Dead of Winter

The dead of winter. It is cold. It is dark. It can make you want to grab a few blankets and a heater and hibernate for a few weeks. When I lived in Missouri, almost any amount of snow was cause for great alarm. I have been in Waverly for nearly 20 years (excuse me, what?), and I know by now that the cold and snow do not phase Iowans. Life goes on, people still go to work and church and sports and shopping and whatever else they feel like doing.

We went to a restaurant for my birthday dinner last week, and even though it was Friday night, I figured it wouldn’t be that busy. It was a bitterly cold evening,and I imagined that most people wouldn’t want to go out. I was wrong! You never would have known it was deathly cold from observing the restaurant that evening.

In the years that my children were little, we didn’t venture out a lot in the dead of winter. Bundling up kids, warming up the car (no convenient attached garage), buckling in car seats all for some meaningless errand or even just for mental health were a giant undertaking. So I avoided it. I also suffered with a lot of depression in those years. It took me longer than I wish it had to realize that it was worth getting out of the four walls of our house, seeing some sunshine, getting Starbucks, and even just letting them nap in the car. My mental health was worth it.

The dead of winter outside is sometimes mirrored by a wintry season of the soul. Often we keep those dark and cold situations to ourselves. We struggle within the confines of our own minds but never step out and bravely share with another soul.

Is it the dead of winter in your heart today? Is it hard to see what’s coming in just a few weeks? I promise that our God has not abandoned you. I use the dead of winter to remember all the amazing summers and beautiful things God has done through winters past. None of them were fun or enjoyable, but they drew me closer to Him and led me to lean hard against Him. He is big enough. He can handle my winter and my hard stuff and all the questions that linger on for years without answer. He may not answer when or how we want Him to answer, but He is working in ways we cannot see. Deep underneath all the layers, He is healing and restoring, and when spring comes, it is going to blow your mind. You can trust Him.

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”
‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭5:10‬ ‭ESV‬‬

2021 Reading in Review

My goal for 2021 was to read 40 books, and I am happy that I ended up with 43 and some partials. I really enjoy holding a book in my hands, but I have been borrowing a lot of library books through the Libby app and reading them on my Kindle app on my phone. It’s a good option for me so I can fit in some reading while waiting in the car line, doctor’s office, or while I’m supposed to be falling asleep in my dark bedroom.

It is hard for me to pick favorites, but here are some they really stood out to me this year.

1. Life Is in the Transitions, Bruce Feiler. A friend quoted this book on social media, and I was so intrigued by the quote that I added it to me list. This book turned out to be very impactful for me this year. It talks about seeing your life as a whole, and what you can learn about yourself (and others) through the process of considering life and the transitions between stages of life. It makes me want to interview everyone and compile life stories. I absolutely love this book.

2. The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom. This is the first time I read this book, and it was very powerful. I honestly did not realize how slowly the Nazis changed things when they took over. I assumed it was more obvious, but it started small and just continued to increase in hostility against the Jews. It was hard to read at times, yet their faith and boldness was so inspiring. I highly recommend this book if you have not yet read it.

3. Women of the Word, Jen Wilkin. This is an excellent treatment on how to study the Bible.

4. The Great Alone, Kristin Hannah. This was a bit out of the range of my typical contemporary fiction reads, but I really enjoyed this book. It was interesting and hard to put down.

5. We Were the Lucky Ones, Georgia Hunter. This book follows the members of a Polish family during World War II. It was a little hard to follow the changing perspectives at first, but it was a very good book. I have been drawn to the WWII fiction this year and last year.

My goal for 2022 is 50 books. Here are a few on my list to read:

  • The Book of Lost Names, Kristin Harmel
  • Gentle and Lowly, Dane C. Ortlund
  • Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, Mark Vroegop
  • Firefly Lane, Kristin Hannah
  • The Explosive Child, Ross Greene

I would love to know what is on your list to read for 2022!

