Wednesday, January 28, 2015

But what about...

Five years ago this Spring, after a brutal battle with metastatic melanoma, my friend Sweeney died. He was a bright star, full of life, doing meaningful work. To see his life on Earth end at the age of 35 rocked a lot of worlds in my circle.

Sweeney left behind a wife, Cabell, who is one of my most treasured friends.They had a beautiful marriage, a shared passion for ministry and a crazy awesome gift for loving people. As we dealt with the shock of Sweeney's terminal diagnosis and the disappointment that it did not appear God planned to heal him on this Earth, the focus of our fear and concern turned to Cabell.

They had been married 12 years, moved to our town (without any family nearby) because of a call to launch a Young Life ministry here and had not yet had children. As Cabell fought with Sweeney against the monster of cancer, her friends mourned for her too. Sweeney would go to heaven with Jesus, but she would remain here to deal with the loss of her best friend and mate, the death of her fairy tale and an uncertain future.

As my friends & I prayed in those days I asked God, "What about Cabell?" She was a faithful servant. She trusted God with her future. We boldly prayed for a Job-like turnaround for her life. We asked God to heal her heart, bring her another amazing husband and give her the gift of children. This was the picture of redemption we all had for her life. That He would "restore the years the locusts had eaten" with another fairy tale.

That was 2010.

Years have ticked by, a 40th birthday passed and no husband or babies have come. And, yet, we have all been witnesses to unbelievable life, growth, hope and redemption in Cabell's life. In her grief she dug deeper into God's Word. In her sorrow she turned out instead of in--constantly opening her home to opportunities for meaningful hospitality. She may not have been given a husband but she has a huge extended family that loves her fiercely. And the love that has been poured into her has overflowed onto countless others.

I have been blessed to witness the unfolding of her story one faithful, obedient step at a time. As life goes, we can sometimes miss the full, cumulative glory of a story this noticing the growth of your own children that you see daily as opposed to observing it in someone else's from a distance.

Recently, however, a moment happened that demanded that I pause and build a metaphorical altar to the faithfulness of God. This is a story that has become a part of my faith life. I wanted to write this so I (or my children) do not forget.

Saturday, Cabell took the stage at Young Life's Sharptop Cove as the camp speaker, the same stage where Sweeney shared the Gospel while suffering from terminal cancer. He was baptized in the lake there, and it is the final resting place of his ashes. From that stage, Cabell delivered a message of hope despite circumstances to a packed house of over 600 people.

As I sat in that place amidst a group of hundreds of silent, attentive teenagers listening to her share, I was overwhelmed with the echoes of my question to God during the hard days, "What about Cabell?"

I couldn't help but be struck by how my love and concern for my friend's future somehow translated into a distrust of the plan her Creator, Father, Redeemer had for her life all along.

Yet, through her faithfulness, God is using her and her story in mighty ways. So far that hasn't included a husband and babies, but Sunday morning it included 100 high school kids receiving Bibles for the first time--at their request. Their question wasn't "What about Cabell?" it was, what can you tell me about her God?

This experience left a lesson resonating in my soul because, honestly, I have a handful of people I am asking God not to forget about right now...

God, what about the Mama I know whose husband is currently battling a life threatening illness? Lord, what about the mentally ill Mama I know who is fighting hard to hang on? Lord, what about that toddler I know whose Mama is an addict? Jesus, what about that single friend of mine who longs desperately to be a wife? God, what about that friend whose husband just lost his job and faces an uncertain future? (I could go on and on.)

In all of it I hear God say, "I love them so much more than you do. I have plans you couldn't even begin to imagine. I specialize in redemption, resurrection, beauty from ashes. Trust me. I got this."

It brought to mind my daughter's new approach to Christmas. This year rather than laundry list wishes to Santa she asked instead that he surprise her. When I pressed her to see if she was sure she replied confidently, "Yes, he always gives things I love and wouldn't have even thought to ask for."

And so it is with our God. He knows us better than we know ourselves, has an eternal perspective rather than a circumstantial one and loves us beyond our comprehension. He is worthy of our trust.

I realize I have been asking the wrong question all along. Instead of "What about these circumstances?" I should have been asking, "What about our incredible God?"

