Coping with Change

I seem to write about the things closest to my heart and mind in the various seasons I go through. And the words which I think best describe my life right now are chaos, change, and weariness. Chaos and change certainly bring weariness, and being already a naturally weary person, perhaps chaos and change just escalate that for me. I’m tired, not only physically, but also emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

Some changes are temporary, like my summer job change. I’m not needed as a nanny during the summer, so I’m picking up more hours at my second job. The change might be good- give me a break, refresh myself for this fall… Or it could also just result in separation anxiety. When you spend so many of your working hours with a little human, you may inevitably become quite attached and rather possessive. Thus, the separation anxiety. Or, if it’s like last summer, I might have a case of self-diagnosed baby fever. Whatever the result may end up being, it’s change.

The other change I’m dealing with right now is even bigger and more personal. It speaks of a kind of grief and sadness, a longing for what used to be and is no longer, an aloneness (Apparently, that must not be a word, because it’s underlined with a red zigzag. But I say it’s a word in this case.). It involves someone dear to my heart moving further away from me and closer to others. All is not right in my corner of the world, this I know. It’s change, and I can’t stop it. It’s too late.

Some things I can change. The sheets on my bed, for instance. The trash bag in the kitchen. Dirty diapers. Those are possible changes. But some things are totally out of my control. Things like: my age, another person’s decisions, and the weather. Let’s not even talk about how cold it is, and it’s nearly June!

So, ultimately, how do we deal with changes that are hard? Well, you could start a habit of buying frappes and milkshakes. I don’t recommend that, actually, even though I’m guilty of it myself. Or you could buy a Shire shower curtain for the bathroom. Guilty again. The sad thing is that the excessive coffee, the chocolate, and the shopping are not a cure. Neither is social media. And if I turn these kinds of things into coping mechanisms, I may live to regret doing so.

There are ways to deal with stress, anxiety, and sadness that are more helpful in the long run. You could cry. It helps to clear your heart of some of those stored up emotions that need an outlet. Find a godly mentor to help you sort through the mess. This, speaking from experience, is extremely valuable. Surround yourself with a solid church family. My church is one of the biggest blessings in my life.

Find an animal to cuddle with. Seriously, sometimes a non-human, living creature can be quite soothing. Especially if it happens to be a kitten. Okay, I understand not everyone is a cat person. That’s fine. If you prefer dogs, I give you liberty to snuggle them instead.

Write, draw, scrapbook about the situation- whatever your creative outlet happens to be.

Spend time with a little person.

Plant a garden.

Talk to Jesus. I’m not good at this one anymore, yet it is more important than all those other things. He is the only one who is truly capable of taking the burden off of my shoulders. Jesus isn’t just the One who carries my sins. He also carries brokenness and heartbreak and difficult relationships, longings and sadness and weariness. Will everything automatically get better when we give these things to Jesus? No. Some situations will stay the same. They may even get worse. The difference is that we are allowing Him to be in control of it all.

Susan, relax. He’s still holding you. And- He’s still holding the world.

Flashback to Eighteen

My mother’s flowerbed this spring

Last weekend, we celebrated my baby sister’s eighteenth birthday. She’s seven years younger than me, and tonight, I was thinking about a poem I wrote when I was eighteen. I was an idealistic teenager with big dreams.

A Girl’s Questions

Eighteen years old
And as inquisitive as a child
Only this time,
Her questions seem bigger.
But like the child,
She is excited about tomorrow.
   Will her tomorrows be filled with
   Books and brain-work
   Cramming her hungry head
   Full of knowledge?
   Or will this dream
   Disappear
   Underneath
   Dishes and dirt
   Buckets and brooms?
Will her tomorrows be lived out
Here-
Nestled in the mountains
And buried in the snowdrifts
Of Western _________?
In a comfortable farmhouse?
Or in a remote mud hut
Next to the Mayan Indians 
Of Guatemala?
Will she stay
Or will she fly?
   Will her tomorrows bring
   Prince Charming?
   Someone she will love
   And someone who will love her
   “For better or for worse,
   For richer or for poorer,
   In sickness and in health…”
   Or will she walk alone
   With her God?
   Dreaming dreams with Him?
Will her tomorrows dance…
As children appear?
Endless games of hide-and-seek,
Countless stories before bed,
Timeless hugs and kisses.
Will she be a mother?
   Eighteen years old
   And as inquisitive as a child
   Only this time, 
   Her questions seem bigger.
   But like the child,
   She is excited about tomorrow.

