Parallels With Middle Earth

Every holiday season my husband and I watch one of the Tolkien movies. We used to make it our goal to watch the entire LOTR trilogy before January first, but alas! reality has adjusted that goal to simply one of the three. This season was no different and the one we completed was The Two Towers. While watching it I considered how much the human experience resembles a journey through Middle Earth.

I think many of us admire the elves, the Riders of Rohan, Aragorn and perhaps even the strength and ax-prowess of Gimli the Dwarf. But I have a feeling that the ones we identify with are the hobbits. We would like to be known for our gifts and talents and to be able to react accurately under intense pressure, but we are all too aware of our small stature in this great, wide world, our bumbling ways and just our every day-ness, if you will. These factors can deter us from leaving our comfortable corners and stepping out the front door.

But it’s really in our routine that we can gain our strength- strength of heart and mind. The routines and comforts of home grounded them and allowed them to take on the adventure while still holding on to their sense of self. They were on speaking terms with warriors, rubbed shoulders with elves, defied the vilest of evil and never stopped being hobbits who loved a good book and a warm hearth. Ironically, it was by being themselves that they had the greatest impact on those around them.

What stands out about the hobbits was that they pushed themselves, not to be who they weren’t, but to become who they were supposed to be. It was on the journey that the hobbits discovered their resilience, their courage and their fidelity, not only to their comrades, but to the cause. Yes, they liked second breakfasts and enjoyed a good riddle and the delicious tobacco leaf only the Shire could produce; those things never changed. However, they also realized that they did care about more than just their hobbit holes and that they wanted to make a difference for all who called Middle Earth home. The hobbits desired victory over evil more than the comforts of home; the comforts of home gave them the courage to participate in the war that threatened what they loved.

What about us? We might not have the bow prowess of an elf or be able to lead an outnumbered army into battle, but can we actually identify with the hobbits? I believe I can. There are days when I find the world a daunting place. I don’t see how my little corner of the world is having any impact anywhere; I’m not fighting legal battles in court or pounding the pavement in prayer or raising thousands of dollars for a cause. I just cook and clean and teach and do it all over again day after day after day.

Yet I think that is important too. It’s in the day after day after day that my mind has time to resolve what it believes; my heart can develop resilience; and my body can get ready. I don’t know when an opportunity will arise when I will be called to open the door and take that first step on a very long journey. I don’t know when I will have an impact on someone who is already on their journey. I don’t know when the shadows of darkness will start to cross my threshold and I’ll have to fight.

We are on the cusp of a new year and the unknown looms over us. Let’s be encouraged to be who we are and excited about who we will become.

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What I want

Fallen leaves. A vintage playground. Blowing up balloons. Learning how to read. What connects all of these? They are what brings pure delight into my children’s lives and what remind me that simplicity offers the greatest wealth.

If 2020 taught me anything, it’s that I can’t plan for the new year. Instead of setting goals and resolutions for 2021, I am going to aim for growth and a simpler life. Life is all too unpredictable for the luxury of assuming things will always be the same. I never thought there would come a day when I could no longer dine in a restaurant with my husband or fly back home without allowing for a two week quarantine when I got there. Yes, it’s time to identify what I truly want to do today and then do it. Tomorrow it might not be possible.

The other day we visited a vintage playground tucked away in a secluded meadow. Somehow the sunlight filtering through the fall-hued leaves caused time to pause. I felt like I was simultaneously an observer of the past, present and the future. I could vividly recall being 4 and 5 years old and I wondered where the past thirty years had gone. I realized that the meltdowns and missed naps and messy bedrooms won’t really matter thirty years from now; but I also realized that I won’t always be tucking my little ones in bed at night; one day my hand will fit inside theirs; the wonder of being able to read will become a thing of the past and there will no longer be fights over whose turn it is to sit in my lap. These thoughts lulled me into a reverent silence. My heart grieved and rejoiced and pondered.

Just as my children know what they enjoy doing and make a point of doing it, I want to do the same in 2021. I want to recognize what nourishes my soul and make ample time for that nourishment. I want to do the things that build a storehouse of memories for years to come. I want to embody the values I hope to instill in my children. I want to be less consumed with the temporary and more invested in what lasts. I want to keep a simple perspective: that all I have is today so I need to live each moment well.

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Why 2020?

A childhood friend of mine is walking the road of cancer with her young son. She openly admits that this is not what she would have chosen for her family; she says it’s hard and painful and bewildering at times. But she smiles and speaks with confident joy about the work that she knows God is accomplishing for His glory. I am both convicted and inspired by her testimony.

