A Love Song

Life has been heavy lately.

I don’t have much wisdom to share about dealing with grief and loss. It’s been two months since I lost my friend, and I still sometimes feel at a loss as to how to move forward, or to process that she’s gone. I still wonder daily, “will I always feel sad?” The answer is probably, yes, I will always feel sad when I think of the loss of my dear friend. But, as another friend reminded me, to not feel sad over such a loss would be far worse. Grief and loss are just hard. Plain and simple. The only way I know to move through seasons like this is just one step at a time, one day at a time.

My hydrangea, in honor and memory of Chris. The plant I bought her for her birthday, one week before her accident.

Aside from the season I am currently experiencing, there was one other season in my life fraught with tragedy, loss, and grief. Three of my high school students drowned while on a missions trip. I think I cried every single day for at least a month. And I know that the loss I experienced then, and what I am experiencing now, don’t hold a candle to what some have lost. The tears go on for years, decades.

Our world is broken. And it sucks. Dementia, cancer, drownings, autism, car accidents, heart attacks. They were never part of the plan. It is because I believe that they were never part of the plan that I can continue to draw breath and walk through these seasons of loss. It is because I see a loving God as the lens for my circumstances, and not my circumstances to form a broken view of God, that I can continue to trust and walk forward in faith.

During this season of grief in my life, God has spoken one word over and over to me, and I realized that the word is the same this time as it was last time. And it is this: I love you.

In the midst of long sleepless nights waiting for my friend to take her final breath, I heard it over and over and over again: “the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God. Oh, it chases me down, fights til I’m found, leaves the 99.” As I tossed and turned in the bed, it was there, in. my. face. Seven years ago, I heard it in the words of my students’ favorite song (all were singers and musicians), “Oh, how he loves us so. Oh, how he loves us. How he loves us so.” I could not get this song out of my head. The Holy Spirit was insistent and relentless in his message of love to me, both then and now.

Why in times of loss is God reminding me of his love? The only conclusion that I can draw is that, like any good father, my Heavenly Father is comforting his dear child as she cries. When my children are afraid, or sad, or hurting, I often reassure them of my love. And when they have to go through scary things like shots or doctor appointments, I tell them that it’s ok, it’s for their good, even though it hurts for a bit. It’s because they know I love them that they can trust me and walk it out. Because I know my Father loves me, I know he’s working for good and for his glory. In my loss and hurt, he just wants me to know, “I love you.”

As I processed the similarities in these two seasons of grief, I was reminded of Zephaniah 3:17 where the prophet writes, “he will rejoice over you with singing; he will quiet you with his love.” I have felt his insistent love song in these seasons of sadness. My Father is there, singing over me, quieting me with his love.

If you are grieving today, friend, I pray that you will feel his love singing over you and quieting your soul as well. I pray that you will receive his love song, and that it will carry you through your loss. I pray that his loving presence will be all around you, through the sleepless nights, through the long sad days. And I pray that you and I both can keep heaven in our view, remembering that all our losses are temporary, and one day, all will be set right.

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Sophie’s Story: Closing the Preschool Chapter

The end of the school year always brings cause for reflection for me. This year I feel especially reflective because Sophie’s preschool chapter is coming to a close. I’m not just reflecting on this past year, but on three years in this great program.

Sophie was privileged this year to be with the same teacher whom she had her first year in preschool when she was three and still non-verbal. It is always an eye-opener for me when people who haven’t interacted with Sophie for a long time get to interact with her again. They are blown out of the water by the amount that she has changed and the progress she has made. This was especially important for me this year as we received her educational identification of autism. Mrs. Bausum has been constant in reminding me of how much Sophie has grown. And she reminds me that this is an indicator of how far she will continue to grow.

Besides being a wonderful support for me, Mrs. Bausum has been a phenomenal teacher for Sophie. She LOVES her preschoolers like her own children. She supports them and challenges them. She is endlessly patient and kind, even in the midst of meltdowns and challenging behaviors. She’s one of those teachers who you know has forever changed your lives. We are so grateful to her for all she has done for us. She also had a fabulous team who helped her and loved Sophie well: Miss Mills, Mrs. Westfall, and Miss Changet, along with occasionally Mr. Herzog. And then there’s the whole team of therapists: Mrs. Meyers, Mrs. McClain, Mrs. Hutcheson, and Mr. Dorian. These fabulous people have enriched Sophie’s life and the life of our family by extension. They are skilled and caring.

And what I love the most about all these people is that they’ve never looked at Sophie through the lens of a label. In the few short weeks that we’ve had our label, I’ve already realized the difficulty this brings. Sophie’s new team at her new elementary school sees autism on her reports and immediately expects certain things and sees her in a certain light. While the educator in me understands this to a degree, the parent in me just screams that they would look past that label and see my child. Sophie’s diagnosis was not an obvious one for anyone. No one really saw it except me. Autism can look really different in girls, especially when they are talkative like Sophie. No one on her team even considered it for her, even when I asked about it last fall, because she just doesn’t fit the typical mold. But after evaluation upon evaluation, the results are clear, and so we have the label. My prayer is that as Sophie’s new team begins to work with her, they will be able to look past the label and not just expect Sophie to be a certain way because of her label. I pray that she will receive both the support and the challenge that she needs to continue growing and achieving.

Many people have asked me what’s next for Sophie. The short answer is: KINDERGARTEN! Sophie is SO EXCITED for kindergarten. We toured her new school just before school concluded in May. She bounced around from room to room with the assistant principal and me, looking at the art room, the music room, the kindergarten rooms, the lunch room, and several therapy rooms. She was full of questions and excitement! She will be going to her home elementary school, which is just a block and a half from our home.

On the medical front, Sophie has just seen her developmental pediatrician. Given everything that the school did to evaluate her, he was comfortable offering us the medical diagnosis of Autism. He was also quick to point out that her diagnosis was not an obvious one, but that it is good she has this in place entering kindergarten, because it will open more doors for support for Sophie. It also finally gives us an answer for what has been causing every single one of the problems she’s had, from anxiety and sensory issues, to her muscle tone and speech delay.

In this moment, as I edit this text I wrote two weeks ago, I’m honestly pretty angry about life. I know in my head that I’m crazy blessed in so many ways. There are many folks out there who have it way worse. But I just need to say that I’m not happy my child is diagnosed with autism. I’m not happy that I lost a good friend and key support person in my life immediately after saying “yes” to God’s call into ministry. (If you’re not a consistent reader of the blog, my neighbor and friend passed away in April, my kids’ “granny.”) I’m pretty angry about all of that. Life since March has basically been overwhelming. And when I wrote this two weeks ago, I was in a little bit better place than I am now. So, I’m reading these last few paragraphs I wrote below and trying to take them to heart today, in the middle of the anger, the grief, the sadness. I think it’s ok to be angry that this world is broken. I think it’s ok to be mad that death happens. To rage, “this isn’t how it’s supposed to be.” Because, in all honesty, this ISN’T the way it was supposed to be. Our world is marred with brokenness. And the pain that I’m feeling was never a part of God’s plan. But he is there in the pain. And he can handle the anger. It’s not a place to remain, but sometimes it is a season in the journey. And I know that a little rage won’t scare him off. Just like when my kids rage at me about something that’s rocked their little worlds. I can handle it. I’m big enough. But right now, I’m the kid, and my world is rocked, but I know my Father can handle it.

So… I’m coming back to where I was two weeks ago… and I’m going to try to listen to myself. I’m honestly not there today, but I’m trying to turn that arrow….

My word for the year has been “Do what’s in front of you” with the image of an arrow directing my path. So in spite of all the upheaval in my personal life, I’m trying to keep myself pointed in the right direction, and I’m going to keep doing what’s in front of me.

Life has been hard this spring, and often overwhelming. But when I feel overwhelmed by any one of many emotions in many difficult situations, I have to remind myself that I can make it through today, I can be ok with today. And that’s got to be enough. God’s grace for tomorrow will meet me in tomorrow.

“Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or to the left; keep your foot from evil.” Proverbs 4:25-27

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Sophie’s Story: Diagnosis Day

Sometimes life is full of really bad things.

Sometimes your dad spirals into dementia, your neighbor “granny” dies, and your child is diagnosed with autism, all in the span of a year, or a month.

Sometimes any grass seems greener, because you really feel you HAVE NO GRASS. Just a lot of dirty dirt.

Sometimes life is cruel.

But God.

God is always good. And he is always kind.

I refuse to allow my circumstances to become the lens through which I see my God. Instead, I will be steadfast in choosing to see my circumstances through the lens of God’s kindness. I choose to believe that he is always being kind to me, even when life looks kind of rotten.

That second sentence up there is a glimpse of my past year. In March of 2017, my dad underwent minor surgery, and the anesthesia accelerated his dementia. A year later we are just now starting to get it settled down a little bit. And in March of this year, my dear neighbor was in a car accident, which ultimately resulted in her death on April 30th. There are no words to express the depth of this loss to our family. Our Granny was one of a kind.

And then there was today. Today I heard the answer that I never wanted to hear, but always knew in my heart I would hear some day: Autism. When no one else saw it in Sophie, I did. As heartbreaking as it was to ask, I knew I had to. And over the last six weeks, her team has worked feverishly to evaluate her through many different assessments for the Autism Spectrum Disorder.

So, today I sat in a room and listened to her team recount her many difficulties and deficits. It was oppressive to hear. It was heartbreaking. And at the end of the meeting, I sat and listened to our school psychologist explain to me that Sophie does meet the criteria and definitions of Autism. After six long — but so incredibly short — years, we have our diagnosis, the diagnosis I never wanted.

I really don’t even know how to process any of this. Mostly my busy life and my busy children don’t allow me a lot of time for quiet contemplation to process. I just keep putting one foot in front of the other, fixing this meal, cleaning up that mess, drying those tears. It’s what we do as moms. And somehow we’ll find our way with our Sophie girl. I will keep believing, keep trusting, keep praying, and watching for God to move in her sweet life. His favor clearly rests on her, and I firmly believe he has a good plan for her life.

As friends surrounded me with encouragement today as I shared this news, one friend’s words broke down all the resistance I have been feeling to this day. “You were made for her,” she said. “You were made for her.” Truly God knew from the beginning of time that there would be me, and that there would be Sophie, and he crafted us for each other. To me, this makes no sense right now. But I know she is right.

Today there have been lots of tears. This last month there have been lots of tears. This past year there have been lots of tears. But tears are not a place to stay. I don’t want to always see my life through my tears. Even as I observe these losses, these griefs, even in the sadness and the tears, I’m trusting that God is infinitely kind to me and to those I love.

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Bitter Water

About a month ago I accepted a new job as the director of youth and children’s ministry at my church. I was (and am) humbled and delighted to be offered this job! I could say a lot about the process, because it could not have been more clear that this was what God had for me. But if I get off on that, it will totally hijack this other post I need to write…

My first week on the job, I contracted a wicked stomach virus that just would not leave me. So I was sick for the majority of my first week of work. The next Monday morning, I was excited to be feeling well and back at it. But when Tuesday rolled around, my world turned upside down.

My dear friend, neighbor, and my kids’ “granny” was in a bad car accident. She was taken to our major trauma hospital in the area and admitted to ICU with kidney failure, irregular heart rhythms, and numerous broken bones. Friends, in that moment when I heard that news, my world just stopped. I was overwhelmed with grief at the thought of losing this dear loved one. And, of course, after thoughts of her well-being, quickly followed thoughts of how in the world I was supposed to do my new job with Granny, my babysitter, laying in the hospital. For four long days, I did not know if she was going to live or die. Some of the worst moments of my life.

I remember waking up the morning after her accident, with everything feeling upside down, praying for her, asking God what in the world he was up to, and specifically praying, “God, I know you have something in mind here, so I need you to show me your thoughts. I know you have a thought about this, a direction that I should go. This didn’t surprise you. So reveal your thoughts to me.”

So we’ve been functioning now for two weeks without Granny. The first two weeks in six years that she hasn’t been by the watch the kids for a few hours, even if to just give mommy a much needed minute for sanity. It has been a strange two weeks. It has intensified the adjustment period for me, having added new job responsibilities, while losing a huge part of my support system. I cannot say that it has been the smoothest two weeks of my life. While I’m really enjoying the job, life has gotten crazy busy, and my children are with me 24/7. So all the mamas know what that’s like…. A special kind of blessing, honestly, it is.

And so this week I’m working away on all my Sunday school lessons, and the lesson for the junior high and high school is just the hottest mess. I use a curriculum, and I just tailor it to our needs, and usually it’s pretty spot on. But this lesson was just making me scratch my head and say “Wuuuttt?” And it was really frustrating. So I put it away and prayed for divine inspiration. And woldn’t you know, when I took it out today, that Holy Ghost just opened up my eyes.

The story we are studying is of the Israelites at Marah, where the water is bitter. In spite of all the miracles they’ve seen God do in the past few weeks of their lives, the Israelites begin to whine and complain that God isn’t providing for them. I read that, and I’m like, “Wuuuttt? Come on, guys! You just walked through the Red Sea on dry ground! I think God can help you with your water situation.” But they didn’t see it. So Moses, bless his soul, cries out to God for help. And God says, “ok, throw this tree into the water.” Say what now? How is that going to solve this problem? Good ol’ Moses doesn’t question, or if he does, he made the editorial choice to leave that part out when he wrote the book of Exodus. He just puts the tree into the water, and BOOM! sweet water!

So here’s how God hits me between the eyes with this: “What are you going to do, Catherine, when I serve up bitter water for you? Are you going to complain and gripe and be frustrated that your life is less convenient now? Or are you going to choose to obey, whatever craziness that may look like? Are you EXPECTING me to move or not?”

See, I started out pretty good right after the accident, asking God for his thoughts and all, but the living it out, that is the tough part. Even though my church family and friends have come together in amazing and beautiful ways to support my family, the fact that my friend and my babysitter is laying in the hospital with a very long long road to recovery still stinks. We miss her. Our lives are actually less without her, if you know what I mean. She added to our lives in a very sweet and unique way. This loss, however temporary, is a firsthand taste of some bitter water.

The brokenness of this world stinks. It meets us every day in the ways we sin and fall short and in the ways that others sin against us. Our friendships break down. Our families break down. Our health breaks down. And eventually, our hearts break down along with these things. Bitter water. It’s everywhere in this life. So the question is, what are we going to do with our bitter water? Are we looking for God, expecting him to move? Or are we wallowing in self-pity and frustration?

I think I’m going to look back on the faithfulness of my God and trust and remember that he has still got a plan, and he is still good. Even in the bitterness of this loss, I will look for sweetness. I will look for the miraculous. I know it’s there. I see it in the ways others are stepping up to care for us. I see it in Granny’s slow but steady healing. And I know I’ll see it in other ways as I continue to look.

 

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Green Beans on Cake

It is 10:30 AM. Today they are giving me a run for my money. (Let’s be honest, every day they give me a run for my money.) I have already lost count of the meltdowns and timeouts we’ve had this morning. It’s a green beans on cake kind of season around here with my older two children.

Micah precociously tells Sophie, “No, you’re not allowed to do that.”

Sophie shouts, “Micah! Go AWAY!” swinging her arms (and her toys) around wildly trying to remove his presence from her space.

… And the yelling continues ….

OR

Sophie tells Micah, “You’re going to wear this shirt today.”

Micah dissolves into a puddle of angry tears on the floor because he wanted to pick his own shirt.

Can somebody please just take a chill pill? Yikes.

These are the cringe-worthy moments that my days are made of right now! They’re just kids being kids, but I happen to believe it’s my job to train them up in the way they should go, and green beans on cake is NOT the way to go…

So we use this saying on a daily basis. “Don’t put green beans on your cake.”

Here’s how it began —

One day when Micah was spouting off some kind of attitude towards me and his sister Sophie, I exclaimed, “Micah, stop that, it’s just ugly!”

He was very offended, because already at three he wants to look good. “Mom, don’t call me ugly. That’s not nice.” He was truly hurt when he thought I was calling him ugly.

So I explained, “Micah, you are not ugly at all. You are a wonderful boy with so many good qualities, but when you have this bad attitude, it looks ugly on you. It ruins the good you. It’s like putting green beans on cake!”

That really got his attention! “Green beans on cake, Mom?! That’s disgusting!”

“Yes, it is. That would be so gross! It would mess the cake all up. And that’s what your attitude does to you. God made you to be a wonderful little boy who is kind and funny and smart! But when you have this attitude, you’re putting green beans on your cake.”

Suddenly it was crystal clear to him what I was saying. He realized to some degree that his sinful choices are not a reflection of who he truly is, but they are a distortion of who God created him to be. This vivid, disgusting image helps my children understand what their sin does to their souls.

And it helps me too. Sometimes they’ll even say it to me, “Mom, that’s green beans on cake when you say that.” And sometimes they’re right. We all put green beans on our cake now and then. But now all we need to do is lovingly remind each other when we’re starting to load the cake up with beans and it helps diffuse the situation, remind us that we’re not being the best version of ourselves, the one we were created to be.

So we soldier on, through these years when the children are each other’s best friend and worst enemy from moment to moment. I know I’m going to blink and it will be in the past. I won’t mind if I forget the fighting and the meltdowns, but I hope I remember our phrase, green beans on cake, because I don’t want to lose sight of what my sin does to my soul. I want to be the best version of myself that I can possibly be on this earth.

And  I hope that my kids will remember it too as they grow, so that when they are teenagers walking through school hallways, they will be kind, they will reach out to the lonely. When they start their first job, they’ll be a light for Jesus because their lives look different. When they go out into this broken world, they’ll have something to offer, something sweet like cake, that leaves others feeling uplifted instead of grossed out.

At the center of my job as a mother is the responsibility to teach my kids to know and to be like Jesus. Many days that feels like the impossible dream. But I know it’s not. Because we have the good moments too, where we’re talking at breakfast about Easter and they’re talking about how Jesus died on the cross for them, and rose again, and is coming back to take them to heaven because they have Jesus in their hearts. Some moments it’s just pure sweet cake.

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Two Moms Sat in a Parking Lot

Two moms sat in grocery store parking lots. A few miles separated them. But as they sat in their minivans talking on the phone, their hearts were close. These moms were having terrible mornings. One mom was awakened at 4:45 by the baby, who was grouchy all morning. Her other two kids fought like cats and dogs. She dropped an egg on the floor, her makeup in the wet sink, and a laundry basket, which took part of her thumb with it. The other mom was tired of being sassed by her pre-teen son, while being told, “I hate you,” by her little girl. She was weary of arguing, weary of disrespect. Both of these moms felt like they were sinking. Both of these moms felt powerless to change their homes. And both of these moms felt like failures, like it was somehow all their fault that their children were so screwed up.

But as these moms talked and shared their hearts with each other, they could hear the nonsense in each other’s heartbreak of “What did I do to screw this all up?” and “I feel like such a failure.” Because these moms knew that their dear sweet sister in Christ had done nothing to screw up her children, and that she was not a failure.

And as they talked, the settled on the real source of the problem: The Enemy of their souls.

He was the one messing with their families. He was the one making them blame themselves for everything. He was the one heaping guilt on their mama’s hearts. He was the one shooting fiery darts at their children. He was the one who wanted to destroy their souls and the souls of their children.

And they decided they were done.

Done listening to the lies of the enemy.

Done giving themselves too much credit, thinking that their shortcomings could literally outweigh the grace of God to sustain their children.

Done feeling powerless.

Done tolerating destruction.

Done feeling like their children were slipping through their fingers and on the highway to hell.

Done.

And they decided their best and only weapon was prayer. Their war plan and their war path was through prayer.

Every day they will pray Scripture over their children.

Every day they will pray for a wall of fire around their children and legions of angels to go with them.

Every day they will pray for Jesus to capture the hearts of their children.

Every day they will pray for wisdom.

Every day they will pray that they can be the mamas God wants them to be, even when they make mistakes.

And every day they will look for change. They will take ground with their prayers. They will take their children back from the enemy’s reaching. They will take back their homes. They will take back their marriages. They will war for the souls of those they love.

I am convinced that I am who I am because of my mama’s prayers. May it be so with my children also because of me.

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Memories of Daddy: The Sap is Running

Mornings like this take me back. There’s a light frost, and the air is chilly, but as the sun peeks out, I know it will be a warm day. As I’m getting ready for my day, brushing my teeth, combing my hair, putting on my make up, my mind is 100 miles away.

I’m in Mansfield, in a small grove of maple trees outside my best friend’s house. It’s cool in the woods, but the afternoon sun above the canopy of trees is warm. The night was chilly, the morning saw a light frost. But by afternoon we’d shed our jackets and felt the warm sun on our skin as we played outside. We’d run with the energy of the coming spring, knowing that the cold days of winter were now numbered.

After work, on these days of my memory, Daddy would come pick me up in his gray Honda hatchback. I would know our destination with one glimpse into the trunk. It would be full of industrial sized mayonnaise jars, empty, of course, awaiting sap. We’d drive the few minutes from home to that grove of trees and gather the sap. I’m sure I wasn’t as helpful as I remember, because I couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6 when I remember helping Daddy with the sap. I have a 6 year old, and I know exactly how helpful she would be in this task! But I never remember Daddy getting frustrated, just a happy camaraderie as we went around to check our gray metal buckets to see how much sap we’d collected. We poured it into the mayo jars and tallied up our cache. Only a couple of gallons on a slow day. But some days the 3 gallon buckets would be full to overflowing. Days like today, where the morning was chilly, but the sun soon brought warmth. The sap would start to flow. We haven’t collected sap in well over 20 years, but this type of day never fails to take me right back to those maple trees.

I felt special when I got to collect sap with Daddy. He’s always had a way of making me feel special. I hope that I have that way about me, as I’m like him in many ways. I hope that I can live in the moment with my kids and create special memories that they will cherish on cool spring mornings. I’m sure that my daddy was stressed just like me, just like every other adult on this planet, and I’m sure at times he let that out in ways he shouldn’t have, but I rarely remember him giving in to that stress. I know he did, because he remembers (or used to) and used to talk about it, feeling like he had made mistakes. That gives me a lot of hope. Because I feel that way about myself a lot, like I’m going to mess my kids up with all my mistakes. But I don’t really remember his mistakes. I just remember collecting sap with my daddy. I remember him pouring in to me, just like that sap poured into those buckets, just like I want to pour into my own kids now.

A portion of an article published in the local newspaper about my daddy’s sapping, circa 1986. I remember that hat vividly.

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Sophie’s Story: A Winter Hat on a Warm Spring Day

Have you ever had one of those moments where you are saying something to your child and you immediately hear the voice of God speaking it back to you? I had one of those moments this morning. We were running late getting ready for school, surprise, surprise. I hadn’t slept much the night before. The baby was cranky, being the reason that I was up, she was also sleep deprived. I was trying to do too many things in too little time. As I hurried to get ready to avoid driving Sophie to school in my bathrobe, I shouted instructions to the big kids, hoping against hope they could get themselves together better than usual when left to their own means. I asked Sophie to get her pink blanket for rest time at preschool, to get her socks on, and to get her shoes on. Three simple requests.

She came back to my room a few minutes later where I was trying to dress myself while keeping the baby out of my trashcan, and she proclaimed with glee, “Look, I got my hat!” She’s wearing her winter hat. Sockless. Shoeless. Blanketless. But she’s got her hat. And she was so happy about it. In my overwhelmed moment of frustration I told her she didn’t need a hat today because it’s 50 degrees outside. (Can I get an amen for that?!) I reminded her about her socks and shoes and blanket. But instead of getting on the ball, she came back to that hat and argued with me that she did indeed need her hat today, that she planned to wear it outside to school. I should have just dropped it. She’s six. Her logical function is, well, six. Sure, wear your hat. It’s a hat, who cares! But I was a little annoyed with her attitude to argue with me, and so I chose the wrong battle. But in that battle, what I said to her really resonated with my own journey lately.

“You have spent all this time worrying about a hat that you don’t even need when you have not even done the things I’ve asked you to do. What I’m asking you to do will prepare you for school, where you need to be today.”

That hit me between the eyes, man. I have spent so much time worrying about things I don’t even need instead of just doing what God has asked me to do. When I spoke those words, I heard “house” rather than “hat” in my head. You have spent so much time worrying about a house you don’t even need instead of doing the things I’ve asked you to do. I’m going to chew on that one today. Mine’s a house. What hat are you worrying about?

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The Arrow

In the past six months, my husband and I have had to grapple with some real-life big decisions. Adult decisions. Risky decisions. Uncertain decisions. Should we continue to carry our private health insurance which is so expensive it is literally sucking us dry? Should we sell our home and move closer to his job? What do we want to do for school for Sophie next year? Should I get a job outside the home, or a work-from-home job? I’ve felt a keen lack of direction in many of these areas. What I have wanted in each situation just does not seem to be lining up with reality, in any way. It’s been a frustrating and unsettling season of waiting. I’ve been seeking direction, figuratively and literally, as there are several “where’s” among my questions. But I feel like I’ve been casting about quite a bit in my search.

Today clarity settled on me as my eyes landed upon yet another arrow while I was browsing the card aisle. The arrow. They’ve been everywhere since November, on my purse, on a new scarf I received for Christmas, on home decor I’ve seen in stores, on cards and more.

As a new year opens, some people search for a word for the year. The past three years, I have received an image for the year instead, although a word tends to emerge in tandem. Two years ago it was the lighthouse. They were everywhere. And as I dwelt upon that image, the word beacon emerged. Jesus was (and is) my beacon, shining his light on my life, and through my life on to others. Last year the image was the bloom on my morning glory, and the word bloom accompanied it. It didn’t bloom until November the previous fall, right after we discovered we were expecting our much longed-for third child. In 2017, I bloomed as her life came to be. And for 2018, the image is that of an arrow. Each arrow I’ve seen over the past three months has drawn me in and captivated my attention in a surprising fashion. But today as I pondered our finances and our move on a more serious level, the significance of the arrow bounded to the forefront of my mind.

I think God has been placing these arrows on my path as a reminder that he is my direction. Yes, God gives us direction, but that’s not what I mean. He is the direction. Whether we move or remain, wherever we go or don’t go, he is both what we aim for, the direction we point, and also the way we move forward. Our journey needs to be less about seeking the answers, and more about seeking him, and him alone. As I press in to him, I hear again his call — just do what’s in front of you. Instead of searching out what to do or where to go, if I just do what’s in front of me, I can trust that it’s all happening because he brings it across my path. There’s plenty to do if I just focus on what’s in front of me.

I want to say that I’m done seeking answers, but I know my nature will fight hard against that. So what I’ll say is that I’m keeping the arrow in the front of my mind, letting that image direct my sight onto my loving Father, pointing me to him, and allowing him to direct my path and all that crosses it.

“Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.”           Psalm 143:8

“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it.’”              Isaiah 30:21

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”            Proverbs 3:5-6

“Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.”             Proverbs 4:25-27

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Micah’s Story: My Mini-Me

My son 3 year old Micah is given to fearfulness. In the summertime, it’s bees. With the warmer weather we’ve had recently, he asks me every morning and every time we go outside, “Are the bees alive yet, Mom?” In the colder months, it’s fears of ghosts, wolves, or the toilet jumping up to get him while he’s peeing. It’s easy to chuckle and reassure him, but as his mom, I see what havoc fear wreaks in his little life. And I see in this some profound spiritual lessons on a bigger scale in my own life.

Even though most of his fears seem irrational, I can relate 100% to Micah’s feelings in these situations. I have a long-standing battle with fear in my own life. God helped me chip away at some of it when he gave me Sophie. Something happens to your fear when you face one of your worst fears and survive, even grow stronger because of it. That’s another tale for another day… As time has passed, I have seen the enemy begin to try and manipulate me again through fear. Sometimes I think God gave me Micah and made him so much like me just so that I could relearn all the life lessons. We are two peas in a pod, Micah and I. In almost all of his battles, I see myself. His little life is like a mirror for all my own faults! And so it has been in his battle with fear. I have seen my own battle. But it’s eye-opening to see someone else fighting your same battle. Things snap quickly into perspective. As Micah deals with fear, I can quickly pick out the ways that fear is negatively impacting him and also myself.

