For the past week, every time I read the news from any part of the world, I can feel fear wrap around me like a blanket. Strong, heavy, unbearable. I can hear the stories from my history classes in university and high school, stories of people turning against each other, of wars and raids, of the destruction of people, of corruption and power, and it seems like we are running toward our destruction.
We are not nearly as good as we thought we were.
Whatever corner of the world you are in when you read this, it doesn’t matter. I sense that you want your life to matter, and you want to live beyond the seemingly hopeless realities in the news. You feel a call to do something, but what? How? When? You feel helpless. I know I do. This is for you – the one who wants to fight, the one who wants to create and not consume, the one who knows you have something you want to do but isn’t sure how to do it.
Our action step – plan to find daily moments of rest from the news and information, set aside a day week when work stops completely.
Find the margins.
There is always work to be done in the margins. There are people in all of our communities who are forgotten, and who believe that their lives are worthless and disposable. Two weeks ago I was in the library and witnessed a young person mistreating a child. A few days later, I saw the same person again in Kmart. I don’t think this was a coincidence. Both times I was faced with someone in the margin, a bewildered, hurting child and a lost, broken parent. I had no idea what to do then, but I know that this was not a coincidence. It was an invitation. To do something. To ask questions. To provide wisdom and truth. To be present. Your margins are different from my margins – be present in your community and find the people who are afraid and pushed to a corner. Who could you connect with in your community? What are the needs of your schools, government and neighbourhoods? Where do your gifts connect with the needs around you?
Our action step – read your local newspaper or website, go to a part of your town that you haven’t been to, maybe a part that is unsafe, listen to members of your community who are involved and find out what needs to be done.
Pick one thing
Choose one issue to which you can devote whatever time and resources you have. It is impossible to do everything, and in this age of information I can get passionate about everything. But I wonder if everything is distracting me from the one thing that I can do. Find your one thing. Learn about it. Research it. Do what you can. The one thing will also lead you to the people you need to work with.
Our action step – what is one issue to which you want to devote your time and resources? Is there an organisation or team you can partner with? Who can you contact? What can you do?
You are not just a witness to history today. You get to play a part in creating it. Let’s reject helplessness together, let us embrace the small ways we can lend our life toward the needs around us.
Now it’s your turn:What are you going to do today? How can you rest from the anxieties of daily life? What are the margins in your world? What is the one thing you can do?
Most of you may be thinking (or trying not to think) about a certain international event of importance. Me? I can’t help myself, I’m still looking back. History has always fascinated me, it was my favourite subject in school, I majored in it at university, and it continues to be something that keeps me grounded both in my daily life and also in the way I perceive the future.
2016. What was it like for you? As the world seemed to descend into chaos around me, our little world in Melbourne, Australia pieced itself together. I dropped one child off at kindergarten, played with the other one, cooked, started the slow work of getting to know people, reconnected with some of my dearest friends and family, traveled to Alaska, became my niece’s “Wevi.” A million ordinary moments and a few extraordinary ones, the making of a life in one place.
So here’s what I learned this year in no particular order.
Rest is the start I began the year by reading “Soulkeeping” by John Ortberg, and this quotation from the book served as a foundation for the year, undoubtedly for the rest of my life:
“The soul was not made for an easy life; the soul was made for an easy yoke.”
I think that year after year, maintaining a sabbath practice, both daily and weekly, is key to the rest of my life, the root system out of which everything else grows.
Grocery shopping stresses me out I go to the grocery store usually two times a week, sometimes more, but this year was the first time when I realized: This is causing unnatural stress. My kids are wonderful shoppers, which is why I didn’t allow myself to see it (I kept telling myself how blessed I am to shop with kids). We experimented with online shopping and Husband taking care of the groceries, and it has made a difference.
