on peace and mountains

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“I have a sickness only the ocean can cure,” I lamented to my husband.

It emerges unexpectedly, this sudden restlessness that makes me want to run to the coast, to stand before that vast expanse of water–to taste the salt and feel the cold water spray my face and remember that the world is so much bigger than just me.

I want to be reminded of how small I am. To remember that the God-man who slept while the waves tossed the boat is also the One who is before all things, and in Him all things hold together (Col. 1:17).

The ocean isn’t the only cure, of course. I can look out at the endless prairie or the unobstructed view of the stars and marvel at the God who simply spoke these things into being. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies above proclaim His handiwork” (Ps. 19:1). But am I ever paying attention? In the hustle of daily life, the details of three small children, the demands from every direction, is there really time to stop and smell the proverbial roses?

We’re in the mountains for a week. This sweet space of time where we can step out of real life and look up to the peaks reaching into the clouds and remember that we are but dust. Who are we that God gives thought to us? It’s a peaceful reflection I have anticipated for the weeks leading up to this trip. I planned to take it all in, to drink deeply of the beauty, to worship in the shadow of the mountain.

So I went on a hike with three small children.

I’m looking up at the skies, the way it outlines the mountaintops, the way the trees beautifully contrast against its blue…

“Look, Mom!”
He’s holding a dandelion.
“Let’s blow it.”

We blow the dandelion seeds into the wind. I toss the stem to the ground and march on, trying to usher my two-year-old down the path. He stops to pick up the branch of a pine tree.

“Look, Mom!”
“Uh huh,” I respond, leading the way forward.

We arrive at the destination, a breathtaking view of a lake surrounded by snow-covered mountains. After a few minutes, we’re the only ones there and the silence is mesmerizing.

“Can I put my feet in the water?”

We stumble down the rocky beach to get to the lake. I can already hear the whining of wet feet and pants on the hike back. I see visions of my children falling in the water, sliding down the rocks, soaking wet with skinned knees.

I’m irritated. I just want to stand and breathe in the silence. I start to pray. I want to believe that I didn’t actually pray that God would shut my children up so I could appreciate His creation, but at the moment, it’s all I can remember. Perhaps it really was my plea. I didn’t say it was pretty.

I thought of a section in N.D. Wilson’s book, Notes from a Tilt-a-Whirl. He describes the person praying, “God, what is your will for my life?” And God responds, “Do you see this squirrel?” The person continues to pray, “But really, God, what am I supposed to do with my life?” And God responds again, “Do you see this squirrel?”

There’s more to it than what I’m remembering, I’m sure, but ultimately it’s this picture of how we think we’re so important; how we are so consumed with our needs, our plans, our lives, that we forget to stop and breathe it all in. We forget to remember how small we are, to remember the God who cares even about the birds, who keeps the world spinning with just a word, who holds it all in the palms of His hands.

So I’m praying, “God, would you remind me how small I am?” And it’s like He’s beckoning me to lean in: “Do you see these kids?” I’m annoyed. “Can you just get them to be quiet? To be still? To stop distracting me?” But instead He draws my attention to their delight. To the way they laugh at the cool water between their toes, the way the dandelion seeds floating in the wind bring them joy, the way they don’t need the mountains because a brilliantly colored pebble is enough for them to celebrate.

I’m searching for peace around me, all the while it is offered from within. This peace of God which surpasses all understanding; this God of peace who has promised to be with me.

I’ll admit I missed it then. I saw this dialogue play out and still stood there frustrated. Here was something I loved but could not enjoy. I grew resentful as I thought of the many things I tried to share with my children only for them to turn what I considered refreshing and restful into something exhausting and painful. I’ll admit that, even now as I reflect on this, I am having a hard time wanting to engage with the fussing outside my door. I want to stay in bed with my coffee and computer, writing about what God is teaching me instead of actually having to live it.

