Life Trapped in the Cave of Social Distancing

I’ll be honest: at the beginning of social distancing I did not feel fear; instead I felt relief. You see, between shuttling two of my children back and forth to school, homeschooling the other two, and taking them to appointments, speech therapy, homeschool co-op, and extracurricular activities, I was feeling tired and ready for spring break. Even being given a reprieve from going to church felt like receiving a small vacation. Although I love our church and the community we find there, we usually spend half or more of our Sabbath away from home. Add to all of this juggling a part-time job, and my life was feeling very, very full. The truth is, I was utterly exhausted. Thus, social distancing at first felt like being granted a stay-cation.

Ironically, I have formed an entire podcast and blog around the idea of pausing and renewing. In doing so, I wasn’t striving to be a hypocrite. In fact, I know that I am preaching to myself more than anyone else. Still, it’s clear that pausing and renewing are exactly what I have been needing and not managing to attain often enough.

Many years ago, I read a book by Dannah Gresh in which she explained that King David found himself trapped in a cave many times throughout his life. Each time he found himself in a cave, there was a refining process that occurred in his life. It seemed that his “cave situations” were due to two very different scenarios. In one scenario he made bad and sinful choices that caused him to become trapped in a cave. In the other scenario, he found himself trapped in a cave due to circumstances outside of his control.

In our current life scenario, while experiencing a global pandemic, I believe all of us can find ourselves in scenario number two. Due to circumstances outside of our own control, we find ourselves trapped inside our own homes.

Enjoying the good life of our “stay-cation.”

It seems that a refining process may be at work in many of our lives; at least I am aware of it in my own life. I’ve been thinking about this cave analogy as the first week of social distancing turned into two weeks, and now three weeks. As an extrovert, pieces of my “stay-cation” are now beginning to get old. I have found myself seeking more contact with people this week via Voxer, Skype, and Messenger. I have noticed that my irritation threshold is much lower than it was in the beginning. I’ve found myself feeling bored and restless, as many of the distractions that keep me busy and hurried are taking a hiatus.

On the positive side, as social distancing continues, I am finding that I have more opportunity to choose quality time with my family. I have more time to read. I have more time to garden, go on family walks, or enjoy the peace of my goldfish pond. I also have more time to train my kids on the things that I usually brush off: cooking with them, watching their trampoline tricks, and reading a novel aloud as a family.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not all “Little House on the Prairie” at my house. Having four boys at home all of the time means the noise, chaos, and aggression factor in our home is at an all-time high. Brothers love hard and fight harder. Even this however, may be a blessing in disguise. What an opportunity to model confession, reconciliation, and forgiveness! Not perfectly mind you, I have lost my cool multiple times already this week. Still, if my kids need to learn how to forgive and manage their anger, I’d rather they do it now as children than have to learn it later on in life when the stakes are higher.

I have also realized anew how much I seek stimulation from my phone. Quiet is uncomfortable for me. I would much rather browse Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter than sit alone with my thoughts. I very quickly turn on podcasts or Youtube when I have moments of downtime. I have even bought Disney+ to help keep all of us entertained and occupied for the month. While none of these pursuits are inherently bad, I am becoming more and more aware that stillness often feels like boredom to me. Quiet is uncomfortable, and it takes practice to enjoy it.

I guess what I’m saying is this: we have all been put in a refining situation, but we can choose how much we will allow ourselves to be refined. Isaiah 30:15, pictured above, is one of my favorite verses. The Lord entreats the people of Israel to come to Him. He tells them that in returning and rest they will find salvation and in quietness and trust they will find their strength.

Returning, rest, quietness, and trust, these are the attributes I want to develop during this time at home. These are attributes that, in Christ, move us away from fear, hurry, and worry, and towards renewal. I am still admittedly a work in progress on this front, but these are my personal hopes for my mandatory “stay-cation.”

