It has been a season of both personal and national shaking, and as God’s people, we are in desperate need of God’s Word. Listen to today’s video as I share about the personal journey God has had me on over the past few months and the tools He has used to draw me deeper into His Word.
To access the books and tools I talk about in the video to help you dig deeper into God’s Word, click HERE.
To listen to the teaching series on prayer I mention in the video to help you connect with God’s Word, click HERE.
Be on the lookout over the next few weeks for more videos and tools to help your kids, family, and other people in your life dig deeper into God’s Word during a season where God is speaking, uprooting, and planting in His people’s lives.
To access this same video and lists, and for more encouragement throughout the week, you can find me on Instagram @baker.susannah.
Earlier this week I wrote about feeling uprooted during this season of life. (To read that blog post, click here).
From the responses I’ve received, it seems many of us are sharing the same feelings of being ripped, stripped, with a tangible sense of loss, without much sense of predictability for the future.
But I don’t want to leave us there – dangling – with our roots hanging and exposed, much like the roots from the trees uprooted from the tornado in our small town of Independence, Texas.
Because as many trees as I saw toppled from the tornado, I saw many more standing straight and tall, branches uplifted from the earth, stretching wide towards a bright blue sky with roots that held firm during the fierce winds of the storm.
And when I think back on those trees – the ones that were uprooted along with those left standing straight and tall – this is what I know: while God uproots, He also plants. He strips and lays bare, but He also heals. And He never undoes us or uproots us from one place without planting us in another.
I’ve thought a lot this week about those oaks trees that stayed standing.
Through the years, I have watched my husband and father-in-law carefully tend to those trees, both the ones on our property and on my in-law’s property next door. During the five years of the Texas drought from May of 2010 through July of 2015, I watched as my father-in-law labored with a hose walking from tree to tree on his property, soaking the roots with gallon after gallon of water.
Because here’s the thing about live oak trees in Texas – they are not grown overnight. They are tended to, watered, and deliberately fed. In fact, a mature live oak tree, on average, takes in fifty gallons of water a day. Fifty.
That’s a lot of water – especially during seasons of drought.
And to lose an oak tree that has been planted, nurtured, and grown in the soil for 200 years is to lose a precious thing. The shade and beauty it provides is worth the tending and care.
Throughout Scripture, mature believers in Christ are referred to as trees. And not just any old tree, but a tree “planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither” (Psalm 1:3). A tree “planted by water, that sends its roots out by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought” (Jeremiah 17:8).
Here is an interesting fact about the Hebrew word for “planted” in both Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 17 – it actually means “transplanted.”
People whose trust is in the Lord aren’t just fruit bearing trees, or green trees, or rooted trees – they are transplanted trees. They are people who have been in one place and are plucked up, uprooted, taken out of the soil of one area, and planted in another.
The act of transplanting a small bush or flower isn’t that much of a process or ordeal. But a tree? A tree whose roots have been growing in the soil for decades or 200 years? That’s more like major surgery than simple uprooting.
Right now, I feel like a tree whose roots have been planted in a certain spot for years, even decades. God has used the past few months and weeks of corona and stay-at-home, a crashing economy, rioting, racism, rifts in relationships, and the fear and sin in my very own to heart to pluck me up out of wrong thoughts I have been thinking, lies I’ve been believing, and ways I have been behaving.
And can I be frank for just one minute? It hurts.
Uprooting hurts like heck.
But while God has done a lot of uprooting the past few weeks and months, He has also started the process of transplanting – He is teaching me how to think, act, behave, and believe in new ways, and put my roots down in a different place, in a new type of soil. And while I am watching this happen in my own life, I am also watching this happen in the lives of many other people as well.
I don’t think our season of uprooting is done, either personally or nationally. I think there is more to come. But I also think God wants us to pay attention not only to what He wants to uproot but what He wants to plant.
And planting takes soaking, maturing, and drinking in gallons and gallons of water on a daily basis, just like those Texas live oak trees.
While oak trees find their water through a tank, river, rain, or a hose, believers in Christ find their water in the living Word of God.
