Grace in Every Season

33198344260_509299a1ca_o

Photo Courtesy of Crystal Madden, Revive Photography

On March 1st, I entered into the world of motherhood. At 2:16 a.m. Kingsley Joy North made her appearance for the very first time. The second my 7 lb baby girl was placed on my chest, I knew my life would never be the same.

The months leading up to her birth were filled with nausea, heartburn, ever-fluctuating emotions, hard conversations, and 9 p.m. bedtimes. Between my 12 hour shifts as a mental health nurse at the hospital and Josh’s job as a pizza delivery driver, I spent the majority of my time either working or sitting on the couch at home by myself. In the midst of the loneliness and exhaustion, God gave me a word that I adopted as my anthem for both pregnancy and motherhood. The word? Grace.

Now I am very familiar with the verse in 2 Corinthians that states: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” However, I had never before leaned into God’s grace the way I did after I found out I was pregnant. Not only did I have to trust that God had enough grace for me in the difficult moments, God also challenged me to extend grace to myself. I was no longer allowed to beat myself up for watching an entire season of Heartland on Netflix instead of cleaning the bathroom. I wasn’t to feel guilty for indulging in the occasional Snickers bar at work (let’s be honest – it was more than occasional), but was instead to do my best to eat a balanced diet. I leaned into God’s grace more and more as my patience grew shorter and shorter during long shifts at work and I needed His strength to not melt into a puddle of tears. As I said yes to grace, the Lord began working in me to let go of the checklist of behaviors I had created and instead let myself off the hook. I realized He would not love me any less if my to-do list remained incomplete, if I ate a Snickers bar a day, or if I cried at work. He also began to teach me the value of self-care and listening to my body. The most significant lesson (one that I am still learning) was to be okay with asking for and receiving help. I am learning that it’s okay to not have it all together and to allow community to meet needs that would otherwise go unmet.

All of these lessons have continued into motherhood. I am 7 weeks in and my days still consist mostly of sleeping, changing diapers, feeding Kingsley, and watching Netflix. I do the occasional load of laundry and sink full of dishes. If I am super ambitious or full of energy, I sweep the floors and clean the bathroom. I consider going on a weekly walk to be a major victory. But some of my biggest accomplishments over the past few weeks? Admitting to a close friend that we had only one newborn outfit for Kingsley when she was born and receiving a bag full of sweet little sleepers so my baby wouldn’t be naked for her first month of life. Allowing my friend and mentor to bring me lunch instead of touting my usual “thanks, but I’m fine” when she asked if that’s something I would like. Letting my cousin scrub my bathtub, a job that I hate and that gets done far less often than I care to admit. I have learned to ask for and receive help with grace.

As I reflect on the past few months, I can truly say that God has indeed met me with His presence in the moments when I least expected it. One day soon after Kingsley was born and Josh had returned to work, I experienced my first poop explosion. It resulted in me having to bathe Kingsley by myself, something I had never done, as well as having to change my own clothes. By the time we were both clean, my poor baby was traumatized and just needed snuggles. I popped her in my lifesaving baby carrier, where she promptly fell asleep. Since it was the first time my arms had been free for two weeks, I decided to fold a load of laundry. As I was folding little sleepers and burp rags, the song “So Much Grace” by Jonathan Helser flooded my mind. I began singing the verse “there’s so much grace” over and over again. As I sang, the Lord overwhelmed me with His presence and I began to cry. I sat in the rocking chair in the nursery and sang and cried and poured my longings for Kingsley and our family out before my precious Lord. I felt so blessed that my Father would meet me in the midst of such a mundane task and affirm who I am as His daughter and as Kingsley’s mother. His grace truly was enough for me.

Whatever you need grace for in this season, know that God will supply it in abundance, perhaps in ways and places and through people that you would never expect. Say yes to grace and watch and see what He does.

Advertisements

Refresh

img_1085

In all of my years of blogging, I have never missed posting on October 1st. I adore the month of October, so no matter how sporadic I’ve been at posting throughout the year, I always make a point of putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) on that beautiful day. This year, I was on a women’s retreat in Ashland, Oregon on October 1st. So I let myself off the hook and simply enjoyed the day. I did celebrate by drinking my first pumpkin latte of the year, which happened to be the best one I’ve ever had. I’m not generally a pumpkin latte fan, so I was quite surprised. I only tried it because I trust the coffee shop immensely (shout out to Case Coffee Roasters in Ashland) and they advertised it as having organic pumpkin and brown sugar something-or-other – so of course I was sold. As usual, Case didn’t disappoint!

