For today, I am going to love the mess.

This mess is ours.

This mess does not stop at our tree either. Typically this mess would give me quite a bit of actual anxiety and cause me to be rather nasty to everyone I love. But, for some reason, it is different this year.

It is December 27th. I walk through my home and I hear our girls playing together in one of their rooms. I see our son at our dining room table turned Lego central, building what must be his sixth Lego kit. My husband has been grinding our coffee beans and drinking several cups of hot coffee while building with our kids. I finally showered, since..ahem… Christmas Eve. We have really soaked in the days after Christmas to just be together and it has been amazing.

Anyone in the generation one step above mine, with kids grown or who have left the house, have made it clear that Christmases like this are for a very short season in life. Soon the sounds of screams on Christmas morning over the perfect toy, the wonder of how these toys got here, which toy to play with first, will be replaced by Christmas brunches with most of your kids, if you are lucky, as they start spending Christmas with their significant other’s family. Your trees will be perfect and orderly as no one will be touching them. The mess will be cleared as soon as it is made, if it is made. The wonder of it all fades away as your children age.

I am a bit… or rather a lot… particular about our house. If you have ever been to our home, I am particular about making sure things like the toilets are always clean (we can’t let anyone know that we actually poop), the counters are cleaned off, and things are in some order for use to live in an efficient manner. Also, quite honestly, I like when our house looks nice. There I said it. I care a lot about appearances and I want our home to be functional but mostly, look nice.

This makes me super fun to live with. Also, it is hard on my mind to keep up with it all. It exhausts me. So much. The guilt and the struggle, the frustration and the anger I have towards myself for not just letting things be, but also the genuine anxiety I get with clutter and mess. It is just a whole thing in my mind, that the people I love the most get to experience from the front row.

But, right now, things are different. We are on a pause from life and it feels so good. As a teacher married to a teacher, we worked right up until Christmas Eve, in what we can all describe as a very different year. Our family, as with many families have experienced a lot of tragedy this year, life just keeps taking some hits, and we have not had a moment to even process them. Everything just keeps coming at us and life keeps going but this week, right now, in the days between Christmas and New Years…we have no plans because you can’t have plans this year and we are just being here, with each other, in our joyful mess.

We aren’t rushing the moment along. We aren’t yelling at our kids to get their stuff together for school, in whichever learning model they are in. We aren’t meal planning or grocery shopping. We aren’t worried about the laundry because pajamas for tomorrow sounds really nice. We are playing. We are building. We are napping. We are being together.

We can’t do this forever. We will have to return to the world soon. But for right now, I am going to soak in the mess. This is the most rested I have felt in a very long time. The most calm I have felt. The most present. The most loving. We are giving our family this time to just be and to enjoy one another.

I am grateful for the women ahead of me who have spoken such truth into me about enjoying the right now, as the season is fleeting. These women remind me about the loneliness of a clean family space. The heartbreak of sharing your children with another family. The sorrow that comes with the great joy of raising your children to be adults with their own lives.

Therefore, right now, we will enjoy our mess.

We also ran out of trash bags, so that has been a real hangup on the whole cleaning up thing. The tree is raining needles, making it painful to walk by it, and the trash is really piling up outside. We will have to pick up tomorrow so that we can continue to play but have the space to do it well. And…the mess is starting to get to my husband. Maybe he has more of my mind then we thought.

But right now, I am going to soak it all in.

let it leave its mark

When a tree experiences trauma, like a storm, its trunk is permanently impacted by that moment. It can and will keep growing strong and tall, but will forever show markings of that moment.

The other reason a tree may have this unique bend is because it was not getting what it needed from their current position, so the trees trunk began to grow in the direction where it would receive the light it needs to survive. Permanently marked because it fought to survive.

We have all been marked by an experience, experiences, or moments. We have scars from when we fell on our bikes as kids. We have scars from when we have the chicken pox. We have scars from surgeries we have had. We have changes in our skin from children we have grown in our bodies. We are marked by life. Our markings tell our story.

My body is full of scars. I have had several surgeries throughout my lifetime, lots of falls, a real unfortunate treadmill fall, and lots of damage done to my body by myself over time leaving me with a lot of loose skin, lots of markings, and lots of stretch marks. My body is marked by my life experiences. Your body is also marked by your life experiences.

When our son was 4, he had an unfortunate run in with a golf club to his eyebrow. You could see bone when you looked at him. After a series of stitches and being oh so brave, our boy who did not have any permanent marks yet, got his first real scar. I remember thinking how his face would never be the same again. He was changed. He was marked. And now, when I look at our sweet boy, his inch long scar over his left eye is a symbol for the time he was a total badass and allowed a doctor to sew his eye brow without having to be held down.

