Seasons of living and dying and living again

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.”

~Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (ESV)

My parents celebrate their 37th wedding anniversary today. Thirty-seven years of faithfulness to one another. Thirty-seven years of God’s faithfulness to them and to us.

We all mourn one year without my grandpa today. One year without being asked “What’s the best thing I ever did for you?” and one year without answering “You married Grandma!”

Tomorrow marks one month from when I started to miscarry. One month missing our baby. One month feeling a hole in our family where that baby had already been building his place. One month of explaining and re-explaining to my young son that no, mama doesn’t have a brother for him in her womb.

Our first peony

Today, my first ever peony bloomed.

Seasonal Planning

For as long as I can remember, I’ve made elaborate plans for each new year.

Call them what you will – resolutions, goals, plans – they’re always far-reaching, ambitious, and set down long in advance of the new year.

I’ve always figured that this was normal, at least inasmuch as I can be normal. I’ve certainly never gotten meta enough to analyze why I plan like this, why I am so drawn to elaborate year-long plans.

But then our foster son left our home in July and I threw myself (unseasonably) into planning for the preschool year. Every spare moment – which, admittedly, is not many in a home that was still inhabited by three children under the age of three – but every spare moment was spent researching preschool activities, synthesizing my previous notes on the topic, and developing our customized Prairie Elms Preschool plan.

It was then that I began to realize the role that planning plays in helping me to cope when daily life seems out of my control.

I could have gone through my days as normal, feeling the hole that his departure left in the day to day. I could have attempted to deaden our loss with any number of things – but what I chose was planning. Particularly, planning for the children we had left – the children I knew would still be in our house.

Then we opened our home again. We started Prairie Elms Preschool and I was busy doing all the “new baby in the house” things. I had no time for extensive planning – and no desire for it either. Now was time to work the plan.

Until winter set in.

The nights grew long and the days grew dark and I no longer had energy to work the plan that had been working so well.

The house was cleaner than it had been in past years – but it was not kept to my summertime standards. I still put meals on the table. I still got the children clothed and changed. I kept up on washing the laundry, but one basket of clean-but-unfolded laundry quickly turned into four. I felt out of control.

And my mind started drafting plans for 2019. Plans for how I’d restart all those things that had been working so well for me until the days got gray. Plans for how I’d begin new things, build on what had been working. Plans for how I’d try ambitious new things.

That’s when I realized that my New Year’s plans were more than simply an escapist coping technique. They’re also an act of faith.

When November hits and I barely feel like I can get out of bed, much less accomplish something, making plans is a way I say to myself, “It won’t always be this way.”

I don’t have energy now, but I will have energy again.

I’m not accomplishing much right now, but I will accomplish something again some day.

The days are getting shorter now, but the solstice will come and the days will lengthen again.

January will dawn and I’ll start again as planned.

Why is she still single?

It’s a question I’m betting all of us have asked at one point or another.

What’s more, I’m betting we’ve all tried our hand at answering it.

Maybe we blame men. They don’t know quality when they see it. They’re trigger-shy about asking women out. They’re too looks-focused. They’re too busy playing video games. They’re too content to be single.

Maybe we blame the woman. She doesn’t take good enough care of herself. She’s not content to be single. She’s not willing to put herself out there and talk to men. Her standards are too high. Her standards are too low. She’s bitter or catty or a flirt.

Maybe we blame circumstances. She belongs to a church with no single men, works in a female-dominated profession. She’s on the mission-field. Her family scares people off. She doesn’t have time to date even if she wanted to. She has an unfortunate hairy mole.

We can come up with thousands of possible reasons for why the girl we admire (or despise) is single. But we really can’t know which are correct.

Except for one explanation.

Because God, in His inscrutable (that means “impossible to understand”) wisdom (that means “excellent judgment”), has kept her single.

It’s not something we like to admit.

Well, actually. We like to say those words: “God, in His inscrutable wisdom” – right before we conjecture as to why God chose as He did or complain that it isn’t a wise choice.

