Category Archives: Faith

100 Hopes for our Daughter

Since I’m around teenage girls all day, I see the struggles they face and am already worried about our daughter’s teen years.  Will she have loyal friends?  Will she have confidence?  Will she have acne?  Will she love God?  Will she trust me?

She’s 6 months in the womb and already I’m concerned that she’ll never get asked to a dance and girls will be mean to her.  Instead of focusing on the multitude of fears that can be quite daunting at times, I’m choosing to focus on my hopes for our daughter.  I started with 10 and it grew to 100.  Sorry.  Turns out I’m overflowing with hope for her.

100 Hopes

1) I hope she loves Jesus and tacos and Anne of Green Gables.

2) I hope she goes on wild adventures.

3) I hope she gets her dad’s blue eyes but not his broad shoulders.

4) I hope she laughs so hard she sometimes pees her pants… like her mom.

5) I hope she grows into a confident, joyful girl who never doubts that she is loved.

6) I hope she finds friends to laugh with about boogers and poop and make-up and boys.

7) I hope these friends love Jesus too- that they are there on her wedding day and praying for her on her hard days.  And when she is pregnant for the first time, I hope these friends tell her all the gory details of childbirth as my own friends have done.  (I’m assuming I’ll have blocked all that nastiness from my memory.  Mucus plug?!? Are you kidding me?!?)

8) I hope she is kind and offers comfort to those hurting around her.

9) I hope she is brave and stands up to the bullies of this world.

10) I hope she loves to read.

11) I hope she can laugh at herself and make others laugh, but never at the expense of someone else.

12) I hope she gets her dad’s creativity and singing abilities.

13) I hope she dances and sings in the car…even if she gets my singing abilities.

14) I hope she makes strangers smile.

15) I hope she learns to cast her cares at Jesus’ feet, to go to him when she is weary and burdened and there find rest for her soul.

16) I hope she can cross her eyes and make a mean double-chin.

17) I hope she loves waking up Sunday mornings to Rich Mullins…and I hope that like me and her aunt Heidi, she thinks she’s “rapping” when she sings Awesome God. 

18) I hope she is humble but takes pride in her work.

19) I hope she has siblings and is a compassionate, only SEMI-bossy big sister.

20) I hope she keeps a diary… so I can secretly read it.

21) I hope she learns to care more about God’s opinion of her than the opinions of other teens. Because teenagers can be mean… and sometimes stupid.  And God is neither.

22) I hope that like her dad, she loves to learn for the sake of learning, not just for A’s.

23) I hope that like me, she loves airports and Narnia and reality tv.

24) I  hope she takes my “peer pressure” song to heart and doesn’t give in.  (Because really, “peer pressure, peer pressure- what does it do?  It squeezes the Jesus right out of you!”)

25) I hope she never feels entitled to an easy life.

26) I hope she realizes every good thing in her life is a gift from her God.

27) I hope she daily catches glimpses of His glory and marvels at the nearness of His Spirit.

28) I hope she’s not allergic to dogs.

29) I hope she finds true contentment in who God has made her to be….zits and all.  (Because let’s face it, with my skin issues she is destined to have acne or warts or eczema or maybe all three.  Sorry, sweetie!)

30) I hope she has thick skin and doesn’t let the mean words said to her or about her touch her heart.

31) I hope she is careful with her words and her wit, spreading words of encouragement not slander.

32) I hope she finds her identity in being a daughter of the king, not in her looks or grades or abilities or popularity.

33) I hope her friends are quirky and appreciate all the junk food in our pantry.

34) I hope she is continually awed by the ocean and sunsets and mountain peaks.

35) I hope she doesn’t like tuna in her mac n’ cheese…because that’s how Paul wants to make it for our children and I am firmly against it.

36) I hope she is full of questions… and isn’t afraid to ask us the hard ones.

37) I hope she isn’t obsessed with her looks and doesn’t take a gazillion selfies.

38) I hope she is quick to apologize and quick to forgive.

39) I hope she is salt and light in this cruel, dark world.

40) I hope she loves to camp and isn’t a wuss about peeing in the woods.

41) I hope she is proud to be an American.

42) I hope she travels the world and discovers a planet much grander than just the good ol’ US of A.

43) I hope she thinks beer is as gross as I do.

44) I hope she appreciates Disney movies from the 90’s.

45) I hope she notices the wallflowers of the this world and makes them feel seen.

46) I hope boys don’t notice her until she’s 31.  Worked out well for me.

47) I hope her future husband loves Jesus and is kind and humble and brilliant and goofy- just like her dad.

48) I hope the B-I-B-L-E really is the book for her.

49) I hope she gets the Hardeman toes as well as our love of basketball and missions.  When she sees her great-grandparents trotting around the globe, sharing Christ’s love, I hope she is inspired to join in.

50) I hope she gets the Van Dyk work ethic and when she sees her great-grandparents painting and hiking and even pushing a massive rototiller around the yard, I hope she’s inspired to work a little harder on her math homework.

51) I hope she realizes her large and sometimes, okay OFTEN,  embarrassing family is a gift.

52) I hope this glorious family rubs off on her in all the right ways.

53) I hope she is laid-back like her Bumpa and learns from him how to never take life too seriously and always make God her first priority.

54) I hope she is generous like her Grandma Hardeman and disciplined like her in reading her Bible every morning….preferably not with coffee until she’s at least in college.

55) I hope she has an unshakable faith like her Aunt Heidi, that she prays as hard and gets a tiny bit of her fashion sense.  (But not too much or else we’ll go broke.)

56) I hope she is thoughtful and has a servant’s heart like her Uncle Dan.

57) I hope she is sensitive to the needs of others like her cousin Vander.

58) I hope she is studly but unselfish on the basketball court, just like her cousin Hudson.

59) I hope she lights up a room with her joy like her cousin Logan.

60) I hope she is curious and cuddly like her cousin Lincoln.

61) I hope she loves dogs as much as her Uncle Trav and laughs as easily and often as he.

62) I hope she has a heart for Africa like her Aunt Emma and shares her compassion for the broken and hurting people in our world.

63) I hope her cousin Cami teaches her how to be the best big sister.

64) I hope her cousin Corbin shows her the joy of shooting hoops and copying her dad.

65) I hope she’s as adorable as her cousin Denver- one of the few babies who didn’t look like an alien.

66) I hope she’s competitive and bold like her Uncle Trent…but never punches a teammate.

67) I hope she’s hardcore yet girly like her Aunt Teri and can open coke cans with her toes.

68) I hope she wears a constant smile like her Grandma Van Dyk and inherits her love of art and snorkeling and finding adventures on mundane days.

69) I hope she gets her tech skills from her Grandpa Van Dyk and learns to pay attention to detail like he does.

70) I hope she learns to speak Spanish like her Aunt Alyssa and studies as hard as she did in school.  Who knows, her brother may end up marrying her high school teacher one day…

71) I hope she loves board games as much as her Uncle Ryan and is a faithful sibling like him, always there to help her family.

72) I hope family is important to her and even when she’d rather hang out with friends, she chooses us.

73) I hope she joins me in the anti-pickle club….Paul is already plotting how to win her over to his pickle-loving ways.

74) I hope she trusts God, even when life is hard and doesn’t make sense at all.

75) I hope she trusts her parents, even when we say “No” and she wants to strangle us.

76) I hope she is honest…. but when she lies, I hope she is confesses quickly.

77) I hope she experiences great success… but when she fails, I hope she learns and grows from her failure.

78) I hope she is patient with the annoying people in her life.

79) I hope she doesn’t think I’m annoying.

80) I hope she is a loyal friend and refuses to gossip.

81) I hope she’ll sunbathe with me but always wear sunblock.

