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.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Life as a Ragamuffin

I can't get stuff right. 

Yesterday my dad's birthday came and went and I remembered at 5:40 this morning, a day late. That would be barely excusable except that it's the second year in a row I've remembered his birthday exactly one day too late. 

There was a glitch with my e-mails and since March 27th the techie powers-that-be have not sent my bellsouth e-mails to my gmail account so there's all this stuff I've missed, time-sensitive information...to which I never replied. Obviously. Now I just look like an idiot. Or apathetic. Or a slacker. Or all of the above. 

I didn't send in enough money for my daughter's field trip and my first words to her yesterday were snappy ones. Various members of my family do not have clean underwear at the beginning of the week. I tell them that they should let me know before they're completely out. They assume that a 4-foot high mountain of laundry is signal enough. 

I've been spending too much time wanting stuff that I can't have and not appreciating all that I do have, doing battle with idols of the heart and not loving very well and feeling a tad bit entitled to certain realities.

God, I'm such a mess, I thought to myself this morning. 

First thing Saturday I found out that I lost a friend and a mentor, one I've never met in real life. The world lost one of its best evangelists on Grace. Brennan Manning spent decades of his life speaking and writing about the lavish and limitless love of Jesus. 

His books are among my favorites. I've read and re-read a couple of them and just ordered another one this morning. As a matter of fact, I'm feebly facilitating a small group study of The Ragamuffin Gospel this semester and it has me wondering if I'll ever not need this good news for the "bedraggled, beat-up and burnt out." It's doubtful. 

And that's okay. 

Manning's final book was published in 2011. His memoir, All is Grace, is apparently part chronicle and part confession. He discusses his ongoing struggle with alcoholism, loneliness, self-hatred and marriage. Yes, even in the latter years of his life. He remained a ragamuffin in desperate need of grace until his dying day. 

Don't misunderstand. He didn't sin so that grace may increase; he was simply a man whose brokenness sometimes got the better of him. Just like me. Just like you.

My first reaction to that is a bristly one. I'm uncomfortable with the notion that someone so intimately connected with God, so knowledgable of his Word, so in pursuit of Christ could still stumble and struggle.

And if I'm painfully honest, I'm forced to admit that I long for the promise of near-perfection here on this earth. I want the assurance that I won't still dance with certain sins and that my loved ones won't relapse and that we'll all just eventually get our junk together. 

Accepting our mess, our loved ones' messes, our "professional Christians'" messes, it's counter-intuitive. I'm not talking about a blasé, "whatever" kind of acceptance. Our mess cost a perfect man his life; there's nothing flippant about that. But because of what Jesus did, I'm free to really live and really love and really forgive and and really trust and really receive love. I don't have to crucify myself or others over every infraction because the world crucified Christ and He accepted it

Refusing to bask in the glorious riches of His death and resurrection is like buying one's dream home and living in the cellar. What a waste. 

And what a denial of who we are and what He did to save us. He knew we'd have trouble. He knew we'd be trouble. He knew forgiveness would need to abound and that's why He said seventy times seven, that's how much you can forgive. And we can. We can because He did and his resurrection power pulses within all of us who believe in Him. 

Running as ragamuffins into the loving arms of Jesus is our only hope. We can fall down and start over as many times as it takes. His arms remain open, ready to receive us, mess and all. 

His arms received our dear friend last Friday and I wept, I really did, as I imagined him finally, safely in the arms of Abba. His feeble body, aged mind, and weakened spirit made perfect. Finally perfect. 

God promises that He loves us too much to leave us as we are but that's not a promise of perfection. It's a promise of presence. His presence, alive and at work in us. He accompanies my messed up self through all the foibles and follies and forgettings of today and tomorrow and every day after that. 

I'm not the person I once was yet I'm so far from the person I long to be. He loves me anyway with an everlasting, unchanging, unconditional love. 

His grace stretches like a canopy across my life, covering the good, the shameful, the redeemed, and the not yet. 

I lie beneath it, thankful that its length and breadth never ends and knowing that it is enough.


A tribute to a life of Grace.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Spring Flings & the Flu, Far-off Places & Freshly-Painted Spaces

Happy Spring dear friends! I've been jotting down post ideas and deep thoughts and I've got all sorts of ramblings simmering in the hopper. 

But. Today I'm paying bills and catching up on laundry and trying to put my painted home back together. 

Instead of deep thoughts, I bring you my life for the past two weeks:

My big ol' family gathered at my parents' place for March Madness {aka March Fatness, due to the overabundance of calories consumed.} 

We feasted and wore only elastic waistbands and watched a lot of basketball. My brother made the best banana pudding the world has ever known. 

And then I got sick. {But not from the banana pudding.} A little cold turned into something bigger and I went to the doctor a week ago. Unfortunately the cough medicine that was supposed to help me sleep had the opposite effect. I was as wired as a 4th of July firecracker and missed two entire nights of sleep before we figured out the culprit. Fun. Is what that was. 

All of this went down while my husband's parents were visiting us from Michigan for the week. Happy Easter! Here's the flu to go with your chocolate bunny!

Sick or not, I will forever have a weakness for new Easter duds.

My in-laws are awesome and we had big plans to head to the mountains and enjoy a nice hotel stay while the kids frolicked in a heated pool and the ladies visited the Biltmore Estate. But with my sick self and our middle kid who decided that Spring Break was a fine time to contract the flu, we were home-bound. 

So guess what The Man and his super-amazing parents did? They painted the great room and kitchen, something we've been wanting to do for over a year. 

This room comprises two-thirds of our home and would have taken The Man and me a year to paint. But the three of them taped and trimmed and painted their little hearts out while I did little more than convalesce. 

It still feels like Christmas to me and I am tickled beyond measure by the results. 

{I'm tweaking the decor here and there and will surely be blogging these fun little changes. Stay tuned.}

I was well enough by mid-week to enjoy a date night with my husband while his parents babysat. First stop? The new Anthropologie that opened not so far away. 

I wanted to hide under one of their Parisian, vintagey, overpriced, swoon-worthy sofas until the store had closed and then pretend I lived there. And that I owned all of the clothes. And dishes. And purses. And perfume. Total eye-candy, that store. And they have the most fun books!

So, where am I in this story? My in-laws left last Thursday and I was well enough to pack my bags and leave Friday morning for a trip to the beach with my mom.

We planned this trip a couple of months ago and I'd been giddy with anticipation. She had a conference to attend and she invited me along as her travel companion and because she thought I could use the rest. 

Instead of attending the conference, I indulged in some much-needed R & R. It was such a sweet time, just my mom and me. 

We talked and laughed and shopped and lounged and ate yummy food. I read and walked on the beach and got to watch whatever I wanted on TV. I'm still amazed I came back.

Reality and the regular grind feel like a clunky adjustment this morning. I haven't cooked in a week and a half and I've eaten out more during that time than I normally do in a year. Despite being sick, God has been sweet to bestow such loveliness, kindness, and generosity upon me. I don't deserve his goodness.  

{And let's be honest, freshly-painted walls make Monday-morning reality so much lovelier. Thank you Nana & Papa!}

Oh and it's a HUGE night for the family! Huge. I'm married to the biggest Michigan fan south of the Mason Dixon Line. Our oldest son is the second biggest fan. 

Exhibit A: My front door.

Exhibit B: The main wall of my living room.

Exhibit C: "Go Blue" popcorn. 

That's only the beginning. There is Michigan paraphernalia all over the place. 

All together now: GO BLUE!!!! 


I hope your Spring is going swell and that you're enjoying some fresh changes of your own. What's been happening in your neck of the woods?


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