Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Living Somewhere Between Plagues and the Promised Land

The kids are all in school and I sit through my second morning of solitude. It is the best part of the day, a time of peace and communion. 

It is also unpredictable. I'm reading a chapter a day of a book that's come at just the right time; I echo so many of the author's thoughts about the sacred place of stillness. She speaks of her first experience with extended solitude and how tears, unannounced, began to stream down her face during lunch: 

Because I had space to feel what I was feeling, I could begin acknowledging truth that I had not known how to name before. {Ruth Haley Barton}

And so it is with me. 

Space brings truth and truth allows us to name the things down deep. And this fluid process brings unexpected emotion, sort of like an old pump that's being primed and churning up gushing, subterranean waters. 

Truth has also come in the fresh light of the Word and in the space that allows for quiet meditation, sometimes on old familiar stories.

This book I'm reading referenced Exodus 14:13-14 and I felt compelled to read through the backstory of the Israelites' long-awaited freedom from the Egyptians, only to be faced with the drama of the Red Sea before them. 

I've heard the story many times since childhood but it's funny how experience allows you to see and feel old Bible stories with new empathy. We can be awfully hard on the Israelites, condemning their faithlessness and ingratitude. But when you look at what they'd endured prior to the Exodus, well, I marvel that they were still standing. 

The Israelites, God's chosen and beloved people, had endured centuries of slavery and oppression, only to be buoyed by false hope as one plague after another fell upon their undeterred oppressors. They fled a land of death and destruction and were led along an extended desert route {weapons in hand lest opposing armies attack} only to be faced with the Red Sea in front of them and the relentless Egyptians behind them. 

Lord, how I feel like them. 

I don't type those words flippantly and it may seem indulgent to compare my comfortable, middle-class, American life with the plight of newly-freed slaves. The analogy is figurative but the emotions, the weariness, they are surely connected. That is part of beauty of Scripture; the stories of God's people—His very human and very loved people—they bear witness to our own experiences.

Right now I feel a bit like I'm on the shore on the Red Sea; it's a shore I've visited many times. The unbelievable travails of the past are anything but ancient history; the frightfulness and overwhelming realities of the future seem like an vast ocean. I'd prefer to dig a trench in the sand and bury myself in it. 

But God spoke through Moses with this message for His bewildered people:

The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.

Every time I read those words, I want to weep. If this isn't good news, nothing is. God keeps showing me that stillness, not productivity, brings salvation. Our hope is found in quiet trust, no matter how afraid and bedraggled we feel. Those are comforting words for the weary. After all, weary folks can't do a whole lot besides wait; they've no fight left in them.

Perhaps you stand on the sandy shores alongside me. The past reads like one crazy plague after another and you feel as though you may drown in the swirling, unknown waters of the future. The Promised Land feels a world away but His presence? It has never been nearer.

Let's be still and trust against all reason...

God is for us. He fights for us. We need only to be still.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Twas the Night Before School Started and All Through the House, Was a Whole Lot of Crazy...and a Chewed-up Gym Bag.

The last day of summer arrived and so did my nerves. I went for an early run, downed my coffee, and made my list.

  • Clean up the kitchen.
  • Finish the laundry.
  • Wash Blondie's linens.
  • Run to Rack Room so she can decide on those new sneakers.
  • Pick up scrapbook paper and stickers so she can make her binders.
  • Ready the bags and lunch boxes and {said} binders.
  • Bake a pan of granola bars.
  • Grab a few groceries. 

You get the picture--normal day-before-school mom stuff. As long as I stayed on task, we'd all be fine. But The Man had to teach that night so it was imperative that things proceed in an orderly fashion for meal-time, showers, and bed-time to go as planned.

By 6:30 pm, I was beyond bewildered at the crazy turn my day had taken. There I stood on a crowded downtown avenue in a sea of giddy college students as my own three kids ate snow cones. Three kids who had not yet been showered, properly fed, or readied for bed. Oh, and the youngest of these three? Was dressed as Spiderman, the fake-muscle-suit Spiderman. 

But before we get to that, a bit of backstory. My 11-year-old daughter struggles with an inherited disorder called "decision-making anxiety." I don't know who she gets it from. Ahem.  

