You’re Catastrophizing

Yes, it’s a verb: catastrophize. It means to make things worse than they actually are. Just to be clear, a catastrophe is an event that causes great damage and suffering. Think plane crashes, war, extreme weather, wildfires, epidemics, etc. These are catastrophes.

My life isn’t a catastrophe. Nothing in it is catastrophic. 
Something in me, however, likes to dramatize my own inconveniences and little disappointments, my own minor aches and obstacles, to the level of catastrophe
Catastrophe! Give me attention! It’s a catastrophe! 
My bad circumstances (today it’s knee pain and grumpy children) become everything in my mind; they cloud my mood and bring in hopelessness and fear, and they aren’t anywhere near the level of catastrophic. 
In my family, we talk about not catastrophizing. It’s irrational, unfair, and pretty selfish to elevate whatever inconveniences we experience to the level of anything other than what they are: inconveniences, setbacks, and disappointments. 
This means we put our complaints in their proper place. We move on with our day, pushing forward against this thing that isn’t a catastrophe at all. Somewhere in the world, very real catastrophes assault very real people in very real neighborhoods. 
We stop catastrophizing by taking a deep breath and putting any pain into the right context. We’ll get through this. 

All This and the Romantic Dinner Too

The plan to celebrate our 14th anniversary was to end up at dinner and a movie after browsing bookstores (our favorite things). We’re best friends and partners in everything, so we knew we’d have a great night just talking and enjoying whatever came our way.

And this is what came our way: All night, we kept running into people we love–like walk-to-school neighbors, friends from church, and even a former student of mine. At one point, we found ourselves visiting a grad student and praying with his family who was in town to help him move out.

Everywhere we went, significant parts of our marriage found representation through people sent our way: walking together every day with the Neighborhood Walk-to-School group, ministering together to graduate students, teaching college students, and volunteering with youth ministry and church. It was fun that these encounters kept happening all night.

And yes, we had all this and our bookstore, romantic dinner, and movie too!

It was a beautiful night out because every half hour or so, we received little reminders of what makes marriage so great. For years, we’ve been together in life and ministry; it’s been so purposeful and connected to others that our night out included a wonderful sampling of what the years have meant to us.

It was never just about us.


“Without Writing, I’d Be Lost.”

We write because it brings us closer to home. It unties what’s knotted up in us. We write because it cares for our souls to do so.

My friend tells me that in the past he’s agonized over why he’s writing and for whom and whether this sort of thing–especially the publishing part–diminishes his character. It seems inherently narcissistic, inherently self-glorifying, and inherently dissonant with the hidden and quiet life.

He tells me he struggled but finally realized this: “Without writing, I’d be lost.”

The writing life helps us find our way.

Why care so deeply about why and for whom?  The business of it doesn’t care for the soul. But writing? I think of the necessity and pleasure of it. I think of how it nourishes the soul.

Another friend recently told me she loved talking to a particular person because of the way this person “cared for her soul.” The words resonate for days.

Writing helps me care for my own soul and, by God’s grace, the beautiful souls of others.


Lush Indeed

When you approach Pennsylvania from the west, the word you’ll think of is lush. It’s all rolling hills, forests, and farmland. 

My daughter asks me to define the word for her. 

Lush means growing luxuriantly. It means rich and juicy and exuberant. It means dense with ripe things. Lush means prolific, abundant, and vigorous. 
We’re in a lush place, and I’m so thankful. I pray that we always find ourselves in this kind of place, ripe with every good thing God offers. 

They Will Keep

I remember an exchange in the recent movie Jane Eyre (also in the book) between St. John Rivers and Jane. It’s so simple, but it showcases a great character who isn’t consumed with ambition or personal gain. 

St. John Rivers worries that Jane’s simple work and life is somehow beneath her or wasteful. 

He asks: “What will you do with all your fine accomplishments? 

Jane Eyre replies: “will save them until they’re wanted. They will keep.”

While I’m remembering this quote, two different friends point out the incredible story of the American Agava plant that has waited 80 years to bloom. This very week, the plant has bloomed at Michigan’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

I learn something about this plant whose fine accomplishment has been kept for 80 years. 

Nobody knows why it waited so long. Nobody can explain the particular timing of it. It’s a mystery. 

All I can think about is the truth that our gifts and offerings to the world will keep until the right time–when they’re needed. 

Until then, we live in the mystery of it and the comfort that we can save all our offerings until they’re wanted. 

They will keep.


Running Wisdom: If it Hurts, Something’s Getting Stronger

Every few years or so, I try to start running.

I’m so sore I could just curl up in a ball and never move again. Muscles that I never used have been thoroughly used.

It hurts.

I remember this morning that when you’re building muscles and getting fit, the sore feeling means one is getting stronger. It’s really the only way to grow.

Oh, glorious pain! This is how to move into strength and then, eventually, into the freedom to run.


What the Heart Needs Most

As I walk around the church parking lot today, I reflect on all the things I’ve been telling my husband I need and want in my life. These conversations are ridiculous. I’m such a brat! It gets so bad that sometimes I lament the fact that there’s no good fine dining in this town or great live music. I get in these “if only” kinds of conversations: If only we lived in a big city. If only we owned this house. If only this happened, if only that happened. . .

