Hope Silences the Dark

“The gospel gives me hope, and hope is not a language the dark voices understand.”
― Andrew Peterson

Have you felt it? Have you been in that place where the dark voices win temporarily and hopelessness prevails? I have. It is not a fun place, nor is it a place of truth. It is, however, a place that has as much power as we offer up to it.

Not long ago I was not feeling well, there were several hard things on my heart and mind, and I made the mistake of getting on the scale to see how my (lack of) calorie counting was going. All of these things combined turned into a despondent time of crying, yelling, and pouting at God and my husband until I stuck in my headphones and tuned everything out to watch the newest episode of one of my favorite TV shows. That was a bad idea, since everyone is writing Covid stories right now, and it only fed into my anxiety, sadness, and fear.

What a mess I am.

Or rather, what I mess I was in that moment. That is NOT me. A moment of despair does not define who I am or how I live. His mercies are new every morning and today I remember I am a new person. Today I fill my mind with truth and my ears with worship rather than soapy stories and fretful news. I can still see the reality of things around me, but I also see hope. I see pathways. I eat healthier and exercise to take care of my body and I guard my heart more passionately. But most of all I just acknowledge that so much of this comes from self and I repent of trying so hard in my own strength. When I turn to the gospel and I read truth, the Spirit opens my eyes and I see through the fog of heaviness and am able to rebuke the lies and fear. My heart become courageous – not because of anything of myself but because of He who lives within me. Slowly hope seeps back in and drowns out the dark voices of despair that cannot understand it and run from something so powerful.

May the God of Hope meet you today.

The blog From a a Year Ago

I was going through my blog in the “drafts” section to see what things I had started and then never finished to try to clean it up.  I came upon this blog that I had started a year ago – the night before Anna was coming back from Kenya unexpectedly early and we were getting ready to go on what we thought would be a singular lock-down just to make sure she wasn’t sick.  By the time I reached the store the news of Europe closing it’s borders was hitting and people were starting to panic, so I walked into a jam-packed store (that was pre-mask and social distance order) and this is what played out:

“It’s real…That knot in your chest.  The lump that you try really hard to swallow.  The short, fast breaths that make you tell yourself to breathe deep and count slowly.

In this time of uncertainty I feel it pressing in constantly.  Last night I was in the store and it was as though I was walking through a movie scene for a dystopian movie.  The lines were all the way to the back.  People’s carts were full of whatever they could put in.  The store had no milk, bread, eggs, toilet paper, flour…the shelves were empty.  I had only gone in to get a few key things, but as I sat and watched others I started to panic and anxiety crept in.  Maybe I should stand in line for the next couple of hours and buy all the cheese, pasta, and peanut butter I could find. Or maybe I really do need all the gatorade I can fit in my cart.  Or maybe I should buy all the medicine I could find because we are bound to get this virus and have fevers and might run out of gatorade but Tylenol would take the fevers down, but RJ can’t swallow a lot of pills so I should buy a bunch of kinds so that I could be sure of having something he could take, but then what if he still can’t and then he’s really sick and we have no food and people have gone crazy…kind of like my mind in that moment.

Last night in the store I came across a few people that reminded me of something important – this life is not all about me.  I stood as I was waiting (patiently, I promise!) for a store employee to move his cart that he was stocking shelves with and I looked around me.  There was a young man about my oldest son’s age.  He looked a little shell shocked, honestly.  He had some pasta, some granola bars, and a box of milk in his hands.  He was looking at Tuna but seemed a bit like he had no clue what he should be doing.  I wanted to tell him to walk alongside me and let me help him figure this out, that he wasn’t alone. I wanted to give him some sort of assurance that he was doing the right thing in buying a little extra, but that he should not give into the fear that was pulsing through the store.  I wanted to – but I didn’t.  Because in the moment I was scared and panicky.  I was thinking of my own son and wondering if someone would help him in this situation, because how does a 22 year old young man on his own for the first time know how to react and prepare when it seems like the world has gone mad?

I also saw an older woman trying to get a few things.  I helped get something off a shelf for her as people rushed by ignoring her because by this point I was starting to get my senses back.  As I prayed against the fear I felt my own panic subsiding.

