The Wisdom of Anne with an E.

“It’s red, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it’s red,” she said resignedly. “Now you see why I can’t be perfectly happy. Nobody could who has red hair. I don’t mind the other things so much–the freckles and the green eyes and my skinniness. I can imagine them away. I can imagine that I have a beautiful rose-leaf complexion and lovely starry violet eyes. But I cannot imagine that red hair away. I do my best. I think to myself, `Now my hair is a glorious black, black as the raven’s wing.’ But all the time I know it is just plain red and it breaks my heart. It will be my lifelong sorrow.” 

Oh, Anne.  I have loved Anne of Green Gables since I read it the first time.  She’s a firecracker who uses big words, is passionate and loyal about her relationships, verbally processes, and (of course) has red hair.  As a child I use to hate my red hair.  I remember clearly people calling me carrot top among other not-so-nice things, being told I was a redheaded rooster, and hearing a few adults I looked up to saying (when they didn’t think I was listening) that they hoped their children didn’t have red hair. It’s hard not to take that personally.  As Anne says, you can’t wish it away no matter how hard you try.

When I became a teenager and into adulthood I decided having red hair wasn’t so bad.  People remembered me, I stood out.  I’ve never been one to want to blend into the shadows completely, so having something that made me different became a benefit rather than a hinderance.  But then adulthood ran into getting into middle age, and suddenly my bright, copper-red hair started looking a bit less vibrant and a lot more washed out.  I felt like I was losing my identity as my hair changed color so  I started dying it regularly to a coppery color.  But since most of the time it was a cheap box from Walmart I now cringe when I see pictures of me with that harsh hair color!

We are weird people. No matter how old we get or how much we mature, we struggle with how we look and we allow that to define who we think we are and what our worth is.  I’ve noticed recently that I’ve had a lot of anxiety about what I’m eating (or not eating.)  At college I struggled a lot with an eating disorder.  It continued for many years into adulthood, as I would go out at night and binge on what ever I wanted, then throw it up before I went home.  It wasn’t really about losing weight.  I knew that I wasn’t going to get skinny in this pattern.  It certainly wasn’t about being healthy – that was really the last thing on my mind.  I understand now that it was my way of grabbing control of my shame that I felt.

I would feel shame about everything at that time.  Shame that I wasn’t a better parent, a better wife, a better sister and daughter.  Shame that I was continually gaining weight and couldn’t seem to stop.  Shame that I wasn’t where I thought I should be as a Christian or an adult.  Shame about past mistakes and anxiety about future ones.  And shame about the way I looked and how I wished with my whole heart that I was not the way I was.  People around me have been talking about dieting and weight my whole life.  I know very few women who don’t talk about almost every day, so I don’t think I am an oddball about this.

Fast forward to this stage of life.  Last year we started doing keto and I dropped 60 pounds over the course of the year.  But I found out something about myself – I exchanged the idol of food (I can eat whatever I want) for the idol of fear (I don’t dare eat that.  Or – I can’t believe I ate that, what a wretched person I am!)   If I had a bad day where I would eat too many carbs, my whole mood and attitude was affected.  I felt anxiety about every little thing going into my body.  While I was healthier in many ways, emotionally I was still going through a lot of the same cycles.

I found myself sitting on the floor in the bathroom one afternoon weighing in on whether the shame of having just eaten bread would be bigger than the shame I knew would come if I made myself throw up.  Then I broke down and cried, wondering how I had gotten back to this point.

This is not a story I want to share.  I love telling those stories where there is complete victory.  I would love to say that I threw up one day two decades ago, had a revelation about who I am and who I want to be, and stopped right then and there.  But the truth is this temptation has been there much more than I ever imagined it would be.  While it’s been years since I hung my head over the toilet regularly, the idea still creeps in every once in a while.

But there is hope.