Hold the gifts inside There are two beautiful things that happened to me this year, and my instinct was to share it. Write about it on the blog, tell someone about it, put a photo on Instagram, but something about the the glory of these two gifts stopped me. Sometimes there is space to share about the beautiful things but not the way in which it most deeply touched my soul. I learned to enjoy the gift on the inside, to turn it over in my hand and watch the way it changed in the light, to enjoy watching its different facets and what the process of time did to it, and to let the gifts become part of a system of internal resources, something to rely on during the harder weeks and seasons of life.
My children know when my love for them comes with requirements I used to write a lot about parenting here, and I haven’t in a long time. There’s a reason for that. The past two years have just about done my head in as a mother, not just because of my children, but because of myself. Perhaps the most humbling thing about parenting is the way it will pull out every evil thing in your heart on display for the most easily influenced, innocent members of your family. Someone asked us in August if we weren’t perhaps expecting too much of our children, it was a turning point for us in so many ways. You cannot give your children something you cannot give yourself, and it has been six months of relearning or maybe learning for the first time, the nature of grace and love.
Trust takes time I’ve spent a lifetime rushing into deep relationships, and this was the year when I learned to slow it all down, to pay attention to my soul and to my circumstances, to honour the needs of my husband and kids and the way it impacts my ability to relate to others and connect with others. There are longer, deeper thoughts here, but for now here it is: It takes time to build relationships that are based on trust and connection, and that time has to be taken to sustain healthy, truly deep relationships that are characterized by freedom and love. 2016 was the year I decided that I will take the slow path to healthy relationships; it has been a painful but very worthwhile lession.
A hopeful vision for the future I read The Atlantic Monthly’s essay about Donald Trump in the middle of the year, and it was the source of one of my major “aha’ moments this year. The article helped me to see the powerful way with which fear can drive me, and in contrast I saw the way God leads, through hope. In the middle of my fears (and I have many of them), I sensed God saying to me, I have a hopeful vision for your life. It has served as an anchor and a reminder when I am afraid that God has a different narrative for my life.
Our brains can change I went to Dr. Caroline Leaf’s seminar in Melbourne about renewing the mind, based on her book “Switch On Your Brain,” and even though there are things I disagreed with, this basic truth was profound to me: God made our brains in a way that they can change. The connections in our brains can be rewired, and our thoughts directly impact the way our brain is formed. Something about this seemed like the truth that I know is found in God – he makes all things new, his mercies are new every morning, there are second chances for us when we fail again and again. Change is possible. He has literally wired it into our brains.
There is time Alaska. I spent a week there on a writing retreat in September, and it was probably one of the best weeks of my life. I went into it saddled with many writing fears: Can I sustain a writing life? Will I miss out if I don’t do anything now? Each one was answered not by any person but by the love of God in many tiny, intentional moments. I see you, I know you, and you have time. 2016 was the year when I decided to take the timetable stress off my life, my marriage, children, writing, passions and calling and to embrace instead a trust that God has all of these things in his hands, I can trust the process, and I can enjoy learning along the way. I don’t think I have ever received such an extraordinary gift as the week I spent in Alaska, I will probably spend the rest of my life unpacking the beauty of it all.
Thanks for journeying with me on the blog last year. It was a joy to get to know you and share in your highs and lows as well. I look forward to another year of walking and growing together. Now tell me, what did you learn in 2016?
Two weeks ago, Husband was away for less than 48 hours, and I lay in my bed at 2:30am and could not sleep because I was terrified at every creak and noise I heard.
My best friend starts a a new job in the centre of the city, and I wonder about a terrorist attack.
Many people dear to me live in Germany and Sweden, and day after day I’ve scanned headlines about shootings, bombs and stabbings and wondered, where next?
I watch conventions and read tweets and fear washes over me wave after wave after wave.
Fear shows me my expectations, it unveils my entitlements. Fear highlights where I place my confidence. If my expectations are security and safety, anyone who threatens it causes fear. If I am entitled to a stable society where I can retain the privileges of my life, someone who aims to take it away or adjust it gives me reason to be afraid. If my confidence is in the way I look, my accomplishments or the contents of my bank account, the loss of any of these elements causes insecurity and uncertainty.
