We got Jasmine 13 years ago, almost exactly.  It was a few days before Thanksgiving and Tim saw her in the pet store.  He had Fridays off of work, but I didn’t, so he had gone on his own to look at the puppies.  She was the runt of the litter – half border collie, half golden retriever – with the color of a golden, but the size and spunk of a collie.  He called me at work to see what I thought of him buying her.  Honestly, I had zero interest in having a dog.  But Tim had jokingly made the stipulation before we got married that we had to have a dog, and I had agreed.  My preference was for one that didn’t shed, lick, jump, bark, or bite…but in the end I let Tim decide, and he picked Jasmine.  She didn’t bite, but none of my other preferences were met.

She was a cute puppy.  A four pound bundle of golden fur.  A day or two after we brought her home, we headed to Michigan to spend Thanksgiving with my family.  I let her ride on my lap in the car and she gnawed on my fingers with her toothless gums most of the way.  Her puppy days were full of wetting accidents (she relieved herself anytime she got excited), chewed-on furniture, lots of shedding, licking, jumping, and barking.  She figured out easily how to jump over gates and knock over other barriers we tried to use to keep her in a certain room, or out of others.  She was full of energy and was easily excitable from day one.

As she grew older, and we began our family, she proved to be extremely gentle around children and very tolerant of fur pulling and tackling and attempts to “ride” on her back.  She often got into mischief and we had countless instances of loaves of bread, sticks of butter, candy bars, and even yucky baby diapers that got consumed while our backs were turned, or when she escaped from the kitchen when we weren’t home.  One time, she even got into the Christmas presents under the tree, unwrapped and ate two pounds of chocolate.  She didn’t sleep for two days, or even sit for more than a few seconds during that time.

Up until three or four years ago, most people who saw her for the first time thought she was still a puppy.  In recent years, though, her age became more obvious.  Her sight started to fade, and the past six months or so, her sense of smell did, too.  She developed a recurring incontinence issue and more and more white fur appeared around her face.  Her energy level became more reasonable for a dog her age.

Then, this past Tuesday evening, she got sick – weak, lethargic, feverish, bowel and bladder incontinence and bloody stool.  Tim took her to the vet on Wednesday and they said it seemed like a bacterial infection – probably from something she ate – and they gave her an IV and sent him home with some antibiotics.  They said she would most likely get better, and for a few hours she seemed a little bit perkier.  By Wednesday night, though, she wouldn’t even stand.  All day Thursday, she lay on the floor, only moving to try to adjust her position.  Tim had to force-feed water and medicine and she wasn’t eating anything at all.  About midnight last night, she started squeaking (the only noise she had made all day) and Tim went and sat with her for a while, petting her, trying to help her get comfortable.  He came back to bed around 1:30.  She died sometime between then and 7:30 this morning.

I cried.  Tim cried.  Our three oldest kids cried, hard.  In truth, I haven’t been a fan of having a dog.  I just don’t see benefit in pets…and, to be brutally honest, I never really wanted our kids to form an attachment to Jasmine.  It just seemed like wasted effort and emotion to have affection for an animal.  I know that seems heartless to most people.  But even in spite of my general apathy – and, at times, desperate wish to not have a dog (fleas kind of made me flip out last year) – there is no denying that I had a soft spot for Jasmine, after all.  Even through the years of bemoaning the dog fur everywhere, and the inconvenience of finding dog-sitters when we wanted to leave town for a few days, and having to avoid the “land-mines” that she left in her wake, I have always known her to really and truly be a good dog – kind and affectionate and exuberant and gentle.  I am thankful that she was dog my kids spent their youngest years growing with.  She will be missed.


I’ve been thinking about advent the past couple days.  I know I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself.  Right now is typically a time for reflections on thankfulness, but just the word thankfulness makes my heart close up tight and raise defenses and try to convince me that any amount of thankfulness must somehow mean that this hurt I feel isn’t warranted.  And I’m struggling to get past that.  So, I’m sidestepping it…or maybe just looking for a long way around to where I need to be.

Advent isn’t something I’ve given much attention to, ever.  Honestly, until recent years, I only ever heard the word in reference to cutesy little calendars that sort of ostensibly recounted the days and hours leading up to the birth of Jesus, but really mostly served as an anticipation-builder for eager young hearts that could just barely wait to tear into the stacks of colorful packages crowded under the tree.  But this year in particular, my heart needs to know that the not yet of this faith has purpose and value.

