A (tiny, little) Piece of My Story

IMG_5190.jpgI wrote a lot of words this morning. Words that are important to me and words that sort of define me. They are scary words too, words that I am not sure I want to put out into the world yet. I know that I should, that simply by putting these thoughts down on the page I am taking back some of the power the experiences hold over me. I know too that my story may help someone else, that God has been asking me to be bold and tell this story for quite some time now. That I haven’t struggled simply because of my choices rather, through my struggle others may be saved. It has been a hard walk though, and many times I’ve run, and that is what scares me I think. Sharing those fragile parts that are still exhausted from running. The pieces of my story that still weigh heavily and the pages that are tear splattered. Those are the ones that I need to share…soon. I still have a little thinking to do on them, I know some parts of the journey were just for me and I want to keep those sacred, held in my heart and my mind where they remind me of who I am.

If there were one thing I would share today, it would be this; your story matters. My life story is important. We each get to do this life not just so that we can learn from our own mistakes and difficulties and successes, but so that we can share the lessons learned with others. Part of my life, okay a lot of my life, was really hard even when I didn’t know it was. I see how my sisters lived in the same family that I was given and how they are much different than I am. I wonder about that a lot. How have I come to this point based on all the world has given me? The hardships and struggles, the joy and the pain, why weren’t we all wired to handle it in the same way? It is because my story needs telling, it is unique. My journey may help someone else, if I can conjure the courage to share it. I have decided that I will, a little bit at a time at least. My truest hope is that when I do, the words meet you where you are and that they help get you where you need to go.

More to come…

 

Patience (with myself)

Fruit of the Spirit; this was a Sunday school theme that was not lost on me…         Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV) reminds me, “But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”. I’d always read the verse that way and I’d always looked at this list as something to strive for, a way to live that was truly Godly. I also always saw it as a little bit out of my reach. I have to intentionally seek out my joy. Kindness is something that I practice repeatedly, not something that I am. Then that last part, gentleness and self-control; I was just relating a story about a momma-tantrum I had on Wednesday to a group of friends, I was not gentle and I was not in control of myself. Can we please just leave it all as a work in progress?

I really struggle with all of this, I suppose it should be easier, I call myself a Christian after all. I read God’s word, I meditate on it, I talk with Him daily; asking for guidance in these areas. Yet, there are so many questions here. Love: Obviously I love my people. I love them deeply and fiercely and with great conviction. Do I love the unlovable though? Those who are called least, do I love them in the place I find them? Peace: Where is the peace in this season of life? Do I create it for those I am entrusted with or just crave it desperately for myself? Finally there is forbearance: defined as “patient self-control, restraint and tolerance”, ouch. Here is my greatest internal battle. I often have to literally bite my tongue to stop the hurtful words from coming out. The number of text messages I have written, deleted, and rewritten to hide my lack of patient self-control is innumerable.

I think a lot of people struggle with patience and while it is not directly mentioned in the list of spiritual fruit, it is ever so sneakily included there. Without patience it is hard to love well, difficult to be kind to all, nearly impossible to be gentle and display self-control. So why is it so very difficult to be patient? Sure, you could argue that in the times we live in we are quite able to achieve instant gratification in most things and this has contributed to our lack of patience. Or that our needs are constantly met as children and so we grow up a bit more self-centered, each generation taking more of their young-adulthood to shed the selfishness than the one before it. I can completely understand those arguments. Here is a little about me though.

When I am impatient I feel this buzzing inside, it is a reminder to me I suppose, that I am once again losing my cool. I have a hard time hitting the break and will frequently stumble forward with angry words or badly timed plans regardless of this internal cue to take a breath and rethink my strategy. It’s a part of me that I continually work toward controlling. There it is again-control-that is my ultimate issue. More than any other thing I fight for control. My mother would tell stories of how I was always in charge of the games my sisters or friends and I would play. I remember doing my best in all things so that I could be the one who was the leader of the group. As an employee I always wanted to be my very best so that I could get a better job, receive praise, and feel as though I was in control of my situation. When I am at my most impatient it is because I am railing against my lack of control over others or of situations. Funny how I don’t fight instead for control of self, isn’t it?

As a mother there are so many things beyond my control. While I can write that sentence out I secretly scoff at it, saying; “Surely this is untrue! With the right measures in place I could be in control of my family life, I am just not working hard enough toward control.”. Those words right there are actually a little painful to read… Those words hint at failing, at recklessness, ultimately at my brokenness. I can’t look back and pinpoint where this urge to control all things comes from, though I could probably cover a few defining circumstances with a broad enough brush stroke. So as I pray, I continually ask God to take control of my life. He has had to do so harshly over the years when I am stubbornly insistent that my way is best, there have been big failures and hardships that I have caused by my unwillingness to release control.

It’s quite frustrating that I haven’t learned this lesson well enough to be past it yet.

To that end, I study it, face it, focus on how to deal with it…controlling my desire to control…could that be the ultimate lunge for power or the first step in releasing it? In my study I learn that one of the antonyms for forbearance is wildness. As a girl who loves words, wildness is one of my very favorites. It brings to mind deep-green forests, crashing waves, steep cliffs, innocence, as well as a deep-understanding of life. I cannot read or speak the word without a smile on my face or a skip in the beat of my heart. Perhaps that is where my struggle with forbearance begins. If a piece of my soul is rooted in wildness-the very opposite of patient self-control- it is really no wonder that it would be hard for me. Can the two ideas co-exist inside of one person? I think I’ll have to get back to you on that one.

