Ebenezer Book

just a little Ebenezer

I’ve spent a lot of time lately reflecting on God’s faithfulness.  I’m over focusing on only the dark spots on my timeline, because the long and short of it is that God has been overwhelmingly and incredibly faithful to me.  My History is sprinkled with his loving interventions.

So many people think history is about what used to be, but I tend to believe that history has even more to do with what will be.  We can’t navigate the future without the knowledge we gained from the past, what we have moved through and hopefully beyond.

I sat in church this morning and soaked in a teaching on the condition of the heavy soul.  A heavy soul exists because you’re either hurting about where you’ve been, struggling with where you are, or you’re anxious about the future.  Hurt and anxiety naturally add weight to the soul

During the teaching we were encouraged to look over God’s faithfulness in the past to gain faith for our current surroundings.  Remembering God’s provision takes the weight off our heavy and anxious souls.  Sadly, my problem is that I tend to be incredibly forgetful in the midst of the difficult seasons, I freak out and say things like “it’s not going to be okay” or “it’s always going to be this way.”  It’s like dementia hits my memory and I can’t trust in God’s guiding hand because I have amnesia on a soul level.

So I guess I need to start a practice that helps me remind myself of how crazy faithful my God has been to me.  So out of that need I came up with the idea of the Ebenezer Book.  Yes as in “here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by thy help I’m come.”

An Ebenezer was a monument to God’s faithfulness in the Old Testament, something that the Hebrews physically put up for themselves as a reminder of a time when God showed up in a visible and obvious way, it was usually a stack of rocks.

While I think this would be cool, and can totally see myself celebrating God’s goodness by hauling some rocks around the back yard and getting my inner mason on, this form of raising an Ebenezer isn’t too practical for me now.  I am prone to wander so much that I need some sort of reminder.  So I am starting an Ebenezer Book where I record times where I have eyes to notice God’s faithfulness.

The hope here is that when I start to act like the sky of my life is falling I will grab this book and read over that ways in which God has provided.  Not only that but I will have to record these Ebenezers (Ebenezerai?) as they are happening which will only force me to drink them in even more, to gain an even fuller realization of how deeply God is at work in the moment.

I’ll even record one for you right now.

A few years ago Kel and I made the commitment to live debt free via the Dave Ramsey Plan.  Which meant incurring no more debt for his Seminary classes, which are about $550 a credit hour.  Tuition was coming due and although we had received some help, we had no idea how to pay for all of it.  With a brand new baby and a brand new mortgage I thought we would have to incur more student loans or he would have to quit.  Late one morning I got a phone call, there had been a financial aid mixup in our favor and a scholarship Kel barely knew he had applied for was waiting to cover the entire semester’s bill.  I put down the phone and cried and almost ran out into the backyard in my pajamas to get down to Ebenezer building (because he’s a Judaic studies minor and these things have rubbed off on me)  

This is the sort of memory that is going in the Ebenezer book.  

Or I could just put a picture of both of my children in the book, although I’m sure they would be climbing on my lap trying to check out the book out for themselves as I read it.  So, I really only need look around me to see the reminder of God’s faithfulness through them.  Their faces, their curls, their personalities, how they were exactly what we needed, exactly when we needed them.  How the first time we brought the home we wondered how we ever did without them.

Ebenezers, both of them, although I’m sure they’re quite happy they avoided us naming either of them Ebenezer.

Yes, I must give this a try, because I am fickle, and I am human and I need the reminder.  Remembering will bring peace, I just know it.

Have you raised an Ebenezer lately?  Or maybe you’re as fickle as I am and need to get into this habit so you don’t pull a chicken little when the tiniest crack appears in your life.

Depression ≠ no faith

Image by graphicshunt.com/images/depression

I’m going to try to write about a frustration, a double standard and a serious personal issue all in one post, less than 1,000 words. So bear with me.

If you’re not brand spanking new to my blog you know that my mother took her life last year after a 30 year battle with depression and anxiety. Well I haven’t shared much about this but depression is a battle I’ve fought in my life too. I’ve been medicated and I was committed once, about 15 years ago. Today I’m pretty healthy, I have my ups and downs, my moods, but sometimes I feel blue, thick, heavy, and I worry.