Good coffee was only one small part of this life-changing weekend. As some of you know, this year has been one of the hardest of my life. For many different reasons, I’ve spent much of the year crying, hiding from people, and questioning God’s call on my life. At the end of the summer, I began making conscious decisions to stop the pity party that has been 2016 and begin taking steps toward creating community and positioning myself to once again hear God’s voice. As a result of that decision, I found myself enrolled in a nine month program at my church called Emerge. The goal of Emerge is to develop leaders through reading specific books, completing strategic tasks, and engaging in weekly one-on-one mentoring. At the beginning of the course, the women’s retreat was listed as mandatory for all of the women in Emerge. It ended up not being a requirement, but I had already taken the weekend off of work and figured that I would be a “good student” and go on the retreat. I honestly had no desire to go – I didn’t know anyone and ended up riding there and sharing a room with complete strangers – something miles outside of my comfort zone, which has grown smaller by the month. Little did I know that my tiny of act of courage had actually positioned me to receive things from God that I didn’t even know I needed.

The first clue that this retreat was exactly what I needed was the theme: Refresh. Let me tell you – after the year I’ve had, that sounded so good! The first night, the speaker talked about the woman in Luke 8 who was healed by Jesus after 12 years of chronic bleeding. She talked about the language Jesus used when speaking with the woman in verse 48: “And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” It was so interesting that she spoke about this particular thing, since I’ve been struggling a lot with what it looks like to be God’s daughter. I realized, maybe for the first time, that God actually wants to be bothered with me. He is not intimidated by my messiness or my stubbornness or my desperation – He actually wants to meet me in the midst of it and calls me daughter.

That was only the beginning. About a week ago as I was cooking dinner, I was so desperate to feel God’s presence and His love for me that I prayed this prayer, “God, I don’t know if I’m allowed to pray this, but please give me tangible evidence that I’m on Your mind.” God brought that desperate prayer to mind on Saturday in the midst of a three day span during which I genuinely and tangibly felt God’s love for me. On Saturday we had some free time and when we all came back for dinner, three women whom I had just met the day before who were sitting at my assigned table presented me with a gift: a maternity shirt that says “Promoted to Mommy.” Maybe it seems like a small thing, but it spoke volumes to me. In the nearly 5 months that I’ve been pregnant, I’ve felt very alone – far away from family and the people who are “supposed” to be the most supportive during times like this. I realized that in between throwing up and trying not to throw up, I hadn’t really celebrated this new little life or invited others to celebrate with me. It was so encouraging to be surrounded by women who have been where I am and who are celebrating me as I embark on this new journey of motherhood.

Saturday evening, after yet another powerful message during which I cried for about the sixth time in two days, that night’s speaker looked me directly in the eyes and said “There are some of you here who feel unseen. I want you to know that God sees you. One of His names is “El Roi, the God who sees.” I was done. God had heard that desperate cry spoken through tears from my kitchen in Shasta Lake, California. He had heard me and He had answered. For the first time in at least a year, I could feel God’s presence and His eyes on me. This truth rang in my ears: God sees me! I wasn’t alone.

On September 30th, I stepped out in obedience and went on a women’s retreat. It was a little step. And God was faithful to meet me. As Amy Bailey, one of the speakers said “God meets us in the beyond with the fullness of Himself.” I went beyond my comfort zone, and God was there. The verse that was prophetically written in the journal I received this weekend was Jeremiah 29:13: “You will seek Me and find Me when you seek and search for me with all your heart.” It’s true! I’m still the same person I was before I went to Ashland. I don’t have a crazy story of transformation. What I do have is a story of desperate obedience and the truth that God met me in the beyond with the fullness of Himself.

 

Catching Up

The six months that have passed since my last post have been full of travel, big life changes, and – most recently – lots of time spent on the couch trying to not succumb to morning (or all day) sickness. That’s right – we’re having a baby! We found out the end of June, and oh boy has it already been an adventure!

