Engaged and entrapped

It is possible, sometimes, that we still struggle with meltdowns. Still.

In such meltdowns, it is my nature to wrestle with the issue–reason, dig, understand, deal, explain.

This is not helpful.

It’s not helpful because in the midst of these meltdowns, my child is not struggling with something constructive. My child is struggling with sin–unkindness, harshness, meanness, total lack of control, etc. I recognize this because I know the Fruit of the Spirit, and I know that when we’re in that moment, we’re not dealing with those, and this goes for both of us. The more I engage with this sin, the more I become a part of it as my flesh gets drawn in. Somewhere underneath, there is something constructive, something worthy of addressing, but in that moment we’re so entangled in the sin, we cannot reach it.

It’s not just possible but an absolutely certainty that I still struggle with meltdowns even more than my child.

Mine are not as loud as my child’s. Mine are very soft, quiet, and occur almost entirely in my own head. They sound even more awful, those negative tracks that play. They tell me of how terrible I am as a person, how lonely and rejected I am, how inadequate and unacceptable is my work/body/life.

And yet I know there is something constructive under there, something deep in need of dealing, and so I begin engaging them, wrestling with these voices. But the more I dig, the more entangled I become, and while I, at my heart, desire to tend, nurture, solve, and grow through this process–much like my motivation with my child–it does not seem to happen. And then the voices reach chorus level, because: look now, you’ve failed again! See how we’ve proved ourselves right!

Sin is a nasty bitch.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Sin entangles us so easily, and I am helping it out. I imagine that I need to wrestle with this issue as Jacob wrestled, and then I remember: Jacob wrestled with GOD. Not sin. Sin entangles; God sets us free.

Instead of wrestling with sin–just in the moment–I need to reject it. Reject it and RUN. Do not stand around and consider what was just cast off. “Run with perseverance the race marked out for us”–because whatever that issue is, it’s not as important as what God has planned for me: “For we are God’s handiwork,created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)

Those voices are lies, created by the Father of Lies, and the reason Satan’s go-to weapon is words is because they do entangle so easily. I think I’m making progress when really I’m just delving deeper into the sin. I begin to define myself by those lies instead of being who I’m created to be: a worker for our Lord.

That work begins with rejection, with running, and with fixing our eyes on the only One truly able to get to the heart of the problem without becoming entangled in the sin because He is the one who defeated sin. He is “the pioneer and perfecter of faith,” the One who can now attack our sin with joy because He knows He will always win because He has already won. He maybe probably definitely the One who should be handling my heart.

So my question is, are you engaging your sin or rejecting it? Are you focused on who you define yourself to be or who you were created to be? No matter how convincing those voices sound, if they don’t reflect the Fruit of the Spirit, they are lies, and if you truly want to be set free, that’s a job for the God.

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A life surprised

For my 30th birthday, B threw me a surprise party. In the weeks leading up to it, there were countless odd conversations (if you were going to order food from somewhere, or do you still like Costco cake conversations, etc). Friends were strangely distant, flexible plans seemed set in stone. The weekend of my birthday, I was terribly sick and asked to postpone my parents’ visit, but B insisted I’d be fine (I was not fine, I was beginning our swine flu ordeal, but I’m glad I didn’t protest).

B sent me out with my mom to get my nails done. When I returned home, B called me into the kitchen, and when I walked in, everyone yelled, “Surprise!”

I turned around and walked out of the room. Yep. My friends and family had gone to great lengths to surprise me, and I walked right out.

Surprise is hard to process.

Seconds later, I walked back in and started taking the most wonderful hugs you could imagine. Hugs not just of appreciation and joy, but also of relief. All the strange distance and confusion of the previous weeks melted away in the warmth of such love, love that would plan and prepare and work so hard to make my birthday really and truly special.

I feel as though God has thrown a surprise party for my life.

For what seems like ever, I’ve struggled to understand God’s plan for my life. I do not recommend this. God’s plan and his timing work just fine on their own, thank you very much. But I like to know. So I’ve struggled, prayed, tried and let go. I’m decently good at being obedient, so we’ve walked a path, God and I, but I was always trying to figure it out. Why would you lead me into writing when I don’t like publishing? Why would you take away these friends, the cakes, my ministries?

