The Never Ending Winter

It was the winter that never seemed to end. Seriously, it felt like the winter of ten thousand years. As the temperatures dropped, so did my spirit. As the snow piled up, so did my struggles. In those long, dark weeks of winter, we felt like we hadn’t seen the sun all winter, but honestly, I felt like I hadn’t seen the Son all winter, either. As everyone around me begged for the spring of melting snow and blooming flowers, my soul craved a spring of it’s own.

Winter had become a series of unfortunate events that had piled up and weighed on my heart heavier than if an elephant had been sitting on my chest. I remember sitting in my parked car as the snowflakes of another winter storm landed on the windshield with gentle thuds. I wish I could say that I folded my hands and said a nice little prayer and everything was better, but that would be a lie. In reality, I sobbed like a big baby. The cracks in my heart had finally given way and released all the pain they had been feeling, the exhaustion of sleepless nights, the failure of friendships that had fallen apart, the worry of my uncertain future, and the weight of the day to day struggles that just kept piling up. Did I turn to the Great Physician of body and soul? No. I just sat there and cried.

I wish I could have said that I turned to God and everything turned into sunshine and rainbows, but in those moments of vulnerability, my heart couldn’t hold onto the fact that God was writing my story and that this was only a page in it. I knew that it was true, but my days weren’t getting any brighter. Trusting him and his plan was a task harder than parallel parking in downtown Chicago in the middle of a blizzard. I kept thinking, “How can I fix this? I can’t handle these things anymore. I’m not strong enough to do this.”

Then in the depths of my winter, I felt the warm spring breeze of promise. As I thought about what I was saying, I realized that over and over I kept saying “I”.  This whole time, Satan was whispering lies into my ear that I had to be the one to fix things, that I needed to overcome it, that I needed to be strong enough. The worst part of it all... was that I believed it. In these long weeks of winter, I had been trying to shovel my snow storm of problems with a plastic spoon, when I knew someone who had a heavy duty snow plow. No wonder I had felt overwhelmed!

I remember laying in bed that night begging God to remember me as his dear daughter, the one that prayed, read her Bible, and loved everyone with a smile on her face instead of the girl with overwhelmed mind, complaining attitude, and discontent heart. I tossed and turned while my mind rambled up to heaven, I finally got up to grab my Bible. On a whim, I opened up to 1 Peter 5. It was God’s eloquent answer to my late night prayer,

“The God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, strengthen, and support you after you have suffered a little while.“ (1 Peter 5:10 CVB)

Right there in his Holy Word, God told me that I was going to suffer. He told me that he was sending me a cold, snowy, miserable winter. Immediately, I thought back to painful moments that had left me feeling not good enough, worthless, rejected, and unlovable. Those dark memories flashed through my head as hazy memories that burned like the icy winter wind, but the gospel words warmed my heart like a hot spiced chai latte on a cold day. “Restore, Establish, Strengthen, and Support,” Promises straight from God that felt like a much overdue sunny day with beginning signs of spring.

As my prayers echoes from that deep and dark valley, he lifted me out, dusted me off, and set me back on my feet. I could hear my Savior’s message whispered in my ear that felt as refreshing as the first blooms of spring, “Sam, you won’t fix this, I will. You can’t handle this, I can. You’re not strong enough. I am. You do not need to have your life together, I will put it back together for you. I will restore, establish, strengthen, and support you, no matter what.”   

He never promised that there would be no winters in life, even tropical places have little cold spells every once in a while. He says right there in 1 Peter that you will have sufferings, but we can hold tight to the promise that he will restore, establish, strengthen, and support us through it all. (Even if we think we don’t need it.)

Winters will come and go. Sometimes you get a half inch of snow and it melts two days later, and sometimes you get two feet of snow and it is fifty degrees below zero. No matter what winter you find yourself in, cling to the gospel promise of spring. Let God lead you to those patches of green grass, sunny days with light breezes, and the tulips and daffodils that always seem to pop out of the ground first. In the meantime, don’t believe lies the Tempter whispers in your ear. The traps of worry, comparison, busyness, discontentment, or insecurities may always be in our lives this side of heaven, but we have a Savior who will give us strength and help us dress in a warm jacket, insulated boots, and a matching hat and mitten set to get us through our own personal winter.

Now don’t forget. Those dark days will end and spring is coming. Just like the snow will melt and the green grass will make its grand reappearance, renewal is coming for you too. Set the burdens of your overwhelmed heart in the hands that were nailed to a cross for you. Give your struggles, troubles, and worries to the one is who commands the universe, because yes, he really does want to hear about how you think orange washes you out or how you struggle to live a life that shines for Christ, and everything else in between that weighs on your mind. Let him shovel through the snow, melt through the ice, and warm you up, for he is sending that long awaited, promised spring of blessings no matter how rough the winter may have been.

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Hunger

It's been a cold last few weeks (in case you hadn't noticed).

And with that cold comes many, many, MANY (did I mention many?) hours stuck inside. This imprisonment has led to a bit of stir-craziness here, not only among my four littles but also in my own brain and its need for stimulation.

So when my husband got a work call last Saturday morning altering the potential plans we had made for the afternoon, I refused to spend yet another day confided to the house.

