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Dear QuickReads friends, I’m sorry I’ve been AWOL for a while. We’ve moved from Indiana to Illinois, celebrated the too-short life of our niece, and I’ve also started assisting a rather industrious science editor.

In the midst of that, I’ve had the opportunity to write for a website that I use on a regular basis! My favorite feature on Bible Study Tools is their Interlinear Bible, where you can look up the Hebrew or Greek for the scripture you’re learning.

And here’s my article, inspired initially by grieving with my kids as we’ve moved states. In the middle of writing it, my niece passed away, so this material became all too relevant. Special thanks to another niece, Mary Grace, who lost her sister, for giving valuable first-hand insights on this article.

How to Use Scripture to Encourage Grieving Kids

Grieving boy

Finding self-control

At the moment, my self-control is lame and limp.  What have at times been fairly robust inner-strength muscles have atrophied, wasted away.  

What do I do, oh Lord? What have I done to get me here?

Like many an American Christian, my greatest struggle with self-control is eating.  I am like a vacuum, a bottomless pit of a stomach, though I myself certainly am not bottom-less.  Food fills up my need for fun, for rest, for stress relief. Also, I often overeat in social settings, just to avoid displeasing anyone.

I have tried a zillion diets, none of which have successfully kept off excess weight for very long.  Because after the allotted time is done, I go back to overeating rich foods.  

Also there’s something weird about aging – the bar is moved up on how disciplined I have to be to maintain a decent weight.  It makes perfect sense, actually. If you want someone to continue to grow in a skill, you raise the difficulty gradually.  

I imagine God is my personal trainer.  His primary objective is not to tone my external muscles, but the strength of character inside me.  So, like a wise guru, he designs obstacle courses for me to conquer. He designs resistance exercises to test and hone me.

He’s made it clear that “God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.” But right before James says this, he also writes,

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life.”

And “The testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”

I hear testing and trial and I think of the Oreos in my pantry.  Test #1: can I eat three of them and leave it till tomorrow?  Test #2: can I throw out the leftover Oreo on my kid’s plate rather than sneaking it in my mouth as I dump the healthier contents in the trash?

Last week, the answer to these questions was, “No, apparently not.”

First-world problems at their finest.  But I have to see that these present difficulties are producing for me an eternal weight of glory.  Right now, they’re producing for me an everlasting weight of body. Lord, help me.  

Self-control is promised as the fruit of the Spirit.  I have imagined it like an orchard where I can pick an apple labeled self-control anytime I need.  There’s a sense in which I still think this is true. “He has given us everything we need for life and godliness in Christ Jesus.”  

But it would seem that the fruit of the Spirit is actually growing on me, as though I am a plant myself. God is the Master Gardener, tending and pruning and training.  Now that I think about it, he is the vine and I am the branches.  And the fruit comes out of that connection, that union with him.  

I’m a little afraid that all my failure in the eating category will disqualify me from something.  Like I’ll fail the test so many times that I get kicked out of the program.  But maybe God’s tests aren’t to see what we’ve learned.  Surely he already knows that? They’re to teach us how to apply what we’ve learned. Also, apparently, they’re teaching me how puny is my fruit outside of him.  

“Every branch that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, so that it may bear more fruit.”  It doesn’t say how much fruit.  God, can you find a little self-control in me?  In your mercy, continue to prune me.

Today, when I am faced with tests of my character, small and big, let me see God in it, wise and pure, strong and kind.  Let me ask for help because we all know I can’t do it on my own. In other words, let me abide in him and watch for the fruit to form.  

Why so downcast?

“Why so downcast, oh my soul? Why so disturbed within me?”

–David, to his own soul, whose question I now ask myself.

Well, Self, I feel downcast presently because I just said goodbye – indefinitely – to a student in whom I’ve invested for a long time. Working through the ups and downs of her spiritual life have made me value her well-being more keenly than if she’d been all put together the whole time.  She is a prize fought for and won fair and square. (PS, I was a cheerleader in the fight, not the One who won her back.)

David’s question to his own soul could be seen as rhetorically implying that he should not be downcast.  Because he follows up his question with an exhortation to himself:

“Why so downcast, oh my soul?  Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”   Psalm 42:11

The implication may be, “You shouldn’t be downcast, because you can hope in God.”  

