Monday, March 26, 2012

Monday Mercies

For the soul who is weary,

For the heart that needs bravery...

If you feel lost or lonely,

Helpless or hopeless, 

Shaken or broken, 

Needy or needless...

There is One who sees and knows, who is brave when you are trembling,

Who is infinitely available when no one else has the time or love or care.

He knit you together before you were born and He never tires of putting you back together each time you unravel.

He loves you and has plans for you. 

He is your rest, your strength and your song.

If you're in need of new mercies this morning, run to Jesus.

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

If there's one thing we're promised in this world, it's the trouble. Thankfully we're not just promised that one thing. There's a bigger and better promise beyond all of that: He has overcome the world. 

And if He lives in us? We are overcomers too.

Even if we feel anything but victorious.

It's true. And you don't have to believe it for it to be true. Hand your doubts and fears and troubles to Jesus, the One who has overcome all things for you. 

He cares.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Dish: Cone of Shame, Science Fair, & What I'm Reading / Watching

I haven't dished in a while so I thought I'd chat a bit about what's going on here, besides spring and sunshine and warmth and daffodils. God bless the south. This time of year reminds me of why we live here. It almost makes up for the fire ants and oppressive humidity come July.


Jetta was spayed yesterday. "Spay" seems far too polite a term for a COMPLETE HYSTERECTOMY ON A 6-MONTH OLD. Poor girl. We have all been in near tears over the ordeal. I know it's for the best but it seriously felt like I was taking my real baby in to have her ovaries and uterus removed and the whole thing still feels wrong and unnatural. {One of the many reasons I never became a vet.} My husband has been walking around singing, Girl, you'll be a woman soooooon....

When we got the post-op report, our vet told us that Jetta is a very sensitive girl and that she started crying as soon as she came out of surgery. I nearly died. Thankfully, our vet is a big believer in pain meds and she ordered sweet Jetta-girl another serious narcotic and a sedative. Stat. 

Three different people at the office told us she is just the sweetest dog but "very sensitive." My daughter, taking advantage of my grief, almost talked me into one of those $50 Martha Stewart pet beds. After all the poor pup had endured, we felt she should be able to convalesce in comfort and style. Luckily I came to my senses and it's a good thing. We got home and made her a cushy bed using an old pillow and comforter. Which she promptly peed upon.

After a groggy and whiny evening, she is hobbling along a bit better today but hating the "cone of shame." She keeps bumping into the furniture and walls and oh, it is going to be a long 10 days. I remind myself that all of this is nothing compared to the ordeal of her getting knocked up by a neighborhood dog, having an emergency c-section, and costing us thousands. 

I've been thinking about how pets are a lot like children. You think they'll be easier than they really are. You think they'll cost less than they really do. They're messy and rascally and ruin your stuff. I find myself muttering cuss words under my breath one minute and holding her like a baby the next. She is essentially our fourth child, only hairier.  


In other news, our real children are still faring well in school. They love it actually. And I couldn't be happier about that. It would be hard on a mama if they were sad and homesick and miserable. They love being with friends, they love their teachers, they enjoy telling us what they're learning, and they think their school is just the best. I do realize that this could all turn on a dime but for now, I am simply grateful. 

Crazy Birds

For the second spring in three years, a mama bird has built a nest in the wreath on our front door. The front door! The one that slams open and shut all day long with the hustle and bustle of noisy kids. A friend of mine said, I doubt she'll stay. Birds don't really like crazy. But lo and behold, she laid her eggs and has settled right in. She even flew into our house last week and perched on the mantle. No lie. It's like Wild Kingdom around here. 

Yard Sale

And to make things even wilder, we're having a big ol' yard-sale Saturday. I am purging my house in the biggest way and putting it all in the garage but the house still looks just as full! I don't understand. I have a theory that clutter breeds in the closets and cabinets when you're not looking. So, the purge continues and I'm saving up my pennies for something special. I'll let you know if it all pans out.

Reads and TV

I finished the Hunger Games trilogy recently. Loved the books and cannot wait to see the movie. Right now I'm reading The Red Tent by Anita Diamant , as well as A Praying Life and a re-read of Grace for the Good Girl. I don't watch much TV anymore but The Man and I are riveted to Downton Abbey, the most brilliant thing I've watched in a long time. 