I cannot remember another season of my life where I have been this dependent on the Word of God. The irony is that I am always this dependent. My soul was not made to go without the water of God’s Spirit and God’s Word for more than a day at a time. But in times of abundance where everything around me is green, I can delude myself into thinking taking small sips every now and again is sufficient.
But not anymore. As I look around me and inside of me and see that we are in a season of drought, I am more aware of my need for water more than ever. I am aware that if I do not want to wither and shrivel in the season of uprooting I find myself in, I must soak my heart and mind in the Word of God each and every day. I need it; my kids need it; my marriage needs it; my family needs it; my friendships need it; my church and community and city and nation need it.
But this soaking and watering, transplanting and bearing fruit, even in seasons of drought, must begin with me. I cannot demand something from my spouse I am not doing myself. I cannot impart living water to my children if I am not first drinking it in myself. I cannot expect change in my nation or community if I am not first changing and uprooting, transplanting and soaking, myself. Change begins with me. And transplanting begins with the Word of God.
Over the next two weeks, I am going to post a several videos that talk about ways for us to soak in the Word of God as men, women, kids, families, and new Christians as well as seasoned believers. In these videos, I will provide specific ideas and resources to use in this season of summer, uprooting, and transplanting and easy links to access these resources. My hope is that if you are looking for a cup of cold water to drink, these resources will help to slake your thirst.
Because let me tell you something – God is speaking. He is speaking, and in His voice there is power to uproot, to plant, and to create.
But this creating will not happen in you or in me without long, intentional times of soaking in God’s Word each and every day. This planting will not happen without tapping into our water source of His Word on a daily, regular basis. But when we do, and as we do, things are going to start to grow.
Mark my words.
I just want to make sure I’m listening – and when we start listening together, there is no telling what God will do.
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
For you shall go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall make a name for the Lord,
an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
For more encouragement throughout the week, you can find me on Instagram @baker.susannah.
It’s been a season of shaking. From a worldwide pandemic, fear of sickness and death, economic shutdown, school closings, job loss, the death of George Floyd, and the exposure of the ugly sin of racism and the response to it, everything that seemed stable in January is now standing on its head.
And it all seemed to happen in a moment.
One moment, I was sending my kids to school and sports practices, and the next moment, we were alone in our house for days. One moment, our portfolio was predictable, our projected income secure, and the next moment, everything turned downhill…fast. One moment, we all knew racism existed lurking in the shadows and the human heart was capable of deep darkness and sin, and the next moment, it leaped out of the shadows to the forefront of everyone’s conscience, heart, and mind.
It’s been a season of shaking in the natural realm as well.
A week and a half ago, a tornado blew through the town of Independence, Texas where we have a home next door to my in-laws and down the hill from my brother-in-law and sister-in-law.
One moment the skies were blue and the sun was shining, and the next moment, wind was whipping fast enough to twist the tops off of trees, break 2000 pound limbs in half, and uproot 150 year old trees.
As I drove through the town of Chappell Hill towards Independence and surveyed the damage, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Entire root structures of 200 year old trees had been torn out of the earth in a moment. Limbs littered the side of the highway and broken fences sagged underneath the weight of bark, limbs, and twisted branches.
I was not at the ranch when the tornado hit, but my daughter Caroline was there, along with my niece, Abby. They had been out riding horses and had come inside to get out of the heat.
My father-in-law had driven his open-aired jeep to a shop five minutes down the road and was on his way back when the clouds, hail, and wind came in so fast he could not see five feet in front in him.
My mom was there with her childhood friend from San Antonio. They had just driven up to the house and walked their bags inside when the storm hit and a 1500 pound limb came crashing down on Jeannie’s car, splintering the windshield.The electrical box was ripped off of the side of our house, and another limb came crashing down onto our back porch, ripping out the railing.
But in the midst of all the shaking and the destruction left in its wake, there is much to be thankful for. By the grace of God and the sovereignty of God, the things that were meant to stay standing are still standing. Trees over the roofs of our homes are still firmly planted in the ground. My father in law emerged unscathed from the storm. My daughter and niece, my mom and her friend, are all in one piece when they easily might not have been.
But the things that were meant to be shaken were shaken. And while the clean up efforts have been extensive, there has been great comfort in that for me. God allowed the shaking. He was sovereign over the uprooting. And while dealing with the uprooting is hard, knowing He allowed it and is still Lord over it has helped me have peace of mind while piecing things together after the storm.
