Tag Archives: strength in the Lord

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

Shutting down and shutting out

I shut the door to my son’s room to muffle the sound of his screaming and crying from the other side, promising me he’d be a good listener if I would just please not send him to bed early.

I shut off the light in the kitchen so I wouldn’t have to see the sink full of dirty dishes and the stack of recycling waiting to be taken out.

I shut the lid to my laptop, deciding the 65 unread messages would have to wait another day and the blog post I’d been working on for days would go another night unfinished, unpublished.

I walked into my bedroom and shut the door on the unvacuumed floors, and unfinished science fair projects scattered from one end of the room to the other.

Then I lay on my bed and shut my eyes, wanting to shut out the day, the world.

And I heard a whisper deep within my soul “don’t shut me out, too.”

Here’s the thing: sometimes my day-to-day life feels like too much for me to handle and all I want to do is shut-down and pull the covers over my head. This week was one of those weeks. I felt like I was drowning in a sea of dirty dishes and conference calls. By Wednesday I was too tired to keep my head above water. That was the night I shut my bedroom door and, with tired body and depleted soul, collapsed into bed, hoping to escape from everyone and everything on the other side of that door.

But in those first moments after my head hit the pillow and I started to slip into self-pity, I heard God’s voice: “don’t shut me out, too.” And it was then that I realized I had not let God into my week. I had been so caught up in the long list of “to-do’s” I had failed to invite God into my messy kitchen, or cluttered family room for a visit. I didn’t ask Him to look at my full calendar or flooded inbox and give me guidance. Honestly, I don’t know if it was because I was so caught-up in my own “stuff” that I forgot to seek Him or if it was because a part of me felt like these little daily stresses were not important enough to take to Him. Maybe a little of both. But I can tell you that as soon as I realized what I had done, I felt a bit foolish.

In Isaiah chapter 41 God says, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand…For I hold you by your right hand—I, the LORD your God. And I say to you, ‘Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.'” (Isaiah 41: 10, 13, NLT)

Don’t you just love the imagery of God’s very words to His people? I read these verses and I can just feel Him by my side, wanting to be there and to comfort me.

I feel like I’m drowning in chores and work and parenting demands and God says “I will hold you up.” I feel like I am weak with fatigue and worry and He says “I will strengthen you and help you.” I am lost and unsure what to do next or how to get it all done and He says come, I will “hold you by your right hand” and lead you. I want to shut out the world and pull the covers over my head and He whispers, “Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.”

Isaiah 41:13

We are taught in Sunday school that there is nothing too big for God to handle, but we must remember there is nothing too small for Him either. He wants to be invited in to our messy house and our messy life. He wants to sit next to us and have a good long look at that “to-do” list and help us prioritize. He wants to hold our hand and help us take deep breaths when our children are throwing temper-tantrums.

My friends, whatever you are struggling with, whatever has you feeling drained and bested, don’t hide from it behind closed doors. I encourage you to invite God to come along side of you. Because there’s nothing He can’t handle…even dirty dishes.

The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week that really wasn’t

It’s not been a pretty week. In fact it’s been a down-right hairy-warts, black teeth, and yellow eyes kind of ugly.

Some of you might not know this, but my day job entails managing a large network of websites for a global IT company. This past weekend we had a major deployment to the site. I’ve been through a number of these in my career and I’m here to tell you managing online systems is not for the faint of heart. Something always goes wrong! You just pray and hope it’s not something major and it can be fixed quickly.

My team had a whole weekend of fixing and testing and sitting-on-the-edge-of-our-seats waiting. But finally, on Sunday afternoon it looked like the major issues were resolved and we wouldn’t have to roll back before New Zealand started their Monday in a few hours. My team and our IT engineers had been working nights and weekends preparing and most of them hadn’t slept at all in the last 48 hours. So it was with a huge sigh of relief that everyone was sent off to bed to rest up for the next morning.

Monday came and all felt good. The deployment was a success and I was beyond thrilled for myself and my team because we really wanted needed this one. You see, last year we had a crazy big project where we essentially re-did the entire website from the ground up (I don’t recommend this. Ever). To say it didn’t go well would be a huge understatement. We dealt with the fall-out for months afterwards and it almost sent me to the hospital. Seriously, I would feel sick every morning before I logged on to my computer, dreading what emails would come my way with complaints, rants, and new issues that cropped up over-night. I was a complete ball of stress and anxiety and it manifested into physical illness multiple times.

So when I say we needed this one to go well, let me tell you we really needed it. Monday felt good. I sent out emails proudly announcing the successful deployment. And except for a small handful of people (haters gonna hate) the response from colleagues was encouraging and positive.

Then Tuesday morning came and things were not good. The site was loading at a snail’s pace and crashing every few hours. Registration forms were not loading or they had error messages, and the dreaded emails started to roll in.

Thankfully I work with the best team in the world. Seriously. They are the smartest, hardest working, most dedicated group of people I’ve ever seen. Our engineers immediately started working with our developers to sort out the issues. Unfortunately, every time they thought they’d gotten to the bottom of it, the site would crash again.

I will skip past all of the details and reasons, as even I don’t fully understand all of the technical stuff and this isn’t a blog about website development. But let’s just say that it was Friday before the site was stabilized and that’s mostly due to temporary measures put into place. We still don’t have a solution for the root cause. And of course, I was in damage control mode as the angry emails from frustrated stakeholders flooded our in-boxes.

But.

Here’s the thing:

I did not breakdown and cry or worry myself sick, or cower under my covers and fear starting my workday. I didn’t attach myself to the laptop monitoring every email and update at all hours of the day and night or go into hiding from my family so I could focus only on work. In fact, I did the opposite. I smiled. I laughed and shook my head at some of the angry notes. I thanked our engineers for their unending dedication to resolve the issue. I slept. I sat on my porch and read a book. I watched my son perform his “bike show” he’d been rehearsing for a week in our cul de sac. I ate dinner with my kids every evening and cuddled in bed with them every night.

But most of all, I stayed close to God. I studied the word and prayed every day. And this. This is what made the difference, because I was able to maintain perspective. Instead of getting swallowed up in the worry and stress and making it all about me, I was reminded that it’s all about Him. Life is so much bigger, so much more important than some problems at work. I have little people I need to care for and nurture and love on. I have to care for and nurture myself, too. Because that ball of stress and anxiety I was last year? She was not pretty or much fun to be around. She was overwhelmed and a bit lost. And I don’t really care to meet her again.

Psalm 18: 1-2

Now, I don’t want you to get the wrong impression. I’m not saying I have this all figured out. There were still moments this week when I felt stress and worry. I got annoyed at my husband for something he did or didn’t do and let it flow into a full-blown argument. And I’m sure I yelled at my kids once or twice (sometimes I’m not sure if I’m yelling or my natural volume when speaking to my kids has just gotten that loud). But, for the most part I was able to keep things in perspective and know that it was all going to be OK.

So, as it turns out. This ugly, horrible, no good, very bad week…well it really wasn’t.

This was my prayer this week. If you want to write it down and use it next time you’re having a rough day or week, or even a rough season, please do.

Father in heaven, thank you so much for loving me and being with me this week. Lord, life is not always easy, and sometimes it’s just down-right ugly. But I take comfort in knowing that you are bigger than any of the stress, worry or ugliness that may come my way. Help me to remember this when I start to make it all about me. Remind me to give it over to you and lean on you when I need strength. You are my rock and my shield, always faithful even when I am not. Thank you, thank you. Amen.