When You Just Don’t Want To

I sat in my van doing something I never allowed myself the luxury of—screaming. Just for a second. As the primal sound escaped, hot, angry tears forced themselves from my eyes. I turned my gaze at heaven as I pulled out of the driveway and demanded at the top of my voice, “WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?!”

It’s been 18 months and one week since Kraig died. For 18 months and one week I have been moving—no, I’ve been thriving. I have been caring for my home and myself. I have been shepherding the hearts of four confused and wounded children through tragedy. I have been demonstrating that grief is real and stinks but life goes on and we can see God’s amazing faithfulness.

Oh has He been faithful.

He’s provided for my needs financially in ways that would blow your ever-lovin’ mind. Seriously. He has helped me start fresh at a new church overflowing with people willing to help the widow and her children. He has gifted me with amazing friends who encourage me, applaud me, and offer support. He has been faithful. I will forever shout that from the rooftops.

But sometimes this stinks and there’s no way around it. And sometimes despite my strength and my fortitude to do what’s best for my kids and keep moving forward with faith, sometimes life throws enough at me that I just don’t want to anymore!

Widows and single moms everywhere, you get it. Sometimes there are bills and checkbooks to be dealt with, laundry piles that seem to multiply like bunnies, household repairs and car problems and more. And even if you have the resources to take care of them, the endless list of things I must do because I’m the only adult here just hits its limit. Dealing with children who need me to make parenting decisions that grief complicates when there is no husband to weigh in or balance my crazy is too much. It pushes me to go buy a $5 pizza while screaming at the heavens.

And driving down the road, contemplating how to deal with a minor fender crack caused when a poor stranger bumped my van made me scream at the sky because I just don’t want to deal with it. The hot, angry tears came because of the myriad of other things I MUST do this week that I have no desire or motivation to. Parenting alone is the hardest because only I can parent my kids. But not doing it well isn’t an option and the unfairness of it all won’t change that.

I get the pizza and feed the kids. I put off deciding how to handle the tiny crack until morning. As I head off to see my eldest son shine in the school talent show, a song comes on. “Good Fight” by Unspoken beckons me to keep fighting the good fight. To remember that even when I’m on my own, God promises I’m never alone. And Galatians 6:9 whispers into my heart. “Let us not become wearing in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap the harvest if we do not give up.” (emphasis mine)gal 69

New tears fall now. This does stink sometimes. This is incredibly hard sometimes. Maybe sometimes I just need to let myself buy a $5 pizza for dinner and cry in my van for 10 seconds. Maybe I need to crank music up so loud teenagers tell me to turn it down. Maybe these are things God gave me to keep fighting the good fight.

So to any mom out there doing this parenting thing alone, keep fighting the good fight. It’s worth it. God promises to never leave us alone and to send us a harvest someday if we do not give up. Parenting is important. Its fruits are eternal and will play out in the lives of our kids. Keep fighting the good fight. Even if it means crying in your van and settling for cheap pizza some days. Know that doing that does not mean you are crazy. It means you need a pressure valve.

You can do this because God provides, strengthens, and never leaves our side. He believes you are the best choice to mother those kids no matter how hard this is. Keep fighting the good fight.

____________________

PS – You’ll notice on the image I’ve got a new website. I am in the process of getting it ready for reveal. Stay tuned for more updates here my fantastic followers.

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Writers, You Can Do It!

The journey to become a real, live, bonafide author is anything but uncomplicated. Last year I had the incredible privilege of attending She Speaks conference in North Carolina with 699 other excited women of faith ready to offer God their talents in the areas of speaking and writing. Though the conference organizers and speakers did an amazing job of encouraging us with wisdom about trusting God and letting him direct our paths, they also informed us.

shespeaks

Check them out on Facebook at She Speaks

They taught us things about the necessity of public platform and the process a book takes to be published. They taught us about all a potential publisher wrestles with in her/his mind before they even take your proposal to look at. Things like what audience you’ll reach and how well this could sell. Things like all the books they have sitting in a warehouse that didn’t sell and whether your book is going to join those.

I can tell you my friends it is an overwhelmingly terrifying abundance of details! It can suck the creative life right out of you.

