drinking in because he lives.

I’m exhausted.  Today was just one of those “can’t catch a break kind of days.”  The kids are in bed but not sleeping, one is crying and the other one will come out in about 15 seconds to tell me “I have to go pee pee” for the 18th time.  Which is 2 yr old code for “I’m stalling.”  And alas, Kel is at yet another late night meeting.  Today my kids ate shaving cream, I forgot about school pictures and I had to run to the store three times for forgotten things.  Not life altering stuff, just truly irritating.

So, I poured some wine and sat down to listen to some soothing music, something true and poignant, something that would act like salve on my irritated soul.  I know I’m blessed but a day of doing 2 kids under three is an extreme sport.  So I turned, as I often do, to my good friend David Crowder.  The Penny family loves the DCB, my husband even has a beard named after the man himself, which he calls his “Crowder.”  I went old school and brought up a hymn, “Because he Lives”

I can remember sitting on the padded pews at Baldwin Street Christian Reformed Church in Jenison, MI and listening to my Grandma Mac singing this song.  I would usually just snuggle up inside her church coat and listen, her coat smelled like cedar and heaven and peppermint gum. One time they sang the Doxology at the beginning of the service and I was convinced I had hit the church jackpot and would get to go home after only 12 minutes, no such luck.

Anyway, back to the grit and guts of right now…

God sent his Son
They called him Jesus …
Because he lives, I can face tomorrow
Because he lives all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living, Just because he lives 

Do you remember this one from days gone by?  Don’t make the foolish mistake of writing off hymns.  They’re the same truth we need today, it’s just the lyrics are from a different era.

Have you ever realized in the midst of a honestly written song or verse, that the words aren’t true of your right now, but they’re really a prayer for what you need?  That’s what “because he lives” is to me right now.  I can’t honestly sit here and tell you that All fear is gone and sometimes, all too often I forget that the worth of living life is wrapped up in the fact that he lives.

I usually feel dumb for needing the reminders on days when life hasn’t fallen apart, but it just grated on my nerves.  I have obvious gifts, too numerous to count, but  they’re covered in shaving cream and driving me crazy.  Don’t feel bad for needing a deep breathe reminder on a taxing day.  It doesn’t mean you’re unfaithful, just human.  And friends, I am oh so human, so much so that it’s almost comforting.  No danger of figuring it all out and trying to sift out those last few flaws.  There will always be a plethora of “oh S!#@” moments and days when I’m prying my foot from my mouth.

But he lives, and that brings more peace and hope than this glass of wine ever could.

Don’t beat yourself up for needing to return to the source.  Praise God that you keep coming back, there are far worse springs you could be drinking from.

Letter to my family

Hi Guys,

I realized something this past week and I think it’s really going to shake things up around here.  First off I owe you an apology, for a while now I have been compartmentalizing you and seeing you as my job instead of my joy.  It’s made me crabby and unhappy and I’ve often focused on how much you get in the way of what I’d rather be doing.  I saw you and your lives as items on a to-do list rather than the God breathed gifts that you are.  I served you but I didn’t see you, I interacted with you to make you happy but usually my heart wasn’t in it.  I was distracted and mentally checked out and you knew it, didn’t you?  But you never stopped trying to engage me, wow, your love for me is astounding. I’m regretfully sorry that we missed out on truly connecting over so many beautiful and simple moments that have now passed us by.

I can’t come up with any valid excuses but I will tell you that I was hurting, healing and trying to survive.  I’m whole-ish now and my heart is all in.  There are still so many things that need to get done, but they are secondary to soaking up this life with you.  I promise to look into your eyes more when you talk and to respond with genuineness.  To see your needs as a part of providing for you to live fully and not as a bothersome chore.  I can assure I am wide open to you and that I burst with pride over the privilege of being your wife and mama.

Thank you for all the grace, all the kisses and for never giving up on me as I spent day after frustrated day figuring out who and where on earth I was.  Anytime I dreamed up a husband I never fathomed one as strong, gentle, wise and compassionate as you Kel.  Anytime I imagined a daughter, I never knew that I would be given one as sweet and imaginative as you Noelle.  And when I envisioned my son how could I have known that a little man awaited me with a huge blue eyes and a giggle that would melt hearts?