As we survey the season we are in and the damage in our church, our culture, and in the lives of people around us, it’s easy to become overwhelmed at the clean up efforts in front of us. It’s easy to become paralyzed and stay stuck in our fear and fragility.
But take comfort in this – nothing has been uprooted in our culture and in our lives that God has not allowed. We might be standing at the base of some pretty big trees and large, extensive root systems in our lives, churches, and culture that God is wanting to deal with and take out, but He has been purposeful and selective in the shaking.
So don’t miss it. Don’t race by or wish by this opportunity to do the good and necessary clean up work for what God has allowed to be shaken. Don’t just return to life as normal without making the effort to get rid of the debris God has allowed to be strewn all over the place.
Clean up effort is hard work, and it’s usually inconvenient work. But it’s good work, and it’s work that is necessary for us to do.
It’s hard work to learn how to sit still and listen.
It’s inconvenient to have to stop and listen long enough to name the sin in our own hearts so that we know how to repent and clear the debris around us.
But it’s necessary work to learn to see ourselves as we really are – not as we wish we could be. It’s hard to have to admit we have hurt others through our pride, defensiveness, fear, and even hate. It’s hard to admit that we are real sinners, not the perfect people or church we wish we could be.
But true confession is the groundwork for true change. We cannot turn our attention to the new things God wants to plant until the old things are ripped out, chopped up, and cleared.
In this season that we are in, we must remember this: God sovereignly uproots. But He also plants. He purposely tears down, but He also builds. And every season of harvest and abundance I’ve ever experienced, every shaking. Uprooting. Tearing. Clearing.
Will the good work of uprooting and clearing always feel pleasant? No. Will it require the hard work and difficult work of honesty and confession? Yes. Will it require uprooting everything that is not built on the solid ground of relationship with Jesus Christ? Yes. But the harvest we will reap, the seeds we will sow, the roots we put into place will carry us and our children for generations to come.
“Blessed is the one who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree, planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, she prospers.” Psalm 1:1-3
For more encouragement throughout the week, you can find me on Instagram @baker.susannah, and on Facebook, see link below.
Several weeks ago, I wrote a blog called “Love Wins: A Story of Adoption, Redemption, and Love,” in response to hearing Nina Hendee’s story of being reunited with the son she had surrendered to adoption over forty years ago. (To watch their story, click here.)
Nina’s story is a miraculous and courageous one. Courageous because she made the decision to carry her baby as a 17-year-old unwed mother and then place her baby in the care of a family who could love him well. And miraculous because God reunited Nina and her son decades later and allowed them to see a glimpse, this side of heaven, of the power of faithful and persistent prayer.
When I wrote the piece, I knew it would bless people deeply to read about Nina’s courageous decision and God’s faithful redemption.
But I didn’t know it would also hurt hearts who had walked through the same circumstances as Nina yet chose abortion instead of adoption. Abortion and those who suffer under its weight is the side of the coin of unplanned pregnancy I do not think about as often as I should, and for that thoughtlessness, I am deeply sorry.
And it is to you, to the women who suffer under the hurt and pain that abortion brings, that I want to write today’s blog.
Several weeks ago, I had a quiet conversation with a friend that I cannot recall without tears.
In slow and quiet words, my friend shared the emotions she experienced as she read Nina’s story.
She too had been a young, single woman who found herself pregnant by a man she knew she did not want to marry or start a family with. She felt alone, overwhelmed and backed into a corner, squeezed into a tight space, with no option but this one: to end the life of her baby. So she did. And she stuffed that decision, buried it down deep, and moved on, living her life, until she heard Nina’s story several weeks ago.
And that’s when the pain and the shame and the hurt of her decision began to come up and out of the places where she had stuffed it.
As we went back and talked through the moments leading up to her decision to abort, we talked through the pain and loneliness she felt, and the grief she had buried.
We were able to go back through those moments and see the Presence of God with her in the doctor’s office when she felt so alone. We were able to see, through prayer, that her good Shepherd was with her in the valley of the shadow of death all along. And while it grieved Him deeply the decision she made, it grieved Him just as much that she was separated from Him, far off in her grief and pain. And the same God who was there to comfort Nina as she surrendered her son was there to comfort my friend as she surrendered her grief.
