Wednesday, February 15, 2017

To the Mom Who Doesn't Have Time to Herself

Your time is not your own.

I know that's true, because mine isn't either.

On any given day, my time is stretched as thin as cheap leggings. And Lord knows I have a couple of those, which have now found their rightful place in the lingerie drawer. You're welcome, husband.

But you know what I've found when it comes to spending time with God in this spread-thin-season? He is faithful. He can do mighty things with our small moments. He can do transformative things with our tiny time. He doesn't need much, he just needs your best.

We've prostituted the word best, to look like perfection. Like abundance. Like candles and arias. Like cathedrals and quiet time. That's a lie. That's not the way of the God of the Bible.

In this season, my best looks like reading a Psalm or two while grabbing my coffee out of the microwave or flipping open the Bible while the kids are magically entertained by an old balloon that's been floating at half mast in my living room for weeks.

In these small moments, God meets me. He'll meet you too. He probably already has.

It it isn't pretty. It doesn't look impressive. It looks kind of sloppy. Like the rest of life.

But I have learned to stop apologizing and instead recognize the small square of space that I am given each day. I have identified the temptation to fill that sliver of space with something that will leave me suffering want. Because I have finally noticed, on good days, that the numbing agent of choosing want over sacrifice desensitizes our souls to the call of Christ.

Giving God our sliver of smallness reminds me of what we see the poor widow doing in Luke. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on. (Luke 21:1-4)

Out of her poverty she put in all she had to live on. 

If you are a mom, you live in an impoverished season of time. Right now all God wants is what you have. He isn't asking you to give him something you don't possess. He is a God of astonishing intimacy. And mercy.

But the widow, she put in all she had to live on.

All she had. He wants that. He deserves that.

Even if it looks like scrolling through your Bible app while hiding in the bathroom. Begging him to connect the dots of what you just fire-hosed to refresh your sleep deprived soul.

We have to stop scrambling to produce margins of time that look a certain way before we meet with Jesus. We may not get it. Chances are, we won't.

He knows. He knows your challenges. The struggles. He knows that you are physically pulled at and climbed on and yelled for. He knows you're interrupted a thousand times a minute and that your heart is afflicted and storm tossed and sad and tired. He knows you don't have fun a whole lot. He sees the sacrifice, the love you give, the cuss words you say under your breath. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. (Psalm 139:2)

He loves you. He longs for you. The pulse of your wrist infatuates him. He longs to run his fingers along your face, with a deep heartsick love. Your blood was bought with his, and yet we spill it out for other gods.

The gods that tire us out. The gods that cut us open and drain us until we get lightheaded and come to our senses–begging his forgiveness.

It's no picnic, raising our kids and losing ourselves. This transformation is a battle field. You need to know He is on your side. Fighting for you. Has a plan for you. He wants to show you what He has done. Who He is and why that makes all the difference.

Practically, this may look like ceasing the spin and grabbing hold of the small moments by the throat. Stopping. And choosing. And stopping and choosing again. Those five minutes here and there compounded over a week add up to a deeper understanding of the Man who says he is the lover of our souls. And of the God who says He knows the hairs on our heads. And that He cares about our small life.

The same small life that I spend standing at the kitchen sink more than anywhere else right now.

These are the kitchen sink days, my friend. So why try to make them the cathedral ones?

We're in this together,

Thursday, February 9, 2017

To the Mom Who's Drowning

I have never been a strong swimmer. Mainly, because I never practice.

My mother-in-law is a triathlete. She asked me to train with her one summer. I was too proud to admit I didn't want to swim or was too out of shape to even attempt what she could. So what did I do? I said, "Yes, I would love to train to do a sprint triathlon with you!"

I should have known early on in my relationship with her son that this family was VERY different than mine. These folks were fast-twitch fibertastics who were visibly excited about Christmas Eve runs together. You know, like for fun. There was no rest and repeat cycle in this family. There still isn't. 

As I started to train for the triathlon,  I discovered that the biking wasn't awesome, the running I could handle–but the swimming. Nope. I just kind of half floated and doggy paddled my way to a side ache.  So I never ended up racing with her. I just kind of pretended to train. Knowing full well, that I wouldn't be able to do it. That I just wasn't prepared for the swim. 