I pulled down my box of journals from the top shelf of my closet to refresh my memory about my life then… which guy did I have a crush on at that point?  

My eighteenth birthday, I was flying home from a short term mission trip to Guatemala. It would have been my third year making the trip. I was sad that day… I’m just not sure how often I can do this, Lord. It hurt so bad to leave. But yes, I know it only hurts because I loved. And it is worth it all. It’s just so hard. Last evening, [M] told me that someday, I am going to go to Guatemala to stay. Just not yet. That’s just it: NOT YET! How much longer, Lord… (journal entry, Jan. 2014) I knew more at 18 what my life should look like than I do at 25. Guatemala was going to be in my future, as was a certain little girl at the orphanage we visited. At least, that would have been what I would have chosen. 

This was also the time of cleaning jobs. I hated cleaning jobs, but I was willing to endure them if it meant I could be earning money to go back to Guatemala the next year. I don’t miss those days. The thing about being good at cleaning is that it’s a blessing and a curse. If you’re good at what you do, people will want you to clean their houses. But sometimes, it can also feel like a curse, to have people want you to clean their houses. I survived.  

At 18, had I been a normal teenager, I would’ve also been a senior in high school. I was not a normal teenager, and my education was not a priority. 8th grade and a GED should have been enough for me. Honestly, this may be one of the things that infuriates me most about the culture I grew up in. I tried to do a little bit of high school work at home, for a while, but it’s hard to be motivated to teach yourself, and besides, there were always other things to be done that were apparently more important. It was a struggle at 18, as I still struggle now, with the knowledge that I didn’t do four years of high school. It made it hard that spring, as I had friends graduating, and I was not. 

And about the crush… Yes, my suspicions were correct. That was the Davy Crockett-like guy. I was seriously infatuated, which is rather funny now, because, well, picture Davy Crockett and Jane Bennett, and you might have an idea of why such a crush is laughable. And then I wavered, seriously wavered between Davy Crockett Guy and Guy-Who-Eventually-Broke-My-Heart-Without-Even-Knowing-He-Did. It’s tough, being 18, having confusing feelings, and growing up in a culture that didn’t encourage guy/girl friendships. 

Still, I was so full of hope about my future then. And I believe I may have more unanswered questions about life now than I did seven years ago. Why did things turn out so differently than I imagined?   

Before the Resurrection

Saturday is a day that gets missed in celebrating Easter. There’s Thursday with the Last Supper, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. What about Saturday? The despair and lack of hope that the disciples and followers of Jesus must have faced after the crucifixion needs to be remembered as well.

I wrote this poem for the Easter season last year and shared it on Facebook, but for some reason, it never made it onto my blog. So I’m sharing it with you now:

Wakened by the Sabbath sunrise
Disciples stir with burning eyes
It rushes back- Friday’s pain
From their hearts come stifled cries.

Why did they run? And hide away?
Had no one courage enough to stay?
On their souls- a blackened stain
What was there now left to say?

They’re terrified, still hiding now
With broken hearts and broken vow
Men and women both- they weep
As in unison they bow.

Hearts are broken, hope is dead
All they can see is grief instead
The agony- it settles deep
Peace has gone from every head.

Nothing’s right, and all seems wrong
Joy is crushed, a shattered song
Confusion creeps- it slithers slow
This Sabbath day feels ever long.

Women gather, speak of plans
Somehow meet their souls’ demands
Anoint Him- do what they know
One last gift with gentle hands.

But ere they journey to the tomb
They will endure this night of gloom
While light is growing in the womb
Of darkest earth.