All the past is just that, it’s past, it’s where we were but it led us to here, this day and this life that we will always share together, come what may.

Thank you and beyond,

Wholly yours,

Leanne Rae and/or Mama

Are the people in your life your jobs or your joy?

Who needs a letter like this from you?

How can you engage your life with gust instead of looking at it like a to do list?

Gratitude (or my hot tub epiphany)

I've wanted to write over a cup of coffee in the mountains for over a year. Had to share this moment with you, and also validate the "white girls take pictures of their feet" thing.

This weekend Kel and I had the longest “just the two of us” getaway that we’ve had since our honeymoon.  We were privileged to enjoy 48 hours away in Beaver’s Bend, OK, a small town in the Ouachita mountains.  Our cabin was worthy of a  overnight date from the TVshow The Bachelor, and let me tell you, guys love it when you compare real life to The Bachelor.

Somedays God's just showing off.

We kept it low key, I got up early and wrote and Kel went golfing while I rode in the cart and occasionally got out to steal river rocks or look for his ball.  Our cabin was on the tippy top of either a very small mountain or a rather large hill and the most excitement we had was getting our car stuck in the muddy driveway and rubbing elbows with the local tow truck drivers.

Kel and the tow truck guys bonding over our Explorer which, praise God, sat like that all night and DID NOT fall off the Mountain, can I get an AMEN?

Much to our delight there was a mountaintop hot tub, much to Kel’s likely disappointment I was in favor of using it to have some heart to hearts about God, family and purpose.  There was a central theme to our weekend, other than loving and reconnecting, and that was gratitude.  I wanted to use the time I had away from our home and the day to day of motherhood to figure out why, between Kel and I, one of us was always having a bad day.  I couldn’t figure out why two people, who on paper claimed to be blessed by home, job and family were so often, in practice, so discontent.

As we chatted we realized that we were still hanging on to some pre-marriage and pre-kids senses of entitlement.  I still felt like I should be able to use my daytime hours to pursue my own interests and Kel felt like he should be able to get 9+ hours of sleep and be able to relax and unwind in his free time. If we didn’t get what we thought we deserved, we got crabby and irritable.  We weren’t living out of hearts of gratitude, but spirits of discontent and self centeredness.  We were setting ourselves up for unhappiness.

One evening as we were sitting in the hot tub chatting I had a sort of epiphany.  If we could live in an ongoing state of gratitude, we would find contentment, and in that contentment we could live lives full of joy.  We were always seeking happiness and thought that if we adjusted our circumstances or routine that it would all click.  There is truth to the value of routine and balance but the perfect system won’t bring contentment if you are doing it with an ungrateful and entitled spirit.

So the question we ended up with is how do we get from where we are now to lives lived, steeped in gratitude?

Well, we aren’t completely sure yet but we did give each other permission to call the other out when they were being pissy and didn’t see their blessings.  Changing your mindset is not an overnight endeavor but it might go something like this.

1) Remind yourself of the truth.  The best epiphany is lost unless you keep coming back to it.  Put up post-its, needlepoint it on a pillow, do what you gotta do to remind your ever so human mind to live a life of gratitude.

2) Stop, Look, Listen- Slow down and stop focusing on everything that isn’t so you have eyes to see all that is.

3) Make it a point to always start your prayers with a long list of thankfulness.  Before you ask, give thanks, the more you look for your gifts and seek to live in gratitude the easier this becomes.  Maybe even keep a gift journal Ann Voskamp style.

4) Serve– Nothing takes your mind off yourself like focusing on the needs of others with needs far more pressing than your own.  You can start small with baking cookies to make someone’s day better.

The older I get the more I feel God in everything I am given, he is the author of every atom and the giver of every granola bar.  He is my air and I so sick and tired of being crabby in the midst of all that beauty. I’m completely done being so distracted that I miss out and stay hungry for depth that is all around me.