Two of my favorite little people are covered in scars from multiple surgeries starting just moments after their birth. Being friends with their parents is one of the best gifts I have ever received because they have shown me perspective, the ability to persevere, and so much love. These little people who are now ten and seven, are two of the bravest individuals I know, next to their parents who had to watch it all happen. Their bodies are full of scars, some that can be hidden under clothing, and some that are out for the world to see. I love the ones that are there for the world to see because to me, it shows their strength, their badassness, and their ability to take on some really hard things and do it with amazing grace. Their scars give me strength to tackle the hard things. I pray these two little ladies grow up showing off their scars, not hiding them, because of the strength they represent. Their families are doing an incredible job of empowering these fierce firecrackers to know how strong they are and how amazing their scars are.

Scars, markings, the left behind reminders of a season are not a bad thing. They show us our strength. They need to be better celebrated and acknowledged. They lead to someone’s story and someone’s heart. They can also show you how far you have come, how much you have grown, and remind you of your own perseverance.

Not all scars or markings are left on our outsides, most often it is our heart that takes the most marks. Can you imagine what our hearts (not the beating one) would look like if all the pain and suffering we experienced internally left an actual marking. We need to acknowledge that internal marking that no one else sees, but we feel. We have felt it and continue to feel it. That shifting, that struggle, that growing, that strength brought on by suffering, pain, joy, and life.

We are coming to the close of what for many of us has been our hardest year. If it was not your hardest year, I think most of us can agree it was a challenging year. For some of you, I want to acknowledge that this may have been a joyous year marked by some global ick as you experience pregnancy or welcoming a baby home. I am so happy for you and want to encourage you to scream your joy out loud, for we all need to hear those great things too.

The thing is, I see people running at 2021 wanting to get as far away from 2020 as possible and forget it all behind. Don’t. Let this year leave its mark. Reflect on what ways you have been changed, shifted, fought to survive, impacted by trauma, and yet, you made it. Let the year leave its mark so that in the future, when you experience more hard, because you will, you can remember that you made it through this hard. You made it through stronger. You grew on tall and strong. You adjusted, much like the tree, in order to survive the changes. You are going to need these reminders because hard will come again and it will not magically disappear on January 1, 2021. Life just does not work that way. But you have changed. You are stronger. You have markings that show that you have grown, you have lived, you have survived. Let this season mark you.

Or you can be like me and get your first and second tattoos at the age of 36…in 2020, deciding it is time for you to choose what marks you.

To read more about these markings, check out Mountains and Valleys.

this Christmas.

I love Christmas. It is by far my favorite time of the year. My Grandma Fran loved Christmas. When I think of my Christmas memories so many of them involve the way she did Christmas, even though she passed away twenty five years ago. She left a huge legacy on all my Christmas traditions and my deep love of this season. The ribbon candy on my table, the Santa ornament on my tree, the appetizers on Christmas Eve, the reading of The Night Before Christmas. These are all beautiful and cherished memories that I am so grateful were rooted into my childhood and life.

I also know this post-Christmas down. Maybe you have felt it too, when all the gifts are opened and all the traditions are done, and you are left with more stuff, more mess, and a little feeling of disappointment or sadness. It gets me every year. I want the joy of Christmas to last forever.

But this year, this year looks different for me. This year, we have invited Jesus to His own birthday celebration. If you have been around my writing for more than a minute, you know that my life drastically changed a year and a half ago after I felt Jesus pursuing me for years and I finally gave my life to Him after I had made such a mess of my own doing.

So, this year, Jesus is center in our celebration. Santa gets a nice nod because I do love a good tradition and my grandma would for sure assault me from Heaven <that is not gospel truth but stick with me> if we did not bring Santa to Christmas. But, our family is doing things a bit different this year.

This year we are doing Advent for the first time as a family. I mean, actually reading from the Bible each night, not just eating the chocolate. We have been eating the chocolate for years. Advent is beautiful. Advent takes my favorite day of the year and makes it a four week celebration of hope, peace, joy, and love. Every Christmas carol I hear now, like O Holy Night brings forth such emotion because they are about our Savior coming. Advent honors the wait and anticipation we feel during the Christmas season. The wait for Jesus’ arrival and for God to come to live with us on Earth. The wait feels different this year because it is so good when He does come.

Traditional Christmas songs and philosophy gets me differently this year. I think about this concept of naughty and nice, which was something we never really brought into in our home, but still it is front and center in secular Christmas culture. We sing songs with lyrics like

He’s making a list,

He’s checking it twice,

He’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice

Santa Claus is coming to town

Santa Claus is Coming to Town

Yet, Jesus came for us all. He knew we are all a mess and we all struggle with something and He came for all of us. Everyone can get the gift He brings because He came to save us all, naughty or nice.

Christmas is about God becoming fully human and living with us, Emmanuel means “God with us.” He came in the most humble of ways to save us. In a world, two thousand years ago and today, that focuses on money, stature, appearance, and power, Jesus came as a baby to poor parents, in a Middle Eastern country, to grow to be short and unattractive, still poor, and lacking governmental power. Yet, He was God. Constantly tempted, yet perfect. Feeling all human emotions, the joy and the suffering, yet obedient. He served others. He sat with the untouchables or social outcasts. He healed. He listened. He taught. He wept for the ones He loved. He wept for Himself knowing the horrible suffering He would endure to save us all and then silently gave Himself over for His own crucifixion. Jesus.