Like Job’s friends, we come up with a dozen answers. God gave Job none – none except “Because I am.”

I remember complaining about being single and childless to a saint in her 90s who’d served over 60 years alongside her husband. “I always wanted to have children,” she told me, with tears in her eyes.

Why was I single? Why did she die childless?

Because God chose.

RIP, dear old blog

It’s tragic, watching a dear old blog die.

You’ve followed it for years, seen its posts appear in your feed reader or inbox daily. But then the posts come less frequently. They trickle to a minimum that’s mostly composed of “why I haven’t been blogging” posts. One day, you realize it’s been months since you last saw a post. You check the website just in case it’s been your feed reader that’s messed up – but no, the site is now dead.

Yes, that type of blog death is sad and painful – but equally painful is the blog that keeps on living, but is no longer the friend it used to be.

You used to devour every word the blogger said, excusing the occasional post on a topic you disagreed about or found uninteresting. But then something happened and whether gradually or abruptly, the blogger started posting more and more on the uninteresting or disagreeable things and less and less on the things you like. Your tastes diverged and what you once had in common has been lost.

You start to contemplate unfollowing – but you’re reluctant to do so, given the long relationship you’ve had.

It seems there are several blogs on my blogroll that have been coming to that point lately.

My daily reading has gotten cluttered up by sponsored posts – thinly veiled advertisements for products I couldn’t care less about. I understand the desire to have something monetary to show for the time and energy you put into blogging – every so often, I wish I could get something physical out of it too. But I started following your blog because of the stories you told, the insights you had, the books you reviewed, the recipes you shared, the camaraderie we had. When you occasionally shared about a product, it was because you loved it so much you simply had to share it – not because you were getting paid to do it. What was a friendship is now marketing – and frankly, I don’t care to be marketed to by my friends.

Other blogs, like a group blog I’ve been following, have slowly become less and less interesting to me. Contributors change and these ones have tastes and preferences that aren’t as much in line with mine. I still read them because it challenges me to be exposed to different opinions. But when they also switched to giving just excerpts instead of full posts in their feed? I’ve stopped clicking through.

And then there’s the blog I’m willing to name. When I started following Twenty-Two Words, it was a blog consisting of daily posts written by Abraham Piper. Each post was 22 words long and may have been profound, funny, or thought-provoking. When thinking up 22 word posts became to onerous for Piper, he switched to sharing short clips of interesting things from around the web. I kept following because the posts were short and amusing. But now? Now a dozen (I don’t know the exact numbers) contributors post a half dozen posts daily, each one consisting of lists of twelve or more items with corresponding graphics. The titles have gone from descriptive or evocative to absurd clickbait: “This man took thousands of pictures of flowers. You’ll be amazed at the result.”

I liked short and interesting, twentytwowords. You’re giving me long and laborious. If I wanted Buzzfeed, I’d have subscribed to Buzzfeed. I wanted the blog you were.

It’s sad when dear old blogs die, whether from lack of attention or the wrong kind of attention.

I’ll mourn them each as they go, but the time comes when I’ve got to let dead blogs die – and move onward and upward into better things.

RIP, dear old blog.

Am I becoming boring?

Blogging becomes increasingly hard – not because I don’t have anything to say, but because I fear I don’t have anything to say that anyone wants to read.

My days feel one dimensional – all caught up in pregnancy and work, work and pregnancy.

I go to work – where I talk to pregnant women, breastfeeding women, mothers of young children. I teach them how to be healthy during pregnancy, breastfeeding, feeding a family. I come home from work – where I try to be healthy during my own pregnancy. I retreat to the basement where it’s cooler for my evening workout. I grab a book and read more about healthy pregnancy, healthy delivery. I talk to my husband and fear I’m becoming a broken record, telling yet another story about how the book I’m reading is wrong about pregnancy nutrition or about how the clients I see don’t get it until I explain it to them a different way or how frustrated I am that I’m not the superwoman I wish I was.