I’ve been in Philippians 2 this week, this ode to the humble, sacrificial submission displayed first in Christ, exemplified in Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus, and set out before me as the path to life. I pondered that selfless life before our hike. Sat and reflected on what it means to seek the interests of my family before my own, to forsake what I think I deserve and embrace the way of the cross, to do all things without grumbling, to hold fast to the word of life. All of this is set before me as the example Christ gave, his footsteps to set the course for mine. But His life is more than that; His attitude of submission is mine as I’m united to Him. His life is both my example and my source; His calling is before me to work out, all the while knowing that it is God who is at work in me, enabling me to desire and to live out His good purpose.

Then I closed my Bible, piled into the car with my family and headed to the mountains, into a day filled with reminders of how my selfishness abounds, of how much I have left to learn.

I guess that’s it. There is no pretty conclusion to this story. Only the stark contrast between my sinfulness and God’s holiness. Only the hope that God-made-flesh sympathizes with my every weakness and promises mercies that are new every morning.

Here’s to another day in the mountains. With three small children.

on Valentine’s Day

It’s Valentine’s Day, and my husband generously took the kids to his dad’s for the weekend to give me a little space. For nearly four months, my husband has been persevering through 60-hour work weeks. But despite his own exhaustion, he packed up the kids and gave me a weekend because he knows me and he loves me and if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my eight years of being a mom, it’s this: sometimes you just need to miss your kids.

So as I prepare for them to return and I’m feeling refreshed and productive and drinking a cup of coffee that is still hot, I’ve got some miscellaneous thoughts about marriage and this man of mine.

Feb142016_3049I browse the Valentine’s Day aisle, hoping that a card will jump out at me from a distance, since the crowd of carts and shoppers block any attempts to get close. I squeeze in to pick up a few, but they all fall short. I hate cards. I hate canned messages that are beautiful and poetic but impersonal and distant. How do I find a card with the words to sum up my love, our five years of Valentine’s Days: the pain, the chaos, the frustration, the joy? Wearied from the crowding and the little hands grabbing anything within reach of the cart, I call it quits. Empty handed, I head to the checkout. As I load my items onto the counter, a card catches my eye: the cover pictures two trees side by side, their roots intermingled, and an inside that reads, “I love how we grow together.” Five years of marriage summed up in a greeting card. I forsake my disdain for Hallmark and toss the card into my pile of purchases.

I’ve been thinking about tree roots ever since. Thinking about how, five years in, we still just look like little saplings, wondering how we’ll make it through the next wind storm. We wish we had more to show for our growth–better communication, fewer arguments, more understanding and laughter and fun. But some days we don’t laugh. We hurt each other and we mess up and we wish we could take it back.

I look at pictures from our wedding day and think of how little we knew. Bright eyed and wrinkle-free, we had barely sprouted and yet we felt like mighty oaks, our branches sprawled toward the sky, ready to take on the world.

I didn’t know myself when I married my husband. I thought I did–I was vocal, independent, and strong, but my new relationship with Jesus made me question if that was really okay. Maybe I was actually supposed to be quiet, submissive, deferring? 

For five years, instead of figuring each other out, I have tried to figure myself out. I have tried to protect myself, to prove myself, to assert myself. But in the end of all of that, I have felt only lost. I long for connection, for intimacy, for that sense of knowing and being known, and yet I cannot seem to know myself, and my demands for connection remain unquenched.

I’ve been trying to find my life, only to remember that it must first be lost. Not lost in the man who shares my life; lost in the Man who gave His up for me. The life of Christ in me offers the grace to lean into the mystery of oneness that is marriage, to let go of the fear and the self-preservation and allow myself to be enveloped by this man who sometimes feels like a stranger. And as I do, I find a self that is different than I expected yet more fully alive.