Monday, January 19, 2015

This is Forty (a few of my new favorite things)

Turning 40 back in October was far less traumatic for me than all the black balloons and middle aged marketing would lead one to believe. Perhaps it is because so many of my friends had walked the road ahead of me. I didn't mind turning 40 so much.

Actually being 40 has been a bit more of a shock to my system. For the first couple of months the age felt a little weighty. I suppose it is fact that with a 4 in front of my age, I am certifiably, undeniably an adult. (As if home ownership, marriage and three children weren't enough to make that plain...)

Some days I step back and giggle at my middle aged self.
I now choose classical music, noise cancelling headphones, NPR and the National Geographic Channel.
I enjoy historical fiction when not reading non-fiction.
I dress in layers.
I am trying to actually use a purse and wear a few accessories.
I don't get carded when I purchase a bottle of wine.
I no longer prickle when I am called ma'am.
And my great aunt's old fur coat that has been hanging in my closet unworn for 10 years is actually starting to feel close to age appropriate.

I have realized there are some parts of being 40 that I greatly enjoy...and they are not things I would have guessed. Tonight I was thinking about my top three lessons from the first three months in my 40s.

1. Courage
Last month I had an opportunity to join my husband for a quick two night trip to Montreal for a meeting. He was busy for 9 hours the one full day we were there, leaving me alone in a French speaking city that I'd never visited. I brought lots to read and had planned on simply retreating in my hotel room, until I looked outside the window and felt that would be a shame. So, clueless and Francais-less I put on a coat and boots and went exploring alone. Much to my delight, it was OK. I figured things out. I got lost and didn't panic. I ate alone. I watched a parade by myself. And unlike a similar experience 15 years ago in Hong Kong where I gave up and went back to the safety of my hotel room rather than brave the unknown, I felt strong, competent & Ok with being a stranger. I didn't feel like a lost little girl, but rather, an adult adventurer.

This is the part of middle age I wish more people celebrated. Not the wrinkles, sags and grey hair but the moments of realizing the strength and confidence God has built line upon line in our lives. It presents itself in interesting places, especially as we navigate the often foreign terrain of parenting, marriage and the other responsibilities of adulthood.

I had some funny conversations with God as I wandered the grey, chilly streets of Montreal. I was a foreign stranger with a silly grin on my face as I walked, thanking the Lord for all the LIFE that had happened in 15 years that had taught me to trust Him and to be brave.

2. Perspective
I love having lived long enough to see the 'broken road' moments of life have really been forming a path. Especially in ministry, I am blown away when I step back and consider how God has used so many parts of my life that I thought were lows to equip me to love others decades later. Pausing long enough to look back always reminds me of His Faithfulness and that He's always had a plan.

I could write an entire other post outlining some of the ways this has come together incredibly lately...I continue to see how nothing is wasted in God's economy and so many life experiences I would not have chosen have molded and shaped my story into something that can encourage and support others in unlikely places and ways.

3. Quiet
I have always been a communicator. Always. I am a talker, a writer, a verbal processor...but lately I have realized that the more strongly and passionately I feel about something, the more cautious I am in speaking about it. Once upon a time I would have considered quiet a cop out or complacency. I am in a season where I increasingly see it as wisdom.

I was recently watching a youth basketball game with a player who dominated ball possession. Each time he got the ball he shot--it didn't matter if it was a good shot, he just took advantage of every single opportunity. It was frenetic and although there were 3-4 dozen opportunities, he missed every single one. It occurred to me that this has been my approach to words at various points in my life. I have them. I should use them. Every single time I get the chance.

The young basketball player and I share similar issues, immaturity and a lack of self control. This is expected at 10 years old and annoying at 40. Ironically, it is equally ineffective at both ages. In the next game he was more selective in his shooting. He shot less and scored more. I keep thinking about the lesson I learned from that kid. He wasn't the MVP of that particular game, but he left a powerful lesson in my heart.

There are stories I want to share-- much happening in my life I don't want to forget--but like Thanksgiving turkeys that must roast for hours, these birds aren't ready yet.

So this middle age lady is learning to watch, wait, ponder and exercise some self control in when I decide to shoot with my mouth or my typing fingers. And it is good.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Dealing with the Messy Spots

In November I noticed a couple of spots on my dining room and foyer ceilings. I planned on a quick and easy cover up before the holidays--a bit of flat white ceiling paint at best and a small tub of spackle at worst. But, of course, it wasn't that easy.

My house was built in 1950. The ceilings are plaster. They get lumpy, bumpy and crumbly. Repairing them correctly is a dusty, messy all day job. My efficiency-loving self sighed in resignation. I wasn't up for the hassle and decided to ignore it during the already busy holidays.

The holidays brought plenty of distraction via a busy schedule and festive home adornments. Each time I walked through that part of the house I tried to look at other things. I wanted to pretend the problem didn't exist, because acknowledging it meant dealing with it and I didn't want the mess. As I packed up the Christmas decorations the lumpy bumpy ceiling seemed to mock me. I am part of the infrastructure of your house. Are you going to continue to avert your eyes every time you walk through? When are you going to deal with me? 

Ignoring it had postponed, not solved the problem. So, yesterday I welcomed a couple of workers into my home to deal with this yucky spot. I was busy in another part of the house, but when I came in to check on the progress I gasped.

Dealing with this relatively small ceiling spot had impacted 4 rooms of my home.  Furniture was moved, drop cloths were placed, rugs were covered. What a mess! Furthermore, a closer look had revealed other areas that needed repair. Why does it have to be so complicated?

I was reminded of a fundamental truth of repairing and generally have to make a big mess before things can get any better. Whether you are cleaning out a purse, a refrigerator or a basement there is a lot of unpacking before you can make progress. Things seem to look a lot worse before the restoration can begin.

And the same is true of relationships.

I felt the Lord tugging on my heart regarding a tender conversation my husband and I were currently working through. So much of me wanted to treat this little place in our marriage like that spot in the ceiling. It's really just a small thing. I'm tired and not in the mood to deal with the mess that might come from a closer examination. What if it reveals more junk? Lord, can't I just keep focusing on all the other perfectly lovely parts? 

My heart knew the answer. Sometimes you just have to suck it up, face the mess and do the work.

By 4pm order had been restored in my home and my relationship is making great progress too.

Maintenance is required to preserve beauty and structural soundness in everything of value.To ignore it is folly--eventually the truth will come out as things begin to crumble. May we not be so fearful of a little messiness that we miss the bigger picture.

As I took the after photo of the house this morning I was reminded of something else: When you see order in other people's lives it is foolish to believe it has always been (or will always be). Sometimes there has been a patching/whitewashing for the sake of appearance--and other times there may have been major reconstruction. It is generally not our business to know.

Instead of trying to dissect the appearances of other people's lives, we are advised to keep an eye on the homes, hearts and lives God has given us to steward. May we be wise enough to examine them and courageous enough to deal with them--willing to do the work with grace and love.

Monday, January 05, 2015

The Tension of January

It started with a teasing comment from a friend last week as he opened the back of my Suburban to load something in the trunk. "I thought you had it so together. Seeing this mess changes everything."

He was referring to the gingerbread house frosting smashed in the upholstery in the back of my Suburban. (There were plenty of other messes too, this was just the most egregious.)

He winked playfully and as a Dad, I knew he was just goofing off...but the striver in me, the one that constantly struggles with keeping my priorities straight versus pleasing others, cringed. I have been intending to clean that mess for weeks, but there always seems to be something else more pressing. On the surface I keep things pretty tidy, but look closely and there are countless places where I have chosen to let things slide because there is life to live outside of perfect order and organization!

This morning as I went out into the driveway to attempt to clean out my car I passed several other small messes that seem to mock me: the weather stripping around my backdoor that my beloved kitty has clawed to shreds, the mark on the wall caused by a hurried attempt to clean so we could get onto more fun parts of the day, the wrapping paper, bags, tissue and ribbons I shoved in a closet to tend to another day when children were not home on break and the sun wasn't shining so invitingly. And although my heart is full, there are reminders everywhere of how far my home is from a checklist definitions of 'perfect.' (I will spare you the photos.)

Because it is the season of cleaning house, evaluating our lives and setting big goals I thought about what I could do differently. How can I get this all UNDER CONTROL? A friend told me she was shutting down her calendar for the month to get her home whipped back into shape. I like the sound of that, but fear it wouldn't end in January. I might never leave my house! I look at my list with all the things that need to be wrangled back under control, or that I have committed to supporting, serving and starting in 2015. Suddenly, I feel overwhelmed and it is only January 5th.

