Wednesday, February 22, 2017

New Life

I look outside and see a bundle of crocus flowers bursting through my muddy and winter-worn garden bed.  They are stark white against the dreary darkness of soggy leaves, weathered soil, and lifeless dirt.  I marvel at the sight of something so unexpected: a burst of life from death.  A burst of new hope from beat down dust.  A burst of joy from hardened earth.

For 7 years I have been through the wringer with a struggle and trial that I never expected to face.  Insomnia, fear of the night, endless sleepless nights and sleeping pill addiction that I could never seem to shake.  I have shed more tears than you can imagine.  I have prayed and begged God to remove my sufferings, to help me endure, to get me through another long night of darkness and loneliness and frustration.

Let me tell you about this God that I have been crying out to.

In the midst of my hardest nights, in the lowest parts of my valleys, He has given me courage.  He has given me strength when I literally had nothing left.  He has given me hope that He will be enough for me.  Through the promises He gives in the Bible He has given me faith to endure.  His word has been what I have clung to until the tips of my fingers have been rubbed raw.  His promises have reminded me that He is with me, that He is for me, that He is good even when everything else feels hard and difficult.  His promises have assured me that He has allowed this trial to develop my character, to change the way I care for people who suffer too, to show me that He is enough for me. Not once did He leave me.  Not for a moment was He not faithful.

I never expected to see the end of this trial, really.  I never expected to be free from it.  I believed that God was going to be able to sustain me and came to know beyond a shadow of doubt that He would never leave me to face the nights alone.  

But then, like the flowers bursting through the dirt, God has not only provided all I have needed in the darkest of nights, but has now been beautifully, unexpectedly, miraculously, freeing me from the chains of this crippling anxiety and addiction.

I have slept now for 5 nights, sleeping pill free.  I have slept in peace.  God is so able to deliver us from all of our bondage.  He is so able to give us the strength to face whatever trials we are facing.  God is with us, He is for us, and for those of you who have not met God, let me tell you this:

Nothing in this world will equip you to deal with suffering like a relationship with God.  

The culture will tell you that this life is all about personal fulfillment and happiness.  This culture will tell you to avoid and run from difficulty.  This culture will tell you that it's up to you to dig yourself out of your sufferings with positive thinking and hard work. But it's not true.
The Christian faith doesn't deny suffering or embrace it.  The Bible teaches us to expect hardship and suffering.  But it also gives us a hope beyond any trial we will face.  It gives us a hope that anchors us in the greatest storms of our lives.  You are not alone and beauty can be made from the ashes of your broken life.  This is by far my favourite thing about God: that He can take any difficulty in this life and not only rescue us from it, but make it into something beautiful.  He can take what is ugly and hard, devastating and broken, the completely dead things, and bring new life.

No one else can bring life from death.  Only Him

Maybe you are sitting there discouraged, and can't imagine ever having victory over your trial.  Maybe you cannot find the strength to endure another day.  He alone is able to give you the wisdom and hope you need to get through.  In Him alone is the victory whether your trial ever ends immediately or not.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

It's Time to Take the Land

Joshua 18:3 So Joshua said to the people of Israel, 
"How long will you put off going in to take possession of the land, 
which the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given you?"

Have you ever been rock wall climbing before?  If the climbing itself wasn't treacherous and terrifying enough, it's by far the easiest part.  You don't have to look down while you climb up.  You don't have to see how far you might fall.  You just have to reach up towards the next hand hold.  Look up, ignore the thoughts of plummeting to the ground below.  Simply grab the next hold.  And the next.

But then, you've reached as far as you can go.  Your arms are burning, you're tired, it's time to go down.  How do you go down?  No problem, just let go of the wall. 
I remember the first time I did this and my unwillingness to remove my tight grasp on the holds.  The person below who was belaying for me kept saying, just let go!  "Let go of the wall and lean back!"  I'm sorry, what? 

"No, I've got you!  I've got you."  the belayer said.
"No you don't.  I've got me.  Don't you see I'm holding myself up against the wall?" I snarled back.

After a series of arguments on my side, the belayer somehow convinced me that it was in my best interest to let go of the wall.  It wasn't a graceful let go, mind you, it looked a lot like a cat climbing a wall. Scratching fingers, slamming limbs, frantic expletives. But then, you know what happened?  I got down safetly.

