filling the lake: thoughts on rest from a mom of seven

It was cruel. No doubt about it.

Right in front of the kids, I scooped vanilla ice cream on top of two fresh biscuits with strawberries. It was for me and I wasn’t sharing. And to add insult to injury, two of the kids can’t have dairy and one is fasting from gluten.

I ate it right in front of them, shameless, because a) my own lunch was two hours late, and b) they do similarly cruel things that I’m jealous of all the time, like going to the bathroom by themselves.

filling the lake: thoughts on rest from a mom of seven

I don’t want to push them away, I just want to breathe my own oxygen every once in a while…and eat ice cream for lunch.

But my body isn’t cooperating with this and I need to rest from sugar once in a while. I haven’t had ice cream in months. No sugar in coffee, no jam on toast, and aside from a half-eaten brownie a couple of weeks ago, no chocolate. No cookies. Not even a stinking animal cracker. When we eat pancakes, mine are topped with tears and self pity.

(Kidding. Please don’t eat pancakes around me.)

One day in desperation I threw together some no-sugar, banana-oat-raisin cookies. Too impatient to bake, I fried them in a skillet like hoecakes and they were so divine you could hear angels singing the Hallelujah Chorus. I immediately thought, These would be perfect with vanilla ice cream, then mentally slapped myself and poured whipping cream over them instead.

curbing-sugarMy body needs to rest from sugar. I can’t ignore the symptoms no matter how much I want to eat everything on my Pinterest board.

But I am learning that it’s not just my body that needs rest; my mind and routines need rest, also, beyond a weekly Sabbath. God and I have been talking about this a lot lately. Just as I over-do sugar and have to cut way back, I over-do…well, a lot of things. And He’s telling me to cut way back there, too.

I’m not very good at it. My idea of “rest” is to check something off my list, revel in a brief four seconds of exhilarating freedom, then move onto the Next Big Thing that has to be done. Somehow I think this isn’t what He means by resting.

What is rest, anyway? Is it to stop doing something, as in, “resting from your labors?” Because there’s no rest from mothering, housework, discipline, the tasks that hound and hang over us and are never done.

So it must be that we are to also rest in those labors that we can’t rest from. We must rest in motherhood. We rest in our homes, in the midst of washing dishes and sorting piles of fermenting laundry. It must be the difference between sautéing and scorching – which is what I did to my soup veggies while Instagramming about rest. Scorching, that is. Because I told you, I’m still not very good at this.

All the behaviors, all the needs, all the stuff on my list drains me during the week, and yet I feel guilty for taking quiet time to rest. My lake runs empty but I neglect filling it, thinking it’s my job to fill others until all I give are the dregs of what churns up. The simple, white-space-filled life of several years ago is now covered in scribbles of nine different colors of handwriting.

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And I love the colors, but somewhere we lost our ability to keep clean margins. I don’t recognize my own handwriting in the midst of everyone else’s anymore. I live for the weekend, pushing through full, frantic days until Vince carries more of the burden of diapers, cooking, discipline, and consequences.

What if you lived like I was home with you, Love, and I carried the burden? God asks me.

But You don’t make dinner or change diapers, I argue. He does not strike me with lightning, ground me, or take away my car keys.

Those are less of a burden if you let Me do the heavy lifting, He says. Trust Me with your kids. Trust that I’m speaking to them, growing them, and transforming them. That’s not your burden to carry.

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We feel nothing when we’re on empty – no pain, no pleasure, no up or down, no nothing – just a numb plodding on from one day to the next, a flatline of exhaustion in a stagnant wasteland. The same thoughts, the same words churning up from the same sludge at the bottom of the lake.

It’s where I’ve been. To be honest, it’s a big reason why I can barely keep up with one post a month lately. My thoughts feel repetitive and I hate to think I’m boring any of you or wasting your time. I don’t want you to come here for the view only to see the same muddy water at the bottom of the lake.

But we know relief and comfort because we are first acquainted with pain and discomfort, and to be refilled after being sucked dry for so long is like a rebirth.

Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

– James 5:11, ESV

So He gave me a new to-do list. It includes reading, journaling, processing things out that need hard thinking, and making time for those neglected projects that keep getting pushed to the backburner. It also includes writing down dreams I’ve been afraid to look in the face, to see what they really look like and if they’d like to come into existence.

But mostly, it means viewing these things as non-negotiable. They are just as important as making sure everyone has breakfast and clean underwear.

This new army doesn’t get tired. You know why? They know how to lie down in His presence. They know how to rest in His arms. They know how to lay their heads on His chest and listen to His huge heart. They weep with Him over the dying, the crying, the broken, the abused and the lost. Do you really think you can work hard and start a revival? Just run out there and get them? Sorry. You can’t. But when Jesus shows His face and He breathes life into the dry, dry, bony Church, and that Church stands up full of His presence, carrying His glory, nobody can resist anymore!

Heidi Baker, There is Always Enough

I’ve been coming upstairs in the afternoons for my own refilling whenever Finn is napping. The kids who aren’t napping are under strict instructions to not knock on my door unless a) someone is injured, b) something is on fire, or c) they’ve shot an intruder (which should technically go under “a,” I guess).

I bring my tea (with cream, no sugar) and sometimes write a page or two. Sometimes I work on those projects, sometimes I read a little. Sometimes I just goof off on Instagram. And sometimes, I cry like a woman in labor while we wait for God to birth this new season out of us.

Then I go downstairs and pour out with joy, rather than serving on empty and feeling sorry for myself. Our location on the spectrum between drudgery and joy is determined by the depth of water in our lake – and our rich overflow comes from rest, when abundance bursts out of a life filled with His water.

Recommended reading: What is Mother Culture? by Karen Andreola

meant to hold us: when we’re restless to move

We’ve reached the stage where nothing is safe.

There ain’t no counter high enough to keep things away from Finnegan. He pushes stools, chairs, bins, stacks of books, whatever, around to get where he wants to go. And where he wants to go is up.

meant to hold us: when we're restless to move

He climbs on the chairs to stand on the table. Stands on top of the cats’ scratching post to get on the windowseat. He scales up the toilet to stand on the toilet paper roller, his hands inches away from the edge of the bathroom counter, to turn on the faucet. Have mercy.

In the kitchen last night he used an upturned box to reach dirty silverware next to the sink. He didn’t care that he was exceeding the structural capacity of the cardboard, or that one of his feet sank halfway through the slit in the middle while his other chubby foot compensated by gripping the edge with curled toes – he just wanted to see something new.

We scramble to put things out of his reach – scissors, craft projects, dishes, houseplants, elderly cats who don’t defend themselves, anything dangerous or breakable – and, oh, does he protest, wailing the Grievous Lament of a Baby Who Wants to Bash the Counter with a Can Opener. Or something like that.

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But I get it. Don’t you? We could sit down with our coffee and give each other a list of things we’d like to reach for if we only knew how to attain them…because we’re restless to move, too.

I’ve been stalking five different real estate websites to find a house, and Vince says to wait. Apparently God agrees with him (so annoying). I’ve scoured one listing after another, none of them quite what we’re looking for, but close…ish… Okay, not even close, unless you compare them to a four-walled tent on an acre of swampland.

Vin is steadfast and keeps pointing me back to the list of standards and specifics we’ve prayed about. He says we should hold out for the gourmet pizza instead of settling for a hot pocket with allergens in it. But I am so hungry.

What will we do when we feel thwarted, hemmed in, and restless? Will we breakthrough by trusting Him above our fears, doubts, and insecurities, or will we breakthrough by rushing into something in disobedience?

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

– Matthew 5:6, ESV

We looked at a house last weekend – it had plenty of space, acreage, bedrooms, and the right price. But we knew in the first minute that it wasn’t meant to hold us any more than Finn’s cardboard box is meant to hold him.