God never left me. But he didn’t fill me in, either. Your adventure is still to come, he told me. So I waited, patient but aching.

God wasn’t kidding.

A few months ago, eager to find my place in our church, I offered to help in the children’s ministry. In the following weeks, the director and I tried to find the right niche for me. I enjoyed everything I tried, but didn’t have a heart for anything specific. The fear set in again–another disappointment.

Then the director asked me to cover for her one Sunday, even though I was barely qualified to cover for anyone in the ministry, least of all the director. But I agreed to anyway. That morning was amazing! I loved welcoming parents, encouraging the staff, and organizing the materials. I was so shocked by how satisfying the ministry was, and what a good fit it was for my skills.

Lord, I’ve never even thought about a position in ministry, and I know I’m not qualified, but I love this work. If you want this for me someday, I trust that you will open the doors.

And that was it. I lifted up my prayer and left it go.

The next Sunday, the children’s director told me she was leaving and that the pastors wanted me to interview for her position.

Surprise!

I could not believe it. Even though I had asked for such an opening, I didn’t actually expect it would happen, and especially not in a single week. I told her about my prayer, and three days and two interviews later, I accepted the position. Scared to death of the responsibility, the permanency, the change in lifestyle to two working parents, but all in, because God asks nothing less.

It’s a dream job–part-time with full-time potential, flexibility on working at home or bringing the kids with me, and full of opportunities to use all of my different talents. Suddenly the decisions God had directed made sense, the things he took away and the doors he chose to close. Since then, I’ve been filled not just with joy for the tremendous opportunity I’ve been given, but also with relief. There was a purpose for it all, just as God promises:

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ (Jeremiah 29:11)

I always trusted God, but I’d be lying if I said I always believed that verse. Sometimes, like when B planned that surprise party, you have to trust that the people around you love you, even if it doesn’t always feel that way. God is no different. He’s got big plans for each of us, and sometimes those are clear, and sometimes those are surprises.

I have a feeling I needed the surprise. I needed to be kept in the dark a little, because I learned both trust and patience. Plus I know me–I would have planned the dickens out of this career, had I known where I was heading, and probably would have missed out on building the skills he really needed me to have. Then there’s the reward, the giant payoff, which creates a whole new level of trust and respect–two things I will definitely need on a career in ministry.

Still, surprise is hard to process. I had no intention of getting a job, and when I pictured the job I might someday have, this never came to mind. I stand in awe of God’s planning, and I bow to his supreme authority. I hope I will never forget this feeling, that it may keep me forever mindful that I am second, and privileged to be so.

Suffice to say, as I start working, things like this blog will have to play second fiddle. I’m not sure what God has planned for my writing, whether it will be used within or outside of my position, but I now trust him with abiding humility. Right now, I’m focused on honoring his plan for me, and that includes clearing some mental space to get that done.

Blessed be the name of the Lord!

All good things require some strength

They were so excited. A new teacher, a new class, a new year, plus all their old friends.

I clung to summer.

2am found me still awake, crying. Just one more day, Lord. One more week. Forever. 6am came anyway, with youthful giddiness and packed backpacks and chocolate chip bagels. My babies so big, so ready.

It feels like I’ve pulled my heart from my chest and sent it off with them.

I know the plan God has for us. I know it means being in the local school, ministering to our community in the process. I know keeping them home would be self-seeking. But I want to anyway. I pray for forgiveness, for a new focus, for hands willing to take what God has for them, instead of holding on to what I must let go.

It was such a great summer. Breathtaking! We had so much, with such a great balance of friends and family, of staying home and going out. We built and rebuilt Legos, forts, obstacle courses. We swam and swam and swam. We went to the park, the beach, Nickel City, the movies. We experimented with Mentos and cookie dough and moon sand (though not all at once).

These babies of mine, they’re at such a sweet age. They’re tall, responsible, opinionated. They’re losing interest in picture books and toddler programming, but they’re also discovering new foods and books and skills. K has mastered the cartwheel and is now working on doing them one-handed. M nearly has the lay-up. We tried our first summer camp–a half day karate camp for M–and he was beyond bummed we hadn’t signed up for a second week. And yet they are still young–still pretending stuffed animals are real and Orbeez are pets and making up restaurants and art shops and letters for us. They still reach for my hands, still hug me with abandon.

