Tuesday, April 23, 2013

When Coffee Spills All Over Your Sunday Morning

If I could summarize the path I've been on for the past eighteen months in just one word, it would be this: acceptance. Sure, it's also been about rest and simplicity and letting go. But I think acceptance trumps everything else. 

Truthfully I've been on this path for much longer than that, fighting forces and realities beyond my control with all the might I could muster. 

I've written on this topic more than I realized. You may be sick of reading about it actually. But the junk we wrestle has a way of coming to the surface doesn't it? I'll probably quit writing about it when I quit wrestling with it so if you want to bow out now, I don't blame you. 

Acceptance has influenced major life and family decisions. Putting my kids in public school after nearly five years of homeschooling--that boiled doing to accepting who I was and who I wasn't, what my circumstances were and what they were not. I'd gotten to the point where I was no longer capable of maintaining a healthy marriage, family, and home. I was unraveling in all sorts of unpleasant ways and we had to make a change. It's been the best thing for everyone. 

Acceptance has influenced the daily grind and extra endeavors. There are things I no longer attempt, ways in which I receive help from my husband and others because I have certain limitations. And there are things to which I say yes, not because I'm all that brave or confident but because I'm learning that I'm wired with certain attributes and God intends to use them. 

Acceptance has influenced my relationships with those I love most. Accepting my husband and my children {and other dear ones} for who they are and not for who I want them to be? It's everything. 

Last week my book study group discussed this issue of gentleness toward ourselves and its myriad implications. The particular quote from our book is this: 

Gentleness toward ourselves constitutes the core of our gentleness with others. When the compassion of Christ is interiorized and appropriated to self...the breakthrough into a compassionate stance toward others occurs. 

Historically I have not been gentle to those I love the most. Oh I may not always rant and rave and stomp about the house spouting insults and condemnation. {Though that has certainly happened a time or ten.} But I can seethe and nurse resentment like nobody's business. As hard as I can be on others, however, I happen to be cruelest with myself. 

Just when I think I'm beginning to understand all this grace business, I have a day of epic relapse and I wonder if I'll ever be ever to accept myself, screw-ups and all. I become so frustrated by my inability to overcome certain failures, serial failures that just won't go away, serial flaws that time and effort will just not erase...I have a meltdown and it is uglier than you can imagine. 

My most recent meltdown occurred Sunday. Church day. Which is always convenient and awesome. 

Before we could even get out the door, my mess-ups were too many to number. Mess-ups that affected the whole family and sabotaged our ability to make it to Sunday School. There were tears and self-loathing and ugly expletives, all of them mine. 

And to top off all of this Sunday morning stress, I knocked over a full, steaming travel mug of coffee on the way out the door and did you know that knocking over coffee when you're in a hurry somehow triples the volume of coffee? Did you also know that the force with which the coffee is toppled is directly proportionate to the distance the coffee splatters will travel? 

Imagine this tranquil Sunday morning scene...

The family is waiting in the van. The daughter is pouty that she's been rushed and that her hair is "dumb." The boys are fighting. One boy doesn't want to go to Sunday School altogether. And then there's me, the frantic mom who's just trying to get a family out the door and is it too much to ask for poor ol' mom to just have a mug of liquid alertness and sanity to sip on the way to church and why oh why when I am tired and hormonal and already consumed with my loser-ness do I have to knock hot coffee all the way to kingdom come and how did it drip down into the silverware drawer that was closed and into the cupboard of clean plastic-ware inside a door that was also closed and splatter to the outer reaches of my kitchen's radius? 

It was as if Satan himself had conspired against me. I scrambled to the door, the tears freely flowing at this point, and mouthed to my husband: I spilled coffee everywhere. Please help me. 

You may think I was being a bit hard on myself. Everyone accidentally spills stuff. But really, it wasn't that. The spilled coffee was simply the last straw. And truthfully, if I hadn't been in such a hurry I wouldn't have needed my coffee to go. I could trace the coffee to a million ways in which I'd failed before 9 am, failures that were ridiculously familiar and frequent and unshakable. 

