Tag Archives: hope

Mom, are we still moving to Canada?

“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.” Galatians 5:13-15

About 12 months ago I was in the car with my kids and, I don’t remember how the topic came up but, I recall uttering the words, “If Trump is elected President we’re moving to Canada!” Maybe not my finest parenting moment, but it was an honest reflection of how I felt at that moment and continued to feel over the coming months as I watched events that led up to the election in November.

During that time our kids asked a lot of questions of my husband and I about who we planned to vote for (spoiler: we did not agree on this) and why. In the past, I have mostly kept politics out of conversations with my kids, but 2016, as you know, was one big media frenzy and even 11 and 13 year olds without phones or social media knew what was going on. They heard talk at school, and caught bits of sound bites on the TV. So I tried to be honest with them about my views and reasoning in a manner that was both age-appropriate and processed through a lens of kindness and fairness, and not the fear or anger that had fueled the moving to Canada comment.

Still that comment stuck with my kids, and they have asked several times over the last two months if we were really going to move to Canada.

I have struggled to find a suitable response for my kids, not because I’m not sure if we’re moving (we are not) but because I don’t know how to express my thoughts and feelings in an honest way while also ensuring they will not be filled with fear or doubt about the security of their future.

To be perfectly honest, I have spent the last few months trying to process my feelings about what the next 4-8 years will hold. My Facebook news feed is pretty well split down the middle between people who are angry and scared, and people filled with hope and satisfaction. I’ve tried to take nothing personal. I haven’t unfriended anyone, or posted any scathing commentary on my wall or anyone else’s. I’ve read the articles and watched the videos and just tried to understand what is fueling each person’s feelings. People I truly love and respect on either side of the coin…and I’ve been trying to look for the common ground…the meet in the middle. And it’s been elusive.

I’ve read posts from those who are scared for their futures, and that of their children, called to protest and exercise their free speech. And I understand the why behind that fear and celebrate the passion and drive to exercise their Constitutional freedoms, but still struggled with whether it is a step toward solidarity and a better tomorrow or just fueling division.

I’ve read commentary from those with high hopes and expectations, waiting to see the change they expect and have hoped for. And I believe they truly want the best and right things for their children and for this country. But I have struggled with whether frustration with status quo hasn’t allowed too many to believe change at any cost is still needed change, or that the ends justify the means.

I’ve read heart-felt articles from others who felt there was no good option available and, feeling let down by their country they have decided the best thing to do is pray and leave it all in God’s hands. While I have agreed with the importance of praying and remembering who is ultimately in control, I have still struggled with whether that approach will lead to apathy and give people permission to withdraw and hide.

And so I haven’t been able to find where I fit, to which camp I align.  They all seem to be missing something. And call me naive, but I’ve felt, deep down, surely there must be a place where we can all come together and figure out how we take that next step toward tomorrow, a step toward good and right and fair, and a better tomorrow for our children, even if we disagree with one another on exactly what that step should look like.

Then today, I read this article from the Chicago Tribune citing President Obama’s final thoughts as President, thoughts on what tomorrow and the future will look like for his daughters. And this was it. This was what I had been feeling but didn’t know how to articulate. In particular, this quote is what stood out to me: “They need to be active citizens, and they have to be in a position to talk to their friends and their teachers and their future coworkers in ways that try to shed some light as opposed to just generate a lot of sound and fury.”

He was, of course talking about his daughters. But it could really be about all of us. About every American becoming an active citizen and doing something to elicit the change they desire. Every person being willing to talk openly and honestly in a way that is respectful and kind, instead of  belligerent, arrogant, or defensive. Every person wanting and striving to be a light of hope and unity instead of a cloud of anger and division.

So to all of my friends and family who are scared about the future and angry that our Presidential office is not being held to higher standards, I say: Call your congressman and senator, sign petitions, write letters, go march. Let your voice be heard (and not just on Facebook and Twitter). Exercise your right to be an American. But remember while you are doing it how it is a right, but also a privilege many don’t have and that makes us lucky to live here.