Picking out school supplies and choosing new clothes requires an inordinate amount of time and patience. She is not a diva. She does not like to stand out. But she's as particular as the day is long, fretting over minutiae like the color of stitching on shoes or the perfect shade of aqua or the texture of just about anything.

And this is why we ended up in a sweaty, jam-packed, downtown college street fair when we should have been at home, eating a leisurely dinner. 

You see, the dog had chewed up her gym bag. Her plain ol' green and black cinch sack that she's had for a couple of years and had planned to use for P.E. 

We don't live in a retail metropolis so I called every store from the downtown Hallmark shop to a sporting goods place to see if they had reasonably priced cinch sacks. Apparently a lot of kids needed new bags for gym. Or a lot of dogs wanted to torture frazzled mothers who didn't already have enough on their plates. 

I finally found a shop that carried cinch sacks for the right price: $9.95. They closed at 6:00 pm. So with granola bars unmade, laundry unfinished, and pizza dough rising on the counter, I loaded two big kids and one tiny superhero in the van and high-tailed it to the boutique. 

The traffic was ridiculous. Fake-muscled-Spidey fell asleep {at 5:45...awesome}. And a carnival-like atmosphere greeted us as we turned onto the main street of downtown. A Welcome-Back Festival was in full swing; what a perfect time to venture downtown! With one's kids. 

Okay, I said to myself, we'll just grab the bag and get home. We'll still have time for homemade pizza and proper bedtimes. 

The boutique bag was adorable, zebra print with purple backing. But it was a bit too small for a gym bag. She looked up at me with apologetic eyes and put the bag back on its hanger. 

We left. 

With no gym bag. 

The sweet girl in the shop said that the boutique was giving away some larger free bags {with the shop's logo} at the festival about 30 yards away. 

So I abandoned all reason right there in the parking lot, grabbed my son and muscled Spidey and bought $5 worth of tickets for who knows what. We moved like a small convoy of bumper cars through a sea of crazy co-ed's.

For a gym bag.

Because it was after 6:00, the kids were hungry and dinner was still just a ball of flour and yeast on my kitchen counter, 15 minutes away. 

But I had five dollars worth of tickets! So, three slices of pizza, several rainbow snow cones, one frisbee, and a "free" gym bag later, we made it back to the van, mostly unharmed. 

But my daughter, she was troubled over this bag; it was not what she'd planned on. And when it's the eve of the first day of 6th grade, one is not rational about one's true identity or the futility of a gym bag search. One finds security in cute school gear and smooth hair. How well I remember.

Remembering gives life to understanding and understanding sometimes kicks common sense to the curb in order to secure a cinch sack the night before school.

So we stopped by the sporting goods store on the way home and spied a trendy, though flimsy, Nike cinch sack. For $20. And though my love knows no limits, my wallet does. 

I told her I'd cover ten dollars of it but the rest would have to come out of her money. So she decided to wait and use the freebie cinch sack. We finally headed home. 

The boys played with their new frisbee while I readied the dough. But when Spidey took a hit to the nose, the fun was over and the Mama was weary. I felt as if my day had taken a hit as well. 

The boys helped spread the sauce and sprinkle the cheese. And when it was time for everyone to eat, they swallowed maybe two bites and asked if they could be done. Probably because the appetizer of pizza before the entree of pizza had filled them up. And because the whole wheat crust was extra-whole-wheaty and barely edible. And because they were still high on artificially-colored high fructose corn syrup from the snow cones. 

As the events of the day unfolded, so did the lesson: Nothing has gone as planned. The pizza and the snow cones and the foiled gym bag all reflect the unplanned-ness of the bigger picture.

I hadn't planned on the larger complications and personal travails that necessitated putting my kids in school in the first place.

I hadn't planned on anything looking the way it does right now.

You can probably fill in your own blank(s). I hadn't planned on ________________.  

But if I believe what I profess to believe, I know that this is not punishment or failure or Plan B or happenstance. 

This is Grace.

All's Grace. It's the way Ann signs her posts and it's the title of Brennan Manning's final book. It's the way I'm only now beginning to {barely, sometimes} see my days, my circumstances, my kids, my story.