On March 27th I turned 27, so Josh planned a trip to Napa/Sonoma to celebrate. We had an amazing time exploring, sipping new wines, and enjoying delicious pastries at our quaint B&B. It was definitely one of my best birthdays to date – and the company wasn’t bad either!

In April, we traveled to NY/NJ area for our dear friends Jon and Catherine, who asked both of us to stand up with them on their wedding day! We had a blast eating good food, visiting family, and catching up with friends. We realized that was the longest vacation we have ever taken together and decided it must not be the last! Weekend getaways are fun, but there is something to be said for taking a substantial amount of time off to simply explore, eat good food, and reconnect with the people we love.

Only a few weeks after returning from New York, we headed down to Oakland to watch the Yankees play the Oakland A’s. I bought the tickets for Josh’s birthday back in February, so it was fun to finally go! At the game, we found out that if we took our tickets from the game to the Greek festival in Oakland, we could get in for free. After the Yankees won, we found the Greek festival and enjoyed a tour of the Greek Orthodox Church, festive dancing, and incredible food.

Since that trip, we’ve been mostly in the Redding area adjusting to new life rhythms and dreaming of the future. I accepted a new job at one of the hospitals in town working inpatient mental health. It has definitely been an adjustment, especially with the almost constant nausea, but I am excited about the opportunity to learn and grow in this area of nursing. Here are a few photos to give a visual of the past few months…

IMG_0817

Golden Birthday Getaway to Napa/Sonoma in March

IMG_0924

Reunited with our favorite pizza in Nyack, NY!

IMG_0914

Our lovely friend Colleen – we of course had to visit the Chocolate Room in Brooklyn!

IMG_0889

Ruth gave us a tour of Williamsburg – who knew we were missing out on Mast Chocolate?

IMG_0895

Looking hip in Williamsburg.

IMG_0953

Jon and Catherine’s Wedding!

IMG_0988

The bride and groom

IMG_1004

Josh’s birthday trip to see the Yankees when they played the Oakland A’s in May

IMG_1056

Our baby announcement – we’re going to be parents!

Valentine’s Weekend Adventure

“To live will be an awfully big adventure.” ~ Peter Pan

When Josh and I made the move to California and settled into a new life rhythm, we decided that monthly getaways needed to be a regular part of that rhythm. Praise the Lord that I married a man who recognizes that discovering new places and traveling keep my heart alive and should be a given in our budget. Since moving to California we have visited Yosemite National Park, Ashland, Oregon, San Francisco, and Las Vegas, Nevada.

This past weekend, we decided this month’s getaway would be to Sacramento – about a 2.5 hour drive. We have been down there a couple of times, but never for more than a quick visit to Old Sac or to fly in and out of the airport. I’m fairly certain this is the first trip we planned entirely around food. One of the restaurants we wish we had access to on a regular basis is Chick-fil-A. I worked at one in high school and it is definitely still one of my favorites. I introduced Josh to their chicken biscuits about a year ago, so now we make a point to start our adventures with them as often as possible.

After breakfast, we made our way to a local mall and a couple of outdoor shopping plazas in Roseville. We enjoyed wandering in and out of stores that we frequented while living in New York, including our favorite kitchen store. When we had our fill of window shopping, we headed to our hotel near downtown Sac, where we enjoyed a dip in the hot tub.

For dinner, we chose a new favorite – a brewhouse we were first introduced to by friends in Las Vegas. Their pizza cookies are a favorite of ours – especially the peanut butter s’mores. It’s safe to say that we consumed far more calories than necessary, but we certainly enjoyed every bite!

On Sunday we visited the hot tub one more time and enjoyed a delicious continental breakfast before starting our journey home. But of course we could not venture back to Shasta Lake without first visiting a local coffee shop. Of course we had to try out the pastries with our cappuccinos. The almond croissant was incredible!

So needless to say, our trips usually revolve around food (specifically pastries) and good coffee. I would say we’ve discovered quite a few new favorites in less than a year in the area. I can’t wait for our next adventure!

IMG_0748

I couldn’t have said it better myself!