What we both remembered and experienced firsthand in those moments together was this – God did not come to comfort perfect people. He did not come to die for and forgive the righteous – for those who make good, right, and perfect decisions. He came to comfort and cover the UN-righteous. Those who made and make bad decisions, hurtful decisions, decisions that end in death and grief and in separation from God instead of loving union with Him (Romans 5:6).
And what we discovered and remembered together is that the same God who redeemed Nina’s story was there to redeem my friend’s story and every single woman’s story who wrestles with similar pain from her past.
Yes, Nina took the opportunity to make a courageous decision when she chose to carry her baby to full term and to give him life. And yes, that decision reaped immense blessing and redemption in her life. But if you chose abortion instead of adoption, it does not mean that you are excluded from the goodness of God’s blessing and redemptive purposes at work in your story and in your life. Your road will look differently than Nina’s, but the goodness of God and the power of God behind you, walking with you on your road, is the same. And if you chose abortion, you now, like my friend, have the opportunity to make a courageous decision as well, one that will have lasting impact just as Nina’s did.
You can choose to stay hidden in the pain and grief of the choice you made, or you can choose to bring it out into the open, into the light, just as my friend did, and choose to believe God can heal and redeem even this. Just as with Nina, the worst the enemy can do in your life, God can undo. He can redeem.
And every day, just as Nina had a choice to trust God, to close her eyes so that she could see His goodness and believe that God did not love her or her son because Nina was so great; He loved her because He was so great. And it was on God’s greatness and goodness that Nina’s choice to be courageous rested.
And it is the same choice you and I have as well.
I think one of the biggest lies we must learn to overcome as believers in Christ is that God’s goodness is for those who make the fewest messes. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only does He draw near to those who make messes time and time and time again, He does not leave us on our own to clean those messes up. Instead, He gets down on His hands and knees and cleans up our messes for us and with us with His broken body and poured out blood.
If we believe anything else, or if we believe the goodness of God and the redemption of God is only for people like Nina who make good or courageous decisions, then we are not believing the true Gospel. The true Gospel is this: Christ came to die for sinners. Not when we were good and loved God but when we hated Him and were far off and made horrible, terrible, selfish decisions (I Peter 3:18).
And that is a truth not just for people who have chosen abortion but for all of us, myself and Nina included. I have chosen murder often when I have held unforgiveness in my heart (Matthew 5:21-22). I have chosen death many times when I have deeply envied and wronged people who have gotten things I have wanted (James 3:16). At the foot of the cross, my friends, we are all on level playing ground. We are all deeply flawed, full of sin, in need of grace.
But the tragedy is not that we have sinned. The tragedy is if we stay stuck there.
Don’t stay stuck in your past. Move up and out through confession into the light.
You don’t have to trumpet the decision you made on a loud speaker on your front lawn to your whole street. You don’t have to stand up in a pulpit on a Sunday morning and confess to a whole church full of people.
But you do have to confess to God, confess to anyone who was hurt by your sin (and this happens in God’s time, God’s way as He shows you how), and it helps tremendously to confess to at least one other person who can look at you in the flesh, put their hands on you, and say, “My friend, you are forgiven. This is what the cross of Christ is for. And God is going to redeem your story. All of it. Even this, especially this.”
This is what the body of Christ is for. We are to proclaim to one another daily and often: Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again. In others words, Christ has died – you are forgiven. Christ has risen – you are made new in the power of His Holy Spirit. Christ will come again – all of our stories will be redeemed, and we will live with Him forever.
Please know that as I write, if you are in pain over a decision from the past you have made, I am praying for you. I am praying that right now, today, your heart would be stirred to look up and out to Jesus. I am praying that you would leave your shame and pain at the foot of the cross and learn to look courageously at Him for the rest of your life, for all of your days. Like Nina, you might see the outcome of your decision to trust God here on this earth, or like many of us, you might not. But I can promise you this: you will see it one day. And you will be blown away by the power of our God to make all things new.
If you are struggling under the weight or sorrow of an abortion, here are some steps you can take:
- Confess your sin to God, and then pray about confessing it to another person who is trustworthy. Ask God to show you who that person is.
