Thursday, February 26, 2015

Later

When I’m old and gray, and you’re bald and still handsome, this is one of the points of our lives I will look back upon and wish we could do over. Not the college days, not the early marriage years, and certainly not the early parenting years. (I happen to like sleep, thankyouverymuch.) This middle-aged time of working out the details of life.

Our current lives aren’t, by any means, stressless and idyllic. There are too many stains on the couch and dings in the wall. There are too many piles sitting on the counters and frantic rushing to make it to the band concert or ball practice or evening class on time. There are moments when I wonder what we’ll eat (not “if,” but “what” because I have to keep feeding these people I live with, for Pete’s sake!). I wonder how we’ll afford both kids’ college educations and how much longer our cars or washing machine or dishwasher will hold out. I wonder when I’ll get a job. I wonder when the pace of your job will slow to manageable. No, this time of our lives isn’t perfect; your morning back pain that lasts until bedtime and my hips that have to be popped into place each morning tell me we are both far from perfect.

But I do know this: perfect is overrated, and I kind of like messy! Being messy means being real. It means letting your junk hang out of its trunk in literal and proverbial ways. It’s a cliché, I know, but the love I have for you gets better – and more REAL – with time. (The reasons clichés are clichés is because they’re true.) It’s far from the polished perfect I dreamed of as a girl, and I’m so very thankful for that!

Your love is REAL for me and it becomes more real every day. You make it real in the way you seek me out for a hug when you arrive home from work each night. It’s real when you clean the dishes after dinner even after a long day at work. It’s real when you tell me to go for my dreams and promise to be on the other side no matter how things turn out. It’s real when you roll over in bed and spoon with me. It’s real when you walk that dog of ours that I know you weren’t overly eager to adopt (and it turns out you love him anyway). It’s real when you hold my hand at church and give me the sort of glance that reminds me of the singular biggest gift God has ever bestowed upon me: salvation with you.

I could write a book (!) about the ways you have loved me, and a sequel about the ways your love has shown me redemption and reconciliation and restoration. In fact, I am writing a book about us. It isn’t one that anyone can hold or flip through, but it’s a book we will get to read out loud to each other one day, later. When I’m old and gray, and you’re bald and still handsome. And still mine.

I love you, Dan.20090718_0284

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Owning and Honing

At the start of February, I started taking the online photography course I purchased two years ago. It was time to finally tackle it! Whenever someone asks me to photograph them, I undersell myself because I don’t feel like I’ve had the formal training I need to charge what I’m worth. Finally, God spoke to my heart and told me to stop minimizing myself. I have access to the knowledge, so GO GET IT. Make it official, Elizabeth!

I started with lessons on photography basics. Yes, I learned new things. Yes, I gained a wider spectrum of knowledge. The course showed me that I already knew how to make the camera do what I wanted it to do; I just didn’t know the  mechanics of why. However, the most valuable part of the course for me was the realization that I already know much more than I give myself credit for. The hard truth is I don’t trust myself as enough of an expert to tell myself that. My self-confidence doesn’t feel qualified enough to make that sort of value judgment.

Which brings up this question: Why do I feel like something outside me needs to validate me?

I act as if  some external force needs to validate my internal self before my internal self has enough weight to be valid. The external “tests” and assessments seem quantifiable, while my opinion or belief does not. Why can’t my inner experiences and the Holy Spirit’s convictions speak louder than some external measuring stick? And when did I start placing so much value on the external instead of the Eternal?

God gave me a specific skill to be used in His honor. He wants me to own it and hone it. He wants me to stop minimizing who I am because it minimizes WHOSE I am.

I love photography. It is a spiritual pathway for me, and I feel like I’m communing with God when I get my camera in my hands. It can be my fancy Nikon D200 or my low-tech iPhone; the vehicle doesn’t matter. When I’m behind any sort of lens and capturing images, time stops and the world goes still for me. I’ve always said I might be the one who pushes the button, but it’s God who helps me capture the image.

Behind the lens, I notice details of the world I normally wouldn’t: emotions pouring out of someone’s heart.grahams

A drenching of water that represents a life forever changed.baptism water

A moment of holy.New Harmony

A moment of freedom.flower run

The demanding, noisy need of animal instinct.bird nest

The first few raw moments of life.Owen

Pure, happy, blissful joy.dune jumping

The beauty of God’s fragile creation.spiderweb

The delicate details of frost on glass.IMG_7473

The strength in a dandelion puff that reminds me of Strength with a capital “S.”Quietly Trust Me - Isaiah 30

Other people have told me they don’t see the world like that. I can’t imagine how that’s possible, because seeing the world the way I do when I’m behind the lens feels as second nature as breathing. It feels so easy, so how can it be a talent of mine or something I’m set apart for? From what I’ve been told, that’s what a spiritual gift is: something that feels so inherently natural to you (and is affirmed by others) that you can’t NOT use it to shine light on who the Creator is.