I let go and leaned back and with a gasp of fear mixed with exhilaration I felt that as I let go, he indeed had me.  

That is what faith feels like.

It goes against everything we feel in our flesh.  It feels unnatural.  It feels foreign.  It is simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating.   I don't believe faith is the absence of fear.  

I am enthralled by the story of Joshua lately.  I have struggled with an addiction to sleeping medication for over 7 years.  It's a long story, a long journey, and a whole book could (and possibly might) be written about that. I have spied the enemy running around my promised land, I have seen the enemy and have shrunk back in trepidation.  I've cried with the Israelites "the enemy is too great."  I've thought I had faith to conquer this  but I haven't fully let go and let God provide victory for me.

But I believe, there is freedom waiting for me, and it's time I took hold of it.

My natural feeling is to run away because of the fear rising inside of me.  Egypt, I want you!  Wasn't it so good being a slave?  This time feels different though.  I want that promised land.  I can almost taste the honey on my lips, I've seen a vision of what's ahead, and I want it so bad.  Of course, it's always easy to say this when I'm fresh from a full nights sleep and it's daytime and all is good.  But when my flesh fails, when the enemy is fighting back and all beside me are being slayed,  will I continue marching forward?

Knowing that you can't do it alone, believing in something you cannot really see, that is belaying kind of faith.  That is 'take the land' kind of faith. Believing that your enemy will not overcome you, and that God will hold you up as you let go of your control.

What awaits you in your promised land?   Maybe you've wandered the desert for 40 years, dusty feet heavy with the weight of addiction, or bitterness, or unforgiveness, or overeating or something that enslaves you.

But it's time to take the land God is giving to you.  It's time to be free.  It's time to face that fear square in the face and believe God will fight your battles for you.

Let's go, you and I.  

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Beautiful Are the Feet

I've been somewhat sentimental lately. Reflecting on years past, raising babies in a blur of chaos and tender moments. In this season, I've been thinking about how important story telling is to me. And how important it is to me that even our lives tell a story.

Story is so important to me, that unconsciously, we even named our kids in such a way that their middle names tell a story.  A story that is especially significant at this time of year.

I will tell you this story, through their names:

Imagine a hopeless world.  A world rocked by death and disease, heartache and long suffering. Imagine generations of waiting, expecting, of hopeful dreaming.  Being told that a better way was coming.  A new way, a revolutionary way.  A way that would turn cold hearts into hearts of flesh. That would take death and shatter it to the ground.  A way that would turn the world upside down: the vulnerable become protected, the abandoned become family members, the neglected become cherished.

A champion of light, a herald, an angel is the first to bring news that “it is here,” this new way.  HE is coming.  The new way isn’t a way at all, it’s a person. It’s a baby born to us- sent from God Himself.  

Hark!  The tears will be wiped.  The night will be day.  The waiting, the longing, the hoping has not been in vain!

God has stepped into our mess.  Into our brokenness.  He has stepped into our despair and has made a way where there was no way.  He has taken on the form of man himself to lead us into life. True life.  God is with us, among us, in us.  He did not stay afar, He came near.  In our brokenness. In our sin.  He has come to offer us more than a new way, He has come to offer us Himself.  His presence.  He is the way.

Behold!  Breathe deep!  Let it take root in you.  What was lost is found.  New life is possible.  Trade in your sorrows.  Give up your broken life.  There is a Savior who has come for you.  A lover who has chosen you.  Take hold of true love.  

Renae.  Reborn.
New life starts now.  Your heart anew, awash in love that was never earned.  A love that will never give up on you, that will never forsake you.  Like you're born again, anew.  Now the world is different because you are fully known and fully loved.  And you know Him who is love Himself, come for you.  

This is the gospel.  The gospel story told through the middle names of our 4 children.  May God’s very real peace and very real presence fill you this season as you reflect on the meaning of it all.

"How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation" Isaiah 52:7

[our kids' full names: Silas Gabriel, Tobin Emmanuel, Fiona Eleni Joy, Naomi Eliana Renae]

Wednesday, September 28, 2016


Do you ever feel like your drowning?  Like, actually?  You're kicking with all your might to stay above the surface and you are barely nose above water level?

I don't know what happened.  I thought I was managing 'it all' with the 4 kids.  It was hard, but manageable.  But then the weight of school just slammed down over my shoulders and all of a sudden I just cannot manage.