Something is Broken

The first house my husband or I owned is the one we live in now. It’s a very old house, although we did buy new appliances when he bought it (a couple months before we were engaged). Some of you know that it was originally a church. It is a unique place, and when Matt started remodeling the basement, he discovered that nothing was square. I am not a builder, but I can see where the walls and floor not being at right angles would make it challenging to add trim and many of the other parts of remodeling.

We soon learned the rule of old homes: everything breaks. And good luck figuring out how to fix it. I am very glad that I married a man who is smart and talented at fixing things. He is good at finding helpful videos on YouTube, too. I’m sure he has saved us thousands of dollars with the appliances he has fixed and repairs to our cars and house. It certainly feels like we just move from one broken thing to the next. When Matt came home from the hospital this summer, our dryer broke within a week or two. After that, my car has been struggling with one issue or another. Now our washer is broken, but we are focusing on the car for the moment. I don’t even want to guess what will be next. I don’t borrow trouble from tomorrow; today has enough trouble of it’s own. 😉

Broken things are stressful. I feel the same way about broken relationships. There is tension with a friend or family member. Someone at work gives the cold shoulder. I need to talk to my husband and I keep putting it off. If something isn’t right in a relationship, I feel it all day long. I can’t relax. I’m on the verge of tears. It is always in the back of my mind and often, it’s right in the front.

My conflict style is none. No conflict. Ever. That would be great. It’s not a healthy style, unfortunately, so I have had to work on honest communication even when it is uncomfortable. The thing that gets me is these two verses here:

“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.”
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭4:26-27‬ ‭ESV‬‬

We hear the first verse regularly, but the second one struck me. “Give no opportunity to the devil.” I’m guessing most of you reading this don’t want the devil to have a way into your relationships. When I avoid conflict, I give space for my mind to roam, and it absolutely lets the devil get in and tempt me with worst case scenarios and worries about what might happen in the meantime. My choice to honestly face conflict is one way I can smack the devil in the face, giving him no room in my relationship to taunt and tempt me or the other person.

I am still working on this, but it motivates me to be more honest in my relationships when I think of it as a chance to push the devil out of the way. Let’s be a pain in the devil’s neck today!

Boxes of Hope

I walked into our storage unit a few weeks ago. The kids needed winter clothes, and I had packed them all away in the hope that we would be listing our house for sale and hopefully bringing those boxes back to a new home when the colder weather rolled around.

I opened the door, and right there was our Christmas tree bag. The feelings from 6 months ago flooded over me. Hope. Excitement. Anticipation. Joy. We had rented this storage unit on the advice of a realtor who said we needed to get the house cleared out so we could list it. I had started on this task months ago. The me from 6 months ago was excited about the possibility of finally moving into town and passing on our project house to someone who wants a project. (Our project is three kids for the foreseeable future.)

I took some winter clothes boxes and put them in the back of my car. As I drove away from the unit, sadness overcame me. I remembered the hope I had when I put these boxes into storage. I had hope that the months to come would hold some big steps for us: preparing the house, selling it, buying another one, and moving from the only house we have lived in for our entire marriage. A verse popped into my mind.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭13:12‬ ‭ESV‬‬

This hope has been deferred for years. I thought we were finally there, finally ready to make this happen. I certainly had no concept of what we would go through this summer with Matt’s sickness, hospitalization, and complications. I never saw it coming. Who would?

The God who knows our days from beginning to end knew. He also knows what the coming days and months and years will hold for us, and I can trust Him. I have already learned and grown so much from this season. I know it isn’t wasted time. It is not in vain that we walk this road and defer the hope of moving out of our house for yet another year.

So I will hang on to Him. I love the imagery of this Psalm, in the shadow of His wings. I have no doubt He can keep me safe just as He always has.

“Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me.”
‭‭Psalm‬ ‭57:1-2‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Four Tips to Avoid the Winter Blues

Wrestling a toddler into a car seat is not fun. Doing it when the icy wind is whipping around me, freezing my extremities in seconds, is a level of torture I never dreamed of as a pregnant mother. When I combine this reality with living in the country, the snow drifts across our driveway blocking me in, and nowhere we had to go when the kids were little, I spent a lot of their winters as little kids at home. It might sound nice and cozy to be in the warm house, it was easy to get depressed stuck in the same four walls with no view of anything (our old frosted windows kept me from seeing anything outside during the cold months).

I began to dread winter long before it came to pass in those years. With the first sight of a leaf changing color or the chill in the air, great fear hit my heart as I anticipated months stuck inside the house with little kids. I loved fall for years, but it quickly turned to a season that just signaled the beginning of winter to me. And winter was as dead for my heart as it was for the lilacs in my front yard.

I worked at home for a couple of years when Isabella was little. Then when Jack was born, I knew I could not do that job with two little ones, so we worked to pay off our vehicle loan and be able to live on one income. It would be a few years before Isabella started preschool, so we didn’t have a lot of activity filling our lives. I tend to be a homebody anyway, so the idea of staying home in the winter and not dragging the kids out of the house definitely appealed to me. I failed to recognize the toll it was taking on my mental health, unfortunately.

I did not learn this lesson as early as I wish I did, but I hope I can help some moms to keep this in mind when the kids are little. These are my four tips to help moms avoid the winter blues.

1. Leave the house! I know it’s hard, but even putting the kids in car seats for a nap or a movie while I drive around and drink a coffee gives you a little break from the norm, some sunshine (hopefully), and the opportunity to look at something other than the same four walls.

2. Have a play date. It doesn’t sound fun to bundle up the kids just to listen to them whine at someone else’s house. I get it. But the chance to get together with another mom friend is worth the effort. You can even read a chapter of the Bible or a book together and talk about it. We have a gym that opens to parents and kids with some fun activities and just space to run around, and we met there a few times as well.

3. Serve someone else. Sometimes you can’t take on one more thing without losing your mind, but other times you might be wondering what a mom with little kids can do when she’s stuck at home. Make a meal for someone who is sick or in a tough stage of life. Write cards. Help the kids draw pictures and write cards to mail. Visit an older person who doesn’t get out much.

4. Take a break! This is much easier said than done. However, any time I make the effort to arrange child care so I could do something that feeds my soul, I have never regretted it once. It can be a couple hours or a couple nights, but taking the time to get away in the winter months is a great reminder that life is short, the season will not last forever, and you will be refreshed and ready to keep going.

The older my kids get, the less daunting the winter season feels to me. They can put on their own coats and boots, buckle their seat belts, and play in the snow without my help to bundle up. It is hard to believe in the little years, but they do grow up. It gets easier and harder all at the same time.

Joyful in Hope, Patient in Affliction, Faithful in Prayer

This sign hangs in my hallway. Romans 12:12 challenges me all the time, and this current season is no exception.

The past few months have been full of highs and lows for our family. I remember sitting in the hospital with Matt and asking the physical therapist about what he would need to do once he was released to go home. She said he would have no physical therapy required, and I was amazed. A few friends in the medical field and another who personally experienced sepsis herself had warned me that physical therapy could last for a while. I thought he was so lucky to get through this ordeal with none required.

That wasn’t the end of the struggle, though. The follow-up appointments with a variety of doctors were the new norm, and every time it seemed something new arose. We learned within a week or two of his release that he had developed blood clots in his chest and leg. That was an unexpected complication. A week or two after hearing those words, I sat at a lunch where someone had just attended the funeral of a young man who died from a blood clot in his chest. Matt was eventually seen at Mayo, where he visited three or four weeks in a row, once for two and a half days of appointments, tests, scans, consults. It was hard to stay home, but with three kids in school and no one working to pay the bills, I didn’t have much of a choice. I learned about each appointment afterwards, but Matt did a great job keeping track of the details, the medications, and the schedule.