Even the non-pregnancy related stuff finds a way to revolve around pregnancy.

Getting laundry done becomes all about making sure there are enough underwear that fit (I’ve graduated to men’s boxer briefs – which are much more comfortable than ladies underthings). It’s all about which dresses still fit my figure.

Cooking revolves around pregnancy – both my energy levels related to pregnancy and alternately trying and not trying to fit my intake into the ridiculous “Brewer diet” encouraged by the Bradley method. I spend way too much of my days internally grumbling about the diet, about how I’m going to gain too much weight because of it, and how it’s so darn much work. And I grumble more because even though I’m not a preschooler, I still want stickers for a job well done – even when I know as a dietitian that the Bradley prescribed diet is far from healthy for pregnancy.

Reading is all about pregnancy, childbirth, baby care. Crafting is preparing baby stuff.

And I wonder – if I’m already becoming this boring *before* the baby comes and I’ve quit my job, what will I be like as a housewife?

I fear more than just boring others. What if I become so myopic that I bore even myself?

It’s exciting and it’s scary, this new season we’re entering into.

Narratives, Nature, and Nurture

The United States has traditionally been considered a land of opportunity. Here a man can make something of himself, regardless of his background, provided he works hard. America is the land of the self-made man. Our ancestors were persecuted peasants who fled to America and became land-owners. One of our most famous presidents was born in a log cabin. We love rags to riches stories – stories of people who through hard work, pluck, and determination made something of awful circumstances. For generations, we have told our children that they can do anything – provided they work hard enough.

Increasingly, though, a new narrative has entered into American consciousness – a new narrative that is actually quite old. According to this narrative, we are a product of our birth. Born into poverty, we are destined to live in poverty, unless some benevolent rich person brings us out. We are not the actors in our stories – others are. We are victims of the fates.

The changing narrative has had a great impact on how people perceive themselves – and on the actions they take. Those who perceive themselves as successful tend to believe that their actions have power to effect change – but they frequently feel that they obtained this power unfairly. They feel a great guilt for the accidents of birth and rearing that have made them successful – and try to assuage that guilt by becoming patrons. Those who perceive themselves as unsuccessful tend to have low self-efficacy. They believe that their actions have no effect, that they are destined for the life they have – and so the best they can do is rail against the circumstances of their lives and insist that the fortunate successful work to raise their lot.

Self-efficacy. It’s an interesting word – and an interesting concept. Self-efficacy is simply ones belief that one is able to accomplish goals. Self-efficacy is strongly linked to having an internal locus of control – that is, believing that you are the primary actor in your life (as opposed to you being one who is acted upon.)

Yet I would argue that, in general, Americans are moving toward an external locus of control. Neither the successful nor the unsuccessful consider their station to be a result of their own actions. Neither the successful nor the unsuccessful have much hope for changing themselves – they consider their own lives to be determined by their pasts. But the successful and the unsuccessful tend to have vastly different ideas about their ability to change others. If we are a product of our pasts, we cannot change ourselves – but the successful may be able to use their success to change others.

Enter nature versus nurture.

Even as I think about phrase, I realize how deterministic it is. If “nature” is all there is, if genetics are fate – then we are programmed by our genes. If “nurture” is all there is, if how we are raised is fate – then we are programmed by our parents. Either way, we’re programmed. We have no control over our own lives.

Is it any surprise, then, that the parents who consider themselves successful invest so much in trying to alter the fates of their children? This is their one chance to control something about themselves. They overparent.

On the other hand, the unsuccessful parents throw their hands up. They don’t believe they have the power to affect their children, so they do nothing. They don’t believe they have anything to invest, don’t believe it’s possible to alter the fates of their children. They fail to parent.

So we end up with opposite ends of the parenting spectrum – neither of which do children any advantages.

What if, instead of being the product of nature or nurture, children were simply themselves?

Selves, capable of writing their own stories?