I dropped her off at the middle school this morning and she told me only moments before that she was so nervous, she could barely feel her legs. I was so nervous, I could barely feel anything except my pounding heart and desperate love for her. She hopped out and I drove away; it all happened so fast.

I fought every urge to whip that minivan into a parking space and race inside the building to help her

What if she can't find her first class? What if she has a breakdown? What if she can't find a place to sit in the cafeteria?  

And all of that could happen. She may have her own difficult day of dashed expectations and botched plans. 

I cried the whole. way. home. I'm still crying.

But even though I'm emotional and even though I can't believe she's there, it doesn't feel wrong. It just feels hard. 

God uses a day gone awry and a life run amuck to show me that plans, the little ones and the big ones, are to be held loosely. Control is an illusion. Middle School brings anxiety. Life defies expectation. Beauty blooms out of brokenness. 

And All is Grace. I'll breathe this Truth in and out for the next 4 hours. Pick up's at 3:00. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

On Summer and Re-entry, Worry and Grace

I've been off the grid this summer in the best and worst ways. It's been a summer of not much, of rest and lazy and neighborhood play. And all of this has been more by default than by design. 

We didn't join a pool or sign up for craft camps or go here there and everywhere. Yesterday I realized that we embarked on exactly three play dates all summer with kids and moms, zero of which I initiated. I didn't meet up with a single friend for coffee, dinner, or chit-chat. The Man and I went on two dates, one of them for our anniversary. 

For several reasons, I just didn't have it in me to do a whole lot of anything. And because my kids have plenty of neighborhood play and a wheelbarrow of imagination, they fared just fine. 

If I measured these summer days with the yardstick of productivity, plans fulfilled, and a sunny disposition, I'd deem it a failed three months. Because the yardstick is my default, it's easy to scan the June through August blur and shake my head in disappointment, wishing I'd had more to give and more to show. 

But I didn't. And I'm pretty sure that the only one who scans and measures and judges in this house is me. As I type this post, the boys have built a fort for the dog out of sofa pillows and old blankets. The girl has just staggered out of bed and stares sleepily out the window. 

This vignette has characterized our summer and now we only have a few days left.

As failed and lazy and lackluster as it sometimes seems {especially when the fort building degenerates into a screaming match and a tug-of-war ensues over the dog and they all whine and beg because they want more time on Club Penguin}, we have lived these days with a lot of togetherness. That thought wraps me in a blanket of consolation. 

And it's the reason I've cried every day this week. 

This week we've done middle school registration, band orientation, and elementary school meet-the-teacher. Soon they'll have their own teachers, classrooms, pursuits, and friends. And this will all be good and okay. {I hope.} I know this because we've done it before and I watched them flourish within walls beyond those of home. I know this because they are excited and ready. I know this because it's what we feel called to do for now.

In the moments of crazy and rivalry and Mama-needs-a-break, I am ready for them to be productive citizens elsewhere. But on a morning like this, when regret and nostalgia and family togetherness mingle and swirl and taste so very bittersweet...well, the tears begin to flow. Again.

I struggle against the desire to push it down and get it together. But this is where I am so I've just decided to accept my emotional state and know that I'll be a mess for a bit longer.  

The summer we've traversed, the done and the undone staring me in the face, the joy and pain as a new school year looms, the fear and fret that only a mother knows...it's time to hand it all over.

Only He holds the future and heals the past. Why do I try to wrangle it away?

Only He has a plan that uses the good, bad, and ugly for our good and for his glory. Why do I waste time with regret and micro-managing and saving face?

Only He loves my babies with more love than I can ever muster. Why do I refuse to trust Him with their days?

If you're right here with me, carrying the weight of the world, worrying over your kids, and laboring under the illusion of control, how 'bout we make a pact to let go and live in today? 

Regret is a bully. Worry is a leech. But Grace is a life-saver, a life-giver, a wound-healer, and a day-maker. Grace holds out freedom, hope, and provision for all of us. God gives us all the grace we need but only one day at a time. 

So unfold your clenched fingers. Unfurrow that brow. Lift your face to the Father and receive Grace for today.  