See, as much as I adore orderliness and plans, I also really love the spontaneity of living each day. I don't just want the checklist, photo worthy/inspection ready life, I want one that can relax and play in mud puddles after heavy rains or take off to visit a friend just because. I want a pet cat even when it means shredded rubber, dogs even when it means muddy prints on my back door, kids even when they mean LOTS of messes, a husband who leaves his own marks, and piles of laundry that mean I spent the day doing more than just cleaning.

Yes, my responsibilities must be managed. It's called reality, but I don't want to swing so far to the side or order that I am unavailable for the adventure of life. I also don't want to be so far gone in the adventure, that I miss the rhythm of schedule and the structure my children need.

So, this year, I am trying to live in the tension of both. Like a trapeze artist I find the balance in small, constant adjustments rather than big sweeping changes. I am striving to start and end each day with some common themes. Quiet, coffee, exercise, a notepad and a plan for the day--written in pencil, with a heart attitude that matches and with margin for real life to unfold. And at the end of the day? I want to get back into writing at night, reflecting on what I learned when I kept my eyes and ears open, my hands not so tightly clenched to the agenda and left some room for God to move amidst the errands, the laundry, the bill payment and the volunteerism.

I have a few phrases posted inside my agenda: "I am doing a great work and I cannot come down." (Nehemiah) "So that I may bless whom?" (Lysa TerKeurst) and "What does love require of me?" (Andy Stanley)

And in terms of full disclosure, I do have a reorganization task list too...It is written in pencil and starts and ends with the word GRACE.

Here's to 2015!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Turning the Corner to Tweendom

Tonight, around our family dinner table we had a moment that reminded me how things are changing in this stage of life. Big, fat tears started rolling down a 10 year old's cheeks unexpectedly. They were not incited from a sibling insult or a parental word of correction. These tears came from a tender heart that was tired of carrying negative feelings and needed to let them out.

From eyes to cheeks and onto chin I watched the fat tears fall right onto the blue sweatshirt this kiddo was wearing.

Those wet polka dots sent a warning flare to my heart: Pay attention.

Our other two children were excused from the table. As Ryland and I flanked this worried, frustrated kiddo, he talked about his concerns for several minutes. His issues were legitimate. We couldn't fix them in that sitting. So, we did the thing that's hardest for us: We just listened for a bit. We encouraged. Eventually, a smile reappeared and he hugged us both tight.

As we wrapped up I felt a bit shell shocked. It was as if we had walked through a door without realizing it. That door is called adolescence. Children who are no longer unbound by society's expectations, but instead are young people starting to notice how they stack up to others. Coming into their own identities with a bit of angst. Realizing they won't be good at everything. Making decisions about what they will work hard at and fight for. Beginning the process of self acceptance and all its frustrating truths. And taking the hearts of loving parents on a bit of an emotional roller coaster with them.

I have a lot of inadequacies as a Mom. I am impatient, prideful, a bit of a nag and a weak cook...but tonight, sitting around that table and later as a laid in the dark chatting a bit more...I knew without a shadow of a doubt I was made to be this young man's Mama. For all my faults, quirks and foibles, God put us together.

I walked next door to his sibling's room for an entirely different heart felt conversation. As I was still thinking about the tender heart next door, this one excitedly chattered about a great experience earlier in the day, how proud he felt and how he realized giving and helping made him feel like he had a purpose and his day mattered.

As I made my way to the third room I couldn't help but wonder what that heart-to-heart would hold. (I am considering adding barometers to their bedroom doors ;-)

We are turning a corner to maturity, emotion, self actualization and growing up. I have three tweens who will undoubtedly experience a range of highs and lows as they navigate this space between child and adult.

It is not my role to relive these years, but instead to lovingly support, pray and guide them through as one who has been here before and made it. It's exhilarating and exhausting and tonight there's no place else I'd rather be.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Wrapping Up Christmas

Another Christmas is in the books. With a house full of 10 year olds the tone was different this year. There was excitement about Santa (marked by a bit of skepticism) and gifts from relatives (R pronounces this word ree-late-ives) but there was also a greater legitimate understanding of Advent. We didn't use Ann Voskamp's book every night, but the nights we did were rich with conversation, revealing insights into my kiddos' hearts. On the night we discussed the Baals/idols in our hearts one of my children said "I care too much about people cheering for me and thinking I'm good at everything."



