On Haiti and Trusting God in the Fires of Life

A little over a week ago I landed in Haiti prepared for a normal week on the ground with a team comprised of a few Haiti veterans and several newbies. Little did we know what was about to unfold as our plane touched down and we boarded the truck to go to Lifeline.

We landed around 2:30 ET. It typically takes about an hour or more to deplane, go through immigration, gather bags, negotiate our way through customs, and find the truck. This time we waited an extra hour as one of our team members was arriving on a different flight that was landing just as we had loaded and boarded the truck, so we were finally pulling out of the airport parking lot around 4:30 or 4:45.

We headed out on a normal drive to the orphanage compound. Traffic was heavy, but not so heavy it was bottlenecking. People on the streets were going about their normal lives on a Friday afternoon. We were making good time when all of a sudden traffic came to a halt. This isn’t particularly unusual, and I looked ahead and saw things backed up for a bit which usually means we are going to be waiting a while. This time, however, cars were turning around and going back the way they came, and our driver did the same. This was a first and I thought it was strange.

Our driver, who was new to me, headed back the direction that we came, almost all the way back to the airport. I could see the DeliMart we normally shop at on Sundays. We were stopped outside of a police station where an officer was directing traffic. Our driver was conversing with the officer but I could neither hear nor understand him. I was confused as to what was happening and thought the driver must be lost.

I don’t remember the series of events that led us to understand what had begun to unfold around us, but over the next forty-five minutes to an hour we would learn that the government had announced an end to gas subsidies throughout the island nation that would mean a nearly 40% increase in gas prices; painful to us as Americans, devastating in a country where that increase is equal to a day’s wages per gallon. The citizens had been threatening to retaliate if the subsidies were cut, but the government did not listen and the people took to the streets. As we were landing and driving from the airport the masses had started to move, barricading streets with concrete blocks and boulders, lighting tires on fire, and stopping traffic into and out of the city.

In front of the police station we waited to hear if we would be able to make it to Croix-des-Bouquets (just two or three miles from our location) and the orphanage that night or if we would find a hotel or sleep at the police station. As the sun began to set, I became less hopeful that we would make it to Lifeline that evening. The assistant to the mayor of Tabarre attempted to help us find lodging at a hotel so that at least we could have beds and showers, but each of the roads we attempted to go down was blocked by people and burning tires.

Our driver, who had not been lost but trying to figure out what was going on, made the call that we would sleep at the police station. He took our safety seriously and wasn’t going to risk trying a third hotel. So we all got comfortable, found a roll of toilet paper in the team bags, sent two of the Haitian boys out for water for the team, and began to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for everyone out of the team food. At this point, it was only about 8:30 in the evening. It was warm, we were all exhausted and dirty from a long day of travel, and the metal bed of an Isuzu truck does not make for the most comfortable resting place. But God gave our team incredible peace and everyone rolled with the change of plans. People were anxious and uncertain, but they chose to trust God and to trust their team leaders to make the best decisions they could.

From every corner on the horizon we could see the black smoke of tires burning. On the other side of the police station wall a fire raged and the smoke blew thick above us. At one point rocks were thrown over the station walls, gunshots were fired, and the police rushed us all into a bus parked near us. It was enclosed (unlike the truck) and blocked on two sides by shipping containers, providing better protection for the team.

Over time, the fire outside the wall died down and the streets quieted. At one point I could hear music where the fire once raged. I couldn’t tell if it was voodoo, or just demonstrators celebrating. Some of us settled in on the bus and attempted sleep with varying degrees of success.  Others made beds on the back of the truck and attempted sleep under the blinding spot light illuminating the parking lot.

I woke up around four am and found our friend and translator Gemima (a last minute add to the team) up talking to the police officers. The streets were silent around us. No one was out. I wanted to see us attempt a move to the orphanage sooner, rather than later, but we needed an escort to do it safely. She attempted to negotiate on our behalf and at first was told we would have to wait on the police chief who wasn’t answering his phone, then some further chatter happened and we were told that our escort was “gearing up”. I confirmed that we were in fact attempting to move the team to Lifeline and proceeded to wake everyone and get them to the truck. We watched as officers put on bullet-proof vests, prepared multiple weapons, donned helmets and masks, and loaded into a pick-up truck. We prayed for God’s protection and pulled out of the parking lot.

The streets were completely empty, something we’ve rarely seen in Haiti. The officers drove ahead of us, stopping at the first roadblock where tires were still smoldering. Then, in something out of a Jason Bourne movie, the officers jumped out of the truck and proceeded to clear the area. With assault rifles sighted and ready, they cleared buildings, alleys, doorways, and rooftops. They moved boulders and obstacles so that our truck could pass on the sidewalks. They waited until our truck passed and made sure the path behind us remained clear. Then they jumped on their truck and repeated the same process multiple times until we had made it through the worst of the road blocks. We crossed the bridge into Croix-des-Bouquets. I both breathed a sigh of relief, knowing we were close, but also felt my chest tighten, knowing the streets ahead were narrower and harder to maneuver than the streets we had just been on. The team continued to pray.

The road blocks in Croix-des-Bouquets were much smaller than the ones we had encountered before and within fifteen minutes or so, we had made it safely to the Lifeline compound. The officers escorted us into the compound and made sure we were safe inside before departing. To the best of my knowledge, they had risked their own lives to protect ours with no expectation of payment. They had escorted us three miles (taking almost thirty minutes) and made sure we arrived safely at our destination. We tipped them, of course, but our respect for the Haitian police department grew 1000-fold that night. They were friendly, kind, helpful, and set on keeping us safe, and we as a team were immeasurably grateful.