Almost two weeks ago, he was at Mayo for another day of appointments, and he texted from there saying that he was being checked into the hospital for observation for two nights. He was not expecting an overnight stay, his phone battery was almost dead so I couldn’t call him, and all I knew was that they were worried about his heart. It is not exactly the thing you want to read as you pull up for school pickup! I shot a quick text to my Bible study group, and my dear friend Steph hopped out of her van in the pickup line and ran over to pray with me. I sure needed that hug and prayer in that moment.

As I got ready to drive up to Mayo to be with Matt on Saturday morning, he texted that they were releasing him to drive home a day early. He finally got a phone charger and called me on the drive home. They believed the inflammation in his heart was due to the septic shock, and it would return to normal.

Unfortunately, one of our kids had been exposed to COVID that week as well, and we learned on Monday that he was positive. He had almost no symptoms. Somehow the rest of us all tested negative, which was a great blessing considering we did not want Matt to contract COVID with the current lung and heart issues he is facing.

Patient in affliction. I would hesitate to ever describe myself as patient, but it has been a good reminder in this season that I must trust God as I patiently wait for the resolution to Matt’s health issues. I have some experience with this patience in affliction through other seasons of life, but I can see the Lord continuing to work in my heart the deep and abiding peace that comes from patiently waiting on Him.

Joyful in hope. I know it seems counterintuitive, but God has chosen to also send many blessings our way in this season of suffering. The people who have blessed us with phone calls, prayers, meals, money, yard work, child care, lunches for the kids…sometimes I just sit and cry when I think of all the generous people who have lavished love upon us. These blessings have given us much joy, and they have also served to remind us of the hope we have in Christ. If He thinks so much of us to send a group of hard-working men to take care of the yard work we are unable to do right now, how could I not also trust that He is working out His plans for our future, our family, our ministry even when I cannot see it?

Faithful in prayer. Praying for others is a passion of mine. In this season, I have relied greatly on the prayers of others. I know that on the darkest days, those prayers have held me up and kept me from falling into despair. I have felt like our family is the man on the stretcher whose friends carry him to Jesus. He can’t get there without help, and his friends gladly do whatever it takes to get him an audience with Jesus. I believe God has used this season of relying on the prayers of others to further kindle my desire to be the stretcher-carrying friend as often as possible.

I know we are not the only ones in a hard season. If you are facing struggles and looking around for your stretcher-carrying friends, please look here. I would love to pray with you, to help you find support wherever you are, and to see you find the ways God wants to bless you even through this unexpected struggle.

I have never been left alone to navigate this season, not by God or by my family, friends or church family. He is faithful.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”
‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭10:23‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Know Him

Thursday mornings are my favorite. I joined a small group Bible study a few years ago, and I have grown to deeply love Thursday mornings with my friends. Some of us talk a lot more than others, but we learn a lot about God as we study His Word and a lot about each other as we cultivate an authenticity that knits our hearts together.

We shared this week as part of our icebreaker question about something that made us nervous recently. As I drove away afterwards, I was struck by how many of us are facing heavy things. We are so different in our situations, our experiences, and our personalities. Yet we are so alike in our humanity, our pain, our need for community, for each other.

I am a helper (Enneagram 2 if that means something to you), so when I hear someone else express a struggle or pain, my mind starts whirring and searching for resources I can offer to help their situation. I have learned this year very clearly that, more than answers to my questions or problems, I need God. I need to be close to Him. I need to know Him. I need to praise Him. I need to ask for His wisdom and help.

My drama ministry team in college had a theme verse. I still remember it well, and I find it applies to my life as wife, mother, minister, friend, all of it.

“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭2:2‬ ‭NIV‬‬

We didn’t want to minister at a church or youth event and have people look at us for what we could do or how well we could do it. We wanted them to see Him, to see Jesus as the only thing we had to offer, the only thing they needed.

