Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Following a Ghost

Marriage is the most upfront, continual, ever-present tool God uses to change me. I'm sure the same for you, if you're married. It actually boggles my heart to understand how I could be anything similar to who I am now without having marriage to refine me, build me up, expose me, and bless me. I read most of Sacred Marriage recently with my sweet new sister in law and I didn't finish it but I keep coming across it when I look in my stack of books, when I am talking with other women and when I think about our Bible study ladies. If something is haunting me, it could possibly be the Holy "Ghost" and in this case I'm sure it is. Sacred Marriage, by Gary Thomas, has been the most significantly revealing marriage book for me in this season of my marriage to help me understand my expectations and how to continually let the Lord turn my eyes back on him as well as my own sin. I'm going to study one chapter a week and post my thoughts on here. Probably on Fridays just to keep it consistent. Follow along. Read along. Post your comments. Or just skim if it's boring. But with the "Ghost" on my heels, I'm seeking the Father, yet again, on what he would have me learn through my marriage.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Moms it's Monday #3

Most of the time it’s those chill stay-at-home days with the kids that are the most challenging. For certain, we have days that are much to busy with driving around and going here or there. But the stay at home days reveal what is really going on with me, the kids, and the relationships between all four of us. It’s on those days that I feel focused on just our family, just my parenting, and just being a mom. And when I am in a right spirited place it’s okay with me to be about that one thing. And when I am not, I am wishing for better plans, cursing the weather or scheduling our next week to look busier than a bride the week of her wedding.

In her chapter of Cold Tangerines called “ladybugs,” Shauna Niequist talks about being amazing at multi-tasking at her job prior to staying home with her son. But then talking about the difference when just spending time with her son, she says, “All of a sudden, what’s valuable is not the multitasking, but the single task – being with him, only him, and doing nothing else.”

Even those of us that aren’t great multi-taskers are also not great at just focusing on one thing when it comes down to it. We make lots of plans, our calendars are full, we’re on the phone, we’re checking such and such site or email multiple times a day, we’re fixing this, cleaning that, reading this, stopping by here or there. We’re all multi-tasking…or at least continually-tasking, even if it’s one thing at a time, it’s a long list of tasks. We pop in on relationships and we’re gone for another week. We stop by and we’re gone. We are so in and out of everything in our lives, from errands all the way to grieving with people. And I not saying everyone is wrong who isn’t doing just one single thing, the same thing, every day of their lives. But I guess I am suggesting that maybe sometimes God does ask that we do that, and we wriggle, and try to pry ourselves out, because that might make us feel stuck or trapped, which is probably the worst word an American in our generation would like to feel.

What Shauna is getting across in this chapter has been one of my TOP revelations of the past four years of my life. And it took a lot of wriggling to accept it and rejoice in it. This is the truth that I can do the one thing that God has asked me to do and that doing that one thing might just be how he intends to carry out a multitude of changes and blessings in my heart and life, if only I will press in. And if only I will believe him that that one thing I put my hands to daily is very valuable to him.

Today as I was getting my heart ready for my day, as my kids were upstairs with Jason, as they always are when he’s getting ready, I felt compelled again to 1 Peter. It says to “prepare your minds for action” and I was praying that God would ready in my heart and mind what I would need in order to carry out the right behaviors as a wife and mom that day. And a verse or two later it said, “so, be holy in all that you do.” And that resonates clearly with what we are talking about now, that no matter what I am putting my hands to, there is still a calling on it. One might read that verse and feel a religious expectation from it, as if God is always having a watchful, condemning eye on me. Or maybe what it means is that if I am doing something, anything, God is placing VALUE on that circumstance, conversation, or happening, as small as it may seem. And he is saying that it is important to him, valuable to him that I see this small life as an endless and infinitely important grounds for growing the capacity of my heart and changing others lives simultaneously, all for his glory.

The last sentence that caught my eye more than any other in the chapter was when Shauna was comparing focusing on doing the one thing of being a stay at home mom with Henry to being a writer because in both of those things what was important was not getting carried away but instead to be devoted to a single thing. She said, “Writing is about choosing the one narrow thing and following it as far as it will take me, instead of chasing all the snaps and crackles in my head.”