The officers left and we unloaded bags. We ate breakfast (oatmeal) and had a brief team meeting. Those that were worn out were told to go nap. Those of us running on adrenaline and a few hours of sleep set about assessing things at the compound and the situation outside and attempting to make a plan for the day / week. Our game plan was to take each day on its own, hoping and praying things would die down in the city. Brian and Gemima attempted to go get water and diesel. They were unsuccessful. We knew we weren’t leaving the compound on Saturday because we couldn’t get anywhere, and nothing was open. There was hope that we would be able to go to church on Sunday. That would be our cue to either continue with the team as planned or begin working on an exit strategy.

Some of the events of the first two days run together. I don’t remember if Nicole came to Lifeline on Saturday. I know she didn’t on Sunday. We continued to see black smoke all around the city, floating up over the walls of the compound. We received State department warnings, telling us to “shelter in place”. We heard rumors of diesel and water shortages. On site we had diesel for a day or two, if we used it sparingly. And we had water for about that long, if we rationed our drinking. God was gracious and EDH (Haiti’s state-run electrical utility) was on for most of the day both Saturday and Sunday, allowing us to only run the generator at night (necessary when you have a team member with a CPAP machine). On Saturday afternoon we were down to about eight gallons of water (one five gallon bottle and half of another), so I began to boil water on the stove, spending about an hour to fill up a five gallon bottle.

Saturday night was the one night I went to bed feeling anxious. We had plenty of team food and we could get by without diesel, but the water situation was unsettling. It took forever to boil the water and we had no way to cool it quickly to drink, so we would need to stay several hours ahead of our consumption if we were boiling. I had twelve people in my care, three of them minors who had never traveled to Haiti before, another an adult with a heart condition. Water was our literal lifeline. I gave thanks that this was a small team. The situation would be much more serious if we had a full team, twice what I had in my care. And I went to sleep praying that we would be able to get water in the morning.

On Sunday morning the driver arrived to attempt a water and diesel run. Brian and Gemima left again. The team prayed. A little while later they returned with 14 five gallon bottles of water and 60 gallons of diesel. I may have cried a little. I could finally breathe again. But, we were not able to go to church. Fires were burning in the area and it was unsafe for us and the children to go out. This was our sign that it was time to start planning a way home.

We had a church service at Lifeline, Brian leading us in music and with the sermon he had prepared to preach at church. We updated the team on what we knew of events on the streets and our plans. Here at home, Matt and Emily began to work on our extraction plan. In a very short time, they had us all booked on flights departing on Wednesday. I was sad, the team was relieved. We adjusted plans for no excursions but proceeded to plan for the vocational camp we came to host. We did not know if our teachers (traveling in from the north side of the island) would be able to make it for their conference. We prayed that they would. Our translators were also having a hard time getting to Lifeline (we had two and needed four), so we tried to figure out who would translate for us over the next couple of days. (On Monday morning, all of my translators arrived, and we ended up having more than we needed. Because sometimes God just like to show off like that.)

By Sunday evening, we had settled into a bit of a routine and it started to feel like a normal Lifeline team. Team members were connecting with each other and with the kids. There were basketball games, soccer games, stories, and devotions. My heart was thankful that things felt just a little bit normal for everyone, but I continued to wrestle with the change of plans and that this team would not get to see and experience the Haiti we love.

That night several Oasis students arrived. I had also given up hope that I would see them because of the unrest in the streets. But five of the girls and several of the boys had made it to the compound. I was thrilled.  (Before the week was over, I would be able to meet personally with 18 of the 19 Oasis students. Only one was not able to make it to Lifeline. She lives where the worst of the rioting had occurred. She was safe, but unable to travel.) While I was meeting with the girls, I received word that the teachers had just arrived. I may have cried a little again. God was showing up in so many ways, as He always does in Haiti, and I counted myself privileged to see His hand at work.

The rest of the week continued as normal. We were still receiving State Department updates citing unrest in the streets, but we were receiving real-time reports that things were calmer. There were still billows of black smoke all around the city, but they were less than before. There were some fires just outside the compound, but they were brief and put out quickly. On Tuesday we noticed a significant increase in air traffic, signaling that the airport was up and running as usual again. Those running the vocational camp were able to teach students about carpentry and even build several beds, teach others about photography and take some amazing photos that will be used as a fundraiser for Lifeline later this fall, play games with the children, and instruct a school of teachers how to better engage and connect with their students.

As a team, our eyes were opened to a world larger than what we often see here in the US. We experienced how precious clean water is and what a privilege it is to have readily available electricity 24/7. We saw how broken things are in Haiti but also recognized how broken things are in the US and in each of us. Most of all, we watched God show up again and again and again. He was with us on the truck as we drove in and all night at that police station. He was with us and before us and behind us as we were escorted on Saturday morning. He gave us more city electricity in two days than we have had on a team in a few years (it only came on one more time after we got diesel) and He provided water and diesel just in time. He allowed us all to be able to leave on the same flight on Wednesday, even though so many people were trying to evacuate as well. He prompted Gemima to join our team at the last minute, providing so much help and support and peace to our team with her ability to communicate on our behalf. He allowed us to experience a mostly normal week in Haiti, in spite of the literal fires burning around us. He allowed our team to leave the country with positive feelings about these beautiful people, with the events of our first night not being their primary memory, but rather the faces of the children, their laughter, and their joy being what they carried home when we left.