At lunch with friends two Fridays ago, I told them how I didn’t “feel” like a photographer. One of my friends said, “You take pictures, right? You get paid for it, right? You’ve been told you have a talent for photography, right? I’d pretty much say that YOU’RE A PHOTOGRAPHER.” I blushed. It felt weird to be called something by someone I love and not be able to say it myself.

It’s time to OWN IT, Elizabeth.

So this past weekend at church, my friend Jim said his son needs senior portraits and his family needs photos. He asked, “You’re a photographer, right?” In the past, I would have hemmed and hawed and said, “Well, sort of. On the side. It’s a hobby for me but…”

BUT, this time, I simply said, “Yes!” Owning and honing. Thank You for trusting me, God!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Small Cages and Broken Wings

I once found a cocoon in the fall leaves. I wasn’t sure whether anything might be alive in it, or even if it was definitely a cocoon. I suspected, and decided to keep it and see what might come of it. I put it in one of my kids’ little plastic bug catchers and stored it on top of the fridge in the garage, and kind of sort of forgot about it through the winter.DSC_0881

About six months later, a flutter of movement on top of the fridge caught my eye. When I realized an enormous polyphemus moth had emerged inside the bug catcher (one just like the moth I wrote about here), I jumped into action. I showed it to the kids, and quickly realized we had two problems: the bug catcher was WAY too small for this huge creature, and he was too big to fit through the exit. I opened the door to the bug catcher, but it just wasn’t going to work.IMG_2056

I realized I would have to take the plastic and metal screen pieces apart to free him, but each movement of the  cage made him agitated. He would flap his wings (because, you know, he was made to do that), but because he was so big and his cage was so small, the flapping soon started wearing holes in his wings. Yes, holes.DSC_0879

I worked as fast as I could and finally pried the bug catcher apart. I placed Paul (by this time, the kids and I named him Paul the Polyphemus Moth) into a large, netted cage. But, sadly, the damage had already been done to his wings. He sat on the floor of the cage and flapped pathetically, and couldn’t rise.IMG_2060

I let him out of the cage to give him more space (and to take photos), but the holes in his wings had crippled his ability to be what he was made to be. I put him back into the bigger cage and pondered what I should do. If I let him go free, he would quickly be eaten by another animal. (He was big and juicy and meaty, y’all. Tempting for a predator!) Should I release him so he could die quickly or keep him caged and try to feed him until a slow death overtook him? I knew he would die in the near future anyway. (Once eclosion [hatching] is complete for a polyphemus moth, they live only about a week.)

I stared at him in his cage. I felt regret because I was the one who, in effect, clipped his wings. I put him in a cage that was too small for him, and limited his ability to grow and fly. I devastated him. And in his panic to be set free, he rubbed holes in his wings and killed his chances to take flight.DSC_0860

At this moment of my life, this moth’s fate felt so very much like my own. I was in a stage of my life where I felt caged. I was defining myself on my surroundings, and letting my “cage” dictate my abilities. I had stopped looking to my Creator to shelter me, and flapped my wings uselessly against walls that were suffocating me. I based my worth on what the relationships around me told me I was. I couldn’t see glory because of all the routine tasks of life that were squeezing my heart into a small space. The things my heart was soaring towards felt unattainable and I felt undeserving of fulfilled dreams. I was agitating and flapping and doubting myself, which kept tearing holes in my wings. I ignored my spiritual gifts and, honestly, looked at them like curses instead of blessings. And then the Holy Spirit convicted me of this truth:

The longer I stayed in my “cage,” the less likely I would be able to fly.

I HAD to get out. I needed to get out. I wasn’t quite sure what it would look like to be outside my cage, and the unknown was terrifying to me (because even though it was suffocating me, at least I knew my cage’s parameters). But I knew the longer I stayed where I was, the closer I would be to rubbing my wings into little bloody stumps. Painful, bloody stumps have a way of splashing pain onto other people because it’s tortuous to be around someone whose potential has been stunted. I realized leaving my cage wasn’t just for my own good, but for the good of Dan and my kids and those people who surrounded me with their love. But even more than that, leaving the cage was what my Father made me to do.