“Who wants to go to Michael's?” I asked. Always up for an adventure to the local craft store which just also happens to carry a few toys as well as stuffed animals, my kids jumped at the chance.

“Can we bring our money?” they asked, as I knew they would. Sure. Why not? I thought to myself.

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Already getting a late start on the day, we began the task of getting everyone (including myself) out of pjs and into normal clothing and ready for the day. You see, we're not in the stage of life yet in our family where we're running to 26 different activities on Saturday morning in just as many directions and therefore, some weekends, we take advantage of the time together at home and linger in our pajamas for maybe just a tad too long than is healthy.

Now I will say this: the “getting ready” process has definitely gotten easier over the years. However, I can still honestly say that I have no idea what still takes so long. We can be gliding right along through our morning routine, I'll glance at the clock and think Hey, not too bad so far! and before I know it, one of my boys lost his socks and my daughters are sitting on the floor of their room, half-dressed, drawing pictures on an easel. Add to that the complication of the day brought on by the idea of bringing one's own money, and we were consumed by “the process” of leaving the house. Once I was sure at least 3 out of the 4 kids had brushed their teeth, my girls' hair had been combed and a session of Money 101 was held (yes, four quarters actually DOES equal the same as the “paper money” with the one on it and no, you cannot bring every single piece of change in your piggy bank), we were set to go. I looked at the clock.

11:30am.

Seriously? Where had the morning gone? I knew that any reasonable mother would be starting to think about lunch right about now, which should then be reasonably served within the next hour. And we were just leaving NOW?

I looked at my kids, half of them with boots on, the other with at least one arm in their coats. We were so close to being out the door. I couldn't possibly consider the idea of everyone undoing the progress we had made just so that lunch could be on time. I knew if we did that, we'd never “get out”.

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“Ok,” I announced. “Who wants a cheese stick and who wants a yogurt smoothie?” The kids looked at me like I was crazy. “It's getting close to lunch time and you gotta put something in those bellies before we go,” I explained. “So just pick one.”

This, of course, led to discussions as to who was having what, how many banana smoothies were left (it seems to be the favorite lately...or at least for this week) and “could I have something to drink?”. We ate, we drank (in our winter coats and boots) and we left.

The beginning of the shopping trip went just fine. Everyone took their time looking at what they wanted to, we held the second session of Money 101 in the aisle next to the Fuzzy Posters as I desperately tried to explain the idea of “going halvsies” on a pack of two so each could get one.

But as we neared the far end of the store nearest the checkouts – which of course was the area with the one item I needed to look at – the hunger began to set in and with it, the moods began to tank.

“I'm hungry,” I heard multiple times from my boys, who ironically seem to have not cleaned their plates at mealtime in years. “Are we almost done?” my girls pleaded. “I'm ready to go home.” Trying to keep my cool, I calmly explained that I had just patiently walked through all of their aisles and all I needed was 10 more minutes to look at what I had come to the store for. We finally reached the checkout, needing to make 5 separate transactions (why had I said they could bring their money again?), and we were back in the van, although all a bit less happy than when we started, despite the fact they each held a new stufftie in their lap.

Frustrated that my time had gotten cut short and also a bit melancholy that we were now returning home again with an entire indoor afternoon and evening stretching before us, I wanted to lash out. I wanted to reprimand my kids for needing to eat lunch and letting this hunger get the better of them.

What?

Where was my logic? I had been the one to push too hard. I had been the one to suggest going to the store, when I knew full-well how long it would take to get out of the house and just how close to lunch time it was. I was the responsible adult who could accurately tell time. But yet I did it anyway because I needed to get out. And why was I upset? Because I didn't get to look at my stuff for as long as I wanted. It wasn't their fault that they were hungry. It wasn't their choice to eat only a cheese stick or yogurt before leaving the house. That was all on me. And I should've known better that it wouldn't be enough to get us through, even for the smallest appetites in all of us.

But let me ask you: how many times don't we do this same thing with our faith? We run on empty, focused on our own agendas, maybe scattering some church services or devotions in here or there in hopes to satisfy our soul's hunger for more. And maybe we even drag others along with us: a spouse, our kids, a friend. We push and push and push, knowing full-well that our faith is wavering, our fire dwindling, our hunger for God and His Word growing. But we push past it anyway.

We try to suppress the yearning of our souls, telling ourselves there will be more time tomorrow, that we can make it by on the faith and knowledge we already possess and continue our break neck pace, never realizing that we're sacrificing moments of peace at every turn.

We would never expect a person who hadn't eaten a full meal in days to successfully run and complete a marathon. Why should it be any different with our faith?

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If you've had faith all of your life, it can be easy to fall into the thought pattern that there's not a lot left to learn. After all, you've been hearing the Bible stories since you were teeny tiny in Sunday school and you've spent just about every Sunday in church for the last 20+ years. Sure, you know there are small details about the Bible with which you may not be familiar, but you get the gist and that's all that really matters. While it is true that faith even the size of a mustard seed can “move mountains” (Matthew 17:20), imagine what more we could do in this world with faith that it is being fed on a daily basis and growing as a result!