What if instead of trying to write our children’s stories, we tried to teach them what makes for good stories? What if instead of consigning them to the life their circumstances gave them, we tried to give them the skills – diligence and self-discipline – that help them to rise above their circumstances?

What if we taught our children that they can be successful – provided they work hard enough?

Risen and Reigning

Last Sunday, a small group of us gathered around our dining room table to repeat the ancient words and complete the ancient rituals.

We lifted the matzoh after supper and remembered the One who had declared this His body, slain for us. We contemplated the stripes, the piercings. We reflected on the lamb no longer killed each spring because the Lamb has been slain once for all.

We look upon the cross, the crux of history. We look upon the One slain, hanging there, giving His body. We break the bread and eat it.

We lifted the cup after supper and remembered the One who had declared this His blood, spilled for us for the remission of sins.

We look upon the cross, the crux of history. We look upon the One slain, hanging there, spilling His blood. We rejoice to drink the cup of redemption.

The Haggadah quickly took us to Psalms of praise. We recited the Dayenu (check out my comment on Lisa’s post for a brief description of Dayenu). We sang of the cross.

Then our cross-eyes moved forward as we poured the fourth cup – the cup of rejoicing. We recalled that Jesus did not drink this cup. He was to complete the cup of redemption that next day – the cup of rejoicing was still to come. Jesus announced that He would not drink the cup of rejoicing, but that cup stayed before His eyes.

The author of Hebrews tells us the Jesus endured the cross “for the joy that was set before him” (Heb 12:2 ESV). He looked past the shame of the cross with which He worked redemption to the joy of the cup that was to come.

This Sunday, we celebrated Easter. We sang that “Christ the Lord is risen today – Hallelujah.” The choir sang the Hallelujah Chorus with orchestral accompaniment. This swelled my chest and made me burst with joy, but it wasn’t this that brought tears to my eyes.

Instead, it was a song that I’m not particularly fond of, but one that included the refrain “Worthy is the Lamb.”

My eyes moved past the cross to the throne room of God, where four living creatures and twenty-four elders fall on their faces before a Lamb who was slain but now stands. I hear them sing together

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”

~Revelation 5:12 (ESV)

Jesus Christ died, was risen, now sits enthroned in heaven.

My mind is transported to where He is and I set the fourth cup before me.

I hear the One testifying “Surely I am coming soon” and, with John, my soul cries out “Amen. Come Lord Jesus.”

For the Lamb who was slain is risen and reigning in heaven. May He come to reign on earth as He is in heaven.

Trade Offs

Every yes we say carries with it a dozen nos.

By saying yes to one activity, I say no to a dozen others.

By saying yes to one purchase, I say no to a dozen more.

By saying yes to one career path, I say no to a dozen others.

Every choice I make to includes the choice to not.

All of us make trade-offs. It’s a part of our finite lives.

We do not have infinite time or money or energy. And every choice we make reminds us of our limits.

I was telling Daniel about a case I had once, of a man with dysgeusia (bad taste in the mouth). I’d run through every possible cause for his dysgeusia and ruled out or fixed everything. He was barely eating and was losing weight quickly, so I knew I had to do something. I spent some time researching and finally decided to go out on a limb. We supplemented him with zinc (a therapy with only tenuous research behind it) on the off-chance that it might help (between his current iron supplements and his copious milk intake, I knew the odds were high that his absorption of zinc were altered, so it wasn’t entirely a stab in the dark.)

The man still complained of dysgeusia after initiating the zinc, but his intake improved and his weight started to stabilize. I considered it a success.

Hearing this story, Daniel asked me quite seriously: “It sounds like you did a lot of problem solving in your old job. Do you miss that?”

I confessed that yes, I did. I loved researching problems, figuring out root causes, applying treatments to fix problems. But that doesn’t mean I want to go back to my old job.