If you do not know Jesus as this loving, kind, serving, forgiving, and yet very confusing person, I encourage you to get to know Him, for yourself, not by what man tells you about Him. Read four books in the Bible: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Read just these four and get to know Jesus. Not religion, but Christianity. Not the laws and rules and hand-slapping of religion, but the hope, peace, joy, and love that is Jesus. If you need a Bible, please email me at ashleyelindner@gmail.com and I will get a Bible mailed to you!

This year is hard. Everyone knows it and I have written these exact words “this year is hard” in almost every post I have written this year. This is the year that we need hope, peace, joy, and love more than ever. So while I completely love the tradition of Santa and all the joy the celebration of him brings, this year I need to tie myself to the one who lasts all year. The one who truly came to town and truly brought the best gift ever. Salvation from a messy world. Isn’t that what we all want right now, to be saved from this messy world? It has come. He has come and we get to celebrate that this Christmas. Right now. This season.

On December 26th, or really, December 25th at 7 in the morning, when all the gifts are opened, because our kids don’t sleep past 5am on Christmas morning….this year, I will not feel the Christmas disappointment when it is over because the greatest gift we can get has already been given and it continues with us after the gifts are open. We are given a Savior who is hope, peace, joy, and love. This continues throughout the year and through our life between two gardens. Anchoring to Him, who is with us all the time, not just on one day, is the best gift we can receive.

For amazing resources to get to know Jesus better, consider checking out She Reads Truth.

For more posts like this, check out Surrendered, pieces, “This is why I drink.“, Rivers, Rapids, & Waterfalls, and Mountains and Valleys

“This is why I drink.”

If you exist in our society at all, you have heard the phrase “This is why I drink” after any sort of difficulty, setback, or even celebration.

It was a hard day. This is why I drink.

My kid is not listening. This is why I drink.

I had to have a heavy conversation today. This is why I drink.

My presentation went really well. This is why I drink.

I am an adult. This is why I drink.

It is my birthday. This is why I drink.

Our society also says things like, “You deserve a drink.” and “Your earned a drink.”

All of these are really okay. Seriously. Life is to be felt, commiserated, and celebrated.

It just gets out of control when it becomes, today is Tuesday. This is why I drink. Followed by today is Wednesday. This is why I drink.

But, for me, there is one reason not to drink and it is a powerful one. I do not like me when I am drinking.

I lose sight of my values, my family, how I want to handle situations, and how I want to live my life when I am drinking.

A drink is not a problem. A fun night is not the problem. The problem is when you lose yourself in the drinks.

It is of no surprise to anyone that this has been a really hard year. Reasons why one would drink are stacking up high. So high. There are a lot of reason to drink.

According to Hartford Healthcare, women have seen a 41% increase in binge drinking since the beginning of Covid 19. Read that again. 41% of women have seen an increase in binge drinking.

Binge drinking is defined as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 g/dl or above. 

Center for Disease Control

Binge drinking and social drinking are very different.

I found myself binge drinking a lot before Covid. I am so grateful that God worked hard in my life to pull me away from my alcohol addiction before Covid started because He knew if I was still drinking when Covid got heavy, it would crush me. Completely crush me.

I now sit on the other side of this mountain at seven months sober and have not had a drinking night that left me heavy with shame in over fifteen months.

The reasons I created to have a drink when I was drinking were really small reasons. It had gotten to the point that I was turning to alcohol because it was evening, because it was there, because I could, because… because… because.

And when I was turning to alcohol it was not for one drink. It was not even for two drinks. Even being this vulnerable and sharing this much with you, I am not okay with sharing how much I was drinking. Lets just leave it at more than I should have.

I was turning to alcohol to get away from anything and everything. And guess what, I missed out on anything and everything. Two years, gone. Gone. I was looking through my phone trying to get rid of random pictures to free up space <ugh> and I hit that time of my life and I was full of ick. I could see in my face that I had been drinking in that picture and I dreaded looking at the next one. Then I was surprised to discover that I have very few pictures from this season because I was not present enough to capture it. This fact, on the other side of this dark season, causes me a lot of sadness. A lot. So much missed in my young children’s lives and I cannot go back and fix it. I can’t and that stinks. A lot.

The other day I was obviously frustrated with a situation and ran into someone else who was also obviously frustrated with the same situation. She smiled at me and said, “This is why I drink.” I laughed… because it did make me laugh, as I did not expect this comment from her reserved demeanor and the situation we were in was a ridiculous one. But then, as I walked away I was struck by the fact that yes, this is a reason I would have had a drink in the past. Yet, instead, I went home and had a hot bath and some tea…and the emotions I would have numbed instead, worked through me and we moved on.

I drink a lot of tea these days.

Things are hard right now. If you are stuck in the hard and feeling like it is just piling on by adding a drink into it all…can I encourage you to reach out to someone you trust. Let them in. Let yourself say no. Let yourself find a new path for coping and healing.

There are a lot of reasons to drink.