Because here’s another truth – I have not spent every day of the last couple decades living in shame and fear.  There are periods of time that these things try to creep in.  And sometimes I forget the truth of who I really am and I let these lies settle in.  Sometimes it’s from conversations happening around me or circumstances that pop up, but other times it’s simply my own insecurities showing their faces when I am not expecting them, so I am not ready to fight.  I have learned some practical things (and I keep learning more and more) about how I cannot be extreme when it comes to food issues.  I know I need to be disciplined and eat in healthy ways, but I keep coming to a better understanding of what that means for me and my family.  I have learned to love walking and pushing myself in exercise and the feeling of pride I get when I make wise choices about these things – but I also know how slippery that slope can be for me with my obsessive tendencies and how fast I give into shame.

However, more than anything, I continue to learn despite the fact I fail often, and no matter how I feel in the moment, none of that really defines me or changes my worth.  As I have fallen deeper and deeper in love with Jesus, I realize better and better the depth of his love for me.  I understand that my salvation is not just about heaven someday, but the ability to live here on this earth in a supernatural freedom from anxiety.  Over the last month we have talked about advent and the different things that we looked at were hope, peace, joy, and love.  I have emphasized as I taught and wrote on it that these things are not things of this world.  We are not talking about a hope in temporal things or peace and joy that comes from everything around us being just as we think it should and we “feel” good.  Love is an overflowing of the Spirit from us that we can have because He first loved us.  These things come from a dying to myself and surrendering my life to Him.

The same is true about these other things.  Even if I have a day where I ate a box of Little Debbies, this doesn’t change my worth.  If I have a day where my parenting is less than stellar and I have have to humbly apologize to my kids, my worth is still the same.  On the flip side, if I eat exactly 20 carbs, walk 10,000 steps, kiss my husband every time I see him, cook a healthy meal at night, and tuck my children into bed without having once lost my temper with them, my worth has not changed.  It can’t.  I have already been purchased at the ultimate cost- so I am now priceless. He loves me me with a perfect love that was so incomprehensible he died for me while I was still a broken, bratty child kicking and screaming insults at him.  Even then my worth was known to him.

As I go into 2020 I have no illusions that this year will be easy.  I am starting a new job, learning how to balance that with still having kids at home who are doing online school, a college student, and a young adult.  I am still in my first year in a new place where I am getting to know people and figuring out who my people are.  We have parents whom we love that we need to be able to care for better.  And I continue to fight my way through this love/hate relationship with food to a better place for me both physically and emotionally.  But I am determined to go into this year with the reminder of who I am and I will dream up big, God-sized dreams that cannot happen without Him – one of those dreams being a healthier me who stands steadfastly in what I know to be true about me and about Jesus.  Because, as Anne says, “When you are imagining, you might as well imagine something worth while.”

Join me?

My Pizza Oven

(Photo credit Scott and Jennifer Myhre)

Today I spent the day doing school with the boys, baking a bunch of cookies for upcoming events, decorating the porch with the boys after school, and raking leaves because they have finally all fallen off the trees.  As I was raking I was daydreaming about what the garden will look like in the spring, since we have not yet experienced that here.  I made plans in my mind about how Shawn could add so much beauty to a yard that needed a little TLC, but still had it’s own beauty.

Suddenly that sneaky little feeling of anxiety crept in.  “This isn’t really your house.  you have a two year lease is all.  Don’t invest too much – you never know when you will need to leave.”

If you read my previous blog you know what a gift this house is to us.  I love everything about it.  But while it is our home right now, it belongs to someone else who will eventually call it home again.  Though we would love to be in DC until we retire, this house will probably not be our home that whole time.  And suddenly that feeling of anxiety about not having a place to claim as mine started to overtake.

I never wanted to buy a house.  I never felt the need.  I liked the idea of being able to pick up and go whenever I needed or wanted to.  We have learned in our crazy life how to make a home pretty quickly.  But I’ll be honest, all of that has changed in me since coming back to the States.  I want roots and home and a place that my kids will know is always there for them even as they all enter into adulthood and make their own homes.

Most of the time I am content with giving that to God and letting him take care of it for me.  But today I felt the stress that happens when I am not consciously doing that, and I started to feel panicky for no real reason.