It was uncharted territory. 

And this my friends, is motherhood.

I had my third child 9 months ago. If anyone knows about what it feels to be drowning, it is I. And anyone who has entered into the deep waters of parenthood. We start on the dry sand, warm with dreams for our pregnant bellies. Then we get our toes wet through baptism by fire in labor and delivery. Then we wade deeper and deeper year after year into the waves that are unpredictably stormy and calm within seconds of each other. 

And then one day we realize we are on the brink of going under. 

It doesn't matter if you have one child, two or seven, or if those kids are babies or toddlers or teenagers. If there is one thing I have started to realize is that wherever you are at in the parenting spectrum it is the hardest place–simply because you have never been there before. You have no practice. 

When I feel the waves crashing over my head it is usually in moments like these: I'm crying in the parking lot of a carpet store, or into my purse so no one hears me. Or I can't get the kids to stop fighting. Or when my heart breaks because my in-the-middle daughter wants to give away the baby, because she feels invisible. Or when my husband is carrying so much on his shoulders and I still don't have sex with him because I'm just too tired. Or when my oldest son is struggling in Kindergarten and his teacher suggests occupational therapy. 

These real talk moments. These are the times when our chins slightly dip below the surface of the water until our faces are splattered with salt and tears and we don't know which is which. The waves simply do not let up; slapping us in the face; atagonizing us. We begin to panic.

These are also the times when Jesus is my absolutely lifeline. Oftentimes, if I'm truly sucking in salt water I turn to Ecclesiastes. 

Misery loves company I guess. 

And yet, Ecclesiastes is refreshingly honest. It is one of those books that you can tell was written at the end of things. After a few lessons have been learned and tested to be true. There is slight cynicism to the words, but with a wise monocle over Solomon's right eye. 

Solomon was one of the most prominent sages in the history of Jewish culture. He wrote this book at the end of his life as a summation of sorts of what his biggest learning lessons were. And man, there's so many lessons to clutch to our chests for the mama whose underwater. 

Ecclesiastes 3:14 "I perceived that whatever God does endures forever, nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it."

To the mom who's drowning: God has done it. Whatever the worry. Whatever the fear. Whatever the struggle. Whatever the secret. Whatever the bloody mess. He HAS done it. He has won the battle for your heart. For your kids' hearts. He is a wonderfully wasteful God who would spill his guts all over again to invite you into his forever. Rest. He has done it. Subtext: you can't do it. So stop trying. 

Ecclesiastes 5:4 "Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few."

Ouch. This one stings at first. And then it becomes absolutely freedom. If we know our place, we no longer struggle with insecurity. God is in heaven, we are on earth. He is in control, we are in chaos. Be still before him. Quiet your heart and be wise with the words you toss up before the King. He deserves respect. He deserves thoughtfulness. He invented language. He knows every nuance of word and silence, and that unbelievable truth should only increase your ability to choose select words like Anne Lamott suggests: Wow. Help. Thanks. 

Ecclesiastes 5:7 "For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must hear."

So this isn't what you thought it would be. You aren't the kind of mom you dreamed you would be. Your kid isn't the type of child you thought you would have. The edges don't line up sometimes: the puzzle hangs in a scattered mess with wide gaps and ill-fitting pieces. Let those dreams die a dead, dead death. Let those expectations get rolled up in the next diaper you change. If you feel pained because the dreams you had have hidden themselves in the immense challenge at hand, say the hard words: It's vanity. My vanity.

If you find yourself talking, talking, talking but not seeking, seeking, seeking; flip the script for a week or two. Listen instead. Open the Bible. God is the one you must hear, because my friend, we already know what we are going to tell ourselves. And it's one of the reasons why you feel like you have weights tied to your ankles in the open sea. 

Ecclesiastes 7:21-22 "Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. Your heart knows that many times you have yourself cursed others."

I have heard my children say they hate me. Not often, but I will never forget the first time I heard it. Like my insides were on fire. Do not take these curses to heart. We are all bound to the curse of man. This includes inflicting hurt on those who've inflicted hurt on us because they were hurt. The heartbreaking cycle should not take residence inside the mama's heart. We need to be diligent in staying heart whole. Figure out a process for emptying those words from your mind. Mine looks like open palmed prayer and a bubble bath. (Ok, just open palmed prayer. Bubble baths? Ha ha. That's hilarious.) 

