a hard thanks giving

DSC_0055DSC_0053

We live in an unfinished story.  So many loose ends, so many winding roads, so many threads that seem knotted and tangled or just plain torn out, and we wonder what it all means, where it is all going to land.  The unanswered prayer, the lingering need, the weary middle.  This is where we live most of our days.  This is where Thanksgiving finds us.  Many of us with hands held open: searching, hoping, waiting.  Asking.  Maybe this is where you are this Thanksgiving.  At the beginning of a new diagnosis.  The news of a job loss, an affair, a broken dream, a broken heart.  Maybe you’ve been walking a painful road for some time–you started out strong in faith, but find yourself now in the weary middle of it with uncertainty all around.

Brandon and I watched cheesey Hallmark Christmas movies the other night, and something in me broke open and poured out.  I tried to hide the tears, until they became wracking sobs.  Sometimes we are holding onto a pain so tightly, we don’t even know it.  We can’t feel it for the sake of just trying to survive it.  We want to be strong, we want to be faithful–all the while, I wonder if our Savior isn’t beckoning us to release and to receive.. to be weak and let Him hold us.  We are trying to race ahead to the finish and end well, to do it well NOW, but we can’t do so if we aren’t honest in the raw hurting of it.  We’re in the weary middle of it, the aching middle.  The end isn’t anywhere in sight.  What does it look like to be faithful in this place?
I’m convinced: God doesn’t want our feigned joy.  He doesn’t care about our unshakeable strength.  He isn’t interested in our perfect faith.  He already knows the state of our real hearts.  I’m convinced He wants us to give our honest, broken hearts to Him.
Brandon, totally perplexed with my tears waited for me to be able to speak, to explain.  It’s the grieving, the fear of the future with Phoebe.  The weariness of the battle for her health.  The seemingly little gains when I hope for some great turn-around.  It’s the weight of the unknown, the wonder over what pain is around this next bend.
She did blood work last week.. and I’m trying not to let this week be consumed with the waiting and the dreading of the results.  I hope to have the results before Thanksgiving, but what if they are bad?  In the 2 1/2 years since her diagnosis, we’ve never had good blood test results, we’ve never been given a “normal.”  Every time, it is crushing disappointment.  Every time it feels like condemnation–we still aren’t getting this right.  We still haven’t done enough.  So we wait for news.  Anyone else out there waiting for news??  Waiting for–longing for–good news?  And I shouldn’t let me mind go there but it does–what if bad news comes to us on Philippas birthday–will it overshadow her day?  What if it comes on Thanksgiving day?  Will we genuinely be able to give thanks with family when we will be riding out the inevitable low that comes after getting bad test results?  How do we live, truly live, and not just hold our breath waiting for the next disappointment to come?  How do we be human and yet somehow rise above our humanity?
I’ve seen it all week, how she sits under the spreading tree, the tree that we’ve been filling up with leaves of chalky words even as the leaves have slowly fallen from all the trees around us throughout the month, and I can’t miss the juxtaposition.  In the background, this tree, a record of grace, a turning of our hearts, our stubborn and tired and forgetful hearts daily back to thanks.  In the foreground, this girl, the one with the battle that threatens so many times to steal my joy and my praise.  In many ways it has quieted me, made me feel like a big fat hypocrite.  This battle has carved out a weak and broken place in me, it has humbled me, and when can a humbling ever be bad?  Painful, discouraging, humiliating at times, yes–but always fruitful, if we submit to it.
Can it be that even in this place we turn our hearts to thanks?  Can this be genuine?  What if this is the best place for a thanksgiving, this weary middle of the road?  This juxtaposition between so many good gifts and so many heart aches and questions.  What if we didn’t wait until we had the good news to give thanks?  What if real life is in fact that we hold in our hands all these things–“these patches of joy, these stretches of sorrow”–as we celebrate God’s goodness to us, knowing that even in the wounding, even when He’s broken our hearts with what He has allowed, we know that we know that we know He is good.  He is working it together for our good, for His glory.  What if the most beautiful thing we can do is exactly that: to give thanks when it isn’t easy, when we have to hunt for and remind ourselves of the many riches we have in Jesus?  What if we have to remind ourselves that God’s good gifts aren’t the same as the usual things we call good gifts?
“No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” (Ps. 84:11)
“No good thing will He withold. But how is this true, when God oftentimes withholds riches and honors, and health of body from men, though they walk never so uprightly. We may therefore know that honors and riches and bodily strength, are none of Gods good things; they are of the number of things indifferent which God bestows promiscuously upon the just and the unjust, as the rain to fall and sun to shine.The good things of God are chiefly peace of conscience and joy in the Holy Spirit in this life, fruition of Gods presence, and vision of His blessed face in the next, and these good things God never bestows upon the wicked, never withholds from the godly.”
-Charles Spurgeon

