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,

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Breaking the Silence

My last blog spoke of the importance of silence and the season I was in last Spring. I just went and re-read it and crazily enough it echoed almost everything I am still feeling to this day. Except, one thing.

For me, embracing quiet seasons can not be hinged on remaining quiet. If I do that, I resist change. Writing changes me. I process. I admit. I explore. I confess. In ways I don't in everyday life. In ways I can't. I was made to be a writer. I can't really do much with a blank page if I leave it blank. I have to keep writing the story even when it seems like the plot is thinning.

I think I thought if I was just silent, I would come to a point of clarity. I thought I would find a secret spiritual superhighway and afterwards I could come back to my writing ready to impart something of worth. But I am not like a paleontologist who has been dredging the Egyptian desert poised to unpack rare and one-of-a-kind truths about the nature of God: I just know what I have always known.

I am so glad I am not God.

One of my New Year goals was to make this year a wisdom warpath for me.

My quest looked a lot different. Epiphanies didn't abound. I have the same struggles. I have the same hesitancy's, tendencies and inclinations. 

I set out to seek him out. I dove into the Old Testament, Psalms, James and Revelation. And I have found wisdom, but not in the way I envisioned. I thought it would come easier, like skipping in a field laden with golden nuggets ready to drop into a deep velvet sack. I thought if I just "knocked" that my world would then be rained down with enlightenment from heaven, but it feels more like I've been chipping away at the same rock and discovered I am sitting on a pile of man made rubble.

I've been trying to fit God into my story, instead of giving God my story.

You guys, there are so many days where I don't get it. I look around this world and I can't see past my own ideas. Some days I have drastically missed the memo. I have looked for God in super structured Bible studies, small groups, one on one vulnerable conversations, serving meals to the sick and giving my time away generously to those who ask. Not bad things, but I don't need to look for him anywhere. He is already here. He is already doing his work. I can choose to be an active part of that or not.

There are periods of time where I've just opted out. When motherhood wears me to a nub. When my dreams feel as if they belonged to someone else and I see them like little hollowed out plums, shruken and soft.

I still feel the same way: I want Jesus. I want the man who said he wanted me. And yet I dance around his presence on the daily like I shadow I refuse to give skin to.

I want to unearth the character of God. Not a big picture character diagram where I dissect words in the Greek or Latin and study intricate subtexts. Sound theology is necessary, but life is often lived between the places of longing and apathy. I want to be an addict for the word, to cling in my storms to the small, minutiae Jesus where in every breath I feel him and I listen to him.

This is what I have learned about obedience: it breeds patches of quiet. It isn't followed by fanfare. It doesn't get applause. It gets slow and steady movement towards the heart of Jesus. It's ditch digging work, where we just keep going. I wish it would feel more magical. I wish I could say that I discovered that I am in fact a unique and favored snowflake that God is crazy about no matter how much I don't obey or don't give him any real skin in my game.

He calls us to be obedient servants. To stop numbing out. To stop judging. To stop the sideways glances. To stop pretending.

You know why?

The joy. The joy that is found. And this joy isn't the disingenuous brand that most church institutions propagate. It isn't silly, happy faces and jubilant handshakes. Joy is looking truthfully at the broken pieces of who you are and crying thankful tears into the stiches sewn by blood rusted nails.

I'm thankful. I'm thankful I believe in something as crazy as Jesus Christ. I can't imagine the mess I would be in if all I had at the end of the day was this pile of man made rubble. Keep digging.

We're in this together,

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

When You Say Nothing At All


I haven't written in a long time.

I've had a couple of people ask me why (and by a couple of people, I really mean one person unrelated to me), but regardless, I am not entirely sure why. Today, I read this Relevant article by one of my favorite authors Shauna Niequist  and it sparked something inside of me that called me to the keys.

So here I am. 