The baby on the dangerous block configuration, the kid bouncing on the fragile lid of a plastic bin, the false ideas we lean against, the wrong relationships we depend on, the easy answer we rush into because we’re tired of waiting – none of these are meant to hold us. They are the opposite of the fermata, where we hold and are held perfectly. How do we learn to be held when we are restless to move?

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That afternoon, Finnegan and I wandered through the yard collecting dried seed pods while Vince repainted our garage door. Almost all of the flowers in our yard came from Jess, who thinned them out of her own garden years ago when we were still new here, when this house held us with room to spare. And at this rate it looks like we’ll still be here next spring, but if not, I want these flowers to go with me. Whenever we go.

What do you do when you want to go – you are called to go, and the promise is that you will go – and yet, for now, you are told to stay?

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles.

– Romans 1:13

We’re in good company, I guess. Paul, the guy who wrote most of the New Testament, knew what it was to be held back from something he wanted. To just stay. To wait. To do what’s right in front of us.

My child, this world is a new place, and strange, and often terrible: but be not afraid. All will come right at last. Rest will conquer restlessness; faith will conquer fear; order will conquer disorder; health will conquer sickness; joy will conquer sorrow; pleasure will conquer pain; life will conquer death; right will conquer wrong. All will be well at last. Keep your soul and body pure, humble, busy, pious – in one word, be good: and ere you die, or after you die, you may have a glimpse of Me, the Everlasting Why.

– Charles Kingsley, Madam How and Lady Why

What are we hungry for? Pride is a violent thing, lying to us about our abilities and inabilities, stealing credit and dishing blame with liberality. The truth behind “in my weakness I am strong” isn’t that God-loves-us-very-much-and-has-a-miserable-plan-for-our-lives, but that He is more patient than we are, unwilling to settle for less than what He intends for us. And what He intends only comes to fruition after our character is developed in the dark places, ready to be unearthed. That’s when we’ve reached the point where nothing is safe.

We can go anywhere, do anything, and while we whine and protest about wanting to see what’s up there, He is moving dangerous stuff out of the way so we don’t hurt ourselves.

We want up so we can see more, do more, be more, and we’re tempted to prop up things to hold us higher – but blessed are you who hunger and thirst after what He has called you to. You will be fulfilled.

God is not slow, He’s patient: aligning people, events, and circumstances for His glory and our joy. He is meant to hold us.

And sometimes He holds us back, and our restlessness is a sign of momentum. Soon. Just maybe not as soon as we want.

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how much more: what we gain from loss and change

I’m not sure how we are ever going to sell this house – get it show-ready, keep it clean with seven kids, and make sure no one’s dirty socks are peeking out of the couch cushions. Friends, I can’t even keep the cat from licking muffin batter while the oven preheats.

how much more: what we gain from loss and change - Copperlight Wood

Our home is feeling simultaneously fuller and emptier. We’ve been nesting and purging and cleaning and packing, but still the house feels a little like your favorite old sweater whose sleeves have shrunk; regardless of how comfy the material is, it doesn’t fit right anymore.

We have known a change was coming for a while. We need it, not just physically, not just for space and breathing room, but we need a fresh start and new memories. We love these walls and woods, but the kids have worn bare patches in the grass and trails through the trees. We’ve walked through some paths that have changed us.

Two years ago we were in the middle of a period of awful loss for our family, and it spiked when some of our dearest friends moved away the same week our cat died. We were still reeling from a season that felt like it was dishing out far more than we could take, and we didn’t know how much more was coming.

P1030662A few months later,  in spite of all of our plans, fears, and biology, we were pregnant with a baby we didn’t expect. God moved mountains and brought that small person here…and we were grateful, but for the first time in six pregnancies my gratitude was outweighed by fear. I didn’t know how much more I could handle.

The morning after our positive pregnancy test, this note was on the bathroom counter waiting for me:

Well, well, well. What have we here? I’m trying hard to think of what to say. How do I encourage you and make you smile on this most emotionally turbulent morning. Fear, which should have no place at Copperlight Wood, mixed with expectation of joy, which we have been lacking of late, seem to be at an impasse. What to do? All I can think of is to quote Master Samwise:

“But you haven’t put yourself forward; you’ve been put forward. And as for not being the right and proper person, why, Mr. Frodo wasn’t, as you might say, nor Bilbo. They didn’t choose themselves.”