Pause: Take a deep belly breath and slowly exhale. Meditate on Isaiah 30:15. What about this passage stands out to you?

Renew: What are you noticing about yourself during this time of social distancing? How has your life changed? Where do you notice you’re turning for comfort and entertainment?

Next: How can you begin to cultivate the attributes of Returning, Rest, Quietness, and Trust, during this time of social distancing? Take time to pray and journal about it.

May we allow ourselves to be refined and renewed.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Signs of Life: An Interview with Stephanie Lobdell

Millions of people struggle with depression and anxiety, yet the church has been slow to begin talking openly about mental health. Today’s podcast guest, Stephanie Lobdell, shares candidly about her struggles with depression and anxiety and about her life in ministry. She has learned much about healthy vulnerability and describes how she’s watched the Lord bring resurrection to many areas of her life.

Stephanie Lobdell, campus pastor at MVNU and author of Signs of Life

In this conversation, Stephanie describes what depression has felt like for her and also how an important conversation in college encouraged her towards finding grace in the midst of a mental health diagnosis. We also talk about image, ministry, and what it looks like for Stephanie to rest well. Of course, there is also a healthy dose of talk about the Enneagram.

If you enjoy today’s podcast episode and want to hear more from Stephanie, check our her book, Signs of Life: Resurrecting Hope Out of Ordinary Losses. You can also learn more about her life and ministry at her website: stephanielobdell.com

What resonated with you from today’s conversation? I’d love to hear about it! Comment below or join the conversation on PRN’s Facebook page.

May you be encouraged on your journey with Jesus.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Pencils and Possibilities

Pause: My son sat on the sofa, working on his school assignments. We are homebound this month, due to social distancing and the coronavirus, yet his spirits were high this morning while doing his math homework. Suddenly, he turned to me and exclaimed: “Mom, do you know what I used to think about last year when I was working on school work?”

“No, what?,” I answered slightly distracted.

“I used to imagine my pencil and all of the drawings and ideas it had stored inside it. Then, I would draw a picture and imagine how happy the pencil was that one of its ideas was now on paper.”

I couldn’t stop myself from grinning as I exclaimed, “I love that so much. That’s a really fun idea.”

“Why do you like that so much Mom?,” he responded, confused as to why I would find his thoughts so inspiring.

“I just like the way you think. That’s a happy thought.”

Renew: My little out-of-the-box thinker teaches me a lot about the world. How to run full-speed ahead full of joy without the weight of worry dragging him down. How to look at a situation from a new angle. How to capitalize on imagination. How to include everyone, not just your favorite people. How to care for the least of these, especially animals.

I absolutely love his pencil idea and feel it has much to teach us.

What do you think your pencil holds?

Maybe it is full of all of the gifts and talents you have to share with the world. What if, like the pencil, when you use one of your gifts for God’s glory, He smiles, happy that you shared it with others.

Maybe your pencil is filled with all of the memories you are making with your loved ones. Each moment in our homes, even under social distancing restrictions, is an opportunity to cultivate family bonds and experiences together. Sure, not every moment of quarantined life among family is going to be ideal, but it will certainly be memorable!

Life really is like that pencil. Our lives are filled up with potential experiences and memories. Each time one is written down in the annals of time, more are just waiting to be released.

Next: What will you draw today?

Sunlight Burning at Midnight: an Interview with Jess Ronne

It was my joy to get to talk to Jess Ronne in this podcast episode about her memoir, Sunlight Burning at Midnight. Jess is a wife, a mother of 8 children, a non-profit founder, and an author. She has experienced more heartache and struggle in the last 15 years than some people will experience their whole lives, yet her story is full of faith, grace, and hope.

Jess Ronne, also known as Jess+The Mess

In this podcast episode, Jess shares pieces of her faith journey: from experiencing a difficult pregnancy, to having a child with special needs, to walking with her husband through terminal brain cancer. She is candid in talking about her grief and the way she wrestled with her faith through those seasons. She also talks about the joy and hope of finding a new love.