Shauna wrote of how we all go through seasons in our faith. And in those seasons she writes about how God sometimes speaks to us in different ways than He used to. How he goes silent where he used to be prolific and how he can start using new languages that we aren't entirely attuned to yet. Or maybe we just miss the memo altogether because we are distracted by The Voice. That could just be me.

Either way, it is pretty obvious if we just take a cue from creation. Seasons sprouting and fading around us show how intrinsic change is to growth. It is comforting to know that God speaks in all kinds of places and spaces. He can speak to us in bold strokes and big ideas–through consistent cushion warming in Sunday services. Or he can speak to us while we are waiting for a milkshake at Dairy Queen or when we are chasing our kids through those anxiety-inducing trampoline places.

Other times–and this is where I think I may be now–He turns down the volume and simply lets us feel Him in random moments: a slice of dusty sunshine, a trill of a spring bird, a kindness from someone in traffic or an understanding smile when you're kids are flipping out in the grocery line.

This season feels like a delicate, pale pink sort of faith for me; a simplicity of life I am enjoying while I'm hobbling in step with him–I think this may be what Paul Tripp refers to as a "God Awareness". He shows up in the most random places for me. A pair of mismatched shoes on my two-year old. My son asking all kinds of questions about theology through things like Star Wars and ninjas. My husband picking up my favorite banana peppers from the store.

You see, life is screaming very loud for my attention and yet I am just not really that interested in what is being offered. Even though I  haven't felt like writing I've still had hundreds of thoughts on marriage, Jesus, motherhood and identity. But the thoughts are still being filtered through who God says I am. I am still transitioning; being sifted like flour over a rolled out piece of sticky dough. The old me and the new me is being refined, newly shaped.

Kind of like when you first write a song, you can see the shape of something waiting to be created but it just isn't speaking loud enough to bloom into becoming. So you let the broken melody hang in the air and know you will come back to it when you know which  notes should come next.

I've had much to say. But when I boil it down inside, it really has been a season of silence that has felt like the best fit for me. A season of quiet conversations with a small group of friends and family that are helping me to unpack this backwards evolution. I've gone from the front stage to the background. I have turned off the spotlight and settled for a reading light. I feel as if I am being reconstructed.

And just like the Don Schlitz song that Alison Krauss made famous goes:

"It's amazing how you can speak right to my heart
Without saying a word you can light up the dark
Try as I may I could never explain
What I hear when you don't say a thing"

You guys. That's God. He does that.

My mantra as of late is Romans 12:2, and it's the first verse I've put to diligent memory since I don't know. It's super sweet to the silent soul.

Do not conform to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is. His good, pleasing and perfect will.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world: while some people think that means to not watch movies made after 1954 or to swear off Chardonnay like it's cocaine, I think Jesus would say something different. He loved loving those on the fray. I think somewhere in there that "pattern" that Paul is writing of may resemble the reality of today's hamster wheel; the weary speed walk of killing ourselves for something that isn't worthy of our undying attention. Like shiny stuff or new carpet, and sparkly shoes or brand name tags that are too complicated to throw in the wash. But the beauty is to be found in "the renewing of your mind"...I love that.

Keep on updating your Jesus news feed. Keep on downloading his word. Keep on seeking him, pursuing him, and stretching your faith muscles. It may not look like much is happening. And that's a good thing. Because his will may look very different from yours. Wait it out. He's got good things going on inside that lump of uncooked dough my friend.

We're in this together,

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Dirty, Crooked Truths About Me

  I am a screw up. 

Sometimes it just needs to be said.

For me, it just feels good to admit the obvious. Go ahead and say it out loud if you want: I am a screw up.

Well of course, unless you aren't. And in that case, you should stop reading now. But for my fellow drop-the-ball, wait, what-ball? Hold-the -phone, I-am-playing-ball?! friends: Guess what? It's okay.

I met with a couple of my friends last week over wine and Chia seed muffins (go Seattle!) and we were talking about this basic idea: of being a saved screw up. And one of my friends, nodded in understanding, "I know. It's like the more you learn about God the more you realize how much you suck."

