Jonah: More than a Fish Story

Jeff took this picture in Sydney, Australia on our honeymoon and it has been hanging on this wall for almost eight years. Despite being a high traffic zone in our house, and us opening and closing the doors nearby multiple times a day, this picture has never been crooked. Until two weeks ago.

The details are a little fuzzy in my mind, but it probably involves one or two children not getting out the door as fast as I planned. So, being the rational, Godly woman I am, I slammed the door shut. Very hard.

“Do you do well to be angry?” God asked Jonah.

“Do you do well to be angry?” God asked me.

For two weeks that picture has been crooked. No matter how many times I straighten it each day, it’s always crooked. One day I asked Jeff if he had some poster putty to fix it. “It’s so weird that the picture is crooked now,” Jeff said. Yeah, so weird…

I confessed my sin to Jeff. I think he rolled his eyes. I immediately felt regret for slamming the door, but I had a two week crooked picture reminder that my anger doesn’t accomplish anything.

How many times do I have the boys in their car seats and realize I forgot my keys, or sunglasses, or water? I’m just as guilty for making us late as they are. And does it even matter if we are a few minutes late?

After Jonah was swallowed and vomitted by a fish, he finally obeyed God and told the people of Ninevah that God was going to judge the city. The people repented. They changed their ways and called on the Lord to not destroy them. And God had mercy on them. He relented from His anger and showed them mercy. But Jonah… He wasn’t happy about it all. He was angry. Angry about a plant that provided him shade but then died. Angry that God sent him to Ninevah, only to show mercy to them. Angry that he couldn’t choose who received God’s favor.

Do you do well to be angry? It’s not worth a crooked picture frame for weeks. Or worse. Take a breath. Be thankful for the mercy God shows you, and start showing that mercy to others.

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” James 1:19-20

Joy and Sorrow

On Christmas Day Jack was supposed to walk into our parents’ houses for gift opening and share a special announcement on his tshirt: Big Brother. But he never got the chance. A few days earlier I started having some problems. Doctor appointment, blood work, and several days of waiting, revealed that I was having a miscarriage. In the days of waiting, however, I waited in silence. Only Jeff and I knew that I was pregnant. I was still hoping that everything would be ok and that we could joyfully, happily announce this new baby.

Through Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, while everyone around me celebrated the birth of a Baby King, I wondered if the baby, who was only 6 weeks in the womb, was still alive. The season of advent is all about anticipation of a Savior, when I was waiting for results and answers. Would Christmas Day, a day of great celebration, turn into a day of mourning for me? Does it have to be one or the other?

Because of the birth of a Baby in Bethlehem – Jesus, the One who saves, because He is Immanuel, God with us, I can have comfort even in sorrow. I can find joy even when mourning because the God who is with me is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

Even though I was only 6 weeks pregnant, I had hopes and dreams for this new baby. I was excited for Jack to have a sibling, for us to have a new little baby to hold and love. Things could go on without anyone knowing about this 6 week old life that was inside me, but I think it’s important to share. Every life has value and should be celebrated. At least 20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, but it’s often not talked about. Then if it happens to you, you might feel alone or ashamed, as if it’s your fault. But it’s not your fault. Usually there aren’t answers as to why miscarriages happen.

I share my story with you to celebrate the baby. I’ve thanked God for this baby and for the blessing of being pregnant three times – a blessing many women don’t get. It’s a strange thing to have more children in heaven than in my arms (read about Caleb here), but it makes me look forward to heaven even more.

No matter what challenging, sorrowful, or questioning time you are facing, it doesn’t have to be separated from hope, joy, and peace. The Baby in the manger came to save you, to be with you, to bring you peace even in chaos, joy even in sorrow, and hope even when you despair.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 1 Corinthians 1:3-4

When Hope Is Lost

Do you ever find yourself wondering Where is God? Does He hear me? Does He care? Will things ever go the way I want them to?