- Instead of burying your grief about the life of your child, allow it to come to the surface. Consider giving your child a name if you have not already done so. Write a letter to him or her, and say the things you wish you could say; write out the prayers, hopes, and dreams you had for his or her life.
- Trust the decision you made to end a life in death, God can redeem. Put a tangible reminder of this hope and God’s redemption in a place where you will see it often. Plant a tree or flowering bush. Pick up a rock, a stone of remembrance of the goodness of God, and put it by your bed or on your desk. But do something to remind you of God’s promise to be faithful even when you are faithless (reference).
- Guilt and shame can only hold power over us when they go unacknowledged and remain hidden, in the dark. When the enemy of your soul comes to make you feel small, ashamed, embarrassed, or dirty from the inside it, stop, and notice it. Stop and say, “That’s shame.” Say it out loud, under your breath, or make a tally mark on a card. Even something as simple as that begins to loosen and destroy the hold that shame has over you. And then actively turn towards God. Memorize and think on a Scripture that pushes you towards the goodness of God for sinners who are made righteous because of Jesus, not because of anything we do for ourselves or on our own. One verse you could use is Romans 8:31-32: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all – how will He not also, along with Him, how will He not graciously give us all things?…If God is for us, who can be against us?” If God has forgiven you and promised to redeem you, then what can anyone else including Satan himself, do to you? Nothing.
- Consider meeting with a counselor or joining a support group with other women who have walked through abortion and actively process your story with those who can help you work towards healing. For resources on a counselor or group, please consider connecting with the amazing people here.
Know this from Nina, from my friend, from me, but most of all, from the Lord: no matter your past, or the decisions you have made, you are loved. Those who call on the Name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13). Forgiven. Made whole. And renewed. And no power on heaven or on earth can separate you from His love.
Whatever decision you make today, let it be this: courageously look up and out to Jesus, and like Nina, and like my friend, let your healing begin. You will never regret surrendering all that you hold in your heart and your hands to Him, to the One whose hands can safely hold it all.
For more encouragement throughout the week, you can find me on Instagram @baker.susannah
Junior high, high school, and the early teenage years are often times when teens experience loneliness. But loneliness doesn’t have to be a burden; it can be a gift when used as a tool to turn to God and get to know Him and who He has made us to be. Join me and my daughter, Lillian, in a conversation to learn how God has used this very important tool in her life.
Many teenagers and young people today struggle with overwhelming dread, fear, and anxiety. As parents, aunts, uncles, and mentors, we can often struggle with knowing how to help them fight their crippling, unseen fears. My 19 year old niece, Hannah, has battled anxiety the past five years, but she has learned how to fight her fears one step at a time. Listen and be encouraged as she shares her story and the tools that have helped her along the way.
For more encouragement throughout the week, you can find me on Instagram @baker.susannah.
I’ve known Nina Hendee a long time. I’ve known the warmth that radiates from her big, beautiful blue eyes. I’ve known the joy that emanates from every cell of her body even when, and especially when, life is hard. I’ve known the comfort of being a part of her family in some of my most difficult days. I’ve known her as a mentor, mom, role model, and friend.
But I’ve never known her as a fellow mom whose life had been touched by adoption until several months ago.
Jason and I were eating dinner at her family’s famous steakhouse restaurant, The Taste of Texas, when Nina came over to visit. As she pulled out her chair and sat down, she began to tell us a story. A story of herself as a seventeen-year-old girl who was pregnant and unmarried yet who made the courageous and inconvenient decision to carry her baby full term and surrender him to adoption.
She told us the story of holding him in her arms just once, only once, and telling him everything that was on her heart to say – all of her prayers, all of her hopes, and all of her dreams for his life. As she handed him over to the nurse, she handed him over to God with fervent, heartfelt prayers that he would be raised by a family who feared God and loved Him with all their hearts as she did.
And then she never saw him again.
Until the day a letter showed up in her mailbox forty-eight years later from the son she had surrendered long ago.
The letter was from a man named Kyle Poulson who had gone on the long, arduous, and vulnerable journey to find his birth mother, only to discover Nina Hendee at the end as his destination.
