Tis’ the Season

I used to hate winter. I hated the cold temperatures that made me feel like a prisoner in my own home and the gray and brown colors that seem to dominate everything. In the past couple of years, I’ve realized my feelings about the season have changed:

The low temperatures remind me of how cold and dead my heart is without Jesus, and somehow it brings me comfort when I feel the bite of a winter wind. I know that only love can thaw a frozen heart. Not the love of a sister, but of a Savior.

The neutral colors make me remember that I can’t keep God in a box. He created all colors, not just the vibrant ones, and he’s far more complex and beautiful than every one of them. The contrast of gray sky pops out the dark landscape, helping me see minute details I don’t notice otherwise. And I see that beauty often comes from darkness.

The bare trees show me inner beauty and how apart from it, outer beauty is pointless. I could look at branches and knots on wood for days. Few things are more intricate. But I want the leaves. They cover the flaws. I want people to praise the leaves I put on myself in the form of hair, makeup, and clothes, praying they don’t see all the yucky parts. I forget that the yucky parts, the ones that have withheld through the elements, the chips and strikes, the twists and bumps, the weaknesses, are the parts God uses to blossom me into looking more like him, becoming more seasoned and gorgeous from the inside out.

The quiet. The blessed, craved quiet of winter. When animals are sleeping, when neighbors are inside, when crickets stop chirping, and when the air itself seems to be sleeping. These moments are the times I most see the beauty in simply resting in Christ because he did all the work for me.

Winter helps me see that I’m incredible flawed. I’m the worst wife, mother, friend, and servant of all of mankind, completely dreary and dead on my own. Yet when God looks at me, he sees his Son, the most beautiful spring. I’m dormant, waiting for the life that’s mine, a life I did nothing to earn.

And I’ll sit here and marinate in the beauty of winter while I wait.

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.”

‭‭1 Timothy‬ ‭1:15-16‬ ‭NIV‬‬


Sleeping with Grief

Bill and I have been talking about sleep lately–an area of our lives that either gets too much priority or not enough. We obsess over it, giving up good things in order to get the amount we need to “feel good,” or we pridefully think we can go without. So we committed yesterday morning to hold each other accountable to have a gospel-centered view of sleep.

Less than an hour after we made that commitment, my mother called choking out unbelievable words: “Before you hear it on social media, I wanted to tell you that Michael, Monica, Joshua, and Caleb were killed in a car accident last night.”

A commitment to sleep suddenly felt very stupid.

Cruce_FamilyMichael was the youth director of the church I grew up in. My parents have now been part of that church for 31 years. It’s the kind of church I still call “mine,” the family I still keep in close contact with because I just can’t quite let them go (21 years there, yo), the people I still rejoice and weep with, the ones I still love watching grow in maturity and wisdom and grace.

Bill was part of that church, too, for a couple of years. 15 months of his time, he was the interim music director. Michael was hired on during our last 5 months there before we left for Louisville.

Too short of a time to be around this beautiful family.

Michael always smiled. Always. He bled Jesus. Like you couldn’t get Michael to have a casual conversation without him bringing Christ’s name up. He made you believe Jesus was worth worshiping, and he unintentionally made you realize how you worship everything but.

Monica was quiet, soft spoken, sweet. Everything I’m not. So obviously, I really liked her. I hadn’t had nearly enough conversations with her, but over the past couple of months, God graciously brought her back in my life. They were foster-to-adopt parents. At the times I’ve been most overwhelmed, she’s been there to encourage me and give me wisdom. A woman who barely knows me except through my parents and brief encounters once a year, taking time to build a sister up.

Then the call.

No more. No more conversations with Monica. No more Instagram pictures of eternity-focused verses from Michael. No more youth pictures with him lying on the ground in front of the group, probably covered in mud. No more watching two CRAZY little boys growing into mature, godly men. No more.

Sleep wanted to come, but only tears. Endless, burning, choking tears. Tears that pushed me to obsessively check social media just to feel others’ tears, too, to be back with my family, holding each other up.

Sleep felt wrong. I wanted to feel. But eventually, much earlier than usual, it came. The body can only take so much.

And now, new mercies. A rested body that’s grace from God. And the reminder that the Cruces are sleeping, too.

It is not death for the believer to die. “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14) They’re all four with Jesus, in the most peaceful sleep in the history of ever. And their rising up won’t be just for a day, but for eternity.

They’re not dead, only sleeping.

So tonight, I accept sleep joyfully, reminded my body isn’t strong enough on its own. It has to be recharged, held up only by the love of Christ. And one day, I’ll be alongside the Cruces with the same Christ who energized my body for him all these years. The one in whom my soul rests, waiting for the last sleep and the eternal morning.

Identity Crisis

We haven’t been blogging . That’s kind of a pattern with the Bells. Make a commitment to ourselves to blog and then break it within a couple of weeks. Blogging is important to us. It’s not about readership, but it’s about being able to communicate the depths of our souls, expressing something in written word we struggle to communicate in spoken word.

But I don’t feel like blogging most of the time. I try to justify it with the whole six kids homeschooling bit, but I always seem to find time to do plenty of other unnecessary things in my day. I don’t want to be raw. I don’t want to mess up. I don’t want someone to disapprove of what I say. I would rather stay bottled up.