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I do believe that God would not have put this wildness in my spirit if He didn’t want it to work for His good. There must be a way to live wild while still living in Christ. There must be a way to live patiently, without grasping for constant control of external things. The peace that I seek is likely inside of me already, probably tucked in next to the wildness in my soul. Giving up the fight for control of circumstances will quite possibly be one of my greatest acts of wildness and one of my greatest challenges in forbearance. So perhaps the two will live peacefully inside of my heart. If I can use them together I may just move past this learning cycle and onto the next.

I remind myself to be patient this morning. Patient with my wildness and my lack of forbearance. Patient with my control issues. I sat and prayed that God would once again take my desire for control of others away, gently reminding me that controlling myself, and my responses to others is more important than simply controlling others. I looked up the verse we stared out with using the Message Bible and found it offered me much of the peace I strive for. Here is what it says;

But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.   Galatians 5:22-25

In this translation I can see how my own wildness can exist peaceably within these verses. I can still see the areas where I am growing when I read them here, but I feel like I am given more grace somehow. I’m also reminded of my belief in basic holiness, of the good in people that I should look for, and that I don’t need to force my control over any of it. If I can find a way to be at peace with and in these verses perhaps I can find a way to grow those fruits of the spirit in my actual spirit. Always growing, always working toward “directing my energies wisely”, constantly adjusting to become more Christ-like.

I read once in an essay titled “The Abstract Wild” how in Thoreau’s “Walking” he did not refer to wildness as the act of being wild but rather as the past-participle of to-will, self will. The author says this “The wild, then, is the self-willed, that which lives out of its own intrinsic nature rather than bowing to some extrinsic force.”. Can you see how forbearance fits in there? Knowing my self-will, my wildness, could help me to not reach for control, by listening more to my internal voice I could keep from seeing external control as valuable because controlling oneself is of primal importance. I find this idea supremely beautiful, and hope that I can find rest in it one day.

 

You’ve read about choosing a word for your year I imagine, the tradition has been circulating for awhile now. Pick a word that could most impact your life and then keep it as a guidepost for the years events. I’m not very good at long-term commitments to small things like words, but I am choosing forbearance today, and I’m going to work on keeping it in my heart and at the top of my mind for the next thirty days. I am optimistic that by focusing on patient self-control I will not be able to concentrate on impatient other-control. I am trusting that this is the beginning of the way out of the circle, the first steps in the walk to freedom from control. I refuse to step quietly though, I will not deny my innate wildness.

I’ll leave you with a bit more of Thoreau’s “Walking”, as he says all things better than I ever could.  “…and what I have been preparing to say is, that in Wildness is the preservation of the World. Every tree sends its fibers forth in search of the Wild. The cities import it at any price. Men plow and sail for it. …. So we saunter toward the Holy Land, till one day the sun shall shine more brightly than ever he has done, shall perchance shine into our minds and hearts, and light up our whole lives with a great awakening light, as warm and serene and golden as on a bankside in autumn.”

 

 

 

Rush

 

I have this theme running through my mind and my life. This feeling that speed is required, necessary, vital to my days. Whenever I try to slow down, not rush, not run; I am late. I don’t like to be late, but I can’t seem to find the balance. If I move at my personal pace I arrive nowhere when I need to be there. If I move at the pace of life, I rush my children and feel frantic and crazed. I am constantly tipped to one extreme or the other.

I’ve been slowing more often as of late and I have stopped apologizing for it. I have reminded myself that part of the problem is that I am simply not made for this world. I mean this on at least two different levels. First, I feel that I was not made for this modern-age, I am slower, I feel overwhelmed by all-of-the-things. I can not function well in the chaos, clutter, and speed of today. When I try to run at the pace required of the modern American mother I feel rundown, worn out, exhausted. I am choosing not to live there. I’m choosing to follow my own rhythm and when I do, I feel peace in my soul. There is no sense for me in choosing to live full tilt, not because I fear the pace and not because I can’t do it, but because it isn’t me. Why should I run on the sidewalk when my very being calls to me to wander the dirt paths?

Furthermore, I feel that I was not made for this earth as I, like C.S. Lewis wrote in “Mere Christianity”, have desires that this earthly life simply can not meet, and I must keep pressing on to that next place where my desire will be made whole and I will find satisfaction in the Lord. My hope is in the Lord and I know that this world will never fully be my home. That in this life I will have to push past the needs of now for the needs of eternity. This is a feeling that has been growing more and more lately, I’ve quoted         1 John 2:15 to my teenagers multiple times over the years as a reminder to them that more of the world is not what they need. To beg them to think for themselves, to walk their own road, to trust that all of the niceties of this earth are worthless. Really though this verse means something else to me, though I’ve used it with the hope that they will be guilted into being good. (I don’t need a lecture on why that’s a bad idea, I know it doesn’t work, but sometimes a momma does what she can in the moment okay?!)

When I read this verse in the Message Bible I read, “Don’t love the worlds ways. Don’t love the worlds goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world-wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important-has nothing to do with your Father. It just isolates you from Him. The world and all of its wanting is on the way out-but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.” I know this is true, what the world wants from me seems to beat me down. Even though it’s packaging is shiny and the opportunities offered sound good, the more I work at the speed the world asks me to the further I feel from the Lord. The isolation becomes greater when I fill my life up with all of the opportunities this world offers.

I choose not to do this. I choose slow, I choose deliberate, I choose consciousness!