Jess honestly shares about the real and ever-present challenges of raising a child with profound special needs. Now, more than ever, she is learning the importance of having community: family, friends, and a church body to stand alongside their family during both the good and the hard times. However, she explains that finding community is especially challenging for special-needs parents, as it is often a very isolating journey.

Jess Ronne, pictured with her family

I came away from this conversation both challenged and encouraged, and I hope that you do too. If something from this podcast episode resonates with you, please leave a comment below or join the conversation on PRN’s facebook page. If you’d like to learn more about Jess Ronne, you can read her blog and learn more about her non-profit, The Lucas Project, at her website: www.jessplusthemess.com.

May you be encouraged on your journey with Jesus.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Worry: Friend or Foe?

Can worry ever be helpful? My guess is that your instinctive response is to roll your eyes and say no. To be honest, worry has a pretty bad reputation, and for good reason. Worry often looks like endless negative ruminations. It can look like catastrophizing the future. It can lead us to unnecessary fear. It can get us stuck in endless thought loops, like a car spinning its tires in the mud but going nowhere.

I often find, though, that worry can be broken into two categories: helpful and unhelpful. Helpful worries are those that bring an important thought into our consciousness: something that needs to be dealt with and not avoided. For instance, if I anxiously remember that I’ve forgotten to tell my husband to pick up my son from school, that would be a helpful worry. It’s something that needs to be dealt with, and for which a plan needs to be made. It is not something I should avoid, though the situation may be creating anxiety inside of me. Another example might look like worrying about a confrontation or a hard conversation with someone that I love. This worry can be helpful, because the discomfort of my anxiety may be compelling me towards reconciliation in my relationship.

Helpful worries drive us to think about and make plans for dealing with the hard and uncomfortable parts of life.

On the other hand, unhelpful worries are thoughts about the future over which you have no control. Worrying about how your plane might crash, how you might have cancer in the future, or how long it will take the next virus epidemic to reach your neighborhood definitely classify as unhelpful worries. These thoughts lead to unneeded anxiety and cause our brains and bodies to react negatively. I’m certain that these sorts of worries are what Christ talks about in Matthew 6 when he warns us not to worry about what will come tomorrow.

This image of Matthew 6:34 is taken from the YouVersion Bible app.

Many years ago, when I was still only a mother of two children rather than four, our family moved to a new house. It was a dream come true for our family, as it provided more space, it was closer to family, it had a huge yard in which my children could play, and it came complete with a tiny goldfish pond made from a recycled old church baptismal. Therein began my worry.

Before we had even moved in, I woke up in the middle of the night, heart pounding from a nightmare about the pond. In my dream, my oldest child toddled into the pond (which looked substantially larger in my dream) and drowned. When I awoke, the dread began. I talked it over with my husband, and we came up with many rules for the pond.

  1. Do not play next to the pond.
  2. Do not stand next to the pond or feed the fish unless Mommy or Daddy are with you.
  3. Do not get in the pond.
  4. Do not bend over the pond looking at the fish.

After a few months went by and no incidents occurred, my anxiety decreased. In fact, the only problem we ever seemed to have was with our wild and fearless second-born, who always, even to this day, acts before he thinks. He lives to experience the world with all of his senses. Many times we found him leaning over, touching the water. Still, two years passed after we moved in, and no real incidents occurred.

