Tuesday, December 9, 2014

When darkness seems to hide His face

Depression first found me when I was an idealistic 19-year-old with plans to change the world. Panic attacks and obsessive thought patterns soon followed, and the promise and excitement of my 20s was to be often overshadowed by mental and emotional angst.

I’d grown up reading the biographies of dead saints: men and women who gave up everything—from worldly comforts to their very lives—in order to love Jesus and love others. My young life was immeasurably shaped by the compelling examples of these courageous believers who accomplished great feats for the Kingdom of God.

I had known they were broken too. Many had suffered cyclical depression as I was now experiencing in my 20s, and I clung to their stories of God’s faithfulness in their brokenness. I needed to know that others had walked this path before me and still been fruitful and effective in living out God’s purposes for them.

But 17 years after my first depression, now a wife and mother at 36, yet another season of crippling panic attacks, insomnia and darkness was upon me. The long-awaited joys of marriage and motherhood were finally mine, but I was struggling to string together three rational thoughts. I wrestled with God. Why had I waited 15 years for such joys, simply to watch them snuffed out by this demon depression?

Join me at ERLC.com today as I review the book that God used to shed light on a dark season of my life....

Sunday, November 23, 2014

When the holidays are hard

I was 31 and it was Christmas Eve when we had The Talk. Everyone thought we were the perfect match, and I'd already given him too much of my heart. So even though I put on a happy face, my heart reeled as he told me we should "just be friends." We wished each other a merry Christmas, he walked out the door, and I fell apart. Then I pulled myself together again to join my family for Christmas Eve dinner—where loved ones joyfully announced their pregnancy. I rejoiced as I choked back soul-deep sobs.

My single years held many Christmases like that one—sweet joys in the midst of silent anguish, bitterness tangled up in beauty. The very things about the season that enchanted me, also served to magnify my heartache: parties with everyone coupled up but me; romantic Christmas music and movies; and those annual Christmas letters brimming with friends' burgeoning families. It all reminded me of what I didn't have, of what I longed for with all my being. My fight for contentment and hope was so much more intense through those holiday weeks.

But I didn't have the corner on the market of pain. Others were also hurting and hoping for better Christmases to come.

Over the years I wept with friends who suffered the loss of a newborn baby, a parent's sudden death, a broken marriage, a barren womb, and financial hardships. My heart grew tender toward those who lacked the very basic necessities of life: shelter, food, and love—as well as those who suffered "smaller" pangs: strained family relationships, the betrayal of a close friend, or the loneliness of living far from home and loved ones.

And while marriage and motherhood have taken much of Bitterness' bite out of the season, my husband and I have navigated a job loss, flooded home, debilitating illness, and other such stresses, all while celebrating "the most wonderful season of all."

Dear one, you've been here too, haven't you? You have fasted in the middle of the feast, and you've tasted the bitterness in the bounty.

The holidays, especially Christmas it seems, represent all that is generous and beautiful. We sing of peace and well-being and hope. We give thanks and we exchange gifts. We cherish the idea of an invisible Santa Claus delivering wishes-come-true, of family gatherings around a festive feast, and of hot drinks sipped at the fireside with Bing Crosby’s voice crooning in the background.

But we feel the deep disparity between this broken world we live in, and the world we were made for. Our hearts long for unadulterated happiness and peace, but we are marred by brokenness and need.

And therein lies the greatest gift of all: this deep disparity brings us back to the true meaning of Christmas. Our heartaches, our have-nots, and even the brokenness of the world around us—they drive us to the Only One who can satiate our souls. And that longing within us for something more, that discontent that follows the feast and the gift-opening—it reminds us of the immeasurable gift God gave us in sending his Son Jesus to us...

To live with us.
To die for us.
To give us the infinite riches of Himself.

And not only did He give us His Son, but He also constantly works this brokenness and heartache for our good—our infinite, perfect, glorious good. Though I won't know the fullness of that good until eternity, I've experienced it here in a million ways. Do you know how thankful I am for those years when God didn't give me what I so desperately wanted? Oh, how I praise Him for that long wait that made me fall in love with Him, and for saying "no" to every other man so that I could marry the best man of all, Edward Chao.