But I know that my present feeling of downcast-ness (probably not a word) is not resulting from a lack of hope in God.  It’s due to the value of what I’m losing, this lovely girl in my everyday life.

(If I have any readers who think this girl may be you, it probably is.  I feel this way about all of you.)

So is it okay to be downcast sometimes? Instinctively, yes, of course it is.  Grief means you’ve lost something important to you. If we’re to make sure we’re never downcast, we must either value nothing or we must lose nothing.  

This month of saying goodbyes and transitioning into a new, unknown season, has been full of downcast-ness and disturbance.

 Admittedly, sometimes I’ve popped the question: “Why so downcast, oh my soul?” and the answer has to do with a lack of hope in God.  I’ve been fearful about finding a place to live, even though God has always provided generously in that area.  Underneath that layer, I’ve been fearful that I won’t have an important role in people’s lives anymore, because I won’t be a campus pastor anymore.  A big reason I signed up for that gig was because my campus pastors were important to me, and I wanted to be important to someone else. I wanted that more than I wanted money or renown.

When a lack of hope in God is the reason for being downcast, then I need to quit being downcast and rejoice in the character of my faithful God.  

I need to remember that He’s the one who gave me a role of significance in the lives of these girls (and some of the guys, too.)  Therefore, as He sees fit, He’ll fulfill my desire for significance again, one way or another.

When being downcast is due to normal, healthy grief, like I feel right now, putting my hope in God is simply the next step.  It’s not a corrective measure. Maturity doesn’t look like sailing through the potentially painful times without tears.

I ask myself, “What now?”  Now it’s time to hope in God, to praise Him, because He is the constant. He will always be my Savior and my God.  

Grieving the loss of good gifts He’s given is one sort of praise. This wouldn’t hurt if You hadn’t been so good.  

Self-care vs. selflessness

Mahatma Gandhi.  He’s so famous that autocorrect doesn’t even blink.  It’s used to people botching his name. Gandhi is entrancing in his white robes and skinny bones.  What a disciplined, selfless human.

Also great is Dr. King, whose story and earnest face have won my kids’ hearts.  My first-grader had a homonyms spelling test, including “piece” and “peace.” He’d say, “is it piece like a piece of cake, or is it peace like Martin Luther King, Jr.?”  I suppose the Reverend’s heart would thrill at such an association.  Dr. King gave his life for peaceful reconciliation.

Self-less-ness.  Having no self? Not living for self?  Giving of oneself for others? Its opposite is self-ish-ness, which everybody knows is bad.

What then of self-care?  When is self-care self-ish?  Is it that we all need a bit of selfishness in our lives to survive?  How did grown women of yesteryear survive without adult coloring books?  

The disciplined warrior comes to mind.  A physically powerful man who eats well, refrains from excessive food or drink, trains hard to strengthen his muscles and his skills for battle.  He would use an adult coloring book as toilet paper. But he is a paragon of self-care. What motivates him? Perhaps he’s driven forward by a swirl of reasons:  desire to win, because such men love competition; desire to impress the ladies; desire to go down into history as a great man.  Is his self-care then also selfish? Or are these motivations human and rational and even laudable? Did Dr. King have any such desires?  

I am no Gandhi or MLK, Jr, but I’ve known moments that call for big selflessness.  I thought that cleaning up the floor after my college roommate puked everywhere was godly.  I thought that her hangover the next day was justice. Then I bore infants who routinely puked all over my clothes, and they weren’t even drunk.  Now they’ve grown into elementary kids who puke in the middle of the night every few months, but need me by their side, because puking is hard emotional work.  The next morning, we both need some self-care.

After a long and dangerous march, did Dr. King sleep in and ask his wife to make French toast?  Maybe after so much selflessness, he needed some self-care, so that he could get out there the next night and be a world changer again.  In the Selma movie, he called Mahalia Jackson in the middle of the night so she could sing to him.  I’ve heard that detail was based on reality.

A college student might go into “self-care mode” by bingeing a Netflix show and painting their nails. Contrast this with the disciplined warrior.  Perhaps what is lacking in the Netflix and nail polish version is the “care” part of “self-care.”  