Our fears grow out of the grief and pain of not having the life we want. It blossoms when we believe something we deserve is being taken away from us, and our fears are then exploited by the people and systems who have something to gain from our fear.
But we have a better hope.
Hope that is stronger than fear.
Hope that is beautiful.Hope that is eternal. Hope that cannot be taken away.
Hope that will not disappoint us, hope that will not put us to shame.
What role is fear playing in your life today? If its voice is louder than than anything else, maybe these truths will give you strength for today.
We think our minds are enlightened, we read, ponder and debate the opinions of pundits and pastors, and we find lifelines in their ideas. But it is your spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Jesus that we need. You truth brings life to our soul, your breath forms our bones.The eyes of our heart need your enlightening, we need to know, experience and believe the hope to which you have called us. (Ephesians 1:15-18)
We feel small and lonely, like there’s a huge army of people out there who believe differently, who hate us, who want us dead. We feel like our territory is shrinking, stolen a meter at a time by laws or bombs or people. We think we deserve to be in power because we are right. Our eyes are full of the dirt of the world, our ears are full of pride. Wash our eyes, cleanse our ears. We forgot that the only power worth having is your immeasurably great power, the power that walked Lazarus out of the grave, the same power that lifted Jesus out of the tomb, and this power is for the working of good, it is not to keep giving us the life we think we deserve. Your power is for the raising of the dead. Send us out to raise the dead in our world. Take us to the wounded, to the one who cowers in terror and let your power restore. Remind us that the word of truth we heard, the gospel came to us not because of our racial superiority or our inherent worthiness. We received it through grace, we did not deserve it. We did nothing to earn it. And this same gospel is in the whole world, and it is bearing fruit and growing because it is alive, and God is patient, not wanting any to perish but all to come to eternal life. (Colossians 1:3-6, Ephesians 1:15-23, 2 Peter 3:9)
We confess that the thought of physical and emotional hardship and injustice terrifies us. When we suffer, we want to find whom we can blame. We want to vote away the anguish in our minds, we will buy our way out of our pain, we will follow the one who promises to take our suffering away. We will do everything except receive that it may be from you, and that we could even rejoice in it. The strongman is not the answer because we already have the answer. It is Christ in us, the hope of glory. You are alive in us, nothing can harm us. No one can promise us glory or safety or freedom that you have not first already put in us. (Colossians 1:24-27)
We believed irreverent, silly myths—that our worth and value came from our marital status or that how we parents determines our children’s faith or that we have undue political influence—we believed that it is our work that produces faith in people, we lived like every success of our family had something to do with us. We needed a stable marriage, well-behaved kids and the trappings of a well presented life to feel like we succeeded. Retrain us, God. Retrain us for godliness, and show us that we toil and strive not for something on earth but because our hope is set on a living God. Help us set aside our weak and useless rules and draw us closer to you through the better hope you offer us in Jesus. (1 Timothy 4:10, Hebrews 7:19)
We want to believe that the life we had was a good one, that we were essentially good, nice people, making decisions that benefited people. We shared, we gave, we were good. But we know better now, that the life we had without God was foolish, we were disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures. Remember our hearts? We hated, we envied, we thought horribly of other people. But goodness and loving kindness rained down on us, God appeared. He saved us. We were entitled to nothing in and of ourselves, we were entitled to nothing in our society, but he washed us, he renewed us, he made us right by his grace, and instead of our passport or the flag to which we pledge our allegiance, we became royalty. Heirs of a kingdom that cannot be moved, altered or shaken, according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:3-7)
Our confidence is not our access to people who are important or information that no-one else has. Our confidence cannot be found in the strength of our might, our ability to outwit terrorists, or the wisdom of our economists and policy makers. Our confidence is that we can walk into a new and living way, opened for us by the blood of Jesus. We can draw near with a true heart, believing that our hearts and bodies have been washed clean, there can be no greater confidence than this, that God has done everything for us to be with him. Being with him is better than being safe, being with him is better than being secure, being with him is better than being right. Hold fast to the confession of your hope. He promised. He is faithful. (Hebrews 10: 19-23)
Holding on to our hope is the only way to walk through fearful days. When the darkness closes in, we know there is a light shining in the darkness for the darkness cannot be light to Him. When the world shakes, we know we have a precious cornerstone, and He cannot be moved. When we feel robbed of the life we think we deserve, we recognise that our inheritance is not written in a constitution or an amendment, our inheritance is not held in a bank, a tax code or a will. God gives us a living hope, and our inheritance is imperishable, undefiled and unfading (1 Peter 1:3-9). It will last forever.