I made friends there with amazing women—gifted women from Texas, Minnesota, Iowa, Colorado, and so many more places. Several of us have been wrestling together with the overwhelming realities of publishing in this social networking age. How do I create a public platform? How do I pitch my idea for a book sufficiently to convince a publisher I’m a risk worth taking? How do I get enough followers on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and a blog so that they see I have a persona resonating with the public?

The process of becoming a published writer is not simply about being a good writer anymore. It is so much more and can be so overwhelming.

As my friends and I have tried to build this thing called platform and figure out how to balance that with our everyday, time-consuming, budget-strapped lives, we’ve shared our journey. We’ve asked for prayer for God’s direction. We’ve encouraged one another with reminders of things we learned. We’ve experienced the power that comes in taking leaps of faith and learning to trust God for next steps.

Ah. Therein lies the answer.

Time and again we’ve returned to the encouragement we received at the conference from amazing authors and speakers. These quotes are from my notes:

“God’s trust in me will take me further than anything.” – Christine Caine

“God chooses. You don’t have to strive when you’re being led by the Shepherd. All I have to do is prepare.” – Christine Caine

“I have already got what it takes to be who he created me to be and do what he has called me to do.” –Renee Swope

“Never underestimate the power of how God wants to use the offering I bring.” –Renee Swope

“Share universal faith with the lens of your own life.” –Kathleen Kerr

“Provision follows God’s plan.” –Lysa Terkeurst

“You aren’t seeking the spotlight on yourself. You are seeking to be a vessel that shines the amazing light of who God is through you.” –me encouraging an introvert writer

I’ve taken a few leaps of faith lately. They simultaneously are terrifying and exhilarating. A few times I’ve gotten answers beyond what I expected; answers that made me cry and thank the God who will open doors I couldn’t possibly imagine.

So to any Christian writers out there, don’t lose heart. To my fellow She Speaks alum and those planning to take that leap of faith and go this year, take heart! If you are praying about going this year, ask the God of all Provision to make a way. It’s worth it.

When we surrender what’s in our hands to the God of the impossible, he does amazing things. When we let him take the lead, he will direct our steps to places we couldn’t have anticipated. God can be trusted. His view of the journey we are on is so much better than ours. Trust him and take that next step.

February Reflections

As I sit here on a chilly Saturday morning trying to figure out how to be productive with my writing and motherhood, I find myself visiting a favorite blog—Chatting at the Sky. Emily Freeman has come to be one of my favorite authors. I’m getting lost in her book A Million Little Ways. I don’t want to finish it because then it will be over. So as I visit her blog, I see her encouragement to reflect on this month and share things I’ve learned. She’s even fostering community by allowing writers to post their links. See why I adore her?

Reflecting sounds like a productive use of my writing today while I listen to my children creating: the girls make brownies, Ryan makes gluten-free brownies, and Jarod makes a movie. So what did I learn in February? Hmmm.

  1. Community is essential to my sanity. Whether with my writing friends online, my new acquaintances in my exercise classes, or dear friends (see #2), I need my tribe. When life is battering, God uses my various communities to help me keep going. They encourage me and embrace who I am – warts and all.
  2. A night out with my closest girlfriends is essential for the sake of my mental stability. When the majority of us found a way to escape kids and homes to meet up for dinner and laughter and conversation at Applebee’s, it was salve for my soul. Plus that was the best steak I’ve had in a long time. I keep ruining them at home. See #3.
  3. I hate making dinner. Oh, wait. That wasn’t news. That was just confirmed again and again. Now that my six-year-old has been inspired by Master Chef Junior, she wants to learn to do this. I can’t teach her fast enough. Does that count as child labor?
  4. My eldest daughter is a closet writer. She just didn’t want to share her writing with anyone. When I told her one of my fav authors never let anyone see her writing journal until college, her face lit up. She found a notebook and spent the next hour using writing prompts to launch ideas. She found a hiding place for her work that I will respect.
  5. There is such freedom in having a teen son with a license. Can I get an amen from any moms who’ve passed this milestone? And yet the first time he drove off alone, I almost tossed my cookies. That’ll drive you to prayer right there.
  6. Taking leaps of faith are terrifying what ifand rewarding. This month I took risks with the future of my books. I have two done and one halfway there. I submitted the future of my writing to God a long time ago and as ideas for where to take a chance arose, I lept. Each time it was with white knuckles and held breath. And three of them turned into amazing answers. Stay tuned for more updates as God opens doors.
  7. I can only get three out of four of my kids to pause eating brinner (breakfast for dinner) to do The Twist with me when Elvis sings Jailhouse Rock on Pandora. Ryan thought we were all a little odd. So did the dog.