“It doesn’t mean being half a person; it means dismantling your person and rebuilding a kingdom together.” (CAPC)

These five years have been marked by trials. One after another, we have struggled to catch our breath. We look at our marriage and wonder, have we really gotten anywhere? But the roots. They give me so much hope. Our thin little branches hold on for dear life, but beneath the surface are roots spreading deep: anchoring, steadying. We don’t have the strength to reach to the sky but instead we’ve dug into the earth. It’s why we can “consider it joy whenever we face trials of various kinds”–because we have the promise of ever-deepening roots, of a God who is faithful to see that no moment is wasted; that His people, though weary and war-torn, are being shaped and molded and fashioned into the very image of His Son.

You learn a lot about a man by watching how he treats his mom. I’d heard that before, but never really understood until I watched my husband care for his dying mother. Watched him lean in and listen to her soft voice. Watched him tenderly lift her failing body–the one that carried and nourished his life. Watched him sing to her while her eyes lay closed, tears streaming. Watched him stand by her side while she took her last breath. Watched him lead his family in the Lord’s prayer at her graveside.

Respect grows in those unexpected moments, where you watch your husband just be who he is and you wonder how you ever got so lucky.

Deepening roots: unseen, unknown, whispered growth that takes a lifetime.

5 verses every woman should know

The Inner Crazy

Hi, I’m Kendra. And I am a crazy person.

Not always, of course (I think? Don’t answer that). But these past weeks, my husband has been under a deadline at work that’s required 55-60-hour work weeks. That translates into long days filled with noisy little people and quiet, often lonely nights.

I land right in the middle on the introvert/extrovert spectrum. Too much people time is overwhelming and draining; too much alone time makes me a crazy person. This is in large part because I’m an external processor. I have to get all.the.thoughts out of my head so some sane, outside party can hold up a mirror and let me see the crazy for myself and help me arrive at the truth. Usually Jordan is the lucky one to walk with me through this process. Family and friends sometimes get the privilege. Occasionally, my journal and blog fill in the gaps. But lately, due mostly to unfortunate and temporary circumstances, it often stays in my head.

My mom was visiting these past few days and as she was enduring all.the.thoughts, I couldn’t help but notice a look of alarm on her face. She discovered my crazy. Fortunately, she is one of my people and spoke the truth in a way that only Mom can. And while she did, she challenged me to fight the lies. She reminded me of what I know to be true but am quick to forget–that our mind is a constant battlefield and we must proactively, relentlessly tell ourselves the truth.

I try to do this by spending time in Scripture every day, but I learned early in my walk with Jesus that I needed to take the Scripture with me to engage the lies that raged as I walked away from my quiet time each morning. So I started memorizing passages to help combat my inner crazy. And despite my admittance that I haven’t been fighting a very valiant battle as of late, these passages I’ve memorized over the past few years often provide the words that the Spirit uses to bring grace and truth in the midst of hurt and confusion.

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Some Guidelines

When it comes to memorizing Scripture, we are drawn to the verses that tell us what we should do. These are what we write on notecards and hang on our bathroom mirrors in hopes that our behavior will begin to conform to God’s standard. We know many of them by heart; we wish they described our behavior more than they actually do.

But this is not the kind of Scripture memory I am advocating. I wholeheartedly believe in the power of Scripture to renew our minds; the Spirit uses His words to produce the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ in our lives, to the glory and praise of God (Phil. 1:11). But I am persuaded that alongside the imperatives of Scripture (what we should do), we need to know. by. heart. Scripture’s indicatives (what Christ has done). With my own need to be reminded of these things, I’m feeling a renewed sense of the importance of this discipline, and I thought perhaps I’m not the only woman I know who needs some help fighting to remember what’s true. And because I know sometimes knowing where to start is the hardest part, here is my list of 5 verses I think every woman should know.