I’m trying anyway. There are still days where my large family requires that I meet the scheduled demands, and it gets a little crazy. That is to be expected I suppose. When we have those days on our calendar with no white space left, I try not to feel frantic. I look for the moments in my other days where I can borrow the slow. I beg grace from friends who seem to understand that I love them even though I am perpetually running behind. I sit still in the quiet of the morning, reading, writing, reminding myself that if this life is a race I need to run? It’s still not a race where coming to the finish line first will cause me to be called the winner. I can pace myself. I can even stop and sit awhile when I feel caught up in the pack.

Making this choice for slow gives me peace. I’ll continue in it until it no longer does. This constant re-learning, this process of becoming, this good work of knowing oneself…it is hard and holy work. I am grateful that I can walk down this back road, picking daisies as I go, trusting that I’ll get where I’m going exactly when I need to be there.

 

 

What if…?

What if we all stopped thinking of ourselves for a minute?

What if we all thought about another person’s wants before our own needs?

What if we gave to others without complaint?

What if we were more selfless?

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What if we did all of that without hope of praise or favors returned or even kind words? That is where I’m at this morning. If you’ve read a few of my other posts you are possibly sensing a theme, I hope it’s obvious that I’m doing some soul-work over here. How I got to those questions this morning requires a bit of backstory; earlier this year I committed to getting out of bed at four AM (insane, I know!…I have early risers and a husband who runs a coffee shop), while the actual time I get out of be is much closer to 4:30 I still feel pretty good about this goal. I felt like I wasn’t giving God the time He wanted with me and so I begged Him to help me actually get up. He saw it as good and here I sit at six o’clock typing away. The point? Okay, so getting up well before my children gave me an hour or more of peace to start my day, no needs to meet, no questions to answer, no constant pouring out of myself without the opportunity to fill up.

In the quiet of the morning I was able to take the time that I needed for myself and as I continued this over the course of the summer I found that I was better able to meet my children’s needs and wants. I could change a diaper as soon as the toddler woke because I’d already had coffee. I could teach my kids how to make their own eggs and oatmeal because I was more patient after having time to learn from God’s word. We were able to develop a better rhythm, one that didn’t involve so many skips and missteps. I credit this directly back to making time in my day to just “be” with God.

Then there was the more. I started feeling God ask me to do things, you may have read about holding the baby at the library? That was one of the first times I said yes to an internal nudging. There have been a lot of small things too, water bottles and cash to homeless people without caring to judge how they got to where they are-the second part of that sentence was hard for me. The giving of flowers or gift cards or chocolates-without hope of a returned favor. Helping a friend even if my schedule was screaming at me to not add that more into it.  The reading of books when I have a stack of laundry to fold-still. These things may be normal to you, but for me they were the things I wanted to do but could never quite find the time to do them. Truth was, the time was always there, I just wasn’t using it correctly.

When I started waking before the sun,  I used the morning to sit in God’s presence. I was tempted early on to use the extra time to wash dishes, fold laundry, scrub kitchen floors…but on the days I did those things my kids woke earlier, my coffee got colder, and there was no more peace than when I woke with my children. And so I sat, still and silent, breathing in and out. I read extra pages in my bible, I thought about and wrote down more and more gifts in my thankfulness journal, I prayed specific prayers over my family and friends. Then I started writing again. Something I hadn’t done in a very long time because it felt selfish. I am not a great writer, and it takes me more time than most to communicate my thoughts well on the page, and so the time required to write 1500 words was more than my schedule allowed…until I let my days start earlier. The writing still feels selfish, and so I’ve prayed about it, asking God to guide my words and only allow me to write if what I write is good and pleasing to Him. I decided that I wouldn’t worry about how many comments there were or how many people liked what I wrote. I accepted that this was a personal endeavor, and that I would follow His lead and timing.

As time went on those little things that I said yes to happened more frequently, and they made me feel good. I hoped that what I was doing was helping others, but I was deliberate in not seeking to be known, so I often didn’t hear how what I had done had affected someone. When I did receive thanks, I hope that I have given the glory back to God, not being prideful or boastful in my own ability. And so those “what ifs?” started coming up more and more often. What if I wrote that email? What if I sent that card? What if I saw her need and was able to meet it?…What if it came at a personal cost to me? I saw that I needed to say yes even more often, even when I was certain my own plan would be messed up by the yes.

That’s where I am now and it’s become a little tricky. I’m working on knowing how to communicate to my kids that (insert thing they want to do here) may not work out because I’ve said yes to the thing God has asked of me. They are adapting pretty well, and I’d say they are seeing the good that comes from my yes, though missing an activity or working when they’d rather play is difficult. I hope I am building their servant hearts, that as we all grow they will say yes on their own. I worried that I’d feel led to do more than I could or that the things I was supposed to say yes to would be too hard for me. Though they have pulled me outside of my comfort zone and have stretched my beliefs a bit, all of my yeses have been things I could do. I mean; I am able to push a vacuum, write a thank you card, or create an outline, actually offering to do them was the hard part.

God still isn’t asking me to serve outside of my present station. I’ve often wondered when I will be able to be His hands and feet to the masses, I feel like this is a calling deep inside of me, that shining God’s light to the world is a gift that He will use. This has really bothered me over the years of mothering little ones, because I felt that I was only able to work in their lives and while it is good, hard, holy work…wasn’t there more? Back to the early mornings. I see that by saying yes to all of these small tasks, easy favors, and the giving of joy, I am shining His light into a dark world. While I still work within the confines of motherhood and I still believe my greatest calling is to be a wife and mother, I can affect the world at large.