I remember easy thanks giving.  Good years, joy mixed without much sorrow, years where praise and joy welled up with ease.   It feels strange to me now, after being in this place for so long.
I don’t know what your “hard” is this Thanksgiving.  Maybe it’s a broken relationship.  Regret over the past with consequences still playing out fearfully in your present.  Maybe it’s financial loss or strain, maybe it’s sickness.  Maybe it’s that shocking diagnosis, maybe it’s that wayward child that still hasn’t come home.  Maybe it’s that loved one battling an addiction that cuts you to the core.  Maybe it’s a lost loved one, a lost child.  Maybe it’s the way you keep returning to that same old sin that bewilders you and leaves you feeling helpless and hopeless.  I don’t know what it is, but I know some of you are out there, too, some of you for whom giving thanks this year in this particular season feels hard, maybe even feels a bit fake, a bit like a slap in the face.
So when its hard to give thanks, when we are hurting and there is brokenness, when there are questions and a howling ache, then it is a hard thanks that we give.  It may feel hard to give thanks, but we do.
In these times, Lord, we bring a sacrifice of praise to You.  You know, you already know.  Nothing is hidden from Your sight.  We are so thankful we don’t have to clean up and come in pretense before You.  But we do come in holy awe and wonder that somehow, some way, even in the hard, we still can give thanks to You, we still get to give thanks to You.  We have life.  We have breath in our lungs.  We have Christ in us, the hope of glory.  We have another day, therefore we have hope.  This story can still finish differently than we fear.  But even if it doesn’t, we have You.  You in the midst of all, You, our shield + exceedingly great reward, and You at the end of it all.  You to look forward to, fulness and completeness and final satisfaction in You and with You, our forever home.  So we draw strength–miraculously, we draw strength to praise You and in our praising you, we find we are again strengthened for the road You have called us to walk.  Strange, this–how obedience to You in our “hard” feels not burdensome but life-giving.  Strange–how we feel filled up, renewed.  How in our “giving” to You, somehow we still walk away the beneficiaries.  We think we are giving to You, yet all the while You are giving to us–yes, you are not able to be outdone.  Wild grace, Jesus.  Wild grace.
Shame on us that we lose sight of You so easily in this wilderness, but we do.  And You know it, You who put on flesh and lived as one of us, tempted like us.  If we can’t find anything else to give thanks for, we give thanks for You.  That we get to know you, to walk with You, a testament fully to Your faithfulness, not our own.  We give thanks that in the middle of your biggest “hard,” You endured, fixing Your eyes on the joy set before You, and because of that we get to have You with us in all of our hard, too.
So we sing on, even if it is a broken hallelujah, because You are worthy and because You have loved us well, and will love us till the end.

on birthdays and finding joy

DSC_0036DSC_0037DSC_0002 (1)DSC_0007DSC_0012DSC_0013DSC_0015DSC_0024DSC_0033DSC_0028DSC_0037 (1)DSC_0040DSC_0041DSC_0042DSC_0044

My birthday last week was a fairly ordinary “workday” for me, and also not the easiest day with the children.  I found myself scrubbing toilets and floors, folding laundry, settling sibling disputes, feeding hungry mouths–all the usual work that fills my days up to the brim.  Of course there is a part of me that wants to just rest and be free from all work for a day (unrealistic), but then I also don’t mind taking care of these little ones that I love so much and this home that keeps us all together.  I share my birthday with my mom, so my gift to her this year was to buy a few skeins of yarn for her to choose from so that I could knit her a shawl.  She picked the color I had had on my mind for her, a rustic-y soft light red called Bergamot, and helped pick out a shawl pattern.  I wanted to wind up her yarn on our birthday and cast on.  I realized as I began knitting it that I was knitting this exact pattern just about this time last year on a road trip to upstate New York with Brandon’s family as a commissioned shawl for a friend.  How funny and coincidental to be knitting it again at the same time a year later.  It’s such an enjoyable pattern–all knitting and yarn overs and no purling!

I had planned on making a yummy dinner for my birthday since Brandon would be working a normal work-day and since we never really eat out with Phoebe and her dietary needs.  I wanted to make Against the Grain’s Pesto Prosciutto Chicken with a GF pasta on the side, and creme brûlée for dessert, which is my favorite.  The dinner took longer than I expected and once I got it in the oven, the kids and I and Brandon decided to go for a walk while it baked.  It had been raining and we had felt a bit cooped up.  The kids splashed in all sorts of muddy puddles so B bathed them quickly when we got home while I finished up dinner and it was late and nerves were a bit raw by this time.  My dinner didn’t look at all like the lovely cookbook’s pictures, which is always annoying, but it was still delicious.  I had made a creme brûlée earlier in the afternoon and infused it with culinary lavender because I love love love lavender especially in desserts.

