On growing up

 

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We were gathered at the kitchen table over breakfast, and I pulled out the bible for our morning family reading time.  As we were discussing that day’s reading, I asked the children something and Phoebe’s response was, “Well, I just don’t read my bible that often.  I don’t find I really have a use for it.”  Words that made my heart sink.  Is that what she sees in us, I had to ask myself?  Does she not see her father and I clinging to God’s word, making USE of it in our daily lives?  Where are we exemplifying it’s practical use and purpose?  I’m thankful she was being real and honest, and I think if most of us are honest, we don’t feel too much differently than she does.  We don’t read our bibles much because we don’t really see the use, right?  What good is it anyway?

But then the hard days come.  The shock of bad news, the financial burden, the unexpected need.  The broken heart, the anxious nights–and those of us who are Word-people find that only God’s Word breaks through these hard life realities.  Only God’s Word helps, soothes, and brings hope.  I hope I can show my children that there is nothing like God’s Word, like hearing truth that divides so perfectly (Heb. 4:12) and brings light (Ps. 119:130) and literally imparts strength to the listener (Ps. 119:28).

It’s been a hard few weeks around here.  I don’t only want to share the good in this little space, because of course you know it isn’t all good!  I’ve been feeling increasingly frazzled and stretched and overwhelmed lately, trying to juggle more than I ever have before and feeling at capacity, if not beyond.  I dropped and broke my camera which is a source of joy and also income for me.  It will cost as much to fix it as it would to purchase a new camera.  I was planning to open a little etsy shop this month but now can’t photograph the items I want to sell (I can use my phone, but it doesn’t do the same job as my DSLR).  One of the children had lice, resulting in a total house scrub down and a billion loads of laundry.  A few days after that discovery, the vet informed us Rose (our kitty) has fleas and so the house underwent another big scrub down, and despite my great dislike for the use of any chemicals, a terminix guy came to resolve the issue.  It seems to take a lot for me to break down and cry lately, but I cried a good bit that morning from equal parts exhaustion and discouragement.  Fleas + lice make one feel like a domestic failure (and I hesitate to share it here because it feels so yucky/shameful)!  Also, I think because “home” is so important and special to me and also my primary place of work, it hits hard when home is infested, you know?  Couple all of that with a baby who hasn’t been sleeping well and my own little bouts with insomnia lately, and you can imagine the toll that that takes.  Because of the cleaning and flea resolution, we had to cancel another family camping trip attempt.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about growing up, what it feels like to realize you are a grown up when all the while you still feel like that same child.  Our spot of earth is tilting away from the sun and my soul needs the reprieve, the wide open space of barren forests and quiet land.  Autumn comes and I hear the strain of the familiar song — geese crying out against an iron sky.  Leaves turning from green to ochre, rustling dry on the limb.  Hearing the geese, it makes me sing that song from my childhood by Michael Kelly Blanchard every time — A view out the window is just a piece of the sky.  The song triggers a memory and suddenly I am driving out with my family to Burnsville area as a child, hiking the Roan Mountain bald and drawing it in a notebook, trying to capture that fall glory with my 8 year old hand.  There’s the ache and longing to just be that child again when life was simpler and felt safer.

A few weeks ago I went to bed fighting anxiety and overwhelm over some pressing needs with our children.  I picked up my current read at the time, Rebecca Reynolds book which I recently shared on this blog, Courage Dear Heart: Letters to a Weary World.  I just so happened to be reading a portion that evening about watching our children walk through their own underworlds and rebellions and not trying to manage or methodologize life for them but to hang in that liminal balance of trust.

She writes,

“I wish I knew how to help kids understand desire for the Lord without also learning what it’s like to fill their bellies with husks left for the pigs.  I don’t want young people to take King Solomon’s approach, plunging into one futile experiment after another until they are finally exhausted enough to declare, ‘Vanity, vanity.”  If I could choose for them, I would give all young believers the way of Enoch, that dear old man who walked small and honest beside God until he woke up one morning and found that he was walking in his eternal presence.  What a beautiful way to spend life on earth!  ‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be Enoch, and his is the path I’d want my kids to take if I held the game controls of their lives.

Yet fear and compassion drive me to that desire as much as faith.  As much as I hate spiritual disaster, I know God can work with it because so many of my favorite writers have been there.  Lewis was an atheist, and he was likely immoral for years.  Dorothy Sayers had a child out of wedlock.  Chesterton left his childhood faith only to grow madly in love with orthodoxy in the end.  Bad choices can leave ugly scars I don’t want my children to have; however, God is a master of chasing wandering souls through terrible decisions.

