Life Hero

I cannot be the only person hooked on one of those color matching game apps. There’s tons: gems, candies, etc. I’m a smiling vegetable sort of girl. It’s not like I spend a ton of time on this game – at least that’s what I tell myself – but I check in pretty regularly to do some sliding and swiping. It’s satisfying, in the craziness of my life, to see things match up and disappear with ease.

There’s something I notice about myself through these games: I tend play ahead. Even as the vegetables fall, my fingers are already trying swipe my next move. And sometimes, just as I swipe that move, I see something that was even better (it’s even more annoying when the boy points out my mistake). I’ve missed the big move that opened up from the one before, something I couldn’t foresee. My rush, my loss.

I’m learning a lot about life from my Farm Heroes.

It has drawn me to another food-based saga from the Old Testament. The Israelites, wandering in the desert, were given manna every day.

Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.'” (Exodus 16:4)

They were to gather and eat only the day’s worth, storing nothing, with the exception of the Sabbath, for which they could gather one extra day. It was a test of their ability to follow God’s instructions, to make sure their lives were dependent on Him and His plan. 

The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed.” (Exodus 16:17-18)

Crazy enough, when they did as instructed and measured by God’s standard, they always had enough, even if they fudged a little in their gathering process. God made allowances for their human tendencies and corrected them with grace.

Deliberate disobedience did not meet such understanding.

“Some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell.” (Exodus 16:20)

Looking ahead is one thing, fudging and faltering and being generally human similar. God knows we may mess up in our follow-through, and thankfully He’s full of grace. But when we choose to ignore His instructions, we risk ruining tomorrow. I’m struck by how a beautiful gift is spoiled by moving even a moment ahead without God’s blessing, and I wonder why I’m so blasé about seeking Him even in the littlest things. Do I believe He will say no? Most of the time, when I seek Him, I already know His answers. They are often aligned with my heart, thankfully. It’s the act of seeking His blessing that seems critical, that moment of just bowing my head and remember who knows more.

In Farm Heroes, most of the times my moves stay the same, though sometimes there is one I would have missed. Still, would it kill me to be more patient, and to practice that patience with the One whom it matters the most? Because a missed move is nothing; a miss-step from God is everything.

So my question is, how careful am I to practice live by daily bread, checking my schedule’s rations with the One most capable of managing them? How could I make it more of a practice to live by daily bread, and what difference could that make for a life lived light?

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Cookie Monster

Me: I made some chocolate chip cookies.
B: Oh really?
Me: Yeah. It’s a new recipe, so tell me what you think.

I really don’t have to say that last part. It’s a running joke in our house. I’m always on the hunt for a different recipe. For almost everything, but especially chocolate chip cookies.

This quest for perfection spreads across my whole life.

I tie it back to my childhood, when only A’s would do. When it was simply to celebrated to get an A-, or even a B, or God-forbid, something even lower.

I had ulcer issues starting in high school. Obviously.

No one is perfect. I don’t expect myself to be. But that means I expect to fail, in big or little ways, in everything. Even chocolate chip cookies, even though I’m a crazy skilled baker.

As much as I recognize this trend and the ridiculousness of it, in the modern world of Pinterest perfection and blogs and Facebook, we’ve created a culture based not just on overachieving, but on presenting our achievements to everyone we do and do not know. It’s hard NOT to feel inadequate when you have to face these fronts every day, especially when you’re already so hard on yourself.

I may be able to tell enough in my family and my commitments, but when it comes to me, I never feel like I am enough, because I will never settle for the enough that I am.

In this dissatisfaction, I leave no room for God.

Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant —not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:5-6)

I’m not meant to be enough. Not ever. Because I’m meant to need God to cover the rest, to let me stop at good enough and let Him handle everything else. Adhering to the letter–in this case, the grades, or the perfect recipe, or the Pinterest post that recipe came from in all it’s multi-photographed glory–kills. Life abundant comes from accepting our shortcomings, our imperfection, our need for God.

That’s also easier said than done. Good enough doesn’t feel good at all, not after a lifetime of perfection. But when the soul is downcast, “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God” (Psalms 42:11).

So I hope. I hope that I can make more room for God, that I can rest in good enough, that I can teach myself and my children that God is our savior, regardless of how our chocolate chip cookies turn out. In fact, He saves us from having to worry about things like that.