About 10 years ago, I was there. After suffering from a concussion, I had a headache that wouldn’t go away. My “severe minor head injury” went under-diagnosed for weeks and months, partially because in addition to the constant headache, my mind was cloudy. I didn’t realize that I was slow in responding to easy questions, I was tired all the time, I couldn’t walk a straight line – these were things I started to understand once I started getting better. In the meantime, I prayed.

But my prayer was mostly “God, why me? Will I ever get better? Will this headache go away?” I wanted my circumstances to change and I wanted a reason for why I was suffering. The months dragged on, while I was still in pain and doctors had few answers.

One night I couldn’t sleep because of the pain and finally got up around 5am, drove to the lake, and watched the sunrise. Even though I felt like God had been silent for months of my asking, I still read the Bible everyday. I happened to be in Job. If you’re familiar with Job’s story, you know that he lost everything – his children, his business, his house, his health. But still he praised the Lord. “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, naked I will return. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).

Throughout the book of Job, his friends come to sit with him but tell him his loss is his fault. Job’s wife tells him to curse God and die. But Job did not sin. At the end of Job, God finally answers… but His answer isn’t what you think. God didn’t tell Job why his children died, or why Job was suffering from an illness.

“Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm: … ‘Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations? … Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb? …Have you ever given orders to the morning or shown the dawn its place?… Do you send the lightening bolts on their way? Do they report to you?'” (Job 38).

The Lord continues speaking for two chapters, asking Job these questions, and showing that God takes care of the whole earth and every person and every animal, even that he knows when mountain goats give birth. Then God tells Job to answer Him. And Job is like “nevermind” (I’m paraphrasing).

When I read this in the midst of my concussion, I felt like Job – suffering, with God silent, and no answers. But I took God’s “answer” to Job as His answer to me – He knows what He’s doing. He is Creator and Sustainer of everything on earth and He loves me. He says I am valuable. Surely He cares for me. He has a plan for my life and if He wants me to go through this suffering then He will help me along the way.

My circumstances didn’t change after that. The severe headaches remained, but my attitude got better. My hope was renewed because my hope is in the Lord.

If you find yourself losing hope, keep hanging on. Keep praying, keep reading the Bible, and trust that God will help you find hope again. If you seek Him, you will find Him. Faith is more than feelings. Keep hanging on.

After about 9 months of a constant migraine, God healed me. The pain went away and the part of my brain that was affected got better. No explanation. But finally relief. Learning to trust God through the concussion laid a foundation for me to know I can trust God – through losing Caleb, through bedrest with Jack, and through whatever else may lie ahead.

Forced To Rest

Rest. Why is it so hard? I like to be active, doing things, checking things off my list. In fact, when I do something that wasn’t on my list, I usually add it to the list just so I can check it off. Despite the fact that I know prayer and reading the Bible are so important in life and vital to a growing walk with Christ, I feel like those things don’t count as “things I’ve done today.” If Jeff came home and asked what I did, and my response was “pray and read the Bible…” I’d feel like I hadn’t accomplished anything.

Imagine my surprise when I was forced to rest.

It was really cold in surgery so afterward they put warm towels and blankets on me.

It was really cold in surgery so afterward they put warm towels and blankets on me.

When I was 21 weeks pregnant with Jack, a routine doctor’s appointment revealed that my cervix had shortened and labor was imminent, unless I underwent an emergency surgery. A few short hours later I was in surgery getting a cerclage (a stitch around the cervix to keep it closed), followed by four months of bed rest. I waited in my hospital room to see my doctor and ask what “bed rest” really meant.

Can I do laundry or make dinner? The horrified look on my doctor’s face was my answer. “No. And you’re sitting up too much right now,” the doctor said as she lowered my hospital bed to nearly flat. Strict bed rest meant laying flat in bed. The success of the cerclage relied on gravity: the weight of the baby couldn’t rest on that stitch anymore than absolutely necessary.

I knew the baby’s life depended on my ability to lay flat for four months. I took bed rest very seriously, because I knew the outcome if I didn’t. Before Jack, we had our son Caleb, who was born prematurely, just halfway through the pregnancy. While some women take bed rest lightly and still manage to do normal every day things, I knew that wasn’t a risk I could take. I turned bed rest into my job.