82) I hope she is filled with the peace that surpasses human understanding.

83) I hope she’s a better driver than I was at 16.

84) I hope she’s faster at doing chores than her dad.

85) I hope she gets stronger teeth than both her parents. (Can that even happen?)

86) I hope she is wise.

87) I hope she’s not quick to judge those who are different from her.

88) Instead, I hope she appreciates different perspectives and is willing to learn from people who don’t look or live or think like her.

89) I hope she loves ice cream as much as her parents do.

90) I hope she can whistle like her dad and do cartoon voices like her mom.

91) I hope she has a resting nice face.

92) I hope she never sees war but is ready to fight the daily spiritual battle.

93) When she’s lonely or sad, when her grief is heavy and hard, I hope she always runs to  Jesus… and then to me.

94) I hope she can see through the liars and schemers who may try to take advantage of her.

95) I hope she appreciates hummingbirds and mangoes and a good hammock.

96) I hope she wrestles with God about Hell and suffering and why He seems silent at times.

97) I hope she learns to trust that God is loving and just…even when His ways are mysterious.

98) I hope she gets a scholarship to college…because it is DANG expensive.

99) I hope she loves dancing in the kitchen to “oldies” tunes.

And finally,

100) I hope she too is overflowing with hope… and that this hope in Christ anchors her and enables her to smile and sing even in the darkest of storms.

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When Football Makes You Cry

Football season is officially over and I am not one bit sad about it.  Monday nights just got a heck of a lot more entertaining now that Monday Night Football has been replaced by Monday Night Bachelor.  (Go, Lauren B!)

Despite my apathy towards football, there was one game this season that I’ll probably never forget.  Actually, just one play from one game.

You’ll probably never guess the game or the play so I’ll just show it to you.  It starts at 1:35.

Did you watch it?  If you didn’t, go back and watch it.  It’s only a minute and you need to see this “Holy mackerel, what a play!” moment.

Just to be clear, I don’t care about UCLA or ASU football.  Couldn’t care less who won the game.  But this play happened four months ago, and I can still see myself sitting on the couch next to Paul watching it for the first time.  Crying big fat tears.

Paul heard me sniffle, looked over at the tears streaming down my cheeks and and laughed.  Because really- who cries during a football game that you care nothing about?

But I tend to think in metaphors.

So while everyone else saw Kalen Ballage scoring a remarkable touchdown, I saw myself.  I know it seems ridiculous.  I mean, at first glance, Kalen and I don’t seem to share much in common other than our pierced ears and wrinkly foreheads:

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But God was teaching me a very important lesson through Kalen’s touchdown.

The announcer said, “You get the sense that all the frustration from a disappointing opening four weeks of the season, was taken out on that one run…”

When I watched this game, I was sitting on our couch in the middle of my own very disappointing season.  I was sad and frustrated with life and angry with God. So very angry with Him.

But I wasn’t alone in my sadness.  And God used this touchdown to remind me that I wasn’t alone.

Kalen Ballage could not have scored this touchdown on his own.  Left to his own devices, UCLA would have pummeled him easily.  He was surrounded by gold helmets.  Three of the enemy were trying to pull him down and he was stuck running backwards.  Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 8.42.19 AM

He should have been tackled.

At that point in the year, I too felt surrounded by the enemy- His lies were so loud and my sadness was so painful.

I should have been tackled.

But Kalen wasn’t just surrounded by his enemies.  His friends were there too.  His friends came from every side and PUSHED him towards his goal:

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I saw those giants surrounding Kalen, shoving him towards the end zone, and instantly thought of these girls:
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They are not quite as beefy, but during my sadness, they refused to let the enemy have the last word. They surrounded me with words of comfort and encouragement and prayer.   They talked me through the pain and pushed me towards God right when I was feeling betrayed by Him.

Plus, they can be pretty tough when they need to be:

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And when Kalen was struggling to stay on his feet, when he was about to stumble just short of his goal, one friend grabbed him in a bear hug of an embrace, kept him upright, and literally pulled him into the end zone.

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I watched this play and didn’t see Kody Kohl helping his friend score a touchdown.

No, I saw my sister grabbing me around the waist and refusing to let me fall into sadness and loneliness.  She forced me to stay on my feet, to keep going and to fall into the arms of God.

And look at Kalen’s friends celebrating afterwards:

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This victory was not Kalen’s alone.

It belonged to all those guys who refused to give up on him.  When they ran to embrace Kalen and celebrate with him afterwards, I was in full blown sobs because I hadn’t reached that victory yet.

I wasn’t celebrating God’s goodness.

But as I watched those giant men dance and hug and rejoice, I realized that one day that would be me and my friends.  One day, I too would be celebrating.

At that point in my life, I was still running precariously backwards, being pulled by the enemy and close to stumbling.  But I was supported by my friends and the end zone was in sight.

Today, I am celebrating.

Today I have experienced the thrill of victory- of clinging to God even when His ways seem wrong and confusing.  But back in October, when I didn’t have victory yet, God was reminding me that celebration was coming.  I wasn’t alone and the team He had handpicked for me wasn’t going to let me fall.

My team is not a bunch of burly men with bulging biceps, but they are still pretty dang hardcore:photo-3

I am who I am today because these girls force me to keep after my goal and keep pursuing my God, even during disappointing seasons.

I hope that you too are supported by a team of people who will not let you fall.  I hope that you have friends and family around you who will keep you on your feet and push and pull you towards Jesus in those moments when you feel like walking away.  And I hope that you realize these teammates are a sweet gift from God.

One of His sweetest gifts, if you ask me.

There is No Peace on Earth (Part 2)

Last week Tuesday I read a devotion to my homeroom that I had written 3 years ago.  Entitled, “There is No Peace on Earth,” the post was written is response to the Sandy Hook shooting.  I read it to the class on Tuesday because my heart was once again heavy with the burdens of this world.  How was I to know that come Wednesday afternoon, it would get even heavier? How was I to know the words I had written 3 years prior would take on new meaning just a few hours later?

On Tuesday I read to my class about the lack of peace on this planet because it seems like lately we’ve been talking about tragedy on a daily basis.  Lately we’ve been praying for victims recovering and for loved ones grieving almost every week.

Today’s world has been crippled by sin and is crumbling from all the violence.

It is a world full of car bombs and suicide bombers, ISIS and Boko Haram, stabbings and shootings, evil and hatred.

It is a world so broken and so hurt, many live in fear and will turn away people in desperate need of refuge because of a fear of terrorism in their own neighborhoods.

It’s a world where Paris and Mali and Beruit and Colorado Springs are suddenly violent and terrifying places.

On Wednesday we added San Bernardino to that list.  And today we add Chad.

When will it stop, God?!? When?

Here are the words I read to my students on Tuesday:

When the sorrow reaches the marrow and the heart is twisted with grief, this is the hope I cling to: it won’t always be like this.  His kingdom WILL come one day.  One day He WILL wipe the tears and restore this broken world to what it was intended to be.  Oh how I long for that kingdom.

In the midst of sorrow and tragedy, Longfellow wrote about peace.  He wrote about Jesus bringing peace to the earth even when it seems like there is none.

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Tonight it does seem as if “there is no peace on earth.”  It does seem like “hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth.”

But Longsfellow saw past the sorrow to the place where God still reigns.

And we can too.

Hallelujah that “God is not dead.  Nor doth He sleep.”

Hallelujah that one day “the wrong shall fail and the right will prevail.”

Hallelujah that one day there truly will be peace on earth.

Because one day His kingdom WILL come.

And days like today make me long for it all the more.

Three years later, and I’m still talking with my classes about how it seems like there is no peace on earth.