One day I returned home from work, and my five year old came running out of the house to tell me about his day. With exuberance, he told me how while Daddy had been looking elsewhere, his little brother had fallen in the pond. Quick as a wink, he ran screaming to tell his Dad, who ran over and pulled our little guy out soaking and squirming. No harm had been done, but he was definitely frightened. In fact, he didn’t try to play in the pond again for quite some time. Sometimes experience teaches better than warnings…

However, the scare definitely increased our plans to better secure the pond. At this point, my worry could have taken a turn towards unhealthy fear and endless ruminations. Instead, it spurred me to action. Our children were soon put in swimming lessons after that incident. In fact, for years afterwards, the pond was filled in while we pursued our foster and adoption license due to license restrictions about water around our home. More importantly, I came away from that incident knowing that even when I wasn’t there to protect my children, God was watching over them. As children of the Most High, we are promised that He watches over us and protects us. As I John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”

Our goldfish pond

Pause: Find a few quiet moments and reflect on Matthew 6:25-34. What stands out to you about anxiety and worry? How does this relate to your own life?

Renew: In thinking about your own list of current worries, which would you classify as helpful, and which feel most unhelpful? Why?

Next: This week, as you find yourself worrying, quickly decide if that worry is a helpful or unhelpful thought. If it could be helpful to make a plan regarding that worry, go for it! Then, give your worries to God, journal about them, talk to a trusted friend or counselor, and try to shift your thinking.

May we live in peace, free from the worries that drag us towards unhealthy fear.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Following the Call: An Interview with Ann Miller

Today’s guest, Mrs. Ann Miller, is someone I really admire. She and her husband have an extensive history of ministry: from pastoring, to mission work, to teaching, to working with international university students. It was my joy in this interview not only to hear about some of Ann’s unique life experiences but also to hear about what the Lord has taught her along the way.

Ann Miller: wife, mother, grandmother, Bible Study teacher, and retired missionary and French teacher

In this interview, we talk about everything from French cuisine to Scripture. Although it’s hard to summarize a lifetime of experiences in a podcast episode, Ann discusses the beginning of their church ministry in Alabama, becoming a missionary in France, and transitioning back to life and ministry in the U.S.

What I love most about Ann is her authenticity and boldness, and these qualities come shining through in our conversation. She is honest about how uncomfortable some parts of ministry have been, but she’s equally honest about how the Lord used those experiences and discomfort to prepare her for what lay ahead. After listening to this interview, my hope is that you will come away encouraged and emboldened in your own faith.

What resonated with you from this podcast episode? I’d love to hear about it! Comment below, or join the conversation on PRN’s Facebook page.

May you be encouraged on your journey with Jesus!

Pause, Renew, Next!

Rupture and Repair

I will never forget that moment.

My two year old son stared at me, stricken. I don’t remember the events that led up to the moment, although I’m sure it had something to do with being an exhausted mom of two small boys. There was probably a meltdown or two involved. What I do remember is that I yelled, loudly, in response to the misbehavior of my incredibly sweet and wild toddler. The toddler who now stood looking at me as if I was a monster.

His shocked face crumpled, and he began to sob. “You scared me, Mommy!,” he wailed. The truth was, I had scared myself too! I had not been prepared for the stress and strains of emotion that parenting would require. Growing up with a sister, I felt ill-equipped for the physicality and noise level that little boys brought into our home. I had not set out to be a yelling Mom. How could I love someone so much that I would give my life for them and be boiling angry with them at the same time?

This is the perplexity of motherhood.

My sweet boy with the bright blue eyes

As my son sobbed, he ran towards me, seeking comfort. I knelt down, scooped him up, and hugged him for all I was worth. “I’m sorry buddy,” I crooned. “Mommy should not have yelled that way. I didn’t mean to scare you.” I patted his back and rocked him back and forth. Soon, he hiccuped a few last sobs and, feeling secure and safe again, ran off to play.

Just like that, our ruptured relationship was repaired.

Relationships are hard, and we often make mistakes along the way. In fact, ruptures in our relationships are inevitable. Sometimes these ruptures occur because we intentionally make poor choices. Sometimes they occur due to miscommunication and misunderstanding. Sometimes they occur because of plain old sin.

I’ve heard it said that parents get it right about 50% of the time. This dismal success rate, however, does not mean that you can’t be a successful parent. You don’t have to be a perfect parent or spouse to provide a secure attachment. You just have to be a “good enough” parent or spouse. Relationships can survive and thrive even after ruptures. Sometimes they even come out stronger.