Maybe I’m holding this moment so tight because I know how soon it will be gone.

As I wrote M a note for his lunch, I wondered if he’d be embarrassed yet. If there was something I would say that would make him blush, sitting at the table with his friends. As I said goodbye to him this morning, I wondered how affectionate to be. Yes, I know he’s still young, but I want to respect his maturation as well. I don’t want to hold on so tightly that they aren’t free to grow.

This conscientiousness, this is how I know I’ll be alright.

Because at the end of the day, as much as I loved our summer, as much as I treasure my sweet babies, I want even more to see them walk the path God has for them, and that takes me walking the path God has for me. With tears, sometimes, but with joy as well, even if I have to choose it sometimes instead of it coming naturally. And the joy of the Lord is my strength (Nehemiah 8:10), on all days but especially ones like these.

Choose joy. Find strength. Use that strength to choose joy again and again and again. Praise Jesus for a cycle so divine.

Wasting away

Jelly fish have derailed our beach-going this summer, but on one of the few times we went, K was blessed to find a sand dollar. A perfect, perfect sand dollar. Even though I have lived near a beach for my entire life, I have never even found a broken sand dollar. She brought it home, a treasured possession. She took it for sharing. She left it on a side table afterward. I found it the other day under some books. Crushed.

Too bad I don't have a before picture

Too bad I don’t have a before picture

K took it in stride, vacantly staring at the sanddollar, but I pressed at her because I was crushed. That perfect sand dollar, broken apart. It was such a waste. Such a heartbreaking, ridiculous waste of something which might come along once in a lifetime. I hate waste. No: I fear waste.

This fear runs through my entire life. I’m chronically late because I can stand the idea of wasting those extra few minutes waiting (apparently it bothers me less to waste someone else’s minutes). My freezer is stuffed full because I will not waste a single morsel of food. Not that anyone wants to eat stale cake from K’s birthday or the last remaining triangle of quesadilla. Never mind that these foods aren’t even good for us to begin with. The thought of wasting them comes with a tightening panic in my chest.

This isn’t a thing. I googled it. No registered phobia of waste. But when thoroughly examined, a lot of my anxiety goes back to this fear. Even if I’m not going to eat the cake, it will lurk in the back of my mind, taunting me. I could use that bit of ribbon or coupon or cake. I’d better use it.

I’m not a hoarder. I’m a user-upper. I’m a maximizer. Even opportunities are loathed to be wasted. This is my chance to have a cinnamon roll–even if it doesn’t sound good. This is a great outfit–which is always saved instead of worn. On the surface this is smart, but I’m tired of feeling the pressure to make the most of every thing. This hardly seems to fit into living light or life abundant.

In fact, it seems more like I’ve made an idol out of my resourcefulness.

I realize that might sound like a dramatization, but anything that gets in the way of “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” is at best a stumbling block and at worst a brick wall.

Christ did not die on the cross so that we would continue to be trapped by walls, especially those of our own making. Christ died to set us free–free from our own crazy phobias, free from the world’s values, free from ourselves. Life abundant–a free life in Christ–begins not by looking back, not with regret or fear, but with joyful eyes finding Christ in each moment.

Yes, it’s dumping bits of cake and quesadilla from the freezer, but it’s also appreciating the blessings that were those meals, the blessings of letting go, the blessings of a clean freezer and fresh food. It’s the blessing of being on time and not stressed, of saying to my friend, you are important to me. I see Christ in these choices. I see myself in the former.

If you look closely at this broken bit of sand dollar, you can see the space where the creature once lived, the thin and fragile shell that protects it from the raging sea, the five tiny crests to which it clung. I pointed these out to K and her vacant expression melting into fascination. What was once a waste became a teaching opportunity, not only about the inner workings of a sand dollar, but also about seeing the opportunity for understanding Christ and His creations, for appreciating what each moment in life can teach us. That nothing is wasted when experienced with God’s joy.