DSCN8810Thankfully I was surrounded by family and friends who made sure our meals were taken care of and that I was entertained during the day while Jeff worked. I was (and still am) astounded at how many people volunteered to bring us dinner, or who came over just to hang out with me. Many people came over who had never been to our house before. Thanks to the garage remote that worked from our bed room, people Photo on 2012-01-23 at 15.47would call when they arrived, I’d push the remote button to let them in and they’d find their way up to the master bedroom where I spent most of the day. Then when they left they’d honk twice and I’d close the garage. Some school kids saw the honk & close garage and were amazed. Haha! Fun trick.

God seemed to use times of rest in the Bible to show people that they could Trust Him and that He would Provide. Since I wouldn’t be going to church or Bible study on bed rest, I knew I needed to fill my mind with God’s word and prayer in order to not succumb to fear. It’d be easy to fear the “what ifs” but I knew I needed to stand firm in faith. I read the Bible every day and did Beth Moore video Bible studies for “church.” One friend even came over one Sunday morning to do church with me. Through it all, God showed me I can trust Him. He hears my prayers and answers me. He will provide for my every need.

IMG_2362If you’ve followed this blog, you’ve probably heard me tell the story or read about how Jack shocked all the doctors by arriving LATE. The cerclage was removed at 37 weeks, I was off of bed rest and allowed to do whatever I wanted, and the doctors (and me) expected Jack to come any day. Almost 4 weeks later, at 40 weeks 5 days pregnant, I was INDUCED and Jack was born. What a miracle he is! What a reminder he is of God’s faithfulness and answered prayers. From the day after the cerclage, we prayed for a full-term baby and believed that God would give him to us, according to Mark 11:24 (“whatever you ask for in prayer, believe you have received it, and it will be yours.) God answered our prayers.

The idea of rest is so foreign to our culture today. There are few people or businesses who pause and take a break on the Sabbath. But we can be different. Together we can recognize God’s command and example to rest. We can trust God to provide for our needs while we set aside a day to stop working, to enjoy our families, to worship our Lord, to be grateful for the many blessings He has provided.

In the hospital

In the hospital

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done” Genesis 2:2-3. 

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work” Exodus 20:8-10

7 Clothes for 7 Days

Me in Junior High in the 90s

Me in Junior High in the 1990s

Another story from 7 – Week 2: Clothes
A few weeks ago an old friend was in town from California. Along with our other old best friend, the three of us made plans to go to dinner. We weren’t going anywhere fancy, but it was in Chicago and I had a doctor’s appointment beforehand and hadn’t decided if I would drive down town or take the train and walk… All of these situations were going through my mind that afternoon as I tried to figure out what to wear. Meanwhile my two year old Jack was downstairs watching tv and calling my name. Finally I realized these girls were friends with me when I was in Junior High and wore plaid shirts that were so big they wouldn’t fit if I was 9 months pregnant. Clearly the friendship runs deeper than fashion.

IMG_5235As I mentioned yesterday, this is the second time I’m going through parts of this 7 study since I did a few weeks of it with my church. My first clothes fast only lasted 4 or 5 days and then we had Easter and weather changes I wasn’t expecting. This week I stuck to 7 clothes and had my son Jack wear 7 clothes also, since we all know that children are basically another accessory to our own outfits. What I found was that it wasn’t hard. If I had planned a little better I could have easily eliminated one or two items which I had barely worn anyway. I found most often that I wanted to change because I didn’t feel clean or I thought maybe my shirt smelled. But I realized that many people don’t have the option to wash their clothes as much as I do. They go to bed at night wearing what they wore all day and it probably does smell.

photo 2I felt guilty NOT wearing all the clothes in my closet. Rotating through 3 tshirts for 7 days when I have enough tshirts to wear a different one everyday for two months, made me realize the excess I have. It had me wondering how many tshirts should I own? How many pairs of jeans should I keep when I only wear two of the 10 pairs anyway? And to be honest, I only wear that 2nd pair when my #1 favorites are being washed.