It’s the repair work that makes all the difference.

When you know that a rupture has occurred in a relationship: a hurt, a slight, a sin, or a miscommunication, it is important to go back and make it right. Sometimes this looks like an apology, and sometimes it looks like correcting a misunderstanding. Sometimes it looks like showing support verbally, and sometimes it looks like a hug. Whatever it looks like, the message is clear: “You matter to me, and our relationship matters to me.” This repair work creates safety, trust, and intimacy.

Repair work is the message of the gospel. Christ came to bridge the gap of our sin and do the repair work for us, so that we would be united with our Father. In Him, we can experience the felt safety we so desire.

Pause: Take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Read the above verse and consider how confessing our sins and praying for one another helps to repair relationships.

Renew: Think about your own relationships. What repair work have you recently experienced? Is there currently a relationship in which some repair work is needed? What might this look like?

Next: If you’d like to learn more about rupture and repair, watch this video of Dr. Karyn Purvis, author of The Connected Child, discussing repair work in parenting.

May we revel in the forgiveness and second chances that repair work provides for us.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Regulation, Integration, and Soul Care

It was on the third day of an 8-day overseas mission trip that I found myself losing patience. I managed to make it through the jet lag of a six-hour time difference, the money exchange, a broken-down van, meeting new people in a new culture, and beginning the ministry portion of our trip, before my overwhelming exhaustion made itself evident in my behavior. I found myself feeling irritable, overly critical, easily offended, and misunderstood. I reacted to issues that I normally would have let slide. I responded in anger to well-meaning family members.

Jet lag, excitement, and travel adventures…

As my sister-in-law and I were getting ready for bed later that night, I mused, “Wow, today was not great. I got into two arguments today, and I just cannot believe I said those things.” She nodded, agreeing that she had noticed my attitude, and asked, “Are you talking about what you said to Nathan earlier?”

“No,” I laughed, flabbergasted at myself, “I wasn’t even counting that whole thing. Make that three arguments.” Clearly, it was time for me to go to bed and start a new day.

By the time I woke up the next morning, life seemed more manageable again.

That’s what exhaustion does to us. It takes us to a place where we no longer feel regulated and integrated. We begin to feel dysregulated and disintegrated: physically, emotionally, spiritually, and even relationally.

  • Dysregulation: abnormality or impairment in the regulation of a metabolic, physiological, or psychological process.
  • Disintegration: the process of losing cohesion or strength; the process of coming to pieces.

We are not just spiritual beings, or relational beings, or physical beings, or emotional beings, or thinking beings. We are souls, comprised of all of these layers. When one of these areas becomes disintegrated, it tends to affect the other layers as well. For example, if my body is depleted of energy, then my emotions and relationships are affected by the exhaustion as well.

Dallas Willard’s model of the soul

Dallas Willard, author of Renovation of the Heart, developed a holistic model of the soul as being comprised of all the layers of the self. In other words, we are created as integrated beings, a sum of all of our parts. All of these layers affect the others. For instance, if I have a headache, it is my body affected by pain, but I will find myself with less emotional, spiritual, and relational bandwidth as my physical pain takes the majority of my focus.

If I am disintegrated relationally, due to a conflict or abuse, I will probably find that not only my relationship is affected, but my mind is also affected by feelings and thoughts about the hurt I’ve experienced. My body may also be affected, as I find myself crying, or holding muscle tension from the stress of the conflict.

Often in Christian circles, we talk about spirituality as if it is separate from the other three layers. As if bodily issues, or our thoughts/emotions, or our relationships are separate from our spirits. Yet, the Lord created us as physical beings. Jesus was born into a physical world where he suffered physical hurts, he experienced human relationships, and he had thoughts and emotions. Even our new lives in heaven will be lived in glorified bodies. There, we will still be physical. We will eat. We will love. However, in our glorified bodies, we will be fully integrated, with no sin, pain, physical or emotional exhaustion left to disintegrate us.