I can’t express how proud, thankful, and impressed I am by you. You’re amazing and strong and I love you so very much. Love the Lord, embrace your kids, and let the Holy Spirit lead the way. The enemy fears you. It’s not the other way around.

– Vince

It turns out that moving mountains isn’t hard for Him, though it always seems like such a big deal to us. It’s more the movement of our hearts that is the big deal, the real mountain to be overcome. We think we are ready (or not) for change based on our feelings or circumstances, and He says that those things have very little to do with it at all – we’re ready for something not because we feel like it, but because He has a strategic plan and has prepared us.

And here, some things are restoring – not as they were before exactly, because you can never go back, but pretty close. Or at least close enough, because we can see it happening. We see glimpses of the joy that used to be, and it’s the same but different – kids learning to read, but now it’s Chamberlain instead of Afton; a cat sleeping in the windowseat, but now it’s Knightley instead of Sophie. And some things are brand-new, just beautiful gifts of His grace that we never would’ve imagined – new ministry opportunities, and this blue-eyed, blond-haired, dimply eleven-month-old crawling everywhere.

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He is doing it again. He is making all things new. The in-between stage can make us want to shrink up and die, afraid to take a leap ever again, but amazing things are on the other side if we press through.

Remember your faith from when you were radical, Love – and remember the victories that came from it. When you have Me for your defense, you need no other.

God has delivered you before, and He will do it again.

So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.

– Matthew 7:11, NLT

There is no “filling of shoes” for the old loves. A new pet never really replaces an old one, new relationships don’t replace broken ones, and new friends can’t replace the ones who’ve helped you bury the body.

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.

– Mark 10:29-30, ESV

There are new loves. There are new friends, and new pets, and new perspectives, and we find that somehow our hearts that felt shrunken by their absence in loss has somehow expanded with love for both the new and the old in ways we never would have expected.

Grief catches us somewhere between the loss and the victory, like the day between the Crucifixion and Easter. The goodbyes, the hard choices, the letting go of the way we thought things were supposed to be — we feel like our labor lasts well past the due date. We know birth is coming; we just don’t know how much more pain we’ll have to take before it happens.

The feeling of fullness, of swelling and discomfort and impatience – these are all signs of imminent delivery: life, joy, the much-longed-for beginning.

But in the pain of labor we rail against God and give Him a piece of our minds: This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be, this is terrible timing, are You blind to everything we’re already dealing with? Don’t You know how much this hurts? 

Even Death and Destruction hold no secrets from the Lord.
How much more does He know the human heart.

– Proverbs 15:11

And He is so gentle. No lightning strikes, no chasm opening in the ground, no instantaneous heart attack.

He says, I know, Love.

I know what it is to not get what you think you want. I know what it is to wrestle with the Father’s will. You will never know how much more pain I went through.

But I also know what it is to surrender to it and trust Him. I know the gain on the other side of this labor. It’s how I got you.

totally normal: what these small days are for

“Would you like to hold my baby?” Chamberlain uses an exaggerated, high-pitched English accent whenever she plays this game, and holds a doll out to me. “His naaame is Jeeeesus.”

“Oh, sure – are you Mary?” She nods. Because Mary was British, don’t you know.

Afton looks at the doll. “That’s a pretty small baby. Is it a runt?”

“What is a r-r-r-runt?” Rolling her Rs, quite impressive.

“The smallest animal in a litter. You know, like Knightley.”

“Ooooohhoho, noooo!” She laughs like the Queen of Hearts. “My baby isn’t a r-r-r-runt, he’s a human!”

totally normal: what these small days are for

It was a normal day. You know, the kind that begins with a cat stepping in your coffee cup (with hot coffee in it) and ends with a different cat stepping on a freshly-painted windowsill and leaving oil-based tracks on the kitchen counter. But the rest of it was normal, except for three moose running through our backyard at a gallop, and after that, Cham asked if albino moose poop white nuggets.

