to grab something else with already full hands.

Once, a little over a year ago, I lamented with God about my limitations. I woke to an email from a woman I’d met after she visited our church. She’d been recently diagnosed with cancer and she was being crushed by fear. She wrote, “Will you pray with me today?” I wanted to drop everything and drive to her house and hold her in a hug and pray hard. But the day was already planned, dotted with things I couldn’t get out of and with my kids needing me, too. I could only briefly write back and tell her, “I will try to call you later today.”  And, that felt so lame and I drove to town and toward my commitments in what felt like the wrong direction.  As my three youngest kids chattered in the back seat, I prayed for my friend and I prayed for me, too. It was with an overwhelming sense of being too small in this world, and too helpless, and too caught in mundane things, that I prayed, “God, please bring encouragement.”

The last thing on our list that day, that felt small in comparison to praying with someone struggling with fear and cancer, but huge to a seven year old, was a promised stop at the pet store to buy a fish. My daughter had kept her room clean for a month to show that she was responsible enough to care for a pet. This was the long awaited day and I needed to be faithful to my word and to this little one. It was just after we’d paid and little hands were full of fish supplies and the fish himself, swimming in his plastic bag, that I turned and saw a miracle from our limitless God.

In a town I don’t usually shop in, in a store I rarely visit, at an hour that wasn’t planned, I turned and saw the woman I’d most wanted to hug that day. She was talking to someone who worked at the store, her parrot on her shoulder, his claws freshly clipped. When I said her name she looked at me, the surprise and disbelief I felt mirrored in her face. We laughed and spoke of providence as we stepped outside the store and into the late morning sunshine. The pet store is in the middle of town, surrounded by cars and people steadily flowing through the patterns of traffic lights. But, in the midst of that chaos, we found a holy place. Just outside the front doors of the pet store was a landscape display to encourage the sale of plastic ponds and waterfalls. Inside a man-made pool, large fish were getting fat from the treats a quarter could buy from a dispenser. My friend and I both pawed through our bags and found quarters to push into the eager hands of my little ones. While they fed the fish and watched them swim, the two of us sat on rocks at the edge of the water, looking at the waterfall tumbling down and feeling like we had found a tropical oasis in which to rest together. Most of the world disappeared and the only real place was this pool in the middle of a pavement desert. I couldn’t have planned this experience, sitting with my friend beside the water, her parrot perched on her hand, my little ones content. We had a moment to really share and to pray together and that moment was big enough to stretch forward and reach me again tonight in the woods.

Sometimes I feel like I’m grasping for something high and beyond reach. Something ethereal. But, God is not just a wisp in this world. He’s not a self-improvement plan or an answer to a midlife crisis. He’s not just a comforting Bible verse or an emotional response to a praise song.

He’s real.

Sometimes I’m just pounding out life, trying to run hard and fast and turn my stress into strength. To fill my head with thoughts that will keep me moving and not let me slow down or quit. Craning my neck to peer ahead and figure out what I can do to make this life I’ve been given significant.

But, stop. Slow down. Turn off the loud distractions. We’re limited but we’re cared for by a limitless God.

He’s real.

Do you see with me the weight and the hope in that?

Oh, Lord, may we learn to see you in our mundane and to be peacefully faithful.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:28-29

 

 

Faith Hatching: God, Depression and Our Broody Hen

Faith Hatching: God, Depression and Our Broody Hen

I’d never actually seen a hen go broody and hatch out chicks. We’ve always tried to collect the eggs before a good cache formed that would tempt a motherly chicken. Anyway, most of our girls were bred purely and heavily for egg production and don’t have strong instincts left to do anything other than let us take their eggs away each day. But, this spring, my daughter needed a science project and her beloved bantam hen seemed desperate to raise a family. So, we let the hen collect some eggs and we let her sit.

A chicken changes when she goes broody. She has a job to do and she takes it very seriously. Her body stops making eggs and she needs less food and water. Her usually placid temperament can become fierce. She is immovable from her nest. For twenty one long days she is focused on nothing but keeping those eggs and the chicks growing within, warm and close to her breast, her feathers fluffed out as a covering.

Yesterday, we arrived home after a long day of activities. My daughter came home with a friend and, both being chicken loving gals, the first thing they did was run out to the coop and check on the hen. To their joy they found that the four eggs were perfectly pipped and zipped and four beautiful little chicks were nestled under the mother hen.

I went out to meet the new additions and I was surprised at how much this new life stirred up in me a sense of wonder. Maybe a hundred chicks have made their way through my hands to the coop or broiler pen and none of them have struck me with quite the same awe. Those chickens all arrived in boxes, a day old, after having been hatched in an incubator and shipped from some industrial producer. These ones appeared as if by magic, from the very ordinary eggs that make their way to my kitchen each day. Only, there was one significant difference. They had been tended. They were chosen and set aside and given the loving, all-consuming care of a broody hen. These fuzzy little chicks with bright eyes and strong beaks appeared out of the ordinary, miraculous event of being brooded upon.

I had the thought after stroking the back of one of those soft baby chicks, that I can be like that mother hen. There is potential for life all around me but the things that will grow are the things that I tend.

As I put more words to my thoughts I realized that this is a pondering that’s already been done by some other English speaker. Hidden in our language is proof that someone else watched a hen and her chicks and saw the power therein. We humans are brooders, too. We take thoughts and we nestle them and coddle them and keep them fresh and warm in our minds. Life grows out of our broodings.

I took this old English truth and I felt guilt creeping in with its accusations. Its own kind of brooding.

That struggle with depression, it’s all your fault…

You just need to think on what is true…

Memorize more Bible verses…

You need to control your thoughts and make them happier and more thankful…

I remember as a teen in Maine being chosen as a delegate to the American Legion’s Girls’ State. Girls from high schools around the state spent one week learning about government and how to be a patriotic, good citizen.  One of the first things the older ladies taught us (and the only thing that I remember) was a little chant: “To be enthusiastic we must act enthusiastic. Oh, boy, am I en-thu-si-astic!” I thought it was the most ridiculous thing in the world.

But how often do I feel guilty for not living this way? I should just get out of bed in the morning and act enthusiastic. Just Be Happy. Make thankful lists to brood on. Count it all joy, baby.

And on the days when I just want to collapse from exhaustion and sadness, let’s add failure to be en-thu-si-astic as topping on the self-hate sundae.

Last night I sat with dear people, in a sweet little circle, as we gathered for our church’s community prayer time. And, I prayed maybe the least en-thu-si-astic prayer ever. It was good and long but consisted of something like, “Lord, life feels super hard right now. Would you please bring joy into these things? But actually, I don’t even know if you want to answer that prayer, because you might just want things to be hard. So, anyway, I guess I trust you. Amen.” Thankfully, the saints picked up where I left off, and they hoped and they had faith and we prayed, together. They even prayed for joy. Like the real thing. Not the en-thu-si-astic kind.

Earlier this week, recognizing that low place I am so prone to sink to lately, I pulled out Martyn Lloyd-Jones old book of collected sermons entitled ‘Depression’. Cheery title, eh? Sometimes cheery isn’t what is needed. This is what he said about depression and I would guess at least the start of his take on ‘brooding’:

“The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul: ‘Why art thou cast down’- what business have you to be disquieted? You must turn on yourself, upbraid yourself, condemn yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself: ‘Hope thou in God’- instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way. And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do. Then having done that, end on this great note: defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil and the whole world, and say with this man: ‘I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance, who is also the health of my countenance and my God’… The essence of this matter is to understand that this self of ours, this other man within us, has got to be handled. Do not listen to him; turn on him; speak to him; condemn him; upbraid him; exhort him; encourage him; remind him of what you know, instead of placidly listening to him and allowing him to drag you down and depress you.”[1]

In the throes of feeling down and depressed, there are a million thoughts that run through my mind and want to sink me. Most of them are related to how much of a crummy failure I am. Lloyd-Jones says during those times I need to take myself firmly in hand and speak truth. There are a lot of true things we can speak, and be thankful for, like how comparatively good our life is (because it is extremely good when looking at the rest of the world’s struggles, right?). Being thankful and counting blessings are great acts and like exercise, strengthening even if we don’t immediately feel the benefits. But sometimes, if you are like me, counting blessing when you are feeling really low can produce an immense amount of guilt over not feeling more en-thu-si-astic. How crummy do you have to be to feel so crummy when life is so good? Let’s just crawl back in bed and pull the covers over my miserable, blessed head for a while.

But, according to Lloyd-Jones, the truth we are to speak is not about ourselves and our circumstances but about God. Not me. Not life circumstances. God.

Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do.

But, honestly, this morning, when I thought about these words, and went to brood upon the truth of God Himself, it was hard to get there. It felt a little flat because my faith in the reality of God was kind of shaky. This is what happens sometimes, when I start sinking. It was hard to feel genuine while thinking about God and how good He is.

But… I could think about chickens. Throughout the day my daughter brought me updates on what those little chicks were doing. And, with a full and genuine heart I thought about those little miracles of tender care. I thought about how small they are and how their mother is keeping them covered with her wings. I brooded on the sweetness of that relationship between the helpless chicks and their passionate mother hen.

And that is when a miracle broke into my heart.

Suddenly, it hit me. My hope isn’t in my ability to brood over God; it is in the truth that He broods over me.

The first verses in Genesis describe God as hovering over the earth before His work of creation. Did you know that this word can also be translated as ‘brooding’? The same word is used later on in the Biblical narrative to describe how God cares for his people like an eagle hovering over her young.

“In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them aloft.”[2]

The very first image of God, the first story He tells us about Himself, is that he is brooding over His creation. We were born out of that hovering and when he calls us his children we know that he is hovering over us still. God loves us with the immovable love of a broody hen; a love that sacrifices and a love that tends and protects. He loves us with a love that waits us out, and sees us break through the hardness and walk into new life. His tenderness is mighty. A two pound little bantam hen will puff herself up and with fierceness chase away a full sized dog when she senses her chicks are in danger. Our almighty God is hovering over us with all the passion of that hen with her brood.

I shall yet praise Him!

God’s people once sang a song praising his faithful care and again, called to mind the image of a bird protecting her young. Psalm 91, verse 4, says, “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.” In talking about this Psalm, my sweet friend, Brooke, writes about being so close to the Lord that she is “smelling the feathers.”[3] Isn’t that a beautiful image? Can you breathe deeply and smell his pinions that surround you? What if you are in a desert land, maybe even the barren and howling waste of depression and anxiety? Can you smell them then?

I breathed deeply today and I could smell the feathers.

When I couldn’t quite manage to chant my way into being en-thu-si-astic and when even my praises seemed flat, God met me exactly where I was. He met me in the chicken coop. I love this God. I’m so thankful for the reality of His hovering presence, and I pray that you would know it wherever you are and however you may be feeling today. Praying you, too, would breathe deep and smell those feathers.

Peace to you~

Lara

broody hen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression, p. 21

[2] Deuteronomy 32:10, 11

[3] Brooke Mercier, https://smellingthefeathers.com/my-heart/

The Only “Expert” Parenting Advice I Give To New Moms

I will never forget that first bedtime after we brought our first baby home. My husband was downstairs cleaning up and I was finally in my own bed holding this precious child who only thirty hours before had been hidden in my body. There she was on the outside. Her perfect little fingers held in a fist, her sweet nose breathing air and her beautiful eyes looking into mine. I had never known love could feel so much like fear. It was as if my womb had poured out the most vulnerable part of me. There alone with her, without the nurses to help me, her eight and a half pounds in my arms seemed like nothing compared to the weight I felt in my chest. As the feelings of love and pride and an intense need to protect her filled me, along with fear like I’d never known, I knew in a primal way that I was her mother. Her absolutely in-love, absolutely terrified mother.