My fear is far from cured. But I fear and trust God far more than anything else, even broken sand dollars and wasted quesadillas. I pray I have His eyes, that I may have His freedom as well.

Filling the pool

My parents just sold my childhood home. Since I was eighteen months old when they bought it, I don’t remember any other house. As I drove away for the last time, I realized that I would never walk in that front door anymore, never swim in that pool, never have breakfast at that table or watch tv in that family room–the places where I spent my entire life until I left for college, the places I still called home long after I’d made another. I felt like I needed to grab all those memories as though they were bubbles, bent on bursting into nothingness. and ironically, these bubbles had already burst ages ago. How to catch them now?

And then I realized: I already had.

As I dug into my past, I was surprised what I came up with. Holding my cat in the living room, crying over a boy. Kissing a different boy in the pool. Kissing the right boy in that family room, the boy who would become my husband. Playing video games on the floor with my mom. Playing on the stairs with my sister. Playing by myself with a little Lego animal family. Moment after moment, all based in that house, the backdrop of my childhood.

I thought they were gone, those moments, because they burst. All moments burst. But they collect as well. The pool of our memories is deep, and surprisingly tight. No, I don’t remember it all. But there was considerable comfort in how much I could remember, even twenty-five or thirty years later.

I took my sweet ones to Disneyland a few weeks ago, just me and them. In all the craziness of summer crowds, with only one adult for two children, we flitted through our day with surprising ease. It was amazing, just spending time creating memories with them. I meant to come home and record all those memories–squeezing into a single car on Buzz Lightyear or getting soaked by a stuck parade float while holding a less-than-thrilled K. The feeling of their warm little hands still seeking mine out,  an inseparable row of three.

Meant to record them, but didn’t.

I’ve accepted the fact that this season of my life is messy, busy, hectic. God has packed it full right now, and it therefore lacks the simplicity that I admire in some other people’s lives. But this is our road, and I praise Jesus for the blessing that it is. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Still, between end of school activities and M’s birthday party and our summer vacation, the craziness reached a new level, and with that came the return of anxiety over the weight of the carpe diem battle cry of motherhood–that we should be recognizing all those little moments and appreciating them as they float past us. We leap for one and it floats, pops, slips right past. Even if we grab one, we’ve missed three in the process.

But they’re still there. Just because we didn’t necessarily appreciate it at the time doesn’t mean we lived it any less. Sometimes the whirlwind is just part of the experience, instead of a hindrance to it.

I’m all for slowing down and enjoying life. I’m the one who waits patiently while my kids read every last sign in the Tarzan treehouse, or who builds Lego creations for (what feels like) hours on end. But there’s also joy in the frenzy, and I just because I can’t appreciate now doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate it later.

Take a deep breath. Yes, they are growing up before your eyes. Yes, life is whipping past you every second. But that’s okay. You’re growing and whipping along with it. Praise God for constructing us so capably, for giving us not just life abundant, but the ability to enjoy it both now and in the future. God promises that “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). That brimming-full pool of memories will be all the more refreshing when we get a chance to really swim.

Awesome imperfection

I’ve been a little overwhelmed lately by some perfection messages. One of my dear friends wrote recently about her struggles regarding the messiness of her faith. Somehow she–and let’s face it, many of us–feels like it should have some shiny glow. That there should be constant communion with God, memorized scripture, extended times of prayer, and enriching quiet times alongside corporate study.

Where did we get the impression that’s what faith should look like?

When I hit the scriptures, faith looks messy. It’s believing in something unseen and often unfelt. It’s standing out against the backdrop of our culture. It’s being aware of our shortcomings, of what we lack, of what a terrible price Christ paid for us. It’s sounding crazy sometimes, defending miracles and resurrections and archaic biblical messages, not to mention the conversations we–by most reasonable assessment–should not be having.

Nothing about true faith sounds shiny to me.

Motherhood neither. As Mother’s Day rolls past, we’re crying at our kindergarteners singing about us seeing them as beautiful, those little voices rising with semi-synchronized hand gestures, our minds full of times we’ve made them feel otherwise (like this very morning when I suggested to K that she might want different leggings that matched her dress and suddenly I’ve crushed her into thinking her idea isn’t okay. Way to blow it, mom). I read yet another post about how much I’m missing when I check my iPhone or run to Walmart during M’s karate, how many moments are slipping through my fingers, how much more I should be present, how much more I should enjoy.

