March Madness: For When Your Life Feels Like a Buzzer-Beater (and You’re on the Losing Team)


NetSince the last time I posted:

~ My husband fell in our garage, severely spraining his ankle and breaking his foot

~ My mom-in-law was in a bad car accident fracturing her foot in six different places

~ I received emotionally distressing news related to my writing life

~ All three of my girls followed by Chris and me came down with chest colds that won’t go away

~ Two birthday parties for my little ones have been cancelled and rescheduled due to injuries and sickness

~ In addition to the cold I came down with a painful mastitis infection

~ Chris’s grandfather became seriously ill while traveling away from home

~ Our homeschooling schedule has been turned on its head

And yet…

~ There’s also this:

IMG_5648~ And this:

Blue Eye Belle~ And this:

Blue Moon Smile~ There’s the super-cool ice machine my husband’s business associate sent him to help with icing his foot

~ There’s medicine and immune boosters helping all of us heal

~ There’s a chance for me to grow as a writer and make my novel better

~ There’s our pastor friend who prayed over us

~ Family and friends who understand a change of plans and give us grace (times two)

~ A special guest speaker at my writing group and a wonderful evening with friends

~ Little girls that keep being golden despite their stuffy noses

~ Prayers for Grandpa and signs of improvement

IMG_5649~ The first glimpse of spring in Michigan

~ Supernatural pain relief for my mom-in-law after her recent surgery to repair her foot

~ My mom who has kept our clothes clean and our bellies full

They call this season March Madness and our March, so far, has been just that. We’ve been attacked emotionally, spiritually, and physically. It’s been one thing after another and at times my spirits have sunk pretty low.

But there’s also been a lot of good, a lot to celebrate and be thankful for. In the midst of the madness, in the midst of the storm, I’ve been reminded this week that we do have a choice.

~ We can choose to focus on the good or focus on the bad.

~ We can choose to keep our eyes on God or keep our eyes on all that’s going wrong.

~ We can choose to give our hearts away to Satan and his attacks or we can stand in the name of Jesus and fight to keep our hearts intact.

 Anyone can praise God when things are going great, when life is good and beautiful. I want to praise Him in the midst of the madness. As the popular lyrics of Matt Redman’s worship song says, “let me be singing when the evening comes…” * I want to be found signing at night regardless of the day.

My life, as of late, feels a bit like a buzzer-beater. It’s been fast! Dramatic! And crazy! And it feels like we keep coming up short, like we just keep losing. 

But with God nothing is ever lost. Anything and everything is always there, working together for good.

* 10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord) by Matt Redman and Jonas Myrin

How to Stop the Tiresome Striving (with a little lesson from Max)

Still HotI looked at the bottom line: $ 1,800.00 to homeschool my girls this fall, IF we do all the things I’d like to do. The video tools, the new curriculums, the local classical group.

But how in the world? I wondered. How will we ever come up with the money and still make ends meet. 

The answer is simple: we won’t. According to my husband, and President of Allen Party of Five, we won’t go into debt or jeopardize the rest of our expenses just to do the latest and greatest in the homeschooling world.

Part of me wholeheartedly agrees. I can easily and effectively homeschool my girls using materials I already have for far less, and I know in the end we’ll be fine.

But there’s this other part of me. There’s this voice that says it won’t be enough. Without the latest and greatest my girls will miss out. I’ll miss out on important resources and opportunities.

MaxAnd there’s these other things going on with me:

There’s this compulsion to eat. To gobble up anything and everything that has sugar as a main ingredient. There’s this impulse to spend money. To buy this or order that. Something doesn’t feel right, I think as I scarf down a cupcake. I know better, this isn’t me, I muse as my curser hovers over the Confirm Order button.

And there’s also this complacency that’s perhaps the most troubling of all. This lack of a desire to write. To be still and commune with God. To resist the things that bring real, true life.

After three weeks of this behavior I stopped to listen to the voice that kept saying, this isn’t me. I stopped and asked God to show me, on the level of my heart, what this homeschool anxiety, sugar addiction, and compulsion to buy was really about.

In the stillness and the quiet He whispered three words:




That’s what’s at play here. In my heart this is what I’m longing for. Striving for. To feel validated as a homeschooling mom. To feel satisfied and full. To feel real, true, joy.

The tiresome spirit of striving, the urge to make things happen, worms into my heart and mind in seemingly harmless ways, and before I know it I find myself caught in a wormhole of vices, addictions and counterfeit Gods. 

God has spread a banquet before me. His banner over me is love, and all I want is to eat at McDonalds. I want fast food when I need the bread of life. I want a quick fix when I need to slow and taste and see that He alone is good.

What other validation matters? What other satisfaction lasts? What other joy could be so complete? Where can I find any of these things except in Him?

Wild RumpusWhen I saw the striving for what it was, I asked God to come and rescue me, to disarm the meddlesome force. I asked Him to forgive me for all the ways I’d tried to fill the void in my heart with sugar and shine and things that weren’t Him.

I returned to my Savior and His banquet for me. To His soaring banner of love.