We lit candles and I turned on french music because somehow everything felt like a french sort of dinner, and we ate at nearly 8pm.  I had some cards to open, and then B put the finishing touches on the creme brûlée, the kids sang happy birthday to me which was the best part.  The fuzzy photo of me with phoebe is the only such picture I snagged on this day, but its worth including since this is me, turning 33.

I had received word in the afternoon that Brandon’s grandfather had died.  He had been in the hospital after some falls and other health issues so we knew it was coming, but it still felt so soon.  Sadly we weren’t very close with him, but it’s still surreal and strange to consider death on your birthday.  Probably quite healthy.  Really that’s what we’re all marking–here’s another year, gone.  Another year comes–bringing me closer to my own end.  Time is passing, time is coming.  Let’s stop and celebrate and remember and pay attention.

We quickly got the kids to bed, then got cozy for a movie of my pick.  We watched “Florence Foster Jenkins” which was so interesting and funny and also a little sad (based on a true story).  I cried and cried at the end.  I don’t want to spoil the movie for those of you who may want to see it, but I will say I commiserated with the protagonist (Meryl Streep).  She loved music and in her mind she had a beautiful singing voice, but in reality her voice was terrible.  She pursues singing and her husband tries desperately to protect her from the truth of her real performance.  It makes you wonder: Is this reality that we know of ourselves the reality others know of us?  Aren’t so many of us afraid that maybe everyone is really laughing at us and about us behind our backs?  What if we are really quite terrible at the things we think we’re good at, at the things we most love?

I’m sure it was the combination of watching that movie, it being my birthday, and also processing the news of Brandon’s grandpa’s death.  It made me think and wrestle a bit with life, with the things I love and spend time on, with my role as a stay-at-home mother.  I sometimes wrestle with this blog.  I don’t know why, it seems so silly in the light of day.  I love sharing our little life here.  It helps me keep track of things, our lives little record for now.  I’m not sure if I’ll do it forever.  It’s important to reevaluate frequently what I give myself to.  I enjoy taking pictures and capturing these fleeting moments.  I’m thankful to have a space to write and share with you whatever God seems to lay on my heart.  I’m not trying to “make it big” or be somebody, I’m not making an income doing this.  I don’t mind it being mostly small and personal and shared with those few who happen to find this place on the internet and with whomever it resonates.  I leave it to God to use it as He chooses.  But then sometimes I doubt myself.  Are my motives wrong, self-serving?  Is this a huge waste of time and a distraction?  Is it too personal to share our family life so openly in such a dangerous and dark world?  My blogging has brought occasional criticism, but mostly I feel it from my own inner critic.  Brandon is relentless in support of it, which is always so odd to me because he is so anti social-media-anything.  Anyway, for whatever reason this is where my mind went after watching that movie.  Wrestling with the silliness of my spending time photographing, knitting, writing words, creating.  Who has time for all of this when you have little ones and when the world is full of pain and need?  Am I spending my life on what really matters?  Are my little endeavors to bring beauty and joy and even occasionally to write words–are these small endeavors mattering?

I crawled into bed and picked up my book and opened to these words.  (The author was sharing about finding a little resale boutique in her neighborhood, a beautiful little gem and yet she went in and found herself to be the only customer.  She imagined being the store owner, the way the woman had attractively laid out her wares, rearranging and bravely taking a risk to run this little business that wasn’t really garnering that much attention.  She wondered if the woman got discouraged on the days when there was no business.  What makes her think things will work out?  Why does she return to it day after day?):

“She returns to what she loves to do, because she loves it and she can’t not do it.  She goes back to the joy of pursuing her passion.  Because its not likely that anyone is coming in and exclaiming, ‘I’m so glad you’re here!  I’ve been waiting for you to sell secondhand clothes in this space all of my life!’  It’s not likely that anyone is affirming her passion or holding her hand through those moments of sheer panic.  I’m also pretty certain people aren’t stampeding to her door to say thank you or to make spirit tunnels for her to run through at the end of the day after she’s vacuumed the floor and locked up for the thousandth time.

This is what I’m getting at: joy isn’t in the response of others based on what we do.  Joy is in doing what God created us to do and has given us to do.  Joy is in pursuing with faith and abandon the passions God has laid in our hearts, and doing them in his honor.  We serve for the smile on his face.

And joy begets joy.  When we serve God with joy, we in a round-about way encourage others to serve God with joy.  Artists appreciate another’s art, joy is derived from another’s joy, and passion feeds off and grows from another’s passion.

So whatever you’re doing–homeschooling, event planning, cake baking, medical research, substitute teaching, diaper changing, coaching, putting words out into the world, or yes, running a small boutique–do it with joy as unto the Lord.  Don’t look for appreciation from others or a spirit tunnel at the end of the day as an indicator of whether or not you’re on the right track.  Look to God, who created you to be a creator that flings tangerine passion and joy into the world.  He is smiling as you do what you do for him.

