The Joy of Endurance

And look–two months later and I emerge alive!

Honestly, I just have not felt the need to write, not that I really have the time. I’m appreciating seasonality right now, surprised by how quickly my focus has changed, and how content I finally feel.

Working continues to be a juggling act. I’m getting my 20ish hours (we all knew it wasn’t going to be just 20, right), but not without weekly schedule struggles. Turns out one of my children doesn’t like doing her homework in my office, even if it includes computer games and playing on the playground. Of course, she also doesn’t like staying home from school, going to school, or singing in public–unless it’s caroling. She’s an enigma, that one.

We’ve had our share of added hurdles as well: two colds, the stomach flu, and lice. Yes, lice. I neverthout I’d prefer stomach flu to anything, but it turns out that anything is lice. 2-3 hours of nitpicking (literally) that sweet little enigma, repeated daily for a solid week, coupled with 2-3 loads of laundry each day, and I was waving the white flag.

You know those things you think you won’t ever survive? And then somehow you do.

Many of these weeks have not been particularly joyful. But I’ve been meditating on this verse when they aren’t: “For the joy set before him he endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).

Lice is not the cross, but the point is that sometimes there’s not much joy to be had in the experience. The joy comes from not giving up, from pushing through with an appreciation not for our misfortunes but on the strength that gets us through them, the memories we make in the process. In a culture full of “enjoy the moment” angst, I offer up the comfort that it’s okay if your moment isn’t particularly enjoyable. Just enduring it can be it’s own reward.

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The end is just the beginning

This working thing–it’s not for the faint of heart.

When I accepted the position as the Children’s Ministry Director, I thought 20 hours a week would be a breeze. I’m sure I’ve got 20 hours.

I clearly did not calculate my week properly. Because that’s half of every day, and the kids are out of school by 2 at the latest.

Right.

We are making it work, between extra hours on the weekend and a couple afternoons with the kids in the office and errands condensed, run in the little bits between. It did not help that I had two major school-wide PTA activities to run in the past month.

During this time, one of my very dearest friends suffered a tremendous health scare via her husband. I prayed for her, texted her, tried to be supportive. But how do you offer enough support to someone whose world has been swept from underneath them? I needed to do more.

More. The word sends me into a coma. But I knew this was important.

So I swept together the dregs and jetted over to her house.

“What is this?” she said as she answered the door. And instead of the thoughtful and sentimental reassurances I had swirling in my heart, I offered her a mushy foil-wrapped package of Rice Krispy treats and a burned CD with the simple admission, “This is all I’ve got.”

Did I mention it was the same foil I’d made the treats in? People, I could not even get fresh foil.

Colton Dixon has this amazing song I sing a lot these crazy days. The chorus meets me right where I am:

This is where I end
And this is where You start
And everything I needed
Is everything You are
Love has come for me

We all have an end point; we were never meant to have enough to do the things God would have us do, not on our own. That’s why God sent Love: Love in creation and covenants, with Jesus on the cross, in the Holy Spirit.

I love my friend, and when I offered her the dregs, the foil-wrapped remnants of my week, God took over. She was touched by my thoughtfulness, and we shared a much-needed conversation on her front porch.

It’s okay to admit we’re out. It’s the time when we see God most clearly, when we reach the end of the road and see that He’s there, ready to carry us on. Love has come for us all.

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!

Pride and the virtual fall

My kids got me hooked on Dragonvale.

If you’re not as loaded with technology as we are, Dragonvale is an app game where you build your own dragon zoo, breeding new species and decorating the park in hopes of earning more money for visitors.

This is not a quality game. There’s a big push to make in-app purchases and use social media, not to mention the questions that come up around “breeding.” They learn nothing in this game. And now I’m unlearning with them. Feel free to follow in my footsteps.

No, really. Feel free to follow in my footsteps.

Technology has been a big topic of conversation in the house lately. M is in a school with a 1:1 iPad program from 3rd grade up. A program I have fought against every step of the way. A program which continues to go forward.

We finally got him his ipad, turned on all the restrictions, and sent him to school. He came home, day after day, unable to do the things asked because of these restrictions. We took it to the principal, who we nailed to the wall: “Are you saying you have a system where my eight year old needs access to Google in order to do his class work?” Yes, that’s exactly what he was saying. And if we didn’t like the school we chose, we were welcome to go to another one.

Except we weren’t the ones who chose it.

God directed us to our home. God laid public school on our hearts. And despite my ipad-loathing prayers, God continues to keep us in the system.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

Walking humbly–by accepting the path God is leading you on without pushing your own agenda.