Their reunion over the past few months has been sweet and rich and redemptive – redemptive for several reasons.
One, all of Nina’s prayers for her son were realized and confirmed when Kyle walked into the room. He was adopted by parents who raised him as their beloved son with a strong and nurturing love for the Lord and for other people. They helped Kyle grow into a man any woman would be proud to call her son.
Two, I don’t know who Kyle imagined would be at the end of his journey to find the woman who gave him life, but my guess is never in his wildest dreams would he have thought that woman would be anyone as close in character and kindness and excellence as Nina Hendee. It was like he hit the jackpot of all jackpots in moms and in families.
But three, ten years ago, on February 13, 2010, Nina lost her son, Edd K. Hendee, in a tragic skiing accident. He left behind a grieving wife, children, parents, and two beautiful sisters. And I thought Nina had lost her only son.
But God has a strange and miraculous, almost incomprehensible, way of redeeming every story.
And when Kyle walked back into Nina’s life and into her family’s life forty-eight years later, Nina got back a son. No one can replace Edd, and that’s definitely not what I am suggesting.
But what I am saying is that when I watched a video this past Sunday about their story and the beauty of their reunion, my hope in a God who holds the power to redeem was renewed.
When Kyle’s face showed up on that screen and I saw Edd K’s eyes looking back at me, I wept at the ability of God to give us back here on this earth, in small part, what we have lost, with the sure promise of all He will restore and redeem one day in the future.
I was reminded anew that “no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him” (I Corinthians 2:9).
I was reminded that the worst the enemy can do in our lives, God undoes (Genesis 50:20).
I was reminded that every decision we make to honor God and choose life never goes unnoticed or forgotten. It is like precious seed that is buried in the ground, and just when we think it is dead without any hope of resurrection, God speaks, and it blooms (Psalm 126:5-6; John 12:24).
And I was reminded that in the Kingdom of God, our greatest deaths and deepest surrenders end in life when we surrender them into God’s hands. They do so not because we are so good or so wise. They do because God is so good and so wise, and He holds the promise of our full redemption in His nail-pierced hands.
Nina, thank you for choosing life. Thank you for making the hard and gutsy decision to carry a baby only to entrust him to another. Thank you for loving life and loving adoption.
Thank you for walking through all of your trials with the hope of heaven in your heart. Thank you for reminding me that with every loss, with every surrender, and with every death, there is a God behind it all who holds hope, redemption, and life in His Hands.
You have painted a beautiful picture of the goodness of God with the choices you have made in your life, even when those choices have cost you something big. As I look at that picture, you have helped me love God and know God more. And for that, I speak for many who say, “Thank you.”
I can’t wait to be in heaven and see the fullness of His redemption with you one day.
To watch Kyle and Nina’s powerful and beautiful story, click on the link below:
Happy Mother’s Day! While we are so thankful for the children God has given us, parenting can be hard on the heart. If you or your children are walking through a season of loneliness, don’t despair. Know God is using it for great good in their lives and in yours as well.
For more encouragement throughout the week, you can find me on Instagram @baker.susannah.
Last week I shared the struggle I was having in sleeping through the night (click here to read). Through the words of Psalm 63, God reminded me to make a meal of His presence in the middle of the night instead of my worry. He also reminded me that when seasons of sleeplessness come (and they will – it’s part of being human), I am to remember His faithfulness and meditate on His word. Those two things provide comfort in the midst of despair, stability in the midst of uncertainty, and courage in the midst of fear.
Over the past week, through remembering and meditating on God’s word, my sleep has been much more sound, something for which I am deeply grateful. (If you want access to the questions and guide I use at night to help settle my heart and mind, it is attached to this blog post as well.)
But I’ve noticed when I wake up from a night of sleeping more soundly, I have to brush off a sense of despair the next morning. If I wasn’t awake worrying about my problems, was God actually and actively doing anything about them? Or did He need me to be awake in the middle of the night to keep things moving along in the direction I want them to go?
(I know this sounds ridiculous, but if I’m being honest and paying attention to the narrative of my heart, this is what I’m hearing.)
So one morning this weekend, after waking up from a night of sound sleep and actually feeling rested, I paused to ask God if He had been doing anything while I was sleeping. Because everything around me still looked the same. Same kitchen sink. Same view out my window. Same birds still chirping. Same people around me waking up with the same daily needs.