There is no mold, no one right way of showing Jesus, for where the Spirit is, there is freedom.  He has made us each different, combining us all to make a collage, a collage that when you step back and look you suddenly see: it’s Jesus!

Different mediums.
Different brushes.
Different strokes for reaching different folks.
You there, with your unique talents, passions, and gifts.
Go in freedom.
Tell them about Jesus with your life.
Do it with grace and tangerine joy.”

-Christine Hoover, From Good to Grace

Isn’t that so sweet of God, to speak right to what I was struggling with at the long end of the day?  He affirmed me, affirmed His love for me, affirmed my freedom in Him, affirmed His smile over me.  What more could you ask for on a birthday?  I hope you are encouraged, too, dear reader.  Whatever you do, do it for Him, do it as unto Him, do it with joy and gusto and don’t worry about the response or affirmation or notice of others.   Take risks.  Live boldly.  Be brave.  Be a pioneer.  Follow where He leads.  When we get our eyes off of Him we get into all sorts of trouble, don’t we?  It’s His good-pleasure over us that we’re after, it’s His approval alone that matters.

At the end of the Florence Foster Jenkins movie, after criticism about her singing voice, Florence on her deathbed said:  “They can say I can’t sing, but no one can say I didn’t sing.”

So, sing, friend.  You go on singing, and I will too.  His ear is tuned to hear our voice.

 

 

 

From Good to Grace

DSC_0027.jpg

The kiddos and I were out this morning spreading mulch around the front flower beds, taking trips back and forth with a borrowed wheelbarrow wagon.  These little ones love to work hard, especially if every trip back and forth is rewarded with a ride in the wagon!  We’ve all come in now to find refuge from the crazy heat (does it feel terribly hot to anyone else for May??) so I have a minute to put up a quick little knittery post.

Over the weekend I cast on a baby gift item, so I can’t share too many details here, but it is really a fun knit so far.  More about it once it has been gifted!

Also, I finished The Awakening of Miss Prim (enjoyed it!) and began reading From Good to Grace: Letting Go of the Goodness Gospel by Christine Hoover.  Friends, this one is meeting me in a very profound way.  There are some things my husband and I are working through, praying over, laying before the Lord, and this book is speaking directly to it.  I bought it back when it was a new release with some saved birthday money last year and its funny how I haven’t felt like it was the right time to read it until now.  The author is addressing her own tendency and battle with legalism/moralism, what she is calling her “goodness addiction,” which is basically whenever we try to earn our way to God, whenever we think we must be “good” for Him, in order to earn His love or favor or grace or salvation.  This is one of my most deeply rooted battles, something I struggle with every single day, and something the Lord must be working to free me from.  Of course, He began speaking to me of this back in my early college days, and its amazing to see the progress He and I have made, and yet sometimes it startles me to see how my “goodness addiction” creeps back in.  I love how the author quotes:

“The Gospel was not my working theology: Mine was moralism and legalism–a religion of duty and self control through human willpower.  The goal was self-justification, not the justification by faith in Christ that the gospel offers.  But, as many people can tell you, moralism and legalism can “pass” for Christianity, at least outwardly, in the good times.  It is only when crises come that you find there is no foundation on which to stand.  And crises are what God used to reveal my heart’s true need for him.”  (Hoover, quoting Rose Marie Miller)

Yes, when life is working for us, working hard to earn God’s favor or to stay in His good graces flies under the radar, and looks an awful lot like Christianity.  We’re productive!  We’re doing good things!  We’re happy-clappy and strong!  We can feel pretty good about ourselves, even a big smug about our work for God.  Maybe a tad reproving of other believers who aren’t as productive as we.  In fact, I believe this heresy is still terribly prevalent in our current church culture, at least here in America.  I feel like since I battle this so deeply, I see it easily in others.  But our crises sift us.  It’s one of the few beautiful gifts that come from a painful trial.

One of the hardest things about this whole past two-year journey dealing with all the ups and downs and life changes that have come with Phoebe’s diagnosis has been the way it has wiped me out.  It has made me feel emotionally and mentally weak.  I don’t know much else how to describe it beyond a feeling like I can’t breathe.  On the hardest days, I’ve literally felt physically short of breath.  An old heart condition of mine began to flare up, and I was back on a heart monitor for a month and seeing a cardiologist.  As far as we could find, there was no physical problem, so the cardiologist told me it must be stress.

I’ve had to pare down a lot of my commitments and focus most of my energy on caring for Phoebe’s particular needs.  I have felt pretty lame as a Christian in the sense of how “small” my circle has been drawn, how very small my efforts seem, how very unable I am to serve in some of the ways I used to and desire to.  Guilt comes easily.  I’ve learned a lot.  I’ve learned that the Christian community isn’t terribly great at letting each other go through seasons of weakness and unproductivity.  The great injustice of suffering something is that not only are you bearing the burden of your ordeal, but then you feel terribly guilty for your weakness in it.  You feel guilty that you aren’t being “a better Christian” in the midst of it.  You feel like you must hide your suffering and struggle and questions.  As Ann Voskamp said in her book The Broken Way, “When the church isn’t for the suffering and broken, then the church isn’t for Christ.”  We can say until we’re blue in the face that we are a place for the broken, but if the broken don’t really feel welcome?  If the broken don’t really feel safe to just BE WEAK and be seemingly useless for a season?

I am just now, just now after almost two years on this journey, just now beginning to surrender to my uselessness before the Lord.  I can’t even describe in words how He has been ministering to me and speaking and carrying and meeting me in ways I do not deserve and can hardly receive.  I have learned that I must ask Him and HIM ALONE what He wants from me.  What does faithfulness look like, Lord, in this season?  What do you want from me?  Not: what does the church want from me?  Not: what does my family want from me?  Not: what do my friends expect of me?  But what do YOU want, Lord?  And His answer:

“Worship.  I desire your worship.  That is all.  In everything you do, in whatever you put your hand to–do it as unto me.  Do it for me.  Find me in it.  Enjoy me.  Receive from me.  Do the hard work of receiving all of me.  I gave myself for you, to you.  I am split open, broken, blood-spilt for you.  Take and drink.  Take and eat.  This is your holy hard work.  This must come before you do any endeavor in my name, and this must be the place from which you continually abide.”

And I believe I am finally learning to rest in Him.  To receive Him.  To be weak before Him, as much as I despise that weakness in myself and wish I could be a star pupil.  I am learning to stop earning what has already been DONE for me.  I am learning to stop trampling His precious blood underfoot as I run about in all my human efforts (Heb. 10:28).  I have tried to do great things for God, when all along He has wanted me to see what great things He has done for me.  I have had my eyes turned inward, when He has wanted them turned upward.

Laying down all this striving?  It feels a lot like a death of sorts.  Death to a way of thinking, a way of living, a former identity.  That old flesh of mine keeps resurrecting, it would seem.  And death feels terribly counter-intuitive and painful to the flesh.  It is plain unnatural.  But it is the upside-down way of the Kingdom of God: whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matt. 16:25).  Sometimes we have to lose everything we’re clinging to in order to see and know and experience how held we are.

We get to be weak, friends.  We get to be the weak that we are.  He receives us just like this.  He wants us to drink our fill of Him again and again and again.  Maybe His goal isn’t for us to eventually move from our place of weakness to being strong again.  Maybe His goal for us is to remain here.  To remain terribly, painfully aware of our inability and weakness so that we are dependent on Him for every thing.  Maybe thats what He means when He says He uses the weak things of the world to shame the wise (1 Cor. 1:27) rather than saying He transforms the weak into bastions of strength.  If that feels a bit scandalous for you to say (as it does for me) than maybe we’re really not walking in grace like we think we are.  Maybe we really need to revisit the scripture and take a good hard look at what the Gospel is.

Anyway.. My little yarn along post turned into pouring out my heart.  I hope it resonates with someone out there just a little bit.  I hope if it does you’ll consider reading Christine Hoover’s fantastic book, From Good to Grace.

(And just so you know, I don’t get any kickback for promoting her book.  I just share good books because I believe in the power of the written word as a tool for change.  I do always link to amazon and technically am an affiliate with them, but I have never made a single dime off of that affiliation.  Just so you know. 🙂  Because I know I’m skeptical of people like that.  #skepticforlife)

*

I’ve written about this theme many times.  If you’re interested, here are a few of those posts:

You Get to Be Weak
Savoring the Gospel When You Fail
From Legalism to a Feast of Grace

long days of small things

In order to find God it is perhaps not always necessary to leave the creatures behind…The world is crowded with Him…
The real labor is to remember, to attend.
In fact, to come awake.  Still more, to remain awake.
C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm

DSC_0243DSC_0002DSC_0002 (1)DSC_0034 (1)DSC_0036 (1)DSC_0039DSC_0047DSC_0058DSC_0064DSC_0065DSC_0077DSC_0089DSC_0090DSC_0092DSC_0255DSC_0293DSC_0151DSC_0003DSC_0017DSC_0012DSC_0004DSC_0095DSC_0098DSC_0102DSC_0110DSC_0112DSC_0131DSC_0142DSC_0147DSC_0149DSC_0157DSC_0180DSC_0202DSC_0204DSC_0225DSC_0228DSC_0242

Yesterday I woke up to the laughter and squall of children in the room next to mine.  The day began in the rush and hurry of need and hungry tummies.  I normally try to get up before the children, but I had been struggling with sleeplessness and a bout of anxiety in the middle of the night and slept fitfully.  My plans for the morning were interrupted by an unexpected trip to the doctors office to check on one child who woke up with pink eye in both eyes, then running to pick up a prescription and grab a few groceries before heading home.  It was afternoon before I breathed a breath of prayer to God and realized I had completely missed my time with Him in the morning.  My soul instantly cringed–how could it have been nearly all day before I even remembered God?  Then came the familiar rush of guilt with a dose of self-hatred to boot.  All this soul amnesia.  I shake my head as I wash the dishes.

Last November I retreated away to a hermitage a few hours from here.  I went alone for the weekend, Brandon had offered to keep the kiddos.  Motherhood and the constant presence of people all looking to me with their pressing needs–it can wear an introvert out.  It can wear any person out, I’m sure!  We need to pay attention to our souls, we must take small breaks, place spaces in our calendars, slip away when we can to refuel.  We need silence, we need reflection, we need sleep and solitude.  That weekend was glorious.  The cabin was perfectly cozy at the very tip top of a mountain.  I kept my journal open and wrote endlessly, read the scriptures and studied, read other books, knitted without interruption, went for walks in the woods, cooked simple meals, rested, worshipped, prayed.  It took me almost the whole weekend to really relax and unwind, and I realized how tightly wound motherhood had made me, along with the added role of care taking for phoebe.  All of the worry and strain, the financial burden, the roller coaster of her improvement and decline.  I needed that time away, so I could reenter the fray with renewed energy and focus and love.  I needed time to seek God in the quiet, as I used to in my days before children.  I needed uninterrupted time alone with Him to hear from Him.

If only we could have these times whenever we need them.  If only we could guarantee some respite, rest, and silence throughout the year, then we could seek God as we desire to, as we think we should.  And I do believe times of refreshing will come, pockets of rest.

However, when we would flee difficulties in motherhood, most of the time God would have us press in.  Where we would avoid and escape, He has us pick back up, day and night.  Motherhood is so constant, endless, around the clock, with needs that can simply swallow us whole.  Our souls can cry out–

“Oh, that I had wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.
I would flee away and stay in the desert;
I would hurry to my place of shelter,
far from the tempest and storm.”
(Psalm 55:6-8)

We think we will find relief in escape, in a break–a sometimes we do.  But is it good for us to set our eyes on the next break on the horizon and survive until then hanging on by our toenails?  Beyond that–can we only find God in our escapes, our breaks, in the quiet place of refuge?

Or could He possibly have treasures for us right in the maelstrom of motherhood, right in the trenches of it?  Must we wait for Him on the sidelines of life–sidelined by little people and their needs–or can we have Him right here to the full in a way we never expected or anticipated before?

Could pressing in and finding Him in the weary work–could this possibly be the point?  The thing He wants us to learn, the muscle He wants to strengthen?  Of course its far easier to find Him in the quiet place of refuge.  But if we can’t find that quiet place of refuge, do we wave the white flag of defeat and turn our hearts off to God until we can have a moment alone?  Or can we find a way to God in the very mundane, simple, undervalued work/tasks of motherhood?

Could the tasks turn out to be a path to God?

What if the very practice of mothering and doing the work of motherhood–washing the dishes, feeding the hungry mouths, wiping the bottoms, folding the laundry, teaching, admonishing, disciplining, training, guiding–could these things possibly be a spiritual discipline of sorts, leading us to know God, experience Him, enjoy Him in a way we never could or would choose otherwise?  Could there be treasures here for us–right here in this season–that we’ll miss if we shut down and vow to hold on until the crazy ride is over?

What if God is not only found in the lofty theological ivory towers, the seminary classroom, the pew, the sanctuary, the prayer closet, the monastery–but here, scrubbing the floor around a toilet.
Here, chopping onions and carrots.
Here, holding a feverish child.
Here, in the pickup lane at school.
Here, singing a hymn over a sleepless child.
Here, organizing shelves, stacking piles.
Here, in the rush-hour traffic home from work.
Here, in the weary waking hours.

What if we could find God in the ordinary work of motherhood rather than trying to fit our old habits and disciplines into this new rhythm–which for most of us feels cramped, incompatible, impossible.

Is it possible in this season of little ones to be both a good mother and to keep close company with God?

This is what is addressed in Catherine McNiel’s book Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline.  This book exceeded my expectations.  I was a bit afraid it would be another moany-groany book about motherhood without being terribly helpful.  Instead, it was honest.  Real.  Insightful.  Provocative.  Thoughtful.  Helpful.  It addressed our great hunger for God, our desire to know Him, our frustration with all the things that seem to work against us and keep us from Him.  She ends each chapter with a practice, tangible things to anchor us to God throughout the day.  Things like our breath:

“Inhale deeply and realize you are breathing in God’s unfailing love.  Exhale and release into his unceasing presence.  Suddenly, breathing–your easiest daily accomplishment–is an act of worship, meditation, and prayer.” (McNiel, p. 12)

Without adding a burden of more tasks to our schedule, McNiel helps us to find God in each of the tasks we already perform daily, and do them as unto the Lord.  Like walking, eating and drinking, cooking, household tasks, sleepless nights, pregnancy, diapers, breastfeeding, to name a few.

McNiel commiserates without sounding whiney, encourages and exhorts without loading on a heavy burden of guilt.  She feels like a true companion in this journey of motherhood, someone who understands its complexities and enjoys them, glory, grit and all, because of the way they point us to God.

I devoured this book, crying over sections of it, marking up nearly every page, returning to it over and over, savoring it.  It is one I will need to reread more than a few times, I believe.

If you are a mother afraid you might be missing out on some great spiritual life because of your busy role as mother–maybe this book is for you.  If you ever feel a bit like you can’t breathe under the pressing weight of this season, a bit like you can’t breathe–Maybe this is one to ask for for Mother’s Day?

*

Thank you to Tyndale Publishers for a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own.
Affiliate links included in this post.

 

 

 

all things new

dsc_0037dsc_0021dsc_0030dsc_0041dsc_0103dsc_0050dsc_0065dsc_0067dsc_0068dsc_0061dsc_0005dsc_0016dsc_0003dsc_0011dsc_0015dsc_0024dsc_0029dsc_0031dsc_0034dsc_0037-1dsc_0039dsc_0035dsc_0042dsc_0044dsc_0050-1dsc_0053dsc_0059dsc_0069dsc_0073dsc_0074dsc_0076dsc_0078dsc_0079dsc_0082dsc_0087dsc_0095dsc_0098

January slips by quiet.  The world is all in a rage, my head spins with it all.  My own little world hidden in these four walls spins, too.  We begin packing.  We are moving from this rental because our landlord plans to sell it to a friend next month.  We plod along with schooling, with work on Phoebe’s health.  It seems most days I can barely keep up with the demands.  The kids and I have been sick for the last couple of weeks with a bad respiratory virus.  We’ve been inside and home more than usual, letting them rest and heal.  On the sunnier and warmer days, we’ve been out, walking our usual routes in the neighborhood.  I’m saying goodbye in my own slow way, imprinting things in my memory, detaching, shifting.  I’m thankful for some time left to do that.

For many years, since college really, I’ve leaned in close and quiet at the beginning and end of each year.  Many people make goals and dream dreams, and I’m all for that, and often have a few quiet goals of my own.  But the passing of each year heightens my awareness that time is slipping by, speeding onward.  My life is being spent faster than I realize.  What interests me most in the reflection on that is what the Lord is doing in these days.  In the last weeks of December, I’m prayerfully asking Him to direct my steps in the coming year, specifically in the Scriptures.  I seek a word form Him, usually a theme for the coming year, something He is going to teach me from scripture, something He wants me to attend to.  Last year He led me to Psalm 93.  He seemed to say that the coming year (2016) was going to feel a bit like being in a tumult of rising waters, but He reminded me that He sits enthroned above the waters.  He is sovereign and mighty to save.  That scripture ministered to me over and over again in the year as we faced one of the hardest years of our married lives.  I think it’s what kept my head above water.  I felt a bit of trepidation asking Him again this past December what He would say to me about 2017.  The week of Christmas we received some of the worst and scariest news yet about Phoebe’s recovery/health and also flooded with medical bills we have no way to pay.  At the same time, our landlord called to inform us we had two months to find a new place to live.  I have cried a lot of tears.  I have been brought low, back to the painful and sweet place where I remember that my God is sufficient, He is all I need, He is my strong refuge, my reward, my shield, the lifter of my head.  It’s that place where whatever my heart is set upon gets sifted and my soul remembers its true end.  I am made for God and nothing else will satisfy.  Not even a secure home to live in.  Not even the basic finances we need, or the health of my child.  He is able to provide these things, and I am confident He will take care of us.  But my heart cannot be set on my changing circumstances.  They are fickle and uncertain.

In the tumult of these emotions and the quiet place of just being laid bare before the Lord, He spoke to me Revelation 21:5:  “Behold, I am making all things new.”  He kept speaking it to me everywhere I would turn, though my heart resisted it.  Resisted hope.  Hope is painful!  It’s easier to brace for disappointment.  It’s part of why it’s been hard for me to write about it on the blog–there’s a part of me still afraid to hope.  What does He mean that He is making all things new?  Will we see our girl finally turn a corner this year and truly and fully recover?  Will we find a home that we love, a place to raise our little brood, a place to set down roots and live out the kingdom?  Will we find some rest this year from the onslaught of difficulty?  I can’t say.  Maybe we will be made new, even as our difficulties continue.