Finding Real in Fantasy

One of the reasons Tolkien and Lord of the Rings are so popular, I think, is because the words are so incredibly applicable to our lives. During the beginning of the pandemic a year ago, this quote popped up. You might remember how perfect it was for those months.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” -Tolkien

We see real life even in fantasy. I see that in Tolkien. And sometimes, in fictional characters, we find real people. The hobbits, for instance, are extremely similar to the culture I grew up in. Yet, let me insert a disclaimer here. I am not trying to stereotype everyone that is Amish, for as with any culture, the people within it vary greatly. But, I know a people, who, like hobbits, are quite fond of eating and who can become totally immersed in a conversation regarding genealogy. They are a people, especially the older generation, who struggle to express their feelings and who have a tendency to closet themselves from the world. Yet as Tolkien says, “You can fence yourselves in, but you cannot forever fence others out.”  

There are also real world places that remind us of Middle-Earth. The lake minutes away from my apartment, at sunrise, tells this message:

…Frodo heard a sweet singing running in his mind: a song that seemed to come like a pale light behind a grey rain-curtain, and growing stronger to turn the veil all to glass and silver, until at last it was rolled back, and a far green country opened before him under a swift sunrise. -Tolkien

Then there were the woods last autumn, so reminiscent of Rivendell. Elf-like, beautiful, and otherworldly. And of course, where there are mushrooms, there must also be hobbits. 

Of Galadriel’s gift to Frodo, the star-light, she says, “it will shine still brighter when night is about you. May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.” And then when I read 2 Peter 1:19, the similarity is super cool, at least I find it so. “And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place…” 

Forgive me for straying to the movies, but I love how Aragorn’s coronation is such a great illustration of the meek inheriting the earth (Matthew 5:5). Aragorn could have been the definition of meekness. Besides, listen to this from Psalm 37:11: “But the meek shall inherit the earth, And shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.” In the movie, Aragorn says, “Let us together rebuild this world, that we may share in the days of peace.” Love it! And I also love the irony of the people bowing to the hobbits in one of the next scenes. They were such an unimportant people in Middle-Earth, yet in the end, they had such honor, which I find to be another picture of meekness. Another disclaimer: I am not saying that The Lord of the Rings is an allegory. It is not. I have listened to enough episodes of The Prancing Pony Podcast to know that! However, I am trying to show how relatable Tolkien’s fantasy world is to the real world and to our individual lives. 

This living life through the lens of literature is probably a nerd thing. I’ll admit that. I wouldn’t change it, though. I think it adds a richness to life. Happy Tolkien Reading Day!  

Inspired by Ireland

Surely I’m at least a small percent Irish. After all, the freckles and auburn highlights have to come from somewhere. But I’m of Anabaptist faith, and typically we are largely of Swiss and German descent. One of these years, I’d like to do the DNA test to see what my ancestry really looks like. Until then, I shall continue to believe in my heart that I’m a little Irish. Regardless of my true heritage, I do love St. Patrick’s Day.

Not that I’m into the drinking and the leprechauns and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. That’s not what St. Patrick’s Day is really about for me. I don’t drink, and I don’t believe in leprechauns. I’m into the culture and the music and the food and the real story of St. Patrick. And Arby’s green Mint Chocolate shakes. 

First things- if you want a quick lesson on St. Patrick, that is also fun to watch (even for adults), I highly recommend the Veggietales version. I’m not a devoted Veggietales fan or anything, but I find this to be quite amusing.    

Seriously though, this story is a reminder that God can change the history of a country with one obedient person. It’s also a reminder that God can use the negative experiences in our past to write our histories in an amazing, redemptive way. St. Patrick, I am certain, did not dream of being made a slave. You probably didn’t want the loss, or the absent parent, or the broken heart, or the mental confusion and torment. These experiences do not define you, though, unless you let them. I confess I’m letting some of my experiences define me. But they don’t have to. What incredible story might God be wanting to write with your messy past, and with mine? He did it with St. Patrick; He can do it with you and me.