In the stillness, He invited me to take another look through another lens at the view outside my window.
And instead of seeing the same, I saw different. I saw a God who had been working, and I saw a world that had been renewed all while I had been sleeping.
I saw fields wet with dew that God had watered. I saw birds building nests with twigs and feeding babies with worms God had provided. I saw green grass sprouting up beside the withered brown, carpeting the world with newness. I saw a sky that had been painted with the dawn and a sun that had been summoned peeking up over the edge of the horizon ready to light up a dark world.
I saw the evidence of a God who had been working all the night through while I was sleeping re-painting, re-newing, re-telling the world and all who live in it the narrative of our lives: at the end of every night, there is a morning. At the edge of all darkness, there is a coming light. In every death and all that is withered, there is the promise of all that is new.
A dawn that breaks with hope. A morning that comes with healing in its wings, telling those of us who will stop long enough to listen that we have a God who never stops faithfully working, watering, feeding, clearing, harvesting, and renewing.
I can sleep as deeply and as soundly as I want. He does not need my worry. He cannot help but work to renew – that is just the kind of God He is. So don’t despair. You can trust the canvas of your life to the God who paints dawn onto darkness, all while you were sleeping.
“But for you who fear My Name the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall.” Malachi 4:2
For more encouragement throughout the week, follow me on Instagram @baker.susannah.
I’ve been awake at night quite a lot lately. Tossing, turning, eyes wide open, thoughts racing.
The last time this happened with this much regularity was when we brought our youngest daughter home from China four and a half years ago. I spent the first six months she was home wide awake from about midnight until my alarm went off at 6am. It led to a season of anxiety and depression on a level I haven’t experienced since.
So entering into seasons of sleeplessness can freak me out a little. I grow anxious that I am headed for another season marked by anxiety and depressions. (Sounds counter-productive, I know.)
But I learned a few things during that season of sleeplessness that I dusted off and pulled back out to try to help me sleep in the current season we are in.
Because there are a lot of things to wake up in the middle of the night about right now – things like a global pandemic, people I love who are in the high-risk category of catching the virus, a crashed national economy, closed stores and restaurants, joblessness, finances – or the lack thereof, and family dynamics with everyone home seven days out of the week.
While I might not be aware during the waking hours that I am overtly anxious about anything, what I am discovering is a low-level constant thrum of anxiety that underscores everything in my day and wakes me up when I am fast asleep at night.
My body has responded to this low-level thrum with headaches as well as sleeplessness, and after my fifth headache in ten days, I realized I had to get serious about dealing with the anxiety that was settling in on my soul.
Sometimes I can beat myself up for things like sleeplessness or headaches or weariness when I know I should be sleeping soundly and trusting the Lord instead of fretting and worrying underneath the surface.
So I was comforted and surprised to open my Bible to Psalm 63 this weekend and read these words:
(5) “My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise You with joyful lips,
(6) when I remember You upon my bed,
and meditate on You in the watches of the night;
(7) for You have been my help,
and in the shadow of Your wings
I will sing for joy.
(8) My soul clings to You;
Your Right Hand upholds me.”
I was comforted to read that inserted into the Psalm 63 is the assumption that we will be up in the watches of the night. In other words, God knows there will be times, like times when there is a global pandemic, that His people will struggle to sleep.
He doesn’t berate us or beat us up for that, rather, He instructs us what to do and where to go when we find our thoughts racing at 3am. In verses five and six, David, the psalmist, implies that he is feasting on a meal in the middle of the night. But instead of feeding on worry, the psalmist implies he is feasting on God, so much so that his soul is “satisfied as with fat and rich food.” He isn’t making a meal of his worry; he is making a meal of His God. And he does that in two different ways:
Earlier on in the psalm in verses 2-3, he writes, “So I have looked upon You in the sanctuary, beholding Your power and glory. Because Your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise You.” In these verses, David is choosing to remember three specific things about God: His power – God is who He says He is and can do what He says He can do, His glory – who He is is more satisfying than anything else this world could offer, and His steadfast love – in a world where the only thing certain is uncertainty, God’s love never fails.