I love to go to Haiti. I love to watch God show up in big and small ways that we have to look much harder for here. I love the people, the sounds, the smells, the food, and the absolute unconventional quirkiness of it all. My heart breaks for how the Haitian people are oppressed by their own government and governments around the world. I pray for justice to be served and things to be made right. Only God and Haitians can do that, though. Until then, I will continue to go back. I will continue to spend money there and help provide jobs for those in need. I will continue to build relationships and network and make connections so that the children of Lifeline and Oasis can have a better future. And I will not be afraid to go to a place that is uncertain and unknown because God is real and He meets me there every single time.

For His Glory ~

Sara

A letter from a younger me

Dear Sara,

Someday you will be 40 and only weeks away from graduating that curly-haired girl you call your oldest; that girl who was just in grade school yesterday. Life is going to change a lot between now and then. You will move. You will travel. Some friendships will come to an end. New ones will begin. There will be a death to some dreams and the birth of new ones, and in between there will be a sense of loss. The isolation of homeschooling won’t be forever and you will find yourself again.

One day, though, you will be forty, and you will be filled with regret and doubt and mama-guilt, even though right now you don’t believe in any of those things. You will wonder if you made the right choices, did the right things, spent those fleeting years wisely. You will question every parenting decision you ever made and you will doubt yourself to no end.

I want to remind forty-year-old you that you did the best you could in those years. It’s easy for you to look back now and see all the things you could have done differently and better. You are older and wiser, with more tools and more resources for handling life. You are not the same person you were when they were little. When they were little you did what you could to make it through each day. Some days were better than others, but you were there. You were present. You loved them the best you could. And you learned. You did not stay the same. You grew and changed and so did they. You leaned hard on Christ and you confessed to them when you were wrong, and they saw that we all need Jesus.

And in these teenage years, you all continue to grow and change, and one day you will be fifty and the last one will be out of the house and you will still likely question everything because that is what mamas do. At forty, with five girls in the house, there are hormones and feelings and opinions; they are legion and they are strong. But you will survive. And you will all be stronger for the process.

Vincents (24 of 29)

Persist, dear mama, never give up. Hang on by your fingernails if necessary. Fight for those girls and fight for your marriage. Fight for the life God has called you to. He is good and He is faithful. And He is more than enough, even when you feel less than enough. Especially then, in fact.

For His Glory ~

~ Sara

Strings

Adoption comes with strings. And those strings are often a tangled ball of yarn. Or maybe it’s more like fishing line. Strands wrapped together and around each other so tightly you cannot tell where to begin to untangle the knot.

When we picked up Amania to bring her home, the orphanage director brought her birth parents to Lifeline to meet us and to tell her goodbye. This was a hard, beautiful, terrible, wonderful gift, and we have always been thankful. And my heart stopped when I saw them.

Our girl’s mama was great with child that day.

There are no words for what I felt when I saw her.

For over a year, Matt and I would travel back and forth to Haiti on teams, fully expecting that each one would be the team when we would see Amania’s baby brother or sister at Lifeline. But s/he never arrived and we sort of moved on mentally and hoped that one day we would be able to visit her home village and meet her family and ask the questions we didn’t have the wherewithal to ask that spring day in 2013.

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And then June came. I was there with our two oldest, leading a vocational team. Out on the front porch sat a man with a small child – not an unusual sight at Lifeline. But when I stopped and took a closer look, I knew that man. And the face of that child was like my own daughter’s face staring back at me.

There are no words for what I felt when I saw them.

Amania’s father was there to drop off this, their youngest daughter – the child mama was pregnant with when we picked Amania up four years ago – into the care of Lifeline. My knees buckled and my heart gave way.

My girls and I grieved our way through that week and Matt and I talked when I got home. Haiti’s adoption policies have changed drastically from 2011 and our hands felt (and still feel) tied. We shelved the conversation and went on with life, not sure what else we could do.

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And then came today. On Facebook we saw pictures from the orphanage director of little sister at the orphanage and my heart gave way again. We talked to all the girls – Amania first and privately – about the little one. And Amania handled it with strength and grace and I marvel at how God has empowered her to so confidently roll with every wild curve life has thrown at her. She amazes me, and I’m so glad I get the privilege of raising her.

But I find myself still reeling, the wind knocked out of me. The anger, the sadness, the helplessness I feel – they all seem too big to be contained. I don’t know where we go from here, and it’s hard to see God in this.

We will travel in a few weeks. I will see her and I will hold her and I will undoubtedly cry. I will pray for her and I will pray for God to show us clearly the next right thing that we need to do. There are no easy answers: there rarely are in life, there never are in Haiti.

I will pray – as I always do when traveling to Haiti – that God will reveal Himself; that He will show Himself faithful and present in Haiti.  And I will grieve. I will grieve for this sweet girl – a poverty orphan, victim of a broken world. I will give thanks that she is at least in a place where I know she will be cared for and we can see her regularly. But I will shamelessly grieve that another child is without a family tonight because her family cannot afford to feed her.

And I resolve to continue to fight to change that in the next generation. We cannot and will not ever fix Haiti. Only God and Haitians can fix Haiti. But we can make an impact, we can change the future for at least a few. We can empower them with tools and skills and resources to care for themselves and their future families. So that maybe, one day, there won’t be poverty orphans in Haiti. Instead, boys and girls will grow up in families that love them and can provide for their daily needs and the cycle of abandonment will begin to be broken and redemption and restoration will be written all across their land. Because God is in this.