To my friends and family who are excited and optimistic about what tomorrow will bring and hoping for great change, I say: Keep being optimistic! We need hope and optimism right now. But just remember that while there might be drastic changes needed to our overall political system, change should not come at any price. And what’s more, change never happened at the hands of just one person, so we should never put all of our hope in one office.

And to my friends and family who feel they have no choice but to leave things in God’s hands, trusting Him as sovereign over all men, I say: Yes. Yes He is. So let’s keep praying. But also, let’s go serve at a soup kitchen, pick up a hammer and help build a house, sign up to be a big brother or sister, and buy a cup of coffee for the person in line behind you. Let’s trust God has this, but not use that as an excuse to hide in our homes waiting out the next four years or become complacent about the realities around us.

To my children, I say: No, we are not moving to Canada. Because there is a lot of work to be done to keep America great. In our home, at school, and in our community there are things we can do every day to show love, compassion, and acceptance. Because that is where the heart of our nation beats…not in a big white house on Pennsylvania Avenue.

galatians5
photo credit: Thomas Hawk Flag via photopin (license)
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I choose hope

It’s been a hard couple of weeks to be an American, to be a human, to be a Christian. Tragedy has struck families and communities in Michigan, Louisiana, and Dallas. Innocent people were terrorized in Bangladesh and nearly 300 lives lost in Baghdad at the hands of terrorists. And I know the list doesn’t end here.

It’s easy to ask “why” and “how” when we read headlines and see videos of senseless tragedy, hate, anger and death. It paints a grim picture of the world we live in and feelings of doubt and worry over the future our children will inherit.

I know many Christians who feel the world no longer offers hope for change, or they feel things can only get worse, and they have started predicting, and even praying for, the end times.

But I’m just gonna say it out loud: I hope they’re wrong.

That my fellow Christians praying for Jesus to come back tomorrow, don’t get to see it in their lifetime. And here’s why:

In the midst of the tragedy and loss, I still see hope.

At the perimeter, in the headlines, we live in a dangerous world where evil gets center stage and every morning you hold your breath waiting to hear what horrible tragedy struck overnight. It’s hard to have faith that anything will ever change, that evil will ever be destroyed or at least slowed down.

But on the inside, below the headlines, in communities and homes and hospitals and churches, there is another story. It is a story where volunteers rally around grieving families who have lost their homes, possessions, and loved ones, providing for their basic needs.

It is a story where children are selling lemonade to raise money for cancer research and teens are spending their summer vacations serving in impoverished communities to build churches, teach the Gospel, and share love.

It is a story where marriages are being restored, friendships repaired, and forgiveness is offered in abundance.

It is a story of hurting, lost people finding healing through a community that loves and supports them in the name of Jesus Christ.*

These are the real stories I see Every. Single. Day. And I am filled with hope.

They are not attention-grabbing, headline-stealing stories. They are not even stories of hundreds of lives and hearts being changed in a single week. They are about one at a time: one life given to Christ, one heart healed, one relationship restored.

 

There’s an old song that we used to sing at summer camp every year when I was kid. I’m pretty sure they still sing it.

“It only takes a spark to get a fire going.

And soon all those around can warm up from its glowing.

That’s how it is with God’s love.

Once you’ve experienced it, you spread His love to everyone.

You want to pass it on.”

one at a time

On the inside, in our schools and churches, homes and communities, there is a glow, a radiating warmth. It is not extinguished in the midst of tragedy, loss, pain, and anger, but rather it becomes a beacon of light and promise.

Because a candle burns brightest in darkness.

And there are so many who are called and driven, with a sense of urgency, to spread that light, not because of their own desire or goodness, but because The Light is so brilliant it cannot be contained.

There are more lives yet to be touched, healed, warmed, welcomed, comforted and loved. There is still so much work to be done. I believe God is entrusting us, using us to do more for Him before it is all over.

And I am filled with hope for the future.

 

*The examples in this post are based on real people and events I have witnessed in just the last 6 months.

