Category: faith

On bending, breaking, and the importance of rest.

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

I’ve mentioned before that there has been a quiet whisper in my life lately. One about change. And welcoming the future. And being open to plans I don’t have for my own self. This whisper has rolled over me in waves until it has become a roar too loud to ignore. A whisper, still, but the loudest kind. The kind only God can make happen. A well-timed message at church about the value of emotional and spiritual health, a drawing nearer and nearer to God by digging out the deepest corners of my insides, and then this quote. Oh, Lewis, how do you always say what my heart is already learning and make it so obvious what I have been avoiding? It’s like shining a mirror into the darkest parts inside and gently revealing what is lurking there.

For 37 (okay, almost 38) years I have been building my own house. I have the blueprints from my Creator, but I’ve been the one overseeing the building. The one with veto power. The one reprioritizing things. The one sinking the whole project from the start. I really am the bossiest home builder ever.

The last few years have been difficult. So difficult. I’ve had to face a mountain of anxiety, uncertainty, and upheaval. Things that others have seen and things that have been known only in the depths of my heart. It has, as Lewis so perfectly described it, hurt abominably. This “living house” as Lewis calls it, the one God is building here with me, is so different from the house I planned to have that it is unrecognizable. It has places I didn’t want to know. It has structures that have reached impossibly high and terrifyingly deep.

I’ve asked God in midnight pleadings why He hasn’t given me the living house I asked for. Why hasn’t He given me one like my neighbor? Why is mine not completed yet? Why must I endure constant construction? And now I know. Because the house I would build for myself would be fit only for my current needs. My immediate circumstances. Because, though I am loathe to admit it, I am an impossibly short-sighted creature. I am bogged down in the now. But, oh how I love that my living house is being built by the Creator of all things. The One who knows what is now and what is yet to come. Because He knows the storms ahead He is working to build a shelter that will survive. Because He knows the breadth of my life He is working to build a shelter than can hold all the love and community that I am blessed to be surrounded by.

I never realized how much building can feel like breaking. I wonder, does the tiny acorn feel the fracture and shattering so deeply when it sprouts? Does the grapevine feel the pain of each new shoot in the Spring? I imagine that this breaking and opening and growing is just a universal pain that we all feel and that if we are truly lucky it never ceases. Lord, let me see these moments as opportunity and not as tragedy. Let me see the house You are building for me and embrace the process.

Part of this journey means embracing a Sabbath for our family and making it a holy and important day around our home. Taking a moment to focus and center and be intentional in our life is something I so often feel is lacking. Growth and change is hard. And constant busyness and the hectic nature of modern life makes it even harder. So we will rest. I’m going to warn you, this will not be an easy process for me. If you know me in real life you will probably understand how hard it is for me not to make this into an event. My first instinct is to create a “Loving Family Sabbath” event on Facebook and invite all of our friends and neighbors to break bread and “rest” with them. I really am an expert at missing the point of these things! Thankfully, I have Thomas to balance me out and bring me back to reality. So, no Facebook events. No Evites. Just our little Friday night family ritual. We’ve practiced this on and off over the years and, like many things we start around here, it didn’t always stick. It’s too easy to get busy and schedule something “just this once.” Years ago we practiced this with the kids. Every Friday we made Challah bread and lit candles and practiced a real Shabbat. Four years later it is still something the kids remember as one of their favorite family traditions.  And I cannot for the life of me remember why we stopped. I am certain we meant to continue it. But, life happened. And the resting moments fell through the cracks. And so this Friday we will begin again. I’m not promising we will never miss a Sabbath. But I am saying it will be a priority. A Sabbath from work and from things we have to do.  A Sabbath to remember. And to keep holy.

This house of my soul has so much further to go before it is completed. But I am finally able to see growth amidst the demolition. There is an embrace of the process that I am coming around to. My soul has thirsted so long for the life giving water that allows it to grow and the drought is waning and seeds of new life are beginning to make their way to the surface. Painful sometimes, yes, but beautiful, too. And true beauty, I am learning, is about renewal and growth and learning to trust the One who creates all things.

 

Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist.

broken copy small

There are probably worse things to wake up to than a cat peeing right beside your face, but right now I can’t think of too many. When your day starts out like that it’s a sure sign that it is going to be a doozy.

And, yesterday did not fail to live up to that standard. In fact, considering the fact that my day ended with a snarky nastygram from an anonymous neighbor demanding that I “mow the grass and edge the lawn!” I think I can safely say that the cat pee on my head might have been the least jarring part of the day.

It’s not like anything catastrophic really happened yesterday. It was mostly life stuff. But some days you seem have two weeks of life stuffed into 12 hours and it is exhausting. Some days it just feels like I will never catch up. Never add up. Never measure up.

Life is like that right now. Holding up all the expectations of all the people in all of the areas of my life has been a real job. But this past weekend, thanks to some amazing family friends, Thomas and I got a mini break from that job. We dropped our kids off Friday evening and picked them up Sunday afternoon and took off to be tourists in our own city. It was a much welcome break from our responsibilities.