Our hope is in the finished work of God, it is not in our circumstances, in our own transformation, or in the state of affairs in our communities and nations. Nails and a cross gave you and I free access to God in three days he gave us power over sin and death. Jesus’ act of love on the cross means we are accepted as we are. The trying can stop. The performing has no place. Fear is impotent and irrelevant. When faced with the truth that God himself loves us, died for us, rose again and will one day return, only hope can live.
The hope that what our eyes see is not the full story.
The hope that the fear assaulting me is empty.
The hope that the ending is good because of his innate goodness.
The hope that the cross has the final word, the empty grave is the final answer.
I told friends that June was probably the roughest month in Australia since our move. There are no ways to prove such superlatives, but it felt like it. I went to sleep later and later, our children woke up earlier and earlier, and for anyone who has been reading this blog for a while, you know I’ve written those sentences before. You know me well enough to know that no one in our home does well in those circumstances.
The trap of difficult seasons is it casts our eyes backward, Life was so much better when…. or it drags us into the future, If only I had or was in or… We think we need a big change of relationship or a new home or if we spent more money on clothes or a course, we may have the opportunity we look for. Painful seasons leave me with little capacity to do big things, but as the fog lifts, I can see four small changes that helped ease the difficult weeks or would have helped when the challenges hit. Most of these I can only see in hindsight, but I am tucking it into a little file in my mind to pull out when the next rough season comes. Here’s hoping that if you are in a difficult season, these will help you out.
1Remember the stressors. I got in a car accident, a minor one, but it required adjustments – my car was in the shop for a week, we had to rent a car for a few days, I lost my phone in the middle of all of this, which meant I was harder to contact, and I couldn’t do some of the administrative work I do for our family. Once the car was repaired, something else went wrong with it, and it had to be taken in again. The whole process lasted about three weeks. Husband had several hectic weeks at work. Our children woke up earlier than normal in the morning. We took the our littlest’s paci away. The boys got new bunkbeds, and the little one isn’t in a crib anymore but a bed. He doesn’t like to stay in his bed in the evening. Or in the morning.
When I read that to myself, I’m amazed the past month wasn’t harder. A pacifier is a huge source of comfort for my youngest. A car accident where no one is injured in the slightest and the car is drivable without repairs, doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it puts pressure on our schedules. I wish I had paid attention to these things while it was happening instead of adding guilt to myself for not coping. Hard times need to be named and called out, so that you know you will have to gather up your strength and bear up underneath the difficulty. There are seasons, sometimes days or weeks or months or years, where you just have to stand (or sit) as the hard times blow around you because there is nothing for you to do except outlast the storm and find a way to live inside of it in a way that is whole and healthy.
2Embracing screen time. Almost everyone has opinions on screen time, I certainly did. Likely you could find some of those ideas in archive. I’m still a believer in limited screen time, but I’ve come to embrace what it can do for me when I need it. And to embrace it without guilt because I will not put my kids in front of a screen and then feel guilty about it. The boys were on two weeks of school holidays in June, and they watched a movie a day, there was one day when I think they watched something for most of the day. I did laundry, cleaned the kitchen, cooked, cleaned our bedroom and got some quiet time to myself. It felt wonderful to get things done, and to get a lot of things done in one go. I loved getting quiet time to myself while the boys were happily watching something in another room.
Screen time is no replacement for relationship time, and I’m not suggesting kids get a free pass to watch what they want, when they want. But I am saying that there are days when it is in everyone’s advantage to turn a movie on and to do so joyfully and willingly without feeling like a failure as a parent.