Now, for some more lighthearted content: This is Irish Soda Bread. The members of this household liked it, so I’ll probably end up making it again. It’s a good kind of bread to make when you’re short on time, because it can be mixed up and baked right away.

Then, we have this beautiful Irish Cottage Pie I made at work. Also a success, but certainly not a quick meal if you’re chopping vegetables and making mashed potatoes from scratch. The bottom of the pie is a mixture of ground beef, carrots, celery, onion, mushrooms, and tomato paste. You then cover that with mashed potatoes mixed with cheese. By the way, here’s a secret I learned from my mother about mashed potatoes: use cream cheese and garlic powder in them. Honestly, it makes the best mashed potatoes ever!

And this is Irish Apple Cake. It’s supposed to be served with a custard sauce, which I was going to make, but I ran out of kitchen energy today. Maybe later…

I have a mini fashion show for you in these next couple of photos. I really wanted an Irish-inspired outfit this spring, but I wasn’t wanting to spend a fortune. Gabe’s to the rescue! Obviously, I know very little of traditional Irish attire, but this is my attempt. Note: I love the sleeves on this dress!

Ironically, I didn’t wear a green dress on March 17th. White and green socks were the extent of my greenness then. But that’s okay. St. Patrick’s Day has been more of a season for me this year rather than a day. And I don’t consider it to be completely over yet.

There are still things I want to do before March ends. I ordered a kids’ book with the story from the library, and I haven’t taken time to read it yet (Once I do, I will try to share some thoughts on my new Instagram account: treasurethepages ). I also picked up an adult book about Ireland, which is quite a bit more intimidating. Someday, I want to read the writings of St. Patrick himself, but that may have to wait until next year. Pretty sure I haven’t listened to enough Irish music, and there’s Irish cheese in the fridge that I bought at Aldi, which we haven’t opened. So, if you missed March 17th, there’s still time! Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Lament During Tax Season

‘Tis time to give to Uncle Sam
The gold he did not earn,
Why this seems a proper thing
I have yet to learn.
It wearies me, to work so hard
Then pay the government,
An age old curse of working man
And this is my lament:

O taxes faithful, go away
Leave me now in peace,
I know you’re constant, tireless
I dream of your decease.
I do not wish to dine with you
And watch you eat my meat,
After which, you drink my wine,
Then ask for something sweet.

O taxes cheerful, lose your grin
It isn’t even nice,
To come to me again this year
And flaunt your gruesome price.
You know the numbers tire me
Before I even start,
But you just laugh hysterically
And tear my brains apart.

O taxes boastful, arrogant
You like to see me crawl,
So calm and strong you seem to be
How to make you fall?
Please hit your head and bruise your nose
Forget that I owe you,
Maybe then I’ll shake your hand
And pay you ‘fore it’s due.

Twenty-Five

Tonight, as I write this, it’s my last night of being twenty-four. Maybe that’s not such a big deal; after all, twenty-five may not be much different. It is, nevertheless, a milestone of sorts; it is quite probable that I’ve already lived over a quarter of my life. That’s a nice morbid view to take of the matter. I’m starting to feel old. Laugh if you like, but it is possible to feel old this young. 

Truth is, this isn’t where I wanted to be at 25. It’s a good thing I didn’t know this ten years ago. At 15, I already had dreams. The other night I was driving home from my mentor’s house, and I had the radio turned on. “Eye of the Storm” came on, and these words impact me more in this stage of life than they ever have before:

“When my hopes and dreams are far from me
And I’m runnin’ out of faith
I see the future I pictured slowly fade away
And when the tears of pain and heartache
Are pouring down my face
I find my peace in Jesus’ name.”

I would venture to think that those of us who hope most fervently are also those who are crushed most easily. It’s akin to the theory that if you hurt deeply when someone dies, you have loved them much. 

Yet, as my mentor pointed out to me the other night, rather than focusing so much on what I don’t have right now, I need to instead focus on what I do have. It is true that life hasn’t worked out the way I wanted it to. It’s true that I have dealt with disappointments and hurts. She told me it’s okay to be sad, but I need to not stay stuck. 