It’s funny what happens when you have a break from the constant chaos of kids. We got to talk and sleep and eat meals without having anyone climb on us or spill anything and it was pretty wonderful. It’s amazing, though, how much you get to think when you are without kids for a few days. I thought a lot about what our future holds as a family. What my future holds outside of my kids.

Most days it is impossible to believe that this stage of my life isn’t forever. I can’t imagine a house that isn’t a constant mess. I can’t picture not having to clean up a broken dish or toy or collectible once a day. I can’t imagine having a moment without the din of kids running, playing, arguing, laughing, crying. It seems a hundred years away.

One of the things that has come out in my therapy lately is just how much I fear being perceived as a bad mom. It triggers more anxiety and panic than nearly any other thing in my life. The thing is that particular trigger is lurking behind nearly every moment of my day.

Running late to pick up one of the kids from an appointment? Neglectful mom.

Lose all of your daughter’s ballet paperwork? Disorganized mom.

Fall asleep nursing the toddler and didn’t finish folding laundry? Lazy mom.

It doesn’t help that I have the image of the Proverbs 31 woman in my head all the time. She is the ever present measuring stick for every Christian mom out there. She looms over us like some holy mother we will never live up to. She’s the inspiration for countless mothering books, magazines, and websites. Seriously, who is this lady? Could she have set a more impossible standard?

[a]A wife of noble character who can find?
    She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her
    and lacks nothing of value.

You guys, my husband had to wear swim trunks under his suit the other day because his wife of noble character forgot to put his underwear in the dryer. That’s not going to earn me any praise at the city gates.

14 She is like the merchant ships,
    bringing her food from afar.

Does the Zaxby’s by the Publix count as bringing food from afar? Because if so, then I’m winning at that part at least.

15 She gets up while it is still night;
    she provides food for her family
    and portions for her female servants.

Last week my kids all shared two leftover brownies for breakfast because I had been up all night with a sick baby and they were too lazy to make cereal for themselves while I slept. So I guess I can’t check that whole “gets up and provides food thing” off the list either.

16 She considers a field and buys it;
    out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously;
    her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
    and her lamp does not go out at night.

So, I’m not sure that my trading is all that profitable but the good news is if my lamp not going out at night means my power bill is always paid then I can check yes on that. Though there was that time I forgot to pay the water bill and my kids woke me up at 6:30 in the morning to ask why water in the sink was broken…

25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
    she can laugh at the days to come.

Most days I am clothed in a thrifted black dress covered in sticky toddler handprints and I think we can all agree that whole dignity ship set sail about 3 kids ago. 

26 She speaks with wisdom,
    and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed; (Proverbs 31: 10-31, NIV)

My tween calls me lots of things lately. Blessed doesn’t happen to be one of them. Though she did gently caress my cheek the other day and say, “I never realized how wrinkly you are, mom.” so that’s something I guess.

The more I think about her the more I wonder if even she would recognize the woman in these verses? Would she have been flattered to read this tribute to her abilities? Or exhausted at the thought of keeping up such an reputation? Since, as far as I know, there is only one perfect person described in the Bible she must have had at least a few flaws. Did she wake up grumpy in the mornings? Did she have to nag her kids to help her? Did she ever forget where she put something for 2 months and only find it after she had gone out and bought a replacement? Did her three-year-old ever repeat a swear word in perfect context after hearing it yelled loudly in traffic? (okay, I’m probably pushing it there. I’ve never known anyone who has had that happen. Certainly not me. And certainly not with every. single. one. of my kids.)

I guess my point is that even the woman who is the gold standard for Christian femininity had to be imperfect at some point. She had to question how well she was doing her job. She had to have moments where she wasn’t the best version of herself. And, yet, the parts that are memorialized are the best parts. The days when she did her very best. The days when her family was proud.

My prayer lately has been that God will meet me where I am lacking. That He will give me His love for my kids. That He will fill the gaps that I leave with His perfect love so that they will never question their worth and their value. I am a recovering perfectionist. I want things to be perfect. And they so rarely are. But I am seeing that perfection isn’t what I am called to. I am called to love. I am called to give compassion. And I am called to trust in God to fill the needs of my children. Some days that is harder than others but thankfully His mercies are new every morning.

The Lord loves us very much.
    So we haven’t been completely destroyed.
    His loving concern never fails.
23 His great love is new every morning.
    Lord, how faithful you are!
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is everything I will ever need.
    So I will put my hope in him.” (Lamentations 3:22-24 NIRV**)

I’m counting on the freedom of that promise. And I am thankful for the days to come.

**The last translation I just used was from the NIRV which is the kids’ version of the NIV. If you haven’t ever read that translation I would encourage you to check it out sometime. I’m no Bible scholar so I don’t know how it stacks up against the others but I do know it is written in simple English for kids and new English speakers and sometimes the beauty of the simple wording is exactly what I need to hear. It is often one of my favorite ways to read a verse that I am using to speak to my fears or inadequacies.

Storms.

storm image small

When I was a child I was terrified of storms. I was an anxious kid anyways, but the threat (real or perceived) of a storm was enough to throw me into a panic. I knew the phone number for Civil Defense by the time I was 9 and would call them anytime I heard thunder to see if there was threat of a storm coming our way. It’s probably a very good thing that I wasn’t a child in the age of internet.