These holidays are for us, dear one—for the hurting, the broken, and the needy. Our culture is enamored with busy, expensive, indulgent, feel-good holidays. But God is always about us finding our highest good in Him, even when that requires us to suffer, to do without, or to wait an inordinate length of time. He loves us too much to let us settle for lesser loves.

This Christmas, may our silent aches and longings compel us to worship the God of the Universe, who wrapped Himself in flesh and blood so that our lives would have meaning, so that we would know the Hope that does not disappoint.

{Scriptures referenced: Hebrews 13:14-15, Romans 8:32, 2 Corinthians 4:17, Romans 5:5}

This article is from the archives (originally posted November 2013). This was also posted on True Woman

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Finding rhythms of rest (even through the holidays)

He has always wooed me.

From the time I was eleven and my heart caught fire for His Word, I’ve come to know this God as Pursuer. He has always pursued me, faithfully, even when I wasn’t faithful to pursue Him.
A few days ago, I drove up a winding hill, fresh after fall’s first storm, with thick foliage around me (a rare find in our concrete desert) and no one in the car with me; and the tears started. They were longing to spill out before Him, to be seen by Him. Despite my daily Bible study, I felt like I hadn’t experienced Him in weeks.
My soul was made for this One. Everything about me—my personality, my frailties, my history, my hurts, my hopes—it’s all meant to sing His song, to spill out the melody of His gospel on those around me.
A Dried-Up-Soul Season But a season of crisis and nonstop needs can dry up the soul until the only thing that seems to be spilling out is a monumental mess.
Can you relate?
Join me over at True Woman today as I share what I'm learning about resting in Jesus—even when I'm exhausted, numb, or facing the frenetic holiday season. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A life well lived

For years I had very few opportunities to rub shoulders with wrinkled wise ones... till God moved us to a church wealthy in age. Now I'm looking for any excuse I can find to spend time with folks over eighty. 

Sitting down and listening to Henry Stuursma tell the story of his life slowed my own life down, gave me much-needed perspective, and made me worship a God who masterfully pens our days....

It was the year Winston Churchill became British minister, Albert Einstein unveiled his theory of relativity, and Babe Ruth made homerun history. And while it didn’t make any news headlines, the birth of Henry Stuursma was no less extraordinary. Humbly begun in a small town of Iowa on April 25, 1921, Henry’s life would be shaped by constant change, courage, sorrows, and joys—and these in turn would forge a legacy of love.

The Early Years 
Henry was the youngest of seven children, and when he was just 18 months old, his mother died suddenly, leaving his sisters to raise him. Several years later, his father’s chronic asthma drove the family to seek a better climate in Denver, Colorado. There his father met and married his second wife—providing little Henry with a much-needed mother.

Two of Henry’s brothers were twins, one of whom had Down syndrome. In the 1920’s, very little was understood about the syndrome and his brother was labeled a Mongloid. Doctors counseled his parents to institutionalize their son, but they refused. So Jake remained an integral, beloved part of the family, and Henry learned to love and value a sibling with special needs.

When his asthma didn’t improve, Henry’s father loaded up his wife and three children (the oldest four remained in Iowa) and set off for what he’d heard was “the land of milk and honey”—California. It was 1929, and it took two weeks to drive the 800 miles from Denver to Mentone. Henry recalls the trip with fondness even though his seat was the tailgate of the truck, where he shivered through rain and snow. Every time they encountered a hill, they drove up backwards; it was the only way the gasoline could reach the engine. In retrospect, Henry recognizes the strength of his mother, caring for three children in these less-than-favorable conditions:

“Mom would get up early and make breakfast. Then she’d make sandwiches for coffee time. Then she’d make lunch. And then she’d make some more for afternoon teatime. And then [she and Dad would] try early enough to find cabins and go to a grocery store because there was no McDonald’s back then. We were chasing around, causing trouble. She was busy cooking and fixing things for supper. She must have worked her head off. And she was a city girl too. In fact, she came out of Holland. Her dad was a professor at University of Leiden. And she came here and married in Denver, and that guy died, and then she married Dad. And she came out here to work at a chicken farm.”