It sort of reminds me of Max, the little boy in the famous book, Where the Wild Things Are. How Max goes off to live and roam and romp with the wild things thinking this is what he wanted, thinking this would satisfy the ache in his soul. But in the end he found the wild things weren’t what he wanted or needed at all so he left the wild things and sailed for home.

When the wild things call, when they come with striving, compulsions, and things that make you think, this isn’t me…

Remember the banquet. Remember the feast and the banner over your head. Remember who you belong to, the source of all you want, the giver of all you need.

And sail for home. 

Be like Max who returned to “the night of his very own room where he found his supper waiting for him

and it was still hot.”*

*(From Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak)

For the Weak, the Weary, the Fragile

Frustrated FourI wrote a blog this week. It was full of hope and reminders of God’s faithful promises. I wrote it from a place of strength and confidence at the start of what I knew was sure to be a tough week. 

But the week that was harder than I imagined, and now my heart feels anything but strong and confident. Rather, I feel weak and vulnerable and incredibly fragile. 

I’m in a pit. A deep, dark pit. No one knows. My family, I’m sure, can sense that I’m not myself, that something’s not quite right, but they have no idea how much I’m struggling.

On the outside the struggle is simple. My mom is recovering from surgery and the care of the household is riding on my shoulders. I’m struggling with dishes, and laundry, and meals for the seven people that fill up this house. I’m struggling to keep up with homeschooling and writing, while being a gentle and patient mom and wife.

But there’s also this inward struggle. I’m desperate for time to write. For time to tap out more than a blog on my phone while nursing Belle.

I keep going to God. I pray, I read, I pray I read, searching for comfort, searching for help but He seems far away and mad at me.

He knows I’m a horrible daughter.

He knows I’m neglecting my kids, my husband, and Him.

He knows if I’d just get up earlier or go to bed later I’d have the time I need to write.

Why do I keep coming to Him with these failings and excuses? With these out of control emotions when the answers are so simple? 

He knows I should be thankful, aware of all He’s giving.

But this isn’t Him, this isn’t His voice. It’s the voice that’s out to get me. Out to keep me in the pit.

Life is hard right now. It’s far from ideal, and as John Eldredge writes in his book, Desire, “I must have life. I cannot arrange for it.”

Circumstances have created a challenge, a hurdle, and if I’m not careful, if I’m not vigilant in this fight for joy, this battle for my heart, I will get taken out. 

Throughout this awful week I’ve been under attack and I didn’t even realize it, I didn’t know. The enemy disguised his voice and tricked me so well. I thought it was me, I thought it was God.

Sometimes it’s not the storm but the spiritual battle within the storm that lands us in the pit. And sometimes realizing you’re in a battle is the weapon you need to stand up and fight.

The life I desire, the life I need, can only be given by God. At times like these, as I wait on Him, I have to understand how vulnerable I am, how much I need His protection. 

Why wouldn’t the enemy capitalize on the situation I’m in? On the vulnerable place in my heart? It’s the perfect set up for victory. His arrows almost got me but I see them for what they are.

I’m not crazy.

I’m not a bad daughter.

I do need sleep.

I’m doing what I can to turn to my Savior, to find time in my day to write.

I’m trying my best to be thankful.

At the end of my week, at the end of my rope, God gave me clarity, He gave me strength. He met me in my heart and gave me what I needed to live outside the pit. 

I have no idea when I’ll be able to write but God knows what I need, He knows my heart, and I know He’ll make a way.

With joy and peace and His magnificent armor around me I’ll be okay. I’ll be more than okay. I’ll be protected, provided for, loved.

My God is the God of Angel Armies. He has my back.

And I have Him.

How to Really Save this Christmas (and we’re not talkin’ Black Friday)

Black FridayFor the past few days I’ve been hearing this voice. Two voices, actually. One that sounds kind and gentle, sort of like a best friend and another that sounds demanding and anxious, like the voice of a stressed out boss.

I know this sounds a little crazy but I’m also pretty sure these dueling voices are heard by each of us at some point during the holiday season.

As I write this post Thanksgiving is just two days away. I love Thanksgiving and all that goes with it. The family. The love. The FOOD! We’re hosting this year and while everyone is bringing a dish to share there’s always lots to do.

My mom and I, we have pies to bake, roasts and turkeys to thaw. My girls have been busy making decorations and of course the house, if not spotless, should be company ready.

The friendly voice in my head keeps saying, “No problem! We’ve got this! You have plenty of time to get it all done. Put on the Christmas music and enjoy baking with your girls. Don’t worry with perfection! Memories and a thankful heart are your top priorities this week.”

But that other voice…that voice that fights for attention. That angry, bossy, voice that won’t shut up until it’s heard…it goes something like this… “Ummm, hello? What are you thinking? Have you seen the living room and the dust that’s been collecting since June? You have casseroles to make! You don’t have time for lunch with your out-of-town-friend. And don’t forget story time. You promised to take your girls this week. They will be SO disappointed if you don’t go…oh and while you’re there, you better do some Christmas shopping before Black Friday sets in. Remember that coupon expires on Wednesday. And one more thing…”

The scary thing is, this voice doesn’t go away. As Christmas gets closer, it gets louder with its endless rants on shopping, spending, gifting, wrapping, planning, prepping, cooking, cleaning, decorating, visiting, and Fah-la-la-blah-blah-Blah-Blah-BLAH-BLAH!