Do not take hurtful words from your kids' mouths, from other mom's mouths, from your husband's mouth to the inner sacred chamber of your heart. Lock that place up tight. Fill it up with the love that Christ has for you. Look for places in His story where he talks about your value. And remember that kids are a rebel force obsessed with fruit snacks and the word 'no'. Their words can not be trusted as truth. 

Ecclesiastes 8:15 "And I commend joy, for man has no good thing under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun."

Commend joy in your life. Give gladness a pat on the back. Linger on the moments that fill you up so full that you experience a different type of drowning; a life giving end-of-selfness. And chill out. I have learned to chill out as a mom. I am someone who is just sliiiiightly uptight in general. The wisest man in history (ok, second wisest. Jesus wins.) calls our bluff: stop thinking you are so important and all of this matters so much. Instead. Eat. Drink. Be joyful.  Sometimes moms want to suffer in silence. We want to cling to our pain and call it purpose. Nada. The second wisest man in history's prescription: Eat. Drink. Be joyful.

For this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him. 

There will be toil. There will be tears. There will be days of drowning. 

But friend, there is joy. It just requires a little practice. 

We're in this together, 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Dust Pan Diaries

Yesterday, I thought about starting a blog or an Instagram feed dedicated to the fascinating piles of dirt I gather everyday in my kitchen. So I did.

Monday's morning dirt, 8:15 a.m.
-512 pieces of dried egg from my 9-month-old's high chair (did he even eat anything?)
-23 blonde hairs from my daughter’s forced hair brushing session.
-A billion bread crumbs from the unending toast I make. (It never fails that once I start putting the jam and peanut butter away, some yells out in panic: “What are you d-d-d-oing? I need toast too!”Out it all comes again.)

Monday's afternoon dirt, 1:45 p.m.
-Four army men lay splayed in defeat.
-A few death-trap Legos (how come the tiny ones are the only ones that fall to the floor?)
-Three unidentifiable food objects (you know, my code for UFO's)
-A handful of dried rice.
-A clump of my hair.
-A single pink rhinestone.

Monday's afternoon dirt (Part 2), 1:47 p.m. (Two minutes later...)
-An accidental drop of an entire pound bag of M&M's by the hands of one sneaky son.
-Oh, and there's one random Barbie shoe.

Part 2's pile of "dirt" incurred weeping and gnashing of teeth. RIP thin candy shelled friends.

As great of an idea that this was, it did cause me to stop.

To give God a small moment to whisper over my shoulder. To let the deep places in. Anytime, I begin to get annoyed by a matter of routine that I have to do over and over, I must ask myself: what is there for me to learn? Am I allowing myself to be taught?

I am not too proud to accept that my kitchen's dirt just might have the ability to reveal truth that some of the books on my nightstand can't even teach me.

Because, it is here. Right here. In this mundane moment that Jesus longs to meet with me. Meet with you. No scented candles. No worship music. In the middle of the mess. You just have to look past the pile. And so, I let the silence speak.

What am I really doing here? Why am I sweeping so much? Why do I feel this intense push to gather the grossness, to pursue order and cleanliness? Why does it bother me so much when life gets messy, dirty?

I let the idea roll around, while I shove the broom back into the coats/storage/toiletries/random-purse/kids-hiding-spot/supply closet. Pushing hard against the door, I tell myself for the one-thousandth time that I need to get a wall organizer for my cleaning tools already.

And as I step away from the door, I happen upon it. The reason that my dustpan is preaching to me today.

Just like the closet door conceals the reality of my messiness (or my mom-ness with three kids six and under at home), so does the sweeping. The constant need for control in the chaos. And guys, my life is chaos. I don't like my mess. I don't like to see what dirt my family has accrued over the day. I shiver to think about what the pile would look like if I didn't sweep the instant something sticks to the bottom of my foot. Which may be every 3.5 seconds.

 I spend a lot of my time gripping the broom handle. Sometimes with gritted teeth, sometimes in a trance that makes my life easier to handle. Sweep. Sweep. Sweep. Progress. Progress. Progress.
I want to sanitize my life. I want no traces of grime, gunk.