How about you?  Do you feel it, the unsettling undercurrents of ingratitude?  What can we do to live thankful, joy full lives?

Why- Week 1

So I’m writing from my CLEAN patio with a  glass of peach mint iced tea.  Slightly sweet, slightly southern 100% delicious.

The promo videos for the “why” series had me really sort of nervous about it.  They showed an old man grieving his daughter through flashbacks of birthdays and tea parties, and they made me cry.  The “why” of death and tragedy is something I spent a lot of time on, what if my church made a stand that fly in the face of that?  Would I wind up feeling alone and confrontational?  Because that would suck.

Turns out that’s not even a concern and today’s message was all about Why we don’t always feel God’s presence, and since I’m a human type person I can say with honesty that I don’t always feel it.

Check out Craig Groeschel Why wk 1 here

God's love is like radio waves, how far is your antenna extended?  (bc I love a cheesy christian pun)

God's love is like radio waves, how far is your antenna extended? (bc I love a cheesy christian pun)

“Serving and knowing God is more about faith than about feelings” and I would add that it’s about faithfulness.  I seriously enjoy the concept of God’s love as a radio frequency thats floating through the air around us.  This concept ties right into my determination to choose joy and have gratitude in my life, no matter what.  If we aren’t feeling God’s love, his power or his blessings it’s only because we are picking up other, less nourishing signals.  We are honing in on the wrong things like the dishes, what other people are doing or worse still country music or even worse The Jersey Shore.

What I loved about this teaching is that it made feeling God’s presence into something we could act upon, not something we have to wait around for.  Not that I am saying that I don’t over sensationalize it and that there isn’t sin between God and I but I will say again that my biggest problem in this area is that I am simply too distracted to make time for God or to notice that he is in fact the author of all the beauty that surrounds me.

If I think back over my life upon the times where I did feel God’s presence the most it would have to be the season that surrounded the death of my Mom.  I can honestly say that in that season my soul didn’t really walk the earth, rather I floated through, carried by a wave of prayer and support.  God was always with me, like gray light and I don’t think I breathed a prayer much more complex than, please get me through, help me heal and thank you for your provision.

And I think that’s the essence of the presence of God, it’s small gifts and constant awareness that amounts to a powerful relationship that changes everything.  His presence brings strength, power, joy and contentment.  It’s just the best possible way you could ever do life.

Extend your antenna, clean the grime from your eyes and see that raw beauty that is God’s presence in your every waking moment.  You’ll start to feel him and his provision sustaining you through the calm of a hot shower or the simple gift of a peanut butter sandwich.  All the sudden you realize that all the songs you sing at church are real, he is the composer of your life.

May we feel him almost physically this week.

– What is the roadblock that is keeping you from feeling God’s presence in your life?

– In what season of your journey did you feel God’s presence the most?

– If you did church with me today, what struck you the most memorably?  If you were to post a sticky note thought, what would it say?

Just Dance

I dance when I cook and I sing as I change diapers.  As I go through my day my spirit emerges through a strange combination of song and dance, and no more so than when I am comfortable at home with my family.  Am I known for changing the lyrics to any song to make them about my kids, I can use my kids names as any part of speech, try me, I dare you.

We have an aqua-blue high chair with owls on it, and I’ve used it to feed and nourish both my babies.  I have a love/hate relationship with this chair, because although it holds fond memories, it’s a pain the butt to clean.  Today as I glanced over at my son in the chair I saw him wiggling along to the music coming from my laptop.  In that moment I realized that he was learning to dance, I actually saw his soul and spirit start to connect with his body in a happy little wiggle.  It was marvelous, and I was captivated by the wiggly dance he was doing as he munched on his avocado and black bean snack.

I have to confess that I’ve felt depression and self-doubt creeping into the corners of my mind lately.  I’ve had to fight to keep them at bay, I’ve had to breathe deep when life threatened to overwhelm me and make lists when it all seemed to pile up and threaten to burry me.  So many balls in the air, so many unknowns, so much faith to find and energy to muster.  More than a few fleeting thoughts of “why bother?”