But if it is not serving you well, that is enough of a reason to stop.

If you are losing yourself to it. If you are waking up with more regret and sorrow than you had the night before. If you are find yourself constantly reaching for another one. It may be time to reevaluate your situation.

I did not think summer would be summer without a Summer Shandy. Turns out, the season still comes, the sun is still hot, and the nights I do remember.

Christmas can be Christmas without the Blue Moons, red wines, or fancy cocktails.

The drinks do not make the season. Really, they don’t. And we can get through Covid without numbing it all away or creating a hard habit in the middle of isolation that would stay with you long after it is over.

This is a hard season. Don’t make it harder on yourself by adding in a new hard.

Addiction is real. Numbing is real. Avoidance is real. But… healing is real too.

If you are losing yourself in your drinking, that is reason enough to stop.

I would love to have a cup of tea with you and talk it through.

To read more about this or posts similar to this read Mountains and Valleys, pieces,

pieces.

we are all made of many pieces in one really messy puzzle

vulnerability and authenticity

These are two traits that I have come to realize are extremely valuable to me.

What you see of me is who I am, in all settings. However, they are just pieces of me.

The smiling family photo.

The piles of laundry in the corner of our bedroom.

The row of degrees that fill the top of my resume.

The deep need for naps on weekends.

The methodical lesson planning.

The unkind word spew when I am tired.

The loud, energetic story teller.

The withdrawn wallflower.

The put together, trendy, and with wedged boots.

The unshowered, messy bun, have I brushed my teeth yet today?

The crying.

The smiling.

The one who is pushing through.

The one who has surrendered.

The Christian.

The human mess.

These are all true of me. Every single time.

I bet some of these are true of you too, but I also know you have other pieces.

I am not faking it. Those smiles you see are real, but so are the tears and the push through. The calm is followed by the chaos. I am all these things and each time you see a piece of it, do not think that there is not more to it.

We have a saying in my circle, “layered onion.” We are all layered onions. There is so much more there than what is first seen and it does not mean that we are hiding anything or building walls, but sometimes, you are seeing a piece. An authentic and often very vulnerable piece.

But we are all much more than one simple piece.

I have come to the understanding that being known and deeply understood is really important to me. I love deep relationships and really struggle with small talk. I love when I have the opportunity to know someone’s heart and to share my heart with them. I take it as such a gift when people lower their walls and let me in. I know that this is a huge privilege as many of us walk around with fortresses covering anything beyond weather conversations. But, we were made to know each other on much more profound levels and to be deeply known.

The only way to be deeply known and deeply loved is by letting people see the pieces. That takes a lot of courage. Vulnerability comes easy to me but I completely recognize that it is not the same for everyone. However, offer a piece.

And on the other side, when you see a piece of someone, also remember it is only a piece. We have areas where we really rock it and also areas where we completely sink. Do not allow yourself to be fooled into thinking others are hitting levels you think are not possible for yourself because of the pieces you see. When you see that person doing amazing in one area of their life, celebrate and honor that, but also remember that they probably have areas where they are really struggling. Remember, pieces and layered onions. These people who are straight up slaying it in some areas might be fighting really hard to do so and need your encouragement and still need your love because they are probably fighting some hard mental things to gain that one win.

I know this because I am this. But, I also know this is true for everyone because I have been a human long enough to know that everyone has a struggle. Allow me to share a few of my pieces to help paint the picture of how messy our puzzle pieces are:

  • I am currently mentally stronger than I have been in years but life is throwing a lot at our family, as with many of yours right now. I am still showing up at school and doing my best. I smile and encourage. I help facilitate professional development and I suppose, from the outside, I present a picture of someone who has their stuff together. I am genuine when I smile, encourage, and walk beside my peers in this unknown world of teaching in a pandemic. But also, I come home and am spent. I am quiet and withdrawn to recharge my batteries. I need weekend naps and rest. I have cut down how much I even build some of my other relationships right now because I am so worn down from trying to do something that is very new and ever changing at school, while also trying to focus on loving my spouse and our children well in a very hard season. Both these sides are very, very real and very true of me.
  • And if we take it back two years, I was coming off a huge opportunity to grow as an educator, having just done a ton of additional training out of state for a year, and was building my resume in huge ways at school, but also was privately struggling with the second largest depression of my life which lead to me having a very unhealthy relationship with alcohol, which in many ways stole a few years from me. Since then, I have grown significantly in realigning my values and have now been sober for over six months and fifteen months since my last bout with alcohol where I walked with a lot of shame. However, both of these sides are very, very real and very true of me.

We are more than our smiling faces. But, please do not dismiss the smiling face as a fake face. Rather, we can all try to see more and give grace for the more. We all have stories to tell, or to hold tight, but we all have stories. We all have pieces.

Please start sharing your pieces and please start seeing the pieces of others.

Encourage one another when they have great wins but also encourage them in the unseen sorrow.

Start looking at people as pieces and strive to help build the puzzle, one interaction at a time.