I don’t have the same diagnosis as she did, my depression is a tad more situational and much less clinical. But I am her daughter, and I have inherited a piece of her struggle.

I’m not saying that I spend a lot of time fretting that I’ll share her fate, but I would be lying if I said it doesn’t cross my mind sometimes, especially when I find myself feeling gray and hopeless. But doing that to my children, my family, oh God forbid, God FORBID.

It’s not always easy to be a Christian with depression, because there are still some people in the church that really don’t understand. And sometimes those people have hurt me with their lack of knowledge. When I’ve tried to talk about my struggle in church world I’ve been told:

1) Not to confess or talk about it, that doing so would give the devil a foothold.
2) To pray it out, that increased faith would get rid of it and that time in the word will give me strength and cheer me up about God’s faithfulness.
3) That taking medication for it invalidates God’s power to heal me.

My friend recently wrote me and said: “All I know is the more a depressed person hears that it’s their own fault, the more depressed they become. It’s like when parents say, “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.” It just makes the child cry harder. “

Now, don’t get me wrong, there is some depression that is spiritual and situational (it’s in the bible – Job and David to be specific) and then there is some that is chemical and genetic. The second kind can be inherited and recurrent, it’s the sort that can relapse and will leave a person always on their guard when the blues set in.

You have to understand depression before you speak into it, otherwise your words may have the exact opposite effect than what you’re going for. It’s simpler to understand cancer, we know that there’s a tumor and that a doctor can throw chemo at it.

But depression can’t be seen on a screen or radiated away. It takes patience, medication, and a tenacious resolve to climb out of the pit. And the cruelest thing of all is that it can rob you of almost everything you need to fight it. You need to exercise but you can barely get through the work day awake. You need to eat well but the ability to cook is beyond you. You need to work aggressively through counseling but it’s so much easier not to talk about it. It’s an evil thing depression, straight evil.

I may have recurrent and genetic depression, I may not, I’m not entirely sure yet. However, I pray that everyone in the church begins to understand that my depression doesn’t make my faith any less strong than your eczema, diabetes or whatever genetic disease you’ve inherited.

If you lost a parent to breast cancer or liver failure, no one would ever fault you for being on your guard against those diseases. If you expressed concerns that you might share in your parents fate, people would understand and encourage testing. If you found out you had cancer or needed dialysis no one would ever insinuate that this happened because of your lack of faith.

But people with a family history of depression don’t always get that same courtesy. I can tell you first hand that I’ve been told that my faith will deliver me from any of my mother’s problems with depression. Yet depression can be genetic, so what gives? There’s a double standard here, it’s understandable to inherit genetic cancer, but genetic depression might indicate a weak relationship with God.

We have to put a stop to this, it’s not the love of Christ, it’s… disease-ism? (like racism but with illnesses)

I’m not writing this to hurt anyone’s feelings. If you’ve said something out of your lack of knowledge, I give you ample grace because I believe your intent was lovely. Depression isn’t one of those things that you learn about until you have to, until it’s happening to you or around you. But as a church, a BIG C Church, we need to understand that some forms of depression are chemical and very real and difficult to understand and diagnose.

The brain, the mind, is in many ways the final frontier of the medical community. Less than 100 years ago people with mental illness were cast out, committed or worse, given lobotomies or had part of their brain removed. So, to say the least, we’ve improved.

I have prayed over this post, it’s not been easy to write, but on my heart I feel a call to bring light to those with deep faith, who still struggle with depression. My brothers, my sisters, if you are fighting along side me, you are brave, never stop fighting, never stop running, confessing and climbing. Just because depression is real and clinical doesn’t mean God won’t bring healing. It only means that if he doesn’t, our faith is still justified.

I hope I’ve brought a light, I hope I’ve encouraged truth.

And all the people said, amen?