 

photo credit: candle without wind via photopin (license)

God is bigger than my pain

Spring has begun here in Winchester, VA. The temps are rising and the daffodils and crocuses in my yard have just started to bloom, looking like sleepy maidens trying to awake from a long winter’s rest. This time of year is a beautiful reminder of fresh beginnings, new starts, and of course the miracle of resurrection.

I can’t imagine better timing for the release of my friend Crystal Sutherland’s new book, Journey to Heal: 7 Essential Steps of Recovery for Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse. While we still have a little over one month to wait for Journey to Heal to reach stores, I am honored and blessed to be part of Crystal’s book launch team, and was recently given the opportunity to read the first few chapters of her book. As I started to read, the primary message that leapt off the pages and into my heart is that God is bigger than our pain. His ability to heal will far surpass anything we can fathom. Crystal emphasizes this truth by sharing some of her story of healing – the healing of her heart and soul, and the healing of certain relationships.

In my own life I have experienced similar circumstances and been humbled by God’s awesome power to heal, especially within my family relationships. I confess, I have not always understood the importance of working at healing and restoring fractured relationships. At times it has seemed much easier to just walk away. But by my mid-20’s I started to realize that even if I walked away I still had to carry the burden of hurt, anger and pain – in fact walking away just made the baggage I was hauling heavier. This was especially true for me in my relationship with my mother. I had spent years waiting to hear the words “I believe you” and “I’m sorry,” thinking these would be the magic words to cure all, and as time passed, without even realizing it, the seed of bitterness grew larger in my heart.

Click here to continue reading the rest at CrystalSutherland.org

 

Healing in Pine Ridge: Part One

On October 3rd, 2015 ten of us landed in the tiny airport of Rapid City, SD. Four more were making the long drive from Virginia to South Dakota, and our group of 14 would be spending the week working on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Who knew so much could happen in one week?

This is part one. To read part two, click here.

Why Pine Ridge?
Five months ago I knew little about Pine Ridge Reservation or the Oglala Lakota that call it home. Very little.

I had read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee years ago, and vaguely remember hearing about the plight of the North American Plains Indian at an Indigo Girls concert back in my college days. But beyond that I couldn’t tell you much. What I was oblivious to five months ago is now what consumes much of my thoughts and has taken up permanent residence in my heart.

Pine Ridge Reservation encompasses about 2 million acres along the southern border of South Dakota — it is roughly the size of Connecticut. Home to the Oglala Lakota, one of the seven bands of Lakota tribe within the Sioux Nation, Pine Ridge has roughly 32,000 people living within its borders.

Pine Ridge Reservation

Oglala Lakota County, which encompasses most of the reservation, is the second poorest county (based on per capita income) within the United States. The unemployment rate is estimated between 80-90%, with very little businesses or jobs available on the reservation.

The alcoholism rate is estimated at 80% and 1 in 4 infants are born with fetal alcohol syndrome or related effects. But perhaps the worst epidemic within Pine Ridge is the rate of suicides. A reported 30 suicides have occurred within the last year, and between December 2014-March 2015 there were 103 reported attempts. Most of these attempts were made by teens and young adults, with the teen suicide rate in Pine Ridge being four times the national average.

Life expectancy in Pine Ridge is the lowest in the United States, and the second lowest in the entire Western Hemisphere, only after Haiti.

(Sources: www.re-member.org and NY Times)

Once you learn something like this, you can never unlearn it. Now that I know this — know that there is a forgotten place smack in the middle of the U.S. with a forgotten people who are struggling to survive, struggling to find hope — everything has changed for me.

Five months ago when a man I had never met stood up in front of our church one Sunday and shared these statistics and some of the stories behind them, all I could think was “I have to go.”

Getting there and getting to work
Making the decision to go was an easy one. Getting there proved a bit harder. The weeks leading up to the trip were full of challenges and I felt a full-on attack from the enemy. I thought about cancelling. My presence wasn’t really needed that much, I reasoned, the team would get along fine without me. Of course, what I didn’t consider was how much I needed to be there.

Within three hours of landing in South Dakota I sprained my ankle. I’ll share more about that story in Part Two, but let’s just say that I was pretty much ready to throw in the towel at that point. Thankfully, God is steadfast and merciful, even when I am missing the big picture and wavering in my faith.