Henry’s father had his heart set on working a dairy farm in Mentone, but when that fell through, he started a chicken farm instead. Henry remembers the Flood of 1938, when the streets were submerged and “rocks as big as a VW” were loosed from the mountains and rolled down, causing the ground to quake. The storm knocked out the gas supply, which was the heat source for the farm’s chicks. Henry’s family had just purchased 2,000 chicks, so they brought them all inside the house, spread out newspapers, and kept them warm by the stove. “We had a noisy couple of nights,” he says with twinkles in his eyes.

Henry speaks of many close-knit relationships, of Redlands Christian School days (he was in the first ninth-grade graduating class), and of the church on Clay Street, filled with young people who loved choir performances and “stupid plays” that would turn out huge crowds.

In Love and War  
Henry’s personal relationship with God grew under the influence of the Southern California Young People’s Group. The new association drew participants from as far away as Los Angeles, a city that he says was “just starting; roads weren’t that good; [it was a] long haul to L.A.” It was at a Young People’s summer camp at Forest Home in 1940 that Henry met “an amazing woman” named Betty. It was love at first sight.

Betty lived in L.A., so Henry scraped together gas money from his weekly salary of $10 to go visit her and take her on dates. Then news came that postponed any hopes they had of marriage. At a Young People’s gathering he and his friends “heard war was declared, and we looked at each other and said, ‘Our days of freedom are over with; we’ll be called.’ Sure enough, it wasn’t long. I could have been exempted [because of the family business], but I felt like I should go.”

Henry was stationed in Alaska, and he and Betty exchanged love letters. When he was reassigned to San Francisco to work in embarkation/debarkation, Henry was finally free to marry Betty. It was 1945, and the war had made it difficult to find a place to live in the city, so the newlyweds shared an apartment with another couple. He happily recalls meeting “a lot of interesting people” during that time.

Making a Home
When the war was over, he and Betty returned to Mentone where they started both a new chicken farm and, more importantly, a family. They bought a tiny house with knotty pine walls and a huge yard, added 6 children and 30,000 chickens, and called it home.

“When I look back I see how my planning was so poor, but the Lord always provided and we never went hungry. We had some rough times and almost lost the business. We built it up from practically nothing. But He supplied our needs.”

All six of his kids worked the farm. “Back then they belly-ached, but they say now it’s the best thing that ever happened to them. They all learned how to work; they all learned how to do anything.”

Henry’s love for his kids (and his 18 grandkids and 18 great-grandkids) is contagious. “They are just tops,” he beams and points to their pictures all over the walls. But parenting had its sorrows too. Henry and Betty discovered their eldest son had Huntington’s disease. The effects of the disease were cruel and cost the son both his marriage and an influential job at a hospital in Colorado. He died at the age of 50. Henry explains that the worst part of it was the fact that his grandson also inherited the disease, and passed away at age 30, just two years ago.  

Henry and Betty cared for their son until his death. Betty also took on the full-time care of Jake (Henry’s brother with Down syndrome) till he passed away at 64 years old.

Lifelong Love 
“She was an amazing woman. Never had an argument. She wouldn’t argue. Nope, if we disagreed: ‘Okay,’ she’d say. ‘You have it your way,’ and she’d go on. And next time I’d have a Bible verse laying on my desk or somewhere.”

Henry chokes back tears as he talks about his bride of 69 years. Just two months ago, and just shy of their seventieth wedding anniversary, Betty went home to be with Jesus. Henry still speaks in terms of “we” and “us,” as if Betty might walk into the room and sit beside him at any moment.

But while her presence is still keenly felt, her absence is what Henry describes as “terrible.”