Suddenly I heard the Spirit say, “Heather, build your pizza oven.”

No, I am not going to literally build a pizza oven – I am not even sure I could legally do that here! But this statement brought me back to solid ground and a trust in God’s plan for us.  A few years back I wrote a blog about how friends of ours and missionaries extraordinaire who had lived around East Africa in some hard places for the last few decades chose to mark their places as home.  No matter where they lived, even if they knew it was not long term, they chose to put roots down and make a life.  One way they did that was to build an outside pizza oven of stone and brick.  They’ve done this at places on the equator as well as in their home in the States.  There are many people who have benefited from this tangible way of saying, “We are home.  This is home.  The Lord has provided.”  Though I knew that an outdoor pizza oven would not be my marker, I also knew I had to figure out what was.  What are those things we do as a family, those things we put in place, no matter where we go?

As God brought things to mind about how we are making this place home for us and our kids (what a blessing to hear Anna say this was like coming home when she was here from college for Thanksgiving break), I knew that no matter what house we live in we will make it home.  We will open it up to friends, family, and strangers  – who usually become friends!  We will always have food and drink for people along with a place on the couch to talk and pray.  We will put up some of the same decorations and do some of the same things at the same time each year.  We will pray together at night on our bed as a family before everyone goes to sleep.  We will try to remember to speak thankfulness at dinner times together in the evenings.

In other words, we have our own pizza ovens.  I am so grateful for these friends who spoke this into our lives.

What are some of your “Pizza ovens?”

The Ram in the Thicket

I admit, I have always hated the story of Abraham taking Isaac up the mountain.  I know that it’s always taught that Abraham believed God would provide, and we know the truth is that he did!  There was a ram in thicket.

But let’s just be honest here.  I am a mom.  I have watched my kids go through some pretty hard things and wondered if I had scarred them for life.  My first thought every time I read about Isaac asking where the lamb was and Abraham saying,”The Lord will provide” is the therapy bill that would be in the future for that child!  Abraham actually binds Isaac up before God intervenes and stops him.  The whole story has always felt so manipulative to me, and most of the time I teach it or read it as fast as I can and move on so I din’t have to think about what I would call the “practical” implications of it.  Does Isaac fight back?  Is there ever a moment of doubt for Abraham?  What is the conversation like going back down the mountain?

I am doing the Ann Voskamp advent devotional “The Greatest Gift,” and when I opened for today this story was there.  My first instinct was to skip the Bible reading part – I know this story.  I don’t like it.  (And isn’t that how we are supposed to read the Bible – only the parts we like? *Note the sarcasm.)

So I started reading only the part that Ann wrote about the story.  And my heart just broke.  She writes, “It is a thing to call a place ‘The Lord Will Provide.’ It is a thing to name where you live as provision, to name the place you call home ‘The Lord Will Provide.'”

My heart.

This house, since the day we first saw it, has been God’s gift to me.  I don’t know if you ever heard my “wish list” when we were first talking about moving back to the States.  As we sat with the boys and talked about what we wanted in whatever our new home would be we made a list.  At first it was practical – enough bedrooms to host people, a dining room big enough for a table to seat many.  Then I felt the Spirit prompting us to name “extras.”  As a family we named things that we really wanted, even if they seemed silly and definitely weren’t necessities.  A front porch, a back yard, a gas stove, lots of windows, off street parking, bright colors, within walking distance of the church, an extra room where I could do art and create without having to always pick everything up midway.

This house checked every single box.  Every. Single. One.  In a place where we should never be able to have a house like this.

I almost cried when they showed it to us.  Everyone was nervous and reiterating that we could change the paint or do what we needed to make it our own home – but it felt like “me” the moment I walked in.  (I later met our landlord, a dear sister from the church, and instantly found a kindred spirit – just an extra blessing!)

I know this house is not ours – we are merely renting and using it while we can.  When the time comes that we need to move, God will provide the next right place for that time of life.  But in the moment, the now, this is HOME and I am so overwhelmed with thankfulness for it.