I decided to keep Paul until he died, and do my best to feed him whatever it is that moths eat. I couldn’t just set him free to be destroyed, and I selfishly wanted to keep him near me as a reminder to be brave in leaving my own cage. So I kept him until he died, then gently mounted his body and cocoon in a shadow box that sits in a place I can see him and be reminded to spread my wings and fly.DSC_0907

Monday, February 23, 2015

A Sample Day in Our Life

Long ago, in the early days of my blog, I wrote an entry detailing what a typical day in our life looks like. I wanted to write it down because I knew I would eventually forget how we spend our days. Today, I thought about that blog post again and decided to write a new one that shows what our life is currently like. So, here’s a typical school day in our house.

6:15am: I wake and shower. The dog thinks I should walk him first, but I keep him in the kennel so I can get through my morning routine a little faster.

6:50am: I slip into bed beside Katie and wake her gently. I stay beside her and whisper about any number of random things: dreams she had last night, plans for the day, or a book she’s reading. Sometimes, she is so groggy we don’t talk at all. This is when I listen to her breathe and silently pray for her, our whole family, and anything that comes to mind. An alarm on my phone goes off at 7:02am. That’s our cue to say our morning prayers together and start her day.

7:05am: I head to Jackson’s room and do the same thing for him that I did with Katie: snuggle, talk, pray. Since he doesn’t cuddle as long or as quietly as Katie, his alarm goes off after 5 minutes so we can start our day.

7:10am to 7:37am: I make the kids’ breakfasts (usually peanut butter toast and scrambled eggs, and Jackson slices a banana on his toast) while the kids pack their lunches and get their bags ready for school. One of the kids feeds the dog (Katie gets odd days because she was born on an odd-numbered day, and Jackson gets even days because he was born on an even-numbered day), I do Katie’s hair, then we all eat breakfast together until my phone alarm goes off at 7:37 and the kids know it’s time to get shoes and coats on and head to the bus stop.

7:45am: Jackson’s bus arrives.

7:5oam: Katie’s bus arrives.

This is where the most variance happens in my days. I like to start my day by going into my devotional time, but some days I go straight into another appointment or task. For example, today (and every other Monday), I went to Jackson’s school and volunteered with his teacher and one of Katie’s former teachers (she’s still my favorite of all). Then I bought groceries and went home to walk the dog and ate lunch and started a blog post. At 1:00, I met a new friend at Leftovers because she had never been there. I showed her around and shopped with her, and headed home at 3:00. On other days, I might have a coffee appointment (sometimes it’s at a restaurant, but I try to have people meet at my house because I have a coffee machine and don’t have to spend money), or I might have lunch plans or a doctor visit or any number of errands to run. Right now, one morning each week is devoted to a women’s group at church and soon that will be ending and I’ll start a book study with another group of women next. [When I used to work, I would get the kids on the bus and have devotional time until I left the house at 8:30 to make it to work by 9:00. I worked until 3:00 and raced home to meet the kids off the bus at 3:30.]

3:35pm: Jackson’s bus returns home, and Katie follows about 5 minutes after.

3:45pm: Most days, this is snack time with the kids, followed by Katie’s homework and Jackson playing outside or reading. But on Mondays, Katie often has a club after school and Jackson has a specific buddy over for a play date. I have down time with the kids, and then start prepping dinner.

5:30pm: Dan arrives home around this time, and we have a family dinner together around 6:00.

6:30pm: Kids take their own baths and we clean up after dinner. (Usually Dan is the champ who tackles that.) We read or sometimes play a round of Bananagrams (our new favorite game) or color or craft or any random set of things.

7:45pm: Kids brush teeth and Dan tucks Jackson in first. Lately, he’s been allowing Jackson the freedom to read another five minutes while he tucks Katie into bed. Katie gets to read until 8:30pm, then it’s lights out.

8:30pm until bedtime: Dan and I watch TV or email or sometimes he works on a puzzle while I read out loud to him. We try to head to bed around 10:00, but that isn’t always the case.

So, there you go. A day in the life of our family, set down for future posterity to read the mundane intricacies of life. For those of you I put to sleep with my drivel, you can wake up now!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Asset vs. Liability

When I found out I was pregnant with my first child, the first thing I felt was excitement. I couldn’t wait to share the news with Dan.

The second thing I felt was an immense amount of responsibility because of the gravity of the situation: I was officially responsible for someone else’s wellbeing. Dude. That’s a lot of pressure!

But before I got lost in the enormity of that awareness, I was overcome with the most important of all human emotions:

HOPE.