My Sidewalk Chalk Theology or in Poop, Grace

I didn’t plan outdoor playtime this morning.  I only walked out the front door at 7:30 AM because I had a raunchy diaper to take the trash.  But, as is their usual, my kids followed me outside and as the breeze blew across my still greasy face and ridiculous bed-head, I decided to just go with it.  The kids were half in their pajamas, with only diapers on their bottoms, the dewey grass wet around their ankles and knees.  We kicked the ball, it flew high in the wind.  The little man  made his way slowly across the lawn on his little radio flyer scooter.  It was lovely, unplanned, grace from poop, poop grace.  (Not to be confused with booger grace, which is also very useful)

Eventually they climbed in the wagon that usually blocks our front door and I pulled them and their kickballs into the backyard.  Almost immediately, my daughter brought me some sidewalk chalk.  I listened patiently to all of her requests to draw shapes and animals, hearts and boats.  But, when they ran off to explore their playhouse I picked up some chalk and without thinking wrote the word “grace” across the concrete.  When I looked over my art I found that it was smack dab in-between two splats of bird poop.  Again, in the midst of poop, grace.

Isn’t that just the way Life is?  Isn’t that just the way God works?  He’s always trying to direct the eyes of my soul to his beauty, to breathe his grace, which is fresh and needed  amidst the smell of poop.

Today very well might hand you some poop situations.  If you’re a mother of young kids it may be literal and if you’re not in that season, it may be metaphorical poop.  My life has taught me that in poop, there is almost always grace, and even the potential for laughter, if only you have eyes to see.

Have you found grace in poop lately?  Do you feel like you’re buried too high and too deep to open your eyes to look for it?  Be strong, keep looking, if I can pray for you, I will.

My Fleece Fetish

Putting out my new school fleece.

When I was 16 I went backpacking with Young Life just outside of Jackson Hole Wyoming.  It was on that trip that I became obsessed with all things fleece.  I even proclaimed to my friends that I was determined to secure myself a head to toe fleece outfit, right down to the bra and underwear, which I’m pretty sure they don’t even make.  In hindsight, a day in fleece underwear would be terribly awful for reasons I don’t need to point out.   In my twenties the fleece obsession continued and I went with the north face wearing, carabiner key-clipping, volkswagen driving backpacker chic look.

I’m still a bit of a fleece snob and when you approach me on the chillier winter months, I’m prone to evaluate your fleece choice.  North face, Patagonia or an Old Navy knockoff?  I have to know.  I’ll love you either way, but I’m a fleece judger.   And don’t even get me started on babies who wear North Face, that’s an $80 jacket that they’ll wear for about 8 days, that’s $10 a wear, enjoy it while it lasts.

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Our history in hymns

I grew up in the church, part of a family of very faithful church attenders and volunteers.  I was raised in the Christian Reformed Church, which means that on Sundays we did church in the morning and then again at night.  I remember crawling up and down the green carpeted stairs of the church of my childhood, waiting for my Dad to get done preparing Sunday School material, it was my second home.

My Dad knew what a hard time I had holding still during the service and so on our way we’d always stop at the same gas station to get a couple rolls of Mentos to get us through church.  They’re pretty chewy so Mento bribery works well if you’re looking for a candy to quiet little mouths.  Of course it didn’t always work so I also remember my dad throwing me over his shoulder, ruffled bloomers hanging out for all to see, and spanking me in the church stairwell.

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My Hand Tattoos

Can I be honest?  I waiver and fluctuate a lot, almost across the board.  Some days I’m a neat freak and then other days I can’t muster up the energy to do the dishes.  Somedays I chart my eating and make sure I get at least 5 servings and fruits and vegetables, and then this past Wednesday I ate Five Guys, topped off with a cupcake, washed down with tacos.  One day I’ll feel completely rock solid about how I’m called to live for God and then the next day I’ll feel lost, anxious and totally forget how faithful God is.

Good thing he’s always holding up his end, because if we were moving a couch, God would have his end hoisted high and I’d be whining about how hard and heavy moving furniture was.  Kind of a random example but let’s go with it.

To put it simply I’m forgetful when it comes to what exactly it is that I’m doing here on this earth and all those promises God made to me.

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Seeking a better source

this is the more romantic version of our usual because we're on the same couch (minus the pizza box)

Tweet I’m likely to write:

“Battling with the Kel over the scrabble board again, there’s a 95% chance he’ll win, but I’m scrappy and I have ice cream on my side. #lovepjdates!”