But before I give you my list, you should know a few more things:

  1. I don’t actually think you should ever memorize just one verse. Taking the time to memorize whole passages of Scripture allows them to sink down deep as we meditate on each section and start to really understand how they all fit together. That said, I’ve tried to pick just one verse out of each passage that could serve as a starting point because I know a whole passage can be very intimidating. But I will also list the whole passage if applicable and challenge you to consider it.
  2. I don’t actually think that these are verses only women should learn. There is nothing “pink” about them. I just consider my few readers to be mostly women so I’m writing this to you. By all means, invite your husband, your children, your friends into the challenge. It feels so weird to recite verses to each other AWANA-style now that we’re grown ups, but I’ve found that the verses I remember are the ones where I’ve welcomed accountability into the learning process.
  3. I don’t actually think you “should” memorize these verses, as in you are sinning if you don’t. I do not believe you are condemned if you do not or cannot memorize Scripture. Nor do I believe memorizing these verses earns you any special favor with God. But I do believe God’s Word is a delight (Psalm 1:2), given to us for our good, the weapon the Spirit uses to fight on our behalf (Ephesians 6:17). So while you do not have to memorize Scripture, why wouldn’t you want to?
  4. I don’t actually think everyone is naturally inclined towards Scripture memory, just as I don’t think everyone is naturally inclined to run marathons or lift hundreds of pounds. If you want to do those things, you must train for them. It takes work and time and patience, and even then, passages I thought I knew by heart completely escape me. I’ve heard repetitive reading described as the lazy memorization method, and I think it’s a start. If you want to memorize something, commit to reading it every day. Or a few times each day. Or just memorize the reference and the general idea so that when you find yourself needing its truth, you know where to go in your Bible app. But at the same time, I think we ought to challenge ourselves. Even secular brain research supports our abilities to train and rewire our brains through discipline and consistency. How much more through Spirit-empowered discipline and consistency?

Okay, the list:

#1: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

Condemnation creeps into our days, like a black cloud following us around trying to convince us how badly we suck. But this is the truth: No condemnation! Say it out loud! Silence the accusations with the truth that you are hidden in Christ Jesus. There is no one left to condemn you!

I would add to this Romans 8:33-35 and 8:38-39 as well. Let’s be honest, I would add all of Romans 8 but I’m trying not to be overwhelming.

#2: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…” Ephesians 2:4-5

If I could pick just one to say, “You must memorize the whole passage,” it would be this one. Ephesians 2:1-10 or Titus 3:3-7. These passages tell the whole story of the Gospel, from beginning to end. You may have heard the phrase, “Preach the Gospel to yourself.” These passages give us the words. They remind us who we were apart from Christ, and then meet the glorious “But,” where Jesus took our mess upon Himself and lavished his grace and kindness upon us.

#3: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Luke 12:32

When I first started memorizing Scripture, it was to intentionally battle anxiety. I spent months memorizing Luke 12:22-34 and 1 Peter 5:6-10 and as I worked my way through each passage, I found such comfort and rest in the God who is a good, good Father (Luke 12), the one who cares about our every anxiety and who will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish us (1 Peter 5). Anxiety is a theme among so many women I know and meditating on the goodness of a Father who promises us the kingdom lifts our eyes off of our present fears and onto the eternal glory that awaits us.

#4: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Romans 8:32

Did I mention Romans 8? Up there with anxiety is the battle for gratitude and contentment in a world constantly trying to convince us we are not enough. Gratitude lists and counting blessings are good, tangible practices to help us to give thanks regularly, but this verse points us to our true source of gratitude. The God who gave us Jesus promises to give us everything we need.

#5: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14

This is the runner-up for memorizing the whole passage. John 1:1-18 and Colossians 1:15-20 give us this glorious picture of who Christ is. Really, the Colossians one is my favorite but I couldn’t pick just one verse from it. The section is labeled, “The Preeminence of Christ.” Memorizing a passage that draws us to worship and delight in Christ feels like a tangible application of the call to “fix our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1). It allows us to behold the glory of the Lord in the face of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18), and ultimately it draws us to take our eyes off of anyone or anything else and simply follow Him (John 21:22).

Closing thoughts

Memorizing scripture isn’t magic. It is possible to do this good thing for the wrong reasons. It’s also possible to do it well and continue to struggle (hence the crazy person). So take this for what it is: a challenge and an encouragement, both for you and for me. If you decide to embark on the challenge to memorize scripture, I’d love to hear about it.

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