I can do all of this, because God has used my yes. It is powerful and meaningful work to put others before yourself. Even if I am still only doing small things, I know it takes only a single wave (of kindness) to start a hurricane (of good). I know that I can’t always see what will happen because of my yes to God, it too is work that I may never see the result of, much like mothering. And similarly to mothering, my yes may appear to be just one more thing on my long list, but it is a good thing. So I will continue, for now, to listen in the quiet of the morning, waiting with God for what will come of this day. I will look for my opportunities, praying that I will know what they are when I see them.

 

 

 

Giving Sacrificially

This post has nothing to do with monarch butterflies, They are beautiful though and photos of sacrificial giving are not. Sorry if they tricked you into opening this. You can back out now if you don’t want to wade through my internal struggle spilled out on the screen. No judgement.

This whole “prosperity gospel” thing has really got me questioning lately. I know that I recently posted about it and I really had no intention of writing about it again. Yet here I sit with this concept stuck in my brain and I can’t seem to move past it. Just the other day I was chatting with a mom I didn’t know, let’s call her Jane, our kids were in an activity together and so we started talking. She attends a church that we’ve been screening over the summer and she was singing it’s praises a bit. I asked her why she loves this church and how she saw the church’s mission lived out in the day to day.

Her reply was good. She talked about the outreach she’s involved with and multiple other ministry projects she and her husband either lead or are a part of.  As she talked I thought about what she was saying and wondered if I was living my life with a similar passion for Christ. Honestly, since we left our church I’ve been floundering a bit. I know my mission field begins at home and I have embraced that fully, I do long to do more though and when I come across a person so willing to give of themselves I wonder if this is “all” I should be doing. Where could I squeeze time from my week that would not negatively affect my family?, where should I be volunteering?, am I filling enough of my children’s lives with God’s Word?, and on and on and on…

While her reply was good her appearance made me wonder and again question myself. She had a large diamond ring, North Face jacket, Nikes, she had manicured nails and a new haircut. Suffice it to say that she looked well off and I certainly wouldn’t assume she was struggling to make ends meet. While I know that I shouldn’t judge others, this woman’s appearance made it difficult for me to feel like she was an obedient servant of Christ. Please understand me, based on my brief interaction with her, she is doing all of the things right. I don’t know where this woman’s treasure lies and I am reserving my judgement of her. I am presenting this picture to you as an outsider myself. If I didn’t love the Lord, if I didn’t live as Jesus has quietly asked me to, if I didn’t trust that we each have to stand before Him for our own lives, then it would be easy to make the correlation that this woman “has” because she is living “right”.

What do people see when they see me? Today I had jeans on that actually fit, converse tennies that were actually not covered in garden dirt, and I actually brushed my hair before we left the house. Actually… I suppose that I looked well taken care of, like I’m not scrounging to buy groceries or struggling to pay the mortgage. Do people see the sacrifices my family makes to live a Godly life? Should I care if they do? Should I give up all of my stuff, wear the same dress every day and devote my time to prayer? Does it matter that all of my clothes are from second-hand shops? Does it matter that I purchase only the things that I absolutely have to in order to afford the things that I have to afford? Is it meaningful to anyone other than God that I wait for all things, assuming that the Lord will provide for my wants and needs if not always in the exact way that I expect Him to?

I think not, to all of that.

I think that standing next to Jane, I would look more like the poor widow from Mark’s gospel. Giving all I have while trusting in Him. Standing next to many other women I would look like one of the wealthy. Giving from a place of abundance isn’t always challenging or heart-changing. Perspective is tricky. When I look at myself I see my own sacrifices, I see where I scrimp and where I am extravagant. I suppose that since I have lived most of my life in this place just shy of earthly abundance, I can see myself on both ends of this spectrum. Perhaps my selfishness causes me to be jealous of those who have more than me and this selfishness allows me to judge them harshly. I mentioned Mark’s gospel;

‘Sitting across from the offering box, he (Jesus) was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection. Many of the rich were making large contributions. One poor widow came up and put in two small coins—a measly two cents. Jesus called his disciples over and said, “The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all.”   Chapter 12: verses 41-44 from the Message Bible.

When I read those words, I am convinced that I am one of the wealthy, along with Jane. We are wealthy, she and I, perhaps she is more so than me, but that doesn’t matter. We live in abundance, giving what is comfortable, what is not challenging, what doesn’t take away too much of what we enjoy. Her level of income possibly allows her to give more than mine, but I still don’t go without (even occasionally) so that babies are fed or orphans are clothed. I feel the need here to mention that we do give to organizations and we do volunteer and give back, but it is from this justification that I see that I don’t give my all. Their is no sacrifice in my giving. I see the luxuries that I live with and while they seem “normal” to me I understand that they would be extravagances to others.

So how do I remedy this? How can I give from a place of abundance as though I were a poor widow giving all she had? Can I do that and still live in my house? Can I order out pizza twice a month and still give sacrificially? Can I spoil my children on birthday’s while still ensuring that the homeless are cared for? There are more questions without answer that I will keep in my head for now. I need accountability I think, when I live in this place of ease it is easy to forget that I am just passing through. I need reminders that take-out pizza, while time and sanity saving some days, is not necessary when people all over this earth aren’t eating at all today. I need the body of the church to speak to me that I can give more and I should give more and it doesn’t matter what she’s giving or how big her engagement ring is or how new her dress is. Basically I need to hear that it doesn’t matter what the people of this world do because what I do is what matters for my salvation. I also have to be okay with living (even more) differently than I already feel I do. If I am going to give from my abundance in a sacrificial way I am going to look (even more) different than I already do from the people around me. I am going to talk about things in a way that is (even more) different than what the world is gossiping about. I am going to teach, and lead, and help in ways that are unique to me and this mission I am on to show the world more of Jesus’ good and less of all that is bad.