Where did we get that message either?

I can point a few fingers: those blog posts, magazines, Pinterest. What’s worse, often the alternative messages are denigrating. Moms “confess” they’ve resorted to McDonald’s and/or locking themselves in the closet so that we can bond over the okay-ness of our failure. Even there we have this notion that there is a perfect ideal that we’re somehow all missing. The other message that stings is the “anyone can do this!” cheerfulness. I know we are trying to encouraging when we say “anyone can make this craft!” or “anyone can throw this recipe together!” But when we can’t, we feel like a failure.

Motherhood is messy, too. It’s hit the ground running in a rush of hormones and exhaustion. It’s everything changing. It’s diapers and sleepless nights, arguments, discipline. It’s teaching and standing back (and sometimes guessing when to do which one). It’s a huge thing, raising a little person. There’s so much for them to soak in–and do we ever expect them to take it all in? Or more than that: to stand back and recognize that the are taking it all in, while taking it all in?

In faith, motherhood, and life in general, there are so many different things we could do, and always something left unchosen. Life is messy, especially when you live it abundantly. So instead of the expectations, the self-deprecation, the shiny Pinterest perfection of which we fall woefully short, I would like to push this message:

You. Are. Awesome.

Try saying it to yourself. Try saying it again out loud. Try really meaning it. Because you are. Period. Even without memorized scripture or handmade felt decor. Even with McDonald’s and an empty prayer journal. None of these things will make you any more or less awesome. You are awesome because the maker of the universe knit you together, one molecule at a time.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t work at our faith, our mothering, our lives. But don’t work to be awesome. Work because you’re awesome, and God means for you to enjoy that, in action and in rest. And trying to balance that in a broken world is messy. An awesome mess, but messy nonetheless. Being frustrated with that just shows that we are meant for someplace perfect. Perfect sounds great, but for now, I’ll settle for awesome imperfection.

Faith for all

It was nothing, and it was everything.

It was a goofy voice that grated on me in the pre-school rush. It was a sock that wouldn’t fit quite right, and the tears that followed. It was a batch of homemade cinnamon rolls that no one ate because anything else is better than my cinnamon rolls. It was Legos on the floor and books on the table and ponies on the hall.

I know it’s nothing. I know it’s life, a life lived full and abundant. But telling myself that feels like telling a pot of heating water not to boil. Get it hot enough and it will boil no matter how you shout at it that everything is going to be fine.

Then everything’s not fine. I’m snapping and K cries harder as I throw the offending sock in the trash. M looks crestfallen as I remind him for the umpteenth time that I will boil over (too late) upon whiny voice. I’ve scalded everyone in a few seconds time, including myself. How could I hurt them, these sweet precious gifts of God? When I knew it was coming, when I love them and Jesus so much, when I want nothing more to be the very best mother/person I can be?

In the midst of my self-flagellation, the verse comes to me: being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6). Only I don’t feel like a good work. I feel like pieces of crap cobbled together to the burden of my family and the disappointment of my Lord.

I realize that’s not true. It doesn’t mean I don’t feel like that anyway. I repeat the verse in my head, trying to force myself into confidence because I don’t want to add “ignores scriptural truths” to my list of charges. And when it I shove it back at God, angry, He’s so very gentle.

Have a little faith.

And before I can protest–before I can begin the ardent defense of my faith, He continues:

Have a little faith in yourself.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)

I don’t see it, not right now. But I am a good work, and God is continuing to do good work in and through me. Believing that’s true, that’s part of my faith.

See, we mostly quantify faith as “believing in God,” in His truths, promises, sacrifice and resurrection. But faith, biblically defined, is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. In God, in others, in ourselves. It is believing, in the face of a most messed up morning, that we are indeed good works, pressing on toward completion. That we are capable of something different, something more. That through God all things are possible.

I have immense faith in God. But in myself? Not so much. Maybe it’s time I spread that faith around.