The problem-solving was fun, but that wasn’t the bulk of what I did. The bulk of what I did was paperwork, myriads and myriads of government paperwork. I worked 60+ hour weeks. I drove an hour to get to my job a couple times a week. I was barely at home.

At my current job, I spend little time problem-solving. Or, to clarify, I spend little time digging into things that are a mystery for me. I spend a lot of time helping mothers problem-solve, but the majority of the time, the problem (and its solutions) are fairly clear to me after conducting a detailed nutrition assessment. My role is to help mom understand the cause of her child’s problem, and to suggest (or help her develop) strategies to deal with this cause. So I don’t get the same intellectual stimulation of researching problems and coming up with underlying causes and researching potential solutions.

But I spend the bulk of my time actually helping people, instead of doing paperwork. I work just 40 hours a week. I drive home on my lunch break. I’ll take this less-intellectually-stimulating job any day.

That’s a trade-off I’m willing to make.

We finished up our Sunday School on marriage and had a Q&A session with the facilitators (a trio of married couples). I asked a question about how having their first children impacted their marriages and what they did (or would have done) to strengthen their marriages during the young-children phase.

The facilitators gave some direct responses to my question, as did some of our classmates. Others reminded us to enjoy the season we’re in right now, before kids. Many mentioned, in these reminders, the things they haven’t been able to do because they had children early in their marriages: trips they can’t go on, things they can’t buy. I understood what they were trying to say–to take the time to relish new married life without always looking ahead to the next season. But I also considered how there aren’t trips I wish to go on, things I wish to buy.

In fact, when I consider buying things or going on trips after our student loans are paid off and before we have children, my stomach turns as I consider having to continue working a job longer than the current plan demands.

For now, I’m working to pay off student loans so that we can have the financial freedom to do many of the things we want to do (have children, adopt or foster, have me stay at home). For this, I give the best part of my day, most of my energy to my job. The trade-off is that I get home and have little of my day, little energy left for my home – the place I really want to be, the role I really relish.

Once loans are paid off, the benefit of extra money in the bank or extra stuff in our lives pales in comparison with the loss of my best energy, my 40 hours a week.

I turned to Daniel and said, “That’s it, once we pay off loans, whether I’m pregnant or not, I quit my job.”

That isn’t really it. We’ll discuss it when and if that situation arises. It may be that the trade-offs will look different at that point. Maybe adoption will look like our immediate plan and applying my salary to save for adoption expenses will be worthwhile. Maybe it’ll be something completely unanticipated.

Regardless, every yes is also a no, every choice a reminder that we are finite beings, making trade-offs trying to maximize the time we have.

But oh, how I long for eternity, when there will be time enough that my yeses are not also nos.

Simplified Stories

I remember thinking, as Mrs. Dunn told her stories of childhood: “How could all that have happened in one childhood?”

But as I get older, I realize that a few years can carry a lot of stories and that the only reason why every person isn’t just as confused about my life as I was about hers is that I simplify my stories. We all simplify our stories.

Take Agape Christian Academy.

If I were to mention that I attended that school for two and a half years, most of my friends would be confused.

Hadn’t I been homeschooled all the way through?

Yes. Sorta. Maybe. That’s what I tell everyone.

But not exactly.

I was schooled under my mother’s tuteledge from “preschool” through sixth grade and from the second semester of ninth grade through 12th grade.

From seventh grade through the first semester of ninth grade, I attended “Agape Christian Academy” – a non-certified private school run under the same law that governed homeschooling in Nebraska.

A groups of a half dozen or so women, under the direction of Mrs. Dunn, taught the sixty or a hundred K-12 students using typical homeschool curriculum: Saxon for math and Abeka for most other classes.

I generally say that I learned little from my time at Agape, that it was an academically unfruitful time in my life. This also is not technically true. Under Mrs. Ebert, I honed English grammar to a point. She is undoubtedly at least partly responsible for the perfect writing score I got on the PSAT. Mrs. Fahlberg taught me typing on an old electric typewriter. I doubt I’d have the typing discipline I have today if it weren’t for her. And I learned algebra, thanks to Saxon’s self-led approach.