But even if the cycle of poverty never changes, even if the number of orphans never declines, He is still God and He is still good. Not because I’m sitting safe and comfortable in my home in the United States, but because He is sitting next to me tonight in my grief and He is sitting next to that little girl at Lifeline in her confusion and sorrow, and He sits every day next to each and every Haitian as they face the daily struggle that is their life. He is with us all, even when it doesn’t seem possible.

There are not enough words for His goodness.

For His Glory ~

~ Sara

 

Coming Home Again

Gosh I’ve missed this space. Coming back here feels like walking into a former home, like a going back in time. I am not the same person today that I was when I was last here.

The past few years have been hard. There has been pain. And I had to go away for a while to process it all. This year has been a year of restoring, of growth, of finding our way again.

I started a new blog, thinking that was the answer to finding my words again. I posted there once. Turns out this space is still my heart, but my heart wasn’t yet ready to open up again.

It’s strange, this season of life we are in. Our kids are no longer little and the stories and the struggles aren’t always as benign and innocent anymore, so we don’t share them as publicly, to protect and honor our daughters’ personal stories that are theirs alone to tell. It’s a good and beautiful season, but it’s often a very lonely season as we try to navigate a path that is constantly changing.

And our lives are no longer as isolated and individual. I used to feel a sense of security sometimes telling a story here or there, because by the time some random reader saw one of us in real life, most likely the rawness of the moment had passed and we could talk freely about this or that. But now we are out and about with real people every day and the processing has to be done before the story is set free and that’s much harder because so much of that processing honestly happened in this space.

So it’s been a year or two of relearning.

So much has happened since I was last here consistently. Our girls have grown and changed and it’s been hard and beautiful and often surreal. Three kids are in private school. I now work outside the home. We started a new branch of the non-profit we are involved in. We bought an investment property on a nearby lake. I travel to Haiti multiple times a year. Our business has grown exponentially.

Normally these types of things happen slowly. You go along each day in life until you pause and look back and see how much things have changed. But these things all seemed to happen in a Big Bang type explosion. One day life felt normal and then the next it had been completely upended and we had to find our way again.

And sometimes we could see God there with us. And sometimes it felt like we had imagined Him because how could he be there in all that pain? But now we have enough distance to be able to look and see that He was there all along.

We have a joke we send back and forth sometimes when life seems too ridiculous: “They say God gives you only what you can handle. Apparently God thinks I’m a bad-ass.”

And sometimes it feels like that as one thing after another comes our way. But we know deep down that God keeps sending us these trials and temptations and utter ridiculousness not because He thinks we are bad-asses, but because He wants us to be daily reminded that ultimately He’s the only one who is. We can do nothing of our own strength but we sure try, so He stretches us to the end of ourselves until we have no choice but to cling to Him and let Him do the work in us and through us and for us.

Ultimately that’s what these past few years have been – God continually reminding us that we aren’t as capable as we often think we are. That we need Him daily for every breath, for every step on the path. That just when we think we’ve got life under control, He’s still the one ultimately in control, and our safest place is resting fully in Him.

So we continually to do all these things He has called us to….

because it’s all For His Glory ~

~ Sara

When Grace Shines Through

Barely old enough to buy the champagne we toasted with, we took vows and we promised forever and I felt safe and you had hope and we walked back down that aisle with grand plans but no idea what the future held.  And a decade and a half later we woke up in the middle of our hurried thirties with five kids and a business and a million responsibilities, next to a person we thought we knew too well but maybe didn’t know at all.

And we both broke vows and we broke each other’s hearts and you lost hope and I built walls to keep myself safe.  And we almost lost it all.

But hope holds on and safety can be found when we refuse to let go.  And for a year now we have fought, often with each other, but also for each other.  And we have learned that it’s possible to fall in love with the same person over and over and over again.  We’ve learned that forgiveness comes at a cost but it is worth the price because redemption is our reward.

And on nights when I want to give up and make my own safety behind those walls, on nights when you lose hope and we wonder if we will ever be us again, God reminds me that our surrender is to Him because our trust is in Him, and we must choose to stay soft toward one another and always assume the best.  Because this love is real and true and imperfect and broken, but in all those broken places, His grace shines through.

Sometimes I wake up with the sadness
Other days it feels like madness
Oh…what would I do without you?

When colours turn to shades of grey
With the weight of the world at the end of the day
Oh…what would I do without you?

A decade goes by without a warning
And there’s still a kindness in your eyes
Amidst the questions and the worries
A peace of mind, always takes me by surprise.

I feel like I’m walking with eyes as blind
As a man without a lantern in a coal mine
Oh…what would I do without you?

My imagination gets the best of me
And I’m trying to hide lost at sea
Oh…what would I do without you?

The difference between what I’ve said and done
And you’re still standing by my side
A guilty soul and a worried mind
I will never make it, if I’m on my own

So you’ve got the morning, I’ve got midnight
You are patient, I’m always on time
Oh…what would I do without you?

You’ve got your sunshine, I’ve got rainclouds
You’ve got hope, I’ve got my doubts

Oh…what would I do without you?
Oh…what would I do without you?
Oh…what would I do without you?

~ Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors

For His Glory ~

~ Sara

Brave Trust: Stay Soft {One Word for 2016}

2015 gave the word brave and it had its own anthem:

I stand before You now
The greatness of your renown
I have heard of the majesty and wonder of you
King of Heaven, in humility, I bow

As Your love, in wave after wave
Crashes over me, crashes over me
For You are for us
You are not against us
Champion of Heaven
You made a way for all to enter in

I have heard You calling my name
I have heard the song of love that You sing
So I will let You draw me out beyond the shore
Into Your grace
Your grace

You make me brave
You make me brave
You call me out beyond the shore into the waves
You make me brave
You make me brave
No fear can hinder now the love that made a way

Bethel Music – You Make Me Brave

And that theme carried me through the year as God called me out into the water and the unknown again and again and again.  And in November I began to get a feeling for what His word for me would be for 2016.  It was trust but it wasn’t.  So I kept asking, seeking, praying.  And God showed me how my fear, my lack of trust, causes me now to throw up walls, to push people away, to become hardened, almost in an instant.  And then I knew, my word embodying the idea of trustand taking a cue from a friend: soft.  A softness that signifies being open, being vulnerable, being free from chains and walls and fear.

And already, only nine days into the year, it feels He’s asking too much and fear wants to wrap its ugly arms around my heart, and truth fights to keep the walls down, to keep my heart set free, and soft.  And 2016 is given an anthem as well.  A song to carry me through the unknown days and uncharted waters that lie ahead….

Letting go of every single dream
I lay each one down at Your feet
Every moment of my wandering
Never changes what You see

I’ve tried to win this war I confess
My hands are weary I need Your rest
Mighty Warrior, King of the fight
No matter what I face, You’re by my side

When You don’t move the mountains I’m needing You to move
When You don’t part the waters I wish I could walk through
When You don’t give the answers as I cry out to You
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You!

Truth is, You know what tomorrow brings
There’s not a day ahead You have not seen
So, in all things be my life and breath
I want what You want Lord and nothing less

When You don’t move the mountains I’m needing You to move
When You don’t part the waters I wish I could walk through
When You don’t give the answers as I cry out to You
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You!

You are my strength and comfort
You are my steady hand
You are my firm foundation; the rock on which I stand

Your ways are always higher
Your plans are always good
There’s not a place where I’ll go, You’ve not already stood

When You don’t move the mountains I’m needing You to move
When You don’t part the waters I wish I could walk through
When You don’t give the answers as I cry out to You
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You!

Lauren Daigle, I Will Trust in You

“There’s not a place where I’ll go, You’ve not already stood”  – Whatever this year holds, He’s already been there.  Whatever tomorrow brings, He is good.

Here’s to 2016: a year of brave trust and staying soft.

For His Glory ~

Signature

When God Feels Like an Enemy: An Update on the Past Six Months

In casual, everyday conversation, depression serves as a good synonym for sadness.  In this sense, it’s simply a mood state we all experience from time to time, typically after we’ve brushed up against one of life’s inevitable setbacks or disappointments.  For example, I’ve heard people say they were depressed after watching their favorite team lose a big game, or even after ripping a hole in a good pair of blue jeans.  Such “depression” doesn’t last for long, and it rarely affects our ability to function.

In a clinical context, however, the word has a radically different meaning.  It refers to a profoundly debilitating form of mental illness.  (The precise diagnostic label is major depressive disorder, but most clinicians simply call it depression for short.)  It’s a syndrome that deprives people of their energy, sleep, concentration, joy, confidence, memory, sex drive – their ability to love and work and play.  It can even rob them of their will to live.  Over time, depression damages the brain and wreaks havoc on the body.  It’s a treacherous illness – a shudder-inducing foe that no one in their right mind would ever take lightly, certainly not if they understood the disorder’s capacity to destroy life.

Stephen Ilardi, The Depression Cure

I’ve carried depression as part of my story for twenty years now, beginning with a major depressive episode, then settling into  predictable seasonal sadness.  I’ve skirted around a significant depression for almost two years, managing with oils and supplements and just believing that eventually life would settle a bit and my mind would find normal again.  I wondered when that would come, when it would happen, but found a place where I was content to just wait and keep on plodding along.  And then November came and I was pushed, emotionally, off of some great cliff into a darkness that still escapes description or explanation.  And I wrestled for weeks, months, to grasp hold of something, anything to make sense of it all.

Mysteriously and in ways that are totally remote from normal experience, the gray drizzle of horror induced by depression takes on the quality of physical pain.  But it is not an immediately identifiable pain, like that of a broken limb. It may be more accurate to say that despair, owing to some evil trick played upon the sick brain by the inhabiting psyche, comes to resemble the diabolical discomfort of being imprisoned in a fiercely overheated room.  And because no breeze stirs this caldron, because there is no escape from the smothering confinement, it is entirely natural that the victim begins to think ceaselessly of oblivion.

William Styron, Darkness Visible

And that’s where I found myself as February wrapped up and March entered in.  Every time I thought I was making progress, gaining a foothold, getting on top of the wave that was this drowning depression, it was as if someone would come and physically shove me back under, to the bottom.  Until I could fight no more.

I felt like a pawn in someone else’s game.  I had prayed with no response.  I had asked God to show me what sin or error might have put me here.  Silence.  I asked others to pray for me.  Relief, then back under.  So finally I surrendered.  I was going to sit in that pit until God came back to get me. I had enough faith left to believe that He would.  Eventually.  When He was finished with whatever chapter of this story He was writing.  And so I would sit.  Because I couldn’t strive anymore.