3Reach Out I emailed a few friends, women who know me well and whom I trust, and I spilled. I gave them the raw version of daily struggles, they heard my despairing, discouraging thoughts about myself, and I asked them to pray for me. Each of them emailed me back, encouraged me and prayed for me. I can tell you that I started to see a difference in my daily circumstances in almost 24 hours. One of them challenged me on some things in a face time call, and I needed to hear it. Difficult times – because of the mistakes of others or our own – have a way of pushing us further into a cave of our own making. No one else feels this way, I’m the worst person in the world. But the truth is that there are few things I need more in this time than the arms of those who are stronger, coming around me, picking me up and bearing the burden with me.
4 Pray Big God, please make them sleep longer. Most of my mornings of the past five years involve some version of this prayer. In seasons we’ve had dependable, peaceful mornings, but for the past two months it has been wake up calls from very tired children anywhere from 5 am to 6:30 in the morning, too early for them and too early for me. But this morning last week, as I lay in my bed begging God for more sleep for all of us, I sensed instead his kind, corrective words.
Don’t you have something more to ask me about? Don’t you think I can do more than this?
It stung because it’s true. I spend a lot of time daily praying for God to change something in what’s happening with my kids so that my life will be more manageable, and while I have nothing against that, there are other things happening in our lives and in the world that require bold, persistent, vision-filled prayer. My dad told us that we think we change God’s mind when we pray, but really he is changing us. I believe it. One of the ways it changes me is that it casts my eyes outside of myself, it reminds me that I have a place in a much bigger story where things are happening, and it is not all about me. I still pray for my kids to get 12 hours of sleep a night, and I won’t stop, but I have been praying about other things, too. For their souls, for their friends, for the people in my life who are in a difficult season, for the world that seems to unravel around me one gunshot at a time. For the enormous number of things I could not name here, but require faithful, faith-filled prayers, I have asked and asked and asked again. And it feels good.
There is hope, my friend, whatever season you may be in today. You are not alone, you are not alone, you are not alone.
Now it’s your turn: What small thing helps you get through hard times?
Maybe you’re frustrated by the list of big goals but wanting to seize your life and change? Small changes are for the rest of us, the ones whose dreams mock us from the sidelines, the ones who yearn for change but know they can’t just shove everything to one side. We do it bit by bit, piece by piece, and we believe that each piece is making a difference. If you want to read more about small changes, you can start here:
I’ve been reading Grace Table almost since it started, and love its message about faith and the table. I joined the contributing team a few months ago, and here’s my first offering. Do click over to read the whole piece, and subscribe there as well. You will love the varied perspectives on the hospitable life and the beautiful, thought-provoking writing.
It was a tall wooden house, two levels high, painted yellow with white trim around the windows. It stood on the corner of two streets with a huge backyard that stretched out behind it, an apple tree with branches that stretched up and flopped over on the sides from the weight of the fruit. We called it The Yellow House, and it was our home in Stockholm, Sweden for two years. There were French doors, an open fire place, high ceilings, a huge kitchen, a foyer that opened into a library. Our books stuffed the shelves.
It was my perfect home.
And in it I lived an open life, people I didn’t know piled in when we had been there for only a few weeks. We made pizza and ate it in at a table that was too small, voices echoed in the room because there wasn’t lots of furniture and nothing on the walls. A few weeks later, our backyard was full of more people we hardly knew, enjoying the late autumn light, drinking warm apple cider and connecting with each other. It was easy to live a hospitable life in a home I loved.
And then it was gone on a late August day last year, we handed the keys to our landlord, watched the light filter through the glass one last time and drove away. An Emirates flight carried us across Europe, the Middle East and most of Asia, across Australia to its eastern shore, and we land in Melbourne, Australia on October 22.
We started looking for a new house, and I could feel my loss in every doorway. The tree would have been full of fruit. Applesauce would have bubbled on the stove while a fire burned. It should be dark and cold.