I. love. that.

The “as far as it will take me” line gives me precise wording to something I have been feeling the Lord say to me for a long time. It’s been like a vague, understood encouragement from him to be obedient, persistent, determined in the same direction because he was still working on me, still changing me, still using this one role in my life to make me new. And it’s like he’s been asking me to walk in this calling as far as He desires to take me. We have these moments in Christianity when we say things like, ‘Now I totally understand __’ or ‘I used to think __ but now God showed me __’ as if we now have the full mind of Christ about one particular thing. But God is so huge and we are so silly. If He does grace us with a revelation or clarity to understand how he sees things, it is such a minute fraction of the full picture that it boggles my mind that any of us claim to be done learning about something of Him. Motherhood has been a really specific, vivid example to me of this idea that I need to walk with the Lord through this very particular journey as far as it will take me, through many lessons, many revelations, many humbling circumstances, many trials and many victories. How far does the Lord want to take me in this to accomplish his purposes? I just need to keep going to find out.

The snaps and crackles remind me of those maddening thoughts that flood a woman’s mind like, ‘what are you doing with your life?’ and ‘this isn’t enough’ (as if a regular job is – ha ha!’, and ‘you could really do this calling plus something else so that you’re still using all of your talents.’ The snaps and crackles are endless and sometimes they even come in the simple form of trying to make too many playdates or checking our email and facebook so many times we haven’t even planned good time with our kids or getting our kids into too many activities and classes so as to avoid that bare living room experience that sometimes makes our brains feel like mush. Snaps and crackles is a great way of describing those random little thoughts or ideas or accusations or pursuits or lies or false dreams that pop in without warning and simply are just trying to get us to do something else.

My life right now is about choosing the one narrow thing God has ordained for me to do in nurturing and caretaking for three little ones. And I want to follow that calling as far as it will take me, instead of chasing all the snaps and crackles in my head. Yes. Wow.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Crazy Natives!

I waited to post this on a sunny day so we could CELEBRATE that the sun does in fact return every year around this time, though I won’t stop believing it’s real until the second week of July. (At which point I will be delightfully silly and happy and forget that this isn’t the whole world, for about eight weeks). I capped CELEBRATE because for some peculiar reason, some people I have run into need reminding that the sun is something we welcome, though it be a stranger a good part of the time.

So I had a very humorous run-in with some Seattle natives recently on one of our first beautiful sunny Seattle days. The fam was having lunch at Qdoba. The pick-two menu and email coupons have apparently been the key marketing to keep us coming back. Sa man and J had gone in to order and me and the girls waited outside at a table in the sun. They were entertained by a “dittle dawdy” (little doggy) at the table next door and I just soaked it all up. Me in the sunshine. My girls sitting with me. Food on the way. Jason with us. Ahh.

Next thing I hear is the couple next to us beginning to mumble about the sunshine in their eyes and before I know it I’m with the Israelites in the desert, complaining about the manna coming down. Seriously, people? I’ve got my own manna I complain about but…the sunshine?? These must be natives.

I say that because my daughter Grace is a native to this area (as you know) and fairly often I hear her say “It’s toooo suuuuuunny!” which I laugh at and poke at her about. It’s just crazy nonsense and sends me rolling my eyes every time. Goodness, me. (How she survived the south is plain mystery).

So the Israelites spotted a table shaded with an umbrella, moved all of their belongings under it’s protection from the sun’s harsh, unwanted rays, and life got a lot more delightful for them. With my back to them, I just smiled and in my head was already writing this blog. But along came two more reasons to write this.

Another guy was sitting outside, obviously waiting for someone, and soon his friend came halfway out the door and said, “Hey, we found a table inside!” I had to put on my “don’t burst out yet” emergency filter and as soon as he popped up and as he went inside I let out a “what??” It’s not weird to want to eat inside. We all have to do that. But when it’s one of the first nice days in, oh, 250 days, who would want to? And not only that, but prefer it? He “found” a table inside…which means there were lots more people (crazy natives) inside who also “found” a table too. