Category Archives: Spiritual Growth

My soul is crushed

He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” (Matthew 26:38)

 

I had the privilege of teaching the message at our church this past Sunday. The message was on Jesus’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.

I love this story.

Oh, I know that might sound strange. After all, it’s not an uplifting passage, like the Sermon on the Mount or one that demonstrates Jesus’s mighty power, like when he calmed the raging seas. In this passage our Savior is admitting how crushed his soul feels and praying to God to “take this cup from me”. (Matthew 26:39)

I believe it is probably the most vulnerable, raw example of Jesus’s humanness. And that’s precisely why I love this story so much.

I know what it feels like to have my soul crushed with grief. I know what it feels like to be on my knees, in complete agony, sobbing and sweating and crying out to God to take away the suffering. (Luke 22:44)

About 12 years ago my marriage hit a very difficult spot. I was pregnant with Daniel and Olivia at the time, Hannah was only two and I honestly thought my marriage was over and our growing little family would be forever fractured. I was so overwhelmed with despair and the crushing reality that my marriage, my life as I knew it with the only man I’d ever loved, was not what I thought it was; that our story was not going to end the way I had always planned and hoped for.

I remember one night lying on our bed just sobbing in the most ugly way you can imagine, barely able to breathe through the tears and it actually felt like I was being suffocated because the grief and despair was pressing in on me so much.

In that hour of desperation I cried out to God and prayed similar words to what Jesus prayed in the garden: “Dear God, please take away this pain. Take away my suffering.” And then I prayed, “Tell me what to do! Please tell me your will.”

And I heard God so clearly in that moment…and I think maybe we never hear him more clearly than when we are in this place of soul-crushing pain and despair…but He said to me: “Stay.”

Of course, I don’t know what Jesus heard when he was praying in the garden that night. But given that on the second and third time he prayed Jesus said: “If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done,” (Matthew 26:42) I believe Jesus heard God. I believe God confirmed what Jesus had to do. I believe God spoke to his heart and told him that his agony would be relieved, but only after he walked through the pain. He couldn’t go around it because God had a bigger plan, and Jesus’s death and crucifixion was the cornerstone of that plan. He was to become the “spotless lamb of God” to take upon the sins of the world. (John 1:9)

When I heard God that night telling me to stay, it was because He had a greater plan for my marriage, for me and my husband, and my children. It was greater than what I could see in that moment. We would have to go through months and years of struggle and pain before it was fully revealed. But now, today? I really can’t imagine my life having taken a different path.

Of course Jesus’s anguish was much greater than anything that we could ever imagine or even go through, and I don’t mean to belittle it by comparing it to my own struggles. But if you’ve ever been in a dark place, if you’ve had a season of extreme pain and brokenness, you know how hard it is. So we can take that and imagine how much deeper Jesus’s anguish would have been. Yet he submitted himself to God’s will. He trusted God to take the lead, even if it meant leading him directly to the most brutal, humiliating pain imaginable.

I think maybe we never hear God more clearly than when we are in a place of soul-crushing pain and despair.

Jesus prayed to God in Gethsemane, which was actually an olive grove on the Mount of Olives. Historians believe that there would have been olive oil presses in this place. In fact the Hebrew word for Gethsemane literally means “press of oil” (gat shemen).

While I was preparing for my teaching I did some research on how olive oil was made in Jesus’s time. The olives were placed in a large circular basin in which a great wheel-shaped millstone rolled in a circle crushing the olives — pit and all. The pulp was then collected in baskets, which were stacked several layers high in stone pits. A stone weight was placed on top of the baskets, and a heavy wooden beam, with one end in a hole in the wall nearby (often these presses were found in caves) was placed across the pile of baskets. Stone weights were hung from the beam, applying enormous pressure to the olives and squeezing the oil from the pulp. It was a multi-step process so that every bit of oil could be extracted and used.

[Here’s a great video if you want to learn more about this process].

The olive has to be crushed and then pressed with an enormous amount of pressure — multiple times — before it can produce oil.

Sometimes we have to be crushed before we can fully deny ourselves and rely wholly on God. Before we can fulfill God’s predestined plans. But we are never required to do it alone.

Jesus had to suffer and die on the cross before we could be saved, but God was with him in the garden and on the cross. (Luke 22:43, 23:44-46)

My marriage had to go through a period of brokenness to get to a better, stronger place, but God was with me and David in our darkest hours.

God is not in the business of giving us easy.

God is in the business of redemption.

Are your core values what’s driving you?

I clicked the button to confirm my account and the first question popped up: “What are your core values?”

And I had to stop and think. I wasn’t expecting such a deep question from an app.

I was working in my new goal tracking app, Lifetick, and thinking I would just enter in my goals for 2018 and a set a few deadlines and notifications and be done with it. But before I could do that, this app wanted to know my core values.

You see the app takes a pyramid approach where you first identify core values, then set goals based on each core value, and lastly you can set-up specific tasks tied to each goal. This approach is not unfamiliar to me, as it’s very similar to how I’ve had to approach every marketing or business plan I’ve ever worked on (hello grad school, thanks for drilling that into my head!). But for some reason I had never stopped to take that same kind of tiered approach to my personal life. And as I sat there staring at that question on the screen it was a total epiphany moment for me.

Why would I spend my time doing anything or striving for any goal if I couldn’t tie it back to a core value? Or another way of putting that, if I couldn’t identify how my daily tasks and goals were supporting one of my core values, maybe it was time to rethink how I spend my time.

After some thought and reflection, here are the three core values I came up with:

  1. To pursue a relationship with Jesus Christ.
  2. To be a good steward of all that God has given me.
  3. To let the light of Jesus shine through me.

These might seem pretty altruistic or simplistic to you, but when I thought about what I valued most, what I wanted my life to look like at the core, these were it. And you know what, tying goals to these is not very hard.

For example one of my goals is to get moving for 20 minutes a day for the next 30 days. This directly aligns with core value #2 because God gave me this body, and if I don’t take care of it I’m not being a good steward of the gift He’s offered.

It also made me re-look at some of my goals and see if things were a bit imbalanced in my life or didn’t tie-back to a core value. Did I have any goals set that would directly support my core value of pursuing a relationship with Jesus? How did my work goals support my core values?

For now, I’ve only set-up four goals. I’m sure there will be more to come over time, but by keeping a focus on my core values, I was able to give myself permission to take a few things off my list. I’m making sure all of my time and energy is spent pursuing things that tie into the core of who I strive to be as a person. It’s also given me a greater sense of purpose for each of these goals because I can see the big picture. Getting fit isn’t just something I should be doing because everyone says so, or because I feel pressure to do so, it’s something I should be doing to honor God and take care of the body He gave me. That certainly lends a level of motivation I didn’t have before.

Do you know what your core values are? Do you see a direct link between your goals and daily tasks and these values? Maybe spend some time thinking about this and writing down your values. You don’t need an app to do this, but Lifetick is free and so far has been very easy to use!

 

 

photo credit: wuestenigel 2018 Goals in Notebook with a Pen via photopin (license)

 

The Ugly Truth of an Overwhelmed Mom and Resentful Wife

I’m excited to announce that I’ve joined the writing team over at Her View From Home, a lifestyle magazine that connects your view to the rest of the world; embracing everyday living through daily articles about family, kids, fashion and health, recipes and faith. Below is an excerpt from my first article.

It’s 10:30 p.m. and I’m exhausted.

The kids have been in bed for an hour, and my husband is asleep on the couch next to me. I shut down the laptop, turn off the TV, and pick up the cordless house phone to put in the charger. I am aware that if I don’t remember to do this tonight we won’t have use of our home phone the next day because someone has used the other handset, forgotten to put it back, and now it’s lost with a dead battery, somewhere in my house.

I pass by the dog’s food dish and see the child responsible for feeding her did not refill the water bowl, so I stop to fill it. I start to climb the steps to the upstairs, picking up a lost sock, a forgotten toy, and dirty dish towel along the way. With each step I climb, I feel the resentment growing inside of me.

I am the director, the scheduler, the planner, the seer, the doer, the organizer, and the manager.

Why don’t they remember to turn off the lights, and pick-up their shoes, and run the dishwasher, and sweep up the spilled cat food without being asked?

To read the full post, click here.

And while you’re at it, give them a like on Facebook.

90 days of thanks and giving, part 2

In the big picture, 90 days is just a tiny blip on the timeline of my life. A small fraction of the days I have spent here on earth, and hope to spend in the future. But when you’re in the midst of something really challenging, or when you’re waiting for something, 90 days can feel like an eternity.

Ninety days ago I began an experiment, set-out on a small journey, to see what it would be like to practice intentional gratitude every day for three months. I wish I could tell you that this challenge got easier the longer I did it. That, like working out or going to bed early, once I made the commitment and stuck to it for a month or two it became routine. But the truth is, finding something to be grateful for has often been difficult. Once I got through the obvious ones (my kids, my husband, my job, etc.) I had to really examine my world to find something new each day, made more challenging on the really hard days.

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Unfortunately, the last 90 days have not been a season where things just seem to fall into place, and life flows along at a normal pace. It’s been a really, really hard three months in so many ways — emotionally, spiritually, relationally, financially, physically, etc. In fact, as I was writing this post my husband informed me that the dealer called…our SVU needs over $6,000 in repairs. *sigh* The hard continues.

But here’s what I’ve learned in this season, while doing this experiment:
God wants our gratitude and praise, even when we seem in short-supply of praise-worthy things.

Of course it’s easy to be thankful for all we have once per year, when looking around at the sum total. And of course it’s easy to be grateful when sickness is healed, and bills are paid, and the house is clean, and marriages are strong, and children are happy. But if we are only able to express gratitude when we feel blessed, then we have misunderstood the complexity and abundance of God’s love and provision.

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In Philippians, Paul tell us to: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:4-6)

What really gets me about this scripture is how much Paul repeats himself in just three verses. Twice he tells us to rejoice. Then he emphasizes the frequency in which we should rejoice and be thankful, saying “always” and “in every situation.” His main point is pretty clear. Paul doesn’t say to rejoice only when things are good. He doesn’t say to speak with thanksgiving only in the month of November. He says to do these things all of the time because “the Lord is near.”

And that’s it! That’s the only reason we need. The only catalyst to feel gratitude or to live a life of thanks and praise is God’s presence in our lives.

This is what the last 90 days have taught me. That when I stop and look, I can see God’s presence in my life every day.

When I am exhausted and worn down from the events of the day, I can see His presence in the quiet minutes after I crawl into bed.
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When I’m stressed about financial burdens, I can see His presence in my daughter opening her first savings account and earning her own money.
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When I’m filled with worry and anxiety over my son, I can see God’s presence in my son’s smile while tossing the football with his dad.
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When life feels messy, and hard, and overwhelming, I can see God’s presence in a group of friends gathered in our living room, praying together.
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So for 90 days this has been my objective, to find these moments, this evidence of God’s presence. As I already admitted, it hasn’t been easy. Many times I’ve been distracted by my own wants and worries and fears, and I’ve had to really work to see past this, to see God.

But He is steadfast. He is always near.

So I’m gonna keep on looking. I’m going to keep praising Him. I’m going to keep on coming to Him with thanksgiving, “in every situation.”

Even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard.

 

#90daysof Thanksand Giving

 

This is the conclusion of my 90 day challenge. To read about how it all began, click here.

The 52 days that gave me strength and hope

“God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.” – Psalm 46:4

Recently I was looking at Facebook and a collection of my “September memories” popped up. At first glance, I smiled thinking about all the joy and special times that had come in September. But the reality is there were also a lot of not-so-great moments, struggles that left me feeling very depleted and scared.

In late-August my son was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and an Anxiety disorder. It came as a shock to us. We had started seeing a new doctor in May to help with medication management for ADHD, which he’d been diagnosed with when he was six. We never expected that the new psychiatrist would tell us he actually did not have ADHD, but instead had OCD and Anxiety.

The last week of August he came off his ADHD medication and began to take medication for OCD and Anxiety. The first week he didn’t sleep for five days straight. It was awful.

By day six he started to sleep and we thought the worse was over. But then he began having these fits of rage and complete loss of self-control. He’s always struggled with controlling his emotions, something that we thought was part of the ADHD and now know is due to his anxiety — but this was different. The first time it happened we were at a playground and he was fighting with his sister so I made him sit down and lose play time. He got so angry he tried to flip over the picnic table and I thought for a moment he might strike me. It really took me by surprise.

Then the next week he had a similar incident at school where he couldn’t gain self-control and ended up screaming at a teacher and kicking over a chair. When I got the call from the school I cried the entire 30 minute drive to pick him up.

It’s a terrible thing to see your child struggling and feel completely incapable of helping him.

But I do believe that God always equips us with exactly what we need to survive the trials and hardships we go through. And it just so happens that the same week we received the formal diagnosis of OCD and Anxiety I had decided to do a 90 day thanks and giving challenge, in the 90 days leading up to Thanksgiving. In fact, it was literally the day before my son started on the new medication that I began this challenge. Two seemingly unrelated things. But I can tell you now, 53 days later, this was not an accident.

Yes, September was hard. I had a lot of fear – fear of not being capable of helping my son, fear of not finding the right medicine, fear of having made the wrong choice to allow him to be medicated, fear we didn’t have the right physician to help us, fear that I was completely unequipped to help a son with OCD and anxiety, fear of how others were watching and judging my son for his behavior, fear we would have to pull him out of school.

Many days I felt completely drained by the time evening came. And in those moments I think it would be easy to stay consumed by that fear, to feel hopeless, and empty. But because I had this need to find something to be grateful for each day or to do something for someone else, I wasn’t able to be consumed by my own fear and hopelessness.

I believe when we actively seek out the beauty, the joy, the blessings in our lives, we are reminded that we not only have a good Father, but we have a God who follows through on His promises.

Yesterday was Day 52 of this journey. We were in church singing about miracles when I felt my son’s hand on my arm. I looked down and saw he was trying to tell me something. This is not unusual, my kids are always trying to ask me something right in the middle of worship. Usually something really important like, “Can I get another donut?” or “Can I go sit with Kaley’s family?” But as I leaned down close to his face to hear what he was saying over the worship music, his words caught be by surprise: “I love you.” Those were the words he had to tell me right in that moment we were singing about God’s miracles, the words that were so important they couldn’t wait till later.

I know our journey with OCD and anxiety, with medication and doctors, with fights over homework and stress about chores is not over. But as I stood there feeling the warmth of my son’s hand on my arm and absorbed the urgency of his words, I felt hope rise up. And as I look at the photos and posts from the last 52 days that Facebook put together, I can see some of the fear, worry, and fatigue that was there, but I mostly see the joy and gratitude I sought after each day.

It’s been impossible for me to lose hope or forget just how much God loves me and loves my son because every day for the last 52 days I have looked for something to be thankful for and every day for the last 52 days I have been able to find multiple things. I have seen how God provides for and protects my family. And I am reassured that His ways are better than mine and that He has a plan for my son, even if I can’t understand what it is.

By living in intentional gratitude, I have been able to lean into God and find hope and strength in Him; I’ve felt the warmth and urgency of His “I love you”.

Psalm 46:4

If you are interested in beginning the practice of intentional gratitude, download this free Bold, Brave & Blessed journal. It can be saved to your computer, or printed to help you recognize your fears, live in gratitude, and put your trust in God.

photo credit: Stuck in Customs LA Photowalk Kid via photopin (license)