It is not trying that is ever going to bring us home.  All this trying leads up to the vital moment at which you turn to God and say, “You must do this.  I can’t.”

C.S. Lewis

I was angry with God.  So angry.  I was empty and defeated.  I had no kind words to say to Him or about Him.  I felt completely abandoned.  I felt like He had turned His back on me.  I truly didn’t know if I could continue to trust a God who played people like chess pieces, who allowed broken hearts and broken lives.  Who allowed devastation around the world and in my own home.  It was all too much to bear.

Betrayed. My stomach turns at the word. I remember vividly when someone I loved dearly and deeply turned into an enemy. There was a proverbial knife in my back and I was hurt, angry, and aching. I wonder how many of you have walked through betrayal. It is awful. You’re powerless to stop the pain and you keep wishing in vain that it could somehow be a different story.

Jesus wished it could be a different story, too. Just before this scene in Mark where He is betrayed by Judas and arrested, He was in a garden on his knees in deep distress, begging His Father to take the cup (Mark 14:35). Jesus knew what was coming and that it would feel unbearable. He’d asked His three dearest friends on earth to pray for Him, too—but three times, He comes to find them asleep. In His deepest hour of need, dreading what lies before Him, His friends can’t even keep their eyes open.

Son of Man, Son of God, Living Word—betrayed for our sake. He drinks the cup of death that we deserve, so that our cups might overflow.

He was arrested so we could be set free. 

He was deserted so we could know we’re never alone.

He was betrayed so we could be held in the arms of Love.

Ellie Holcomb, She Reads Truth

And while I sat in that pit, Jesus was writing a different story, a deeper story.  He was writing the only thing He knows to write – redemption.  While I wrestled and strived with God, Jesus began a miracle work of healing and restoration.  Because He knows what it is to have God turn His back on you.  As He prayed in the Garden and all His friends slept, and then ran away.  As He hung on that cross and God turned His own broken heart away for the sin Christ bore…..Jesus knew what it was to be completely alone in the darkest place imaginable.

Restoration is not complete.  While I can see the daylight now and I sit on warmer ground, I still sit. And I can see that pit not too far behind me.  I spend every minute of every day literally “taking every thought captive”, practicing the things I’m learning to prevent the downward spiral that seems to be second nature right now.  I know one hard shove is all it will take to land back at the bottom.  And it terrifies me.  So I guard my heart and my thoughts with all vigilance.

Sometimes we don’t understand the things that happen to us.  Sometimes the hard things in our life are part of a story God is writing in someone else’s life.  But sometimes He gives us the opportunity to choose the direction the story will go.  I thought this winter would cost me everything – my mind, my marriage, my family, my faith.  I had nothing to hold on to. God allowed that.  And that’s still hard to rest in.  But God has allowed other dark seasons in my life, seasons that I also thought would cost me everything – right down to my life.  But He wasn’t finished writing.  And He isn’t still.  As a writer, I understand that stories often take unexpected and painful turns, and if our characters were humans with free will, they would no doubt rail against the author in anger and confusion.  And while human authors write countless different stories with good and bad endings, my God only writes one kind of ending in the lives of His children – restoration and redemption.  Truth, beauty, and hope.  He will restore what the locust has eaten. He will redeem.  He will make all things new.

I’ve always been fairly transparent about my battle with depression because it’s part of my story.  To hide it would be to hide what God is doing in my life.  And to hide it would give it more power.  Speaking it makes it less terrifying and gives freedom and courage to others who need to tell their story too.

God is big and mysterious and His ways are higher, and often harder, than our ways.  And sometimes that’s scary and confusing and hard to swallow.  But He is good.  And He is true.  And when I had lost almost all faith, that is what I clung to.  I knew He had a better plan, no matter what this plan cost me, this was not all He had for my life.  And no matter where you are today, God’s not finished.  And, yes, that sounds so cliche and I’m so weary of Christian cliches and you are too, but some are true.  And when you are in that pit, truth, real truth, God’s truth, is what must be held to, even when it seems dead and untrue and you feel completely forsaken.  You are not alone.  Somewhere, somehow, Jesus is writing redemption.  Just sit down and wait.  He will come for you.

For His Glory ~

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A Mental Reset

Matt sent me away for overnight last Friday.  He reserved a hotel room here in town and told me I was to go, read my Bible, drink some wine, write, and pray.  I was in need of a serious attitude adjustment and only extended time alone was going to cure it.

I’ve wanted to do something like this for years, but either the timing was never right or I felt selfish spending the money that way.  But I came away as refreshed and renewed as I always imagined I would.  It may become a regular thing.  My “mental health retreat.”

As I sat in my hotel room Friday night and Saturday morning, I worked on a couple of mindless projects and watched a mindless movie.  But I also spent some significant time in prayer and in the Word.  My depression has hit hard this year.  Some marriage issues in November and December knocked me off my feet and really opened the door for Satan to slither in and fill my head and my heart with lies.  Already feeling weak and insecure, I quickly bought all he was selling until I found myself in an emotional vortex that had nothing to do with weather or grey skies and everything to do with my identity.