These are the things that hold David’s thoughts and feed David’s soul in the middle of the night.
Throughout Scripture, God’s people are commanded to remember who God is and what God does – His saving acts in history and His personal saving acts towards us.
And we are commanded to remember because we are a people prone to forget. I forget what we ate for dinner last night and the activities we did two days much less the countless ways God was faithful in my life a decade ago.
But when I wake up in the middle of the night, I have a choice: I can feed my worry by rehearsing all the ways I could fail the next day, all of the things that could go, and probably will go, wrong, or I can remember God’s power, glory, and steadfast love to His people throughout the centuries and in my very own life.
I’ll take the latter.
But it’s so very hard to do.
That’s why the second way David makes a meal of God’s character is so very helpful. Not only does he remember God’s character and God’s works, but he also meditates. He takes a passage, a verse, a phrase, or even a word or two from the Word of God and thinks through all of its implications for life (for a more complete definition of “meditate,” see Tim Keller’s book, The Songs of Jesus, January 1st). In other words, he slowly, deliberately, and methodically takes tiny morsels from the Word of God and feeds on them, chews them, and digests them by applying them to the very real needs and potential trouble spots or worries in his life.
While this sounds like a great practice, I don’t know about you, but this is very hard to do at 3:13am when my eyes pop wide open, my heart starts pounding, and my thoughts start racing. It feels like I have absolutely no control over my thoughts that are spiraling out of control.
But I have found that with God’s Word, I do. Sometimes this requires getting out of bed, taking my Bible in hand, and finding a quiet spot in the house to read and pray through Scripture until I am to fall back asleep.
But more often than that, remembering and meditating begins with the last thing I do before I fall asleep. I keep a Bible on the nightstand beside my bed, and right before I am about to turn out the light, I turn to one of a handful of psalms that speak to me about the faithfulness and goodness of God. I slowly read through the Psalm and choose one or two phrases to “meditate on,” or think specifically and deliberately about for three to five minutes.
To help me do this, I sometimes even take deep breaths – four counts in and eight counts out – and then I pray, committing my night’s sleep to the Lord, and turn out my light.
This exercise does not ensure I will sleep through the night – but what it does ensure that when my eyes pop open, my heart starts beating out of my chest, and my mind starts racing, I am more easily able to reign it in by remembering phrases from the psalm I read before I turned out my light.
I will often lie there in the dark taking deep breaths – four counts in, eight counts out – and rehearse Psalm 37:3 – “Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and feed on His faithfulness.”
Or I will slowly chew on the words from Psalm 23:4 – “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”
Or I will meditate on the character of God from Psalm 19:14 – “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”
I have found the faster I can reign in my thoughts and focus on God, the faster I can slow down my heart, close my eyes, and reign my swirling thoughts back in. I don’t always fall back into a sound sleep, but when I make a meal out of God’s power, glory, and steadfast love rather than gorge myself on fretful thoughts about the next day, next month, or the next year, I wake up rested and able to enter into the duties of the day instead of feeling like I wrestled all night with an unseen enemy.
If you are struggling with sleeplessness during this season like me, consider putting a Bible, journal, and pen by your bed. Before turning off the light, consider picking one portion of Scripture to read, and then meditate on one or two phrases from that portion for 3-5 minutes. Take deep breaths – four counts in, eight counts out – and to close your time, write down one way God has been faithful in the past, either to you or to His people throughout history, and then write down one of His characteristics you can feed on during the night if your mind jolts you awake.
If you are not sure where to begin reading in your Bible at night, consider starting with some of my favorite places to turn: Psalm 4, Psalm 16, Psalm 23, Psalm 37, Psalm 63, Psalm 131, and Psalm 143. You can spend a whole week reading slowly and deliberately though one, or rotate through all seven, assigning a different one for each day of the week.
You can print off the image below and use it to help you create a bedtime routine, or follow the prompts and write them down in your own journal. But whatever you do, don’t feed on worry. It makes for a terrible meal and leaves you without energy for the responsibilities of the following day. But feed on God’s faithfulness. He has been there in the past and He will continue to be with us in the present and future, through every wakeful night and day.
For more encouragement throughout the week, follow me on Instagram @baker.susannah.