My vision for this blog was to be real, to let you see a family who isn’t put together, who isn’t beautiful. But I decided I didn’t want you to see that. I’ve faced opposition here in Naptown, and I’ve decided that’s more important than God’s glory. I want to be closed off, to make sure I don’t look like a Debbie Downer, to keep my convictions to myself.

I wanted to show that the worth of those who are in Christ doesn’t come from our children’s behaviors, the way our church functions, our self-discipline, our physical appearance, the smooth flow of our house, the way we serve. I wanted to show that our worth comes only from the blood of Christ, that he did perfectly what we’ll never be able to do and then covered us. I don’t feel that most of the time, so I don’t write about it. But that was the point in the first place, to write and be vulnerable on the days I didn’t feel it.

Bill sent me this blog today– http://hiddenwithyou.com. I want to be like her when I grow up. I want to be open and vulnerable, truthful about the way most Christian women truly feel. I want to stop acting as though this world is anything more than awful. I want to open up about the spiritual battles that go on inside us as a result. And with contentment I want to long for the day Jesus comes to make all things right. Maybe some of that longing would come if I let you inside more often.

How Do You Have the Energy to Do All This?!

Among the two or three dozen questions I get asked regularly, the title of this post is certainly one of the more frequent. I have a love/hate relationship with the question. I hate it because I sometimes get treated like I’m some sort of super woman since I have six small children. While I don’t claim my life is rosy, I certainly don’t have it any harder than most people in this country, and it’s way more cush than most of the world. So questions like these can make me feel silly and pressured, like I’d better prove them right or be a huge disappointment. But I also love the question because it’s an open door for me to illustrate the gospel.

The simple answer to the question is: I don’t. It’s rare for me to have much energy, and when I do wake up feeling energized, it’s even more rare for it to last all day. Along with having so many little ones, I’m overweight and have Crohn’s disease, zapping the last ounces of energy I have. I live most days feeling pretty darn sluggish. And all of this in spite of the fact that I’m also an active person with fairly healthy habits. I. Love. Exercise. And God’s been freeing me from my relationship with food over the last few years. I don’t typically obsess much with what I eat while still tracking my intake. I work hard to get good sleep each night, and I evaluate often to make sure I’m not doing too much.

But I’m still tired. Because I want to be able to serve my family and friends better, I’m always shaking things up, researching to find the next thing that’s going to give me a shred of energy–diets, different exercises, fresh air, vitamins. But those things rarely help, and I find myself down because of it, thinking I must be doing something wrong because I have friends all over the place who are finding more energy.

Then something struck me. I worship energy. Why? Because I want to feel good. Energy is my means to the end of feeling good. And I don’t think I’m alone in this. I would imagine most North American Christians struggle with the same god to some degree or another. Overall, we’re a wealthy, healthy country. And I praise God for that! It’s certainly a blessing, one that’s been given to us because it’s part of God’s perfect plan. And we shouldn’t feel guilt for being born into it. But along with this life comes less physical suffering (for the most part!) than others around the world encounter. So now we’re in a war on pain and suffering–but it’s a battle that can’t be won through medicine and science.

We live in a community that screams, “Comfort!” And I need you to hear me if you’re going to understand the point of this post. There is nothing wrong with having comfort. Nothing. Any comfort we have is granted by God, and we’re never called to SEEK the uncomfortable. BUT sometimes I think we fight too hard to get out of the uncomfortable when it comes. Sometimes I think we deceive ourselves to believe some type of Utopian heaven will happen in this life. But scripture teaches the opposite. All of creation is in “bondage to decay.” This world is fallen, broken. Everything in it, our bodies included, are deteriorating. We can do everything right– eat a Paleo diet, get 150 minutes of exercise a week, have regular examines, take the right supplements, get 7-8 hours of sleep a night–and there will still be days, weeks, years we may not feel good. Then there’s aging in general. Eventually our bodies will stop the fight no matter how we’ve lived our previous years, and the suffering will certainly come then.

But if we fight so hard for comfort, how do we handle it when things just stay uncomfortable? When life is too hard? There’s nothing to do but lose the battle. We let life be hard. There’s a false saying that God will never give us more than we can handle. That verse (1 Cor 10:13) is about temptation, not suffering. Instead, we’re told that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

I developed Crohn’s disease 12 years ago. Before that time, I was very healthy. Now there are no pain free days, and few days without fairly severe pain. Between that and birthing six babes, I don’t notice most of the pain in my body anymore. Pain is such a part of my daily life that I have a harder time noticing cricks in my neck, joint pains, stomach aches, or cramps during my cycle. Twelve years ago I was aware of every single itch. Sometimes pain is necessary to help work through pain. And sometimes the pain is what pushes us to look to Jesus: “Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”

So I’ve been reflecting on this, beginning to understand how much I need to stop trying so hard to make this life easier and instead rest in God’s mercy to fight the good fight anyway. When I seek comfort, I miss Jesus. When I seek Jesus, I find the only rest that matters. Jesus promises, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” I’m learning to keep pressing on no matter how much pain, no matter how tired, no matter how much is on my plate. Fighting because the battle’s already been won in the empty tomb. Fighting to the end knowing this isn’t my forever body, knowing one day I’ll see him face to face and all pain, fatigue, stress, and heartache will be gone. “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

That day is really coming, and the fight here is so, so temporary.