Monday, October 19, 2015

This is Where It Is

We just returned home from our annual camping trip with my parents, my sister and her husband, my Grandma, and three other sets of family friends. We have gone to this same location for the past 40 years (I only have taken part for 34 of those years). It has always been one of my favorite places...a place that I can breathe, and think, and plan and dream. A place of warmth (no matter the temperature), of laughter, of togetherness. The real joy is that now my boys also think of "Covered Bridge" as we affectionately call it, in the same way. They get so excited to go, and so sad upon its ending. They love every second that we are there, and I see them eating up and savoring the moments in their little hearts.
This particular year as the trip neared, many things worked against our going. I was in the ER on Monday night, and still talking to doctors all day Tuesday (Wednesday was our departure). I ended up passing a kidney stone on our first night at camp (I think I need to get a gold star or something for that). If that wasn't enough, the check engine light came on in the van. Once we actually got on the road, the lights went out on the trailer so that we had no tail lights or turn signals. Thankfully Jon was able to fix it, but it cost us a little time. The day before the trip, my therapist (yes, I have one of those...she is awesome), asked me if this trip was life giving. It was such an easy response: "absolutely yes." I kept thinking about that the entire time we were together on this vacation. Every time I saw my boys faces light up with excitement and joy, or the many times I spent giggling with my Grandma, life was breathed into my soul. It was not WHAT we did, it was how and who we did it all with. This entire trip is all about the mingling of souls. My sister has a "pet mouse" puppet that comes alive and entertains the little ones every morning while we eat Papa's famous chocolate chip pancakes. My Grandma plays her "Round the Garden" with my youngest and I hear him giggle uncontrollably when she tickles him under the arm. I get to shop with my mama and Gram for antiques (by far my favorite shopping), while my sweet husband takes the little boys back to the campground for a nap. We sit by the fire long into the night sharing stories, and laughing, and talking about everything under the sun. Many times, Grandma tells us about her life and has us all rolling with laughter at her stories from years gone by. We eat dinners potluck style with our family friends of forever. Our children play on the park, hike the woods, climb "the Rock." The boys look forward to the famous Ben's pretzels (who am I kidding...the adults do too!) and Mansfield's pumpkin ice cream. For my daddy, its Bridgeton's sirloin tips. At night the boys and Aunt Brenn and Uncle Adam join "Spooky Team" and run around the campground scaring my mom to death. These are the things they will never, ever forget. Their "happy places" that they will revisit in their minds and hearts for as long as they have life.
For as many years as I can remember, we have done this. And every year is special in its own right. But this year was extra special to me...treasured up in my heart. Watching my boys come to love my Grandma in the ways I love her, seeing the generations mingling in such a was so precious, something money could never buy. The years go by and the TIME becomes more and more precious. I think because I see its passing so much clearer. The evenings we spent by the fire as a big huge family, telling stories and laughing, the moments will live on in my heart. We have some big things headed our way as a family, and this trip was everything I had dreamed it would be. My expectations were even surpassed, it was just that beautiful. It was a gift...a life giving, breath of hope worth far more than words can ever adequately express. People loving, serving, enjoying one another. My heart is full and I am so grateful, for the time, the people, the love, the laughter, and the gift of memories that can live on in our hearts for as long as we have breath.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Its not Defeat, its Victory

This weekend I wanted to teach my children in a practical way how to hear God speak to their hearts, and how to have eyes to see people that otherwise may be overlooked. I have taught my children so many times that God speaks to the heart, and a few times they have seemed to have experiences with His voice, but I wanted to give them an opportunity to actually commune with Him. So...we went to a park and sat down on a blanket and I explained to them that I had some $10 bills, on those bills we were going to write a few simple lines: You are seen. You are loved. You matter. You have a purpose, and a verse from Colossians about peace and love and gratefulness. I put the notes on the bills and told them that we were going to Meijer (local grocery store) and we would walk around the store looking for people that needed to be encouraged, and pass them out. Before that, we spent some time in prayer asking God for eyes to see and hearts to hear His voice concerning these matters. The boys were nervous, and way out of their comfort zones, and quite was I. Everett and I did ours (he is 4 and shines so bright that I have no doubt God put Him on this earth to point to the Son). Noah, well that is another blog for another day. But Landon. Landon is our oldest and has a little bit of social anxiety, so I knew this was a big stretch for him. But he genuinely wanted to do it. He wanted to do it on his own, without me, so I told him we would separate and meet back in 10 minutes. I told him to pray and ask God to direct him to the people/person He had, and for the eyes to see people. Then we separated. When we met back, about 8 minutes later, Landon had tears in his eyes and they weren't good tears. He had found a woman he described as looking "depressed" and when he got the courage to offer her the note, and say what I instructed him ("this is for you"), she told him she could not take his money, but didn't say it in a kindly way. When I met back up with my boy his face was marked with shame and rejection. Oh how defeated I felt. He wanted out of there quickly and so we left.

As I drove home I couldn't help but wonder why. And even this morning, I was praying and asking God how this could be redeemed. How would my boy ever get the courage to try again. Because seeing people and being courageous enough to reach out and offer support (whether it be money or time or resources of any kind) is costly and risky. But oh how much I want to raise a generation that has eyes to see and hearts to hear. God did not answer me as I hoped He would. I still can't tell you the purpose in all of this. But I can tell you this. I did something risky yesterday with the boys. It didn't end up being some beautiful portrait all tied up with a neat bow. But what it did do, was put my boys in the ring. This life is a fight. A fight for our hearts and minds, our time and our resources. It is so easy to sit idly by on the sidelines and watch others take up the cause. To talk big and act small. Because acting costs. Loving radically, often hurts. And I believe that Satan is right there ready to capitalize on that hurt and tell us that we are failures, that we should be ashamed, that we are nothing and have nothing to give. And in that place of vulnerability, so often we listen to him. And we leave the fight. We exit the ring.

I am discouraged, and confused in many things. I do not know it all, or even the half of it. But I do know that I want to be part of the fight for people's lives and minds and faith and eternity. And I want my boys to also enter the ring. So yesterday had the potential to hold defeat, and for a few hours, defeat and lies rang through the corridors of my heart. But today was a new day. A day in which I was able to speak life and hope into my oldest son. A day to encourage him to get back in the ring. A day to remind him that loving others rarely means safety and perfection, and sometimes is a bloody awful mess. But Jesus came into this mess we call life to live amongst us, to weep with us, to heal us, to die for us, to redeem us. His radical love doesn't always make sense and people always have a choice how to respond to it. But one thing I know for sure, when I stand before God I want to know that I entered the ring while I was here on this earth. That I had eyes to see and a heart to hear His voice calling me into messy situations with messy people so that we could all live this messy life in community, waging war on the lies of Satan. While it looked like defeat for a moment yesterday, today Landon and I are headed back into the ring. I am going to fight for the hearts of my children. And I am going to teach them to see and hear and love and sacrifice, not because it is easy, but because we are called to do so. The joy that comes with obedience is so much greater than the doubt that comes from the lies of defeat.

I felt shame, as though I had set them up for failure. But really I felt called (this idea had been sitting in my heart for the past 4 months). So then I felt let down. And then I felt doubt assail me. You see how fast it goes downhill? But God. He can bust right through the shame and rejection that came to Landon yesterday. Perhaps, just maybe, Landon needed to know what shame and rejection felt like before he could have the eyes to truly see it. Therein lies redemption, the gift. He now has eyes to see those who need the Gift, because he himself has the need. Its not defeat, its victory.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Pulling Out the Poison

This weekend one of the boys had a tick in his hair. The tick had broken the skin and was attached but its head had not entered the skin as yet. This has happened before, but the tick was even deeper that time. So I had hoped this one would be easy to pull off. That wasn't the case. Jonathan tried to pull with his fingers to no avail. Eventually he had to get the tweezers and carefully grab the insect as close as he could to Noah's head and pull straight out. Even with this measure, it still took some time and effort before he was able to pull the parasitic bug off my boy's head.

And that is what it is...a parasite. It lives and feeds off of the bodies of other living beings. Much like lies and untruths that we come to believe about ourselves, life, God, and others. Little whispers of "It will always be this way," " I always mess everything up," "No one is ever there for me." Until these untruths have become as much a part of our reality as truth. And then we start to look for proof of these little lies. And we always find what we look for. If your looking for others to always pass you by, then you notice it when they do. If your looking for failure, you are more apt to see the many small ways you each fail every day. If I believe the lie that I am side-lined and have nothing to say, I will stop writing. If I come to believe I am unloveable, I will stop accepting love, and worse, fight against it.

The first step to change is always awareness. You must become aware of the lies that you believe. Once your aware you have the power to change, and that is your opportunity to fight the lies with truth. But much like pulling a tick out and off of a living body, those lies you have come to believe have taken hold. You cannot simply brush them off. You will have to grab them by the root and pull. It will be uncomfortable and probably incite some fear. You may feel like giving up and giving in, because as anyone who has fallen prey to the non-truths will tell you, at the bottom of the barrel you feel awfully weak. Sometimes the battle seems too hard. But if you give up, the parasite grows and fills with your own lifeblood, leaching from you. Do not give in. Open your heart to the Truth and allow those lies to be tweezed out at their root. Many times it has been said to me, "The only way out is through." And it is true. Go through. Push in. Avoidance is a mirage of safety, actually aiding the parasite and ultimately killing us.

If you have been victim for awhile now, the lies have taken such root that confusion is your constant companion. You are not even sure what is you, and what is not. What you want and what you don't. Who you are and who you aren't. Go back to your roots. Speak with those who have known you your whole life through...allow them to give you glimpses of Truth. Open your heart back up to Love. Pray for clarity of mind. Your heart was fashioned in the hands of God. Allow Him to once again show you who He made you to be, the truth about the Hope, let him breath life back into your soul. Perfect love drives out fear.  Root out the sin that so easily entangles. Don't just change behaviors, but dig deeper and find the heart of the issue. Pull out all of the poison, not just the pieces.

And once it is out, you will bleed a little. Don't run from that as you so often do. Nurse the wound. Keep it clean. Surround yourself with people who speak TRUTH in LOVE. Who know you and love you as you were and as you are and as you were made to be. Understand why you fell victim to the lies so that the poison cannot settle in again. To do this you must go into the pain, not bandaid it. Listen to the vulnerable spots, and strengthen them  in the ways that they need to be strengthened. The trials are not your enemy...its the lies whispered to your soul in those vulnerable moments. The lies you begin to accept as truth that slowly change you from who you were made to be. Those are your enemy, a subtle parasite that will render you sick and ineffective.

Fight for truth, my friend. Do not stray from it.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Getting out of Debt

A few weeks back a milestone came and went. Life these days often happens in a flurry of activity and this particular night, the epic moment was really just the click of a computer mouse. It was the final payment of my student loan. But it was even more than was the last and final debt payment, aside from mortgage.

About 7 years ago Jon and I started a plan to get out of debt...all debt. Sounds crazy...and we had undergraduate student loans, graduate student loans, car loans, credit cards, etc. It seemed the hill was just too high to climb, and yet when we went to refinance our house that year, we ran into some snags that ultimately made us realize to what degree we were slaves to the bank because of our debt. So we started...and month after month, year after year, the debt mountain got smaller and smaller. We no longer used credit cards and we paid cash for vacations and gifts, or we did not go on the vacation or buy the coveted item. Crazy things happened soon after we started...our washing machine died, our fridge died, our dishwasher died, we added two children, we finished our basement. Oh the basement. Jon worked very hard to finish our basement debt free. He did 99% of the work himself: electical, plumbing, painting, dry wall, made his own trim, built a fireplace, tiled the bathroom, built bookshelves. This was a huge sacrifice on both of our ends, and took us nearly two years to complete. But we did it...without a dollar of debt. We carefully paid as we went, and although there were times I thought the house would be torn up forever and it would never be finished...we now have a beautiful basement family room, study, bathroom and big boys room.

I have worked for nearly 6 years, and every single paycheck has gone to debt. With the click of that mouse button, it meant for the first time we would start to see those work dollars enter the bank instead of leave it.

With so much yuck going on lately, this seems something to celebrate. And yet it still slipped by. I wanted to take just a moment to commemorate that little click of the mouse...the culmination of some serious hard work and sacrifice.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

On Planning for the Future

I recently had a student ask me how it is that some kids are able to know what they want with their lives and begin accomplishing it (pursuing it) from early on. My response was multi-faceted, but personally, I was just that girl who knew. I knew how God had equipped me and that He had created me for people. I knew early on that I was called to ministry, although I wasn't sure exactly how that would play out. In high school my peers would come to me with their teenage angst and I would "counsel" them or walk with them through whatever was going on. It felt natural and I loved that they felt safe with me. When I went to college I majored in social work, wanting to one day have a safe place where pregnant moms who had no where else to turn to, could come and find refuge, hope and healing. But it didn't take long for reality to hit my idealistic self in the face, and after a rough internship watching drug deals go bad and babies suffering in drug homes (which I was fully unprepared for as a nieve 18 year old), I decided that I was better cut out for psychology than social work, so I switched my major and my focus. I wanted to be a therapist. I loved studying psychology and I loved my internship. I enjoyed my instructors and soaked up every textbook. I was going to go get my masters straight away, but we were surprised with our first pregnancy 6 months after getting married and all plans went out the window. It took me nearly two years to settle into parenting enough that I was ready to pursue my masters degree. I worked hard, loved every second of it. The work and the time was difficult but so interesting. I was so close to becoming a therapist. My internship fell into my lap, or was given to me as an unexpected gift of God. It was a sink or swim kind of first day I had my first client, who was struggling with depression, addiction, and suicidal ideation. I was terrified. She taught me more than I ever taught her.
That internship set me up to fall deeper in love with counseling. I learned more than I ever thought possible in those nine months. At the end, I earned a diploma, but was given the real gift of licensure which meant that I could now officially journey with others as a therapist. At the same time, a teaching opportunity opened up. It shouldn't have...they usually don't hire therapists to teach psychology courses. But they took a risk on me and I thought I would try it, having no idea how much I would love it. I earned more classes, counseled, and continued to grow our family. By the time we had three kids, it was time to move my counseling job up here to Holland which also happened seamlessly. After 10 months of counseling and teaching and having three kids I was losing my mind, and had to give up something. Much to my own shock and amazement, I decided to stick with teaching and shelve counseling until another season. At the same time that I gave up counseling,  I was asked to teach online for my alma mater. I continued teaching, now for two schools and growing our family. It seemed that my course was being set and all signs pointed towards the teaching route. I knew that meant I would eventually need a doctorate, but I figured I would go after that once all of the kids were in school. Part of me missed the counseling although I kept my hands in it here and there with case consultations. I had ended my counseling career on a somewhat traumatic note and my spirit warred against whatever calling I had. In fact a few opportunities to pick it back up came along and the mere thought of it would send my heart into a tailspin. Besides, if I could get a teaching job at a 4 year school, I could get free tuition for my kiddos, and since there are 4 of them and college is ridiculously expensive, this seemed like a great goal.
I set my sights on Hope College...a 4 year school right here in Holland. It seemed impossible to ever get a foot in the door there, especially as a therapist with only a masters degree. But a series of interesting things happened and one day I got a call for an immediate need for an adjunct instructor at Hope. And they wanted me. I could hardly believe it.
I have enjoyed the challenge immensely, although I will say it is an entirely new playing field. Everyone there has a doctorate. And no one has a degree in counseling. This semester I have been discussing with a seasoned colleague there about the future. She said that to ever get a full time position at Hope I need a doctorate (which I knew) but also that it would need to be from a Big 10 university. That would mean a move. And it would mean eating, sleeping, and breathing grad school for two years...if I could even get into one of these progams. And in that moment, my plan imploded. Because that just isn't going to work. I have a son going into to junior high and high school and little kids to nurture and practice spelling words with. I cannot, nor do I want to, disappear for two years. And it isn't me. I  still love teaching. But my plan for this second act of my life is not the direction I am supposed to walk.
I am reminded of the last time my plans imploded. It was in Cedarville, OH when I took a pregnancy test that changed my life. When I was a 21 year old senior in college with no insurance and no money and a brand new marriage, carrying a baby in my womb. I am and always have been a "planner" by nature. But in those early years God continuously blew my plans up until I gave them up. And I have never really had to seek out a job since. When I earned my masters I called it God's degree because it wasn't clear to me exactly what to do with it., but I knew I was supposed to get it. I never had to pursue a job or a direction once I earned that degree. He has always made it clear. Always provided.
So here I am with no plan for what is next. I will say that for years I have bristled at the idea of counseling again. I have run from it with many valid reasons why. I am not ready to run back to it. And if I ever do it again I am not sure what capacity it may be. But I will say that this weekend I presented a conference and one of my clients was there from way back in my first year of counseling. I talked with her for awhile, she sat in on my session, and then we parted ways. Right before my second session started, she called me out into the hallway because she had to leave and wanted to say goodbye. She looked me in my eye and said, "Kristen I need you to know that I would not be here today if it were not for you. " "You believed in me, pushed me to grab ahold of Hope, reminded me of what was good in this world, got me help when I needed it, and journeyed with me when I was all alone." Today she has 5 grandchildren and a life full of joy that she could never have imagined 6 years ago when we had to call for suicide prevention. It was the first time in 3 long years that I have felt the tug in my heart. I have no idea what this second act of my life will be now that I am done having kids. But I know Who does. I am going to just keep being faithful in what I have been given right now...4 awesome boys to raise into men, three teaching jobs that I love, occasional speaking engagements that I enjoy immensely. Perhaps Act 2 will be a scaling back, or a pushing forward. Perhaps it will be paving a new way in uncharted territory. I am not even promised an Act 2. So I just want to be faithful in today. Tomorrow has repeatedly promised to take care of itself.
Nap time is finishing up here in this house. I had great plans to finish this blog before my little ones awoke. But Silas woke early needing a bit of cuddling. I went in and rocked him, his chubby little fingers curled tightly around my arm. As I went to put him back in the crib so I could come finish my "plan" of blogging, he woke back up crying. So I gave in and rocked him for a good half hour, dozing myself on and off to the rhythmic sound of his breathing and the soft feel of his chubby cheek on my shoulder and soft hair against my face. It was precious. Something I would have entirely missed had I been too focused on my plan. It is interesting to note that if we open our eyes how many life lessons like this are all around us every single day. We can solve the big, by being faithful with the small. Gain insight into life's big problems by purposely tuning into the little moments of our day.
Life is rather cyclical, and right now I feel all the similar feelings I felt as an 18 year old just starting out. But I am so grateful that I can look back and see God's faithfulness to supply, direct, provide, and instruct. How He used the difficult to teach, and how He made such beauty from the ashes of my original plans.