It thrives on expectations and disappointments. It wields its power in the lure of perfection. It strikes with the threat of not coming through seeping its poison into the honest desire for everything to be merry and bright.

But there in the ranting, the demands, the clamoring agendas, the friendly voice remains. Like a friend it is loyal, constant, and true. While softer and harder to hear it never stops whispering the call, the invitation, the offer of peace, and stillness, and calm in the sales-driven, fruitcake, Santa lovin’ storm.

It reminds us that at the center of the Christmas season, there is still a Savior…a Savior who still saves. A Savior who can save us from the holiday madness we’ve created if necessary.

The balance between following the Christmas norm and following the Reason for Christmas is slippery as ice. But friends, it doesn’t have to be so. It can be as easy as online shopping.

Because in the end it comes down to a choice. A choice between two voices. A choice between two saviors.

We can listen to the voice, to the Savior that brings life, that fills every desire, that meets every need. Or we can listen to the voice, to the savior we find in our own abilities, in our cheap substitutes for the life we long for.

There is no shame in wanting a Merry Christmas. It is right, and holy, and true, to seek life and wholeness, and home-spun warmth throughout the holiday season. But this life we desire can only be found in seeking the Savior. By finding Christmas in Him.

There is a quote by Ann Voskamp that I turn to each year when the Bad Boss voice gets a little too loud. I think I shared it last year but it’s worth sharing again:

“Whenever Christmas begins to burden, it’s a sign that I’ve taken on something of the world and not of Christ.” ~ Ann Voskamp

This year as Christmas comes full force, remember these words and use them. Let them be a barometer, a compass that points you to Him.

And may the full-force of your Christmas come. Not in coupons, sales, and Black Friday discounts. Not in Christmas lights, music, or presents. Not in credit card debt for gifts we don’t need or traditions that set standards too high.

But in quiet moments spent with Him. In popsicle-ornament memories with kids. In the beauty of snow falling quiet to earth. In laughter and a perfectly-imperfect home. In baking that makes your heart sing or in the pie you bought at the store because baking’s not your thing and you’d rather sit by the fire in read.

Let Christmas come in Advent, because He IS coming, in beauty, in peace, in love, in joy.

He is coming for us, just as He came all those years ago. With passionate love that turned the world upside down. That made a King into an infant and darkness into light.

He is coming. And He is Christmas.

The only Christmas we long for. The only Christmas we need. The only Christmas worth celebrating.

What You Need to Know When You Make a Mistake

EraserI made a mistake. A big one. The kind that pertains to my writing/blogging. The kind that cost people I work with a significant amount of money.

The mistake was irreversible but there was work I could do to keep it from happening again so for hours I operated in fix-it mode, trying to fix things, trying my best to make things right.

When the work was done, I wrote a note to my editor to express how deeply sorry I was. Beyond this, there wasn’t anything left to do but learn from my mistake and move on. It wasn’t long before my editor wrote back to graciously assure me it would all be okay and thank me for my help in rectifying the situation.

But I still felt bad. Really bad. Guilty, ashamed, brick-in-your-gut so heavy you can’t eat kind of bad.

I sat down to lunch and cried like a dam had burst inside. After spending the entire morning in autopilot my emotions were catching up and taking charge.

Intense thoughts and feelings assaulted me one after another:

You should probably quit right now and never blog again…

After two years of writing you’ve hurt more than you’ve helped…you’ve taken more than you’ll ever give…

This is your fault…how could you let this happen…

The mistake I made was innocent. It was never something I did intentionally or on purpose. I was oblivious to my actions and the ramifications that might in sue. On some level I knew this, I knew I shouldn’t feel guilty. I knew these things happen. But on another level, a stronger level, I felt completely condemned.

Do you know this feeling? Has it ever hit you when you look in the mirror? When you sit in church on a Sunday morning? When you slip into bed at night?

There’s a voice in our lives, and it’s not a nice one. It likes to sneak up on us in quiet moments when we’re alone with our thoughts. This voice, this spirit, it loves to point fingers, replay our actions, and hold our faults against us like a gun to the chest.

How slippery, how well disguised this voice can be. And the trickiest, the most dangerous thing about this voice is how often we think it’s from God.

But this voice is never from God.

This voice is directly from Satan, sent to deceive us, condemn us, and keep us stuck in bondage, slavery, guilt, and shame.

We all make mistakes. We all sin. We all do things we shouldn’t do and say things we shouldn’t say. We hurt people. We hurt ourselves. We make bad decisions or fail to act on good ones. We mess up.

But while God and the Holy Spirit will often convict us, what they will never do is condemn us.

Isn’t this good to know?

The voice that was after me in the midst of my mistake, the voice that may be after you right now, must be tested. Before you listen to it, before you accept that its words are true, notice what it brings to your heart. Does it convict or condemn? Bring life or death?

In your mistakes, in your mess-ups, in your shining moments, listen for the voice of God.

For the voice that whispers, “Child, you are mine. And I will always love you.”