Because, in this moment, my temptation is to say that God is failing me.  The reality of these days has been a dichotomous warring within me – a pushing back at His Word, His promises, His expectations because there’s this devastation that seems at odds with any thought that His goodness to me could possibly be true…but at the same time, there’s a desperate desire to find Him, to figure out how this all makes sense, to trust that His ways are higher and better and completely infallible.  And every time I try to argue with Him that there’s no way I could possibly believe that He’s loving and sovereign in the midst of these days when He seems to be a silent observer to the anguishing of my heart, I can’t get past His Word that insists that His love and faithfulness are non-negotiables that I never get to reason away just because I don’t understand.  It’s the age-old question of how a loving God could let bad things happen to us, and a sobering realization that it comes down to the choice to believe Him, or to count His Word, and ultimately faith itself, as unreliable.

So, I’ve found myself slowly pondering His coming…not the days and hours leading up to it, but the seemingly agonizingly long millennia between man’s first defiance of a holy God – followed so quickly by a promise of a Redeemer – and first coming of our Savior.  And now, still, the waiting for fulfillment, while the earth groans and souls strive sometimes against imperfection, and sometimes against the call to perfection, all while longing for the not-yet so much so that it can be easy to forget that there’s no such thing as heaven on earth.

I’ve wondered why He made humanity wait for their Rescuer.  Why did he leave longing hearts unsatisfied?  Through the flood, and enslavement, and wilderness wandering, and a promised land, and great victories, and heart wanderings, and captivity, and brokenness, and restoration – He waited.  But He didn’t only wait.  It was a lesson plan, of sorts, this meandering road to the cross.  It’s easy to see, with the hindsight we are afforded.  It was necessary for mankind to see the impossibility of human ambition and human wisdom and human morality and human sincerity to fix the problem of sin.  God was writing it across history – who we are and Who He is can never, ever meet through any effort we put forward.

It makes sense.  It’s rational, calculated.  It’s loving, maybe mostly in a big-picture sort of way.

And, eventually Jesus came.  He bridged the unbridgeable gap and won salvation for our souls.  But still we stand here, waiting for His coming.  We have the promised redemption, so what is the waiting for, this time?  Why doesn’t this life just cease the moment we believe?  Or at least become easy?  Among at least a few possible answers, I have to be able to see that a recognition of sin and its consequence is not the same as really knowing the Lord.  If we could believe, and then never have to face the temptation of sin again, how would we ever know grace in its full measure…both to free us from sin’s grip, but also to unfailingly restore us when we fall time and time again?  If we could believe, and then never face the loss of good things again, how would we ever be able to proclaim that He is truly enough?  If we could believe, and then never have to love the unlovable or forgive the unforgivable, how would we ever be able to comprehend to any degree His love for us that compelled Him to the cross?  If we could believe, and then never find circumstances frustrating, or confusing, or painful, how would we ever be able to realize that there is Truth that is never dependent on circumstantial proof?

One day, it’s possible we will have no more opportunity to learn of these facets of His character.  There’s a depth of knowing that God allows us to pursue with Him, an intimacy unlike any other.  It necessitates forsaking all else.  Sacrificing, letting go, trusting only Him.  Safety nets get pulled away.  Heartstrings get cut.  Ambitions lie in ruins.  So that we can be found in Him.  Nothing before or beneath or beside but Him.  He holds us.  He sustains us.  He fulfills us.  And we learn, in this world that tempts and tries, as He tarries and we look for Him to come again, that He is worth it all.

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? —Mark 8:34-37

Or, in the words of Jim Elliot, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”


but God

The reminder in the kids’ devotional this morning.

But God.

Apparently, the phrase shows up almost 4000 times in the Bible.  God looks into our lives and sees reasons and purposes and possibilities that are beyond human comprehension and ability.  No matter what circumstances say, no matter what emotions say, no matter what logic says, God has the final say.

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.  —Psalm 73:26

’cause it’s on my mind

Isabelle is closing in on eighteen months old.  This is the longest it has yet taken me to consider the possibility of another baby.  In truth, the consideration right now is far from being a certainty of longing.  While there’s no denying the unequivocal blessing that each of my children are, there are so many things in life right now that temper the notion that we should eagerly pursue having as many children as God would give us.