“Right now I feel like someone dumped me in the water and I don’t know which way to swim. It’s terrible. But the Lord gives you strength, and I’m so glad she didn’t suffer. But it’s awful lonesome bad.” His voice breaks with emotion.

“Next month would have been seventy years. And the secret—and I didn’t know it, and I’m finding out now—she had drawers. Every drawer in the house was stuffed full. And I says, ‘Honey, what are you doing with all that?! How come you’re using every drawer in the house?! I knew she was scribbling, and I thought she was writing her own personal diaries, but… It’s prayers!! She’s got books of prayers for every birthday the kids had. Every event. I didn’t know that. I’d be at the table asking, ‘Honey, do you want to pray?’ ‘No, you do it better than I do,’ she’d say. But here I find books of her prayers. What a woman. What a woman. Here she was a city girl, and I took her to the farm. And we didn’t have it easy. And she never complained.”

Henry sits across from me at his turquoise-colored kitchen table, and as twilight settles upon us through the big picture window, I’m teary-eyed. This house that once burst at the seams with busy love is now remarkably quiet. Henry would say it is too quiet.

But if walls could speak, this house would dance. Here is a legacy of love—a story worth telling.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Is God holding out on you? {guest post}

I'm so honored to introduce you to my sweet friend, Meredith Adams. I have been so blessed by Meredith's love for Jesus, her faith in the midst of the entertainment industry, and her dear encouragement in my own life – it is with joy that I get to "share" her with you here tonight...

It’s everywhere. It’s in the grocery store, restaurant, and church. It’s at the mall, the airport, the beach. It’s in songs, novels, and movies. It’s the stuff of fairytales.


For 27 years I waited to fall in love. It was my hope, my prayer, my longing.

I have always trusted God with my life, known His plan was better than mine. But somewhere along the way I couldn’t help but start to wonder…

Is God holding out on me? 

Have you ever felt this way? Like the Lord is withholding something from you? A relationship? A spouse? A baby? A job? Some sort of healing?

In 2 Kings the Lord's people were thirsty. Like really thirsty. Like walking through a desert with not a drop of water in sight kind of thirsty. They cried out to God in desperation. And I'm pretty sure the answer He gave them was not what they wanted to hear:

"Make this valley full of ditches." (2 Kings 3:16)

Say what?

"God, you want us to do more work? To labor in this beating sun for more hours? Didn't you hear us?! We're thirsty!!" they likely cried out. Needless to say there was probably some grumbling in the desert that day.

I wanted so badly to fall in love, to experience a relationship. I felt as if I were missing out on one of the greatest gifts this life has to offer, one of the greatest gifts God has to offer… love. Yet He didn’t seem to be offering it to me.

As if being single for virtually all of high school and college weren’t enough, I have watched, one by one, as my closest friends have found someone with whom to share their lives. I have watched, one by one, as they have walked down the aisle in glowing white. And I have watched, one by one, as many have begun to have children and build a family.

And I have wondered...

Is God holding out on me?

Matthew 6:33 is a verse frequently at the forefront of my mind:

“Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

Well, God knew the desire of my heart, and I was delighting myself in Him… So why wasn’t He giving me my desire?

Then one day I did fall in love. And almost a year later the relationship ended. Having now experienced the pain of a breakup, I realize for the first time in my life that maybe those words that were once so infuriating to hear were actually quite accurate.

The truth is, I am so thankful I didn’t fall in love at 17 years old, when I was ill-equipped to handle the intensity of being in love and the pain of parting ways. I am so thankful I haven’t fallen in love multiple times and had to experience multiple breakups. I am so thankful that for the years I was saved from “all that pain and heartache.”

Maybe God wasn’t holding out on me after all.

Maybe He was protecting me. Maybe He was guarding my heart. Maybe He had my best interest in mind all along.

Maybe He was answering my prayers in His own way, in His own timing. Maybe He still is.

And while my first relationship didn’t work out, I believe my experience of being single for so many years, combined with my experience of that first relationship, have equipped me now to love my future husband in a way I never would have been able to before.

And while I am back to being single, back to waiting, I am beginning to see things a little more from His grand perspective and a little less from my own limited perspective.