So, as twenty-four leaves and twenty-five dances in, I am blessed. There is a little girl in my life who scribbled on her belly with a marker yesterday, but I love her so much- that wild hair included. My church family is incredible, how they walked my journey with me rather than leaving me to find my way alone. This little town has stolen my heart, and I hope we will have a chance to become even better acquainted in my second year of living here.

There’s a coffee shop eight minutes away, and I have shelves full of books. There’s the Bible Study on Habakkuk that was given to me as a Christmas gift (the timing is perfect for that), and I also just bought a copy of Little Dorrit several weeks ago, as well as that book on forgiveness I ordered from Amazon. While there are books and coffee, there is always the potential for a little burst of happiness. 

I am blessed with friends. Don’t ever underestimate the value of friends. Through 2020, with not always getting to spend time with people, I think I came to realize how important other people actually are. I need people. Not because I’m an extrovert, because I’m not, but because we were created to need other people. Not just on a video call, either, but in person- face to face. And yes, sometimes I really need a hug.

God has blessed me, but even without the blessings I’ve listed, even without fuzzy blankets and warm pajamas and sourdough, I would still be blessed. My favorite part of Habakkuk is the following passage:

“Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls-
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.”
-Habakkuk 3:17-18 NK

This is the challenge. Have I lived like this? No, but I should. This is trust unlike anything I’ve ever known. Yet this is the kind of trust that we as Christians should embrace. Is it hard? Incredibly hard. Do I even know how to trust like this? No, I don’t. 

Happy Birthday, me. God is holding me, twenty-five and clueless. My job this year is to trust Him. 

A Sinful Prayer

As a Christian, to say I am disturbed about the prayer offered in the Senate is an understatement. The “Awoman” would have been enough by itself. But what bothers me even more than this incorrect usage of the English language, and the fact that I believe it to have been irreverent, are the words that preceeded the closing of the prayer. I consider it to be a problem that the “awoman” is being given more negative attention than the more blatant heresy that was included in this prayer. 

To include in a prayer to the Christian God the name of Brahma, and “god known by many different names by many different faiths” (Cleaver) is a sure way to greatly displease the True God. Idol worship is strictly forbidden. While tolerance is the message being spread in society today, let me assure you that God is not a tolerant God. He does not and will not tolerate sin. Yes, He loves us, but His love is the real kind of love that corrects us when we do wrong, not the weak love that is promoted today- basically saying that if we don’t accept everyone and everything, we are not being loving. Love isn’t like that. Love cares enough about us to administer discipline when we are making sinful choices. 

There is only one God, and He has declared Himself to be a jealous God. When He gave the Ten Commandments to the Israelites, the first of those commandments was the instruction not to have any other gods (Exodus 20:3). While Moses was receiving these commandments from God, the Israelites were worshipping a calf made of gold. Their actions were not without consequences. When God saw what they were doing, He would have destroyed them, but for the words of Moses. Even so, three thousand men were killed. And after this, God said, “…in the day when I visit for punishment, I will visit punishment upon them for their sin.” (Exodus 32:34 NKJV) This is the same God Christians serve today.

Let us not be fooled into thinking that just because Cleaver wasn’t struck dead on the spot, that God will overlook this sin. God is not okay with just being included in a list of gods. The prayer that was given was a dangerous prayer, and I do not want to be standing under the wrath of God. It was a blatantly sinful prayer, including idol worship, not to mention the irreverance. That’s not the kind of prayer God is going to respect, and America is in a dangerous decline if those are the kinds of prayers we are offering. 