When I read those words that Ann wrote, I knew I had to go back and read the story of Abraham and Isaac again.  And my gratefulness started to deepen from the physical aspect of providing a home, which is temporary no matter how long we live here, to the spiritual aspect of knowing I have a home in my God, who’s name is Jehova Jireh.

The Lord Will Provide.

He is my provision.  In this advent season he is the hope, the peace. He gave himself as the ram in the thicket, and continues to be my provision as he gives me access to everything in the heavenly storehouses.  I am free because of him.  He gave this prisoner of anxiety and anger the gift of breaking those bonds and letting my heart know freedom and peace.

As I thought through these things and tears freely flowed, I was sitting and looking at my Christmas tree all lit up.  My eyes fell on the ornament with RJ’s name and the year he was born and my heart broke again for my baby.  Born with two holes in his heart, yet is strong and whole today.  I saw my “ugly Santa” ornament from Uganda and remembered the way God provided times of laughter and relief from the hardships of life in South Sudan with teammates that I loved completely.  The beautiful bulb of beads made in Bosnia that represented one of the many church families that have prayed us through the last 10 years of missions prep and work.  One after another I saw physical reminders of God’s provisions – and those were just some of the obvious ones!

This advent I encourage you to take time to notice.  Ann writes, “Worry is belief gone wrong because you don’t believe that God will get it right.  Peace is belief that exhales.  Because you believe that God’s provision is everywhere – like air.”  God always has a ram in the thicket, friends.

Now I’m off to paint a new sign for my home, as I have decided it needs to be announced that this place has a name – “The Lord Will Provide.”

Being Shaped

Several years ago as the we were spending some time in Savannah, GA we went to the beach most evenings.  Our family has discovered that summer sunsets on the beach are when we love to go the most.  Most of the crowds of people have gone to have dinner and do other evening activities, plus many times parking is free after a certain hour.  The weather is still beautiful and the water is nice. 

This time we were walking and looking for shells, and Anna found a whole clam.  It was washed up on shore and a pretty large size, and it was still intact.  The mouth was slightly open, and it obviously wasn’t alive anymore, so she added it to the pile of shells we found and we took it back to dry out.  Later, when we pried the top shell open, we found a surprise – a black pearl!  It was embedded in sand inside and attached to the shell,  We didn’t dare try to get it out for fear of damaging it, so we left it inside.  A few years later for Anna’s birthday we asked Shawn’s parents to take it to the jeweler (they had all our stuff in storage at their house) and see about getting it made into a ring. 

The jeweler was shocked and said they wouldn’t have believed we had actually found it that way if they hadn’t brought in the whole clam!  It is a very rare thing find one like that – especially the dark color.  The pearl was not a perfect shape – it is more oblong than round.  But it makes a very pretty ring and a special reminder of a fun treasure. 

This week as we have beach combed we found some fun shells.  The boys joked about finding a pearl, and we told them how rare it was that we ever found one at all.  As I was walking along the beach spending some time in prayer I thanked God for that gift so long ago that was still reminding me of his goodness. 

The ocean is a place where I find rest and restoration.  It puts my soul at ease.  Yet in the same vein I feel the power and vastness of it as the waves crash in and the tides change the way the beach looks any given moment.  If you’ve ever been caught in an undercurrent, you have probably felt the panic that comes from not knowing which was is up and having to surrender to trusting the water to push you back up as fast as it took you down. 

The ocean took sand and pushed it into the mouth of a very specific clam to make this shiny black pearl over time.  It has to be a certain type of clam to make a pearl, and even more specific to make a black one.  It takes time and the clam uses a defense mechanism to try to get rid of the pearl that gives it the shine.  There is nothing simple or random about any of it, yet over time a rare and beautiful thing (albeit imperfect when we found it) was formed. 

The last several years have been good in many ways, but they have also been some of the hardest as far as growing and changing me.  Many times I felt caught in that undercurrent and wondered if I would ever feel upright again let alone rooted and steadfast.  