The driving.  The reminding.  The meetings.  The lunch making.  The costume wearing days.  The field trips.  The homework duotangs (for kindergarten and grade 1?)  Oh yeah, and there is the potty training toddler and nursing baby who needs naps at home every 2 hours.

Somehow I didn't realize just exactly what this transition would look like for all of us.  We had the little commitment pebbles here and there already.  We thought it looked manageable.  On paper, it all works.  Everything is something good, something worthy of time, something that represents our values as individuals and parents.  

But then, the pebbles became a heap, and suddenly look more like a mess.  For the first time perhaps in my life I am starting to truly recognize that there are very real limits that I cannot work around.

Limits to my emotional capacity.  Limits to my energy levels.  Limits to my ability to be all things to all people. Limits to my hours in the day.

People, we are killing ourselves in this culture.  Killing ourselves, trying to do it all.  I found myself, last week, driving from pick up to home, to soccer, to dropping off at a church function etc etc.  When did my schedule start to be the boss of our lives?  When did our activities start to choke out intimacy and connection and breathing?

I feel like I need to pile everything up again and clear the decks.  Just throw it all down and ask myself some very hard and real questions.  Who exactly am I doing this all for?  And who is actually benefiting?

It's hard because we want to teach our children so many things, so quickly.  We want them to 'get all the experiences' and 'all the training,'  and by golly we need them to learn discipline and stick-to-it-iveness.  Heaven forbid they don't turn out to be the best soccer player in the world, the best at music, the best at everything (?) But then, when we're full throttle, eating meals in the car, unpacking, re-packing, driving here and there and exhausting ourselves, it starts to look like a whole lot of needless busyness.

Busyness.  There is that word again.  We have endless 'shoulds' because of so-and-so, and that-thing-I-read, but really?  Busyness isn't cool anymore.  It's just not.  This dream of busy and satisfied is simply a false god for me.  I mean, it just doesn't satisfy.  It's no longer a good excuse for me, or a good response to a question asking how I'm really doing. It means, for me, that I am not thriving and not saying no when the life of my family depends on it.

So here I am.  Flailing.  Doggy paddle style.  Stepping back, stepping down, simplifying, and back pedaling. 

Anyone else feeling like you need to re-evaluate all the things that are filling up your schedule?

Where did september go??


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

In a Land of Opposites

I live in a world of contrasts.  Slow down, speed up.  Lean in close and listen, while running at break neck speeds.
This is life with two boys, who are completely opposite from one another.  

The fog started to lift a few weeks ago (and by that, I mean the fog of having another new baby around) and all of a sudden I was given new eyes to see these two boys we are raising.  I am endlessly fascinated by their differences and complexities.

How is it, that God has blessed us with two different sides of the spectrum?

On one side, we have Silas.  Our cerebral 6 year old who is a blur of activity, innovation, curiosity, and imagination.  He is our ideas man.  Our master crafter.  Our socialite and news bearer.  He has one volume: loud.  He is extroverted and academic, so incredibly motivated and driven.  He doesn't slow down.  Of course, therein lies the problem.  He doesn't notice the fact that he just ran over his sister, or that his brother might have an opinion about something.  He is competitive and aggressive and simply cannot seem to fathom that there are other people who might possibly be affected by his tornado of activity.  This child will reach for the stars and he might very well get them. He challenges me with his curious and penetrating questions, and his drive to explore and conquer. He will not miss out on anything.  He is my type-A, eldest son to the extreme.

Then there is Toby.  His soft spoken voice, process oriented ways, and thoughtfulness is completely other than Silas.  He notices the little things, the shiny things, the little people and all that is around him in a completely different way.  The fact that he notices anything in the mess and noise that is his older brother is beyond comprehension to me.  He is tender and there is this beautiful thing that comes alive in him with animals (dang-it, this boy will make me get a pet).  He is caring and nurturing, and thinks things deeply and carefully.  He is an enigma to me in that everything has its place, its process, and its purpose.  Most of the time I don't understand his ways, but I respect them because he is so completely careful about how he executes everything he does.  He causes me to pause, to stop and be still.  (You have to be still to hear his voice because he is so soft spoken).  He is all heart, this boy.  Of course, that comes at a cost if you trip over his invisible and unspoken boundaries.  You will unknowingly set off in him a flare of anger or hurt or disappointment (basically all the feels).  He is sensitive and sometimes fragile. 