A bit more about how I got here:

I am currently thirty six years old. Yes, I did just have to stop and think about that because I have now become the age that you do not know your age immediately upon being asked. But, I am 36 years old and it has taken me 35 of these years to actually begin to know who I am and become comfortable in my own skin. I have come to this place after a series of lots of lows, some highs, lots of love, therapy, refection, Jesus, and time.

I am an 3 on the Enneagram. If you have not learned about the Enneagram yet, do it. It has opened up my eyes on how to love and accept myself and has also really helped me to love and accept the ones who I walk with. Threes are achievers. Threes often define themselves by their accomplishments. Threes struggle with feeling that they have value or are known without direct words affirming this. Threes also fear that they will be misunderstood. This is a wildly simplified explanation of a three and I am sure I will write heavily on this in the future. But, for today, to help you understand your heart and to understand the hearts of others, I really encourage you to take a deeper look at the Enneagram for yourself. But, some key things to note:

  • You cannot type someone else. This is about the motivations in your heart, not your behaviors.
  • While the tests are helpful, you do need to look deeper into each type and be really honest with yourself to help see which type best fits you.
  • You are not just a number. You can identify closely with the type, but let us also remember we are also individuals.
  • Do not weaponize the Enneagram to bring others down by being whatever type they identify with, but rather allow this tool to help you to understand people who see the world different than you.
  • This is not an excuse to keep doing the thing you do because of the type you identify with, but rather gives you the opportunity to see why you do something and help you to grow to see how to do it in a healthy way. (Example: I try to get my value and self-worth from my accomplishments. I did not realize I did this until I studied the Enneagram. Now, I try really hard to remember my self-worth does not come from what I accomplish and to be okay with who I am just based on whose I am. This is an ongoing struggle for me.)
  • This is not a “Christian thing” but rather a tool for anyone. It has become very popular in Christian culture because it allows you to see yourself for how you were designed and also allows you to lean into the grace of the gospel for all that you can grow in.

To read more like this, check out Mountains and Valleys, “This is why I drink.”, and Surrendered.

the in-between season

as seasons transition, they leave some evidence that they have been there and bring beauty for what comes next

I am guilty of drinking pumpkin spice in August and wearing sandals in March. People roll their eyes at me and blame climate change on my preemptive coffee creamers. I am totally okay with it.

As seasons transitions, I am always eager to jump ahead to the next one. My mind romanticizes all the things that come with the next season and files the current season away as a lesson learned and a memory to later look back upon.

This year, the transition to the next season just seems to be taking longer. Maybe it is because we are slowing down our schedules and can feel the days move along, or maybe it is the weather pattern. Weather science will never be my thing. But, this in-between season is just dragging on. and on. and on.

I live in the woods in northern Minnesota. Typically, come December, we are deep in snow and cold. In fairness, we did have eight inches of snow in mid-October, so thinking that winter was coming early was actually a rational thought. Today, though, it was 42 degrees and my down jacket seemed quite excessive. As I walked outside, I was drawn to the transition from fall to winter and how the stillness reveals even more to the season. It made me think, as we are rushing this year to an end, what else do we still have to learn from this season?

This season, not fall or winter, but this overarching season of ick, has a purpose and a lesson to be learned. I imagine that we have many, many lessons to learn from this season. Have we been intentional in pausing to think about the lessons we have learned and using this as an opportunity to grow? Are we going to let this stretching, suffering, challenging be in vain by not learning the lessons presented to us? Either way, we are sitting through the season, so we might as well make sure it is not a waste.

I think we have learned the value of community. We need community. We need people to walk beside and share in our joys and our sorrows. I hope we move forward with a deeper appreciation for the people we get to do life with.

I think we have learned that we need our neighbors. We need our neighbors to be respectful and responsible because the choices of our neighbors directly impacts us. We are all ridiculously linked together.

I think we learned that everyone is essential, in varying ways. Let me be very clear that the medical professionals, first responders, and scientists are AMAZING and we can never properly show our gratitude for their work on the front lines of this pandemic. I also do think we have learned that we also need the grocery store employees to stock shelves and pick our groceries. We have learned that truck drivers are incredibly necessary to ensuring that we have toilet paper at home. We have learned that custodial staff are vital to keeping our public spaces clean and safe. We have learned that schools not only offer education but also food, mental health services, security, and childcare for millions of children every day. We have learned that our economy and society cannot properly function without everyone participating in life. As it turns out, everyone is essential to their families and our community.

I think we have learned that less is totally okay. Less on our calendars, less hustle, less to tackle. Less can happen and we can still be content. With a slowing of our lives, we have been able to appreciate the things we do have together so much more, as we are not already planning the next thing. (Again, with the way I move seasons along because I am too busy to appreciate the one I am in.)

I hope we have learned how important the people we share our home with are to our lives. I hope we’ve taken enough of this time together to really see their hearts and make the most of the time we have together. I do not think it is possible to ever make the most of anything because really, my mind spins to what I did not do or that there could always be more, but I hope, really hope, that the people I share this home with can look back at this time with some bits of fondness for all the time we have had together.