Had I been allowed to select the events for the year, I would not have chosen lockdowns or masks or a nation in turmoil; I would not have selected natural disasters or the death of a loved one or depression; I would not have asked for my church to close or for illness and injury to strike my family. Instead, I would have reached for flowers and rainbows, smiles and laughs, cozy family time, babies and heaps of ice cream. I would have added business success and a smooth routine in my home, and most certainly amiable children who are eager to do whatever I ask them. And I would have included ample time for me to sit and read and write to my heart’s content.

As the prophet of old wrote in Lamentations: “…My groans are many and my heart is faint.” I could give you a list of personal reasons why this year “stinks, stank, stunk.” I vividly remember welcoming it in and most of me won’t be grieving when I bid it farewell. But I wonder if this is the attitude Jesus wants me to have; after all, if He is Lord of my life then doesn’t that mean He has allowed the events of each day to happen for my good? I can understand why the world at large is fed up with 2020 but does that mean I must respond in like manner? Perhaps I should take a different approach.

Perhaps I should make a list of all the ways I have been blessed this year; perhaps I should take note of how I am leaning into God as I am confronted with my weaknesses; perhaps I should ponder how I can only witness God move mountains if they are in front of me; perhaps I should admit that coming through hardship does make me stronger; perhaps I should acknowledge that I only want to accept good from God and not trouble, yet the most growth happens during the trouble.

And so, with these reflections in mind, as I pull out my 2021 planner and reach for my pen, I want to humbly thank the Lord for the year 2020. In the throes of its unique chaos, He proved Himself faithful; He didn’t shield me from pain or confrontation with my wretchedness but He proved that He loves me in the midst of it; when I felt overwhelmed, lost and confused He reminded me of His constancy.

Why 2020? I needed to experience God in the intensity of life. I needed to despair and be rescued by Him. I needed to be afraid and be soothed by Him. I needed to mourn and be comforted by Him. I needed to fall and be picked up by Him. I needed to think I had nothing left and discover that I still have everything.

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Finding the Familiar

Everything has changed. The world we lived in at the beginning of 2020 is not the world we live in today. It’s not just COVID; it’s racial tension; it’s natural disasters; it’s election chaos; it’s personal loss; it’s disorientation from the tidal wave of change. I don’t know about you but I’ve experienced new levels of anxiety, anger and depression which turn into a vicious cycle of anxiety, anger and depression.

Recognizing that I have not been coping well with these “big feelings,” as we refer to them in our home, I decided we needed an unplanned Thanksgiving break. The first two days of it were spent in beautiful parks, absorbing the pristine weather. As my eyes soaked in the vibrant palate of colors and my skin absorbed the sun absorbed the sunlight and breeze, I could feel a reconnection with myself. I think it’s because my senses were able to focus on a calm, familiar distraction outside of myself and my emotions.

This leads me to recommend that in this time of upheaval we need to find what’s familiar and focus on that.

  • The familiar of family and friends: it’s true that it’s difficult to spend time with our loved ones in the ways we used to, but we can still be there for one another. Sending mail and packages back and forth, snapping random photos from the day for each other or starting a group text thread can rebuild the sense of community we all long for. I know it can be hard to manage home life and screen time but children can be included in the communication. I’ll tell my children who I’m taking pictures for or who I’m texting so they feel a sense of connection with long distance loved ones too.
  • The familiar of routine: our family has had to create routines and then new routines as the year progressed. It takes about two weeks of consistent practice for a routine to become habit. In those days when everything seems out of whack it is essential to have a daily routine to fall back on. Children (and adults) simply know what comes next and doing it doesn’t require too much additional effort. Even cycling through the same monthly menu can be comforting.
  • The familiar of a safe space: special things that are in the same location wherever you live; soothing music; favorite aromas; natural light streaming through windows; plants that rest the eye; these are all necessities for creating a place where you can be you- no matter what is happening. It’s a haven, a respite, an oasis for the soul.
  • The familiar of trial: this year has held a lot of difficulty. But trials, while unique in their own way, are not new to the human experience. I’m sure we can all look back and recount trial after painful trial after exhausting trial. Some might be repeats and others might be fresh; but the commonality is that we have made it through and learned something each time. Fall back on that knowledge and know that once again there will be a way through. Which leads me to my final point.
  • The familiar of God: In the midst of uncertainty God might feel very far away. When things don’t make sense, it is easy to think that God must not know what’s going on either or that maybe He doesn’t care or maybe He is out to get us. I have been telling myself that I need to look for evidence of His promises because His Word doesn’t lie. If He says those who mourn will be comforted, then they will. If He says the wicked will perish, then they will. If He says He knows the way of the righteous, then He does. Dive into God’s Word and wait for it to take root; it will.