And this is just another outlet for me to exercise control. It is a necessity that I clean my floors as often as I do, lest my baby die from eating the death-trap Lego's and the clump of hair. But, the difference now is that no pile of dirt will ever be just a pile of dirt again.

Instead, sweeping can become worship. And the task that used to drive me to performing and pretending can actually become a messy vehicle that reminds me of my need; a portal into prayer.

My dirt can now dress itself in thankfulness; it can become a quick Polaroid of play and mistakes and patience. This dust can produce life, if I let God breathe into it–just like he did at the very beginning.

One day my dust piles with be smaller. Maybe they will just be dust. A faint reminder of the days when dried rice, rhinestones and Army men used to push it underfoot. My heart hurts when I think about that. When I truly think about it. So when I sweep now, I will do my best to thank God for the random Lego, raisin and candy wrapper.

It's evidence that I am still at work with my babies and that God is still at work with me.

We’re in this together,

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Third Time's a Charm

It may be 3 a.m. but I just can't take my eyes off of you.

You bury your face into my body. I hear the soft snore swathed in baby's breath return to your restless frame. I could get up now and put you back into your crib. I could do this pretty easily, and sneak back into my warm side of the bed–which I really want to do. And yet, I linger. I pause. I run my fingers over the crest of your ears. I bend down in an awkward crane and kiss the top of your head. I memorize the rise and fall of your chest, the way your eyelashes sit snugly against the softest parts of your face.

I do this because it is almost over. I feel the weary in my heels from the countless hours I've spent standing at the edge of a crib. Swaying and stepping, lifting and setting down; doing the dance only an exhausted young mother knows. This time, the third time, I know the steps. I've found my rhythm, I know where to pause for the joy and to quickly release the disappointment. I am not an expert, I am just trained. I have earned my stripes, one blurry eyed day at at time.

But now, just like the clouds that are snaking in between the tall evergreen trees in my yard, the morning is burning off and the fog is lifting. I can see the way: the way out of infant hood.

And isn't it just like life to get to the part where you finally appreciate what you have only to watch it run through your fingers?

I am not sad that the baby years are coming to a close; that my 8-month old has partially weaned himself from nursing or is standing in place, or is sleeping just a little bit better and needing me just a little bit less. I am not sad that I spent a lot of my emotional currency belaboring the labor of love that really is the roughest stuff. It has also been the most transforming stuff. I've spent over two-thousand days on this rollercoaster, so I know without a doubt that it is and was hard–and I am not saying that is wasn't or that it won't be again.

It just will be a different type of try. A different type of get-by that isn't hinged on survival.

And this graduating as a mom is all a part of the pass through. A part of the oldest joke in the book; you know the one about the chicken crossing the road just to get to the other side. You see, if I paused right here–with my third-born's gummy smiles and his adorable giggle I would miss it. I would miss the crossing over; the passage way that we all take to get to the other side of our selves. To get to the place we are being led, the forward progress that is only relevant to the human race and no other type of species.

My children are the closest and most concentrated way I can be a character witness to God at work. To see his newest creations gather scars and skeletons and golden fruit and bejeweled crowns. It isn't the easy way; there is no easy way.

It is the way of a mom. The unavoidable heartsickness that tears out our singular desires and replaces them with desires for another. These aches run so deep even the darkest oceans can't rise to it. This is the love of God. He carved this cavern into our hearts; breaking apart the drylands with a violent river. And this ocean that tosses us in a thousand directions is also the only body of salt water that can quench the deep that calls from within us to the deep above us.

It stings more than it is sad. That's the better way to describe it.

It stings your eyes; like the onset of a good cry.

It stings your heart like a bee sting; swelling into something that burns and bruises and then, subsides.

It stings like a quick brush of a thicket's stinging nettles. But it can be soothed.

As a kid, someone once told me if you held your breath and ran through singing nettles, you couldn't be stung. I can't say for sure as an adult if this is true or not, but I swear as a little girl I did this over and over and it worked. I never got stung: when I remembered to hold my breath.