So, besides that, totally normal.

Totally normal, like chugging down the highway and the new TobyMac song comes on the radio. We stop at the light and the Stagecoach is bouncing in time to the music. I look in the rearview mirror and Reagan is happy-flapping, grinning like someone in Wallace and Gromit.

Totally normal, like purging a bin of hoarded pajamas in five different sizes for a six-year-old who is in tears because the size 4 pair of mouse jammies can’t be given away because – ready for this? – it would make the mouse sad. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, I convinced her that the mouse is afraid of the cats on her other clothes. Boom — donated those jammies. Hashtag winning.

Totally normal, like walking back to my car from the library and remembering that I have no phone, I left it on the charger at home, and suddenly start imagining all sorts of terrible scenarios involving abduction and the police having to trace my whereabouts by a breadcrumb trail of pages of the books I’ve checked out – a history of folk art, a Nigella Lawson cookbook, a bunch of children’s sewing patterns, the latest Mitford novel. Several years of studying criminal justice in college, and this is all I have to show for it.

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(unedited photo of pre-coffee stupor)

 

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All of our days are normal here. Yours too? Nothing too exciting, and we honestly kind of want to keep it that way because, well, we’ve had too much of the one kind of excitement to last a good long while, thankyouverymuch, and we really don’t want to take the risk of that happening again.

These small days run together in a stream, flowing past us. And I wonder if they bring us closer to…what? The house we’re looking for? The breakthroughs we’re praying for? The goals and deadlines we’ve been working toward for years?

It’s easy to feel hemmed in and restless. We’re antsy for the next chapter, the ocean that’s deep and wide that we hope to eventually drop anchor in. And don’t even talk to me about mom-guilt, enjoying these days because they go so fast – moms already know this. The baby is ten months old and has four teeth already, and I’m pretty sure he’ll be driving tomorrow.

We plug through these oh-so-normal days, sitting in one place watching the river go by, and we maybe have the deep but not the wide – and sometimes we feel small and insignificant, and wonder where we are going…or if we are going anywhere at all.

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.

– Jeremiah 17:7-8, ESV

at the little su

We wonder if maybe we haven’t had breakthrough because we’re doing it wrong. Or because we’re not ready. Or because we’re not good enough, not big enough, not important enough for anything more than totally normal.

But maybe it’s none of those things. Because you’re not too small, or insignificant. You’re not a runt, you’re a human.

Maybe we’ve become resigned to our situation. Maybe we’re not desperate to hear from Him anymore because we’ve given up. Maybe we’ve gotten impatient with the process and we’re not trusting Him to finish.

Maybe we see this stream of days as an obstacle we can’t cross, when it was intended to be our provision, our foundation – and eventually, the road that takes us to the ocean faster than our own feet could carry us.

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More on doing what is right in front of you – when you’re limited, stuck, and can’t move – in the newsletter coming in just a few days. Subscribe here.

mea culpa: how we break a cycle that’s getting us nowhere

Well, I’m not proud of it, but it’s done. Finished. Time to move on and get our life back.

Mea culpa: how we break a cycle that’s getting us nowhere

That’s right, folks – I’m talking about how we spent the last three weeks binge-watching seasons four, five, and six of Downton Abbey, months after everyone else wept and waxed eloquent over the series finale.

Now we can weep and wax eloquent, too.

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Now our evenings are normal again. Now we are responsible again. Now we will do things again, like spring cleaning. Like getting ready to sell the house. Like laundry.

Actually, the laundry isn’t really Downton Abbey’s fault. Our dryer stopped working – it would run an unending cycle, but without heat – and when Vince finally had a chance to figure out what was wrong with it (between episodes, of course) we discovered that dryers go on strike once they have accumulated a certain amount of legos, screws, and bobby pins in their bowels. This is hauntingly similar to our discovery that ice-cube makers don’t digest glitter.