Tweet I’m less likely to write:

“Laying on the couch watching TV, @kelpenny is on the love seat playing computer games too tired to talk or care!  #thisisterribleforourmarriage”

However, the ugly truth is that the second status is a better definition of what happens most evenings after our kids finally doze off.  We get the house put back to rights and pass out in front 5 screens (2 laptops, 2 iPhones, 1 TV)  And that hash tag ^ is so accurate.  This pattern stops communication, romance and even laughter.  We don’t share our days or our hearts, instead we just check out.

This isn’t what I thought marriage post kids would be like.  This isn’t what either of us really want, we’re just too worn out to figure out a better way.

As I was sweeping up mini wheat crumbs (a very messy kid snack choice BTW) I started to wonder why we had so little left at the end of the day.  Are we doing it wrong?  Nearly everyone tells me that we’re in one of life’s hardest seasons, parenting preschoolers.  I know it’s hard and I believe that it gets easier, but that doesn’t mean I’m at peace with our current routine.  I know every night won’t be steeped in intimacy and connection, but surely we can do better?

It’s a pretty Christian-eese answer but I think our problem is that we are connecting to the wrong source.  We are relying on ourselves and not on God to get us by.  We’re trying to create within ourselves the energy we need to live out our respective calls: Kel at his college ministry and me at home with our kids playing, cooking, laundering and writing when space allows.

I’m currently living with the belief that I am in possession of everything I need to live life well.  The fact is that I’m not, I have to live relying on God for the strength to get by.  If I don’t find a way to incorporate this rhythm into the way I do things, I will always be stressed out and worn thin like I am now.

I’m not good at relying, I really enjoy the facade of self sufficiency that I’ve been living in…except for the fact that it’s not working.

I guess I need to examine where I draw my energy and what keeps me going.  Sadly a lot of days it’s just the thought of having time to myself to write, read in the tub or devour that cupcake I’ve been saving. Time to do what I want to do and not be ruled by the needs of other people.

Are these bad motivators?  No, they’re great, but when one child is screaming and the other one is flinging milk all over the breakfast table that 8:00PM cupcake isn’t really going to get me through the day.  So… what will sustain more than a cupcake?

I’m trying to comprise a list of things that will:

1) Prayer Dear God, help me get over this stress, this frustration and find my way into a place where I’m just a vessel of what you’re trying to say to the world today. Sometimes I just shoot up please for patience or sing song lyrics as a prayer, whatever my brain allows.

2) Foundation– How am I starting each day?  Well, I wake up to someone crying and pass out in front of the TV, somewhere in there people get fed and we manage.  If I can find a way to sneak off to lay a better, deeper foundation to my day, I find that it’s really a game changer.  If I give God my first and best he will provide the rest… as they say.

3) Scale back to see the big picture: Today is just a dot, a speck in my life and my life is just a blip in the grand scheme.  This keeps me humble and grounded when fatigue tries to burry me in a mountain of baby socks and dishes.  This is just a day in a life that will make a difference, I believe it.

4) Reminders– Remember why it is you’re doing what you’re doing.  If you truly believe that you are called to your specific life than God is just around the corner with a fuel that will sustain you to do amazing things… like be able to enjoy a conversation after 8PM.

And I am going to start keeping track of how much TV we’re watching in my planner.  That’s right, I use an old school paper planner, cuz I’m cool like that.

This is a journey that I’m on, clearly I’m not “there” yet.  I want to live with more joy and grace, but so many days I find myself contemplating hiding in the closest with a box of cookies hoping for sanctuary.

Maybe you’re trying to stay this course as well, to plug into a source that will charge your batteries to 100% and not leave you feeling like you’re running low all the time.

There is a life giving rhythm to be found, I know it’s in God and I know that they world won’t make it easy, yet I believe it will be worth all our seeking.

God’s my bubble wand

My beautiful bubble girl.
And yes we have an oil rig in the backyard, it's just one of the ways God is teaching me see the beautiful in the non-ideal.

I’ve been a space cadet this last week, not the kind who does sciencey stuff with NASA but the kind who puts conditioner on their arms in the shower and puts the ice cream in the pantry.  However, I’ve still managed some pretty good living in spite of the foggy conditions in my head.

Friday evening the kids and I were sitting in the backyard twilight, blowing bubbles and playing on the slide.  For the first part of the evening I was the bubble blower, until my 2 year old’s independent streak set in and she got all “it’s mine!” with the bubble wand.