So that's the scoop around here. What about you? Any great reads or shows? Are you having a yard sale or hosting a nest of crazy birds on your front stoop? Do tell. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Practicing Big Loves in Small Ways

I'm passionate about people who are passionate. 

Stories like this one make me want to sing. I watched it on the Today Show and couldn't stop smiling.  

Most of us aren't brave enough to look ourselves in the soul and stamp our God-given imprints on the world in the risky way that this guy did. Maybe that's why I'm captivated by those who face the fear and follow a dream. It involves everything uncomfortable: risk and craziness and vulnerability. 

Some say it's indulgent and silly and irresponsible, following your dreams and all. Sometimes it is. And sometimes that's the winning combination: One part knowing yourself {"indulgent"} plus one part doing what most people wouldn't dare {"silly"} plus one part risking quite a lot to gift the world in a way only you can {"irresponsible."}

In the case of the pizza guy on the Today Show, he lost his job, took a big risk, followed desire, and next thing you know he's being interviewed by Jane Pauley and bringing tears to the eyes of a suburban housewife as she folds laundry.

But can desire and risk bear fruit in small ways as well? I think they can. Recently, I've been thinking a lot about the small yet sacred ways we practice our "loves." 

Since I put my kids in school, people have asked me if I plan to go back to work. I do not, at least not in the way that I once did. At one time, I taught American History at a local university and it was a lovely job. I loved teaching and I was passionate about working with college students, listening and advising and mentoring. 

During my last year of {paid} work, I was offered a position that I really enjoyed. I taught half-time and then spent the other half of my time revitalizing the university's First-Year Experience program. I read books and traveled to meet with experts and studied quite a lot about the freshman transition to college--what makes kids stay, how to create community, how to lead students along a path of self-discovery as it relates to potential careers. 

As I helped college students "find themselves," I also began to find my own self. The irony of it all didn't escape me. 

Here I was, waving goodbye to career just as I had finally figured out what I was good at. It was a rather circuitous and backwards route toward self-awareness. 

The journey continued as I became a homeschooling mom for four and a half years. Additional layers of "a-ha" peeled back as the experiences and desires of the past mingled with the challenges, activities, and desires of the everyday. I spent far too much energy trying to make sense of things like calling and responsibility, purpose and longing. I know now that all of that percolating wasn't for naught. 

In the last 5 years I've had another baby, taught my kids at home, taught other people's kids, started a blog, discovered how much I love writing, worked part-time, endured crises and struggle, and settled into community in beautiful, much-needed ways. 

Through all of these changes, my loves have followed me around and sometimes invited me to play. I used to swat them away or feel guilty for "wasting time." But then I realized that the stuff I was swatting away was the life-giving stuff, the meaningful stuff, the stuff that maybe I was created to do.

Passion and vocation no longer take the same forms but they share the same essence. 

Several nights ago I had an opportunity to facilitate a book discussion group at a downtown restaurant with some of my local peeps. It felt like a cooler, more adult version of my former classroom. I was rusty and a tad nervous but the evening was lovely. 

My husband was with me and when the night was over, I talked his ear off until we went to bed. Oh I was downright chatty, which is the opposite of how I operate once the sun goes down. By 10 pm, I normally turn into a pumpkin, a big, silent, motionless pumpkin.

Another opportunity came my way in January. One morning a week I settle in with a small group of friends as we discuss real life and grace and letting go. I became the {very informal} facilitator of this special group and I can't believe how much I relish my time with these women.

Truthfully, I was afraid to say yes to each of these invitations. But the loves won out and fear took a backseat. I'm so glad for that.  

Life still consists of mostly ordinary. I pack lunches, buy groceries, do laundry, wipe muddy dog-prints off the floor, and shuttle kids to appointments. I go to church, make small talk, read books in pick-up line, wonder why my boys still have bad aim in the bathroom, over-think everything and sometimes take a nap. Ninety-something percent of what I do is anything but glamourous or newsworthy.


In the tiny slice that is mine, I abandon the things I "should" be doing. I say no to what's safe, responsible, orderly, and domestic in order to say yes to the stuff I used to swat away out of guilt. 

I read.

I write.

I share.

I imagine things that are beautiful. 

I ponder.

I organize thoughts.

I rearrange my furniture. And my neighbors' furniture. {Okay, so maybe that's domestic.}

I listen.