However, as I was walking on the beach this week I was marveling at this profound sense of peace and contentment I have right now. I feel so thankful to be this place, but I have not known peace like this before, and I admit that it feels foreign to me.  It is strange, but it is changing my view of and reaction to so many things.  Instead of anxiety and chaos being the filter that I see through, I feel like I am often looking through a filter of peace and hope.  Sometimes I am not sure how to respond to this steadfastness that I feel deep in my soul right now.   I realize that I am being shaped and molded into something beautiful by the maker of the ocean  – both now in peace and before in the time of chaos.  The one who made the waters to churn and shape and move and (and some cases) destroy is the one who has made me and continues to make me more like him.  Sometimes it feels like chaos and is hard – like I can’t catch my breath and I might never breech the surface again, or like sand scratching the edges of a pearl and turning into something valuable.  Other times it is done in slow, steadfast ways where my feet feel firm on solid ground and my roots feel deep.  Both are purposeful and necessary to bring me to a likeness of him, and I am grateful for his great love for me. 

Hurt

(Originally posted 2013)

This morning I had the fun task of taking RJ to the dentist.  For some reason my youngest two have bad teeth – weak enamel or the fact that they only floss when I am standing over them glaring are probably the biggest reasons, because we don’t eat a lot of sticky, sweet things!  A couple years ago I had to take Andrew to the dentist and he was put under conscious sedation.  It was one of the worst experiences of my life!  After over an hour of yelling, screaming, crying out for help and calling my name as I held him down so they could operate, they fixed 8 cavities and pulled several teeth.  (They also cleaned them while he was under!)  They were right – he didn’t remember a thing – but I was scarred for life.

Today they gave RJ laughing gas and then Novocaine, but he still had a hard time when they actually started pulling.  Watching him grab the chair and cry was terrible.  For one thing, I had inadvertently lied to him.  I was under the assumption the reason I was paying extra for the laughing gas was so he wouldn’t feel anything – but he obviously did.  And now we get to go back in another two weeks to get the other side done.  Fun times.

I know that these things are sometimes painful, and can cause anxiety in my children (and me!) – but ultimately they are for their own good.  Getting shots to prevent disease, removing infection from the body, and fixing things that are broken are all beneficial things that can seem not-so-beneficial at the moment.  When RJ was just 6 months old he went in for open heart surgery to repair 2 holes (ASD and VSD for those of you medical people.)  It was AWFUL!  Not being able to feed him in the morning and hearing his pathetic whines because he was hungry and too young to understand; seeing the tubes and the not being able to hold him afterwards;  he started getting an infection, and they had to beat on his back every few hours after breaking open his sternum – the whole thing was terrible.  Yet it was this very thing that caused him to be able to live and have a life that doesn’t revolve around hospitals and surgeries.  I hated it, but God got us through it and he is healthy and alive.

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I think about parents who have to watch their child go through sickness or tragedy.  It broke my heart today just to hear RJ crying, and have him know that I was there and allowing it to happen.  But what about those parents that have to watch as their child goes through cancer treatments?  Or dies slowly because of lack of food or clean drinking water?  What about the moms and dads in South Sudan and other countries like it that have seen their children raped, maimed, killed, and taken by their own country?  How does one heal after that?  How does one cope?  It’s hard to see the purpose in those things – they are not like getting life healing surgery or having an infection taken out of your mouth.  It’s just plain evil and sin in this world.  But these parents, these families, still need to know God’s healing and his love.

When we were in the hospital for RJ’s surgery there was a little girl there that was only around 6 – and she was going through her second round cancer.  She could no longer walk because of the treatments, and she had no hair.  Her mother was taking her around trick or treating that day in the kid’s ward (it was Halloween) and I met them on the elevator.  I was nervous and sad for RJ, but I knew I would be taking him home in a few days and he would be healthy and happy.  There was not that promise for this little girl.  Watching her mom broke me in ways I can’t describe.