Okay, so I needed to take myself down a notch. If God wanted us here, there’s a reason. My pride was keeping me from seeing it, keeping me from acting justly or loving mercy.

Maybe I don’t have it all figured out. Maybe I shouldn’t fight so much until I do.

I’m not saying I should be a doormat. But I was so quick to take up my arms that I KNOW I wasn’t acting justly or loving mercy. I wasn’t even interested in walking where God led, humbly or otherwise.

As a consequence, I was missing the good. God is good, all the time, even when I see anything but.

Take Dragonvale. On the surface, there was nothing good. My heart overflowed with guilt for encouraging my children to play. But then I stepped back. With my agenda out of the way, I started seeing the good.

The kids were getting to teach me something, and getting self esteem from that. We could talk about different aspects of the game, building bonds of communication. Even things like in-app purchases and social media (which are disabled for them) brought conversations about how apps work, how media works, and how careful and critical we need to be. Yes, I’m a grown woman playing Dragonvale. But I’m also a mom who isn’t above getting down on the virtual floor with my kids. A mom willing to see that there might be good I’m too busy protesting to notice.

I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living. (Psalms 27:13)

Even in Dragonvale, iPads, and everything in between. That’s not to say the battle’s over–God demands that we have standards for our children, and that we defend what’s right. But before I battle again, I’m retreating. I’m praying, I’m giving thanks, I’m clothing myself in humility. Because I have a feeling that my poor son being in the prinicipal’s office, singled out and unable to do his work, wasn’t the result of my acting justly or loving mercy. When I battle again, I want to know the Lord is on my side, so that I may see the good and share it as well.

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.

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.

Saving Grace

Meet Grace.

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Don’t get attached. Grace only stayed for the weekend.

I’ve missed our cats for a long time, even to the detriment of our garden. The kids have been asking for a pet for almost as long. We went through several options–rat, guinea pig, bunny, bird, dog–before deciding that the pet we could all agree on, the pet who belonged in our lives, was a cat. Even B was willing to put up with allergies for her presence (I married a very good man).

So we adopted Grace. She was, I kid you not, the sweetest cat I’ve ever met. Loved to play, but also loved to cuddle. Adored people–she’d purr as soon as she was picked up.

Trouble was, that love was not quite reciprocal.

The kids admitted she was cute. And sweet. And perfect. But she freaked them out. K could not come through a room if Grace was within ten feet. Neither child would sit on a couch if Grace was out. They’d perch on their barstools and try to read or watch tv, all the while swiveling in place to keep eyes on the monster beneath.

The monster weighed just under three pounds, mind you.

B was allergic, as anticipated. And the kids were downright frightened. Everyone looked to me, the affirmed cat lover, for guidance.

I had nothing.

Sure, Grace was lovely. But from the second we brought this bundle of joy home, I had a sinking sensation in the pit of my stomach: this is too much.

I’m so glad Grace wasn’t a person.

Lately, after a season of rest, God has been piling on the commitments, the callings on my heart, the desires to do. Every time I face another opportunity, I pray: Is this what you want for me? Is this too much?

The answer has always been a perplexing no, even when I’m sure it should be too much. God is heaping my plate and I’m still trying to tackle it fully and cheerfully without questioning the how or why.

Until now.

Because I had wanted this for so long. Because I prayed and prayed and prayed about this. Because we spent a gob of money adopting a cat. A picture perfect cat.

I’ll confess, it went through my thoughts more than once: Really, God? Really?

But as I prayed through, I realized the blessing of this experience. For one, I was able to recognize enough. I can trust in my connection to God more completely now, having known immediately when yes was the wrong answer.

I also have closure on my feelings of remorse over losing our first two cats. It’s not a cat I miss. It’s those cats. It’s the life they represented, when we were young and immature and just starting out, B and I. But it’s so wonderful to see that I’m not the same person I was then. I love that I’ve grown and matured. I love that I can say to that young and hurting self: it was too much–we let them go because it had become too much.

And I love that I can say that’s okay. With all eyes on me, I took a deep breath and said what we were all thinking: “I think this is not meant to be.”

So back Grace went, with wild fanfare and final hugs and many shed tears on my part. But I was learning all over again what God’s already tried to teach me: substitution is not healthy, and boundaries are there for a reason. I also know that if we were the wrong family for Grace, it was only right to see her off to the right one. It’s Micah 6:8 in action: acting justly by making the fair decision, loving mercy even when it’s painful, and walking humbly with our Lord no matter how confusing it might be (and for the record, we’re checked on Grace daily until her adoption–and I still pray for her growth and happiness. But in a world of more-is-better, we also discovered that right now, our family is enough. That’s a saving grace that will last a lifetime.