When His people asked for water in 2 Kings, they were tired, run down. There was no sign of any water appearing. The Lord’s instruction to dig ditches probably sounded more like punishment than provision.

Yet God was preparing the way for His provision. Through their labor. Through their endurance. They just couldn’t see it yet.

Nonetheless they acted in faith and, lo and behold, the next morning, "there it was—water flowing from the direction of Edom!" (2 Kings 3:20)… by way of the very ditches they had dug.

Sometimes the Lord makes us dig the very ditches through which His provision will come.

Scripture doesn’t say, "They trusted him, because He answered their prayers." It says:

"He answered their prayers, because they trusted Him." (1 Chronicles 5:7)

I don’t think God wants me to be alone. I no longer believe He’s holding out on me. Quite the opposite, in fact. 

I believe He wants me to love and be loved. I believe He wants me to experience His great gift of marriage in the fullest measure. And I believe He’s preparing my heart each day in a way that will bless my future husband and ultimately bless His kingdom in the greatest way possible.

And that, my friends, is worth the wait. That is worth the grueling work of ditch digging in this “desert.”

Whatever desert through which you are wandering, whatever you are striving so desperately for, God has a plan, a vision, and a provision in store.

Trust in Him. Trust in His plan. Trust in His goodness. 

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” – 2 Corinthians 4:17

"One may not reach the dawn save by the path of the night." – Kahlil Gibran

“Weeping may last for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” – Psalm 30:5

Meredith Adams is an actress and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is currently producing and starring in the series she wrote, How to Lose a Girl in One Date, finishing up her first screenplay, and working as a professional "auditioner" until the Lord provides her next role! Meredith's goal is to help spread the light of Christ throughout the entertainment industry in any way that the Lord would allow her to be so humbly used – for His purposes and for His glory. You may keep up with Meredith through her blog, on IMDb, and her website.

Photo credit for sky scenes: Meredith Adams. 2014.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Press me into Your goodness

When I just reread this prayer I wrote last January, I knew I had to post it. I think you'll resonate with this, dear one. Our circumstances may be vastly different, but my guess is that you've been here too....

January 31, 2014

You take me where I am—distracted, obsessive, exhausted, embarrassed, anxious, impatient (in short, a mess)—and You hold out Your hand, draw me in, and say,

Come, dear daughter, who thirsts.
Come to the waters
And, Colleen, you have no money but
Come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk,
Without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
And your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to Me, and eat what is good,
And delight yourself in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to Me;
Hear, that your soul may live.

O Lord, we are hemmed in by illness and limitations (even after so much forward progress and healing), and by those who, through no fault of their own, cannot understand our limitations and instead make judgments. But it is by this continual “hemming in” that You are teaching me, to my innermost parts, to come to You.

You are pressing me into Your goodness by proving to me again and again that however good something else might be, it can never compare to You.

“No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly…”

So that comment that wounded my tender heart—can be forgiven.
The slew of emails and messages and mail I can’t keep up with—can wait another day.
The conflicting advice from naturopaths, functional doctors, pediatricians, chiropractors, and nutritionists—falls silent at the sound of Your voice.
The pang of hurt I feel when Jeremy is the only kid without a slice of pizza—it is quieted in Your love.
The temptation to think only of myself and my small world of constant needs—is conquered by worshiping You in a way that overflows into the service of others.

And that service can be small, go unnoticed, and feel insignificant, but You see it, and You receive it as an offering of love.

O Lord, this hemming in is both tragic and beautiful. It is my undoing and remaking. It is the hardest and best part of my day. It is what makes me hungry and satisfies my hunger.

It is You, the wound-giver and wound-healer. {Because if You didn’t wound me, I would rush to find my healing in all the wrong places.}

You are so good, infinitely better than the greatest good I have here on earth (and oh do I have some). Turn my heart away from these “light and momentary trials” and teach me how to indulge in this feast called You.

Scriptures referenced: Isaiah 55, Psalm 84:11