I make stuff.  

Some of my loves involve risk and vulnerability and a bit of foolishness. Certain people may say I'm silly, that I should go back to a job that actually pays me cold hard cash, especially since I went to school for so long.

I guess I'd rather dabble in my loves cautiously and curiously for now and do it for free. It's a season of rest and I've no intention of compromising that. I see my loves as worship and ministry and reward and while it's fine to get paid for that, it's also fine not to.

I haven't mortgaged my house to start a pizzeria. I'm just a middle-class wife, mom, and former teacher who's learning who I am and who I'm not. I'm becoming more confident with my "yes's" and my "no's." And I'm also realizing that maybe God wants to take the stuff I've lived--the good, the ridiculous, and the awful--and speak through it. 

Hard stuff has come my way. And good stuff too. Life looks so very different than I thought it would. I think that's usually the case. There's been plenty of ugly and sometimes I even talk about here. A little bit. 

Only someone as creative and all-knowing as God can mix our baggage with our gifts. Only He can take the ugly stuff we'd rather forget, dust it off, and then use our loves, the ones He gave us, to sing of redemption.  

Maybe you feel like there's no place for your loves right now... 

But what if there is? 


My friend Emily {who I've mentioned quite a lot} writes in the most inspiring way about this sort of thing. In October she wrote 31 Days to Change the World and oh, it is good stuff. She also wrote these recent posts: We Don't Want Your Obligation and What to Do with Crazy Ideas. Artful, compelling reads. Check them out.  

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Life Raft of Remembrance

In the muck and mire of the present, I can be woefully negligent in remembering the rescues, good gifts, and providences of the past. 

When so much remains unfixed and in process, when heart change {especially my own} is slow, as new issues and dilemmas present themselves in the midst of an already full plate, I don't always feel buoyed by hope. 

But I've felt a gentle nudge over the last few days to recall and remember. I'm increasingly convinced that remembrance is one of God's graces to his children during days of discouragement and fretfulness.

When I'm frustrated because my heart feels stuck, He shows me where I used to be. 

As I grapple with the things of this world and wish I never struggled with something as petty as desiring new furniture, He shows me how far I've come.

When the work of relationship is intense and shows no sign of letting up and I want to crawl under the covers, He reminds me of how dark the days used to be and how there is so much light and hope spreading across the future. 

Today, with all of its issues and concerns, is not five years ago... 

I'm not the same. 

Loved ones are not the same. 

God is more real and the world is less enticing. 

Security and identity come increasingly from Christ and less from people. 

I've been broken but not crushed, knocked down but not defeated. 

Provision has come in wild and unexpected ways, undeserved gifts that showed up in the nick of time to lift a downcast soul or pay the bills or provide a desperately needed date night. 

As a child, I remembering listening in self-righteous disbelief to Bible stories about the Israelites and their chronic forgetfulness. God parted the Red Sea for them and dropped food from the sky every day, but they had the nerve to complain and revolt and doubt. How could they ever disregard his faithfulness? 

And years later I realized that they are really me, that the human heart has spiritual amnesia and remembrance isn't a polite thing we do around the table at Thanksgiving. No. The remembrance that saves me is the on-your-knees, white-knuckled, fighting-for-hope kind. It's usually amid tears and frustration and desperate petition. Which is as it should be. 

He reminded me of that this morning: 

Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God's peace which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. {Philippians 4:6-7, emphasis mine}

In laying bare our needs, we simultaneously remember the ones He's already met. Practicing remembrance saves me. It's impossible to drown in discouragement and hopelessness when we remember how He's parted the sea time and again.

Remembrance is an exercise in trust, an invitation to hope, and a pathway to peace.  

I write to remind myself and to celebrate His goodness. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

I Wish I'd Bought the Barbie Dream House

My daughter turned 11 and I'm more aware than ever of the fleetingness of childhood. 

Like every mom out there, I wish for do-overs. But do you want to know one of my biggest regrets? I didn't buy her the Barbie dream house. 

Because she was my first, I was afraid of so many things: afraid of over-indulgence, afraid of promoting materialism and buying things that were really too big for our space. Sometimes fear kept me from lightening up, having fun and allowing her to have fun. 

And now? Every time I see a giant Barbie house I want to cry. That's no exaggeration. 