I hope and I hope and I hope.

Less Expectations

A while back, I posted about the opportunities with which I was wrestling, and the conviction that God wanted me to pursue all of them. All of them. Ahem.

After my initial shock faded, excitement built. This would be my time to shine. I would create my own cottage cake company! I would run a business! I was blessed in this by the hand of God! He would teach me about trusting Him, about dreaming big, about taking risks and reaping the rewards!

In retrospect, I might have jumped the gun there.

I printed out all my paperwork, got insurance quotes, and designed business cards. As I waited to file, wanting to extend my license as long as possible, I started on the cake, the cake that would launch my new career.

The cake did not go as planned.

For the next three weeks, I struggled to make any of the fondant figures for which I was being paid. They came together. They fell apart. I repaired them, recreated them, redesigned them. Over and over again. What I had assumed I was gifted in–what I assumed I was meant to do–was not on God’s agenda. Instead, I finished the cake by dragging myself across the line. Then I threw out what I’d expected God to teach me through this experience–like how amazing and blessed my cake career would be–and instead humbled myself by understanding and accepting my limitations.

“It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me.” (John 6:45)

I get that God is always teaching me something, and that being taught is an important part of growing closer to Him. But sometimes this feels like signing up for a college course entitled “Jane Austen” and arriving to a syllabus full of Austen’s letters and none of her books. Nothing wrong there, but that sure wasn’t what I had in mind. I struggle to untangle my own expectations from my original desire to live, love, and do as God would have me. I just get so attached to those expectations.

In the meantime, I’ve continued on other paths, the most heavily traveled one being my ministry at the school. My new role in the PTA has sparked a real passion in my heart, and opened my eyes to some ways in which my personality was holding me back. Or maybe I’d gotten my conception of my personality tangled up in the person God actually created? I’m sensing a theme here.

Still, it’s tough: the changing of expectations, the loss and readjustment, the humbling of the self. I think it’s meant to be that way.

“Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord…and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I also have heard you, declares the Lord.” (2 Kings 22:19)

The toughness certainly feels like tearing of robes, and it certainly included weeping. But just as my listening to God brings us closer, my struggle through the process also bonds us. Sure, I wish that it could be easier, but easier isn’t always right. And the bottom line is that I’m always interested in what’s right, because that is what God wants for me, and his plans are guaranteed to prosper me. My plans don’t come with any guarantee at all.

I challenge myself with this: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom” (James 3:13). I want that good life, that Godly life, that wisdom–even more than I wanted to that cake business. In fact, just this morning I was praying about our summer: “Please help us make the most of it.” And then it struck me. I scratched out “the” and wrote instead:

Please help me make YOUR most of it.

Not just with my summer, but also with my life. And if that’s crappy fondant zombies, so be it. If that’s good enough for the creator of the universe, then it’s good enough for me.

Complicated cookery

K has become my resident kitchen assistant, helping me prepare all sorts of things, so when I went to make a batch of her favorite chocolate chip muffins, I suggested that she take over and I would be the assistant. Everyone was thrilled!

And then we started cooking.

Not that K wasn’t capable. She could read the recipe, find the ingredients, and measure everything out with reasonable accuracy. But cooking with someone else suddenly made me realize that in my quest to perfect my recipes, I’d made things a bit…complicated.

“Okay, we need 1/2 cup sugar, but I actually use brown sugar because it makes the muffins taste more like a cookie. But not all brown sugar. Just some. Now for the flour: it says 2 cups, but I use mostly whole wheat. Mostly, but not all. And a little bit of vanilla, even though that’s not on here. And you want to stir it just until it’s moist, like moving around the edges and making sure to get to the bottom but not too fast that it spills or mixes too much.”

She was patient with me, and I tried so hard to let it be her thing. But this recipe, which started out with just five simple ingredients, morphed into a complicated list of alterations and corrections. Great muffins, no doubt, but how much better were they than the simple muffins? And at what cost?

“And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.'” (Matthew 18:3)

My sweet K wanted to make her own muffins. She wanted to follow the instructions on the little card. She wanted to stop with five simple ingredients, stir them however, throw them in a pan, and enjoy what came out. She didn’t care if they weren’t as brown sugary as a cookie, or moister crumbed, or higher on the fiber. She cared that she had muffins, and that she’d made them herself.

It’s in my nature to over think things. But in explaining a “simple” recipe to K, I realized how complicated I make things, often in the sake of perfection. And in meditating on this verse, I wonder if moving closer to “perfect” is moving me farther from the childlike simplicity God desires. Seek. Find. Ask. Do. Love. Without the strings attached, without the complicated nuances with which only adults seem to be preoccupied.

As I start this week, I pray that I really choose the simple over the complicated whenever possible, seeing things as a child might. Simple is sweet, beautiful, and amazing. No wonder God wants us to enjoy it.

Slim pickings

Starting in June, we went through 2 watermelons each week. Watermelon with lunch, watermelon with dinner. Watermelon just because I was walking past the fridge. I became a master of watermelon dismantling, artfully turning that giant beast into bite-sized pieces we could pop into our mouths. I even developed a system for storing watermelon so that each container had sweet center pieces in the bottom and less sweet edge pieces at the top. Otherwise we’d get through all the good pieces and have rind pieces left in the bottom.

Except no matter how I stacked those containers, we always ended up with rind pieces in the bottom. Even though they were stacked on top. Even though each of us had to dig past them to the good stuff.

It takes a lot of effort to choose a less red piece. It takes a lot of effort to think of others first, to take the less perfect so that someone else can have the perfect. Even though these are the people I love most in the world.

I think this is part of our human nature, the one we fight against no matter how tightly twined with God we become. That nature, it is part of our human form. When I confront this unpleasant truth, I find myself returning to Paul’s words: “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing..For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me” (Romans 7: 19, 22-23).

As good as my intentions are, I will never be able to use those good intentions–the rules I’m setting up–to make up for my inner inclinations. Nope. All the clever tricks in the world won’t make a difference, either. But thank goodness that when confronted with the rinds of my behavior, I can also take comfort in the fact that conquering that sinful nature isn’t my job. In fact, it’s already been done for me: “For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:3-4).

No, that doesn’t mean that I eat all the rinds first. But it does mean that I don’t have to hate myself for not doing so. Sometimes I’m so caught up in how good I want to be–in how good I’m supposed to be, loving Jesus as much as I do–that I forget that my will still at war. And then I get caught up in the war, fighting a battle with my own mind when Jesus Christ died just so that I didn’t have to. The fight, the failure, the guilt–it’s not only painful, but it’s pointless.

Living by God’s law is a great thing. Loving God, doing what He’d have me–all great. Eating some of the rinds first so that we can all have the sweet stuff at the end, that’s good too. But in the end, the other law will always be there. That’s okay as well. Because while that law may win out on the watermelon front, when this life is done, it will lose. And what a very great comfort that is.

Seasonality

After several months of work last fall, B and I ended up with four large raised beds for our vegetable gardening this year, along withe a rather large barrel for making compost. We enjoyed a whole winter of lettuce, swiss chard, kale, spinach, and the occasional yellow tomato (apparently no one told them that they weren’t supposed to overwinter). Come spring, we cleared out the wilting lettuce and planted an amazing array of vegetables. We watered. We fertilized. We waited. Despite our best intentions, our gardens have been hit or miss over the last few years.

This year, almost everything took off, but in the most God-bearing way. What I mean is this: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). This verse starts an oft-quoted series about seasonality, “a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot” (v.2), etc.

This is the garden in what I thought was its heyday. I took it because our over-productive green beans had the start of spider mites, which I’ve just discovered have been killing off our plants mid-season. Pre-mites, we were averaging about a pound of beans every day or two. And yes, we did manage to eat or put by every last ounce. My heart sank at the thought of losing those plants. But as the green beans died off, the zucchini flourished. Then as the zucchini slowed down, the eggplants overflowed. Our yellow tomatoes finally wilted, but we had romas for a couple of weeks, then beefsteaks, and now cherry tomatoes. The potatoes came and went, then the corn. Over and over, one plant slowed production as another took off.

It was amazing to see how God takes care of us. In my mind, I planted everything with the notion of having everything. I didn’t want to see anything die. I wanted to see it grow and thrive, all at once. But as a person who ate green beans, then zucchini, then eggplant for several weeks each, I can promise you that if everything had grown and thrived all at once, we would never have eaten all of it. We might even have suffocated under the sheer weight. Nor would we have enjoyed it. On the rare occasions when I had too much, the homegrown flavor of each individual plant was lost in the veggie-medley concoction.

There is a season for everything. A season for kids at home, a season for kids at school. Today begins K’s season of full-day kindergarten. A season for writing, for running a half marathon, for not writing, for not running. It’s hard for me to accept this cycle, sometimes, because I want it all. But abundance is not necessarily life abundant, because having it all means I won’t enjoy it all, not properly. Lately I’ve been in a season of praying about thenext season. Whatever that may be, I’m thankful that God is good to slow us down, to pace us out, lest we miss out on enjoying each course as it comes, and I pray for God’s grace in letting go of this season when I’m ready to embrace the next.

Florida 2012

 Jet lag notwithstanding, we are back from eight days in Florida. Yes, Florida. In August. Because it’s cheap. Though we might have spent our savings on ice cream. Here are the highlights, in no particular order:

Hogsmeade: our home away from home.

1) The amusement parks. We did not do Disney, as everyone expects. Instead we did Universal, mostly because Universal’s Islands of Adventure includes the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We spent more time in Hogsmeade than we did at the hotel, which also meant we had to summon fresh enthusiasm for another trip through Olivander’s, another ride on Flight of the Hippogriff, etc. Summoning such enthusiasm was surprisingly easy, because the kids had so much fun, even with the heat and crowds and occasional rainouts. Worn out wizards decompressed at the Dr. Seuss water play area while grown ups lounged in the shade. Favorite part? Raiding Honeyduke’s–Hogsmeade’s candy store–and then working through butterbeer, a chocolate frog, and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans with the gusto of a Gryffindor. Might not have been K’s favorite part, seeing as she had beans of pepper, soap, dirt, and tomato all in a row. No, not tomato. Vomit. Praise Jesus she didn’t know the difference.

A wall of water, just about to hit K. That’s just the way we roll.

2) The water park. Between my germaphobia, aversion to cold water, and complete distaste for submersion, water parks are not my thing. But there was something amazing in watching M assess a large water slide, then tackle it anyway. He was fearless, and I was impressed. And besides, there’s something truly relaxing about spending an hour floating down a lazy river, watching the kids climb in and out of their inner tubes, floating faster to be chased down, leaning back to flip over. It was also truly something different, which in itself is a novelty. We did not, however, try the wakeboarding. Great value at $12 per day, as long as you don’t ingest the fatal amoeba in the water (true story). Memories are fantastic, but every germaphobe has her limits.

Winter, the tail-less dolphin. Can’t see her? Don’t worry, neither could we.

3) The beach. Treasure Island, Madeira Beach, St. Pete’s. AKA paradise, especially after sharing a small room amid the hustle and bustle of Orlando. We opened the door to our condo and everyone seemed to spread like oil hit by soap. Space! Space for the kids to play, space for the adults to read, space to do whatever we wanted in our own little bubbles. It seems antithetical to a family vacation, but in fact the space worked as an antidote to the nerves close quarters can fray. The water was bath-warm and shallow for-nearly-ever, home to dolphins and crabs and one very confused mussel. Plus there was a fantastic soft serve and shake place right in front of the hotel. And yes, we had both.

4) The Olympics. I know: the Olympics are in London. I’ve never been much of an Olympics fan, and if we’d been home, I might have ignored them entirely, especially seeing as they are being replayed most extensively in primetime when the kids would normally be asleep. But in Florida, working on California time, we turned them on almost every night. The four of us, worn out from a long day, would collapse on the couch, sweetly smooshed together, and watch whatever sport we happened upon. We’d explain the rules and admire the different athletes’ abilities. We’d ooh and ahh. We’d get pjs and brush teeth during commercials. It was the most simple, quiet, quality time we got on the whole trip, a surprising gift and one I’d have missed if we hadn’t gone. I’ll never look at the Olympics the same again.

Beach fun. Don’t adjust your eyes. The camera just steams up in the humidity.

So that’s it. Alright, there were some bad moments, too. Every vacation has them. For the last two days K kept asking for a day off, and you can only substitute ice cream for dinner so many time before someone melts down. But for the most part, it was a true departure from the norm, and surprisingly successful. And there were lots of little good moments as well, like mini golfing and feeding alligators and watching the Peabody duck march. Most satisfyingly, we were all ready to come home. Okay, it would be better to have come home without having to go back to work, but someone has to pay for all those memories.