Self-care could fuel selflessness.  Regular rest is needed in order to be selfless.  The right kind of self-care can recharge one’s sense of purpose, nourish one’s brain and body, bring one into a fuller sense of clarity about the world and the cause worth championing.  

Calling movie marathons and facial masks “self-care” is like calling pizza “Italian food.”  Pizza is delicious. It should not be banned. But don’t try to sound better than you are by saying you’re going for Italian when it’s really just Domino’s.  If you’re going to veg and watch TV all night, just say so. Don’t call it self-care and make it sound less selfish than it is.

The phrase “self-care” should call us to the caring of ourselves, so we can serve others more selflessly tomorrow.  

Blowing about

A jolting and creeking of the house wake me from a dream about … can’t remember what now.  It wasn’t unpleasant. The wind is slapping branches on the roof and the sides of the house.  As I listen I become a little alarmed. We’ve had a lot of wind this year so far, with gusts of 40 or 50 miles per hour.  There hasn’t been much damage, but it does make it hard to sleep when it’s at night. I continue to listen and it seems that the shingles are barely hanging on for their lives.  The groaning of the house gives the impression of an old mansion, even though it’s a brand new little three-bedroom.

The cell phone glows upon prompting.  4:11am. “I should try to get more sleep,” my inner voice declares, but the noise and my accompanying fear make it difficult to relax. I listen for distant tornado sirens and review my mental contingency plan for gathering the kids in the bathroom.  

Once, many months ago, we awoke to a boom and the ceiling fan swayed above us.  My husband was on his feet within a half second and was in the hallway before I could even unwrap myself from the covers.  He was yelling, “oh my gosh, oh my gosh,” and I can’t remember if he said the words, “there’s a fire,” but I knew there was and my oft-rehearsed contingency plan filed under “fire” spilled into my thoughts.  

I only have two arms, so I bolted into my youngest child’s room and shouted for the older two to wake up.  When they tell the story, they say I was screaming. My older son apparently had a contingency plan filed away in his mind too, because he was out on the front lawn before I could even get my daughter out of her room.  My younger son wandered confusedly into the hallway, wanting to see what was happening.

With slow-motion desperation, I watched him walk entranced toward the very blazes that threatened his life.  I had not even braved a glance in their direction, but because the entire atmosphere of our home was transformed, I knew they were intense.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a wall of brilliant orange and felt terribly helpless as I held my two-year-old and could not control with my hands the safety of my four-year-old.  

I stated with all the calm authority I could resource, “Judah, walk out the door.  The front door.”  After what seemed like forever, he turned and went through the door I was holding open.  My two-year-old was biting my shoulder and shaking all over.

As I stomped outside, I unwittingly called out, “Lord, help us!”  That’s one of the sincerest prayers that ever crossed my lips.  

This scene passes through my mind in a matter of seconds like a well-worn cartoon flip book.  I’ve studied fixedly each split-second page to grasp what was happening. How much danger were we really in?  Was I over-reacting? Why did I not even worry about my husband, who apparently was trying to put out the fire with our tiny extinguisher?  Meanwhile multiple fire trucks were unloading their giant hoses, because someone had already called for help on our behalf.

That morning, at about 4:30am, our lives were whisked up in a whirl of change.  Two weeks in a hotel room, months and months in a rental house. Tens of thousands of dollars spent – most of it given by generous friends – and hundreds of thousands of decisions made.  

When the power of the wind stirs up those still-potent memories, it’s not the upturning of our living situation that I fear.  It’s the feeling that a muscular natural force could harm my children, in a moment of unplannable danger. At times, I try to reason with my fear, that in spite of the danger we were in, it all turned out fine.  Possibly, life turned out better than it would have been if the fire hadn’t happened.

My instincts disagree.  I never want to submit to the threat of another natural power, barging into my home without regard for my precious and fragile children.  The wind seems to taunt this judgment. What does it matter if I rage with my little voice against the agents of change in the natural world?  

The gusting of the wind hasn’t abated at all in what was probably forty-five seconds of thought.  A gentle idea enters my mind, seemingly from outside myself. “Why not go out? Right now. Experience this powerful wind.”  

In moments, I exit through the patio door – the one that replaced the melted version several months prior.  My husband had installed that previous door himself (upside down.)