Most insistent in my mind is the inescapable reality that my body is still not fully recovered from the c-section with Isabelle.  At least monthly, if not more often, there’s a stretch of a few days when my scar just hurts.  Sometimes waking me up at night.  Sometimes surprising me with its intensity.  It goes away eventually, and I forget a little, and my mind wonders if maybe my body is healed enough…but in the moments when it’s there, the thought of another pregnancy really scares me.  Like, deep down fear that it could be really bad for me, or worse, really bad for a baby that would need to be kept safe and healthy by my weakened womb.  So, I think about the possibility of being done…and it doesn’t always reduce me to tears as it has in the past.

But there are times, too, when Isabelle actually goes back to sleep on her own after waking up at three in the morning, and I just lie awake crying because my baby is becoming little girl faster than my heart can handle, and it has to happen, I know…and at some point, there will have to be no more babies and I’ll have to be able to let go of these days and maybe it’s selfish to want another little one so that I don’t have to let go just yet, but is it possible that the longing is still there because God has put it into my heart to have more?  Will there ever be a time when the last one can be the last one without deep sadness?  I feel strongly that this isn’t supposed to be our determination, but a yielding to the Lord…yet there is still a choosing necessary and I am just not certain about what wisdom looks like in this choice.


Yesterday, I felt utterly defeated before the day even began.  Life has been difficult to deal with, in general, but yesterday morning, things seemed particularly hopeless.  I can be overly dramatic, I know, and so despite the heaviness in my heart that felt unbearable, I tried to remind myself – in between some rather faith-less prayers – that my momentary perception wasn’t necessarily an accurate reflection of reality.  Still, I was bracing myself for a day-long fight against the urge to curl up and cry the day away.  That’s how days like that usually go.

But yesterday was different.  By lunchtime, I was able to look past the heartache and recognize God’s goodness to me in the midst of everything.  While peace and joy are rarely overt experiences for me, there was a recognition in my soul that I didn’t have to carry the weight of this life on my shoulders, that there was grace for that day and it was enough.

While I did plead with God for help, I tend to believe in those moments that someone else prayed for me, too.  So, I’m thinking about this song today, because I am thankful for the people in my life that carry me to Jesus…especially when I’m having a hard time getting there on my own.


Thrown out.  Like a piece of garbage.  That’s what it feels like.  And not just any garbage, but toxic trash.  Treated not just as worthless – as having no redeeming value – but as harmful.  Not just unwanted, but actively disdained.

Rejection hurts even when no investment has been made, no effort put forward.  It hurts even when it’s done by people in the world who don’t know any better and whose opinions shouldn’t really matter, anyway.  But rejection by some of the very few people you’ve ever allowed yourself to trust?  Rejection when you honestly have tried to give your never-quite-enough best?  Rejection when you’ve wanted – needed, even – to know that despite all your flaws and failings, love will cover and forgive and build up?

That ruins a person.


this struggle

When we went back to church in Potsdam last year, we were hesitant.

When presbytery time came, we were hoping for God to speak to us.  Tim had just gone through a job loss and life, in general, had us at the end of our ropes.  We went to all of the “local” meetings…they were scheduled for Saturday night in Potsdam, Sunday and Monday nights in Madrid, Tuesday in Potsdam.  During the Sunday night meeting, I was outside, walking with my fussy baby and just so, so tired.  I pleaded, God will You speak to us, please?  I wasn’t expecting an answer just then, but He spoke clearly to my heart - I will.  Tuesday night in Potsdam, because that’s your house.  I wasn’t actually, at the moment, terribly concerned about where we were going to church, and it didn’t really matter to me where God chose to speak to us.  But His answer simultaneously gave me peace about our choice to go back to Potsdam, and let me know that where we were going mattered to Him.

And Tuesday night in Potsdam, one of the guest ministers had a word from the Lord for us.  It was Tuesday night, even though he said God had been burdening him for three nights for us.  It is the most blatant way God has ever confirmed something I believed He had spoken to me.

So what are we supposed to do?