The whole way to church I was consumed with comparison and defeat. The voice in my head took one crazy morning and went global with it; I was drinking from a fire hose of condemnation, literally choking on a deluge of shame and defeat. 

I wanted to go back home and I probably should have. My sweet husband looked at me as angry tears streamed down my face in the church parking lot. Unfortunately he is no stranger to such ugly, irrational scenes. He said this: You know, one of the beauties of the Gospel is that we're free from comparing ourselves to others. 

I will not tell you what I said in response because this is a family blog and my words were not G rated. They were not even PG-13 rated. It was a day in which I could not glimpse or grasp an ounce of beauty, fists clenched tight against grace, acceptance, and gentleness. I'd succumbed to the shame spiral and I was unyielding in my stubborn misery.

The resolution of my Sunday morning mess is still working itself out but here's what I'm forced to reckon with today. As much as I write about acceptance, about receiving your own life, as much as I believe it and desire it and would encourage you to drink from the overflowing cup of grace if you sat across from me with your own tear-streaked face, my default is still and may forever be performance.

Only God can change the way in which I'm hard-wired. And He is. I'm better than I used to be but days like Sunday show me I'm only one small step away from going off the cliff on any given day. Grace alone is the only thing that keeps me from permanent residence in the Valley of Defeat.  

Every day we have to do what our mamas told us way back when we were littles: When you fall down child, wipe yourself off and get back up. It's true. But somehow, little heretics that we were, we added something to our mamas' gospel: Get back up and try harder. 

If we believe in Grace and the One who is Grace, we know that it's actually not about trying harder at all. It's about rest, the opposite of try-hard. It's about breathing this prayer in and out, day in and day out:

I'm sorry I'm so consumed with my big self. Shame and self-loathing are actually pride. Refusing your love is also pride. Grant me humility, peace, and freedom. And thank you, thank you, for forgiveness. Help me to quit trying harder and to simply rest. To rest in what You've done for me. To rest in your promise to finish the work You began. To rest in the truth that You love me as I am and not as I should be. 

Or something like that. 

I'm still sort of in a failure funk. I'm not even fully repentant. {I blame busy-ness and distraction. They're always convenient scapegoats.} Grace and performance feel like an internal tug-of-war, sometimes more than others. But there's grace enough to at least listen to the Truth, to write about it today, to think on it, to catch just a glimpse of that "beauty" my husband spoke of in the Sunday parking lot.

I accept that it's all still working itself out, that I am loved wherever I am on the spectrum of my own expectations. And in the seemingly backwards way that God works, being loved so unconditionally in the midst of such messiness gently stirs my hardened heart and pushes my gaze upward instead of inward. 

Tug-of-war and all, I know I am loved as I am. I accept this beautiful Truth and I yield myself to be changed by the mysterious power of it. And today, that is enough. Every day, that is enough.


  1. We're alike in more ways than you know, big Sis. I have far too many "spill the coffee" moments. The performance failures of others and myself just pile up in my soul to the point where I'm ready to erupt. Usually I end up either spewing a little venom under my breath or just go postal on my steering wheel while driving. You know, stuff that any well-adjusted, emotionally healthy, middle-aged Christian does. Thanks for the reminder to stay rooted in grace, both for myself and for others.

  2. Oh girl you just put MY LIFE down in one blog post. I had my mommy temper tantrum last night about homework. Which made no one feel good except me. I spilled coffee all over whomever was in front of me. I, too, am thankful for grace and a new day and the cardinal singing outside. All four kids are on the trampoline with one still having homework to do, but hey, they aren't my grades, right? I'll let you guess which one it is. And why can an 8 year old accomplish what a 14 year old can not?
    Maybe when I'm old(er) and grey(er) I can look back and it'll all be just gravy. But today I'm stuck with my 8 year old pointing out my grey hair to me as it sticks out of my slicked-back pony tail. Lovely! Humph!!
    Love ya girl....


Share your thoughts?


Blog Widget by LinkWithin