My hair is instantly in my eyes and the wind tugs at my blanket like it wants to share.  I secure it around me and settle into a deck chair. The blanket smells like my older son.

Strangely, there’s not that much happening out here.  No cats are flying through the air. The deck chairs are all lounging in their familiar spots. The apple tree is hardly even trembling.  Granted, it has no leaves and its limbs are very stubby from pruning.

The way it sounded inside, I was sure it would be dangerous to sit outside, and I had felt like a hero, braving my enemy, to step into the great wilderness at a time like this.  But out here, things are fine.

It is beautiful.  The clouds glow dusky orange, not with sunrise, but with the city’s lights.  They are swimming along a swift current, shaping mesmerizing forms, a little like a lava lamp but with fuzzier edges.  

Best of all are the tallest trees.  After a gust, a lull will ensue and everything stands.  Then a shhhh starts up in the distance and grows louder as it approaches.  The highest branches bend around wildly. Delightfully, even the central branches bow, and I admire the strength of such a force that could move that mighty skyscraper of a tree.  I begin to long for the stronger gusts, to see that bending and bowing again.

How boring are the houses, which inside make an audible show of being moved by the wind, but stand there in unfriendly stagnation.  The trees far better understand the thing. To be moved and yet rooted is a beautiful stance. To respond to the power of the forces around, and yet to stand one’s ground is true strength.

The roots unseen are stronger than these frightening gusts of wind.  How expansive must be the foundation of these towers! They can rock off center with gentle grace, showcasing the power of an unknown force, and yet remain perfectly in place.  

This month, there is a changing power at work in our lives again.  It is our own choice (sort of) and is planned and predicted, to move from our city to another, from ministry to “regular” work for a time.  We’ve been preparing for many months, and we can look each other in the eye and know we’ve labored with excellence and diligence to both leave behind a strong work and also to prepare for life ahead.  I am full of gratitude for this confidence, this lack of regret.

But the fears of change gust against my heart anyway.  Leaving this brand new house for the blankness of a yet-to-be-identified temporary home makes my planner’s mind quiver with discomfort.  We’re leaving behind a joyous community that we helped to establish for a group of new faces who seem nonchalant about our coming. A thick layer of concern coats the bottom of my heart.  Does it matter to anyone that we’ve poured ourselves out with fervor and sacrifice? The strongest fears are probably those of being unimportant.

This morning, the trees teach me with their graceful bowing about this verse by David:  

Through the steadfast love of the Lord, I shall not be moved.

I shall not be moved from my foundation.  I shall not be broken and destroyed. But perhaps the bending and swaying of my heart can be a graceful response to the power of change in my life.  After all, I am a created being, not a fixed, right-angled building. I can withstand more beautifully the blowing about of my world when I respond like the branches of these tallest of trees.  

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.      from Ephesians 3

What’s an Enneagram? I want one!

Learn your Enneagram type to understand:

  • What drives you forward
  • What is most likely to hold you back
  • What a healthy version of your personality can be like
  • What you can be like when you’re at your worst!
  • How your type interacts with others you want to get along with

What you need to know about the Enneagram:

  • Description of your basic personality type (one of 9 categories)
  • Tries to describe what growth and dysfunction look like within your type
  • Goes to greater lengths than most systems of personality description to explain personal uniqueness – therefore is more complicated!
  • There are free tests online to help direct you toward what your type is, but you can also read the descriptions to identify yourself if you’re somewhat self-aware
  • It’s not religious or cultic even though the name and symbol kind of give that impression 🙂

What I found most helpful:

  • Learning my own type shed light on my motivations for being a missionary – and how strange it feels to step out of ministry for the time being
  • Learning my husband’s type helped me understand why we approach life so differently and what motivates him
  • I loved the “Levels of Development” described for my type. It was like seeing a ladder from myself at my weakest to my most healthy and effective self.
  • I could easily see myself in my type when I read the description – if you have the patience to read the descriptions and if you know yourself well, this may be enough for you. Otherwise try an online test!

Helpful links:

Descriptions of types from Enneagram Institute

Free test (unofficial)

Official test ($12 and 40 minutes)

Share your discoveries about your own personality in the comments!