Some days the learned and genetic anxiety that I have in my heart and my DNA is more prevalent, more annoying than others.  The scales are tipping in the favor of freedom, but life is a journey and I have yet to arrive.

So today as I worried and chopped peppers I glanced over to see my son learning how to dance and instantly realized that it was a gift.  Dancing is essential and it’s a way that my body reminds my soul that life is beautiful.  My one year old gets it, but somewhere along the way too many of us forget.  Do you dance when you think no one is watching?  Do you sing in the shower in those moments when you feel unfettered and light in the warm sudsy rain?

Some days I find myself carrying out those practices to produce the joy I lack.  I dance and sing to remind and remember.  I fake it, until I make it.

Today was one of those days, so in ridiculous fashion I put on some lady gaga and rounded up the family for a little dance party.

When life feels huge, if we can swing it, maybe we should just dance?

Dance to remind ourselves that so much of what we feel trapped by can be forgotten or has been already removed by the cross.  If only we would realize how light and free we really are.  If only.

You’re free.  You are.  I am.  We are.

Just breathe.  Just dance, gonna be okay… da da doo.

Also today I am teaming up with my sweet friend Heather Tiger, who is doing a repost of my take on redemption as told through my son’s toy elephant, so in case you missed it, check it out!

Seventh Anniversary

Dave Verkaik, 1955 - 2005

It’s rainy, it’s gray and the heavens look like they’re about to open the flood gates and drench us all in a cool spring rain.  It was like that seven years ago today, the day I lost my Dad.

Each anniversary has been drastically different for me.  The earlier years were crushing and painful.  I typically spent them with close friends and we shared soup and pie, my two main comfort foods.  Each year has been different, but the common thread is one of healing.  Still, I always ache for him, not just on March 19 but always.  Some days it seems like he’s been gone forever but sometimes the thought of our seven year separation sounds ridiculous.

When I hear my friends use the phrase “my Dad said” or “I talked with my Dad” my heart and mind think this:  Oh, Your dad? I’m jealous that you have a Dad.  I remember what that was like, having a Dad.  I loved my Dad, he was awesome.  God I miss him, so bad.

When we buried my Mom my Uncle Rich said read this quote over her grave.  It is profoundly, perfectly true and it has permanently adhered itself to my perspective on loss.

Nothing can make up for the absence of someone we love and it would be wrong to try to find a substitute. We must simply hold out and see it through. That sounds very hard at first but at the same time it is a great consolation.  For the gap, as long as it remains unfilled, preserves the bond between us. It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap. God does not fill it but on the contrary keeps it empty and so helps us to keep alive our former communion with each other even at the cost of pain.  ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

As famous theologians tend to do, Bonhoeffer nailed it.  I walk this earth with an empty Dave shaped hole.  He was my one and only, and I am forever lacking him.  I would describe it as a constant dull ache, or a lost limb. Those who have lost an arm or a leg describe phantom pains that happen periodically, and sometimes my Dad-gap aches like that.  I’m constantly aware that he’s gone, but sometimes there is a sharp, acute pain, and in those moments his absence is almost intolerable.

I have grown to have a peace with my Dad gap, I couldn’t get rid of it so finding a peace with it was the next best thing.  I honor my connection with him by honoring the purpose God put on my life.  One of the last and best conversations we had was him reassuring me that once I had found my call, my “thing”, that I would soar.  I was floundering in those days, only on the cusp of giving him something to be proud of.   would be proud of me, and although I have a hefty amount of self-doubt, that is one thing I am pretty confident in.

No one really knows whether or not the dead bear witness to what is happening here on earth.  There are logical parts of me that are sure that they don’t, and then there are corners of my heart that are confident that they can.

I do still feel that painful connection Bonhoeffer refers to.  My Dad and I are still in communion and although I don’t understand the logistics of it, I know that he’s at peace.  He’s with God and he’s bursting with joy, his burdens are gone, and he’s fully the person God created him to be.  I can also feel how much he loves his grandkids, even though he’s never held them or pushed them on a swing.