And when tomorrow comes? He's got more. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

An Uncommon Solution to Fixing Your Life

I see my reflection in the computer and pity the woman staring back at me with her unwashed hair and dirty t-shirt. 

I roll my eyes at the wadded-up antique quilt in the corner, the one that the dog peed on and that the dog's owner is not sure how to launder and I wonder how many more days it may sit there and what sort of long-term damage dog pee does to a quilt. 

I hear my 4-year-old asking why the chair is broken and that the busted piece hurts his tush and when are we going to get new chairs because ours are old and don't work very good. 

Beads are strewn across the bar.

The carpet is in desperate need of deep cleaning.

The walls are anointed with Sharpie ink.

The ridiculous stains on the furniture mock me every single day and the sofa cushions are losing their stuffing, poof by poof. Literally.

The boys' room is crammed with {broken} kitchen chairs and elaborately tented with the once-folded contents of my linen closet.

Laundry piled high.

Countertops that smell weird.

Ants coming in through the back door and eating the dog food.

The bathroom floor is sunken in beside the tub, a not-uncommon calamity when a family has weathered the years-long season of splashy kids and nightly baths. That's what the independent contractor told us anyway. 

And this is just the stuff on the surface, the see-and-touch mayhem and unraveling that accompanies real life.

What lies beneath is even messier, more elusive. Kids struggle. Marriage takes work. Bodies need doctors. Hearts need counseling. The whole world needs healing and my tiny world needs help too.

I call it the unfixable life

Sometimes {and by "sometimes" I mean this morning} I stumble upon a blog or some other home-and-life vignette that's just bursting with beauty and then I blame the internet for taunting my discontent. 

The laundry, the mess, the squishy bathroom floor, the personal struggles--I suddenly see them under a magnifying glass and then compare all of my ick to Susie-So-And-So's life of charm and perfection.

Like a toddler, I pound my fists and say to no one, Why is their life so beautiful and abundant? Why don't their countertops smell weird?

And while I rail I'm reminded that someone probably looks at my life from the outside and says the same thing. Our lives will always seem beautiful and abundant to someone else, even if it feels messy, lacking, and unfixable to us. It's all relative, isn't it?

This morning I journaled. I half-heartedly prayed. I read through the passages of my One Year Bible. I know these are life-giving disciplines but instead of feeling full I felt empty, disconnected from the Source that gives the life. 

I almost slammed the pages shut but decided to keep going, to read the next day's passage, buoyed by the thinnest shred of hope that perhaps a wee bit of light would illuminate the dim and dreary condition of my soul. Or that an Angel of Mercy would show up and clean my house. And hand me $5,000.

Instead of cash and cleanliness, I found a passage in Lamentations and promptly scrawled it on an index card in bright blue ink. 

It was not a call to get busy and start in on that soiled quilt or find some extra money in order to clean the carpets or dig deep with an extra measure of resolve and tackle the necessary soul work. 

It was not a command to pick up those library books in order to find the right diet for a certain child's learning disability or concrete answers to adrenal fatigue.

It was not a suggestion to get over my weak self and just do the right thing with a smile on my face and a "servant's heart," nor was it a condescending reminder to return my friends' phone calls and deal with my inbox. 

It was simply an invitation, a "dare to hope." Affirmation to wait. A call to dependence on a faithful Lord whose mercies are new every morning and whose inheritance is richer than $5,000 and a clean house with lemon-fresh countertops.

Lamentations 3:21-26 {NLT}
Yet I still dare to hope
    when I remember this:
The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
    His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
    therefore, I will hope in him!”
The Lord is good to those who depend on him,
    to those who search for him.
So it is good to wait quietly
    for salvation from the Lord. {emphasis mine}

I cannot fix my life. I cannot heal my hurts or eradicate my exhaustion or makeover my personality. I do not have the answers to the needs of my family or the sewing skills to slipcover my dirty furniture. 

Instead, I quietly wait for the One who has all the answers and knows all my needs {not to be confused with my wants}, the One who shows up every morning with a fresh batch of mercies and a promise to save both my everyday and my eternity.

If your life feels a bit like mine, if you're tired and uninspired and white-knuckled from gripping it all too tightly...

Maybe it's time to let go, receive grace, and join me in the waiting room. 


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