20120526-114717.jpgI’m sure many of you can relate to having a variety of sizes in your wardrobe. When I was pregnant with Jack I was on bed rest for 4 months and I just got really big. After having Jack, recovering from bed rest was really challenging. It was at least a year before I was back to my normal size. Therefore I have a pre-Jack wardrobe, a maternity wardrobe, a post-Jack wardrobe, and then back to normal but with new things because it’s been years since I wore the other stuff and some is out of fashion or doesn’t fit the same. Do I hang on to it all? What if I have another baby – then I’ll need the maternity clothes, and possibly the “big” clothes …

All of this takes up 17 dresser drawers, 2 closets, and 1 crate across 2 rooms in my house. And that doesn’t include jackets.

An entire closet full of clothes I gave away.

An entire closet full of clothes I gave away.

How much is too much? Jen Hatmaker said the only people who ask “how much is too much” are the rich people. I don’t have an answer for how may tshirts or jeans I should have. But the solution comes in changing my heart. The more aware I’ve become of other’s needs, the less stuff I want to keep and the more I want to give away to help them. Why should I keep so many unworn items when someone is struggling to find enough clothes for the day.

All of this led to a Clothes Swap party last fall. After reading 7 and hearing about their Clothes Swap, I thought that’d be a great thing to do. I invited lots of friends to donate clothes to the Swap, then come to the party and “shop” from each other’s discarded items. All the leftovers would go to a shelter that gave the clothes away for free to people in need. All together I collected clothes from about 15-20 people. It was only women’s clothing, shoes and accessories – we didn’t even attempt children’s or men’s clothes. I set everything up in my dining room and barely had enough space for it all.

Dining Room turned to Clothes Swap

Dining Room turned to Clothes Swap

The actual party was a lot of fun. Everyone was friendly to each other and passed items around, “This didn’t fit me, but you try it on.” There were no fights over anything, although we debated what was still in fashion. And everyone left with something, but much less than what they brought. After cleaning out their closets no one wanted to fill up that space again. After the party I kept things out for a few days and more people who couldn’t make the party stopped by. After a week my house was starting to smell like a thrift store, so I knew it was time to pack up. After our “shopping” we donated more than 400 items! I 1467300_10152424245509676_388797311_ncompletely filled my SUV. I took everything to a church nearby which opens their “closet” for those in need each week.

This Clothes Swap was last fall and I gave away almost half of my clothes. However, all the numbers I told you of tshirts and jeans and filled drawers are from now. Clearly I still have a long way to go. In 1 Samuel the Lord says, “For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Proverbs 31 says “Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

I know that I have this struggle of dressing for others. Dressing to be noticed, to be accepted, to be valued. But the truth is I already am noticed, accepted, and valued by the Lord. His opinion of me is the only one that matters. And the more I seek to live in a way that pleases the Lord, the more “attractive” I will be to others. In a year, or a week, or a day, people won’t remember what I wore, but they will remember my character and how I lived. I want them to see what Colossians 3 says – that I am chosen by God, holy and dearly loved, clothed in compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. That I forgive others as Christ has forgiven me. And over all of that, may they see love – that I love God and love others.

IMG_5215Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:12-14

Dear Caffeine, Come Home Soon

7 - nothing_to_eatYesterday’s post about the 7 Bible study by Jen Hatmaker was a little scattered. I only had one paragraph written before Jack woke up and the rest was written while watching The Cat in the Hat. As our group of 15-40 women went through the study, each week a few of us would share our stories of the fast we did and how it affected us. Here is my story from Week 1: Food.

A few months ago I did the beginning of this study at my church. When I read the book 7 over a year ago, I told everyone I knew about it because I knew if others didn’t read it and know about it, then I wouldn’t make changes in my own life. I knew I needed accountability. So when I saw that my church was doing the 7 Bible study, I signed up. It was only a group of about 8 women, none who I knew. But as we sat around the table preparing for the food fast, everyone shared what they were doing… but very negatively. They’d say “I could never give up coffee or my diet coke…. There’s no way I could go a day without sugar.” As they talked, all I could think was “Yes you can go without it! The power of the living God dwells inside you! Of course you can give things up with God’s help and for His purposes!” But since I didn’t really know these people, I decided not to go off preaching at them.