Three years later, and I’m still singing hallelujah that God has brought peace into our hearts, that He is not dead nor doth he sleep.

Three year later, and I’m still longing for Jesus to come back and fix this messed up world once and for all.

This morning I read Psalm 145 and was reminded that God sees the brokenness of our world.

The Lord is gracious and compassionate,
    slow to anger and rich in love.

The Lord is good to all;
    he has compassion on all he has made.
10 All your works praise you, Lord;
    your faithful people extol you.
11 They tell of the glory of your kingdom
    and speak of your might,
12 so that all people may know of your mighty acts
    and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
    and your dominion endures through all generations.

18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
    to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;
    he hears their cry and saves them.
20 The Lord watches over all who love him,
    but all the wicked he will destroy.

God hears our cries and has compassion on us.  He watches over us and promises to one day destroy the wicked.  And He offers us a kingdom very different from the world in which we now live.  A kingdom free from terrorism.

Free from fear.

Free from violence.

Free from sin.

Oh what a kingdom that will be!!

Come, Lord Jesus.

Come.

When Disneyland is free

IMG_3817Paul and I recently took our two oldest nephews to Disneyland for their birthdays and had the best time.  No really.  This was thee best time I have ever had at the park as an adult.

I loved Disney as a kid, but the magic had worn off by the time I was out of college.  The long lines, huge crowds, and overpriced food didn’t make up for three minutes of thrills on Space Mountain.

I never understood why grown adults without kids would fork over piles of money to stand in lines and fight crowds all day.  But when my mom offered Paul and I two free day-passes, we gladly accepted them.  I may hate lines but I am a sucker for anything that’s free.

What Paul and I discovered on this particular trip to the magic kingdom is that going to Disneyland for free is an entirely different experience than going to Disneyland for a hundred bucks.  When Disneyland is free, every single moment of joy is a bonus.  We didn’t pay for the moment because we paid for nothing.  We didn’t deserve it so it became even sweeter.

When Disneyland is free, the long lines aren’t so bothersome.  Ninety-minute wait for Space Mountain? We’ll pass.  We don’t need to ride it this time.  Sixty-minute wait for Star Tours?  We’ll get a fast-pass and speed to the front of that line because Paul is a total Star Wars dork.  Half-hour line for a corn dog?  No worries.  Sometimes a $9 corn dog is worth the wait.  And we’ll eat our giant fried treats while we wait in line for the Matterhorn.

The crowds were in full Disney force that day but instead of being annoyed, we had a competition to see who could find the most groups wearing matching clothes.  This was only problematic when Hudson pointed, WITH BOTH HANDS, at an Asian family as they walked by us, all the while loudly announcing, “Matching. Matching. Matching. Matching.”

All the things about Disneyland that would normally irritate me lost their power simply because the day was free.  Without feeling obligated to get our money’s worth of fun, we could focus on the simple pleasures of the park.  We strolled down Main Street, marveling at the Christmas decorations.  We stopped and listened to the band playing “Let it go” and paused to watch little kids battling Darth Vader during their Jedi training.

Disneyland didn’t owe us anything since we paid for nothing.  (except the corn dogs)  There was no rush to go, go, go- to be everywhere and do everything and this brought freedom to simply be present.  Sure, this meant we only had time for Tomorrowland, but that was perfectly okay.

On the ride home, we decided we need to live every day like we lived that day in the park.

Because really, every day on this planet is like a free day at Disneyland.  

Every good thing in our lives is a bonus.  We didn’t pay for any of it.  Everything we have is a gift from God.  Everything.  We are owed nothing.

Too often I forget this.  I feel like I have paid for a good life because I have worked hard and earned the things I have.  I’ve been a “good” person so I DESERVE a good, pain-free life.  So when the lines are long, the crowds are large, and things don’t go my way, I get irritated.  “This isn’t what I paid for! I deserve better!”

But actually I don’t.

Because everything that I have is truly a gift.  I didn’t earn anything.  I haven’t paid for squat.  Sure, I’m a hard worker but who gave me this brain and this body to work hard?  Who provided my family, my friends, my job, my house, my car, and every morsel of food on my plate?

Not I.

I don’t deserve any of it.

James reminds us, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

It’s all a gift.  Every single day is a free day at Disneyland.  This means we are free to enjoy the simple pleasures of life.  We aren’t owed the perfect day because we didn’t pay for it.  Some days just suck.  Some seasons of life are just plain crappy.  But even on those days, even in the midst of such seasons, there are always things we can be thankful for if we would pause and look around.

We don’t have to go, go, go because Jesus paid for our ticket.  We can stroll through the day, stop and listen to the music around us and wonder at the beauty before us.  He bought us the freedom to be present.  He didn’t remove all the frustrations and disappointments; irritating people and situations are still all around us, but who cares when everything is free?!?

I recently read a devotion from John Piper that reminded me of our Disney day lesson.  Piper writes this about gratitude:

When gratitude springs up in the human heart toward God, he is magnified as the wealthy source of our blessing.  He is acknowledged as giver and benefactor and therefore as glorious.

But when gratitude does not spring up in our hearts at God’s great goodness to us, it probably means that we don’t want to pay him a compliment; we don’t want to magnify him as our benefactor.

And there is a very good reason that human beings by nature do not want to magnify God with thanksgiving or glorify him as their benefactor.  The reason is that it detracts from their own glory, and all people by nature love their own glory more than the glory of God.

At the root of all ingratitude is the love one’s own greatness.  For genuine gratitude admits that we are beneficiaries of an unearned bequest.  We are cripples leaning on the cross-shaped crutch of Jesus Christ…

I had never before thought about how gratitude is so closely tied to humility.  To acknowledge that every good thing in my life is a gift, neither earned or deserved, forces me to let go of my pride and my own sense of greatness.   If I am to truly live each day as if it’s a free day at Disneyland, to be full of gratitude and no longer feel entitled to an easy day, well then I must daily remember that Jesus paid for my ticket.

He paid for yesterday.

He paid for today.

He paid for tomorrow.

Every single day is a free day in His magic kingdom.  Now if I can just remember that and live like it!

What Aunties Are For- On Persecution and the Armor of God

While playing soccer yesterday, I hip-checked my 6-year old nephew and sent him flying.

I’m sure it must have looked rather odd to see a grown woman throw a kid to the ground, but he was totally fine.   He did, however, look at me with his, “What the heck?” expression, so I shrugged and said, “That was totally legal.  Use your butt to protect the ball.”

He promptly got up and stole the ball from me because he is freakishly good at soccer and I was barefoot and limping from earlier when I had kicked his older brother in the shins.  This is what aunties are for.

I took the boys for slurpees after our game, and during the 10 minute drive, they learned about more than simply using your butt to knock people over.

First, they learned about flashlight tag.  Did y’all ever play this terrifying game?  I loved it despite the constant feeling that I was going to wet myself.  Now Vander wants to play it for his 9th birthday party.

Hudson informed Vander that “wrestler” starts with a W not an R, because it has a “secret letter.”  Earlier, I had told him about silent letters and he was thoroughly weirded out.  “Why does it start with a W?  That doesn’t make sense.  You don’t say Wah-resler.”

Oh Huddy, we know.  I didn’t even tell you about the T.  And just wait till you learn about bologna and colonel.  Stupid English language.

Then the boys asked about the fish carabiner on my key chain:IMG_3269

I’m not planning on climbing any rocks any time soon so I couldn’t explain the carabiner part, but I could explain the fish.  I told them how right after Jesus went back to heaven, Christians were persecuted so they used the fish symbol like a secret password so they could find other Christians.

Can of worms officially opened.

“What is persecuted?”