This will not make me popular, I know. This will cause me to trust that even though I am different-maybe even a lot different-it’s okay. This is a choice I am making today for myself because I know that I am being asked to do more and that sitting here wondering over it will not produce anything good. I’m hoping that I can stay the course and that my slip-ups become fewer and farther between. This giving my all will not come naturally to me, based simply on how I have lived everyday until this one. So if you see me sipping a Caribou latte or wearing a new pair of jeans, please give me grace (and assume the latte was a treat from my husband and that the jeans came from the Goodwill). This is my path, I may stumble on it. I know where I’m headed though, so I’ll get back up and continue on again, hopefully a little lighter this time because I was able to give something away while I was on my knees.

Life is Hard

Life is hard. There is no other way really to say it. Life. Is. Hard. I’m not talking about the life of a refugee or a flood victim, or the life of a trafficked child in Asia. These types of struggles are unimaginable to me. I can not even put those tragedies into words that will do them justice. No, what I mean to say is that first-world-problems make life hard. I am not diminishing what you are going through, I am not lessening your very real difficulties. I get it, I really do.

Our parents brought us up telling us we could do anything that we wanted but without any guidance to know what that actually was we’ve sort of drifted along. So how do we live now? Chasing the things we want, because we “deserve” them and struggling through each day to cause the ends to meet up and feeling like this can not possibly be the life we signed up for all of those years ago. We look around and everyone else seems to have it together, they don’t yell at their kids, they have two new cars in the garage, they enjoy going to work every day-or at least don’t hate their jobs. You know how it is- life viewed through the social media filters? This view is made worse if you have religion, because the religion of today, at least of mine, tells me that if I live my life in the “right” way God will bless me and certainly those blessings must be in the form of an easy life, right? Sure, a few people in your church may still run up against hard times, but they are clearly not loving God in the right way or else He’d be lining their pockets and ending their suffering as well.

All I want to say to this logic is eff that.

I’ve done life right and I’ve done life seriously wrong. I’ve broken big commandments and I’ve walked the narrow road and life is hard both ways. I will never believe that because I have God I will have happiness. Paul said “I have found contentment in little and I have found it in much…”. The road will not rise up to meet me and the sun will not be always at my back, this poetry is nonsense. If I get ten minutes in the garden alone you’d bet correctly if you bet the sun was either blazing down on me or the rain was starting to fall. And that road? It more often than not drops right out from underneath of me. Churchy people would placate me with meaningless kind words and then whisper behind my back that “she needs Jesus”.

All I want to say to these people is eff you.

We strive to do it all and be it all and have it all. Well, maybe you do, I stopped. I got off that carnival ride and I can see the loose screws. I have a house, I have a mini-van, I have a husband, and five kids, and enough money in my checking account most weeks to buy enough groceries to feed them all. In recent memory I have not. I have prayed and longed and begged for a house that is mine (let’s be honest, I prayed for a yard more than a house), I have dealt with two vehicles held together with bubble gum and duct tape, I left a man who offered all of the things without a scrap of love, I have tried to build a life that shows love at it’s core so that those five kids will know that regardless of what we do, God. is. Love. I have walked into food shelves humbly asking for help, unsure of how I will pay for more than rent this month. No one knew, no one saw (much of) this. Did my sin cause these trials? Did finding my way back to God cause the good?

again…eff that.

I have grown quite certain that God’s goal is not my happiness, not in the modern American sense of the word. His goal is also not in meeting all of my desires. Nor is it even in my safety. There is no path that I can wander on that will cause God to give me only “good” things. Mainly this is true because I have no idea what happiness or safety, or good even looks like! A few things I do know are that happiness is not in having a job you love, the biggest house on the block or fashionably dressed children. You may think it is, but it is not. Happiness is not a life lived without loss. Happiness is not often found in the walls of a church, not for long anyway. So if all of this is what happiness isn’t, and we can’t understand what it is anyway, shouldn’t we find another way?

I come back to Paul, and while his life was hard (hard when compared to the refugees, impossible when I compare it to my own), he carried on sharing what God had done for him without stop, fear, or concern for his very life. This was the lesson I needed to learn; that God only desires that I love Him. He doesn’t care much about modern American hopes and dreams. If I walk with Him, living the hard- even the impossibly hard-sharing what God has done and trusting that each day is another opportunity, I’ll find that I know Paul’s secret as well.

There was an awakening in me sometime after I left a life of okay-ness for a life fully-lived. It took a long season of anxiety and fear to come to where I am now. I still struggle with knowing that I don’t want the “good life”. I still get mired in jealousy from time to time, just like you. I still sit in tears in the pre-dawn darkness wondering why this life, this choice to live differently, is so effing hard. I’ll admit that I occasionally ask why it has to be. Knowing that happiness is not the goal is helpful though, I can go through this hard life showing what Christ has done for me and sharing His love with my people. I’ll trade happiness for a life lived close to God and trust that in that choice I will find what I most need, even if I don’t know that I need it yet. I am trusting the wandering path and the One who walks it with me.

 

The End of Summer

 

I love August.

I hate August.

There is no time for this post today as I rush to fit in one more summer task.

No time to sit on the deck with a lemonade in hand because the deck needs to be stained before the snow flies.

No time to sniff the flowers because there are wood chips to cover the earth with before the first frost.