The mission we were coming to support is called Restoration Church, led by missionary Wade M. Wade and his family, who also served as missionaries in West Africa for many years, have been working with the people of Pine Ridge for about four years. The original Restoration Church is located in the capital of the reservation, also called Pine Ridge. The heart of the ministry is to love and serve the people of Pine Ridge the way Jesus loved and served. They offer a food pantry, emergency assistance, counseling, a prison ministry, and do work to improve living conditions on the reservation, such as home repairs.

While driving through the reservation you will see a number of church buildings, most of them are relics left over from when the reservation was first established over 130 years ago and assimilation was the primary goal. I won’t go into politics here, as is my general policy with this blog, but no matter what you believe about the history of our country and decisions made, the bottom-line is within the reservation Christianity is largely associated with the government and government actions from the last 130 years, and therefore there is a general sentiment of mistrust when it comes to the church.

The approach of Wade and the rest of the team at Restoration to serve within the community has earned respect, and a reputation for being genuine and honorable. In large part due to this, just three weeks before our team arrived Wade and team were granted use of a second location, in the town of Kyle, about 55 minutes drive from the location in Pine Ridge. The building had sat unused for years following a bad experience with a previous church in residence. Getting approval for use of the building from the council leader, who is not a Christian, was significant. And the timing of our arrival was providential.

We attended church service in Kyle, their third service since securing the building, the day after our arrival. As we took inventory of what needed to be done, the list seemed endless. The floor was a bare concrete slab; only one bathroom worked and was in bad shape; lights were out, walls needed patched, and a mountain of boxes of left-behind items filled the room that needed to become a nursery; the kitchenette where we helped prepare lunch that day was the kind of dirty that only a paint scraper, a gallon of vinegar and several hours of work could fix; the yard was overgrown, screens were torn and the front door didn’t lock. That’s just what we saw on the first day. As the week continued we also uncovered HVAC, electrical and plumbing issues.

We had 14 people of varying skill level, and only five working days to get as much accomplished as possible. Like the loaves and fishes, God somehow managed to multiply our time and resources and when we left, I say with no ounce of pride, it was a completely transformed building.

Before: Exterior
Before: Exterior
After: Exterior
After: Exterior
Before: Main room
Before: Main room
After - main room
After – main room
After: Main room
After: Main room
Before: Kitchen
Before: Kitchen
After: Kitchen
After: Kitchen
After: Kitchen
After: Kitchen
Before - Nursery
Before – Nursery
After - Nursery
After – Nursery

Healing in Pine Ridge
The day we left Pine Ridge a special event called the “Wiping of Tears” was going to take place at the building in Kyle. One of the elders, explained that the Wiping of Tears was an ancient condolence ceremony practiced by many Native American tribes, (it is done every year in Pine Ridge on the anniversary of the Wounded Knee massacre) and is seen as a time to move on from grief and suffering. This particular event was for anyone who had been impacted by or lost someone to suicide. They provided a hot meal and then prayed over those who were hurting and mourning.

We were boarding our flight in Rapid City before the event took place, but Wade has since told me that everyone that came that day was amazed by the transformation of the building. Even the council leader, who four weeks earlier had granted use of the building, could not believe the transformation. She was especially drawn to the nursery and said she wanted to bring her grandchildren there to play in that room.

The work we did in Kyle is not really about a building. It’s not about laying tile or painting walls or cleaning a kitchen. I know that a fixed-up building will not solve the problems plaguing the people of Pine Ridge.

But God can.

On the surface it may just look like a safe, clean, nice place to receive a hot meal, be prayed over, and receive the love of Jesus. But my God can do more. He can use this building to heal hearts, provide hope to the lost, and even save lives. I’ve seen what He’s doing and I can tell you healing is happening in Pine Ridge.

To hear the rest of the story, read Healing in Pine Ridge: Part 2.