I think we learned that even as everything seems to be crashing down, the seasons do keep on changing. We are entering our fourth season in a pandemic. Even though everything else shut down,

the snow did melt,

the mud did come,

the grass and the flowers grew,

the leaves fell,

and now we await the snow.

There is some peace in knowing that eventually the season will transition. Eventually this season of ick will be over.

As with season change, they happen slowly and always leave evidence from before. Every summer, we find our previous Christmas tree, brown and lifeless, propped in our woods, waiting to be burnt. Seasons leave proof of their existence, so that we have a marker and can be a witness to the experience. What will be the markers left behind from this season? Will we remember the lessons it taught us? Will we be a witness to what we have learned?

What were the lessons that we are being taught during this season? Did we learn them all?

Before we can finish this season well, we have to remember its purpose, learn the lessons, and then move forward with little pieces of evidence for having been through the season. There is a purpose to this transition going so slow.

Rivers, Rapids, & Waterfalls

What if we took a moment and thought of our journey of life as a river?

A flowing river that meanders around curves and hugs its banks, that goes through winters without freezing and summers without getting too hot at the bottom. A river that has clear water but hits murky sections. A body of water that has purpose, brings joy, and can also be destructive.

When I type that out, I can see how our lives are very much like a river.

We float along on our individual river and many of the days are really smooth. Gorgeous, sun on your back, light paddle smooth.

But rivers also have rapids and waterfalls. The rough parts and the straight up catastrophic parts. Our rivers aren’t mappable. We are at the pressures of the waterflow to take us forward. Yes, we can choose to get to the bank and look ahead for the best paths, but really, we cannot see much farther beyond our own eyes’ limitations.

Rapids come. Waterfalls come. Smooth waters also come.

The thing about rivers is, you cannot control the flow of water. You cannot make water stay only in the calm banks. Humans try really hard to control the water. Really hard. This coming from a girl born in upstate New York, who has traveled the Erie Canal lock system more times that I can count. We try really hard to control the flow of water. We have systems to conquer the climb up the flow of water…but truly, we cannot stop the water flow. Even dams cannot control the heavy weight of it all for too long in bad enough storms.

But God.

What if the rapids we are entering or are currently in, are preventing us from a waterfall ahead?

What if these prayers we have prayed and have gone very unanswered or even solid closed doors, are really saving us from some rocky water we could not survive?

What if this lack of current is preparing us for the next turn?

As humans we feel the need to control it all, thinking we know what is best for us. But really, we do not know all the ways things could play out for us. We do not know what is down stream. We just don’t.

Right now, many of us are not doing our normal things, at all. But I have to believe with everything in my being that there is reason for that. That we are growing from this, or we are being protected from things we are not ready for, or our paths need to change. There are so many possibilities and we just do not know and won’t ever truly know.

But God.

This is where faith is so life giving and powerful. If you have experienced enough closed doors or unanswered prayers and then look back at how it all worked out and realized it is exactly how it should be, then your faith just keeps growing.

My dearest friend, gave me this quote today, not knowing exactly what the words of my heart were:

When you realize how perfect everything is you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky.

Buddha

Now, I will not even attempt to argue that Buddha was a Christian, but I do think he was very wise in many ways and was right about this. I can look back at so many things that have not turned out how I expected or are as a direct result from a closed door on some big prayers and I am so grateful for the closed doors and unanswered prayers. The situations have worked out exactly as God wanted and beyond what I could have ever dreamed of.

I firmly believe that we will get to the other side of this current bend in the river, whatever it is for you right now, and we will look back at it and it will all make sense. The hard, the suffering, the good, the bad, the yes, and the no.

This is faith.

Trusting that God is in control and it will workout to match His plan.

That is the hard part…It will match His plan. His plan often does not match your plan. And, if you do not know God, I get why you would have a lot of trust issues with this one. A lot. I only recently really learned to trust in God’s plan because I had made enough of a mess of my own life trying to do it myself. This is hard. I get it. I wrote about finally handing over the reigns in Mountains and Valleys

He takes us along on our river and only He can see ahead. Only He has the map and only He can known why we are in current rapids, slow current, or murky waters.

It does not mean we cannot get frustrated at our current situation for a bit. Have you ever been in a canoe with another grown adult, in water that is 6 inches deep and stuck in muck? Anyone would get frustrated at this. Or at least this anyone did.

But, it also means that we need to surrender and trust the One who knows your river best to lead your course.

And, it also means that we need to be grateful for all the unknown waterfalls He has protected us from.

We have much to be grateful for.

Rivers are beautiful, uncharted, wild, and constant progress forward.

So is life.

Take the journey for all that it is.

Yes, this is a view of a lake. But, we took a long river to get here.

A Weary World Rejoices

Have you ever really listened to the lyrics of O Holy Night? Like really listened?

Maybe I had never truly listened before or maybe I have not had this heavy feeling of weary at the holidays before, but when I heard O Holy Night this week, the lyrics shook me.

Long lay the world, in sin and error pining
‘Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks, a new and glorious morn

-O Holy Night

We, as humanity, are coming at the Christmas season weary.