Please, I beg you, read the Bible. Truth is still truth, even if people are trying to make it irrelevant. And truth is what will keep us from caving in to pressures and accepting heresy. We must know the truth! We have seriously fallen since Peter Marshall prayed this prayer in the Senate on January 6, only 74 years ago:

“O Lord our God, if ever we needed Thy wisdom and Thy guidance, it is now- as the Congress begins a new session, standing upon the threshold of a new year, fraught with so many dangerous opportunities… May they remember that Thou art concerned about what is said and done here, and may they have clear conscience before Thee, that they need fear no man. Bless each of us according to our deepest need, and use us for Thy glory, we humbly ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.” -Peter Marshall

How does a nation fall so quickly? The answer is quite simple, actually. We have forgotten our Creator. The consequence is given to us in Psalm 9:17: “The wicked shall be turned into hell, And all the nations that forget God.” (NKJV) Oh God, may this not be America! May we turn from sin and choose to honor You alone! 

Hope for 2021

I believe many of us would agree that we are more than ready to bid this year goodbye forever. But, here at the end of the year, there are moments when I do have hope. Maybe it’s a foolish hope, just the persistent and at times unrealistic optimism of the INFP, but if we had no hope, where would we be? 

What is hope? Hope is Advent, the expectation of Christmas, which may be part of the reason I am reluctant to let go of the holiday season. 

Hope is a bride and groom as they promise to love each other, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health… There is an immense lot of hope in the hearts of people getting married. After all, how many people are wed who expect the marriage to turn out badly? 

Hope is Hannah, begging God for a son. Hope is Elizabeth, and Sarah, and Rebecca- all barren women who eventually felt the incomparable joy of life within their bodies. Hope is a mother who rocks her daughter to sleep and dreams of the woman that will be.

Hope is a child on his way to the ice cream shop, a farmer planting rows of corn, and a nurse administering medicine to a patient. Hope is an author with a pen and a blank sheet of paper. Hope is a teacher dishing out phonics like a grandma dishes out soup. Hope is a pilgrim with a Bible. These are snapshots of hope. 

Hope is resilience. All of us have experienced some kind of heartbreak, but hope is us bouncing back and choosing to believe that there may still be joy. I was 21 when I copied the following lines into a notebook: “Hearts do not break, they sting and ache, For old love’s sake, but do not die, As witnesseth the living I.” I don’t know who first wrote these words, but there is some truth in them. I disagree slightly, for I do think hearts break, but there is very often recovery. Do you remember that time when you were in love, but the love was not returned? I do. It took me a while to get over it, but I did eventually. 

I have hope for 2021. Hope and dreams, they walk together much of the time. Maybe this is the year I’ll find true love. Maybe this is the year that my purpose in life will be made more clear. Maybe this is the year I’ll find a healthy balance between work and rest. Maybe there will be tremendous growth in the still broken places in my heart. Maybe I’ll suddenly become the queen of organization and my room won’t look like a disaster (just don’t tell my sister I said that; she’ll hold me to it).

Or maybe not. Sometimes hope looks foolish. It’s like that scene in the LOTR movies, where Pippin is asking Gandalf if there is hope for Sam and Frodo. Gandalf’s reply is, “There never was much hope. Just a fool’s hope.” That’s what hope can feel like- just foolish and unrealistic. 

There’s certainly that possibility of not. And that possibility stirs up fear in my heart. Yet ultimately, even if my dreams continue to not work out, there will still be hope. How? Because the One who enables me to hope will still be here for me. 

Welcome, 2021. We are ready for you. 

Christmas in My Town

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We’re just another small hometown,
Where the snow comes drifting down.
Right beside the interstate,
The winter’s long; spring’s always late.

But thoughts of spring are premature
As evidenced by the decor,
Gifts we’re buying in the store,
Snowy bootprints on the floor.

Filling boxes up with cheese
Curl more ribbon, would you please?
Mocha steamer in a mug,
Giant snowman gets a hug.

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Make angels in the parking lot,
Soup for dinner, toasty hot.
Give that pumpkin bread away,
Shine a light in someone’s gray.

The bridge is wearing winter white
And five o’clock brings chilly night.
Christmas lights across the street,
We’ll find the elf for you to meet.

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Experience Christmas here with me,
Live a part in this story,
And maybe then you’ll really see
Why I’ve chosen here to be.