My favorite thing about Christmas morning was watching them exchange gifts with one another. Our school's book fair was held two weeks ago, so I gave each child a $20 allowance for their siblings and set them loose. (Ideally they would spend their own money, but we aren't doing allowances right now.)

It was so much fun to see them shop. R was decisive and impulsive--finished in under 5 minutes. P took a thoughtful approach, telling me over and over how much he wanted to get just the right thing. K's gifts were personal, yet playful and silly, just like the giver.On Christmas morning the looks on each of their faces as they watched the others open the selected gifts revealed that the joy of giving was becoming real in their hearts.

Some traditions like having a birthday cake for Jesus as part of our Christmas brunch were met with a bit of growniness from my ten-agers, but the tradition of giving a gift to Him was richer.

I am reminded of the beauty of tradition. We ebb and flow in our enjoyment of them, but they remain steadfast as reminders of what we hold dear through the passage of time.

(Can we talk about how I gulped when I saw this picture from our afternoon walk on Christmas Day? He will be my height next Christmas, no doubt...)

And now we bask in the Christmas afterglow. The pressure to do, buy, plan, wrap, bake, party is off. This is the time for pajamas until late in the day. Nestling down, making room for new gifts and reveling in what we have received. We don't want to move on "back to normal" too quickly.

"Don't let the joy of Christmas fade away. Celebrate every day the wonder of God sending his Son on a sacrificial mission of redeeming grace." -Paul David Tripp

Even as I pack up our decorations next week, I pray that I will hold tight to the gifts I received this Christmas. Not the sweaters and jewelry... but the intangibles that this season brings as refreshment to my soul each year.

Jesus received gold, frankincense and myrrh. My heart received insights, peace and memories of moments shared with family and friends. May we, like Mary, take the time to be still and "ponder these things in our heart."

The boxes, bags, lights and bows will soon be stowed away, but may it be said that we are changed.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Danger of Christmas Expectations

Yesterday I started crying in the check out line at Walmart.

These were not the sweet tears of observing a tender moment. 
They were not tears of heartbreak from witnessing a person in need. 
They were not wistful tears of remembrance from precious memories of Christmas past. 
They were not heartbroken tears over the lives of the childrens' home residents I was on an errand to serve. 

No, these were the frustrated tears of a person who was busy with 'good' things and frustrated with unmet expectations of other people. So many things in this world are worthy of  my tears, but poor service and a packed schedule trumped them all. Yikes.

I left margin in my Christmastime and 'other people' were eating it up. My joy was temporarily replaced by bitterness. The list in my heart of blessings for which to be grateful got eclipsed by a FAR SHORTER list of the things that were not going my way.

Because I am a do-er, learning how to also be a breather-er, notice-er, sit at the feet-er, I am always drawn back to the story of Mary & Martha welcoming Jesus to their home. Maybe it is because I so identify with Martha that I tend to be an apologist for her...but the reality is that she just had a moment that Jesus addressed and we get to dissect.

Martha was a hard working, good hearted, doer of a woman who got distracted. Even as Jesus spoke to her about her attitude, it wasn't the work that got was her focus. She was "worried and upset" having a pity party, casting blame and missing the point.

Like me at WalMart (and truth be told, a few hours later with my children), she lost her perspective. I had great plans for a service project with my kiddos after school and instead of mature-for-their-years cherubs, they acted like wild ten year olds who had just been dismissed for Christmas Break. Real life crashed into my Norman Rockwell ideals. I was undone not so much because of their behavior but because of the perfection I had hoped for. In my quest to make a moment, I instead made my people miserable. 

Thankfully, His mercies are new every morning and today is a brand new day. I have a chance to choose joy today--to exhale and refocus when frustrating situations occur. I will not punish people (in retail or in my family) for not meeting expectations that in most cases they never signed up for. 

My children are out for break. We are BUZZING with energy and anticipation. And I am teetering with a choice to make between stress and peace. I want to chose joy instead of frustration.
Wonder instead of expectation. I can't 'manage' the magic and joy of children. I have to learn to breathe and enjoy.

Lord, please keep my 'plans' realistic,
my patience overflowing,
my list of blessings in the forefront 
and my grievances, worries and upset entrusted to you.

In a noisy world and a chaotic season, keep my heart quiet and focused on love, joy & peace.