So I did learn a bit academically–but I also wasted hours and hours on non-academic pursuits.

Morning “chapel” time was scheduled to be an hour and a half long, but since “we don’t schedule the Holy Spirit”, it often ran quite a bit longer. Chapel was mostly unstructured, consisting of Scripture readings, praying in tongues, singing the “blood songs”, and listening to Mrs. Dunn preach or prophesy (or maybe tell stories?)

That’s where I heard those stories that made me wonder. She told of her childhood, of her education, of her marriage and life–and I was often confused by what seemed like a disparate set of stories. How did she fit that into the fifty-some-odd years she’d lived by that point? (I’m only guessing at her age-she may well have been older, but probably not younger.)

Now, with just a little less than 29 years under my own belt, I understand completely. We summarize our lives by simplifying our stories, but all of us, were we to start writing down the details, would have books and books and books worth of stories.

It’s only when we have opportunity to hear many of people’s different stories that we realize just how full their lives have been, only when we take the time to jot down many of our own stories that we realize how full our own lives have been.

And then we start to wonder how many stories we’re missing out on by being content with the simplified stories we hear on first meetings.

I am not ALWAYS like this

Just when it seems like I might be managing better, I crash.

Just when I feel like I’m actually happy some of the time–then I cry for two hours in the morning and barely make it through work and am sad all weekend long when I should be happy and I wake up sad every morning afterward and don’t get anything accomplished at all.

It’s then that I start to think the self-defeating thought that I’ll never get over this, that depression will always be my life, that depression will make me a failure as a wife, as a homemaker, someday as a mother (“Infants of depressed mothers, although competent learners, fail to learn in response to their own mother’s infant-directed speech.” From a reference at

So, just for the record, I’m going to make some notes from today to prove to future self-defeating Rebekah that even when I’m depressed I am not ALWAYS like that.

I do not ALWAYS stay in bed…this morning I got up and took a shower and went to work.

I do not ALWAYS forget to make appointments while the doctor’s office is open…today I called not once but three times during regular business hours to make and reschedule an appointment.

I do not ALWAYS cry between clients at work…today I moved straight from client to client for almost four hours without a single break for crying.

I do not ALWAYS crawl into bed and play sudoku on my phone during lunch break…today I hung some laundry, folded a load, and started a new load.

I do not ALWAYS leave my husband to either make something himself or eat cereal in evenings after tough days at work…today I made him supper before class, even though it’s a Tuesday.

I do not ALWAYS not get up again once I’ve sat down in the evening…tonight I got back up and washed dishes, swept the floor, changed the bedsheets, hung another load of laundry, and put away the rest of the laundry.

I do not ALWAYS let the dishes pile up…today I cleaned all the dishes I made today plus a few extra.

I doubt many days will be as productive as today.

Some days I will stay in bed far longer than I wish I had. Some days I will forget to make a doctor’s appointment during business hours and will have to wait until the next day–and then the next and the next. Some days I will cry between clients at work. Some days I will crawl into bed and play sudoku on my phone during lunch break. Some days I will leave my husband to either make something himself or eat cereal in evenings after tough days at work. Some days I will not get up again once I’ve sat down in the evening. Some days I will let the dishes pile up.

But not ALWAYS.

Instead, another always should fill my heart.

In those days, I must remember that Jesus has promised: “…behold, I am with you ALWAYS, to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:20 ESV)

In those days, I must remember that in Jesus, it is ALWAYS “Yes” and I must utter “Amen” (II Cor 1:19-20 ESV).

In those days, I must remember that in Christ God “ALWAYS leads us
in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere.” (II Cor 2:14 ESV)

In those days, I must remember that Christ, my High Priest, “ALWAYS lives to make intercession for [me].” (Heb 7:25 ESV)

And, in response, I must “rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS.” (Phil 4:4 ESV)