She asked for a couple of Barbies and accessories for Christmas and you better believe I bought them. I knew it would probably be the last year that airbrushed fake food, fuschia refrigerators, and skirts with a 3-inch waist would sit under our tree. 

When I'm walking through Target, I swoon over the 5T and under section with its tutus and puckered sleeves and pig-tailed, baby-teethed models on the placards. 

Childhood is sweet and so very short. It should be celebrated in big and little ways. I wish I'd known this sooner.

Today we're headed to the mall to spend some of her birthday cash on new clothes and bling. Money, by the way, is all she asked for. {Cue the crying. Again.} 

We will roam through Claire's, Gap kids, Old Navy, Justice and Target and I plan to savor every moment. I will tell her I like whatever she picks out {even if I'd have chosen something else for her.} We will ooh and aah over cheap, enamel-covered earrings with dangling ice-cream cones and doughnuts and peace signs.

I will listen sympathetically as she bemoans the tragedy of not being able to shop in the Junior's Department yet. I will keep my nostalgia to myself and refrain from saying what I really want to say: Stay small and enjoy being right where you are at this moment. 

I'm trying to slow the years. She's trying to speed them up. But we intersect in the today, in the here and now. I can't redo the past and I'm bracing myself for the future but really, I can't live in either of those places. Instead, I'll make the most of today and be ever so grateful that I'm still her favorite shopping companion. 

And if she asks to look in the toy section and finds a Barbie she just can't live without, well, bring on microscopic stilettos and tiny glitter jeans. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

On Pits and Pity-Parties and A New View

I've been more absent in the new year than I'd planned to be in this space. There's been sickness. And exhaustion. But mostly I've been absent for another reason.

You might say I took an unexpected holiday. The dirt under my fingernails testifies to the locale. I had an extended stay in the pit. 

Though I've been out of the deep for a while now, writing has been difficult. And scary. I wrote this post last week but didn't have any peace to post it until today. I prayed. I sent it to my husband at work. And then I clicked on this post which had been sitting in my inbox since yesterday. Between my husband's affirmation and Ann's post, I sensed a divine "yes." 

I've had plenty to say but not much that I've wanted to share. There have been days when getting out of bed was my noblest accomplishment, days that were sunny outside but terribly dark in my soul. I courted despair and found a twisted sort of solace in hopelessness. 

Why anyone would want to stay in a place like that is, of course, irrational. The cause of my descent into the pit is irrelevant. You may be thinking:

Oh that's chemical. Poor girl needs some meds

Or, Oh that's spiritual. Poor girl is under spiritual attack or has some sin she needs to deal with. She probably needs to read her Bible and pray more. 

Or, She shouldn't have sent her kids to school. Now look, she's bored and depressed and needs to get over herself. 

Whatever. I'm sure all of those things are true in varying degrees {except the bored part.} But here's what I do know: I wanted to be in the pit. I succumbed to the descent and I willingly chose to stay put.

I had given up.

It felt as though what was required of me in this life was simply more than I could give. The cumulative effect of some really hard stuff, years of hard stuff, left me too drained to move forward. 

I gazed back at the past and felt crushed by the weight of the pain inflicted by others and the dysfunction I'd brought upon myself. I nursed hurts that spanned decades. I stared into the future and felt too exhausted and ill-equipped to tackle it. Pulling the covers back over my head seemed like the best alternative. Overwhelmed by all of the work still ahead, I simply gave up, surrendering to defeat. 

Why pack up all my baggage and move out if I'll just have to load it back up and move back in? Better to just save myself the trouble and false hope and eventual failure by staying put. 

That's the sort of fatalistic air one breathes in and out while living in the depths.

I hated the pit. And I hated myself in the pit. But at the same time, I didn't want to get out. There was something sickeningly comforting about darkness. The pit required nothing of me but self-pity and bitterness and I had perfected the art of both.

Ironically, my sad and sedentary self thought a lot about running {of all things} while sitting in the pit. I've been an on-again, off-again runner since I was 12 years old. Running is one of those disciplines with a plethora of built-in analogies about life and perseverance. 

I learned in adolescence that often, when you think you've got nothing left, you're wrong. I've learned to push on, to give it all I have. And I've applied those virtues to many real-life situations across the years. When I was nearly convinced I had nothing left, I dug deep and wrung out the few remaining drops of strength I didn't realize I had.