How do I be all things 'equal' and 'fair' to such completely different boys?  I feel such different things about them.  I love them so completely but they stir something unique in me all the same.  Now with Toby entering kindergarten it's shocking how different they are.  Silas was practically reading at the start of kindergarten and Toby can actually hardly spell his name.  But yet, I am proud of him all the same for such different reasons.  Is it possible to set very different academic standards for them?  Is it possible to give one permission to achieve and compete, and give the other permission to love and relate?

How does a parent do this?  I recognize in me a natural reaction to want to push Toby to be more academic and push Silas to calm down, but yet there is this sacredness about their unique personalities that God has placed in each of them.

My dream for them is that they would recognize the gift that they are to each other. What a gift for Toby, to have such a challenging older brother.  What a gift for Silas to have such an empathetic brother.  My dream is that they would be able to stop competing for our love (because they have it already), and simply be challenged and inspired by each others gifts. My prayer is that the comparisons and competitions would end and they would be able to encourage and champion each other.  My prayer is that we can steward their gifts without squashing their brothers gifts.  

Anyone else have very different children?  How do you uniquely challenge each of them according to their strengths?

Oh.  Right.  We have two more children afterwards.  What in the world will they add to this already complex dynamic?  Mercy.  

Wednesday, September 7, 2016


I feel like a child who is suffocating in a winter coat and shoved into a too-tight carseat.

That's about the best description I can figure for what my internal world is feeling right now in the midst of transition.  

This is my sobbing fit:
What do you mean I have to drive my kids to school, every day?  Sign a piece of paper?  Check off homework completion every night?  Make lunches?  Drag my 2 year old and 4 month old back and forth to school what feels like every half hour?

School has arrived.

I'm on day two, DAY TWO folks and I already feel the panic setting in.  "I think I'll just quit.  Throw in the towel.  Homeschooling here we come!  I can't do this."  My kids are feeling it too.  6 year old woke up and declared he is never going to school again.  He will not wear his shoes.  He will not eat his breakfast.  And he desperately said "you mean I have to go EVERY day, FOREVER?"

Pfffft. Yes.

You and me kid.  We will get through this ugly phase together.  Put on your game face and pull up your panties, Shannon.  September has arrived and you will survive!  

You will survive.... gradual entry requiring 8 trips to the school, in one day.
You will survive... an unforseen 50 minute commute instead of 10 minutes.  
You will survive... parents illegally parked in parking lots, blocking you in.
You will survive...complaints about every snack you send.
You will survive...100 newsletters with a bajillion dates for you to remember 

Transition can be ugly.  And that's ok.  It can be downright uncomfortable.  Like stiff new shoes and scratchy new shirts, it can be irritating.  It's like flying with kids: Shifty and panicked stares across the aisle with the other tired parent:  "how much longer is this flight...?"  That will be september.

So how do we ride out the wave of discomfort to get to a new 'normal.'  Here's what I figure:

Sleep more.
Lean in closer.
Forget all but the important things. (No house cleaning, duh).
Believe it will get better.
Make space for emotion.
Be gracious to ourselves, our kids, and the other wide-eyed and panicked parents.
Ride it out.

We can do this, parents.  We can make it.  The next week is going to be like gravy wrestling- awkward and violent- but it's normal (or so I've been told).

I'll leave you with better imagery than that:

I remember when Silas refused to try the waterslide.  He was finally tall enough.  Finally could swim well enough.  And every time we took him swimming we would all gaze at the slide and it felt unconquerable.  He would refuse, every time.  Except when he finally didn't.  We encouraged, we prodded, we all held our breath (figuratively and literally) and at the bottom of the slide he emerged.  He got up, shook himself off, smiled huge, and then his enthusiasm couldn't be contained.  I SHOUTED with joy at his survival and accomplishment and felt such joy in watching him discover that he could in fact do the slide, and then marveled at him doing it over and over again successfully.

So IT WILL be with school.  They will learn.  They will accomplish.  They will come out the other side, shake it off, and do it again. 

Good luck.  Be sane at drop off and pick up.  Love on your teachers.  Pray.  Park legally for heaven's sake, and RIDE this transition out.

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