We have never taken this matter lightly.  Even when nobody else seemed to care and we couldn’t get anyone to offer input, we wrestled with where God would have us go.  And after a while in Potsdam, when God said go to Madrid for a time, we went, though we didn’t fully understand why.  We have continued earnestly seeking His will, and believe He has made it clear to us.  Except now, those who once had no opinion disagree with us, and perhaps think we don’t know how to hear from the Lord – or else that, somehow, what He is saying shouldn’t be the final authority.

It’s hard to know where to draw a line in the sand.  How much loss is acceptable?  Should we listen to our child sobbing in his bed from heart-wrenching disappointment and conclude the cost is too high and give in to something that seems wrong down to the deepest depths of our souls?  Or should we be the principled, tenacious, people of conviction that God has made us – and refined us to be throughout our lives – and stand our ground, believing that no loss can ever compare to gaining Christ and being found in Him?  It seems like it should be an obvious decision, right?


I’d like to pretend that I’m strong enough, that these days haven’t shaken me, that I feel the comfort of an unwavering foundation under my feet.  But the truth is, I feel like I’m suffocating.  I thought maybe we were going to have a reprieve, you know?  I thought maybe the past couple years, with their soul-crushing and faith-testing and hope-breaking, were enough for God to bring us into a better season.  Apparently what I thought was winter before really wasn’t at all, though.  ‘Cause this?  This is beyond words in its hurt and its devastation.  This has me looking at homeschooling laws in Montana and thinking about leaving.  Not dreaming.  Really, seriously thinking about calling it quits here because I’ve completely lost hope.  I’m not sure where God is or what He’s doing or how we’re supposed to trust Him.

But I’m not a quitter.

My heart is in tatters and there is a sob perpetually caught in my throat and I kind of wish I could yell and scream and, honestly, get in some knock-down, drag-out fights just because I don’t know how to handle the pain and the injustice and the confusion of it all.  My emotions are raw and my defensive nature wants to make sure this can never, ever happen again.  My prayers are weak and desperate.

But I choose to believe His Word.

I choose to stand on what I know is true.  I choose to count as loss what I had once thought gain, that I might gain Christ and be found in Him.  I wish I could be found in Him as a brave spiritual warrior instead of a weary, wounded child…but it’s enough to just be where He is, however I make it there.

this song

These lyrics going through my head today…


well sometimes my life just don’t make sense at all

when the mountains look so big,

and my faith just seems so small.

so hold me Jesus

cause I’m shaking like a leaf

You have been King of my glory

won’t You be my Prince of peace

a pep-talk

I am often convinced that I am just a failure.  I always…always…focus on everything that I am not doing well.  And there’s a lot.  So, so much.  I’m a terrible finisher.  One need only take a walk around my yard and inside my house to see it – weed-infested gardens, half-stripped front doors, stacks of clothing bins and piles of clothes, notebooks full of to-do lists that never get fully done…evidence all around me that I’m not good enough.  It makes me think that the walls might literally crumble around me because I can’t do all that I’m supposed to do.

But while I think it is true that, for whatever reason, I am just not as capable or motivated or energetic or organized, or whatever, as many people, the reality is also that life is moving forward.  We have three meals a day.  We have clean clothes and clean sheets.  The kids’ schoolwork [mostly] gets done.  Boys get haircuts. Verses get memorized.  Shopping gets done.  Books get read to my little girls, over and over and over sometimes.  We pray and we sing and we read the Bible together most mornings and every night.

And somehow, kids learn to read, and ride bikes, and swim, and vacuum, and fold laundry, and bake banana bread, and mow the lawn, and use a screwdriver, and play piano, and play chess, and say I’m sorry…and even though I often don’t remember the question that got asked about how to cream butter and sugar, or the 30 second lesson on towel folding, I know they happened along with thousands more similar interactions.

So, when I get to the end of my day and think nothing got done, I need to learn to remind myself about the naptime reading, and the baby feeding, and the cleaning-up of wetting accidents, and the four loads of laundry, and the figuring out how to use all those tomatoes, and the printed return labels, and the disciplining, and the exhaustion that was because the little girls didn’t want to sleep last night…not because I’m just a wimp.

I need to remind myself, not so that I can try to forget about doing better, but so that I can realize that, often, the things that take precedence are simply the things that keep life running smoothly in the moment…and that, often, those are the things that matter most, anyway.