Responsibility grounded me, but hope gave me wings. I felt lighter because I had hope that this child growing inside me would give me a chance to get things “right.” I wanted to parent in a way I myself hadn’t been parented. (Not that I was abused or badly mistreated, but I wanted to do things a little differently than my parents had.) I began dreaming of all the joys I would help my child experience in this world: roller coasters and sunshine and fireworks and ripe peaches. I would get to help her celebrate joys and navigate heartaches. I couldn’t wait for this baby to arrive so we could get started LIVING. I had so much for her to learn because, you know, I’m an expert. Yep, me! I’m an Expert on Living because I’ve done it too! This baby was gonna be so lucky to have me as a mom to show her the ropes because I am an ASSET, by golly! [Would you believe I even wrote her a letter called “Tips on Living Written for My Unborn Child” and sealed it up so we could read it together later? (Ha. Is that even a question? Of course you would believe something like that from me!)]

That pride stuck for many years. Eleven, to be exact. (And it still has a good hold on most days!) But somewhere along the way, the feeling that I am an asset to my child was replaced by the feeling that I’m a liability. The hope I began the journey with was tarnished by reality because, in some ways, I reverted to the type of parenting my parents used with me. I repeated phrases I swore I’d never say and said things I didn’t even know I knew, because that’s how parenting was modeled for me.

When my daughter’s personality started shining through, I discovered a basic truth in the Nature vs. Nurture debate: human beings are born with an inherent nature that is part of their DNA. Realizing that half of my daughter’s DNA came from me caused me to flinch. I knew that Katie would inherent some of my struggles and my personality quirks, plus the Nurture part of the debate meant she would pick up some of my less-pleasing qualities because she watched me model them to her. Oh, man! The pride I felt from being an Asset quickly morphed into guilt for being a Liability.

I soothed myself with the reminder that everyone is broken. Everyone has faults. Katie is human, and her flaws would be unavoidable. “Oh well,” I thought. “It’s just the price of living.”

And then one day a few weeks ago, I sat with a friend whose child is struggling with the same illness my friend had when she was younger. I watched my friend’s tears fall as she cried out, “Why does my child have to carry the same burden I did?” She wondered if maybe SHE is the reason her child inherited this illness. In her grief, she wondered whether she “gave” it to him and then said, “Why couldn’t he struggle with something else?!” And that’s when it hit me: her child is BLESSED BEYOND MEASURE to have a momma who has walked the same road before him. He got a mom who knows the triggers and the relapses and the potholes and detours he will face with this illness. What if he had a mother like me, who didn’t know how to handle it and couldn’t recognize the warning signs? I asked my friend to look at me and I told her this truth: she is a blessing, not a curse!

God, in His sovereign wisdom, knew this child needed a very specific mother to walk the path with him. Those very same things we consider liabilities in ourselves are the most important assets we can give our children. These “liabilities” bring experience, which is a priceless inheritance we can bestow on our kids. In God’s resourceful economy, nothing is wasted.

The longer I live, the more I see the truth that all of us humans have a brokenness inside our beings. My kids are no exception. I don’t yet know the full extent of the burdens they will shoulder throughout their lives. Maybe it will be lupus or insecurity or an addiction or an abusive situation or lack of confidence or depression or any number of aches. But I do know that if their burdens even remotely mirror the ones I’ve carried, God will make me an asset for His use!IMG_7189

Thursday, February 19, 2015

U-Turns

By now, it should be no surprise for me to admit I am a recovering perfectionist. RECOVERING is the key word, because it’s something I will struggle with the rest of my life.

The funny thing about perfectionists is we try to sweep our own mistakes under the rug, or dismiss them as small quirks of our personalities. The sad part about me is not only am I a perfectionist, but it comes with a side portion of judgmentalism. This means I like things to be “right” (based on my own perfectionist definition of “right”) and then I get all judgy when others don’t achieve “right.” It’s terrible.

Oh, but don’t you know God is sanding off the splintery edges of my judgmental perfectionism? He’s good like that, because He wants to show me MY way isn’t the “only” way. (Or even the “right” way, you know… *Heh, heh.*)

On a weekly basis (sometimes more than that), I’m reminded of my faults and imperfections simply by getting behind the wheel of my car because for someone who thinks she’s “right” all the time, I sure do a LOT of U-turns. Boy, howdy! I’m constantly turning around because I went the wrong way or took a left when I should have turned right. It happens often enough that my kids expect it when we get in the car  now.