I do not know what your personal struggles may be at the season, but I know enough to know that you have them.

Typically, I do not like to list out my current struggles because in a lot of ways I feel as though then I am comparing my struggles to yours and thus diminishing either of our hards. Hard is hard is hard.

But in an effort to be vulnerable and also to show you the stature I had when I heard O Holy Night, you should know what has led up in my little family’s life to understand this moment:

My father-in-law passed away from a series of medical issues, on November 8th after spending two weeks in the ICU with his two sons and wife by his side. My spouse and his brother then came home to help us tell our respective children that Grandpa had passed away and then they packed up to go support their mom for a few days. While they were together grieving, they were exposed to Covid. After a week, my husband came home and went into isolation in our home, thus taking over our master bedroom and putting me on the couch, unable to hug my grieving husband. While in isolation, my husband developed Covid from his exposure. Thanksgiving came and our three kids and I did not get to spend the day with our favorite human. Also, let us remember, Grandpa also is not celebrating Thanksgiving with us…and neither is Grandma, who is alone now. During this time, another family member who was close to the grieving process of my husband’s father was hospitalized with Covid. Oh and also, we had to switch to distance learning because Covid is running rampant here and I am both a parent of students in distance learning and a teacher. So, everything is a lot.

Heavy. Hurt. and then I heard the lyrics.

the weary world rejoices

O Holy Night

And finally, I had a word for all that I have been feeling: weary.

So many of us are weary right now. You may be weary from employment issues, social unrest issues, equality issues, addiction issues, fertility issues, health issues, money issues, parenting issues, pandemic issues, life issues.

The crazy thing that makes me pause is that all these issues, accept for pandemic issues, were present in life before the pandemic began. However, right now, we as humanity are feeling one massive issue collectively, on top of all other life issues that have always been there. This has the opportunity to draw us together because we can all feel the collective heaviness that is right now. We collectively are weary.

We are a weary world but we have reason to rejoice.

Life is hard. Life between the two gardens is hard. It just is. Sin -not your individual sin so keep reading. I am not blaming any one person.- But sin entered the world in chapter three of the first book of the Bible. There are 1,189 chapters in the Bible and it only takes three chapters of it for us to have sin enter the world. Chapters one and two tell us how God had this plan as He created creation and it was all good. All good. There was no death, no shame, no anger, no need, no jealousy, no suffering. It was all good. Then sin entered the world and it is just the pits after that until we enter the other garden, which is Heaven.

So here we are, between two gardens, living in a hot mess of the world and we are weary. This year we can feel the weariness. But, we have reason to rejoice. Rejoice because this is so not how it is supposed to be and one day, it won’t be. It just won’t be.

The lyrics go on to say:

He knows our need, to our weaknesses no stranger

O Holy Night

Yes! He knows our need. Oh my word, does He know our need and our weaknesses. He knows it all and fierecely loves us anyways. That is reason to rejoice.

Truly He taught us to love one another;

His law is love and His gospel is peace.

Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;

And in His name all oppression shall cease.

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,

Let all within us praise His holy name.

O Holy Night

Love. Peace. Joy.

These are amazing reasons to rejoice. As you read God’s word, you see the theme of love, peace, and joy written all over it. It is not the condemnation that many feel religion brings. No, faith is not the laws, but rather the grace by faith.

This season is a season of joy because our savior has come and He will deliver us from this weary, weary place. It was never supposed to be this way. He can bring us peace. He wants us to show love and we are so deeply loved by Him.

So as we walk in the heavy, we have hope. So much hope. We can rejoice as we will not be in this ick forever.

And, there is some Earthy peace in knowing that this weariness is not something that is unique to our current human experience in 2020. Almost 200 years ago, a man, Adolphe Adam, felt this weariness in 1847, as he composed O Holy Night and turned his hope to Jesus.

To read more like this, check out Surrendered and Suffer well.

Suffer well.

I got angry. Life things, pandemic things, living things piled up and I got angry. Life and living are different when you are in a season where death is very real.

I was not angry at any person. I was angry at the situation/situations.

and then I got bitter.

I was not bitter at any person. I was bitter at life.

Everything was piling up and I felt so out of control. I lived in this space for a day. A full day. A full day of anger and bitterness. And then I surrendered. But that was one horrible day. All the days have been less than great lately, but this day was horrible. It was horrible because my heart was full of emotions that do not give me hope or life. I allowed anger to take over me. I allowed anger to harden my heart for one awful day. Have you been there too?

I could not stand myself that day. So now, not only was I dealing with the previously stated pile of things, I had added my raw and unsavory emotions to the pile. This did not help things. At all.

In Romans 7:18-19, Paul states:

For I have the desire to do what is good but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.

Ugh. Man, Paul speaks right to my heart. I do not like that my emotions take over me like this. I know that this is not the way to handle situations. I know there is a better way, but my word, it feels all so much. And I lose, a lot.

Have you been there? You know your reaction is not reflecting the person who are striving to be, but there is hurt in your heart and you just spew it out.