Like newborn babies, crave spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.
— I Peter 2:2-3

It's time to move past the spiritual milk. No more complacency in our faith. No more pushing aside the hunger just to come out on the other side drained and spent. Each day we are fighting a battle: a battle against the devil, the world and our own sinful flesh. We need to be armed with the words of our heavenly Father, ready to answer, ready to defend, ready to encourage (Ephesians 6:10-18). The only way to put this armor on is to continue spending time with Him and His words, studying them, journaling them, praying them, discussing them.

Everyone in the van did indeed make it home that day without passing out from lack of nourishment. Soon their bellies were full (my boys still didn't finish what was on their plates) and their moods had lifted. And this mama learned, once again, that pushing past the hunger, whether my own or someone elses, is never a good idea.

May God remind us all that this is also true in our walk with Him.

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Rise Again

The month of February is drawing to a close. Although it is the shortest of all months, it oftentimes feels like one of the longest here in the Upper Midwest – it seems inevitable that this is the month when the snow begins to take on a dirty, ominous quality and even a balmy temperature of 32 degrees can feel cold. We’re tired of winter. We’re tired of waiting for spring. We’re tired of shielding ourselves from the elements each time we venture outdoors and we’re tired of feeling cooped up inside our homes, not able to enjoy the full potential of our outside world.

In my first post this month (“A Suitable Helper”), I told all of you wonderful Holy Hen House readers that I was going to be challenging myself to focus on relationships in this month’s posts -- namely, those we share with our significant others. A challenge indeed! Each week, I struggled with choosing a topic that was “safe” enough: personal, yet not too revealing. I wondered: Who would my audience be? Would my husband read it? Would my mom read it? What about other friends (or even mentors, gasp!) who respect me? What if I showed too much weakness or need for personal growth in such an important area of my life?

But now that these four weeks have come and are almost gone, I can honestly say, I am better for the challenge. Did I shy away from a few possible topics because they simply seemed too expose too much of myself? Sure. After all, we’ve only been at this blog for a couple of months – we’ll see how comfortable I feel next February! However, the topics I did choose (striving to be a more suitable helper, remembering how important the little things are, and allowing another to help) definitely encouraged me to look at my own marriage from a new perspective.

So after this month, that means I (and all of you) have it completely figured out, right? Perfect marriage or relationship? Check! We’ve got this part of life licked – on to the next topic, please!

Wait. Wait. Wait. Not so fast.

I doubt you truly feel this way. And I’d be lying if I said that a few blog posts written from the heart had permanently changed my attitude and made me a new person either.

But it’s a step in the right direction. And sometimes, that’s all we can ask for.

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As one of our attempts at continuing to grow closer as a couple, my husband and I have tried numerous devotionals – some made specifically for couples, others not. I have to admit, I don’t think we’ve made it completely through one of the books – but we’re trying. We recently began reading the “Love & Respect” devotional. In it, the author speaks about different “cycles” in which a couple can get stuck. My husband and I found ourselves nodding in agreement as we read his written descriptions of these “cycles”. But what I truly found refreshing was when he explained that, unfortunately, as a result of sin, we will never truly be rid of these cycles during this life on earth. No matter how hard we try to break the negative cycles and stay on that of the equal “love and respect”, there will be times when we find ourselves back in the same old rut. The trick is not staying there.

For though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again. ~Proverbs 24:16a

Eggerichs, author of “Love & Respect”, cites the above passage in regards to this truth. He challenges the reader to place the word “spouse” after righteous to help remind us all that we will fail one another. But that we need to rise again.

It is my sincere hope and prayer that you have found some spot of encouragement in this month’s posts on our most sacred relationships. Perhaps you are blessed to feel as though you and your loved one have it “all figured out” – if so, that is absolutely wonderful and press on! Or maybe, you feel like you fail (or are failed) more than you succeed – and that’s okay, too. Regardless of which end of the "relationship spectrum" you fall on, I challenge you to find a way to make it better. Yes, you both will fall, but, with the help of God and each other, you will rise again. Refuse to be content with just “making it work” and strive for the fullness that God intended for both of you.

If you find yourself in a rut, stuck in a “February” of your own relationship, allow yourself to be renewed and inspired by your longing for spring – rid your heart of the dirty piles of resentment and pride. Open yourself up to the possibility that changing one small part of your daily interactions might just begin to open up a whole new world of possibilities, communication, and understanding. If there’s anything this journey from single woman to wife to mother has taught me, it is that life's constant changes cause changes within our hearts simultaneously. These inevitable changes create the need for constant renewal and change within our relationships, too – no matter how strong you may feel. This world is full of distractions and the devil works at us from every angle to weaken the bonds which God has blessed us with. Fight for it and don't let the devil take a foothold.

Pick up a devotional you can do by yourself or together. Attend a marriage seminar or conference. Seek advice of those in godly marriages you admire. Most importantly, pray. Pray that the Lord grants you patience, thaws your heart, renews your strength, and daily reminds you of the importance of your unity.

Whatever you do, act out of true godly love, inspired by Him who first loved us. With that as your motivation, you absolutely cannot fail.

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