I think we are going to be facing some new, uncharted things here in the next couple of months.  We are not a country that really knows how to do crisis well. We’ve lived in places where we had to evacuate from war and go on lock down due to election instability, and I never saw the chaos that I saw last night in the grocery store.  May God show us clearly what he wants us to learn from this. “

Did you catch your breath as you read? I know that now, on this side of things, I can see how scared we were as a country. We have seen half a million deaths in the US during this pandemic that were related to the virus. Probably no one reading this was spared knowing someone personally who suffered greatly in some way because of it. Jobs have been lost, houses lost, marriages and families that were already taxed disintegrated during quarantine, and some people who lived on their own spent months never seeing another person or having any sort of human touch.

Yet here we are at what seems to be the end of it. What did we learn? Or better yet, what are we learning?

This weekend I saw my newborn nephew. I had been considering and reconsidering going, worried about if I would bring something to him unknowingly. But my sister really wanted me there, and as I sat and cuddled him and I stroked his fuzzy, perfect little head and breathed in newborn baby, I felt hope again. My niece who had come as well fell in love with him and said he was a powerful baby. I had to agree – there was something almost intoxicating about this new little, extremely miraculous life that we were holding. He reminded me that God was not absent from the events surrounding us this last year, but that even in those he showed himself powerful, merciful, and redemptive.

See, my sister and her husband had tried for over a decade to have kids. Hope sprung up a time or two only to be dashed violently in the pain of miscarriage. Then Lincoln happened. In the middle of trauma and chaos and pandemic and pain, a new life was formed. He was not the “Covid” baby – ones that were birthed from the extra time at home that we are seeing happen all around us (not that those are any less miraculous or full of hope!) But here was a living, breathing, beautiful, seven-and-a-half-pound bundle of life that we had prayed for over and over again for years. God chose to answer that prayer in the middle of one of the darkest times our world has seen in recently.

It makes me think of another baby born into chaos, darkness, and hopelessness. One who came and brought joy, healing, and True Life with His birth. So what have I learned this year? I have learned (and forgotten and relearned many times) that no matter how dark it seems my God has not forsaken me. He leans in and listens. He catches my tears. He hems me in, behind and before. And when it seems darkest, he brings redemption and life that starts to seep into the cracks of the walls I have built up around me and he reminds me of the true victory that is mine through him. I am so thankful for that.

The Wisdom of Anne with an E.

“It’s red, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it’s red,” she said resignedly. “Now you see why I can’t be perfectly happy. Nobody could who has red hair. I don’t mind the other things so much–the freckles and the green eyes and my skinniness. I can imagine them away. I can imagine that I have a beautiful rose-leaf complexion and lovely starry violet eyes. But I cannot imagine that red hair away. I do my best. I think to myself, `Now my hair is a glorious black, black as the raven’s wing.’ But all the time I know it is just plain red and it breaks my heart. It will be my lifelong sorrow.” 

Oh, Anne.  I have loved Anne of Green Gables since I read it the first time.  She’s a firecracker who uses big words, is passionate and loyal about her relationships, verbally processes, and (of course) has red hair.  As a child I use to hate my red hair.  I remember clearly people calling me carrot top among other not-so-nice things, being told I was a redheaded rooster, and hearing a few adults I looked up to saying (when they didn’t think I was listening) that they hoped their children didn’t have red hair. It’s hard not to take that personally.  As Anne says, you can’t wish it away no matter how hard you try.

When I became a teenager and into adulthood I decided having red hair wasn’t so bad.  People remembered me, I stood out.  I’ve never been one to want to blend into the shadows completely, so having something that made me different became a benefit rather than a hinderance.  But then adulthood ran into getting into middle age, and suddenly my bright, copper-red hair started looking a bit less vibrant and a lot more washed out.  I felt like I was losing my identity as my hair changed color so  I started dying it regularly to a coppery color.  But since most of the time it was a cheap box from Walmart I now cringe when I see pictures of me with that harsh hair color!

We are weird people. No matter how old we get or how much we mature, we struggle with how we look and we allow that to define who we think we are and what our worth is.  I’ve noticed recently that I’ve had a lot of anxiety about what I’m eating (or not eating.)  At college I struggled a lot with an eating disorder.  It continued for many years into adulthood, as I would go out at night and binge on what ever I wanted, then throw it up before I went home.  It wasn’t really about losing weight.  I knew that I wasn’t going to get skinny in this pattern.  It certainly wasn’t about being healthy – that was really the last thing on my mind.  I understand now that it was my way of grabbing control of my shame that I felt.