Yes, I love being my Father’s daughter, yes I feel him, and oh yes… I miss him even seven years out it stings and it’s hard.  But we are intrepid, we carry on.

Found Favor

I’ve been experimenting with my Sunday posts, trying to start a “thing.”  For the past little while that “thing” was choosing joy, document how I choose to see God in my life.  However, today it occurred to me that those posts were more about me than what God is doing through me.  So today I had a new idea, and I’m testing it to see if its my idea or God’s.

Each Sunday I’m going to share my heart on our church’s teaching and host a sort of online Lifegroup on this blog.   You might be thinking… yay, you’re posting sermon notes!?  No, I’m just blogging about how I experienced God through a specific teaching, which is available to you as well.  

Also, it really helps me digest the material and allow it to change my heart. Win, Win, Win.

Since I attend a lifechurch.tv network church, you’re able to watch whatever sermon I’m referring to from anywhere and join in the discussion. If you don’t feeling like listening to the message there will be enough unique content to chime in.  Also, for those of you who don’t love going to traditional church, this could be a great way for you to try church online and share your thoughts.  I will be especially faithful in returning comments and offering up prayers on these Sunday posts.

Click here to try church online now or click here to download the latest life church podcast.  (Only available midweek after the Sunday message)

FOUND FAVOR (Week 2)  Steven Furtick

When we first went into this series I was nervous that it might be a “name it and claim it” type thing  and those aren’t my favorite.  However, this series shook me and took my perspective on favor and gave it a complete 180.

Two statements that cleared it up for me: 

“The Favor of God is different than Favors From God”

And

” God didn’t choose you because of performance but because of your purpose”

Here is what Pastor Steven Furtick had to say about The Favor of God:  It’s The guarantee of his presence and the provision of his power to accomplish his special purpose in and through my life.

There are a lot of places in both the Old and New Testament where the word Favor is used.  I always thought that if you had the favor of God, it meant you lived comfortably, protected and happy about 97% of the time. Maybe the worst thing that happened to you was that it rained when you wanted to take the boat out.  Or maybe your Hillsong CD got scratched and wouldn’t play on your way to the Christian bookstore.  This was my picture of God’s favor, and I didn’t feel like I was in it.

I had allowed my understanding of God’s favor to be twisted by bad teaching and hard circumstances.  When you look at the bible, those who had the favor of God were people like David, who buried two of his kids.  Esther, who was persecuted and nearly killed for her boldness.  And the early church, many of whom died brutally for Christ.  They had the favor of God but they weren’t sitting out on a boat with their feet up.

The favor of God has nothing to do with being protected, it means that God will provide what you need to fulfill the purpose he is revealing for your life.  In fact God’s favor will almost certainly include troubles.

We’re here for a specific purpose and we can confidently expect that with purpose, comes God’s favor.  We should look for it expectantly in our lives.  His provision will not fail to sustain us although it may come in surprising ways.

The hand of God is not always obvious in the moment and we have to train ourselves to Recognize it.  I, for one, am much better at seeing his favor in hindsight.

Also, we need to remember that God’s favor isn’t really about out comfort so when his favor comes upon us we must be obedient to in how we respond to it.  As we learn to see his Favor all around us, we’ll mature and grow and God’s favor will grow and shift with us as well.  It will look different in different seasons.

I am still trying to rid myself of cynicism about my purpose.  I feel like God has called me to be a writer, but somewhere deep down I believe that I probably won’t be very successful in this purpose, that God is almost teasing me with it.  I believed that success in your passion was something reserved for really special people, and not me.

I’ve talked with some friends about this message and found that many of us, deep down struggle to believe that God will provide for our purposes.  Which is a harmful believe and a big reason why I resonated so deeply with this teaching.

Digital conversation starters

1) What did you think the favor of God was and how did this new perspective change your attitude toward the favor of God?

2) How do you see God’s favor in your life?  Where do you need to see it?  So often it’s already there if we look with clear eyes.

3) Share a time where you were able to clearly see and experience God’s favor around you.