A few days later my friend, Caron, brought me a meal and sat with my daughter in her arms. She had three children of her own so was in my ‘mother expert’ category. I was eager to hear anything she had to share. Her advice was completely unexpected.
“Lara, you are the expert here. No one else has ever had this baby. No one else is her mother. No one will know her the way you do. You are the expert on your baby.”
She then went on to answer my questions about nursing and sleep and gave me information that was helpful. But first, she had handed me this gem of mothering wisdom.

I think it was with the same wisdom that, as I sat in the pediatrician’s office with frightened first mom eyes, an older doctor near retirement asked me the first question. He took my girl onto his lap, smiled at me, and said, “Tell me about her. What’s she like?” Because I was the expert on my baby. And at the end of that visit he gave me his final bit of advice. “Just one more thing I need to tell you. When people ask if she’s sleeping through the night, just tell them that she’s sleeping great.” He smiled again and was out the door.

This wise doctor knew that our world is full of well-meaning people eager to be helpful experts.

Just a couple of weeks ago I was approached by an expert on vaccinations. He’s a really nice older guy, but out of the blue he asked me if I vaccinated my kids and proceeded to tell me why I shouldn’t have done so. I so love not being a young mom. It didn’t even in the remotest way make me feel any angst. I was glad that he had said something so that I could share my own story of growing in my trust of God through all of the difficult decisions I’ve had to make as a mother. But, there was a time when that question would have sent me into the throws of insecurity.

Today, if you are a mother reading this and feeling that tremendous weight, may I share with you the same and only advice I freely give to new moms? You, dear mother, are the expert. This son or daughter grew in your womb or your heart. You have labored and you have known and you have loved. That is all you need to do. Stay there. Your labor is to know your child and to love your child. Whether they are brand new, a messy toddler or a messy teen, you have the same job description and you are the perfect woman for the task at hand. You’ve got this because you are a mother and you are an expert.

And, unfortunately, while you’re working hard at knowing and loving, you are going to have to get used to being judged. That’s just the sad reality. When you walk into the grocery store there will be experts in every aisle. When you are celebrating holidays with extended family, there will be experts passing you the mashed potatoes. At the playground, in mom’s groups, at church, in yoga class. You will find experts everywhere. They will be experts at getting babies to sleep through the night and at co-sleeping or crying it out. They will be experts about what are the healthiest foods for brain development and how to discipline (or not) and if vaccines are safe and if food coloring causes autism and if boys should have toy guns and of how much technology use there should be in your house. They will know whether you should go to work or stay home. They will be experts about whether you should send your kids to public, private school or homeschool. There will even be complete stranger experts that feel free to share with you while waiting in line at the post office their expert opinion about whether or not you have too many children or maybe you need another one because being an only child is hard.
Moms, don’t let them kill your confidence. Please. You are the expert. Know and love your kids and trust yourself.

There will be times when you need knowledge to grow your knowing and your love. You are the expert but the best experts know that they don’t know everything. They understand how vast their field of study is and they become experts at seeking out help when they need it.

You will need other people as you expertly parent your child.

But, sweet mom, seek out the people who will give you what you need while building you up, not tearing you down with their expert opinions. Look for the people, whether parents or not, that are seeking to do the same thing you are doing, knowing and loving.

One of the most supportive women in my life, as I’ve entered the (once again insecurity producing) teen years with my kids is my friend, Jessie. She’s a fifth grade teacher and on her vacations, when she could be kid-free, will often take a day to spend with my oldest daughter. She just takes her out and knows and loves her. And once a week, after working all day at an exhausting job, she drives down our long dirt road to pick my teens up and take them to our church youth group. She brings dessert and, so that they won’t be left out of the fun, leaves it with the younger crowd here. She loves us so well. And, when I’m at the end of my mothering rope, she’s one of the first people I seek out. She doesn’t play expert with me. She just knows us and she loves us. She reminds me that we are known and loved by God. And, she prays for us.

I know that sadly not every mother has a Jessie in their life. You might feel like you and the experts at the park are all you have. But, don’t give up. Pray for the gift of these kinds of friends. And then, go to the playgroup and the store and church and seek them out. Look for the woman who has been humbled by life, the one who has the security of knowing she doesn’t know.