So there is an antidote to this motherhood sting: holding your breath. Taking the moments in. Stamping them on the inside of your brain, with a fiery branding iron. Searing the sad and the happy and the sting and the subsiding into the recesses of your being. Not to dwell, but to deliver yourself a package that you can always open.

And there will be days coming, where I will want to sit down with this phantom package and tear open the paper and carefully inspect every baby shoe I kept, every picture that captured the mundane, every blanket that used to cover their tiny bodies. The day that my son's heart gets broken for the first time. The day my daughter forgets who she is and tells a really big lie. The day my youngest doesn't feel like he belongs.

On those days, when my heart is no longer the only one that is stung, these branded memories will be a salve. A cold, cooling space for all of us to remember the beauty of small beginnings.

We're in this together,

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Gum Wrapper God

It's the hardest thing I've ever done: living like a Christian.

Not living like a morally good person. Not living like I have it all together. Not living like I am perfect and you are not. Not living like I have anything to teach anyone. But to live like a Christian- in the Christ sense: the homeless sense. The humble sense. The kind sense. The loving sense. The self denial sense.

This is the hardest thing because it doesn't come natural, this re-convincing of my heart everyday that I am not good. That I have not arrived. That there is someone I owe my life too. And it usually leads me to silence. Because I just don't have anything to add to the matter.

But the silence screams at me to type it out. And so here I am. 

I have chosen to believe in Jesus. Yes, with all its controversial beliefs, it's insane death-to-life claims. The seemingly complicated history seared by the skepticism of contradiction pointing to the Great Rescue of Humankind. (These contradictions are the building blocks of a faith that does not follow a story arc that we can predict; a science we can't pin down. It is a faith that is tightly woven to bone marrow and imagination, not hymnal flipping and hemlines.)

I believe He is real. I have felt Him. I have talked with Him. I have read his words and felt my heart come to life in ways it can't on its own. Told you, it is very strange.

I have stood at the sink too many times to count with tears cresting over and a baby trying to crawl up my leg. I have poured a glass of wine only to watch it sit on the counter, waiting until I was less desperate to drink it–just to check my heart. Just to make sure that I am trusting God for my peace in the middle of chaos.

And sometimes I don't. Some days peace is far from me, and I shove the Spirit down below the static of anger and self worship and turn up the color of mad. And on those days I take a long hard sip, because I deserve it.

But I don't deserve it. And then I'm back to the beginning. The cycle again of re-convincing. Of re-committing. Of being joyful in the re-calibration, of being small, but not ashamed.

Like C.S. Lewis once said, Jesus coming to earth was like a human becoming a slug. Willingly. We are the slugs. He is the Creator of all things. We should know our lane, and yet we're always trying to jump the median. And often the median-jumping takes us a lifetime, while that gross strip of gleaming goo trails behind us and we call it gold. Because we can't do what the Savior can. Being slugs and all.

So why would I want to debase myself to be a slug, when the world tells me I am a queen?

This: I have seen myself in the magic mirror. With the make up off and the try-harder worn away–I've seen that I'm the monster. I'm the one to blame. (Oh goodness, calm down. Yes, I am a child of the King, but I am talking about humility of heart and of what author Dave Harvey calls "healthy self suspicion".)

I would rather live in light of someone else's perfection instead of trying to manufacture my own. Because the latter doesn't work; like a broken down truck, it kicks and turns and putters me into a ditch. 

The truth of the matter (of why we all matter) is that I am being transformed. Right now. Right here–with my dirty floors and an all too often dirty mouth.

It may sound a little spooky, like sci-fi shit: that I am becoming something else altogether. But I might quite possibly be sprouting bony plates beneath my shoulder blades. One day these adolescent bumps may resemble something like wings, crosshatched with veins and tawny and battle scars and muscle.

These wings of heavenly approval were bought with blood soaked splinters. And those very same splinters are splicing apart my heart of stone slowly; "death by a thousand paper cuts"–allowing blood to drain out of places where there was no life.

Maybe life is more like science fiction than a statistic sheet. Maybe there is mystery beneath every mole hill and thousands of stories that surround one little rain cloud. In fact, I am beginning to think that's more of the reality.

Everyone is being transformed that claims to be trying to unpack who this Jesus character really is; those who are growing; growing into less, not into more.