IMG_0755

Valentine’s gift from my love

IMG_0757

Almond croissant…the way to my heart

IMG_0758

My forever coffee date

Jesus in the Mess

A couple of days ago as I was driving to work, I passed a house that had a little plastic nativity in the front yard. As I peered out my window into the dreary gray morning, I became indignant. What I saw were Joseph, Mary, and Jesus all sitting together in overgrown, dead grass, surrounded by weeds. I began to criticize the house owners in my mind, thinking that the least they could have done was prepare a decent space for our precious Savior and His earthly parents. I could barely get the thought out before the Lord gently prompted me with another, less critical way of looking at the messy little lawn.

The thought that followed was this: Jesus does not ask us to clean up our messiness before we invite Him in. Yes, there is something to be said for preparing a space for the Lord, which is the entire point of the Advent season. However, Jesus came to Earth because of our messiness, because of our inability to clean ourselves up on our own, because of our unworthiness to create a space fit for a King. No matter how often we water the grass or pull the weeds, Jesus has no problem with sitting in the midst of the mess with us. He will walk straight into the brown dead grass, lift up our heads, and bless us with love and truth.

I now have a great respect for my neighbors down the street. The very decorations in their front lawn declare their belief in the Christmas story. They weren’t going to let a little dead grass get in the way of their celebration of Jesus. What are the weeds in your life that have kept you from inviting Jesus into the mess?

The Beauty that Surrounds Us

IMG_0570

Since Joshua and I moved to California, I’ve had a bit of a whining problem. The transition across the country has been more difficult than anticipated and anxious, grumbling thoughts have crowded my mind and clouded my heart. Surrounded by the unfamiliar, my initial reaction has been to hide from everything unknown and disappear inside myself. The problem is that we have now lived here for over five months and I’ve just now begun to emerge from the darkness of grumbling and complaining.

A few weeks ago, I was reminded to find the beauty that surrounds me. My first thought was, “There’s nothing beautiful about my surroundings.” I quickly shut it down and began to think about it more fully. What are the beautiful things that surround me? Where does the glory of God shine the brightest? Where is the subtle beauty of the Lord resting? Where is God beckoning me to come closer, look deeper, and find beauty beneath the surface?

One of the things in my new home that I find to be extraordinary is the vibrancy of color in nature. I’ve never seen the sky look so blue or the sun shine so brightly. Every morning on my way to work, as I make the final turn on the highway, I suddenly driving straight into the mountains. After four months of daily driving the same route, the view still takes my breath away. There are times when the mountains and clouds and sky all come together to make a beautiful purple gray that  I’m certain could never be duplicated by any painter.

I’ve also fallen more in love with coffee since moving across country. Cappuccinos are now a regular part of my life. I love learning more about coffee as an art, as a thing of beauty. I now appreciate latte art and the way coffee looks in my cup. Visiting new coffee shops brings such joy to Josh and I, even more than it has in the past.

Something that is a little bit harder for me is finding the beauty in the details of every day life. I wake up, get dressed, drink my coffee, and go to work. I take a lunch break, go back to work, get off at 5. I then go home, cook dinner (or help Josh cook dinner), eat, then sit on the couch for a few hours before going to bed in order to wake up and do it all over. It’s been easy to be discouraged and to feel as if this rhythm has no meaning or beauty. In reality, it is brimming with beauty and meaning. My job gives me the opportunity to bless people in the community whose path I would not naturally come across. I meet people from every walk of life, from many different backgrounds and cultures. I get to show them in tangible ways how important they are, that they are worth caring for.  When I come home, I get to spend quality time with my husband, whom I love more and more every day. We’ve had more and deeper heart-to-heart conversations in our few months here than we did in our first year of marriage, simply because we have the time.

This season of life has been difficult, but it is not devoid of beauty. The Lord has been reminding me of this verse in Psalm 139: “Even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.” In spite of the darkness of unfamiliarity and culture shock, God sees only light. Without light, beauty is invisible. Where is the beauty in your life that has been clouded by darkness? 