If a woman tries to help by giving you a book about her favorite parenting method, run for the hills. But if she tells you her own stories of failure then pull her close. You need that kind of woman.

Don’t listen to the expert that tells you how to feed your baby, listen to the woman who offers to make you tea and hold your baby.

And, if you need to share truthfully how the sleeping at night thing is going, maybe look past the woman with the tried-and-true method and talk to the neighbor who has offered three times to watch your baby while you take a nap or go for a walk. And after admitting how tired you are, take her up on it and hand her your baby.

There are people out there who get it, Moms. They’re the ones that have been through the fire and have been humbled and transformed by it.

Don’t let the expert in the grocery store that glares at your toddler ruin your day. Just be thankful that you will never be that person. You’ve been there now. You are an expert. When you see a mother in the store with an out of control child and even if you see a million things she’s probably doing wrong, you aren’t going to judge. You’re going to break inside for them both because you know how hard it can be. You’re going to choose the checkout line that they’re in instead of avoiding it and you’ll hope that you can make eye contact. And then your smile and kind look will communicate, “Mothering is such a rough job, isn’t it? I’ve been there.” And with your voice you’ll say something along the lines of, “What a beautiful/smart/handsome child you have. I can tell s/he is really special.” And for the thirty-seven seconds you have, you will do the best you can to know and love this mother and this child.

In that moment that woman doesn’t need expert methodology. She needs to experience grace, just like you and just like me. Grace gives her the kind of peace inside that allows her to labor without fear. It frees her to do her job of knowing and loving without being blinded and hindered in that by guilt and insecurity.

Press on into the grace of being imperfect, lacking in many ways, doing the best you can even when it feels like not nearly enough and knowing that it is actually totally enough. The moment you are broken open and overwhelmed with the knowing and the love you have for your child, you are a mothering expert.

Much grace and peace to you in the journey, sweet mommas~

Lara

PS After I published this post I was driving to town and my thoughts went back to all the times *I’ve* played expert with other people. Before the fires of parenting burned some of that away I was much more free with my advice. For those of you who still remember those days (and maybe have books I gave you still on your shelves), I’m sorry. Truly. So thankful that there’s plentiful grace for the ‘experts’, too. 

152 Paper Hearts, 7 Kids and 45 Emails (so far): A Valentine’s Day Story

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I remember the very first Valentine’s Day gift I gave to my husband. When I’m putting our laundry away, I can still see it tucked in his drawer beneath his socks. Inside a small box covered in red construction paper, there are 152 red and white notes cut in the shape of hearts, one for each day leading from that first Valentine’s Day until our wedding day in July. Numbered like an advent calendar, each note expressed my love for him, a funny memory or my excitement about soon being Mrs. Jonathan Mather. I took the box out this afternoon and those notes made me smile. I still think that man looks cute in camouflage. And, it’s just as nice as I imagined it would be to hear him breathe at night and to be tucked in close.

Seventeen years have passed since I sat in my college apartment, love and excitement bursting out of me as I wrote those 152 notes. A lot has happened since we exchanged our Valentine’s Day gifts in the parking lot of his dorm. This summer our junior bridesmaid and smallest flower girl are both getting married themselves. We’ll be in the crowd, some of the ‘old married people’ with years of experience that have both sobered us and made us truly excited for the journey these sweet couples are just beginning.

There is nothing in this world like marriage. Nothing. And, just like when God brought Adam and Eve together, I would affirm that marriage is part of what is ‘very good’ in this world. I would also say that there are times when marriage is very hard.

A while ago, Jon and I were talking about a couple we knew that were breaking up. Thinking of the rejection and pain my friend was experiencing I said to him, “Thank you for never hurting me.” He turned from what he was doing and looked at me. “I’ve hurt you many times.”

And, it’s true. He’s hurt me. Many times. And, I’ve hurt him. There have been hurts that I never would have believed during those red and white heart writing days.

Tonight, Jon walked in the door after working all day. I said hello and showed him what I’d left on the stove for dinner before I kissed him on my way out the door. I ran through the blustery February air to my car where our oldest daughter waited to be driven to a friend’s house. But the car didn’t start. So, he came out to the garage and to my rescue and jumped the dead battery. Saying goodbye again, I drove off in one direction not long before he drove off in another for a fire department meeting.