For now though, in these real, physical bodies that we are blessed to live in, we need to give ourselves and others grace. It is easy to become depleted and disintegrated. We must give ourselves permission to pause and rest, allowing ourselves to renew and recharge. And of course, we can always seek forgiveness for hardships and misunderstandings that were caused when we were feeling dysregulated. Soul care requires caring for the whole self: relationships, body, mind, and spirit.

Pause: Take a deep breath and slowly exhale. Quiet your mind and your heart; then meditate on the verse above, Psalm 107:9.

Renew: As you read this verse, contemplate how the Lord satisfies your longing soul and fills your hungry soul with good things. How does He provide for you in each of the following areas: in your relationships, in your body, in your mind (thoughts and emotions), and in your spirit?

Next: If you have found yourself feeling disintegrated lately, take time to think about which layers of your soul feel affected. Try to enact one form of soul care this week and give yourself the grace and rest you need as you work towards feeling more integrated again.

May your longing soul be filled with the good things God provides… …even rest.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Let’s Talk About Stress

If you feel like you are under a lot of stress, you’re not alone. Stress is a normal part of life on earth, but it definitely gets a bad rap. For years, we’ve been warned to avoid it at all costs. We’ve been told about the negative health effects it causes. Still, if surveyed, most of us would say we have a significant stress load in our lives. So, if we can’t eliminate it, how can we better manage it? I explore this question in today’s podcast episode.

In this episode, I talk about all things stress: from how the fight or flight response affects our brains and bodies, to research about our interpretations of stress, to the role support and community play, to practical ways to manage stress in our lives. Best of all, this podcast ends with a self-calming exercise, so you should feel relaxed by the end of the podcast.

During this episode, I reference a fantastic Ted Talk by Kelly McGonigal entitled, How to Make Stress Your Friend. In it, she talks about a study in which thousands of people were surveyed about their interpretations of stress. If you find the information in this podcast intriguing and want to learn more, you may want to check out Kelly McGonigal’s book, The Upside of Stress.

If something in this podcast episode resonates with you, please leave a comment below the shownotes or join the conversation on PRN’s Facebook page.

May you be encouraged on your journey with Jesus.

Pause, Renew, Next!

This Too Shall Last: An Interview with K. J. Ramsey

I have been a fan of K. J. Ramsey for quite some time, so it was a delight to speak with her on this podcast episode. She is a therapist, speaker, and author, who writes eloquently about suffering. K. J. is no stranger to pain in her own life, living with an autoimmune disease called ankylosing spondylitis. In her writing and speaking, K.J. uses facts about interpersonal neurobiology and the truths of Scripture to encourage others towards curiosity and courage in the midst of suffering.

K.J. Ramsey, author of This Too Shall Last: Finding Grace When Suffering Lingers

During our conversation, K.J. shares how her own pain has forced her to reckon with how suffering is a part of every Christian’s story. She believes Scripture encourages us towards a model of interdependence. Pain, both physical and emotional, leads us toward self-protection, but healing is found in relationship. K. J. explains, “The invitation in our pain is to take some deep breaths, reintegrate, and acknowledge that there perhaps are people who can meet us where we’re at, including Jesus Christ.”

Her new book, This Too Shall Last: Finding Grace When Suffering Lingers, is scheduled to be released in May, but is available for preorder now. If you’d like to learn more about K. J., visit her website, KJRamsey.com. There you can peruse the articles she’s written and learn more about her book. K. J. actually just released her own podcast series, This Too Shall Last, where she interviews guests about their experiences of suffering.

If something you heard on today’s podcast episode resonated with you, please share it with a friend, drop a comment below, or join the conversation on PRN’s Facebook page.

May you be encouraged on your journey with Jesus.

Pause, Renew, Next!