Uhhhhh.  Uh-oh.  “Well, bad people didn’t like Christians and wanted to kill them.”

“Why?”

What did I get myself into? “They felt threatened by them.  The king was worried if everyone started worshipping God, nobody would worship him any more.  He was afraid he would lose power.”

“Why didn’t the Christians just invite those people to church? Did they have Awana?”

Great question, Huddy.  Oh how I love their child-like faith.  We arrived at 7 11 at that point, so the boys forgot all about persecution and focused on slurpee flavors instead, but in light of the Oregon shooting, I’m still thinking about our conversation.

Why do people want to kill Christians?

I gave the boys a simple answer, but I wish I had said more.

It’s true that some governments have felt threatened and continue to feel threatened by our allegiance to God (I’m looking at you, China), but it’s more than that.  We have an enemy.  A very real enemy who is trying, tooth and nail, to tear people from God’s kingdom.  On Thursday, we were forced yet again to think about this enemy.

On Friday  morning, some of my students hadn’t yet heard the news and I watched their faces twist in shock and anguish as I explained what had happened.   We prayed for those who are grieving and for God’s kingdom to grow.  We talked about how strange it is that during times of persecution God’s kingdom seems to grow the most.

Why is that?

I wonder if it’s because persecution reminds us why we’re here on earth.  Persecution reminds us of the enemy we are facing and the war we are waging.  Reminds us that in the grand scheme of things many of our problems aren’t as big as we make them out to be.

We go about our days thinking about our to-do lists, our relationships, our schedules and we get irritated when people or circumstances mess up our plans.  At least I know I do.

We completely forget we are battling an unseen enemy who desires to distract us from our purpose.  We forget that Peter said, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

We often see our “enemies” as politicians, illegal immigrants, republicans, democrats, Muslims, terrorists, criminals, bosses, bullies, bad drivers, slow baggers, loud talkers, the obnoxious, the annoying, the rude- you get the idea.  The “enemy” has human flesh and has become anyone who disagrees with us or inconveniences us or hurts us.

We often forget that the real enemy is one we can’t see and is daily looking for ways to pull us away from God.  If we forget about this enemy and this ongoing battle, chances are we’re probably losing it.

How do you “fight” against an invisible enemy who sometimes uses bullets and other times uses television and sports and shopping as his weapons of destruction and distraction?  You fight back not with guns and tanks and grenades.

But with Scripture

and prayer

and love.

Lots of love.

Paul was one of God’s most effective soldiers in this battle.  He left us with lots of advice on how to fight against the enemy- most famously in his description of the armor of God in Ephesians chapter 6.  I have posted the following prayer on this blog before, but in light of Thursday, I’m printing it out again and praying it while I drive to school.

Perhaps you too need a daily reminder of the battle we are fighting.

Armor of God Prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven, I commit this day to you.  You are the creator of the universe and of my heart and I need your Spirit today as I, (list what you will face today).  I ask for your protection around my heart and my mind as I struggle not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil trying to draw my attention away from you.

I put on the belt of truth and cling to the truths about who you’ve made me to be.  Help me today to see myself as you see me. Remind me that I belong to you, that I am your beloved child, your servant, and a stranger here on Earth. Thank you for choosing me, for giving me purpose and a citizenship in heaven. When I make this life all about me, please draw me back to this truth: I am yours and I live for you.

I put on the breastplate of righteousness and confess my unrighteousness. I confess that (list your recent sins).  Thank you, merciful God, for your forgiveness and for washing me clean.   Open my eyes to the sin lurking in my heart that I am unaware of and strip me clean of it as well.  Make me more like you today.

My feet are fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. Fill me with your peace that surpasses understanding and may that peace guard my heart and my mind today.

I take up the shield of faith and use it to deflect the enemy’s attacks. With each lie I am told, I counter it with a truth you have given me. I refuse to believe that (a lie you often fall prey to) and instead, believe that (a truth in God’s word that refutes that lie).

I put on the helmet of salvation to protect my thought-life. I will take all my thoughts captive today and make them obedient to you. Convict me when my thoughts stray, when they are negative, judgmental, slanderous, selfish, or unpleasing in any way. Help me to fixate instead on what is right and true, pure and noble, lovely and praiseworthy. Remind me of the hope I have today because of your salvation; remind me why I am here and how I should think and speak and act so that my life may be pleasing to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

I take hold of the sword of the Spirit, which is your Word, and use it in battle today. May your Word dwell in me richly as I use it to defeat the unseen enemy and live in a way that glorifies you. Please speak to me through the scriptures; reveal more of yourself to me today. Lift my eyes to you and open the eyes of my heart that I might know and love and serve you more.

In your name I pray,

Amen.

How the Ocean is Like God

On Monday Paul and I went for a night swim in the ocean and I was sort of rescued by a lifeguard.  Stop laughing.  It happens.

He didn’t have to get in the water or anything, but he could tell I was struggling so he parked his truck right in front of me and turned on his brights as if to say, “Hey girl flailing in the waves, I see you.  I’ll come get you if you start to drown.”

Meanwhile, my husband was out past the crashing waves and had no idea I was getting repeatedly pummeled and pulled by a current that refused to let me swim to shore.  It was a little scary and a little more embarrassing.  I’m a grown woman.  I thought these rescue operations were a thing of my youth.

See, I was rescued several times as a teenager.  Rip currents can be such a drag.  I was rescued once in my mid-20’s, but that was only because Christy (9 months pregnant) and I didn’t watch the news to know a hurricane was coming or notice that no one else was in the water. (There were no lifeguards so a random, concerned man swam out to get us.)

As a California kid, I am well-acquainted with the water and have known for a long time that while it is beautiful and peaceful, the ocean can be freaking terrifying as well.  My family has spent the last week at the beach so I’ve had lots of time to watch the waves and think about the many ways the ocean is like God.

5 Ways the Ocean is Like God

1. They both bring peace and are enjoyed by people of all ages and walks of life.

Whether it’s the cutest nephews you’ve ever seen running from the waves and catching them on their boogie boards,1

or a yogi holding her pose while gazing at the sea,

or an elderly couple strolling beside the crashing waves,

or a seasoned surfer “shredding the gnar,”…

everyone seems to be mesmerized by the ocean.  We flock to coastlines like moths to the flame.  And while some of us are content to sit and stare at the water, others of us dive in.

Isn’t that true of God as well?  Many are content to sit in pews and learn all about Him without actually engaging Him.  Others are hungry for more and dive in, not satisfied with merely hearing about him, but desiring to truly experience Him and know Him and feel His love crash over them.

2. You don’t have to see them to believe they exist.

Many people have never been to the beach, but they don’t doubt the ocean exists.  So it is with God.  You need not see His face to know He is there.  Emily Dickinson wrote a poem about this truth:

I never saw a moor;
I never saw the sea,
Yet know I how the heather looks
And what a billow be.

I never spoke with God,
Nor visited in heaven.
Yet certain am I of the spot
As if the checks were given.

3. They are both filled with beauty and wonder and mystery.

There’s a reason we all fell in love with The Little Mermaid.  We go sailing and snorkeling and scuba-diving to experience this truly fascinating and hidden world under the sea.

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(This was the scuba adventure in Mozambique when my friend Lisa threw up UNDER THE WATER and fish surrounded us to eat her puke.  One of my favorite life moments thus far.)

We scream and point and are filled with delight when we see dolphins playing in the surf.  We marvel at the creatures found on the end of fishing lines.  We put conversations on hold when the sun illuminates the clouds and sinks behind the sea.

Both the ocean and God fill us with awe and reminded us just how small we really are.

Just as we can spend our whole lives exploring the ocean depths and still never discover all there is to know, so too God is a God of mystery and unknown depths.  We experience Him in new ways every year and even 95 year-olds continue to learn and understand new things about our truly awesome and mysterious God.