Long ago, this would have driven me slightly crazy. I would have condemned myself, probably muttered, “Idiot!” at myself under my breath, and gotten annoyed at how I. Am. Wasting. Time. But these days, God has shown me that condemnation is pretty disgusting and helped me replace it with grace. And just to make sure I get the point, He lets me have LOTS of practice with it.

Today, I was driving while on the phone with Dan. I realized I turned right on Highway K instead of turning left and blurted out to him, “I went the wrong way on Highway K! Aaack! I swear, my life is one big U-turn!” No sooner were the words out of my mouth than I realized my life IS ONE BIG U-TURN, and thank-you-Jesus that it is!

Because not only have I gotten lost on the city streets, but I’ve gotten lost on my Road Trip Home. In the journey of Life, I have taken the wrong road so many times and ignored the map directions God has laid out for me. He’s put up road blocks to keep me away from unpaved roads, but I defiantly decided to go off-roading plenty of times. Thank goodness He gives me off ramps and stop signs so I can collect my thoughts and decide to go His way instead. And the best news of all is that God’s Kingdom doesn’t have one of these signs:IMG_8467

I’m no longer surprised by my need for U-turns. Maybe if I start expecting them and seeing them as blessings (because, as a Daughter of the King, I get a lifetime supply of do-overs), then my inner judgmental perfectionist can just hush up and enjoy the ride.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Passion and Patience

This morning, I held Jackson as I gently woke him and climbed into bed beside him. He nestled his sleep-warmed body into my arms and dozed back off to dreamland for just a little longer.

I closed my eyes and started praying, thinking of his future. As I sometimes do, I imagined his future wife and asked God to bless her and prepare her heart for Jackson’s love. I thought about her parents and prayed they are modeling a covenant marriage for her. And then statistics came to mind, and I remembered a majority of marriages end in divorce. And then I thought of how so many people I know aren’t married but are raising children outside of marriage. Or maybe they’ve been widowed or orphaned or any number of things Jackson’s Future Wife might be growing up experiencing. And I thought about that sweet, unknown girl and the grief that could be barraging her on this very day. Or maybe today is one of joy. Yes, God, let that be it today! (And I don’t even know her, but I can’t wait to!)

I asked God to let His will be done for Future Wife, knowing that even the deepest dysfunction can be used for His glory. Instead of praying for her parents’ marriage (which I still do), my heart changed and I started praying for Future Wife’s character. I asked God to give her two things: passion and patience.

When I say passion, I don’t mean sexual passion or a fiery personality. The kind of passion I’m asking God to instill in her is a passion to know Him. A passion that chases after God before it ever looks to the heart of a man for fulfillment. I pray that Future Wife has a love affair with her Redeemer before she ever lays eyes on my son. And if she takes the long route to finding Jesus (like yours truly), then I pray her passion is tempered with a curiosity to learn more about the world – because I believe that knowing more about the world will lead you to knowing its Creator.

I also pray for Future Wife’s patience. While I want her to be full of life and spunk, I also know she will require immense heapings of patience in order to temper my son’s tenacity. It’s a tall order, but I know firsthand that it IS possible; my marriage is a reflection of that!

Today, Father, will you bless the people who will impact my son – whether it’s today or ten years from now or even fifty? The ones who haven’t been born, and the ones who have but we haven’t yet met. I know that You are planting seeds today that will grow and ripen and produce fruit for Your kingdom. I pray for Jackson’s future sweetheart and ask You to place people in her life who will help her know You better. I pray for Jackson’s relationships with family and friends and teachers and leaders. May they be people who magnify You, even if they never speak Your name out loud. Help me and Dan to raise a son who is hungry for Your word and aching for Your presence in his life. Thank You for blessing us with a boy who is precious and lively! Amen.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

REST

About this time last year, I had just finished a bumpy year in general (2013) and a really rough two months specifically. (If you want to read more, I wrote in this blog post about the ache of 2013, and how I was praying for 2014 to bring relief.)

As January 2014 began, I read a devotional about choosing one word for the coming year. I had heard of people doing this before, and using their One Word to direct their intentions all year long. I had never done it before, but decided it might be good for me in 2014. I was already in a dark spot and the year ahead of me looked bleak and painful, so any shred of hope seemed worth grasping.

I prayed about my word. I read my Bible trying to find my word. I even did some Praying in Color to help me select my word and doodled down all the words I was pondering (yes, I have A LOT OF WORDS rattling around my head!), and thought I had settled on a few “finalists.”IMG_9381

So at the end of January, on the night before my 40th birthday – which I was considering the true start to my year – I sat down and told Dan all about my Words. I showed him the art I made and which finalists I had chosen. And then, he told me none of those finalists were MY Word. I was a smidge irritated, because, really! How would he know what MY Word should be?!