Squeaky Clean Limericks

Gosh I love holidays, I almost dyed our oatmeal green this morning but at the last minute I decided against it.  I told Kel I rented him a leprechaun costume and that we were going to watch, “It’s the great Shamrock Charlie Brown,” The first of which is not true and the second of which is not real.  I also told him to prepare a reenactment of St Patrick’s story for the kids, he said He’d be St Patty and I could be the snakes.  Sweet, my only lines are hisssssss.

I’m actually a quarter irish and I remember one year that my Grandma got a tape of irish melodies to play for us in her convertible to expose us to Irish culture.  Turns out, most of them were about a topless mermaid, she was pretty embarrassed and in hindsight it was pretty funny.  The best laid plans my friends…

So in honor of two things I love, holidays and writing, I think we should all write up some limericks! The Limerick is a short, 5 line poem named after the town of Limerick in Ireland.

Here’s some loose instructions.  

Limericks consist of five lines. The rhyme scheme is AAbbA. In other words, Lines One, Two, and Five all rhyme with each other, and Lines Three and Four rhyme with each other.

Here’s a few examples, read them out loud if you want to understand the meter of the Limerick.  Yes I wrote about my kids and what they’re doing right now, IE eating bananas and kissing on me.

There once was a baby named fizzle
Whose eyes were so blue they would sizzle
He ate bananas a lot
he grew tall like a shot
Would he play basketball?  Oh, Fo Shizzle

There was a sweet girl who blew kisses
Her aim wasn’t perfect, there were misses
All were under her spell
Their hearts she would fell
Except for with cats, there were hisses

So why not write us a limerick?  What do you have to lose?  Oh and no men from Nantucket, you know what I mean.

Heirlooms

photo compliments of bsidemetalworks

There is something soulful about the word heirloom, and I’m not talking about the tomatoes, although I am a big fan of those too.  In our current usage heirloom means something special, almost sacred, that is inherited or passed down, a keepsake worth cherishing and keeping safe.

A few months ago I posted about the boxes I inherited when I was in Michigan last summer.  Honestly they’re still mostly sitting there in the corner, the funeral guest books, the photos.  Today I walked by the photo albums and lifted them onto the bed, sorting through them one by one.  Spread out before me were grainy and yellowed pictures of my parents when they were dating, sitting in camp chairs or on the backs of cars.  My mom holding new babies and my dad reading to all three of us on his old beige lazy boy.

I couldn’t help but tear up because I miss being a family, being together.  When I look at some of the last photos of my dad I feel like I’m almost looking thru his chest and right at his heart, wishing we would have known that it was failing.  As I looked through all of those old photos I felt strangely sad and inspired all at the same time.  As I remembered where I came from, the photos with the goofy haircuts and bad wallpaper, I felt more “me” than I had been before I sifted through the photos.

The fact is that my life and the way I live it is the true heirloom that my parents left behind.  They had struggles and they made some mistakes but when I look over the photos of birthday parties and halloweens something inside me connects with all that they hoped and prayed I would become.  They weren’t the only two that raised me either, I was nourished and tended to by a village of aunts, uncles and cousins as well.  I was raised by a village, and they passed on heirlooms that go even farther beyond the memories seen in those yellowed photos.

My walk with God- an heirloom, the most precious one they gave me

My strong work ethic- an heirloom, one that serves me well… most of the time

My love of food- an heirloom, so many of our traditions center around food and family gathered ’round.

My dedication to my own family- an heirloom, one I hope never fades in my lineage.

The way I wake up, pray, serve, love and strive, the passion and wisdom I carry around in my heart, these are the real heirlooms.  When I combine them with the memories that we made together in tents and living rooms year after year I discover that they are what I cherish most.

Fond memories and strong character, they are an heirloom of such great value that they transcend a monetary figure.

What heirlooms are you carrying inside that you cherish?  What are you investing in now that future generations will love to carry on?

Dear Lord, give us tunnel vision to use every moment to build into our communities and families strong heirlooms that will build a legacy that brings your heaven to earth.  Free us from our baggage, our vices and our past so that we can move where you want us to move.  Amen and Thank you.