I’m so focused on what I need all the time. As you know, I’m always asking my heart what it’s missing because I’m a walking existential crisis. I’ve already confessed this problem to you, so bear with me.

I decide to ask God to show me what the heart needs most of all. I was inspired to ask such a question because I was reading Hannah Whitall Smith again this morning, and I love how she asks God to reveal to her the “secret” of a happy life. She wanted happiness! She was tired of miserable Christians who walked around in perpetual angst (oh, she would have been so annoyed with me). She wrote a whole book on God’s answer to her question about happiness called The Christian Secret of a Happy Life.

But back to my question to God. I’m tired of perpetual angst (even if it is part of the poetic sensibility, the divine madness of the artist, and the dreary lot of the writer). I’m tired of struggling so much for peace in my heart. I’m tired of not even knowing the answer to a question two different friends asked me this week. They looked at me with such love in their eyes and said, “Heather, what do you really want?”

What do I really want, God?

As I’m rounding the corner, I imagine God answering me. I think of this truth:

I think of how David begs God in Psalm 51:12, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation.” He doesn’t ask for more friends, more wealth, more wisdom, a different city, live music, fine dining, or more fruitfulness. He asks God to restore the joy of salvation to him. What the heart needs most is the joy of our salvation!

I think about this as I walk, and the fog clears inside of me. Everything I most desperately want, I already have: the righteousness of Christ, the immediate and unmediated access to God, and the knowing and being known by a Savior. Yes, forgiveness of sin that separates me from God–this is what I most desperately need. And because I have it already, I ask God to restore the truth of it to me, the pure and raw joy of it.

When I lose my focus and wonder what I’m missing, I’m going to think about this summer morning walk and how I remembered the joy of my salvation. It was a great little walk with God.


When You Say No to Yourself

I’m struck by the prolific green bean bushes. The more I pick, the more they produce. I venture out with my colander, and I return every two days with it half-filled with crisp, long, bulging green beans. How do so many grow so quickly?

I love the principle of it all: the more it offers, the more it can offer. It’s a generous plant, a biblical plant.

Then, while I sit crossed legged in the chairs designed for small children in the lobby of the Music Academy as my children practice piano, I read about the concept of saying “no” to oneself. It goes against the grain of everything I’ve read lately; instead of self-actualization, self-fulfillment, authentic selfhood, and saying “yes” to our true selves and true desires, the Christian notion of self-denial rubs at all my rough edges. It’s so unnatural! It’s so. . . wrong.

But maybe not. Maybe this is the most natural and obvious thing in the world.

It’s like the bean plant that gives everything away–everything!–and finds it has more and more to offer as a result. It doesn’t shrivel and suffer. Instead, it thrives at the very spot it lost a part of itself.

It’s right and good to say no to oneself. At that very spot, a harvest comes.


“Deeply moving currents don’t always show.”

Today I read this advice from the director of Camp Greystone. He’s reminding parents not to interpret a child’s thoughts by whether or not they manifest in an outward, surface display. 

Deeply moving currents–of a child’s heart and also the wider work of God with us–don’t always show. I know this concept from my years growing up on the Potomac River. I learned about the undertow
I learned to heed with great caution those places where the water seemed most calm. In fact, a raging and mighty current ran hidden below the surface with more force than I could imagine. 
In spots where one stream fed into another, like where Little Hunting Creek met the mouth of the Potomac, this swirling tornado of underwater power deceived and captured even the best and strongest swimmers, boaters, and fishermen. Local residents knew better; we stayed near the shore and respected the hidden undertow in those places. 
I remember the vocabulary of river currents today and the lesson they still teach: A Mighty Power is at work that we often cannot perceive, especially in times and places of transition. It’s too deep for surface words or visible emotions. We must stand back for a time and let the current do its work.


An Essential Project That’s Well Worth Your Time

I’m doing something that’s tedious and time-consuming this week: I’m compiling photos from 2012-2013 to make our family story book. Keep reading. I will justify this time spent.

Every two years, I make a photo album on Essentially, I tell our family story for those years. I choose a theme or a word to frame this story, too.

It takes a lot of time, but I remember this: My wise counselor told me that part of mental health is the ability to tell an integrated life story about yourself.

He talked about the importance of telling the story of one’s family history. He challenged me to find treasured family memories from my own childhood and now, as a mother, to pass on the gift to my children of the story of their lives.

This is essential. This is critical. I had no idea.

(Photo album design seemed to me the work of crafty mothers who gathered for scrapbooking parties. I’ve never been to one of these parties, and I wasn’t about to start going! Thank you, Lord, for websites that do the creative work for you!)

Yes, my counselor told me that family photo albums are part of mental health and the well-being of my children. People research this kind of stuff. Family story telling matters deeply. Deeply. 

Photo albums for mental health! Imagine!

I sit down and sift through all the photos. It takes me an hour to get through April. I make pages and pages of photos, and guess which story I tell?

I tell the story of God’s faithfulness. I tell the story of perseverance, of God’s sovereignty, of God’s provision, and of love.

I tell the story of love.

Page after page, I record the truth for them for years to come.