And then, he said my Word: REST.

[You can see from my doodle art that the word “rest” actually was on my list, it just wasn’t one of my top words.] Dan had watched me crumble and crack and fret and try. to. hold. it. together. all through 2013, and he knew I needed to stop striving. Stop trying. Stop fretting and controlling and freaking out. He knew my soul desperately needed rest. Simple as that! I saw the wisdom in Dan’s reasoning, and decided to trust his suggestion. I selected rest, and then spent the next 11 months of the year choosing it intentionally. In fact, the very next day was my 40th birthday and rest became a HUGE part of the event. Dan whisked me away on a surprise trip, which you can click here to read.

Rest helped guide the remainder of the year for me, too. When we returned from Mexico, I spent the first part of February in a post-vacation high. When reality set in, I realized I would need to make some changes in my life if rest was going to become more than just lip service for me. I prayed about the status of my life, asking God to show me what areas I was overfunctioning and needed to rest. I had already been praying since November about what direction He wanted me to pursue in relation to my job, so I already knew there might be some changes coming there.

I started seeing a counselor to help me make sense of the mess on my plate and discern what God’s best for me might look like. Around the same time, a job opening became available at my office/church. I decided to apply for it, because it wouldn’t require me to work weekends and it was in one of my favorite ministries.

My counselor and I also talked about what TRUE rest would look like, even considering if I had no job at all. At first, I bristled at the idea. In our American society, being unemployed isn’t exactly a goal. And in my mind, being unemployed would be taking a step backwards. I had already been a stay-at-home mom for 7 years prior to this job, so leaving the job would mean losing ground. Wouldn’t it?! But there was that word again: rest. In my conversations and my sessions and my prayers, I slowly realized this truth: If I am truly secure in my Father’s provision for me and can trust His direction in my life and define myself based on who He is (not my paycheck), then I am able to step out of my known into His known (even when it is unknown to me).

It turned out the job opening I applied for was removed, and it was no longer an option. That left me in a job where I worked weekends, which had started making me feel like I was shortchanging my family. I wrestled with rest. And my job. And my standards and expectations of myself. I wrestled in my prayers and my conversations with Dan and close friends and my counselor. I kept trying to make my current situation work, but kept losing ground in patience and peace and margin for my life.

The morning of the day I found out the job opening was not an option, I met with a new friend of mine who is an author. That morning, she asked me to share my story and she listened intently. At the end of our time, she asked me, “What is your dream?” I told her about a book. And photos. And a few other things. And she said, “I want to help you make that happen.” Words can’t describe the hope I felt flooding my heart after our conversation. It was a turning point, and hope gave me something to hold.

I had been trying for nine months to find rest on my own. I was ignoring the danger signs that I was getting to some unhealthy points in my life, and was blatantly ignoring things God was whispering to me because I wanted to keep trying to make things work MY WAY.

That frustration mixed with this new hope, and I finally saw the way things were going were simply just. not. going. I realized the thing my counselor and I had talked about needed to become reality: it was time for me to step out of my job. I sat on that decision for a while, and waited for God to affirm it. He did, so I gave my resignation at the start of August and was unemployed by September 1.

My Word for the year didn’t just upset the proverbial apple cart; it totally upended it! But by mid-September, I could tell God was already changing me. Rest was now reality, and I was blossoming while I rested in His arms. I say that in past tense, but it is still present tense for me: I am blossoming while I rest in His arms. I have spent intense and intentional time with God these last 4+ months, and it has changed me. The overachiever, performance-based part of me has struggled with being unemployed, and I wrestle with her when she says I should “Find a job!” and “Start contributing to society!” She’s right, but only partly. I am learning that “contributing” doesn’t mean you have a W-4 and a paycheck. These days, contributing looks like:

  • Being home when my kids get off the bus, and being rested enough to welcome them and be a place of refuge. (I used to be frazzled and snappish.)
  • Catching some of the balls Dan and I were dropping while I was working.
  • Having someone over for coffee so we can talk about our struggles.
  • Ministering to the grieving.
  • Studying the Bible.
  • Listening to my husband and engaging with him in person. (We used to handle lots of stuff over the phone.)
  • Sitting in my Tent of Meeting for as long as my Daddy wants to talk.
  • Taking care of household business: carpool and groceries and meals and laundry and Christmas-gift-buying and planning and organizing. (And, man! I’ve done some much-needed purging of cabinets and stashes!)
  • Spending time intentionally: with myself, with my family, with my friends, and with God.