Drinking my favorite Vanilla Chai

Drinking my favorite Vanilla Chai

Determined myself to give up caffeine, grocery shopping, junk food, fast food, and just to eat healthy, I decided to begin right away. I made it about 3 hours without caffeine and decided to start tomorrow. That next day I made it all day but my head was pounding so much from caffeine withdrawal that I couldn’t stand it anymore and decided I’d do this food fast some other time. Haha! Then 7 was picked to be our summer study so I knew I’d have another chance.

I knew this food fast was coming and I should’ve tapered off caffeine like Jen Hatmaker said in her book, but that didn’t happen. Although some of you gave up tons of things, or only ate 7 foods for the week, I determined to just give up caffeine. That would be hard enough for me.

The first day I was out for lunch and automatically got a diet pepsi, took a sip, and then realized I wasn’t supposed to have it, so I threw it out. Day two, my son Jack and I were at my parents’ house for lunch. My mom started asking what was wrong with me, and I said nothing. But she persevered, the way moms do when they think something is going on. So finally I said, “I gave up caffeine for the 7 study, ok, and I have a headache but that’s all.” My mom, ever so encouraging, “Oh why don’t you just drink caffeine already. You’re so grumpy! I’m glad I’m not doing that study!” And then a little later when we were leaving, my mom looked at Jack and said “good luck with her this afternoon Jack!” Clearly my attitude wasn’t very good. I was grumpy and tired and had a headache.

No need for adult assistance, Jack can take his own temperature.

No need for adult assistance, Jack can take his own temperature.

Day 3 the headache was gone. Day 4 also a success. But Day 5 was Jack’s 2nd birthday and we had 40 family members coming over to celebrate, and so I stopped the fast and picked up caffeine. I did feel very successful that I made it 4 full days of willingly choosing not to drink caffeine. I quit caffeine when I was pregnant and that wasn’t hard at all because I felt like there was an important purpose in it in keeping the baby safe. But these last few weeks when it just comes down to my choice – my self-discipline – it’s a lot harder.

I learned that I want what I want when I want it. I lean on caffeine in ways I should only lean on God. The last few nights Jack was up during the night sick and I was so tired at night, but my first thought was that it’d be ok because I could have caffeine in the morning, when that thought should be about the Lord sustaining me and giving me all I need.

Despite my shortcomings, and only doing a 4 day caffeine fast, I felt like the Lord blessed my obedience. A few things happened that I attribute to God blessing this fast.

  1. I was asked to lead music one week at a church I used to attend.
  2. For a couple weeks I had fluid in my ears and couldn’t hear out of my right ear. I also found out I had 3 ear infections [yes, I only have 2 ears] – one in the left ear, and an inner and outer infection in my right ear. During the fast I went back to the doctor and in only a week all the infections had cleared up. I still had fluid but that continued to dissipate and my hearing got much better. The doctor was surprised I was doing so much better in a short time.
  3. I felt like the Lord opened my eyes to seeing some things more how He sees them, especially in regards to clothing and possessions which are the next chapters in our study.
  4. I also noticed that some of the things I tend to struggle with in how I think, I didn’t struggle with at all while I was fasting from caffeine. I think my mind was too busy focusing on not drinking caffeine, but staying awake, and trying not to be grumpy.
  5. I also started a Kiva.com account and set up a couple loans and I’m looking forward to seeing how that works and learning more about how I can help others in simple ways like that.
Posing in his favorite PJs

Posing in his favorite PJs

Although I am drinking caffeine again, I am more aware of my thoughts about it and dependence on it.  God is bringing to my attention the times I reach for caffeine for comfort or strength, and how instead I should be reaching to Him. That is something I will continue to work on, and probably will be true in some of these chapters coming up – that I turn to other things instead of turning to God. While I feel like I’ve had some breakthroughs in recognizing my weaknesses, I know it will be a process in learning to turn to God first and completely depending on Him.