The tension in my heart; the pulling in two different directions: peace and panic–that's evidence of the Holy Spirit working. That's evidence He may be at work in you. To recognize the rub. The forward motion marked by friction. He is pulling me up the mountain, even though I am desperately trying to scoop up boulders to throw in the back seat, to weigh down the ascent.

When I am at the end of myself, Jesus is at his best. He is at His post just waiting for me to stare out the window into my backyard and simply say, "I can't do this without you." Which I do daily. Some days, hourly. Partnering our lives with Jesus is the whole point if you're a Christian. Denying what we think we should be able to do, ought to do, in our own strength.

A few years ago I remember sitting cross legged on the floor with one of my dearest mom friends. I lowered my voice and felt the blood rush into my cheeks as I was about to confess something dark. Well, something that directly contradicted what my faith and heart believed.

"I'm not sure I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit in my life."

My friend didn't flinch. I thought for sure she would throw a book at me. I felt like I had confessed that I had been lying my whole life about calling myself a Christian. Theologically, the Holy Spirit is the inner working presence of Christ in the heart that is supposedly transforming Christians into a more perfect version of ourselves if we are consciously being in prayer and submitting our will to God's.

It was too far fetched to apply. Wasn't it? Like I was still struggling too much. Like I wasn't changing fast enough. Like I was a slug.

When Jesus walked the earth he said we would be better off when he left because of the introduction of this spirit:"But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you." In the English Standard Version it says, Helper. "The Helper will not come to you."

I like that. That's the Jesus I've seen. The Helper whose holding a worn-out map of meaning, where he's marked out the short cuts, even though they require scaling terrifying cliff faces.

And this gift, this Helper version of Jesus himself, I was confessing that I didn't feel it at work in my heart. And I was an all-in Christian. Supposedly. The type who–yes–had failed miserably at being a good human being, a trillion times over, but I thought that I was tracking; or at least on my way to tracking what all this belief business was about. 

So how could I say that I didn't believe and that I still believe?

That's the transformation stuff I was talking about. The bony plates and tawny stuff.

On that day, I wanted disobedience more that a clear line of communication with Jesus via the Spirit within me. And that's the quickest way to snuff out the whisper of the Helper is just to continually say no with my life. "I love you Lord, but I don't want you to be visible to others who don't know you. I don't want to be that weirdo." 

So I hid Him in the closet right next to my jackets; where the Jesus I claim to love searched my pockets for evidences of his sacrifice in my life and instead came out with handfuls of old receipts and gum wrappers. 

Not anymore. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Impact of Unexpected Joy

I've chosen one word that I want to unpack this year: sustain.

It's not fancy or sexy, and there are parts of me that wish it was.

The very real side of a pre-mommy me wishes it was overcome or victory or promotion.

Because, I can feel something happening in my life; almost a barricade being built. Something is being weaved together in my heart out of knowing; out of being aware of what's to come; the blessing and the bracing.

Another baby will be here soon.

This is a beautiful and terrifying surprise. It's something I know so many of my friends are longing for or grieving loss over. I know and value the gift that is growing inside of me. But I also know there's a cutting away that takes place to make room for another compartment of care. It can cause breakdowns and breakthroughs, exhaustion and exhilaration. It's the type of work that is wonderful and wearing. Which pretty much sums up all good work.

I've had many years in the past where I've sat down and written out goals for my career, my life and my accomplishments–they were shiny capsules of meaning and progress. Most of the time as the year ran down those goals became shackles instead of being buoys. And ultimately, left me feeling underachieved and empty. This could have something to do with the nature of my goals. Most often, they only benefited me.

Sustain is a word the benefits me as well as my entire family and the circle of people that I'm lucky to share my life with. It is obviously not a goal, but more so a surrendering.

Since becoming a mom over five years ago, I've learned something about creating my own goals: if they don't benefit anyone other than myself they sprout quickly and die even faster. Honestly, the word "goal" actually tastes bad in my mouth. This is coming from someone who used to believe in them with all my heart.

I think it's important to have a plan, of course. But goals infer that we have control over the future-we might for a time. Goals imply that we are the only ones who write the script-we don't. Goals can also become gold-plated and take place of the small moments, the less glorifying ones that have something to teach us; something to say when we sit still long enough to hear it.