I was reminded once again yesterday that each friend in my Sisterhood group needs to know God. We need to see Him, to learn more about who He is through His Word. I may not find the answers to my specific situation when I read my Bible, but an answer is not truly what I need. I need Him, and I need to be reminded that in knowing Him, I have everything I need. In Him, all wisdom and knowledge are found. He can lead me in the right direction, point me to the right path, whisper words of wisdom to my heart. I need Him.

I know you need Him, too. If we seek Him, He will be found.

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭29:13‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Give Me a Break!

My mom came to help for a week when my kids were born. I remember when my oldest was born, she told us we should go get dinner for our anniversary coming up, and she would stay with Isabella. I will never forget driving back home from that dinner and sobbing to Matt. I cried, “I wish we could drive away and never go back!” Of course, we know postpartum hormones are some crazy things, but the reality of the all-consuming responsibility of being a mother was all around me, and it was much more demanding than I expected.

I don’t know if it’s just the introverts among us who need the alone time to recharge, but I learned from very early on that breaks from motherhood would be necessary for maintaining my sanity. There have been seasons where breaks were very hard or impossible to arrange, and I paid the price (as did my family) with depression and all manner of unkindness when I did not find the space to recharge.

I really want to encourage you moms who have little ones at home all day. I honestly stay up pretty late into the night because that time of quiet and alone (or with my husband around) is helpful for daily recharging. I have heard moms say they fall asleep with their kids, and I cannot fathom that lifestyle. I would feel imprisoned if I didn’t get to enjoy a couple of non-kid hours most evenings.

In addition to daily time, I am blessed to work a part time job where I can take a day off each week to spend time with friends and talk about the Bible my ladies group at church, run errands, and do what I want to do for a few hours. I feel a little guilty saying that it’s probably my favorite day of the week.

Matt and I have always loved to travel together, and we have typically done our best to take a couple of weekend trips without the kids each year. However, the mess of 2020 and 2021 has thrown off our rhythm. I have also taken trips alone and with my mom or other friends that have been amazing opportunities to recharge and refresh.

Maybe you think this is unachievable. “Who am I going to get to watch my kids?” Listen, when we went from two to three children, we drastically decreased the number of people willing and length of time they were willing to watch our children. So now I work on splitting them up at different places or, for a longer trip, have someone for a couple days and someone else for the last few days. It is a lot of work to arrange it all, but the benefits are worth it for me.

If you can’t afford to take a trip but you know you need the break, can you stay home and get someone to keep the kids for a few days? Or maybe visit a family member or friend for a cheaper way to get out of town? Sometimes when I take the kids for a couple days to visit my parents, my mom will tell me to go do something and she will hang out with the kids.

I wanted to write about this today because it’s one of the things that keeps me sane in the little years and even now in the elementary school years of motherhood. I was not sure if I wanted to be a stay at home mom before I had kids. I loved my ministry, and my pastor always told me he would have a job for me even when I had children. But things don’t always work out as we expect, and I ended up being a stay at home mom for about ten years. I loved things about it, but I desperately missed the adult interaction, the sense of accomplishment that comes from knowing what to do and checking off a to-do list, and the feedback from others on a job well done.

I hope you take time for the things that recharge your mind, body, and soul. If you need some help figuring it out, send me a message! I would love to help you with it.

Built on the Rock of Ages

““Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.””
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭7:24-27‬ ‭ESV‬‬

The wise man did not wait until the storm came to build his house. He did the work before the storm so he would be prepared when it arrived. The problem with that is that we never know when the storms of life will come our way. One phone call changes everything. One day brings change we never dreamed was coming. The one who devotes time to hearing and understanding and following the words of God is building a solid spiritual house. He or she is the one that Jesus describes as wise.

My husband, Matt, spent a week in the hospital with sepsis, kidney failure, and severe dehydration. He has been home for almost 8 weeks, and he is still in the process of recovering. He developed blood clots in the hospital, so those are being treated as well as some other issues that have not yet resolved themselves. He is still weaker than usual and low on energy. The raging storm that started when we went to the doctor has died down, but it is still raining heavily as we face different physical, financial, and emotional circumstances. God has provided for us in beautiful ways. I should write a full post about the ways in which living in community has blessed our lives and our family.