Whether you’re parenting through a pandemic or prepping to move or mourning the loss of a loved one or dealing with family turmoil or finding your way in a foreign land, there is always something familiar that can help you stay grounded. I think we are all being confronted with the impermanence of this life and it can shake us up a bit; but there is eternity waiting for us and glimpses of the eternal can be found in what’s familiar.

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Proverbs

I am reading through the book of Proverbs during my devotions. This morning I could relate almost every verse I read to the political climate of our nation; phrases like ‘wicked ruler,’ and ‘helpless people’ seemed to resonate as I attempt to process the tension in our land. Each side will have their own interpretation of those terms but it saddens me that there even are sides within the Church.

Verse 26 of chapter 28 declares, “He who trusts in himself is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe.” I think this is what Christians need to take to heart: leaning on our own understanding is foolish at best, dangerous at worst. I have been stunned to hear that many who claim the name of Christ are minimizing His words as they determine what matters in a presidential election. As Christ-followers, shouldn’t we seek the ultimate source of wisdom in every aspect of life?

Verse 21 of the same chapter reads, “To show partiality is not good – yet a man will do wrong for a piece of bread.” I am right there with you when it comes to wanting to view my candidate of choice with rose-colored glasses. This verse was convicting to me because it revealed how subtly partiality can creep into a decision-making process where personal gain is at stake. In today’s situation, Christians need to be the referees who are partial only to God’s Word, even when it results in backlash from angry citizenry.

Finally, “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” The Church in America has become too comfortable in the ways of the world; we blend in, adopting the trends of materialism and modern thinking as our own. We don’t want to offend by holding to a biblical worldview; we nod our heads and apologize for our faith, hoping to be seen as tolerant. We use contemporary definitions as we interpret life rather then biblical ones and we seek to appease the people rather than provide a convicting contrast. And yet we have the audacity to request God’s blessing on us? It is time for God’s people to fall on our knees and plead for mercy before He brings us to them Himself.

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The Election Doesn’t Change Everything

If my fellow citizens are anything like me, our nerves are probably on edge and are stomachs jittery as we await the election results. I don’t know about you, but I don’t so much mind my candidate losing as I do blatant fraud and manipulation winning. Winning and losing are part of the election thrill; criminality should not be.

As I try to come to terms with the struggle and the anticipation, I know that what I hold most dear to my heart do not have to be lost if my candidate does. The values we laud can still be passed on to our children; our home can still be a respite in a wearied world; marriage and family can still be first; and yes, patriotism can still be taught. Why?

Because Jesus lives and He is sovereign. America is as much a vessel for His glory as Israel was (and still is). History declares His plan and His movement within mankind’s proceedings. Whatever the outcome, disappointing or not, He remains unhindered in accomplishing His perfect will.

I will cling to that now and four years from now.

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I Am a Woman

I shared a post about abortion yesterday. I hesitated to do so because the image disrupted the stream of cheery home life I prefer to post. I was also concerned it would appear too political; I’m trying to avoid politics these days. I held an internal dialogue with myself and it went something like this:

“People might not be prepared for the disturbing image after seeing all of the happy posts on my timeline.” “But the contrast might be good. It will be a startling reminder of what’s going on.”

“But it might be offensive.” “Just because we are not seeing it doesn’t mean it’s not happening. We need to be offended at times in order to be motivated to act.”

“I don’t want to get into politics.” “Murder isn’t a political issue. It’s a moral one.”

“I suppose if I post anything controversial it needs to be about this topic.” “Yes! The babies are counting on me to speak up for them!”

Today’s woman is demanding equality and justice and empowerment for women. I am here to say that I am a woman and I desire equality, believe in justice and appreciate empowerment, but not at the expense of the preborn individual.

I am a woman and it is my body until another body is within mine. I am a woman and I will value that life above my own.

I am a woman and I don’t believe it is justice for the person who is able to speak to take the life of one who cannot.

I am a woman and I believe true empowerment is found in choosing to keep life even when it is difficult. Empowerment is giving my life for yours when no one else will.

I believe that a beating heart is proof of life and I am still a woman.

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I Remember when I was Five.

I learned to ride a bike when I was five. I got my very own pet, a little bunny I named Strawberry Plum Curious Banana, when I was five. I learned how to swim and how to read; and when I was five I got my beloved baby doll, Cookie Brenda (I named her too). Five was a special age for me and now you are five years old too.