We walk quiet through the familiar trails, children happy to be in the sun and fresh air.  Everything seems colorless, bleak, brown.  Winter.  I breathe deep.  It’s bleak and barren now, but spring is barely a whisper on the wind.  It will burst into color soon enough.  One way or another, all this death, destined for a resurrection.

every impulse to pray

DSC_0002.jpg

“Always respond to every impulse to pray…Where does it come from?  It is the work of the Holy Spirit (Phil. 2:12-13).  This often leads to some of the most remarkable experiences in the life of the minister.  So never resist, never postpone it, never push it aside because you are busy.  Give yourself to it, yield to it; and you will find not only that you have not been wasting time with respect to the matter with which you are dealing but that actually it has helped you greatly in that respect…Such a call to prayer must never be regarded as a distraction; always respond to it immediately and thank God if it happens to you frequently.”

Martin Lloyd-Jones

I just wanted to write a quick post to thank so many of you for praying for our Phoebe girl, and asking you to continue.  I read this quote last week in Missional Motherhood and have thought about it so often since.  So many of you have contacted me and told me you are praying, and friends, it is helping!  Phoebe has eaten some things this week that she hasn’t been willing to try since infancy (scrambled eggs!  chicken!).  But we need your prayers to continue, for her, for our family.  So many pressing needs.  It is with humility that I ask for your help by way of prayer, knowing so many of you are facing your own insurmountable challenges and heart aches!  Sending much love and thanks to each of you. ❤

 

stay with the music–words will come in time

dsc_0212

I have been blogging less because I have been writing less.  My life has been busier, my time feels squeezed straight out, and so my heart and soul have been busier too.  I don’t do well with this.  It isn’t how I was made to operate.  I do well with a lot of silence, a lot of hearing the wind’s gentle whisper in the tops of the pines.  I do well with long stretches of study, reading, journaling.  I do well with sufficient sleep.  I do well when I have “filled the well,” so to speak, and the words tumble out of the overflow.

This season is gloriously full.  This season has days that begin at 6 am with one daughter’s voice in the baby monitor saying, “That’s mine, Bee-bee!”  It has days that begin with missed alarms, beds that have been wet again.  Bills that are past due.  Phone calls that must be made, laundry that piles, schooling that must be attended to.  This season is a string of flight from one activity to the next, keeping the plate in the air that is just about to crash.  Most days now I feel dizzy.

I wasn’t made to do this kind of thing well.  It is a stretch for me, a place of deep dependency on a good and all-knowing Father to give me the strength and energy to keep from drowning.  My soul gets buried in the heap and pile of duty and need and serving.  It’s both okay and not okay.  It’s life.  I wouldn’t trade away these kids for a well-watered soul any day, but I send longing eyes to the heavens sometimes, like a wife to her lover.

There are all these words.  

There is all this pain.  

There is so much fear.  

There is such deep joy.

How can it all coexist here, in this frail flesh and blood?  It’s as much a mystery to me as the commingling of Holy Spirit with my common man, bound up somehow in my person.  What a strong God to constrain Himself, to bend low like this to me.

But the words are buried and the emotions need time to sift and process and simmer.  They feel far away, on some distant shore while I’m carried away on the current.  And I mourn.  I fear that maybe this fruitlessness means that nothing is happening internally.  I wonder if I am valuable to God only when I am producing.  I fear that maybe my voice will just fall silent.

I don’t know how to find my way back to my own heart, to the shape of my own soul.  But I have learned: trace the old roads, the familiar paths.  Go back to the simplest of truths and the ways that have found me before.  Put aside needless distractions.  Remember the rock from which you are hewn.  Walk trails from a different season.  Return to books that knew me and opened me before.  Be content with the haunting quiet.  Be content with simply being held and loved.  Allow myself to accept the fact that He loves me simply because I am His, not because of what I have to offer Him.  Settle deep into His words.  Experience Him here, in barren lands.  Remember: seeds germinate in darkness.

So I snap moments and I know they are important but I don’t know why.  I know there is an undercurrent below the surface.  I find things that remind me of who I am:  Walking the trail I used to walk in my college days, back when my soul was near full to bursting with words from God, words from theological books, words words words, filling up so much silence.  Climbing an old forgotten favorite trail with my two best girlfriends late at night in the gathering dark, sitting under stars cupping steaming mugs and sharing hearts in a small circle of light.  These scattered seeds, these heavy moments, weighty, full, quiet, their meaning and importance somehow deep, surely there, but out of my reach.

And this poem by Malcolm Guite, poet + priest, opened up something in my soul this weekend.  Something in me sings with it.  Tears brim.  Call nothing common.  Accept it all for good.  And so I am here, singing from this place, exactly where I am.

Singing Bowl
Begin the song exactly where you are
Remain within the world of which you’re made
Call nothing common in the earth or air
Accept it all and let it be for good
Start with the very breath you breathe in now
This moment’s past, this rhythm in your blood
And listen to it
Ringing
Soft and light
Stay with the music
Words will come in time
Slow down your breathing
Keep it deep and slow
Become an open singing bowl
Whose chime is richness rising out of emptiness
And timelessness resounding into time
And when the heart is full of quietness
Begin the song exactly where you are.