But I came home on Saturday with a renewed understanding of God’s love for me, His truth, His promises, and His overcoming, overwhelming grace.  Below is a short list of the “Lies I’ve Believed and the Truth I’m Clinging To”:

  • What I do doesn’t matter / isn’t important enough.
    • I think this is a big one for us as women.  And I want to say it’s bigger for us SAHM’s, but I don’t know if that’s really true.  The world has convinced us that we can have it all and do it all and we (and life) can be awesome all the time.  And that’s just not true.  Working moms wrestle with feeling like they’ve let their family down by not always “being there”.  SAHMs feel like they’ve let the world (and God) down because we’re not out there “using our gifts”.  (<—- That one has been on repeat in my mind for years.)  The truth is, we can’t have it all or do it all.  Some of us can handle / juggle more than others, but we all have to make choices and sacrifices.  And those choices and sacrifices are personal and real and should not be trivialized.  And we’re all using our gifts, or growing in new areas, and most likely both.  Nothing is wasted with God.  Nothing.
  • I’m not using my gifts by being a home school mom.
    • This may be true (haha).  In a lot of ways I don’t feel like I’m using my gifts.  Teaching is **not** one of my gifts.  And, honestly, that’s okay.  There are days I don’t love home schooling.  Sometimes those days will string together into weeks, maybe months. I’m thankful for the privilege and the freedom it offers, but it’s honestly the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  It’s exhausting and challenging and only occasionally rewarding in this season.  I do it because I honestly believe it is what God wants us doing; I have all along.  That is the only way I could have persevered all these years.  I also believe that the rewards will come.  Someday.  When my children have their own children.  Hopefully.  All of these things do not make me a bad home schooling mom.  I care passionately about my children.  I care passionately about their education and I make sure it happens, even if it’s not in the form of me doing science projects in the kitchen or tacking up historical figures all over my house or writing impressive blog posts about what we’re learning at home.  My diligent concern for my children and their education is what makes me a good homeschooling mom.
  • There are a limited number of good things available in the world.
    • This one is a fairly new struggle for me.  I don’t recall typically being a jealous person.  But I realized this weekend that over the past year or so I have begun to believe the lie that something good happening for someone else means there’s less good in the world for me.  As if God could run out of good gifts to give!  And so when I would see someone else doing something I wished I could be doing (going back to school, for example; or writing a book) I would find myself all knotted up inside, trying to be happy for them but simultaneously feeling like I had missed my chance at that life dream.  And so, I am choosing to remember that my God is the giver of ALL good gifts and He cannot run out of good things to give.  And the things I may think I want most may not be the best for me, at least not right now.  And I have to trust Him for that.
  • I will never be enough.
    • This one is actually true.  But that’s okay, because it’s true for everyone the world over.  Only God is enough for any of us.  And there is awesome freedom in that.
  • Depression is destroying my life and the lives of those I love.
    • The past ten weeks or so have been really, really hard.  My mind has grown increasingly dark and desperate.  As soon as I thought I was making forward progress a new wave of lies would crash over me and I would be drowning again.  The lowest point came as I laid in bed one night and honestly thought, My family would all be better off if I just left.  Moved away.  Started over.  They would be free from depressed me and everyone could start again. This is obviously a lie from the pit of hell, but it rang so true in my head that night.  And I knew something had to change.  Depression doesn’t write the story.  God does.  And the story isn’t over yet.  He has used depression to write beauty in my life before.  He can (and will) do it again.  And He can make my darkness something beautiful in the girls’ lives too.  (<——  please note – I am not going anywhere!  This is not a “cry for help”.  It’s just me sharing honestly.  My head is on much straighter than it was the night I had those thoughts.  All is well.  Everyone is stuck with me for a very long time again.  😉 )
  • I’m not valuable / talented / significant.
    • In an effort to keep things real in a social media world where everyone is trying to put their best face forward at all times, I know that I can often highlight my weaknesses / struggles / failures more than my strengths / talents / victories.  I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, as I regularly have someone walk up to me and thank me for keeping life real here and on Facebook.  But, again, somewhere in the past 12 to 18 months, I started believing that was all I had – I can’t bake, I’m not a great cook, I’m not a teacher, I can’t keep my kids’ schedules straight, I sleep through half marathons, and generally am pretty lame.  And that’s not true.  I do have gifts and talents and skills and strengths.  God gave them to me.  And while it is healthy for me in some ways to be fully aware of how not-perfect I am and put that side out there for the world to see, it’s also okay and glorifying to Him to recognize my gifts and talents and enjoy them and, without being obnoxious, maybe even share them with the world.

God is so good, my friends.  He is our healer, restorer, defender, and redeemer.  This week has been a refreshing change from the past several.  It hasn’t hurt that the sun has been out almost daily, but I know that the true change has come from the restoration of Truth to my heart and mind.  Thank you to the friends and family that have prayed so diligently for me these past couple of months.  Your love and concern were a candle that kept light in my world when everything was so dark. Depression is part of my story.  Oils help.  Sunlight and warm weather help.  Proper nutrition helps.  But I’m coming to realize more and more that it’s part of the story God is writing in my life.  And as I said above, depression doesn’t write the story, God does.  And His story is always redemption, restoration, healing, wholeness.  Maybe not here, but one day.  And so I can rejoice because He lets me see His glory and bring Him glory in my brokenness here and now.  And because I will one day live in whole, restored glory with Him forever.

For His Glory ~

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When You’re Afraid to Really Fly – My Word for the Year

You don’t think of yourself as fearful. You have faced big things and overcome. You have put up a fight and don’t back down. You are stronger for what you’ve been through. You do not cower or run.