Almost a week ago, my dad was admitted to the hospital with COVID pneumonia. My mom was sick at home with COVID. I have been stuck two hours away, substituting phone calls and FaceTime for the personal touch and hugs I want to be giving them. Dad has had a couple of good days, and we are praying he keeps improving. Mom is feeling better today, and we trust that God is healing their bodies. It has been another tough storm. I have noticed that, when that storm begins and when it is raging so loudly, rattling the windows and knocking down tree limbs, it’s too late to put down a foundation. It’s even too late to put on siding or paint or install the door. The work needs to be done. All you can do is stand. The foundation you have built will hold you in place. Words may fail you, you may not know what to pray in that moment, but the foundation is still there, rock solid and not going anywhere.

I am not new to stormy weather, but I can say my foundation has never been quite as strong as it was this time. All the glory for that goes to God. I can read and pray and give and serve, but it is God who gives the growth.

Do you want to build a strong foundation that can withstand the greatest of storms? Do you want to be built on the Rock who holds eternity in His hands? Read the Bible. Pray, pray for yourself and pray for others. Give, give up things that are weighing you down. Give of yourself. Serve others and serve the church. Serve and give your time, sacrificing things you would otherwise do to invest in the eternity of someone else.

If you are in a storm and you need something to hold on to right now, please message me. I would love to pray with you. Maybe you are reading this and keeping the storm inside. Please find others to hold you up in prayer.

It may be bright and sunny in your corner of the world. If so, keep building on your foundation. Find someone who needs a helping hand, and serve in their time of need. I can tell you that it means so much to them. A lot of love comes in a homemade lasagna or a pot of chili given to a sick or hurting family.

This is my favorite quote. I have shared it before, but it fits so I am happy to share it again.

Knotted Hair and a God Who Cares

I spent thirty minutes unknotting my daughter’s hair this evening. I have never seen a mess like it, and I have very thick hair myself. This was unreal. She had just come upstairs from her shower, and she had already wrapped a neon scrunchie in her soaking wet hair. I could see some tangles in the ponytail, so I took it out and was just astounded at the mess after she had just washed it. I asked her how it got this bad, and she just said that she keeps it in a scrunchie so no one can see it.

I had no idea that over half her hair was a giant tangled mess. I sent her to bed after the process was complete, and my first thought was, “I am a horrible mom.” How could I not know that her hair was such a mess? How could I be so oblivious? This tangled bird’s nest on her head symbolized for me the many messes I have had to manage or clean up with her, and this was just another one that I never saw coming. My next thought was that someone else, almost anyone else, would be a better mom to this child than I am.

Yeah. I thought it. Then I decided to confront that thought with some truth. The truth is that being a mother to this child has exposed so much of my own sin nature, failures, ways I fall short, and inadequacies. As I have been forced to face those issues I would rather ignore, I have been thrust into the loving arms of the God who knows every single thing about me and loves me with an everlasting love. I have learned so much about God through my experience as a mother. I didn’t know how much I needed His grace. I really didn’t have a clue. I loved to follow the rules and make everyone happy and check all the boxes, but I did not have a clear picture of how desperately I needed His grace until I was confronted with my failure. And I fail a lot as I try to figure out parenting the child that God gave me. It is not as straightforward as the many books I have read explain it to be.

I have found this scripture from Romans to be a comfort in various seasons of life where the messes are many and the answers are few.

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭11:33-36‬ ‭NIV‬‬

God doesn’t have to explain to me why He chose me to be her mom. I don’t have His view. My sight is obstructed compared to His. He is all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful. I defer to Him when I don’t understand. I may not have all the answers, but I have Him. He is faithful. He has never failed me. I rest in Him tonight, and I pray that you will, too.

I’ve been listening to this a lot lately. I can’t resist sharing the soundtrack of my days whenever possible.