I've learned something about progress too: it doesn't move in a straight line. It moves in a circle; up and down, back and forth, high and lows. And what better word to learn from and to put to memory than sustain while the dial of my productive progress might take a few ticks back.

Webster defines the word: 1)To keep from falling; to bear; to uphold; to support; as, a foundation sustains the superstructure; comfort, or relieve; to vindicate.

The Bible says a lot about it, but here's a few:

Sustain me, my God, according to your promise, and I will live; do not let my hopes be dashed. Psalm 119:116 

Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken. Psalm 55:22 

For forty years you sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing. Nehemiah 9:21

God promises to do all this for me. For you. 

I've been wired by God to want to create and produce. These are tendencies in my soul that I can't deny, and I don't think I've been asked to. I have tried, believe me.

And it always leads me to wanting it even more. On the desperate days, I incessantly check my email for an opportunity that isn't coming. I can hear the voices in my head that tell me that my gifts are like a body quickly losing its ability to exercise. My mind screams that I am in the process of literary atrophy. And behind that, I see my Wizard-of-Oz-ishness trying to create a stage that isn't mine to star on.

On the at-peace days, I see a dimming of my big dreams. The one that used to suffocate me.

And I am thankful for that.

The burden of having to succeed in ways that are impressive to all people has been lifted. But I still grapple with the person I am becoming: a quieter, less sure version of who I used to  be. Someone who is hungry for learning, teachable and humble. I've gotten here by failing. A lot of failing and a lot of pausing. Waiting. Embarking and retreating.

But as I see each day stretch out in front of me, I know one thing for sure: I don't know anything for sure. Only one person knows what the future holds and I do trust him, even when I drag my dusty heels in getting to the place he's leading me.

Instead of fighting against these realities of how I've been sewn together, I've been trying to work with them; to let them breathe and be silent, to be stretched and to rest.

As I'm preparing to become a mom for the third time I know that I, my husband, and my two other kiddos are going to be changed. Changed for the better. I'm scared of the reality of chaos coming in, but I am at peace because I will be sustained. I will not fall. I will only be lifted up.

A few months ago I went to the grocery before I found out I was pregnant. Before I could even grab a cart, my son had run quickly into the store to gawk at the plastic-crap toy dispensers. As I maneuvered my daughter into the shopping cart, a woman came up to me I had never seen her before. She got very close to my face and said, "It may be hard now, but he is going to bring you so much joy." I stood there and stammered, "Oh I know." She hadn't seen my son, or maybe she had, but either way that was all she said and she walked away.

At first, it was creepy. But when I remembered it a few days later–staring down at the positive pregnancy test, it sent a quickening shiver through my body. I didn't know if we were having a boy or girl until 5 months after that.

It's a boy.

So today I'm holding onto the crazy and the strange; I'm taking an abstract leap of faith and believing that people can be sustained by a God who rules the universe. That there is a person who is at work inside of me creating not only a new person out of nothing but also creating a new person out of who I used to be.

I can't wait to meet Max Kristoffer. I can't wait for the impact of unexpected joy.

We're in this together,

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Missing

This has been the season of the missing in my house.

My favorite fall jacket vanished into thin air the moment the temperature dipped. I've drove myself insane looking over the same rows of clothes  trying to find it. But I can do without it.

Even though it was a Vera Wang jacket that I found at Goodwill for $12. Vera. Wang. And even though it was my best thrift find of all time. I. Can. Do. Without. It. Sigh...

And then just two days ago, a brand new book that I was eating up after a long span of buying books that tasted like sawdust to my soul, Learning How to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor simply took flight from the place I put it on the coffee table. I've looked on every book shelf and in my and daughter's "library" which is a collection of randomly stacked books that she steals from my nightstand. Nowhere to be found. Just gone.

But around the same time as those two trivial things, we lost a treasure of a different kind: my son's beloved and raggedy teddy bear. Teddy has been his constant companion since he was an infant. Five years of comfort, crying, playing and being "best friends" has now disappeared into some abyss where childhood goes to retire. There's this ache in my heart over this bundle of "fluff and stuff"; it feels familiar and there's a glimmer of my own story in there somewhere.