No time to splash in the pool with the children because we must attend every planning meeting for every activity they will be a part of this Autumn.

No time to dig in the sand, no time to watch caterpillars, no time to sit in parks with friends…

I make it worse for myself by trying to accomplish every project under the sun before we fall back into our homeschooling routine which includes so many activities and so much running from place to place. Examples? I currently have a sofa in my kitchen because I’m staining the living room floor. My teenage daughter cannot park in our driveway because I have a 6×4 foot pile of mulch sitting at the end of it (which I can’t move yet because I need to divide and organize the garden on the East side of my house first.). I have raspberry bushes growing five feet outside of their bed because I had the crazy idea that I really would have time to create a living fence out of them between our yard and our neighbors property.

When I get to August this irrational fear of “the end” takes me over, like being within a hundred pages of the end of a beloved book I just cannot stop. I rush to cram in every single last summer-fun thing that I can before the crush of Autumn’s responsibility takes over. If Summer is childhood, August is my early twenties, before the adulthood of Autumn arrives. I attempt to do all of the crazy things now, before I’m tied down by my commitments. As I said, this fear is not rational. I did plenty of crazy things in my thirties and I can certainly break the schedule and go for a hike in the woods on a warm day in October. But much like the frequency of those wild times has drastically decreased with each passing year, with each passing day so will my opportunity to go exploring and to soak the sun deep into my very soul.

As the sunrise comes a few minutes later each morning I try to rise a bit earlier to sit in the silence of cricket chirps, to await the first song of birds for the day. To ensure there is time in my day to just be. Instead of running full tilt toward Autumn, I will slam on the brakes at every turn. Savor every bit of produce from the garden, wonder over every bee and butterfly. I will make full stops, not rolling through my summertime garden on the way to the next thing that must be done, rather enjoying each blossom and moment completely. I hope you will too.

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**stop**

                                                  (no really, the end is right here.)

 

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The River and Trust

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Sheer drop off, a hundred feet down to the rushing river…perfect!

 

My children and I were recently at a homeschool co-op date at a park near the river where I was amazed at the curiosity in each child who stood on the bank, stepped from stone to stone, or shrieked at finding a crayfish in a shallow pool. The immense curiosity these kids had was so cool to watch! My nine-year-old crouched on a rock with a couple of other girls trying to catch minnows in a net. They were patient and, after many tries, had actually caught one! My six-year-old joined in at some point and I watched him balance on a rock with searching eyes and a determined smile. My two-year-old was much more interested in splashing out as far as she could with no fear of the powerful currents surging mere feet from where she was walking. I steered her toward a shallow inlet and after we climbed over fallen trees, stepped barefooted over not so smooth stones and stopped to look for those crayfish, she tipped a large stone on herself and another toddler.

It was amazing.

It was also not my best moment. I should have gathered up the two crying littles, carried them up onto the grassy bank and taken a few minutes to chill. Instead I ordered my crew back to the large flat stones to search for minnows with a stern, “that’s it!”. Even as I said it I knew I was crushing a bit of their wonder, and I hated myself for not being able to pull it together enough to let them explore properly on their own. I rest in knowing that they still had fun and they still count it as one of their best days this summer. I know there will be more moments of amazement in natural spaces, but I don’t know how I will manage it better next time. Proper footwear will definitely be part of my plan though!

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Seriously, can you see how high she is!!

When the water calls to you like it does to me, you don’t just want to sit on the shoreline and look, you want to tumble over stones, splash in the shallows, feel the sand under foot…You want to be completely immersed in the adventure. I want that type of experience for my kids, but I’m not sure we’re at that level yet. I think we may have a couple more years of short exploring trips in us. Until my tiny is four or five I anticipate days spent near the river, not in it. Yet I know those moments will come and I am going to do what I can to cultivate the desire for such experiences in my kids.

 

I know this is a dangerous world and we do have to be “constantly vigilant” (thanks to J.K. Rowling and her character Mad Eye Moody for that quote!). I make every attempt to walk the line between giving them freedom and hovering. It is a fine line and I know that on days when I send them out of puddles to save my sanity, I fall on the wrong side of it. A few days after I lost my patience at the park, two little boys from the city I live in were pulled away by the same river my kids had been playing in. It was a horrible thing to happen, one boy was safe while his brother lost his life. Could you imagine? As a mother my heart breaks for this family, the loss and grief and guilt that must be in the parent’s hearts, it overwhelms me just to think about it. Of course, the social media comments all blamed the parents for not being there, not watching their children more closely. While I wasn’t on the shoreline that day, this could very easily have been me, any one of my children could have been pulled in by the power of the river while they frolicked and I may not have been able to save them. Does this make me a bad parent? Does this make me negligent? For trying to instill a love of nature, a deeper curiosity, a desire to see the small in the vast expanse that is all of creation?

Perhaps I’ve read too many stories to my children, but I can’t help but think of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn playing pirates out on Jackson’s Island, alone for days on end. Sure it’s a different time, but the river is the same…The desire to explore, the need to be self-sufficient, the urge to prove oneself runs just as deeply in modern children as it did for Tom and Huck. If parents crush the wonder their children are born with what will be left? If I only allow my kids to read about the creatures that live in the river or watch documentaries on how the currents flow, will they grow up to seek ever widening horizons? By sheltering them couldn’t I shatter their innate curiosity? I know that keeping them safe is part of my obligation, and I know that I can provide opportunities for their imaginations to be stimulated in a safe environment, but I also know that I can’t control everything.