As I blew bubbles, they floated in the Oklahoma wind and the kids set out to catch them.  My daughter kept getting father away from me, going for the fringe bubbles and got increasingly frustrated that they were so sparse and high.  I found myself shaking my head and shouting to her: “You’re getting so far away from the source of the bubbles!  Come by mama and bubbles abound!”  Yes I use words like source and abound with my preschoolers.

As soon as I had uttered those words my thoughts turned spiritual and I wondered: if my peace and joy were bubbles, then God is my bubble wand.  He’s the source of everything I’m chasing after, and so often I stray far from him and expect a field of bubbles.

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The church that saved my life

 

Three and a half years ago a newly pregnant Leanne moved to the small town of Ada, OK sight unseen.  As I unloaded boxes of towels and dishes into our “new” kitchen, which featured an oven with Lamborghini doors, I was full of thoughts of “What have I done?!”

I knew no one in town and no one knew me.  I had no job and nothing to do, I was pregnant and set up to raise my child far from anyone who could show me how.   Kel’s ministry is supported by 10 churches, and so we knew that our new home church would have to be found within this group.  Two days after I moved to town I stepped through the doors of H2O church, on the corner of main street, for the first time.

I had no idea at that day but this church would become my lifeline and the reason I have been able to survive and thrive as an Oklahoma transplant.

At first I was nitpicky, wow, I used to be such shameful a church critic.  The teaching was video and they did an altar call at the end of the service.  I’d never attended an altar call church and I wasn’t sure how I felt about it, but my options were limited so I decided to dig in and make it work for me.  I started networking as a survival skill and soon had an invitation to a lifegroup that evening.

I stepped into this church that day focused on all that it could do to serve me.  I stood there today three years later reflecting of my knee jerk critiques and started to well up with tears.  I am so thankful that God was able to grow my shallow heart and teach me that church isn’t about meeting my needs, but providing a home and a support for my totally unique call to serve in God’s kingdom.  It has little do with with a building, teaching methods or worship styles and everything to do with a community of people being renewed and restored by a faithful and gracious God and then taking that love out the front doors with them to share with the world.

This church, these beautiful people I do life with have stepped in and saved me again and again.  They were the first on the scene when my daughter was born, overwhelming me with excitement as I drifted out of C-section recovery.  They were on my doorstep with a basket of road trip snacks as we set out for Michigan hours after my Mother’s death.  And they were by far the most vocal about encouraging me to follow the call to write and to share my story.

In this church my college ideas of what church should be have changed from what how church works to what we the church does.

So, Tiffany, Zac, Callie, Hannah, Brian, Joely, Jason, Cari, Kent, Jenae’, Amy, Scottie, Lauri, Ally, Dawn, Duty Girls, Gary, Lanita, Christy, Tyson and everyone else who calls our church home: Thank you for saving my life, for being Jesus to me as we grow to be more like him together.  If I am ever called away from Ada, a piece of my heart will always be in our church because I feel so forever woven into the fabric of our church.

If you’ve been hurt by church, too picky, overly critical or just plain aloof, my prayer for you is that you can heal and return to the body.  Come be the church with us, you don’t have to live in our town, the church is everywhere because Christ is alive in all of us.

The proof is in the past

I’m mostly an optimist, a joy seeker, except when I’m not.  Then I’m a pessimistic cynic.

For example, when an amazing possibility pops up on my horizon, the kind that stands to fulfill my wildest dreams, I immediately get cynical and closed off.  It’s probably too good to be true so inevitably it’s not going to happen, God’s going to say no.

I try to pray God’s will, but those prayers aren’t always honest.  I have my mind and heart so dead set on getting the answer I want that praying God’s will is sort of a lie.  I want my will, because God’s will could be no.  What I want would make me really happy and make my insides dance, so I bet God says no.  His will probably involves me growing in patience as I learn to love a non-ideal situation, that’s how he rolls.

I know all the cliches and Christian responses but they aren’t always helpful.  You tell me “You only want to be in the center of God’s will.” and I say “Of course, you’re right.  Confession:  inside I’m saying “Yeah I know… but I really want that ….job, that house etc…”

So I’m flipping God off again and telling him that I know better.  Wow… I just don’t learn do I?

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