Okay, okay. So I can already tell that this isn't coming off like a great read. But the idea I am finding freedom in is this: we can make mistakes and move upward. And I have found that the faster we do that moving upward the better; when we run towards God instead of away from him, the likelihood of retreating into that the same muddy hole that we used to think was home, diminishes. Little by little we become further and further away from the same dirt that used to define us.

Speaking of dirt, I have been obsessed lately with gardening. I honestly just want to see dirt under my fingernails and edge and pull weeds and create order in the chaos that is my yard. I think I am going through something. Mainly I'm learning to define my stubbornness for what it is: stubbornness. And I find this is even more true when I garden.

I recently found out that I have Scoliosis. I can't say for sure–because I am not a doctor–but I think that means that I am 80 years old inside. This truth means one thing: I should NOT BE gardening. I am not qualified to garden. It is actually making things worse for me. For my back. For my insurance. For my sleep habits. But more than ever, I want to lift large rocks, rip out moss, unload thousands of pounds of mulch and literally mimic the reality that I feel going on in my heart in my silly little yard. Mainly because someone told me I shouldn't. Alas, the stubbornness.

I desperately want to uproot and replant; which seems to mirror the desire to uproot the screwed up pieces of me that keep trying to re-grow. I keep praying and reading and dying to myself in hopes for some kind of Jesus characteristic to bud in the place of what is always trying to overtake.

Pride for humility.
Anger for understanding.
Selfishness for generosity.
Vanity for contrition.
Apathy for compassion.
Laziness for wisdom.

I want to load all of my screwed up bits into my rusty wheelbarrow and set it on fire alongside the dead rose bush garden I stumbled across today. Brittle thorns and all. 

When I garden I can smell the rain. I can smell things changing. Everyday when I venture out into the dirt there is something new that has grown or died. It is visual proof that something is taking place. An exchange. And because of that, I am falling in love with this whole plant, grow and tend business.

You see, I haven't wanted to write lately. First, because I am not entirely sure I have anything of worth to say. And secondly, because out of all the people in the world, I am the least likely to be a gardener let alone someone who dare attempt a life following in the footsteps of Someone who never sinned.

But these truths don't make me any less a gardener in training or a Christian in training. I may be crooked from my back to my heart, but I am called to the mission of uprooting and replanting and so that's what I plan to do–even if it means I never fully straighten up.

We're in this together,

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Lollipop Guild

It all started with a lollipop.

As it usually does in my house these days.

My son (the Lord of the Lollipops) is a wonderfully charismatic and uphill-my-way-or-the-highway warrior poet and my lovely daughter who follows him (and his tendencies) like a love-sick puppy arrive here at least once or twice a day; stuck within the gory grind of the candy conundrum.

Candy has become a major trigger in my household. And lately, I believe that a lollipop is nothing more than a gooey, fake-colored Satan stick that causes irrational purple-faced meltdowns that I am expected to manage as a good mom who shouldn't allow her children to have such a deep addiction for Red 40. I should protect them like a mother lion. Rawr.

But here's the deal: I like candy too. Sometimes I want something sweet. And no, I shouldn't let my son have candy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner–which is often the request. But there are times to treat my kids. I like to treat my kids. Oh and just so you can sleep at night we do have a strict no-candy before 10 a.m. rule in this house. I know, I'm such a stickler.

But as I think on this, I don't think my answer to candy should always be "no". 

For instance, my absolute favorite time to give my "spirited" son candy is when he is least expecting it. I love to sit him down in a serious manner and ask him, "Would you like a lollipop?" This happens in the same tone as I would when suggesting he pick up his toys or when I ask him if he wants to take a bath.

His eyes get wide. He glances over his shoulder as if looking for a hidden camera. His grin spreads from ear to ear. And he half-giggles in disbelief before answering with a resounding, "Yes, momma. I would."