Ultimately that is what it boils down to for me. Control. Can I tip the scales so that my desire to control my kid’s lives is outweighed enough by my desire for them to live fully in the great wide-open? This opens me up to the potential for loss, my kids may get hurt, they may develop fear, they may be taken from this world entirely. Just typing those words makes me grasp for control. Those words make me pray hard for their safety. As I sit in prayer though, I realize that it’s not up to me, there is nothing I could do to extend any of their lives. I remember babies who’ve died in their beds. I remember my brother taken between the beat of a heart. Children who were here one minute and with God the next. The control is not mine, I must release my children to the One who created them.

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I’ll still keep watchful eyes over them, still send them to a safer place to play when I am overwhelmed, still pray for their safety. I’ll do all of this knowing that I can only hold them so tightly, I can do all of the things “right” and I still have no idea what will happen to them tomorrow. Better than waiting for the worst, I’ll live in today and soak up their laughter. I’ll present them with opportunities to be brave, so that when they are grown they will look back and see the experiences that grew them most were not the easy ones, but the difficult. I’ll let them explore places that make me just a bit nervous, so that when they encounter the big, scary world on their own they will have memories to pull from. And they’ll be better able to navigate. I will make every attempt to equip my children as the world-changing individuals they are, by the bold and often-intimidating choices I make with and for them today. This way of thinking, and ultimately living, scares me. Yet I can trust more fully in the One who created me and know that I (and my children) are safe in His care.

 

Building Community, One Kindness at a Time

 

I was at the library with my little children recently, they understand our rules and so I let them have some space to search in peace. My tiny was even chasing after her sister so I had time to look for the constellation books we wanted to pick up without needing to keep her from pulling every single book off of the shelf. We have a large library and there is always a fair amount of noise in the children’s area. On this day I could hear a baby fussing and crying, and, honestly, I was not feeling patient for it at all.

I continued my search with the hope that the child would settle down quickly. As I finished up and my kids were discussing audio book choices I found the baby, he was in a stroller and his momma was overwhelmed. As I stood there making silly faces at the boy she picked him up and continued working at a computer station with her little guy on one knee, she had a bottle out, a pacifier, plus the contents of her wallet spread out next to her. While I didn’t try to see what she was doing, I could tell she wasn’t just casually surfing the web while her baby yelled from his stroller. I thought to myself how hard that is, I remembered the days of having no internet at home and needing to use a library computer to complete important tasks. I know how difficult and stressful that can be, and I never had to try to do it while bouncing a fussy one year-old on my knee.

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I stood there at the end of the audio book aisle as my children discussed the benefits of listening to books and I was convicted. The Lord spoke into my heart asking me to help this over-stressed mother. I will admit that I was hesitant, this woman was not like me, the differences between us were evident. I had dirty knees from coming out of the garden, the gypsy just doesn’t wash out of my hair, and my kids dress themselves. I wondered if I offered, would she accept? First because of my appearance and secondly because as a mother myself I rarely take people up on their offers of kindness, feeling instead that I should be able to do it on my own. After a few minutes of hemming and hawing I gathered my courage and approached her.

I wasn’t sure what I would say so I just said “Hello, could I hold your baby for you?”

She turned from the computer screen, looked me over (probably contemplating all of the societal reasons that she should say no), thanked me and handed me her sweet boy. Can I please take a minute to tell you how completely adorable this child was! He was the sweetest, chubbiest, most squeezable baby you have ever seen and I was immediately glad that I took the risk. I sat on the floor with her baby while the woman went back to what she was doing, she had clearly been flustered trying to complete her task with this squirmy little guy in her lap so it took her awhile to find her place as she thanked me and told me she was struggling with the document that she was working on. My children would happily live at the library and so I told her to take her time.

Baby boy and I rocked and bounced and sat playing “this little piggy went to market” with his sweet little toes while his mom was able to finish her work, get help from a librarian with printing and begin to make a phone call. It wasn’t long but he was trying to escape from me too, and I could better understand why he had been buckled into his stroller earlier. Clearly the baby just wanted to move and explore, he hadn’t been being naughty or yelling for the sake of hearing his own voice, he was simply bored. I was reminded once again that I should never assume intent without first trying to understand. His mother was, of course, so thankful to me, but I thanked her when I handed her back her squirming, giggling, smiling baby. I’m sure she had no idea why I offered to help, why this strange (dirty) woman offered to hold her cranky baby while she filled out paperwork in the middle of her own personal mess.

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It was a gift and a reminder to me that we all need help sometimes, and the mother’s grace in her acceptance quieted my doubts about offering in the first place. How often do I avoid these situations where I could actually help someone based on my own uneasiness or fear? How often do I deny someone else the gift of helping by saying “no thanks, I’ve got it.”? I can’t even begin to guess at the answers to those questions, but I have made a decision that this day I will do what I can to help whoever is in my path. I briefly worried that I wouldn’t be able to help well because I have three little people in tow at all times. Then I realized that in them I have three extra sets of hands to hold doors open, three little voices reminding me to hand a bottle of water to the homeless man on the corner, three willing participants in this spreading of joy. My children don’t have to stop me helping, they have the ability to help as well.

We can’t do all of the things, and we will miss opportunities, and that’s okay. God doesn’t ask me to do all things, just the next thing. If I do that task then He’ll have another for me at the exact right moment. In my mind I can see the baby’s adorable face as I sit here typing about him, I’ve been praying for him and for his momma. I hope that they are on a good path, that she knows God treasures her above all else, that earthly situations in no way reflect the breadth of Gods love. I also hope that the fifteen minutes of my time was seen as the pouring out of God’s love for her.