When my son tugs on my arm and tells me how much he misses him, I just break inside. Even though I know it is just a teddy bear. I find myself dreaming of finding Teddy for him. I've looked in every place possible; I called Starbucks (where the lady acted like I was a crazy person), Home Depot and asked my parents to inspect their cars. And yet, I just have this sad feeling that he's sitting in the rain somewhere. Alone.

Teddy meant something to my son. My son gave him purpose. My son gave him a place he was needed. He gave him a name (even if it was unoriginal) and he gave him love. 

The weight of losing something we value beyond price flips our perspective upside down; it bleeds into compartments where logic can't go. We retrace steps. We whisper desperate prayers. All the while trying to explain away why we care so much about something that was made in a factory somewhere. In reality, it was just a toy. I know, I know.

Teddy was literally falling apart and had had his arms and head sewn back on. Twice. He had been devalued by the simple act of doing life with my energetic son. And yet, it was his pilled fur and saggy head that gave him worth; that made him alive to us; that gave Teddy a star spot in my son's childhood storyline.

That's what love does. Love takes ordinary, non-interesting things and breathes life into them. Gives them scars and snuggles. Our experiences become their experiences. Our memories wrap around these small pieces of our personal history and our stories become folded in between.

My son has had five wonderful birthdays, and I am thankful for every single one. However, this year when he turned five it was a harder one to throw. He wasn't a little kid anymore. Toddler-dom was gone. I had prayed for this moment. I had longed desperately for easier days, when I wasn't bogged down by his energy and his temperament, where grunts would become sentences and temper tantrums, logical conversations.

And I don't miss my son being little, I just see how much I have changed. How we all have transformed. I see how much my husband and I have changed. In some ways for the better, the deeper and richer stuff, and yet in some spots for the more ragged. We bear the scars, figuratively and physically, of bearing and raising children.

The bags under out eyes are heavier, the tension of being torn in several different directions has left us with stitched limbs and love muscles too. And yet, our love is more valuable, there has been more of an investment, there is more to protect and a harder road ahead of us; one where we have to daily decide not to check out citing the worn out and disappointed places.

And I'm reminded of the rip-my-heart-out scene in Inside Out. The one where my son and I sat sobbing together. It is when the main character's imaginary friend Bing-Bong was left behind in a sea of other "childlike" things. I feel like I was watching every child's rite of passage. I could feel the innocence burning away into the hard realities and all I wanted to do is fashion a life-sized shield to protect my son from what was coming.

But I can't. Not only is it impossible, but I  don't see God doing that either. He doesn't stick us inside a bubble so we don't feel loss, anger, oppression or depression. He doesn't construct the road so that we can detour seasons of the missing.  Because here's the secret that God has wrapped up in the taking of things or in the losing of them: it is always replaced with something better.  

I've learned that God isn't an empty god. He doesn't do exchanges with tokens of nothingness. He is a full God. Full of so many valuable things that have the marks of hard loving all over them. He is full of grace. Full of compassion. Full of mercy. (Psalm 145:8) He is full of forgiveness. (Psalm 103:8) He is full of great love. (Eph. 2:4) He gives increase. (1 Cor. 3:6)

For some reason, we oftentimes think that God wants to take away; to subtract from our lives. We distrust the benefits of obedience. We distrust his vision for us. Holiness and peace seem like wooden nickels in a metal bucket, while the American version of Christianity–accumulation, perfection, constant improvement–sparkles like a room of golden coins; one that resembles what Scrooge McDuck swam in in DuckTales.

And this is the place where some of us are okay with losing the ragged, worn out version of our lives and our loves because it means we can quickly replace it with a brand new something. To take the losses and replace them with bigger and better holds a danger: nothing will ever be good enough.

The marks of hard love, pilled fur, stitched limbs and hearts, ragged bones, and weary prayers should never be seen as valueless. In the reverse economy where God says the poor are rich, these are the choice jewels of life.

Teddy is gone and that's terribly sad. Eventually, I will get my son a replacement, because every kid needs a teddy bear. But even so, I am looking forward to the day when his new bear is ragged, worn out, tired and broken in. Love looks used, worn in and out, adored and abused.

 Just look at the cross.

We're in this together,