Jesus wants to lavish us with good gifts. He wants to surprise us when we least expect it. Even when he promises us good gifts we don't fully believe it. We try to manage the timeline. We ask before it's due. We rob him of the opportunity to bless us by succumbing to our obsession and addiction with controlling our own lives.

So here is what I am hoping for 2015: a lot of unexpected lollipops from God. God loves doing the unexpected. He likes tumbling walls down with nothing more than the blast of trumpets. He likes to involve the most unexpected characters in his greater plan. (Joshua 6)

My goal this year is one thing: to run after God with sweat dripping down my temples. I want to dive into his word and swim with understanding strokes. I want to test his truths. I want to wait for his gifts. And I want to prove him a righteous, good and loving God.

I have spent too many years learning the language of fluent warble. I have allowed my soul to speak or sing in uneven quivering tones. I have spent too much time taking unsteady and uncertain steps with a bruised and scared heart just waiting for God to snatch the lollipop from my sticky stubborn fingers and to scold me with a disapproving tone. 

That is not our God.

If you run in the direction of him you will find amazing gifts. And so I fully plan to spend this year testing this theory. I am no longer going to spend time wondering what I lack as a mom and a wife that leads to my constant state of life uncertainty. Because upon further examination in these last few months I've unearthed a shocking discovery. I'm lacking everything. Absolute everything.

And on the days where I trick myself into thinking that's not the case, I find myself stepping out onto a plank dipped in fake confidence and I fall headlong into a spiral of action and reaction.

It is out on this wobbly space and in the blankness below, that I make decisions that I shouldn't. I flare my temper when it should let it fizzle. And I embrace my abilities instead of fully surrendering my disabilities. When I do this I reduce God's margins for miracle making to nothing more than a sliver on the pie chart; he becomes a measly afterthought on how I shape the rest of my life.

And, yet by grace, he still uses the tiny spaces that I give him in my heart for change. To benefit others. To love my husband and my kids well. To serve the women in my life.

2014 was a hard year for me. Not anywhere near tragic. Just rough; a series of shedding skins, until I was raw and ready for God to show up. It was also a glorious year of reinvention and redemption. I finally got the job I thought I always wanted only to lose it in a heartbreaking yet, necessary way. I juggled raising two kiddos under four, who are amazing, and yet so very different.

I've spent many days in the tension between my daughter wanting to snuggle me and my son wanting my undivided attention. This usually results in me carrying around a pig-tailed little miss while a determined son vies for my eye line. I end these type of days empty. And yet so full. And yes, tired.

So the goal list for this year is in the trash right next to the crumpled up lollipop wrappers. I am not going to tighten the legal lines between God and myself. I am not going to develop a budget plan or execute a new laundry schedule. These are all great things, but they aren't the best things. I'm reading The Best Yes by Lysa TerKuerst right now and it's so powerful.

A wise friend of mine once told me, "When you say yes to one thing you invariable say no to another." And while that seems obvious, I've intentionally left spaces in my life lately to allow myself to be available when God calls me to stop and act. To invite that person over for dinner. To allow a quiet night to call me to him. To stop by a certain person's house with coffee or a card. To have a glass of wine with a great friend. To enjoy my husband and not watch the clock like a sleep deprived troll.

This year I have one aim: to hook my soul up to a scripture IV. I want wisdom. I want to grow. I want to put down thick roots into that spring of living water. I want to see the power of the Holy Spirit play out in real time. I want to believe more. I want layers upon the layers I already have.

I am going to continue to run in the direction of where God is. Not just on Sundays. Not just when I screw up. Not just when I feel grateful. Not just when I do the right thing. But in the middle of a curse word. In the middle of one glass of wine too many. In the middle of the rain, the sleepless nights, the I-don't-know-what-to-do moments, the selfish moments, the botched bleached laundry moments. And most important: the unexpected, beautiful lollipop moments.

I want this to be the year I get real with Christ. If I run towards figuring out who he is, then I won't have to wonder who in the world I am supposed to be.

We're in this together,