Now though? Oh, I love a good thunderstorm. Give me a stormy night at home any time and I am a happy girl. I will snuggle up under one of my million thrifted crochet blankets and turn on a good movie and rest peacefully in my house while listening to the raging storm outside.

Because somewhere along the way to this point I learned that the house I am in is stronger than most storms we are likely to face. Are there some that can shake the foundation of this house? Sure. Are they likely to hit me here where we live? Not so much.

Now my kids aren’t quite as frightened by storms as I was as a child, but they do get nervous at the sound of an approaching storm. The look at me to make sure we are safe and I always reassure them that we are safe as houses under the cozy blankets in our living room. And whether they are completely reassured or not they seem to believe my confident assurances and try and ignore the storm that rages outside their windows.

And I find myself thankful that I’ve grown up so much that I’m not scared of storms anymore.

At least not those of the meteorological variety.

But I would be lying if it didn’t occur to me recently that the little girl with Civil Defense on speed dial is still inside trembling at other storms that come her way. I’ve been thinking lately about what storms have replaced those thunderstorms of my childhood.

Losing my husband?

The health of my children?

Seeing people I love suffer?

Juggling the bills that never seem to end?

The older you get and more you have to hold on to the more terrifying it seems to see the possibilities for things that can take the people you love away.

I’m trying to remember more lately how strong the foundation of my house is. I’m trying to remember that just as I am caring for my children there is Someone who is caring for me. That I know Him. And that He loves me.

I don’t want Viola to be the only thing I ever write about on here because I don’t want to give the impression that her disability dominates our life. It doesn’t. But God is using it to teach me so much. Like who she belongs to. And who I belong to.

Viola’s diagnosis of Childhood Apraxia of Speech has meant lots of intense speech therapy. And that therapy is not covered by insurance. So, we’ve got an unexpected expense of nearly $700 a month that we are dealing with to give her the help she needs. Outside of all of the other medical expenses for her and the other kids. For a  one-income family of 7 (with two kids in braces) it is not an insignificant expense.

And I remember the day I booked her appointment for an evaluation and was told the cost was $450 for the initial visit and $160 per hour thereafter that I had no idea where that money would come from. But Thomas and I decided to step out in faith and book the appointment and take it on a week by week basis.

So, every week I ask God to supply the money for her therapy outside of our usual budget. And, so far, every single week He has.

Mostly, the money comes from selling things that have stacked up in our home unused. But, I also make things. And go to antique shows. And sell essential oils. And somehow in between it all it has covered every session.

Last week I was pulling out all the stops to avoid dipping into savings for her session. By Thursday I was taking loose change to Publix to add to the fund for Friday’s session. (How on Earth did we accumulate $30 in change?!) The night before her session, I was $35 short.  And my faith wasn’t shaken. I knew I would  be able to dip into our reserve to pay for her session this time. And then the next morning about 15 minutes before I got to her session I got an email from someone who wanted to buy a couple of the dream catchers I made and it filled in that gap. I was so very thankful for that provision.

I wasn’t thankful because I didn’t have the $35 we needed to cover the remainder of the payment. I was thankful that God provided for His child in that way. And I was thankful for the eyes to see that it was His provision.

Now, does that mean we won’t ever struggle to cover this expense? Of course not. Does it mean I will never worry? Don’t I wish.

However, it does mean that I am praying for the eyes to see those moments of provision and to see them as God’s love for me and for Thomas and for our children.

A friend posted a picture the other day of refugee children playing in a bathtub filled with water in a pile of rubble. Their father had provided a small bit of happiness and relief for them in a very dark and difficult situation. At the time it made me realize that my struggles in the north Atlanta suburbs (while not unimportant to me) are often in much need of perspective in the grand scheme of things. But, as I have digested that image it also made me realize that sometimes God provides us moments of peace and joy and relief in what feels like the rubble of a difficult situation. Just as that father gave his children a moment of joy in the midst of a great struggle, so has my Father given me joy. If only I have the eyes to see it.

And that is what I really want to remember. That seeing those moments, those gifts, are completely up to me. God, my Heavenly Father, has provided untold gifts in the midst of turmoil that I have likely been too closed minded to see. If only I could have seen this sooner. But, if I fail to look around now and to be aware I may miss some of the most beautiful moments of my life.

The smiles on the faces of those children were such a wake-up call to me. Joy comes from inside. Joy in the midst of rubble, of destruction, of sadness and even death is a possibility. Lord, please do not let me be too short sighted to see this here on this Earth. Let me see Your beauty in everything. Let me see every small and big thing as a gift. Let me cherish these breaths, these struggles. Because You are here with me. And in every moment let me realize I am not alone.

I don’t call the Civil Defense anymore when I am scared. But I do still find myself scared and trembling in the midst of the storms of life. However much we change and grow in our lives there is still that small child inside who longs for reassurance that we are safe. Perhaps without that fear we would never reach for the hand of the One who can give us peace.

Lord, give me that peace and the wisdom to see where it comes from.

 

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