4.  They are both wild and powerful and unpredictable. 

If you’ve ever been tossed around by a crashing wave, you know the sea is not just beauty and peace and tranquility.  It is strong and will not hesitate to flip you around till your nose is full of water and you don’t know which way is up.

God won’t beat you up and leave you gasping for air like the ocean sometimes does, but He is still wild and unpredictable.  One of my favorite parts of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe is when the Beavers tell the 4 children about Aslan, the lion, the Christ-figure.

“Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer.” But their brother Edmond, who has gone down a path of sin and betrayal, has quite a different reaction. He felt a “sensation of mysterious horror.”

Then when the children find out that Aslan is a lion, they are all struck with fear. They are talking with Mr. Beaver and they ask him “Who is Aslan?”

Then Lucy asks, “Is—is he a man?”

“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.”

“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and make no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King. I tell you.”

Like the ocean, our God is good.  But He is not tame.  He cannot be controlled or manipulated.  But He is oh so very good.

5. They both deserve fear and respect.

If you’ve been on Facebook recently, you’ve most likely seen the video of Mick Fanning, the pro surfer who was attacked by a shark during a competition in South Africa.  You guys, he punched the shark and swam away unharmed!  I just read his interview on BBC where he talks about the attack and how his friend swam towards him to help.  Buckets of tears over here.

Sharks are no joke.  I know they say more people die every year due to deer than to sharks, but that statistic means nothing when you’re in the water.  Especially since this summer we all had to evacuate the water after an 8-foot Great White bumped a surfer not too far from where we were swimming.  Yowzers!

Naturally my 8-year old nephew twisted the story and when telling his cousins about the shark, HE became the one bumped by it.  Makes for a better story, doesn’t it?  In his defense, my dad confessed to bumping him under the water to make him think it was a shark.  What are grandpas for if not to scare the bejeezus out of us?

Not only should a shark fin instill a bit of healthy fear in us, so too should rip currents.  Obviously I am a bit foolhardy when it comes to currents, but the ocean demands respect.  The power of the waves and the currents cannot be ignored.  They must be respected.  Or else.

So must God.

We needn’t fear Him as we fear sharks, but we must respect Him.  We must acknowledge that He is more powerful than we are and that He holds our lives in His hands.  My pastor recently said, “Your morality is shaped by your fear or lack of fear of God.”  If there is no fear of God, no reverence or respect or acknowledgement that He is holy and will one day judge us all, well then you will not live in a way that pleases Him.

And just as one will suffer the consequences for not respecting the sea, one will face much more serious consequences for refusing to respect God.

On that note, I’m off to the beach.  Hopefully I won’t need any rescuing.

Baby Talk

About a week after the wedding, it started. I figured we’d have at least 6 months.  Maybe a year.  But no, one week after the wedding the question arrived:

“When will you start having babies?”

The people who asked are the same ones who asked if I had a picked a wedding date the very day after Paul proposed.  Apparently, once you get engaged people get weirdly curious about your life timeline.  When’s the wedding?  When’s the baby?  When’s the second baby?  Geeze Louise, people!

I know they ask with good intentions so I don’t get annoyed.  They loves us and are eager to see a little Pautie or Kale running around.  (Kidding, Mom!)  My high school students confessed that they watched by belly closely all year to see if it was growing.  Not exactly what you want to hear when your pre-wedding diet is over and your pants are getting tighter!

It seems everyone who knows us wants to know the answer to this seemingly harmless question.

“When will you start having babies?”

But the question is actually super personal, and if you’re not a friend or family member, you probably shouldn’t be asking it.  Our society struggles with personal boundaries, though, hence the reason strangers will touch a pregnant woman’s belly.  (So weird!) People don’t realize it, but by asking a woman about her pregnancy plans, they are not just shooting the breeze.  They are asking about her deepest hopes and dreams.  They are inquiring about her secret fears and her fertility.

I know you haven’t asked, but since you’re probably curious and since I’m a ridiculous over-sharer, here’s our answer to the question.

We haven’t started trying yet, but since I’m 33 years old and apparently my eggs are drying up, we’ll try soon.  Since I’m no spring chicken, I have a colossal fear that when we do try, it won’t work.  Or I’ll miscarry.

Too many women dear to me have struggled with fertility and miscarriages.  I have wept with too many friends not to fear the sorrow I know could come when we start trying to have kids.

Paul doesn’t wrestle with this fear like I do.  Perhaps because his faith is stronger or perhaps because he hasn’t sat and sobbed with a friend who has just lost a baby.  Either way, I am glad he doesn’t tremble like I do.  When I dissolve into a puddle of fears, he is there reminding me we trust in a mighty God who will be with us no matter what happens.

I was thinking about this during mile 15 of the Alaska marathon.

I was feeling good at that point, but then I started remembering what mile 23 feels like.  Basically it feels like hell. Every step you take your body screams, “STOP IT!!!  SIT DOWN RIGHT NOW!!!”  My feet hurt.  My knees hurt.  My lungs hurt.  I’m on the verge of tears and if I hit the infamous “wall”, I start hallucinating and slow to a snail’s pace.

So at mile 15, before anything was hurting, I started to fear the pain and agony I knew could come in the next hour.  But then the Holy Spirit brought these words to mind:

“All you can do is run the mile you’re running right now.”

I breathed a sigh of relief and pushed a little harder.  All I could do was worry about mile 15.  I couldn’t run mile 23 yet so there was not point in thinking about it.  Just as I relaxed in this truth, I passed by a sign a volunteer had planted in the woods:

“Behold the beauty all around you.”

A huge smile crept from my soul to my face. This was not a typical sign for runners.  Usually the signs say things like, “You’re my hero!” or “You can do it!” or “Watch out for # 607.  She’s farty!”  (Thanks for that, Paul.)

But this sign was different. This sign was less about running and more about life.

“Behold the beauty all around you.”

We were deep in the Alaskan wilderness so it was not difficult to be awed by the beauty around us.  But if I had been focusing on mile 23, I might have missed it.

Jesus told us in Matthew 6 that we shouldn’t worry about tomorrow- that each day has enough troubles of its own.  But I needed to run a marathon in Alaska to be reminded of this.  I can’t worry about what sorrows might or might not be waiting for me around the corner.  If I do, I might miss the beauty around me right now.

Since I can be hard of hearing, God spoke a little louder and reminded me of this again as I was reading 1 John.  Chapter 4 verse 18 reads, “There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear…”

My fears aren’t crazy.  It’s not uncommon for women my age to struggle with infertility.  But if I have faith that God’s love will sustain me- no matter what- that His love will be enough to carry me through whatever future trial we may face, then my fears start to dissipate.

This battle with fear has been a daily one.  If I don’t read God’s word and talk to Him every day, I start to forget about His love and the fears creep back in.  But every time I look to Him, He faithfully drives out my fears.  He daily reminds me that He is in control and His perfect love drop-kicks my fear out of the stadium.

If you too have lingering fears of what the future may hold- maybe it’s not about babies but about college or a job or a move- I encourage you to stop and behold the beauty all around you.  And then open your Bible and talk to the only one who knows your future and can drive out your fears if you listen to Him and believe His love.

After reading this, if you’re still tempted to ask me about babies, please hold off until you see pictures like this on Instagram:IMG_2730

Closet Full of Stories (Part 3)

Before I left for Alaska and my cat died, I started a series about my closet.  I got a little carried away and what started out as 5 stories about 5 items of clothing, turned into 12 stories about 12 items.   (Here is Part 1 and Part 2 if you missed them.)