Lessons from a Woodpecker

IMG_0502

A couple of weeks ago, Josh and I went on our first trip to Ashland, Oregon. We woke up on Saturday morning craving adventure (and fall apples) and decided on a spontaneous trip up I5 to the place where we were told we could find apples. Since it was the very last minute, we were skeptical that we would find a decent place to stay that evening. Before we packed up the car, we perused Air BnB and found a quaint little “glamping” site on a couple’s farm just outside of Ashland. According to the reviews, it was a highly sought-after place to stay and it was quite miraculous that it was open for the night. We quickly booked it and gathered everything we would need for our overnight adventure.

We picked up coffee at our favorite coffee shop (Heritage, of course) on the way out of town. The day was extraordinarily beautiful. We rode with the windows down the entire way as we sped along at 75 miles per hour and basked in the beauty of the mountains on either side of our little Honda Civic. We reached Ashland barely two hours later and stepped out of the car into fresh, crisp air in this quirky little city that we had been dreaming of visiting for months.

After we visited the ATM to get cash for apple picking, we trekked out to the orchard we had selected to pick our fruit. Josh and I were both pleasantly surprised at how much we loved the orchard. It was nothing like the orchards in New York that we are used to, with the chilly weather and hot apple cider and hundreds and hundreds of city dwellers who flock to the suburbs to have an “authentic” apple picking experience. Here in this little slice of paradise in the Northwest we were the only two people amongst the pear and apple trees that were planted strategically between nectarine trees and a vineyard. We picked ten pears and a dozen or so apples, including Pippins, a variety with which we were unfamiliar but instantly fell in love. After picking our fruits and buying 20 ounces of pressed apple cider, we went on our way to visit our little home for the night.

The glamping site was everything we had imagined it would be. It was a big tent with a wooden floor and a queen-sized Tempur-pedic bed. The shower and toilet were outside protected by a wooden fence. The owners even prepared the fire pit for us so we could have a fire when it got dark. It was the perfect place to relax and unplug for the night.

After we met our host, we explored a bit in downtown Ashland. We did as much window shopping as we could handle before our tummies started growling and then went to one of the breweries in town for burgers and sweet potato fries. After we had quite exhausted ourselves with shopping/antiquing and stuffed ourselves with yummy food, we traveled back to our glamp site. We sat around the fire for a bit and then snuggled into bed, lulled to sleep by the sound of crickets and very distant traffic on the interstate.

The next morning, I woke up to an incessant pecking noise. I couldn’t quite place it until I was laying out on the hammock and happened to look up at one of the trees. There, high up in the tree, perfectly balanced, was a beautiful red and gray woodpecker. We decided to investigate further and as we walked around the tree discovered that it was entirely riddled with holes from about halfway up the trunk to the very top of the tree. As I contemplated the life of this woodpecker, I thought about how his entire life is committed to drilling holes in trees because his livelihood depends upon it. His dedication to that one tree and to his life’s calling impressed me. I left wondering how I could apply my observations of the life of a woodpecker to my own life.

This past weekend, we had the opportunity to attend a conference at one of the churches here in town. The focus of the conference was on creativity and how to use our voices and talents creatively for the Kingdom of God. One of the speakers, Havilah Cunnington, emphasized the importance of “staying in one’s lane” when it comes to creativity and life in general. I thought back to that dedicated woodpecker. I thought about how he knew exactly who he was. He understood that the way he would find food was by drilling holes in a tree. He didn’t try to dig in the ground or catch bugs on his tongue or swoop through the sky searching for smaller birds on whom he could feast. He pecked a tree. And he had a great life.

When I was in high school, my brother and I took art together. At the end of every day, my mom would look at what we had created based upon the assignment. And every day she would wonder what in the world I was trying to create. The problem was, drawing and painting did not come easily to me and I honestly didn’t enjoy either one. I did what I had to do to get through art class, but I was very glad when the year was over and I could return to my normal life. I’m not saying that I’m not creative. In fact, I learned around the same time that I loved writing. In college, I started my first blog. English Comp I was my favorite class freshman year. Not only did I love writing, I was actually good at it. There have been moments when I’ve wished I was the type of artist who could sit down and paint on a canvas and have people line up to praise my work. But, by staying in my lane, I am able to paint pictures with words and stories that no one would ever get to experience if I didn’t sit down and write them.

I will never forget my weekend in Ashland. Nor will I forget the lesson I learned from that woodpecker, who taught me that staying in my lane will in the end be far more rewarding than trying to be someone other than the person God created me to be.