Within the first two or three weeks of my unemployment, I had eight people say to me: “You look happy.” and “You look peaceful.” One person even said I was glowing, like a pregnant woman. But the best affirmation of my decision was when Katie said these two things a few days apart: “I like that you’re an energetic mommy now when I come home!” and “I had a fun weekend. I’m sort of glad you’re not working anymore.” So I’m learning to do less wrestling and more resting. I know it’s good for me. I know my Father wants me to rest and sabbath and find Him in my peace. Some days it is a struggle because I want to be doing-and-going-and-frenetic again. I had to fight that feeling even today, and spoke to a friend who talked me off the ledge. She reminded me that God will tell me when it’s time to start a new pace for my life.

2014 has ended and it’s time to consider my One Word for 2015. I haven’t selected it yet, but I do have some words already floating around. I have to admit I’m a little gun shy about choosing one because of the radical changes last year’s Word invoked, and yet I’m a tiny bit eager to see how God will breathe life into me this year when I bind my intentions to His.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Please God. This Girl.

Her heart… let it beat for You.

Her lungs… let them fill with You.

Her brain… let it think of You.

Her eyes… let them see You.

Her lips… let them speak Your truth.

Her shoulders… let them carry burdens with You.

Her arms… let them hold for You.

Her skin… let it feel for You.

Her hands… let them serve You.

Her fingers… let them point to You.

Her chest… let it expand in You.

Her hips… let them dance for You.

Her legs… let them run to You.

Her knees… let them kneel for You.

Her feet… let them stand on You.

Her toes… let them tap Your beat.

Her breath… let it capture You and release You.

May her whole body be Your dwelling place and may she sense your presence today and every day. May she be so connected to You that she feels You beside her, hears You in every conversation and song, smells Your warmth in each inhalation, tastes Your goodness in every bite of life, and sees Your glory in each new day that dawns. Amen!

Katie: Do you know I pray for you each morning when I lay beside you to wake you for school? This is what I prayed this morning. I thought of your whole body and the way it moves for God, and then each individual part and the way each part helps you know God better. I decided to pray for each of the separate parts, as a way to invite God deeper into your life.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

I am Broken Pottery

Eighteen years ago this week, I went through devastation that fully demolished my life. The person I was before this event no longer exists, because she has been fractured into a million tiny pieces. But my story doesn’t end with a mess on the floor and shards to sweep into the trash. The shards are being reassembled and glued back together. (Present tense, y’all… the process is ongoing and won’t be finished this side of heaven.)

Have you ever tried to piece back together a piece of pottery or a ceramic item you dropped on the floor? No matter how hard you search, there are some fragments that you won’t ever find. So you use the pieces you DO have and assemble them into their original shape. My life is like that: there are some fragments that will never be glued back into place. They disappeared and the holes they left are noticeable and present.

1995-06-30 MAJS CloseOn October 26, 1996, my big brother Jackson died of rhabdomyosarcoma. He was 26 years old and in the prime of his life: a take-charge, good-looking, lively, honest, loyal, funny and driven man. I was 22 years old, and had spent twenty-two years in the shadow of this larger-than-life person. Even though he had been fighting cancer for 14 months, I was somewhat in denial that the cancer would win. There was nothing my brother couldn’t do, so why would defeating cancer be any different? And then the phone rang and a crying voice said my name, and I knew my brother was gone.

If I could get a do-over of 10/26/96... if I could relive the entirety of 1996… if I could even go back to 9/26/96 (the day I last saw him alive)… these are questions that still haunt me. I wonder how I would choose to spend my days differently, and then I think about some distant day that has yet to happen in my future. Will I wish I had spent 2014 differently? What about this season of my life, or even today, and this specific instant?

That is the question that has percolated and floated to the surface of my heart for 18 years now. Losing my brother deconstructed the life I had, the one that was based on one simple premise: tomorrow will always come.

Jackson’s death stole that from me. For a few years, it robbed me of hope and peace and life. I shut down my heart, did a smidge above the bare minimum required for living (showed up at work, planned outings with friends, called home to my parents, watched movies with Dan), and skated through the world as a surface-y person, maybe going an inch deep now and then. There was no depth in my life, because depth required me to feel and feeling required me to cry because grief was the only feeling I felt.