So there ya go. I learned quite a variety of things in February. I kind of like this idea of an end of month reflection blog. It reminded me that some really cool things happened this month in the midst of some not so cool ones. God is good even when life is hard; maybe especially when life is hard. I can’t wait to see what He does in March!

Enough

Monday: It’s late. Sleep whispers to me, beckoning me to head to bed, the place I’ve been wishing for most of the day. And yet words rattle around inside my head, keeping me up. Sleep isn’t shouting yet, so perhaps I should put pen to paper and try to make sense of the jumble of the day.

It was a long day, but a good day. I exercised though not as well as the others in boot camp. I kept moving. I keep trying. That’s the important part.

Then off I went to my Bible Study/book club where God keeps beckoning me to places of vulnerability with women I admire. Today we wrestled with wounds on our hearts and how they affect our perceptions of ourselves. Women carry around our wounds. They affect the filter through which we judge ourselves. My group is reading the book, “Captivating” together. It’s a good book. Our group has been together long enough we can share our scars without shame. Today we shared and a thoughtful attitude followed me into the rest of the day.

Today I was blessed, again, by a church family who wants to care for this widow. They sent an exterminator to take care of whatever was clawing inside my walls. Deer mice, it turns out. Common to this area, he said. The fix was easy. The cost would have meant a huge strain for me. And yet again, God’s people cared for us. I am humbled by this.

The day continued with tasks most moms deal with—school pick-ups and errands, dinner prep and homework, listening and snuggling and trying to help kids finish their responsibilities. I helped Lucy make cornbread muffins for dinner—a bright spot in my evening drudgery.

I hid from much on my to-do list today. I know that. I accomplished quite a bit but my house isn’t clean enough nor the laundry finished enough. All the “should haves” mock me as I try to shut my mind off for the night. I reach for Emily Freeman’s book A Million Little Ways and find solace in some of her encouragement to take time to explore wonder. I’m pretty sure catching up on my TiVo is not what she’s suggesting.

Maybe that’s why my mind is racing. I need to create my art tonight, my writing. I need to ignore the things that went undone; things telling me I didn’t do enough today. Telling me I am not enough.

Today I wrestled with deep things. I conquered mice (or at least found a guy to conquer them for me). And I took care of four kids, each needing something different from me. Perhaps today didn’t contain enough time for wonder. And that is OK.

Or maybe I need to realize I experienced wonder today. It was in the pushing past my hatred of exercise to do it anyway and take care of myself. It was in vulnerable conversations with women I care about. It was in helping a six-year-old proudly make corn muffins.

Wednesday: I set aside the morning to write. I have five whole hours until children burst back into my home after school. It’s early release Wednesday. But I remember this blog, started the other night and I take time for a different kind of wonder. I take time to read my Bible and watch the swirling snow fall outside. I marvel at beauty; that God is painting the world in white, a stark contrast to deep green pines and grey mourning doves huddled for warmth outside my window.

Today God is beckoning me to hone my craft, to polish my gifts, and to find words to place on a page. Today he is stilling the voices of doubt that whisper that I am not a big enough blogger, don’t have a big enough following, don’t have what it takes. He is stilling the voices of doubt that tell me I am not enough and reminding me to trust. Just do what he has called me to do and he will care for the rest.

So today I encourage you to silence the voices telling you that you are not enough. You are enough because God created you. You are enough because Jesus loves you. You are enough when you surrender what’s in your hands to the God who creates abundance out of lack, who creates wonder out of the ordinary, who creates new beginnings out of broken endings.

Take time today to embrace the wonder in your universe—whether it’s helping a child learn a new task, enjoying the beauty around you, or embracing the gifts you were given. Today, perhaps, that is enough.

The Beauty of Art

Art. Poetry. Music. Dance. Film. Food done well. Literature.

Art is something essential to the human soul. There is something about a moving piece of music or a beautiful painting that resonates in the deepest parts of who we are. We can get lost in an amazing book or swept away with a beautiful movie so easily. Even if we are not artsy-types we still appreciate it in varying forms.