This is the final post about a topic near and dear to all your hearts: my clothes.

The following 4 items of clothing have stories behind them- reasons I won’t ever throw them away and I smile every time I put them on.  They hang in my closet as reminders of God’s goodness.   Here are their stories.

9) My red and white striped bathing suit cover-up.

This started out as a church dress, but I am terrible at doing laundry and shrunk it so much it became inappropriate for God’s house.  However, I recycled it and turned it into a cover-up that shows up at Bass Lake every year.

One summer I was a single girl who spent the vacation wrestling my nephews in this cover-up:IMG_5211

The next summer I was engaged and taking jumping pictures with my fiancé!

IMG_9019

Clearly a lot can change in a year.

One of the reasons I love Bass Lake so much is that it never seems to change.  The Forks, the beloved local burger joint, is still decorated how it was in the 60’s.  The mountains never move.  And the lake remains the same.

Until this year.

This year the California drought has devastated not only our state, but also our family traditions.  The lake was drained and couldn’t be refilled this year, so for the first time in 50 years, the Vander Dussen clan is not going to Bass Lake.

I know this is a first-world problem: we have to vacation at the beach instead of the mountains!  The horror!

But it’s more than just the mountains we will miss.  We will miss the place that has been a constant in our lives since birth.  Everything around us changes all the time, but we always knew we could go back to Bass Lake and it would be exactly the same.

So there is something deeply disturbing about our ever-constant lake suddenly becoming inconsistent.

It reminds me that God truly is the only constant in our lives.  I go to Bass Lake seeking a place of refuge and consistency, but I don’t have to drive 5 hours to find that.  I can find it when I open my Bible.  Or when I look up and talk to the creator.

My shrunken, striped cover-up will be worn at the beach this year, but it will continue to remind me of Bass Lake.  It will also remind me that though our lake might change, our God will not.

10) My grey jacket

I love this jacket because it is long in the back and covers my butt.  But I love it for more than just the butt coverage.

I love it because this is one of the many items of matching clothing that Megan and I have.  I bought it for her as a Christmas present a few years back and liked it so much I got myself one as well.IMG_6677

From a young age, Megan and I have enjoyed matching each other.  Whether it was our DARE t-shirts, or matching body suits, we have always loved twinning.  Megan lives in Colorado now but we still like to match.  For my most recent birthday, she bought two of these tank tops:IMG_2672

One for me and one for her.  And she’s not even Dutch.

All the matching clothes I have with Megan remind me that God truly does go before us to prepare the way.  Only He knows what lies around the corners of our lives and in what ways we need to be strengthened and equipped.

Only God knew the friend I made in first grade would be a source of joy and comfort for the rest of my life.  I had no idea how much I would rely on friends like Megan, but God did.  He knew how rich my life would be if I had dear, true friends with whom to share it.  So He provided the friends.  And we provide each other with matching clothes.

11) My traveling pants

Paul named my striped yoga pants my “traveling pants” because I wear them every time I get on a plane.  Can’t blame a girl for wanting to be comfy.  They were given to me as a gift from my mom a few Christmas’s back.  Every year I would get one more present than my siblings.  A “sorry-you-don’t-have-a-husband-to-buy-you-presents” kind of present.  One year it was these pants.

At first I was a little insulted by the extra gift.  I don’t need your pity and I don’t need a husband to be happy!  But then I remembered how much I love presents, so I swallowed my pride and proceeded to wear the pants everywhere I went.

When I enrolled in Biola’s seminary, these pants became part of my uniform.  I wore them to almost every class along with an oversized Westmont sweatshirt.  I used my clothes to make 2 things very clear to my classmates.

 1- I was not here looking for a husband.  If I was, surely I would have dressed cuter.

2- Even though I was at Biola, my true loyalty still lied with Westmont.

These pants accompanied me to all my Greek classes and meetings with my cohort:IMG_7593

Please disregard our demon eyes; I assure you we are all very holy.

My traveling pants reminded me that even though I didn’t have a husband, God was still lavishing His gifts on me.  I had a sweet family that gave me extra presents, the money and freedom to travel all over the country visiting friends, and the ability to go to seminary and take classes I loved and meet guys like the ones in the picture who encouraged and affirmed me for two years.

The pants took on new meaning this past Christmas.

Ironically, my Mom gave me this matching shirt:IMG_0947

She had no idea the shirt matched my old pants perfectly.  But God did.  And how like Him to remind me that while I only knew about the pants, He knew a matching shirt was coming…. along with a husband.

12)  My wedding dress
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Some girls grow up dreaming about their wedding day.  They envision the dress, the flowers, the cake.  All they need is the groom.  They make secret Pinterest boards where they pin engagement rings, center pieces, and Save-the-Date ideas.

In all the dreaming and scheming, many of them pin their hopes and dreams to a lie: once I get the white dress, I will be content. 

I wasn’t one of the little girls dreaming about her white dress (mainly because I was a morbid little kid who thought I would die young), but I confess that I did subconsciously start to believe the lie that only a white dress could bring contentment.

Our culture perpetuated that lie.  Well-meaning middle-aged women told me, “One day it will be your turn.”  People with good intentions asked me more about my dating life than about my opinions or my career or my travels, seeming to imply that my singleness was the most important thing about me.

But I have wonderful friends who told me the truth.

My married friends admitted that a white dress doesn’t bring happiness.  It does change your life dramatically and it is a wonderful change, but that didn’t make my single life any less wonderful.  They admitted to envying my free time and ability to travel and explore and do whatever I wanted.  They saw me as a whole person- not just the single side of myself.  And they encouraged me to find contentment in Jesus- not in the hope of a man one day sweeping me off my feet and ending all my sadness and loneliness.

They assured me that nothing was wrong with me and that while marriage is fantastic, so is being single.

I thought about this yesterday as I ate eggs with Hilary on the patio of her new condo.  Hilary is a beautiful, intelligent, hilarious, God-fearing, compassionate, creative, energetic woman.  She also happens to be single.  But that’s not who she is.  She may not have a white dress, but she already has the joy, the peace, and the contentment I used to think came only with marriage.

Don’t get me wrong: marriage brings an immense amount of joy.  I absolutely LOVE being married to Paul.  But I think there is great danger in making the white dress the end game.  If we tell little girls they are not complete until they are wed, that a husband will satisfy all their needs, well then we’re telling them lies.

Only Jesus completes us.

No one can ever satisfy us completely except for our Savior.

Let’s not pin our hopes and dreams on a future spouse who will never know us as intimately as God does.

I love my wedding dress, but my life was not made complete once I slipped it on.  I found contentment long before I found Paul and the white dress hanging on the wall.  And I still feel sad and misunderstood at times, even with a ring on my finger and a new last name.

Marriage doesn’t cure all of life’s problems.

Only Jesus does.

But let’s be honest, it sure is fun to twirl in your wedding dress and dance with your new husband:vandyk09202014-919

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A Eulogy for Dotty

A few years ago I prayed a very specific prayer: “God, I know this is kinda weird but could you please make sure Dotty stays alive until I find my husband?”

Somehow I knew He heard me and would answer.

So when Dotty was put down last week, I cried lots of fat, salty tears but I was also reminded of God’s faithfulness and the intimate ways He cares for us.  Only He knew that 15-year old Katie was going to need that kitten for a long time.  Only God knew that “Dot,” named after my favorite Animaniac, would become Dotty- my faithful cat who lived to be 18 (96 in human years).

I can still picture myself in the locker room 18 years ago.  Sarah Rangle was telling me about the kittens her cat had just had and I couldn’t wait to go home and ask my parents if I could have one.  Never in my wildest dreams could I have envisioned myself 18 years later, finally saying goodbye to that kitten.