I would feel shame about everything at that time.  Shame that I wasn’t a better parent, a better wife, a better sister and daughter.  Shame that I was continually gaining weight and couldn’t seem to stop.  Shame that I wasn’t where I thought I should be as a Christian or an adult.  Shame about past mistakes and anxiety about future ones.  And shame about the way I looked and how I wished with my whole heart that I was not the way I was.  People around me have been talking about dieting and weight my whole life.  I know very few women who don’t talk about almost every day, so I don’t think I am an oddball about this.

Fast forward to this stage of life.  Last year we started doing keto and I dropped 60 pounds over the course of the year.  But I found out something about myself – I exchanged the idol of food (I can eat whatever I want) for the idol of fear (I don’t dare eat that.  Or – I can’t believe I ate that, what a wretched person I am!)   If I had a bad day where I would eat too many carbs, my whole mood and attitude was affected.  I felt anxiety about every little thing going into my body.  While I was healthier in many ways, emotionally I was still going through a lot of the same cycles.

I found myself sitting on the floor in the bathroom one afternoon weighing in on whether the shame of having just eaten bread would be bigger than the shame I knew would come if I made myself throw up.  Then I broke down and cried, wondering how I had gotten back to this point.

This is not a story I want to share.  I love telling those stories where there is complete victory.  I would love to say that I threw up one day two decades ago, had a revelation about who I am and who I want to be, and stopped right then and there.  But the truth is this temptation has been there much more than I ever imagined it would be.  While it’s been years since I hung my head over the toilet regularly, the idea still creeps in every once in a while.

But there is hope.

Because here’s another truth – I have not spent every day of the last couple decades living in shame and fear.  There are periods of time that these things try to creep in.  And sometimes I forget the truth of who I really am and I let these lies settle in.  Sometimes it’s from conversations happening around me or circumstances that pop up, but other times it’s simply my own insecurities showing their faces when I am not expecting them, so I am not ready to fight.  I have learned some practical things (and I keep learning more and more) about how I cannot be extreme when it comes to food issues.  I know I need to be disciplined and eat in healthy ways, but I keep coming to a better understanding of what that means for me and my family.  I have learned to love walking and pushing myself in exercise and the feeling of pride I get when I make wise choices about these things – but I also know how slippery that slope can be for me with my obsessive tendencies and how fast I give into shame.

However, more than anything, I continue to learn despite the fact I fail often, and no matter how I feel in the moment, none of that really defines me or changes my worth.  As I have fallen deeper and deeper in love with Jesus, I realize better and better the depth of his love for me.  I understand that my salvation is not just about heaven someday, but the ability to live here on this earth in a supernatural freedom from anxiety.  Over the last month we have talked about advent and the different things that we looked at were hope, peace, joy, and love.  I have emphasized as I taught and wrote on it that these things are not things of this world.  We are not talking about a hope in temporal things or peace and joy that comes from everything around us being just as we think it should and we “feel” good.  Love is an overflowing of the Spirit from us that we can have because He first loved us.  These things come from a dying to myself and surrendering my life to Him.

The same is true about these other things.  Even if I have a day where I ate a box of Little Debbies, this doesn’t change my worth.  If I have a day where my parenting is less than stellar and I have have to humbly apologize to my kids, my worth is still the same.  On the flip side, if I eat exactly 20 carbs, walk 10,000 steps, kiss my husband every time I see him, cook a healthy meal at night, and tuck my children into bed without having once lost my temper with them, my worth has not changed.  It can’t.  I have already been purchased at the ultimate cost- so I am now priceless. He loves me me with a perfect love that was so incomprehensible he died for me while I was still a broken, bratty child kicking and screaming insults at him.  Even then my worth was known to him.

As I go into 2020 I have no illusions that this year will be easy.  I am starting a new job, learning how to balance that with still having kids at home who are doing online school, a college student, and a young adult.  I am still in my first year in a new place where I am getting to know people and figuring out who my people are.  We have parents whom we love that we need to be able to care for better.  And I continue to fight my way through this love/hate relationship with food to a better place for me both physically and emotionally.  But I am determined to go into this year with the reminder of who I am and I will dream up big, God-sized dreams that cannot happen without Him – one of those dreams being a healthier me who stands steadfastly in what I know to be true about me and about Jesus.  Because, as Anne says, “When you are imagining, you might as well imagine something worth while.”

Join me?