Fear immobilizes. My son won’t go anywhere without me, or without his big sissy as my stand-in. Our home is small, but he won’t go from one room to the next, even if he can clearly see me in a different room. And forget about going upstairs to the bathroom or to his bedroom. He can’t move forward when he’s afraid. How often have I allowed fear to immobilize me? How many times has my journey halted simply because I’m too afraid to take the next steps? For me this is most often the fear that I’m going to make the wrong choice, so I just don’t make any choice at all. I’m immobilized. Just sitting there are the crossroads, doing nothin.

Fear controls. Not only can Micah not move freely when he’s fearful, but his activities are also determined by his fears. Many of his choices are based upon his fears. He won’t go into the dining room, where the wood floors are bare, to race his cars, because I’m in the living room, on the carpet. He won’t obey or be my helper because he’s too afraid of what I might ask him to do, or what might happen to him along the way. How have I allowed fear to control me? I’m too afraid of what God might ask me to do if I agree to obey and be his helper. I’m too afraid of what might happen to me along the way. I’m too afraid that I might fail, if I try. And I’m too afraid of the judgment that others might assign to me if I don’t measure up in their eyes.

Fear creates misery. If Micah even thinks I’m leaving the room, he begins to get upset instantly. We’re talking zero to sixty in 1.5 seconds. I can hear panic rise in his voice as he hurries to avoid being left behind, even if I’m just stepping into the next room for a moment. And in the event that he is left somewhere alone in our home, he comes undone. He doesn’t enjoy his day because he’s so fearful. This is the big one for my life: How have I allowed fear to strip away my joy? Instead of rejoicing in the blessings of my life, my mind is running rampant with fears and what-ifs. If I even catch whiff of something going amiss, I can feel my own panic rising.

Although this battle is not what it used to be for me, and, praise God, I am not nearly as controlled by fear as I used to be, I still see in myself the battle that Micah is beginning at just three years old. What I see in Micah has helped me to realize again that fear is a tool of the enemy intended to immobilize us, control us, and make us miserable. Our enemy doesn’t want us moving forward in our faith or in our ministry. He doesn’t want us to move freely, to enjoy our activities, to live our lives in abandon, secure in our Father’s love.

Something that I often say to Micah resonates in my spirit as well: “Why are you so afraid? Mommy is taking care of you. You are safe in our home,” I know God would say the same to me: Why is she so afraid? Doesn’t she know that I’m taking care of her? She is safe in my love. I John 4:18 promises that perfect love drives out fear. I think that’s the key. If we could really grasp how much God loves us, then we would be able to trust completely that no matter what happens, it’s going to be ok. And we don’t need to be frozen at the crossroads, or fearful of what he may ask us to do, or running in anxious circles mentally. If we really understood how deeply and how perfectly the Father loves us, we would recognize that we don’t need to be afraid. We are secure in his care. That doesn’t mean that bad things won’t happen, unfortunately, but it does mean that his goodness will prevail even in the bad things, and that we are always, always, always secure in his love.

I remember when Sophie’s journey first began, one of the things her pediatrician said to me that was so simple, yet has stuck with me all the way was this: “It will all be ok.” At the time that was rather maddening because how could anything be ok when my baby girl could have some life-altering or life-threatening disease or disorder? How could it be ok?! But, six years later, I have seen that truly, it is ok. As I referenced earlier, I faced that fear, and I walked head on into it. I had no choice in the matter. Face like flint is the expression that comes to mind as I recall my journey into fearful territory with Sophie. “Welcome to motherhood, please step directly into the fire, Catherine.” But as in Sophie’s journey, I cannot assure you more, no matter what your journey looks like right now, it will all be ok. I know that I know that I know my Father loves me and he loves Sophie. So no matter the things in life that most assuredly do go very wrong, will go very wrong, God remains constant, faithful, good. His deep and perfect love holds us. So we can set our faces like flint, and we can step directly into the fire if we have to. Because he is there, he will be there. And he will keep us secure in his perfect love. In this we can walk free from fear.

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have summoned you by name. You are mine.”

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