Dotty saw me through my teenage angst years.  I’d come home from school and collapse on my bedroom floor, exhausted from all the homework and the basketball practices and the drama that only teenage girls can truly understand.  Dotty would silently approach and lay on my back.  No questions asked.

When I switched high schools and my best friend moved away, Dotty was there to keep me company on lonely Friday nights.

She was there when I was wearing cropped sweaters and she lived long enough to watch our beloved puppy Swish grow old and eventually die.

Image-1Dotty forced me to keep “our” room clean and would pee on any pile of clothes left lying on the ground.  Who knew a cat could teach me to tidy up?  She once peed in my open gym bag and I had to practice wearing a jersey soaked in cat urine.

Dotty was a feisty cat for sure.  To be honest, not many people liked her when she was young.  She was fiercely loyal to me but didn’t let many others touch her.  If, on the off chance, she did let you pet her, she’d be purring one moment and in the next, she’d attack your hand.  Sometimes drawing blood.  Her mood swings were fast and dramatic.  She sometimes tore up my homework and she often terrified small children.

But when my grandma died and I didn’t want to talk about it with anyone, Dotty was the one who nuzzled close to me, purring hard, while I cried myself to sleep.

When I went off to college, I left Dotty with my parents.  I’d come home for Christmas and again collapse in my room.   In college, the homework was longer, the basketball practices were harder, and sleep was a precious commodity not easily found when there were adventures to be had.  So on that first night home, I would sleep for 14 hours straight.  My mom would check to make sure I was breathing and Dotty would remain curled up next to me until I awoke.

Dotty was there when I first started teaching.  I had moved home after college and was pulling 12 hour days at the school and discovering that being a first year teacher is even more exhausting than being a 15-year old girl.  I’d come home from work too tired to talk.  But Dotty never demanded conversation.

When I moved to Mozambique, I again left Dotty with my parents.  I came home over Christmas and again collapsed in bed with my faithful cat purring by my side.sleeping

When I moved back to America and found a new job and roommates, I decided to take Dotty with me.  My parents had acquired a new puppy who didn’t know his know own strength and was terrorizing my poor cat.  She meowed the whole way to our new place since she had never left my parent’s home and was terrified, but after a week, she loved her new set up.

For the first year, Dotty stayed upstairs.  She spent her entire day in my room or sun-bathing on the balcony.  This was the year I needed this cat the most.  I was experiencing reverse culture shock and felt wildly out of place everywhere I went.  I came home from the grocery store in tears because I was so overwhelmed by the excess.  I felt like no one understood me- understood how I’d changed in Africa and how my world had grown so much bigger.  But Dotty understood my sadness and continued to comfort me by simply sleeping by my side.  Or on my back.  Or my stomach.  Or my face.

After a year at our new place, Dotty started venturing downstairs.  My gracious roommates let this frisky cat roam our halls and when I’d leave on vacation, Dotty would sleep in Becky’s bed.  I forgot to warn her about Dotty’s need for a tidy room, but luckily Becky has a good sense of humor and laughed when my cat peed all over her stuff.  Dotty once brought a giant bird into the house and my other roommate, Rachel, put on gloves, caught the bird, and literally threw it out.  I’m so grateful for these girls who put up with me and my crazy cat.

I was in my late-20’s, living in a house with single girls and an old cat.  There were lots of “crazy cat lady” references made, but I didn’t care.  I loved that cat.  And I loved my life.  Even though there were many lonely nights.IMG_2578

I’ve known Dotty longer than I’ve known most of my friends, so they all know her well.  They’ve sat on my bed and found themselves covered in cat hair.  They’ve shared my bed and been pounced upon in the middle of the night.  Two of them have learned the hard way that your clothes will be drenched in piss if you don’t zip up your suitcase at night.  One of them even found a turd in her bag, courtesy of Dotty.  (Sorry about that, Lindsay!)

Dotty was there every time I hung a new bridesmaid dress in the closet.  Twelve in all.  She was waiting for me as I came home from bachelorette parties, from bridal showers and weddings and later from baby showers and little kid birthday parties.  She was by my side as I checked out profiles on e-harmony.  And she was there when I’d come home after yet another awful first date.

She laid beside me as I journaled and cried out to God, “When?! When will it be my turn?”  She accompanied me on the balcony as I studied the scriptures and found comfort in my Savior’s words and contentment with the life I’d been given.

When Rachel got married and Becky and I decided to move, this is when I pleaded with God to keep Dotty alive.  I was 30 and still had never had an official boyfriend.  I had a wonderful job, wonderful family, and wonderful friends, but I still spent every night alone in my room.  And I needed that cat.

After 5 years in the single girls house, Dotty and I moved back in with my parents.  The puppy that had terrorized her before had grown into a 90-pound beast with a gentle soul.  This massive chocolate lab, who was more afraid of Dotty than she was of him, now joined us on my bed at night.IMG_2568

These two became unlikely friends, forced to enjoy the other’s company when no one else was home.  I enrolled in night classes at Biola’s seminary so I only saw Dotty from 10 pm to 6 am during the week.  Again, I would come home exhausted and collapse in bed.  Again, Dotty would crawl on my back and we’d drift off to sleep.

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A year later, I met Paul.  This was the first boy I brought home to meet my parents.  And to meet Dotty.  I told him about her on our first date.  I needed him to know that I was 31, lived with my parents, and had a cat.  I was giving him an out if he wanted one.  But he didn’t.

Paul would lay on my bed and watch TV with me and I knew Dotty was miffed.  She wasn’t fond of sharing me, but eventually she got over it and let Paul pet her.

Dotty got real sick right before our wedding.  I took her to the vet and found out she was dying.

She wasn’t in pain though, so I took her home and when we got married, I decided to leave Dotty with my parents.  If she had come with us, she would have been alone all the time and very unhappy.  She and Nike, the giant lab, had become friends and in her old age, Dotty had become more fond of humans and wanted company.  The vet said this often happens.  When cats get really old, they often become kinder.

Paul called it the “9-life theory,” believing cats must sense when they’re on their 9th life, so they drop the snarky attitude.  Dotty still shied away from small children (she wasn’t stupid), but now she demanded attention from everyone.  When my grandparents from the Philippines stayed with my parents for a few months, they didn’t realize this cat would want to share their bed:

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When I came home to visit, I’d always run upstairs to find my cat in our old room.  My niece and nephews were fascinated with Dotty and in her last days she started letting them pet her.  She had grown sickly skinny, but she still chased birds, insisted I pet her while I was on the toilet, and refused to allow her stomach to be touched.  She kept some of her sass until her last breath.

My parents cared for her until the very end.  They didn’t sign up for this job 18 years ago, but I’m so grateful they let my cat live out 13 years and her final months with them.

This is the last picture I took with Dotty:Image-1-3

And this is the very first picture I posted on Instagram:

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I never did teach her to cross her eyes, but she was the inspiration for many blog posts (see the category entitled “Dotty”) and the subject of many other Instagram posts:

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I came in and out of Dotty’s life- jetting off to college and Africa and my new married life- but she never held that against me.  I mean sure, she’d sometimes poop on my bed when I had been gone a long time.  She knows how to use her feces to voice her displeasure.  But she always welcomed me home, no matter where I had been or how long I had been gone.

Dotty was there for more than half my life.  She saw me through the mountaintop moments and the lonely valleys from age 15 to 33.  She was a constant when everything else in the world was changing.

At age 15, I had no idea how much I would need this cat, how much she would comfort me in the next 18 years.  She was sassy, often puked on the carpet, and clawed me when giving a “massage.”  But she was faithful.  And she was mine.

Dotty was truly a gift from God.  Her long life was an unexpected and undeserved measure of His grace, for which I am forever grateful.