As we go to South Sudan we will meet parents who have lost kids in all ways – famine, war, poverty, childbirth, disease – even preventable ones.  I am asking God to keep my heart tender and breakable, even though it will hurt badly at times.  I want to always see people through his eyes and with his heart.  It’s not a prayer I take lightly – but I believe it’s an important one.

Anxiety Wars

(originally written Nov 1, 2018)

Yesterday  I was having a conversation with Shawn about a particular situation we have been working through that went something like this:

Shawn: “How are you feeling?”

Me:  “I feel good.  Like, I actually don’t have any anxiety.  I feel like God truly is going to work this out in a way that tangibly us shows his love for us and he will get the glory.  This is a strange feeling..” (Long pause, overthinking, deep gulp of breath) “And now I have anxiety about not having anxiety!”

Oh, Heather of little faith.

I can chuckle about the whole conversation, but the truth is that it really isn’t funny to be that familiar with stress and so unfamiliar with the peace of laying that at His feet.  I was (over) thinking about it again later and had to start really ask my self some hard questions. How did that brief moment of peace feel, and why is it so foreign to me ? Why is it so uncommon and momentous that I want to write about it?

Let’s be real for a minute here.  Having a moment of panic or anxiety pop up is NOT a sin. It is a natural by-product of our new selves in Him constantly fighting our old selves of the flesh. Add to that the brokenness of this hurting, chaotic world and we are bound to have it attack us sometimes.  I am also not talking about an anxiety that requires medication.  There have been times that I have been on meds for these types of things. The only thing wrong in that case is feeling too embarrassed or weak to seek out help because of it. Those are lies.  However, with the daily, normal stress of everyday there is a problem with allowing oneself to wallow in it, or to jump in head first and whole-heartedly because it feels familiar and – dare I say – safe.  It is easier than the fight.  It is “normal.”

This is where I know some of you are saying, “But what about…” or “You have no idea…”

I understand, friends. I truly do.

You can see from my opening conversation how “normal” anxiety is for me.  As a matter of fact, many counselors all over the world could retire from what my family alone pays in counseling services.  I  second guess myself and my decisions about every little thing. I remember once when I was pregnant for Andrew I had debate within my mind over whether it would be better for our family to have another girl or another boy to add to the crew. I got seriously stressed over it, feeling on the verge of a panic attack before allowing the Spirit to actually breakthrough and give me His peace about the fact that I had ZERO control over the whole situation anyway and – oh yeah –  if the God of the universe, who created every single person and family was in control, then maybe it was ok for me to trust him rather than waste precious sleep time having that debate.

I’m a mess.

I’ve experienced panic attacks in the car on a regular basis since I was a child.  I can think of probable reasons for this beginning, but after 40+ years I somehow had talked myself into believing that this was just who I am and I gave up hope of ever feeling victorious over it.  I made myself believe it is just a part of who I am.

Then I watched my youngest suffer through debilitating panic attacks.   The kind where there is no reasoning, no talking, no loving  that can bring him out of it until he is removed from the situation that brought him into it in the first place.  My maternal instincts kicked into overdrive and I started to do everything I could to help him overcome and find peace.  My hope and celebrations for RJ as I see victories, and the soul-crushing hopelessness that comes when it often seems more like one step forward, two steps back drove me deep into the Father’s arms in ways I had given up on for me. My glimpses of peace made me long for that for my little boy – and for me, and a new type of war began.

Today as I sat in the counselor’s office she was asking me about this very thing.  She mentioned that when you live with something for so long in your life, you don’t know what to do without it and even welcome it back.  I told her about my conversation with Shawn, and she smiled knowingly.  Suddenly I felt a sense of freedom the promise that I am not the only one dealing with this, as well as the reminder that it is not something I always have to hold on to and be “ok” with.  I will do what it takes to be free – whatever that is.  Freedom comes in different ways for each of us, and in each situation. There is no shame in that. 

So today I begin again.

“I’m no longer a slave to fear.  I am a child of God.”