This weekend I enjoyed watching my daughter be moved by a piece of art in Hobby Lobby. It spoke to her. She stood, enraptured by the painting of a fall road with a scripture that gave her comfort. “Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 47:10. For fifteen minutes she stood, transfixed, contemplating if she wanted to spend every last cent she had saved to buy this framed painting. It was on sale. But $40 is a lot of money when you are 12.

IMG_1767I didn’t know which way to encourage her, to be honest. It would take every cent she had. But if it was art that would inspire her, bring beauty to her room, and make her smile, wasn’t that a worthwhile way to spend her babysitting money? However, it didn’t match any colors she desires to paint her room. It didn’t match anything, really. But did that matter?

Lately I’ve been dealing with the concept of art thanks to an amazing book—A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You were Made to Live by Emily P. Freeman. This book has been refreshing inspiration, breathing life into my dream of becoming a writer.

IMG_1684From the very start this book captivated me. One of the points she makes is so eloquent. She talks about Ephesians 2:10: “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” That verse spoke to me at my conference last summer. God has plans for me—amazing works he already knows about. But then Emily kindly goes on to give us a language lesson:

These English words used in this text—masterpiece, sometimes translated workmanship—these are translations of the original word used in the letter to the church at Ephesus, the Greek word poiema. Our English word poem comes from this same Greek word. (A Million Little Ways, page 25)

We are a poem written by The Great Artist. What an amazing image. Whenever I hear it translated workmanship, it feels like something functional, something solid like a chair or a house. There is artistic freedom in thinking of myself as a poem. There is unique beauty in that word. Yes, houses and chairs can be beautiful too. But a poem is beauty without needing to be functional. It is beautiful because it is.

I’ve had a hard week, an emotional week. God has spoken with such gentleness into my heart about the kind of writer I should be. He’s spoken to me about being careful with my words and the stories I choose to tell. There has been correction and guidance and redirection as he’s continued to write the poetry of me.

Seeing my daughter captivated by a piece of art today made my heart calm from the turmoil of the week. God is captivated by us. Sometimes he needs to redirect the art that we are living. He needs to paint over the mistakes we make or erase a line or two of the poem to make room for rewrites. But when we submit to his direction, the art becomes more complete each day.

What kind of art has God called you to create? If you aren’t sure, let me recommend Emily’s amazing book. Whether it is the art of baking or raising amazing kids, the art of making numbers move like a symphony across a spreadsheet or the art of painting a sunset, God has created us in his image. And God is an artist.

True Religion in Action

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27

This verse has never been as alive to me as it has been since my husband died. To be honest, I’d forgotten it was even in there until my sweet cousin, Sarah, reminded me of it the week he died. She wanted to offer assurances that I was going to be ok. My kids where going to be provided for because God had instructed his people to take care of me.

I wept and then watched in amazement as the people of God did just that. People across denominational lines moved to help us in ways that still bring me to tears. I received blessing like the widow’s oil in 2 Kings 4:1-7 that just kept flowing. God performed a miracle to provide for that widowed mom and he keeps moving to provide for me, again and again.

One of my coworkers summed it up when he said, “I love to see it when God’s people get it right.”

Today I am reminded of this verse as I can’t seem to stop crying tears of gratitude. My kitchen sink broke last night. A seal at the base of the faucet snapped in half and popped out. Water sprays sideways when you turn it on. No leak is threatening to flood my house so I was thankful for that. But you need water in a kitchen.

I texted a pic to a handyman friend and he said the whole thing needed to be replaced. Sigh. There goes the money I had set aside for the kids’ clothes this week, I thought.

In the morning I posted on Facebook a call to see if any handy friends had time to install a new one for me. I’d looked up how to do it myself on YouTube. Nope. That’s not going to happen. I was hit again with how handy Kraig had been and grief made doing it myself seem impossible. No one replied and I thought of how busy my friend’s husbands are with their own home repair lists. I decided after my morning meetings I’d start calling handymen to get a quote.

Halfway through my meeting with the high school guidance counselor, my sweet friend and pastor’s wife, Katy, texted me. “Would it work for two guys to come fix the faucet at 4 p.m. today? They’ll bring a faucet.” Tears clouded my vision and I had to fight to return my focus to the meeting. I shared with the counselor why I was distracted and she teared up too. She said, “That’s amazing!” Jesus was glorified in her office today.