A Closet Full of Stories (Part 2)

This is Part 2 in a series about my closet.  (You can find Part 1 HERE)  And because I am so long-winded, there will be a Part 3 in a few days.  Who knew I could talk about old clothes for so long?

God often speaks through His word, through sermons and nature and music and people.  But lately, He’s been speaking through my clothes.  He’s been reminding me of His truths and His faithfulness through shorts and dresses and tank tops.  Here are items # 6-8 in my closet that God has used to point to Himself.

6) My lacy summer shorts

On this, the first official day of my summer, it is only fitting that I tell you about my “summer shorts.”

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Over the past few years, a plain-colored t-shirt paired with these shorts has become my official “summer uniform.”  Does anyone else wear the same outfit 3 or 4 times a week during the summer?

Heidi originally bought them for me from Wet Seal.  Yes, that Wet Seal- the store for 13-16 year old girls.  Stop judging.  You can do karate kicks in these shorts without fear of ripping them.  You can eat a pint of ice cream and never have to unbutton your pants because they have an elastic band- perfect for a girl who gets monster food-babies.  They are basically maternity shorts for the non-pregnant girls who love to eat.

All my shorts get packed away during the winter, so whenever I pull these shorts out of the closet, it means one thing: summer is coming!

This past teaching year was my easiest and most enjoyable year, but there have been other years when I start a summer countdown in January.  Some years are hard.  Some seasons of life can be frustrating or disappointing or sad and might feel like they’ll never end.

But they will.

They always do.

In the middle of those seemingly endless winter seasons, these shorts remind me we must cling to the hope that no season lasts forever.  Psalm 30:5 says, “…the weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”

Or in my translation: “….the crappy times may last for a while, but grab your lacy shorts because summer is coming!”

7) My Iron Well tank top

Paul finds it a little bit ridiculous/ hilarious that my college friend group not only has a name for ourselves, Iron Well, but has made merchandise with our name on it:matchy awkward

That picture was taken 5 years ago.  Since then, there have been moves, marriages, and babies.  Lots of babies.  But while our families have grown and life-stages have changed, one thing has remained the same: the seven of us are still committed to each other.

Our most recent Iron Well attire is a tank top Anne’s husband designed for us to wear on our cruise:IMG_7445

Yes, we are that group of girls.  The group that proudly wears matching shirts, laughs obnoxiously loud in public places, and has a thousand inside jokes.

These girls are one of God’s greatest gifts to me.  Lesley recently was cleaning out her garage and discovered a tub full of our old love letters to each other.  We were creepily infatuated with each other in college and were determined ours would be a friendship that would last.

Our determination has paid off.

Because we’ve been so intentional about our friendship, we’ve remained close.  Almost every year since graduation we’ve had an annual Iron Well get-together.  This can be expensive and difficult (especially since there are now 15 Iron Well kiddos!), but we decided long ago the expense was worth it.

Lately we been using the “Glide” app, where we leave videos for each other every week.  Even though we’re spread across 3 different states and 7 different cities, we know what’s going on in each other’s lives.

We know when someone has a sick kid, a bad day, a theological question, or a good book recommendation.  We’re currently in a discussion about the upcoming Supreme Court decision concerning gay marriage.  But we’re equally invested in the conversation about whether or not jean capris are still in style. (Are they?  Aren’t they?  Feel free to weigh in.)

If you don’t check your phone for a few hours, you might miss 37 new videos from these girls.  So while we fold laundry, dry dishes, curl our hair, cook dinner and lay in bed, we watch our friends.  And we laugh.  And cry. And ponder.  And it’s almost like we’re back in the dorm rooms.

Paul has only met these girls once or twice but recognizes their voices and their laughs.  He knows their personalities and the names of their husbands and kids.  Because he overhears our endless videos to each other, he feels like he actually knows these girls.  I love that.

Every time I slip on my Iron Well tank, I am reminded that God has LAVISHED His love on me through these girls.  We may not live down the hall from each other any more, but we continue to invest in each other’s lives from a distance, and have learned that friendships like these are far too valuable for a price tag.

8)  My bridesmaid dress from Lindsay’s weddingIMG_2159

This dress is one of my favorites.  Not only is it super cute, it also has one of my favorite God stories behind it.  At Chris and Lindsay’s rehearsal dinner, I gave a toast and cried as I shared the story.

Lindsay and I met in an unlikely place:  Mozambique.  We taught in the classrooms next to each other and were instant “Africa BFF’s.”IMG_2146

Then Lindsay moved home to Texas and I moved home to California.  We called each other on occasion, but the calls became fewer and farther in between, and it seemed we would lose touch over time.  It appeared ours would be a friendship for just one chapter in our lives.

But God had other plans.

Because while we were in Mozambique running together, laughing with orphans together and eating raw cookie dough together, He was doing something wonderful behind the scenes.  He was setting up the foundation of a friendship which would become crucial for both of us in the next stage of life.

A year after we returned to the States and life was back to normal, I got a call from Lindsay.  A relationship had ended abruptly and her heart was broken into a thousand little pieces.  Coincidentally, the week prior, I too had lost a relationship I had thought was going to be long-term.

We cried together and then I had a stroke of genius. “Why don’t you come out here?  Get on a plane and come stay with me this summer.”

So she did.

And God did something special that summer.  He began the healing process in each of our hearts and used each other to do it.

Lindsay came out every summer for the next few years:

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Together we hiked and shopped and explored just about every single strip of coastline in southern California.  Our hearts were mended and we began the waiting game.  “Okay, God.  We’re ready to meet our husbands.  Now where are they?”

We both finally tried online dating and both failed miserably.  We called each other after terrible dates and talked about potential set-ups.  We were two girls in their 30’s, still living at home while most of our friends were married and turning into baby-making factories.

And then one day I got another call from Lindsay.  She had met someone.

She was behind him in line at Subway but didn’t say anything.  However, since he had on a name tag and they live in a small town, some quick online-stalking revealed they had a mutual friend.  The friend called Chris.  Chris called Lindsay.  They went out the next night.  Crazy talk.

Even crazier?

Three weeks later, I met Paul.

Even crazier than that?  Both boys were 26.  Lindsay and I laughed at our cougar status and marveled at the fact that the previous summer we were both single and now we both had 26-year old boyfriends.

A few weeks later, I called Lindsay to tell her things were getting serious.  Paul had dropped the “L” word.  Five days after my call, she called me giggling, to tell me Chris too had said, “I love you.”

On May 12, Paul popped the question.

On May 14, Chris did too.

Paul and I were married on September 20.

Chris and Lindsay said, “I do” on November 15.

As I told this story of bizarre timing at Lindsay’s rehearsal dinner, I talked about how cool it is that we serve a God who cares about us so intimately.  Only He knew Lindsay and I would need to wait for years to find our husbands (perhaps because they needed time to grow up!)  So during those years of living in the scary unknown, God provided for us in a way so like Him- He gave us each other.

His word and His presence provide amazing comfort, but sometimes you need flesh and bone.  Sometimes you need a shoulder to cry on, ears to hear you, and arms to embrace.  So God comforted us during our single years with each other.  He used our shoulders, our ears, and our arms to be His.

God entangled our stories and made it very clear He was behind it all.  I mean, come on, both of these guys are 26 and we meet them just days apart?!?  Then we fall in love, get engaged, and tie the knot on nearly the exact same timetable?

Maybe it was just coincidence.

Or maybe it was the work of a sovereign God who has perfect timing.  Maybe it was the work of a Father who loves to provide for His children and bless them in ways they could never imagine.

I’m inclined to believe the latter.

(Stay tuned for Part 3 of this series.)