I’ve wondered since we left if she had been praying before I offered to hold her sweet baby.  Had she been sitting there mumbling something like, “Lord, please shut this boys mouth so that I can get us the help that we need and finish up on this computer…”. While I’ll never know for sure, I can trust that God knew her heart and her need and used me to meet that need. Not because I’m awesome or anything, simply because I was willing. I didn’t shy away from the nudge He gave me. I often think about the village that is missing in my mothering walk, and while that is a post all in itself, I am hopeful that for a few minutes I was able to fill that role for this woman. That I was able to remind her that there is a community around her that will lift her up and help her right where she is. After all I can’t expect others to build community for me, I have to actively take part in the process.

Teacher Bees

Bees are some of my favorite creatures. They bumble around my Russian sage this time of year with lavender colored dust floating all around them, clinging to their bodies and making them look like they were dipped in frosting sugar. It is beautiful. The other day as my kids were splashing in the pool my attention was drawn over to the still uncut oregano. I was internally chastising myself for not getting to that summer task yet and reminding myself how much better baked-ziti-in-January will taste if I get the herbs drying now. So, logically, I walked over, sat down, and watched the bees.

They were uncaring of my presence in their garden and so they continued on in their required task without even a glance in my direction. As they went about their work I was able to notice how lovely their wings are, how fuzzy they are, how quickly they buzz between flowers. A person can think deep thoughts in her garden if she is able to block out the joyous noise that is her children. I found myself wondering how little the bees care for the beauty of the flowers. Yes, there are several different types of bees gathering pollen in my front garden at any given moment in early August, but is it because of its beauty? There were equally as many bees clambering around my oregano, whose flowers are not showy in any way. If beauty is not important to the bees, do I place too much emphasis on it in my own life?

I wonder what draws the bees to a particular spot, to a particular type of blossom. I know the basics of bee-related science. That they work to ensure survival of the queen who will replace each bee as they die from the exhaustion of working for her, which ensures the survival of the colony. At least for one more season. There is no care for singular well-being, rather only for the health of the hive. We also have carpenter bees in our yard, a solitary species. Their drive is not the good of the hive. No, their motivation is simply in the hope they will mate and allow the continuation of their own species. In my deep thinking I decided that if my life was simply selfless work, work that I would likely not see come to fruition, that I would seek out the beautiful as much as possible too.

It continually amazes me how all of my life lessons seem to be either learned or reinforced in my garden. One of the first verses that comes to mind when I think of bees is Proverbs 16:24; Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. I’ve helped my kids memorize this verse and I use it as an internal reminder that when I speak kind words to them I am speaking healing instead of hurt. I often think of plants as God’s words to me. He speaks to me in the color of cosmos, in the scent of lilies, sends notes of His love in small fields of daisies, reminders of His faithful care for me in early spring lilacs. He is gracious to me. And if Gracious words are a honeycomb, I easily receive His grace in my garden. I am sure that the lessons have been behavior corrections that have come in the gentlest way possible. If the flowers are the words of God, then I can believe the bees to be His messengers. They grab my attention, cause me to be still and sit in His presence, they remind me to slow down and focus on Him. Bees have one aim; continuation of the species, shouldn’t I have a similar drive? Or rather;

Shouldn’t I have a singular focus I mean. There should be one thing that causes me to do all things, or that I do all things in the name of. As the drones of bees work solely for their queen shouldn’t my motivation be my King? I believe that it should be. As I go about my daily tasks I am reminded that even though laundry, dishes, and sweeping are menial tasks they are made good in that I do them for Christ. That I do them to model a servant heart for my children and to actually be a servant to my God is what matters. You’ve probably heard that you should “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people.”(Eph. 6:7), that verse never really made sense to me until I understood the bees. I could’t see how scrubbing toilets, making dinner, grocery shopping could be done for the Lord when these tasks were so clearly just drudgery.

The bees never see it as such of course, they fly from flower to flower spreading pollen, providing for their community, and ultimately ensuring the continuation of not only themselves, but of endless variety of plants, and the creatures who rely on those plants. Do I have that kind of power? If I tend my children with this type of care they can flourish and grow into the people they are meant to be. If I serve my family well and provide for their needs I am allowing them to have a safe place to explore the world and find their place in it. They needn’t worry about where their next meal will come from because they trust me. If I live my life in service to God my people will learn by example that a life of service is fulfilling. Like the bees, I may not see how the way I live will affect my children. The affect of one person is seldom felt in their lifetime, but if I am going to have an impact I want it to be for the kingdom and for good.

As the bees continue to buzz from flower to flower I watch. I sit in the chaos that is my day-to-day and wonder at the chaos that is a working bee hive. Each bee knows its place in service to the queen. As I am still learning my place and position in service to the King of kings, the bees are a good model for me. This is why I will always sit still in my garden on hot July afternoons listening to the buzz of bees and the splashing of children, being reminded that both care nothing for the higher order of the world, they simply trust that there is order. This is why the oregano is still uncut several days later and I count jars of dried herbs on my shelf trying to decide if I can just let the bees have the flowers this year. This is why when I am feeling spent or overwhelmed or too exhausted to do more, I am able to remember (sometimes) that God asks me to do only this task, this work of motherhood. That in His strength I will be able to carry on and that in His wisdom I can discern what must be done next and what can wait.

It is a constant learning and relearning of why I was put here in this place. It would be easier if I could retain these lessons on the first try. I’m very glad though, that if I have to be told multiple times, I have the bees as my teachers, the plants as my textbook and the garden as my school house.