If you’ve been convicted by what you’ve read and feel led to do something, here are four things you can do right now to help the people of Pine Ridge and the mission of Restoration Church:

  1. Watch this video and then go and tell people about the healing that is happening in Pine Ridge! Creating awareness is key to solving this problem.
  2. Pray for the people of Pine Ridge, for the team at Restoration Church, for Pastor Wade and his family.
  3. Go and serve. Grace Community Church in Winchester, VA is planning another trip in May. If you are local and would like more information, please email me: jelise@neitherheightnordepth.com.
  4. Give financially. If you feel led to give financially, you can mail a check to:
    Restoration Church
    938 Walnut Ave.

    Hot Springs, SD 57747

    Restoration Church has a 501c3 status and donations are tax deductible.

    UPDATE: About 12 hours after I finished this blog post and hit “publish” I got an update from Wade. Included was a link to this video he put together documenting the transformation of the building in Kyle. He also let us know that one of the women we met while we were there decided to give her life to Jesus and was baptized since we left. God is good!

Guest post: Hope and the Messiness of Spring’s Thaw

Kim Gunderson is one of those people who leaves a lasting imprint on your heart, even if you only just met her. That’s how it was for me after meeting Kim at the She Speaks conference last July. We sat together at one of the meals and talked for a bit, and I just knew from those few moments she was someone who had been anointed by God to encourage moms and dads and love on others who were hurting and needed hope. Her writing is honest and beautiful, and often brings me to tears. I’m so honored to be able to share this guest post from Kim.

 

Have you ever wondered if God has a sense of humor? Last month, Jelise reached out to ask if I’d like to write a guest post for her blog. Id love to! I quickly responded. After chatting, I decided to write about the one thing I believe many need to hear: hope. Hope that there is more to life than what we see. Hope that God is real and he really does mean all that his Word says. Hope that pain and sorrow don’t last forever. Hope that joy really does come in the morning.

As quickly as I settled on the topic, I tumbled headlong into the darkest pit I’ve experienced in years. A pit so deep, I wondered if I’d ever see light again. The feeling of hopelessness stormed my heart with the fierceness of a midwest thunderstorm. Funny how God allows that to happen – a return to hopelessness just as I need to write about hope.

The month of March is pretty significant for my family. Not only is it my birthday month, but nestled right in the beginning is the anniversary of my youngest daughter’s death.

Yes, I’m one of those moms, a mom who lost a child living everyone’s worst nightmare. The kind you’ve heard about, aren’t sure how to react once you meet, and who often surprise people into silence when asked, how many kids do you have?  After all, how do you respond when someone shares, two by choice, two by birth and the youngest of those two is in heaven?

My youngest daughter, Emma, was born into a blended family 15 years ago. She arrived two weeks early and kept me on my toes every moment after. For 5 years, Emma brought pure joy as her giggles filled our home and her squeezes made any day better. She belonged to all five of us and truly completed our family.

Five years, one month, and fifteen days after Emma was born, she breathed her last, right on the second day of March. A normal day became a defining day, forever altering my life. A fire destroyed my home and snatched my sweet girl away. (You can read more about that story here  or here).

To say I fell headlong into a pit that day would be like saying Chicago weather is unpredictable. Obviously.

What wasn’t so obvious was how I was going to survive. Yes, I knew Jesus. Yes, I believed in him, in his Word. I mean, I worked for him (translation: I work at a church). But this? Living life on earth without my sweet girl? Living the tenuous and tender dance of joy and sorrow, love and grief, loss and hope? I didn’t want to simply survive this season of my life. I was determined to not allow it to define me. Or control me. Or keep me trapped in sorrow as my soul yearned to live.

Perhaps you can relate. Maybe you see threads of your own story interwoven among mine. Tears well up, blurring the screen because you know. You know exactly what I’m talking about – that pit of darkness where hope seems absent. You. just. know.

“Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him.” Psalm 62:5 NLT

The years following Emma’s death felt like perpetual winter. C.S. Lewis penned it this way: Always winter, and never Christmas. Waiting through the frigidness of this season became my new normal. Waiting for our house to be rebuilt. Waiting for the waves of grief to subside. Waiting to see God work, to make sense of this tragedy. Waiting to survive, to see beauty even in the sorrow. There was beauty during those years, just as there’s beauty on a winter morning as sun strikes the snow, causing it to sparkle like diamonds. Beauty surrounded us through the gifts of strangers, friends, and family. Gifts of time and resources replaced clothes and furniture, and ultimately built a beautiful new home where devastation had once reigned.