This idea that darkness can be commandeered for good stands fiercely against most of the books I’ve read on raising kids right, and doing marriages right, and living life right.  Method manuals have filled me with guilt and fear, and some have nearly driven me mad with self-doubt.  But as much as I love my children, as much as I’m willing to give to help them, I’m not strong enough to be their savior.  God didn’t make me their choreographer; he made me their mother.  So whether they live robust, trusting lives, or whether they wrestle the Lord until he wins their hearts, I still need the living God to complete what he began in them.  If that involves a journey into the underworld, I have to trust the Father to chase them into the valley of the shadow of death.

My husband keeps reminding me that the fatal flaw of most writers is trying to make sense of things before they have come to their proper end; rushing a story is the dark side of the creative nature.  But when we try to jerry-rig the natural progression of events God has planned–either in our lives or in the lives of those we love–we aren’t trusting him.  We are trying to pull the moth out of her cocoon three days too early and then command her to fly when she cannot.  We are trying to compress billions of nuances of grace into six tidy paragraphs.  We are skimming over our first, giant, reptilian sins; rushing the crude lines of our faith’s first cave paintings; reading the CliffNotes on our early renaissances; bouncing over our nuclear winters of backsliding; and jumping straight into ‘They lived happily ever after.  The end.’…

When we are willing to depend upon a God who lives, forgives, redirects, and upholds, we begin to realize that we don’t have to frantically strain to rewrite the meaningless seasons of our lives.  We can cling to grace at the center and learn to preach the gospel to ourselves in small, honest ways.”

I had a small moment of panic in realizing I’m the adult care taking for these four little souls and yet feeling very much so like the child who still needs her own parents.  My dad brought me creme brûlée recently, just out of the blue because he knows it’s my favorite dessert, and later that evening after I put the kids to bed I realized I hadn’t really thanked him for it.  I found myself crying again, feeling seen and loved in a season where I don’t often “need” my parents like I used to, but then realizing actually I do.  Does that make sense?  I’m an adult now and things have changed yet there’s still this child in me who feels just like I did as a little girl.  I was once dependent and carefree, hanging in the trust that my parents would always come through and take care of everything.  Now I’m an adult with my own children and I’m supposed to provide that sense of security for them.  They view Brandon and I in this way, and yet I know the reality of how fragile our financial and emotional well-being is at times!  Sometimes when life presses in, I still want to run to my parents to bail me out, but it’s not their place any more.  We are grown, and our help is in the Lord.

I woke the next morning to these words by Emily Freeman in her podcast, The Next Right Thing, and was struck by the timeliness of them.  I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them:

“So what does growing up feel like?
It feels like torn lace, like smoke, like wedding mints melting on your tongue,
like distraction,
like worry,
like chasing but not quite catching,
or trying to remember but seeing only through foggy panes.
It feels like wider hips and thinner lips,
and laugh lines starting to show up around the curved edges.
It feels like sorrow and joy.
It feels like courage, and sometimes regret.
It also feels like freedom.
We are still growing, even though we’re grown.”

We are still growing up, even though we’re grown–and it is hard to feel like we have much to offer another who is growing up when we feel impossibly like we are still that small child ourselves.

I don’t have a tidy way to wrap all of these thoughts up into a neat bow or happy ending, but it’s just what I’ve been processing lately and I thought maybe someone else out there has been thinking about the same things.  About how hard it is to grow up and be an adult sometimes, how the load of it is far heavier and weightier than we ever imagined as children, and yet nothing has really changed–God is still the same God as He has always been and will be.  He will carry us all the way, and our children.  So here we are, going on from day to day, depending on God, looking to Him as a child, receiving from Him, growing as we go.

the way of trust

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My dear daughter

I see it in the way your eyes frenzy, the way your cheeks puffed red with play now fill with  frustration as you recount to me how the other children won’t do it the way you want them to.  I see myself in that frustration, that anger, that frantic grasping.  Oh my girl, how do I help you when I am just like you?  It’s about control, dear girl.  Maybe one of your greatest battles as you grow up and even into womanhood will be over the issue of control.

Ask any woman around, and if she’s honest she’ll agree.  You can trace that common thread among us all the way back to the Garden, all the way back to Eve.  The way she fell for it straight from the snake’s mouth, the lie that God was withholding something better for her.  The lure that she could procure a better reality for herself if she only reached out her hand and grasped for it, rather than reach up her hands and ask for it.  Wait for it.  Surrender it.

It’s going to be about trust for you and I, my sweet girl.