A fearful person is someone who sleeps with a gun under their pillow or freaks out over your kid with a head cold. A fearful person is someone who watches too much Fox News and has countless buckets of freeze dried food in their basement. You are not that person.

But then you wake up and realize it is fear that is paralyzing you. Fear of the future and change and every good thing. Fear of letting others in. Fear of being let down or being a let down. You find yourself riddled with fear and you find yourself captive to it. Your heart walled in by a prison you built to protect yourself.  And you know that you were not made for captivity, but for freedom. Not for fear, but to be brave. And so you claim Brave as your word for 2015. You choose to step out and do brave things. You risk falling. You risk failure. You choose to tear those walls back down, brick by ugly brick, until your heart can see the sun, the Son, again, and feel it shining warm and free.  And on His wings, you will fly.

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For His Glory ~

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Weeks in Review: 2014 {Weeks 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, & 52}

Here we are. December 29.  The year is almost over.  The past few weeks have been….interesting.  They’ve been crazy fast and unbelievably long.  It never really felt like Christmas and yet Christmas is over.  We celebrated three birthdays, and also enjoyed several Christmas celebrations since I last reviewed.  Time flies.  Except when it doesn’t.

Early November brought the return of Matt and Emma from Haiti and led straight in to planning and preparations for birthdays and Christmas celebrations.

We celebrated Ellie’s birthday first with the Pinterest fail of the year.  I was attempting to make a rainbow cake.  It didn’t work out so well.  (hahahahaha)

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Next up was Thanksgiving and some wonderful celebrations with family (and a few exciting games of Nerts here at home).

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Grace adopted a bunny.  His name is Timothy.  And he’s quite possibly the cutest thing ever.

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We celebrated Emma’s 13th birthday.  She opted to make her own cake.  I have no idea why?!?!?!

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We wrapped up the kitchen project, 98% of the way anyway.  Which, if you do many DIY projects like this, you know that’s as far as they ever get until it’s time to move.  The transformation is unbelievable.  We’re even a little shocked when we go back and look at pictures of what it was just three months ago.

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And then there was the #TeamNovember party for the Haiti team.  Ugly Christmas sweaters abounded.  As did food and laughter and friends new and old.

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Then we hit the final week of school, and crunch time for Christmas prep and shopping.  Up to this point we had been in kitchen and party mode 110%, so ten days out from Christmas I had done next to nothing in that department.  So, a day at the coffee shop to think and browse and organize uninterrupted, plus the magic of Amazon Prime and Christmas went off almost seamlessly.  (One child’s gift to me didn’t make it until the day after Christmas, but such is life.)  The girls and I celebrated the end of shopping and the end of the semester with cupcakes at a local shop.  Hurray!

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Last, but not least, we celebrated Matt’s birthday over the weekend.  He and I snuck away to Kansas City overnight where we talked about the past several weeks and looked ahead to next year.  We met some dear friends for late night refreshments and came away from the weekend feeling more connected to each other than we have in weeks.  He ended his birthday with an exciting case of the stomach flu (along with two of our girls; another one had had it two days before Christmas).  Fortunately it was fast moving and everyone was well again by the next day. I am beyond blessed to be married to the man that I am, and the past several weeks have reminded me of that.

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The beauty of the last seven or eight weeks have been heavily clouded by the return of a very dark season for me personally.  The sun, I’m pretty sure, didn’t shine at all for several weeks, and that never helps.  But some personal struggles in our home opened my heart and mind up to a season of confusion and doubt that I haven’t experienced in a very long time.  The Lord used my time away with Matt and some of our conversations, along with the prayers of a few dear friends, to lift that veil and peace and joy have returned to my heart and mind, and for that I am endlessly thankful.

I will close with the gifts I have listed over the past several weeks, along with another picture of Timothy, just because he’s so darn cute.

3081.  75* —> 35*; goodbye fall, hello winter

3082.  strange, long weeks; wrestling with attitudes and self-doubt; my God who is greater than all of it

3083.  soul baring talks on date night

3084.  raking leaves in the snow

3085.  bread and wine, laughter, prayer, and friends

3086.  blankets, heating pads, hot coffee – warmth on bitterly cold days

3087.  Timothy the bunny

3088.  a heart that longs for more

3089.  my big, big God

3090.  hard weekends, long talks, relationships restored

3091.  my Ellie turning 9

3092.  kitchen mess that means kitchen progress

3093.  nights to lie awake praying

3094.  Thanksgiving celebrations – food, family, laughter

3095.  words of grace, hope, and courage on a Monday morning

3096.  feeling tired and empty, running to Jesus

3097.  reconnecting with old friends

3098.  “Friendsgiving” and laughing til our sides hurt

3099.  a God who knows how my heart aches and is worn and weary and who folds me in His love

3100.  Emma turning 13 – the gift of her

3101.  a tree, lit and decorated

3102.  our 12th annual company Christmas party

3103.  continuing to wrestle

3104.  finally laying it all at God’s feet

3105.  peace

3106.  a good week

3107.  the end of the semester

3108.  the start of something new

3109.  celebrating the birth of Christ

3110.  answers to prayer and conversations that finally bring peace, restore trust

3111.  celebrating my beloved

3112.  the grace of God and essential oils that held off the stomach flu (for some of us at least)

That’s it for us right now.  I pray that your New Year is wonderful and filled with joy and hope.  But even if it’s not, we know that God is faithful and He is good.

For His Glory ~

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