After dropping my daughter off, I drove slowly over narrow roads that plow trucks had been working hard to keep clear. Banks of snow on either side rose chest high. I thought of my brother-in-law, in Maine, who’d just gotten home after eighteen hours of driving a plow truck in their most recent storm. He gets to rest for now but this fight to keep the roads clear of snow doesn’t end until mud season. More snow will come and if it isn’t cleared away traffic will stop. The goal can’t be to remove the problem of snow in general but to keep dealing with it as it comes.

And, I thought, isn’t this like marriage?

When I first met my husband we started making paths back and forth between our hearts. It started with small conversations and getting to know each other. Spending more time together and making more discoveries caused that path to be well-trodden. Soon, it was the one most walked. He became the person I wanted to run to first with both the joys and troubles of life. In the most gentle way possible, we awakened to the truth that a road was growing between our hearts. There was a connection, a bond, a knowing. And we wanted to keep traveling towards each other. By the time he placed a ring on my finger, traveling that road to connection was the most natural thing in the world. It was easy to say ‘yes’ to him. It was so easy to imagine growing closer and older, together. But, just like the roads of New England, it takes work to maintain routes to that kind of closeness.

We have not always done well at this work of maintenance. When we had a houseful of babies and toddlers I would hear people talk about ‘date nights’ with their spouse and to amuse myself I’d try to figure out how many years it had been since our last date. Usually I’d get caught up on whether or not spending time alone at the hospital (before a baby is born) counts and then just give up. Getting out of the house together just wasn’t happening. Missing out on dates wasn’t a problem by itself. Certainly watching my husband become a father made that road between our hearts a highway, paved over, with multiple lanes. We have watched each other work very hard, whether as parents or in the other goals we’ve had as a family. I’ve seen my husband grow professionally, pouring himself into his work, as a student the first year we were married and continuing through the ups and downs toward a job he loves and success as an engineer. I’ve seen him create a farm, digging post holes, planting fields, and building barns. And, when we left the farm, we took on the challenges of living off the electric grid, deep in the woods where he literally keeps our home working as well as our forest managed. This man works hard. And, he’s seen me labor as well.

But, in all that laboring, it is so easy to forget to maintain our relationship. Lately, I’ve thought about what advice I might give to this year’s June brides. But truthfully, I think it might be more important for me to learn from them. Something my marriage needs after all these years is something that comes so easily to these young women; I need to truly see and appreciate and delight in the man I get to do life with.

Jon probably won’t be getting a box of paper hearts for Valentine’s Day this year. But the last day in December he asked me what my New Year’s resolution was going to be. And, he probably didn’t expect my answer. The last year had been a hard one for us. It was full of storms that blocked roadways and both of us sometimes felt like we were shoveling alone and in vain, unable to get anywhere.

But, my new years resolution was a renewed commitment to express my appreciation for my husband. Instead of a paper heart in a box, these days Jon gets a note in his email inbox. Daily, I’m writing down something I see in him that makes me thankful. This is a simple little thing, but it’s been significant. Writing down 152 things you’re excited about 152 days before the wedding is easy. After years of marriage there can sadly be seasons and days when it is hard to think of one thing to be grateful for; those roads between our hearts can feel impassable. But daily, I’m remembering that this is one road that is worth the work to maintain. In order to be thankful, we need to slow down and see. I’ve had to pause in my day to think about my husband and all that he is and does. Just in that act of seeing and thinking, of knowing him, my love is renewed.

I am so thankful for my Valentine of seventeen years. He is still the funny, smart, hard-working, faithful and servant-hearted man that girl fell in love with so long ago. But, he’s also the man that has grown up with me, living out our marriage vows. Even when marriage is hard work, I love him more each day, and deeper. There is no doubt that God brought us together, with more good purposes in that than we ever could have dreamed.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Jonathan. I’m so thankful to be shoveling snow and walking these roads to and with you.

God has been so kind to us~

Lara