So I stopped feeling for about four years. The odd thing is I know I “lived” during that time, because I have photo albums to show the places I visited and friends I saw and karaoke bars I sang at (yikes!), but those memories only exist in my head as snapshots of events. I don’t have the “experience” memories from actually being there. When I turned off my feelings so I couldn’t feel grief, it means I turned off happiness as well. I turned off the ability to be present and savor life and actively engage in growth and relationships. I was married to Dan, but my tender-hearted husband hardly had a wife. I was phoning in our marriage and every other position I held in life as friend, daughter, sister, neighbor, and coworker.

You can guess how this ended: with a crash. As much as I sometimes wish this weren’t true, the fact is I wasn’t made to NOT feel. I wasn’t made to live on the surface of a world full of mile-deep caverns and caves. It was only a matter of time before I crumbled and EVERY.FEELING.CAME.OUT: sadness, anger, despair, wretchedness, remorse, regret, and isolation. But, this... THIS is where God picked me up after I sat on my bed and cried out, begging Him to rescue me. I gave up, and gave Him an ultimatum: “If You really DO exist, You gotta fix this. Please!”

It took a long time, because I didn’t trust God. I assumed He wasn’t who He said He was, because if He was, He would’ve saved my brother. I blamed God for letting Jackson die and, in my head, that was the same as actually killing my brother. If you don’t step in to effect change in a terrible situation, that makes you an accomplice, right?

Remember that broken pottery I already mentioned? That was me. God had to start gluing me back together a piece at a time. He started by immediately answering that ultimatum I gave Him. That was piece #1. Piece #2 came when He helped my unemployed self find a job [in a ministry – that God sure is a joker, isn’t He?!]. Piece #3 (and a few others) came when He would – literally – drop scripture into my lap that described who He is and what He stands for. A couple more pieces came when He brought committed Christ followers into my life who could see through my inch-deep façade. A HUGE piece came when one of those people connected me to a lifesaving Christian counselor. Slowly, s-l-o-w-l-y, He took my brokenness and bound it back together with His special formula Krazy Glue.

And that Krazy Glue was so strong that when I was knocked on the floor again a few years later by postpartum depression and the pain of losing both of my parents within six months of each other, it wasn’t as catastrophic as it had been when Jackson died. In fact, it turned out to be beautiful in a messy-masterpiece-kind-of-way.

That question, that wondering from 18 years ago… the one about how I would spend my todays? It’s still there. I don’t consciously think about it every day, but God has woven it in the fabric of my being. Over time, He taught me how to live my life and feel it again. And what’s more, He taught me how to redeem that pain by gifting it to others when they are suffering. When I say “gifting” it to others, I literally envision holding that brokenness of myself in my cupped hands and sitting beside a grieving person and showing it to them, sharing it with them. I am a living, breathing testimony to 2 Corinthians 1:4, which says:

He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.

The first part of that verse is what God did: He comforted me. He nestled each broken piece of me in His hands and showed me how to love and live again. He gave me hope and a future, and brought me back to Him. The second part of that verse is what I do in response to the first: I give others the same comfort God has given me.

I usually do it in little ways that aren’t very noticeable or remarkable. I’m not going to win a medal for them, but I know my Papa is proud of me when I give these little gifts. However, this week I get to live this out in a VERY noticeable way. It causes me a little anxiety, but every time I feel anxiety bubble in my stomach, I hear the words “cast your cares” in my head. So, I’m casting my cares and asking God to use this for His glory.

IMG_3787My story is going public through a podcast my magnificent friend Stephanie asked me to record with her. This “Call to Courage” podcast is available on October 30 through iTunes and on the www.couragepodcast.com website. As I write this post, I have not yet heard the podcast and THAT is what causes me anxiety! I remember recording it, but I also remember chiding myself inside my head as I was recording it, telling myself all kinds of nagging motherly things: Speak clearly! Stop saying “um” and “for me…” because they are the hot dog fillers of verbal communication! Project your voice better! Stop talking in circles! and all manner of mean things I we say to ourselves.

I’m anxious to hear me telling my story, because writing it down is vastly different than speaking it. I can only hope you hear God more than you hear me!

Father, I ask that You use my story to speak to someone out there who is going through loss and heartache right this very instant. May they hear the pain in my story and receive courage to ask You for help. I pray for the people who are hoarding the broken pieces of their hearts, convinced that You are a lie and the healing You bring is a placebo. Help them to hear Your truth. Physically put people in their lives who can share their pain and carry their burdens to You. And I pray for the person who will help with the carrying, because helping with the carrying means they’ve likely ached too. May You help that person continue to heal as he or she pours the grief out as a priceless offering to You. Thank You, God, for binding the brokenhearted and making beauty from our ashes. Amen!

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