During the waiting, God provided strength to bury my sweet Emma’s body, courage to choose to trust Him, no matter what. He provided peace in the midst of chaos, and filled me with hope that His Word was true, that He knew what He had allowed and would use it for good. He drew me closer, calling others to do the same. He revealed His faithfulness through His constant presence, His whispered words of comfort, His tender declarations of love. His Truth became alive as it showed up real and tangible throughout my everyday life. He met me in the darkness of the pit and shone brightly through the love and hope and patience of his Son, Jesus.

“For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.” Isaiah 43:19 NLT

We long for the beauty of springA couple of years ago the thaw began and I started to see the “something new” that God promised. The trauma and chaos of the previous years subsided, and peace reigned. Christmas finally arrived. The days of sorrow lessened to moments. While memories of Emma still brought tears, they soothed my soul even as I yearned to hold her once more. Healing, deep, full-thickness healing occurred and I longed to embrace the beauty of spring. The dark days were behind me and life felt good again.

Until I fell into that pit a short few weeks ago. This year marked the 10th anniversary of the fire and Emma’s death. Ten years of living without her. Ten years of wondering what she’d look like, what her likes and dislikes would be. Ten years of sorrow, and ten years of experiencing God’s faithfulness each and every day.

One day as the darkness hovered near, I felt the pull to head outside to breathe the fresh air, sweeping away the cobwebs that clouded my mind. As I walked around the little lake near my rented home, I noticed it had begun to thaw. Sure, the ice was still thick towards the middle, but the outer edges had been released from its grip and the water flowed with ease. A perfect visual of the journey of my heart.

The air was warmer, too, and it felt like spring, full of hope. Yes, my soul was weary and weighty as sorrow interrupted my life once more, much like the melting snow and ice I traipsed through on my walk. As I walked, I was reminded of this hope: spring is coming. There is absolutely nothing I can do, nothing that can happen, that will stop it. I can’t wish it away, or wish it to come sooner. I can’t hide away and hibernate until its arrival. I need to walk through its ugly thaw, brown and wet and dirty. I need to take every sloshy step, feet wet, hem of my pants soaked, one step at a time, believing that beneath the ugliness of the thaw, beauty yearns to burst forth.

We don’t want the messiness, though, do we? We long for the beauty of spring’s flowers yet dread traipsing through the messiness of spring’s thaw. But the thaw is necessary for growth, providing nourishment for the months to come. Hope is a bit like that. It looks messy and uncertain, ugly and inconvenient yet so vital for our growth. Hope is like trudging through the frigid waters of melting snow, slipping in its muddy wake, shifting our eyes from the mess and fixing them on the Maker. It takes patience and strength and great courage to allow the spring thaw do its work in our hearts, to trust that work even when we can’t see the beauty just yet.

“And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.” Isaiah 58:11 (ESV)

Yes, God does have a sense of humor, and he is at work, calling hope forth from our sorrow. He’s creating something beautiful through our circumstances and in our lives, even those messy and painful parts. I suppose the question remains, are you willing to endure spring’s thaw so you can embrace the beauty of its flowers?

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Kim GundersonKim recently admitted she’s a true Midwesterner at heart, having lived in the Chicago area for the majority of her life. She loves watching the seasons change, especially as winter gives way to spring. Kim has raised four kids – two by birth, two by choice, and recently welcomed a son-in-law into her family. She’s the author of Breathing in Ashes, a memoir that shares her story of hope after the death of her youngest daughter. She also blogs over at www.abigumbrella.com and is a contributing writer for Ask God Today Ministries.

You can connect with her on:
Facebook: www.facebook.com/kim.gunderson
Instagram: www.instagram.com/abigumbrella7
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/kimabigumbrella
Email: kim@abigumbrella.com