You have grown from a baby with elf ears and Marshwiggle feet into a graceful little girl who can comfortably hold her baby brother, confidently make a cucumber and tomato salad in the kitchen and tidy up the house with gusto. You can write your name beautifully, are a beloved pen pal to several people and are developing a flair for photography and drawing.

While the melodramatic streak that you debuted at birth is far from absent, you also have an uncanny ability to read people’s emotions and show empathy beyond your mere five years. We have shared conversations that almost had me forgetting I was chatting with a child until you were quickly diverted by a thought about food or a new smell (you enjoy new scents, by the way). You want to be all grown up until you don’t- desiring to be my essential helper and my little girl at the same time. You want to be a support, a big sister and an engaged listener but also nurtured and snuggled and entertained.

What will your memories of this year be? Will you remember learning to read and write? Will you remember your fervent prayers at breakfast or being tucked in tight at bedtime? Will you remember me braiding your hair or playing Elenor with you? Will you fondly recall being Child of the Day or our monthly dates? Will you connect our conversations with the values you will one day claim as your own? I wonder what memories you will cherish that I was unaware of while they were being made.

May your fifth year be the year you determine to love Jesus more than life itself. And may you always know that I will never cease to thank Jesus for gifting me with you as my daughter.

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The Road Home

We came to Texas to bid my husband’s brother a final farewell. In the eulogy, my husband wove an intricate narrative of his brother’s life. He drew his listeners into the story, bonding us with this person whose journey on earth had ended. And it got me to thinking: thinking about the intricacies within a human story, thinking about how we are all connected, thinking about the small decisions that make great impact, thinking about God’s fingerprints on every page of mankind’s chronicles.

After the memorial service we began the process of packing up my mother-in-law to bring her home with us. Many memories were revisited and favorite stories recalled as treasured items were found and packed up. Once again I realized how every person has a history, an interweaving of many different lives. In the midst of the packing we took time to visit with some of our closest friends. Those were times of refreshment and I came away from them thankful for the connections that have been made and maintained.

Now, as we journey home, I’m thinking about the road ahead. We have overcome numerous hurdles on this TX trip, not to mention the series of traumatic events that caused us to come in the first place. Gazing at the horizon I am filled with trepidation: new relationships to forge, new routines and expectations to navigate, new journeys to make. But now I have the lessons learned from the past two weeks to take with me into the future.

Stepping into tomorrow I want to cultivate a peaceful home that offers stability for all who live there. I want to quit comparing myself to others and instead apply to my own life the things I like and admire in others. I want to be ready to love the ones loved by my loved ones. I want to be ready to offer even the smallest of kindnesses because God can multiply their impact for His glory.

On this road home I know that God’s eye is upon us- always- and I want to carry that knowledge with me as I move forward.

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A Call to Courage

Today was my 6 week postpartum checkup. These routine visits with my midwives were eagerly anticipated by me and I am sad that today’s was my final one. We sit and chat about the intricacies of being female and at the end of each visit I feel empowered and humbled by the fact that I am a woman. Today was no different as we discussed those wonderful chemicals called hormones and how they impact our emotions.

It turns out that every month the female body does an emotional cleansing (or “soul cleanse” as one of my midwives describes it) during which all of the pent up emotions from the month are released; hence, those “crying for no reason” moments. I learned that emotions are also stored in the cervix and uterus and any violation of these places can lead to emotional harm. These details are profound to me albeit not surprising.

Later in the day I sat in my rocking chair with my youngest two babies and pondered what I had learned today. I rocked and snuggled and smelled the baby heads nestled so close to me; I looked around at the sick toddler on the couch, the toys and books scattered here and there. I thought about the laundry needing to be folded and the dishes in the sink and all that needed doing before bedtime. And I thought about Aslan’s words: “Courage, dear heart.”

If someone asked me what I do for a living, I think I would say, “I’m a mom.” And if they replied, “well yeah, but do you do anything else?” I hope I would say, “I blog, keep my home decently tidy and operate my two small shops on the side. But none of those matter in comparison to being a mom. Their lives began in my body and my body continues to nourish their bodies, cultivate their minds, nurture their hearts and plead for their souls.” But such a response requires courage. In today’s world, motherhood is often another bullet point in a long list of accomplishments and to-do’s; but our bodies are designed for this! Every week in our monthly cycle, every organ in our body, is a part of the life-giving process.

It takes courage to look the world in the face and say, “I’m all in as a mom. I was designed for this.”

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