You’re the firstborn, and I don’t know much about being a firstborn because I was a middle.  But I do know it’s harder for the firsts.  Borne in you is a natural desire and gifting to manage, organize, corral, and lead.  These are beautiful gifts, important, and leadership will probably come naturally to you.  However, these strengths can be hamstrung by a desire for control and you might as well go ahead and get your eyes wide open to it.

I see it in women around me, I see it in myself.  We are so very afraid to trust the hand the Lord has dealt us as His good for us, His love to us.  We want so much to see our husbands do things this way or that way, instead of gently being led by them, entrusting ourselves to God in placing us in this union with this man who had all these faults we didn’t see when we married him (never mind all our own faults).

We want so much to pummel our bodies into the shape of this woman or that woman, failing to recognize or accept that God formed and fashioned us with a certain build and we each have a unique beauty to offer, even if it isn’t what mimics the magazine covers.

We want so much to have these kind of children, this sort of lifestyle and income and home, and we bend ourselves in a million crazy ways trying to achieve it, almost until we break.

We don’t want the good gifts God has given us, we look out and see a better life that we believe we can construct and reach out a hungry hand and grasp for it.  We don’t like limitations and boundaries and we certainly don’t like surrender.

So often the work of trust is the work of staying empty.  Being okay with a temporary emptiness, resisting the frantic urge to fill the void.  Instead of reaching out and grabbing that apple, reaching out that hand and leaving it empty, open, waiting, surrendered.  Waiting for God to fill it.  Enjoying Him instead of the thing we think we must have.  Trusting Him as we ask, finding our way to contentment if His answer is no.

The antidote to control is trust, my girl.  T R U S T.

When I say this to my own soul, I feel weary with another “do” I must perform, another thing to work at.  But the very essence of trust, I’m learning, is that it isn’t primarily a work that I must produce, a work of mustering up feelings of trust, but rather it is a work of remembering and resting.  Go back and review who God is, remind your soul who He is, what great things He has done.  Start in Psalm 103, if you need a place to start.

“Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s…”

(Psalm 103:1-5)

Go on a littler further and see His hands stretched wide on the cross, stretched wide so that He could remove your sins far from you, as far as the east is from the west

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.  

(Psalm 103:11-12)

Ground your soul so deeply in who He is, marvel over His love and His work toward you and on your behalf.  Can you trust this God?  Is He not good?  Is He not full of love toward you?  Are not all His ways toward you grace and love?  

“The Lord is good to all,
And His tender mercies are over all His works.”

(Psalm 145:9)

You won’t understand how they are love and grace, especially when the rose He hands you comes prickled with thorns.  All you can know for sure are His precious promises, His inerrant and unfailing words, and you can find rest for your soul here.

This is where trust is born: remembering again who He is, how He loves, what He’s done for you, then resting in it.  Ceasing from striving, from straining, even the strain to understand all the “whys.”

This is no easy task, child.  It is a choosing, a literal exertion of will.  Choose to stop, to still, to smile, even, in the safety of your Father’s hands.  Let yourself be held.  That is the work of trust.  Doesn’t that sound so welcoming, so irresistible?

“Against insurmountable obstacles and without a clue as to the outcome, the trusting heart says, ‘Abba, I surrender my will and my life to you without any reservation and with boundless confidence, for you are my loving Father.'”
-Brennan Manning, Ruthless Trust

Gloriously, the outcomes, the trajectory, the end results are not really in our hands.  (Walk into any cancer ward and talk with anyone receiving a diagnosis of any kind and you can’t escape that truth.)  We can either fight against this reality or we can accept it, and the difference will show in how much joy we have in our time here.  You and I, sweet girl, we can run our race ragged and angry and out of breath with fear, or we can run abiding in His love, resting, trusting.  He means for us to have joy, joy to the full.  He’s a good, good Father.

“He who heeds the word wisely will find good,
And whoever trusts in the Lord, happy is he.”
Proverbs 16:20

“The way of trust is a movement into obscurity, into the undefined, into ambiguity, not into some predetermined clearly delineated plan for the future.  The next step discloses install only out of a discernment of God acting in the desert of the present moment.  The reality of naked trust is the life of a pilgrim who leaves what is nailed down, obvious, and secure, and walks into the unknown without any rational explanation to justify the decision or guarantee the future.  Why?  Because God has signaled the movement and offered it his presence and his promise.”
Manning, Ruthless Trust

“The Lord upholds all who fall,
And raises up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look expectantly to You,
And You give them their food in due season.
You open Your hand
And satisfy the desire of every living thing.

The Lord is righteous in all His ways,
Gracious in all His works.
The Lord is near to all who call upon Him,
To all who call upon Him in truth.
He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him;
He also will hear their cry and save them.”

(Psalm 145:14-19)