And that's why I was scared. 

For the first time ever, I knew there was nothing left. Not a single drop. If my life depended on one short, final sprint, I would have surrendered to defeat even if the finish line lay only a few feet in front of me.

A defeatedness took over and drop-kicked me in that dang pit. I could no longer see the beauty or relevance of rescue and redemption. Faith seemed meaningless. I felt forsaken yet wanted to be left alone, restless but exhausted.

Thankfully, Jesus never tires of rescuing us even though we may tire of asking Him to.  

Over the course of several days, I sensed a holy invitation to turn away from myself and grab hold of the outstretched arm of Christ. Through a series of rather ordinary, yet divine exchanges, I knew it was time to pack my bags and say goodbye to that ridiculous abode with the stagnant air that whispers lies disguised as truth.  

God issued the invite. I simply nodded and agreed to come out.

It's not all flowers and kittens and rainbows up here but the vantage point is entirely different. I'm learning in brand new ways what it means to rest fully and completely in Christ, to delight in being rescued, to know that God holds the future so tenderly and lovingly in His hands, to not fret over the approval of others, especially my own.

Expectation and performance and productivity? They are becoming distant companions. It depends on the day of course, but the more I practice kicking them to the curb, the easier it becomes. Issues of identity and worth that used to stare me down all day long? They are becoming shadowy outlines.

There is only one companion that truly matters these days and his name is Jesus. He was with me in the pit and He's still with me now that I'm out. He thinks I hung the moon. {Even though we both know that He actually did that.} He is just as wild about me on my best days as He is on my worst.

In His eyes, I am lovely. Even when I'm not. 

When the pit comes calling because the past is messing with my head and the future is mocking my hope, I run to Jesus. 

When my performances as a wife and a mother and a friend and a Christian are just train wrecks, when I feel the familiar tug of duty and expectation, I run to Jesus.

That's right, the girl who had nothing left is runningI'm back in the race but only because He's the one who's already run it for me and won. 

I don't run to Him so that He can tell me it doesn't matter if I snap at my kids or fail to provide them with clean underwear...

I run to Him for grace. 

I run to Him to be reminded of my true identity. 

Anything my life produces that's decent or praiseworthy is just an offering to Him and to others, worship that flows out of gratitude and love and His goodness instead of approval and fear and my performance

For years I've been trying to get this. But it took pain and the pit and praying desperately for the Gospel to become real before it could, well, become real. 

Don't get me wrong. Every day I still struggle and process so many things: guilt, utter selfishness, fear, doubt, and gut-wrenching relationship work. I'm still making peace with what my new life looks like, letting go of my kids and trusting God with the future of my family, knowing that in each and every season, He'll direct us in the way we should go.

Letting go, being still, surrender...they don't sound very taxing. In fact, they sound positively lazy from the perspective of this recovering performance junkie. But I'm finding that these are some of the most draining disciplines I've ever practiced because they are so counter-intuitive. 

Maybe you've been in a pit or maybe you're in one now. It's okay. I can so feel your pain and resistance. But you don't have to stay there. There is abundant life in the midst of chaos, beauty in the midst of brokenness. Though the daily yuck and the big-time crises overwhelm us, they cannot overwhelm Him. In my opinion, He does His most compelling work in the stories of redemption. I write to remind myself. 

Reach out your hand, friend. There is a better view. 

Psalm 40:1-3

I waited patiently for the LORD; 
   he turned to me and heard my cry. 
He lifted me out of the slimy pit, 
   out of the mud and mire; 
he set my feet on a rock 
   and gave me a firm place to stand. 
He put a new song in my mouth, 
   a hymn of praise to our God. 
Many will see and fear the LORD 
   and put their trust in him.


I happened upon a really helpful book while I was coming out of the pit: Get Out of That Pit by Beth Moore. I know, how appropriate. A friend loaned it to me a year ago but it didn't seem relevant until recently. I read it in a day and a half and it just provided some really valuable perspective and inspiration.  Beth is so good at providing the sacred kick in the pants I often need. And the woman has been in the pit a time or two or ten. 

I'm also re-reading and discussing Grace for the Good Girl: Letting Go of the Try-Hard Life by Emily P. Freeman with a small group of close friends. I highly recommend. You can read my review of that book here.


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