I love my church. Fountain Springs Community Church in Rapid City, South Dakota is growing by leaps and bounds, I believe, because they have determined in their core to show people who Jesus is—with words AND deeds. When Pastor David mentioned in a sermon last fall that this verse from James had convicted his heart, I sat up straighter. When he said he was adding a line item to the budget to help widows in need so this ministry would be part of who we are as a church, I cried.

To those who are Fountain Springers who regularly give to support the work of this amazing ministry, thank you! You helped our church be Jesus today to this widow and her four kids. You provided for this by your faithful tithes and offerings. You may not be one of the great guys coming to do the work, but you are partners in the ministry being done in my little house here in town.

I hadn’t even thought to call the church and ask. But God knew to make sure my post on Facebook caught Katy’s attention.

So today at 4:00 I will have everything ready for two great guys to come be the hands and feet of Jesus to this widow. Today I will again thank God for his provision when I didn’t even think to ask. And today I will encourage others to reach out to the widow and the orphan in practical, tangible ways because you often have no idea what a huge blessing you can be.

Guess It’s Time to Run

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us….” 

Hebrews 12:1 NIV

I hate running. Seriously I have never been so happy as when a doctor told me I wasn’t allowed to run or jog at all. I have bad knees. I do other forms of exercise but running has never been something I enjoy. However this week I’ve gained a new appreciation for this verse.

As January dawned this year, I struggled with a bleak outlook. That’s why I haven’t posted a blog in so long—I wasn’t sure I had any words worth sharing. Before me stretched 12 empty months with no huge plans or goals to fill them. Last year January represented stepping into a new year as a widowed mom. It represented surviving. But I survived the First Year of Grief. No, I did better than that. By the amazing provision of God I thrived.

But now what? That question seemed to mock me. So I did something wise—I told my Heavenly Father just how empty I was feeling. I gave Him the coming year and asked for His direction. And then I waited.

God did not send divine direction all at once. There was no audible voice or angel in my room telling me THIS was what God had planned for me this year. I think He saves those kinds of directions for rare moments. Instead, He started to show me my cloud of witnesses.

I used to think this verse only referred to the saints who had gone before us, cheering us on from heaven. But over the past few weeks, I have seen encouragement from amazing women of faith cheering me on through Facebook and the internet.

I have been following amazing authors such as Christine Caine, Lysa Terkeurst, Jen Hatmaker, Emily Freeman, and Kathi Lipp. Over the past weeks some of the encouragement they’ve posted has seemed to shine a spotlight onto my “what’s next.” These women of faith have posted things that God has used to prompt my heart to keep moving forward, one step at a time, towards what He directed me to do last year—write. Write for His glory, using the talents and experiences He has given me.

Through these women I have been reminded that God gifts and God guides. He uses those with willing hearts more than those with talented abilities. I have been encouraged to hone my craft and submit my steps to Him. I was reminded that He will open doors I could never dream of when I have taken the time to submit to His will. My cloud of witnesses was cheering me on and pointing me back to the truths I knew deep in my soul. God has a plan for me, for all of us, which is more breathtaking than anything we could ask or even imagine!breathtaking meme

So I took a leap of faith and contacted one of those authors I respect and enjoy. I asked if she’d be willing to read my book and possibly endorse it. She said yes. I was shocked. Oh me of little faith. This propelled me to get back to working on the thing I felt God directing me to so many months ago.

Then God sent me one of my new friends willing to read what I’ve got so far and give me honest feedback. Amanda loves nonfiction writing and would be a good person to view what I’ve got from the outside. She’s only known me for about a year.

And then I took another leap of faith. I contacted a book agent I’d casually met in the hall at last year’s She Speaks. I asked if she’d be willing to read my proposal and consider representing me. This weekend I got her reply. She said yes. She said she was swamped with work right now but if I contacted her mid-March, she’d let me know if she’d caught up enough to have time. I wept. That was perfect timing to get Amanda’s feedback and to polish my proposal that isn’t quite perfect yet.

God has a plan for each of us. I have shared that with others time and again. Sometimes I can forget this truth applies to me too. Let me encourage you today that God has plans for you! He will direct your steps so that you can run the race He has set out for you.

He’s not showing me the whole picture of what He has planned for me but the next steps. That’s all I really need. I guess I’d better get on those running shoes and get back to my race.