Monday, March 9, 2015

To Be Known

I haven't blogged in months. My return is so daunting. Every time I carve out the time, I sit down here at the keyboard and literally 2000 reasons well up inside of me as to why I have nothing to say. And I listen every time. I shut the computer screen and walk away. Nearly every day a blog post swirls around in my brain, but each day I am either too busy or just want to avoid the awful feeling I have right now as I sit here and try to type. So I am taking my own advice. Start small. Start with what you know. Hope for the best.

I attended a funeral a couple of weeks back for a woman very, very dear to me. Her son gave a beautiful tribute to his mom. He told a story of how as a teen he was on the football team, and his mom, despite knowing nothing about football and being naturally disinterested in it, attended his games and washed his jersey and supported him in necessary ways. But one day he caught her reading a book on the basics of football. I imagine him peeking around the corner as she sat on the couch trying to study this book. Whatever the scene was, he never forgot that she was making herself a student of her boy.

This story got me in a place that I like to keep hidden. That place that speaks of my own desire to be known. The part that often questions my worth. I realized that I purposely do this with my boys. I always have. I have spent hours watching Star Wars and Ninjago, and researching garbage trucks. I have become very knowledgeable about pokemon cards (something I see no value in aside from the fact that my son is very interested in them) and I can tell you everything you need to know about each of the five Samurai Power Rangers. I do this because I always want my boys to know that they are seen. That they are known. That what is important to them is important to me. That I love their individual personalities and interests. I never, ever want them to wonder if they were known. This doesn't mean they get whatever they want. It means I learn it all, so we can talk about it, dream about it, play it.  Its my way of purposefully connecting with each of my sons. I think it would be easier if we were talking Little House on the Prairie dresses and how to style a barbie doll's hair, but I have learned that easy is rarely best. I remember when I found out our first child was a boy, I called my mom crying. I went into the ultrasound completely sure that I had no preference on the gender of my child. But then when it was confirmed I was carrying a boy, I lost it. The only words I could get out to her were, "But mom, I don't know anything about boys!" Her response to me is one I have never forgotten:" You will, will know all that you need to know about boys." And she was right.

But most relationships that are deep and abiding and safe...are those that are purposeful. I naturally connected with my boys by nature of being their mother. But I chose to jump in to their interests. To be more than a bystander in a family of boys as the only female. As a young child, I remember wishing my biological dad knew what my favorite color was. What my best friend's name was. What my favorite cereal was. Even then, I longed to be known. I can still remember the moment in the hospital when Landon was born and I held him close. It was the wee hours of the morning the day after he was born, the sun still asleep. I was all alone with him as I looked into those little eyes and promised to know him. To seek connection with him. So he would know he is worthy of my time and my interest, more than just the typical stuff parents "have" to provide. I promised that my love would be tangibly applied to every area of his life. When you grow up as a child who had what she "needed" from a one parent, but not what she desperately longed for from that is a precious, priceless gift to be able to choose to offer those things to your own child and know the difference that will make. And this my friends, is how beauty comes from ashes. Life from death. New from old. 

Sometimes both parents fail at knowing their children. These children often have no idea of their worth and set out to prove it in all the wrong ways. There is beauty here too. If you never felt known, never felt loved, then listen to that still small voice that desperately wants to grab hold of the idea that you have a Heavenly Father Who wove you together, who knows you better than anyone here ever could, Who loves you more that your even capable of comprehending, and Who is, in ways we don't fully understand, weaving it all together to bring you Home to Himself.

When remembering his mom, how is it that out of a lifetime of memories, finding her with that book spoke the loudest to my friend? Its because in that instant, he felt known. He felt wanted...and loved. Connected. And safe. And out of that beautiful abundance, he now knows and loves his own children. Purposefully living in the overflow of redemption rather than the deficit of hurt.