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But my appliance-fixing hero husband gave the dryer a bowelectomy or something on Monday, and we are back on track. Which is great, because some of us were dangerously low on clean underwear, favorite socks, and, um, bobby pins. Mea culpa.

Now we can focus on getting ready to move. We have a whole list of tasks: some painting, some trimming, some caulking, little things here and there. It helps that it’s spring. ‘Tis the season for doing the dirty work of cleaning vents and corners and window crevices anyway.

And He’s doing it with us, too. We’re ready for a new season, and the big move isn’t just a physical thing. A laundry list of items that need to be dealt with emerges – heart issues, attitudes, habits, and routines. It’s time to clear the clutter, remove what’s taking up too much space, and make way for breakthrough. We need it. Our kids need it.

This may shock you since your children are probably perfect, but our kids are not perfect and a few of them have had a rough go of it lately. I’ve also had a rough go of it lately. I’ve struggled with irreverent thoughts, like, Hundreds of years ago some mother in Mexico was doing the same kinds of impossible, aggravating things. She was teaching her kids, cleaning her home, cooking food for everyone. She probably couldn’t help her six-year-old understand place value in arithmetic, either, and that’s when she invented Tequila.

I’ve been at a loss for how to pray and intervene sometimes. I’ve wondered if a certain kid’s continued disobedience is because he’s just not ready or because we’re doing something wrong. I’ve wondered if I’ve become resigned to it. I’ve wondered if I’m a good enough mother. We torture ourselves with these kinds of thoughts, the debris that churns round and round, shorting our circuits and blowing our fuses.

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.

– Isaiah 53:4, ESV

I keep praying the same thing over and over, and still see the same choices, the same mistakes, the same hardness, and what I’m praying doesn’t seem to be helping. And I’ve scrubbed the bathroom in desperation and relief, knowing that if I couldn’t make a child speak correctly, couldn’t make him do his business in the toilet every time, couldn’t make him want to be healthy and whole and free, I could at least send him to bed for a while so I could eat breakfast two hours late and clean the bathroom and pray about it.

At least, for crying out loud, I could clean the mirrors.

And that’s all any of us can do. Just take care of what is in the mirror.

And He told me, Look for the same thing in yourself, Love. Find the log in your own eye, even if you only think it’s the tiniest speck. If you don’t think you even have that, ask Me, and I’ll show you what I want you to rout out and redeem. Confess and repent of it to clear the way, and your prayer for this loved one will be powerful and effective.

We tend to accumulate all sorts of emotional clutter and collateral damage. Repentance is our best routine maintenance.

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It’s just a faint reflection of what He did for us – He looked at Himself, stainless, and when there was no log or speck to pluck out, He took the whole tree instead. For us.

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

– Isaiah 53:5-6, ESV

Mea culpa. My fault.

There was a really hard day not too long ago, and I needed immediate words for one of our kiddos – words that pursue truth without pushing away, words that don’t let the behavior slide but also don’t miss what’s going on underneath. They needed to be words that helped him see in the mirror clearly instead of further distorting the image. And He gave me the words, but after I said them I realized they were for me, too.

They’re words we all need to hear on days that we’re not proud of. Here they are:

How you’ve acted this morning (this week, this year) is not who you are. I hope you start acting like yourself real soon.

We pray for those who are falling and those who have fallen and those who are walking wounded from their choices – and it’s their choices that we can do nothing about, though we see so clearly the grief they are causing. But we can look in the mirror and find our own frail humanity and need for grace just as much, and then pray more effectively because compassion has swept the debris out of the way.

It’s the same thing I’ve been telling one of my oldest kids over and over, but I didn’t realize it was for me, too: Until we take responsibility for ourselves and how we affect others, we will run around in circles progressing nowhere. And then we feel and recognize His forgiveness – the gentle joy that revels in victory – and the breakthrough from the battle is for us and our kids and all of our loved ones, and we know He is accomplishing it in those we are interceding for, too, because His kindness leads us to repentance. Instead of the grinding downward spiral, it’s a cycle that always leads to our truest self, and more life. And we need to get our life back.