Fortunately, I have been in the practice of spending time with God every. single. day. He knows my heart and there is nothing I can hide from Him. And His word reminded me to suffer well.

…but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

Romans 5:3

Oh Paul, there you go again bringing some serious truth. Life between two gardens will have suffering. This is a fundamental truth of life. But, it is in the suffering, when we suffer well, that grows our perseverance.

Our perseverance strengthens our character.

Our strengthened character will bring hope.

Hope.

Everything is a mess and there is hope. Hope. Hope for the next steps. Hope for the greater plan. Hope for tomorrow. Hope.

I needed this reminder. I needed this truth to speak right to my heart. If you need this too, I pray you feel the peace that comes in the hope that is brought through our suffering.

Suffering well does not mean that you act like everything is fine.

Suffering well does not mean that you ignore the situation.

Suffering well does not mean that you try to fix it all and be your own superhero.

Suffering well means you lean into the lessons that are coming in this season and allow yourself to feel the feels of it all.

Some of those feels are anger. But you have to move on. I have to move on. I have to show my children and myself that living in the anger hardens your heart and stops you from learning the lessons.

Yes. Suffering is such a bummer. But, the gift of perseverance, character, and hope will make the suffering worth it.

Suffer well.

Lean in. Grab a blanket. Hot coffee. Lots of books. Maybe a dog. Warm candles. Whatever gives you a feel of cozy and feel the feels.

Suffer well.

Unstaged picture of my favorite space to lean in and feel all the feels.

Surrendered.

Mountains and valleys:

We think that life is made of highs and lows, but somehow we forget the climb. The middle. The suffering and the growing.

When you are at the top of a mountain you can see your successes and be awe inspired by the journey you’ve been on and He who has helped you reach this moment.

When you are deep in the valley, you can see the dauntingness of the mountain before you. One can find themselves going deeper or retreating from moving forward.

However, we do not spend enough time talking about where most of our time is spent: the climb. The part when we are not giving up but oh my, is that mountain a hard climb. So hard.

Everyone is experiencing some sort of climb right now. I am not sure what your current situation is, but given that we are in the midst of a pandemic, with rising cases each day, one can assume you are feeling some ripple effects of this season. Our family is feeling it. Our family, as with many other families, are experiencing other life crises at the same time, because as it turns out, other horrible things can also happen in a pandemic.

Everything has gotten pretty “a lot” lately. Maybe this is you too. You know it could be worse, but you also know it could be better. In fact, you know it can be better because it was better just a few weeks ago and now you do not know what a few weeks from now will look like. For me, that is daunting.

There is a Matthew West song that just echos so much of what society wants us to feel and the contradiction to what our hearts are screaming. My favorite lyrics are:

I say I’m fine, yeah I’m fine, oh I’m fine, hey I’m fine

but I’m not, I’m broken

And when it’s out of control, I say it’s under control

but it’s not

and you know it.

Matthew West -Truth Be Told

Things are not fine right now. They just aren’t. Everything is out of control and I am broken. I cannot pretend everything is okay. Maybe you feel this too.

I tried to control it. I tried to change the plans I created and make new plans. I tried to fix what I thought I could fix. But everything just keeps piling on. Piling on in a level that has become almost comical because of the sheer ridiculousness of all. the. things.

And turns out…this one is bigger than me. So much bigger than me.

I keep running to God. Not in my structured routine of daily quiet time every morning. But constantly. I have run to Him more than ever before. And then I was reminded of Psalm 46:10:

Be still and know that I am God.

I have to surrender.

Surrendering is not giving up. It is knowing when you have done your part and now have to release it to the one who can do what you cannot.

God. God is in control. I firmly believe that God does not cause bad things. However, God does allow you to walk through the hard with Him beside you, to grow you.

He is in control. He is sovereign. He works all things for good.

So, I surrender. I give it to God. I do not know what tomorrow will bring, quite literally. However, I have to anchor to the truth that there is a bigger picture here and God will clear the way. He will clear the path on this hard climb. He will move us forward. Otherwise, if I do not anchor to this truth, I know I will fall off the mountain into a deep valley. I have been there before. I am not going back today.

So I surrender. Maybe you need to surrender too.

It is okay for things to not be okay. Stuff is hard right now. Hard Hard. Not broken dishwasher hard, but lots of things are crumbling and normal is so far away, hard. Some things will never return to how they were before. Hard.

But, keep climbing. Please keep climbing. Stop trying to find the path yourself, but surrender and let God clear your path.

We will eventually get out of this hard middle and we can be at the top of this mountain again. No climb is without it’s struggles. However, there is nothing wrong in admitting it is hard.

Surrender. This battle is bigger than us.

And to check out Matthew West’s beautiful reminder to let the truth be told, check out this video. Listening to our kids sing this song in the car today reminded me how beautiful it is to show our kids the importance of not putting on facades but sharing our struggles.

To read more like this, check out Suffer well, A Weary World Rejoices, Looking for the bird seed, Showing up for the lesson, and Mountains and Valleys.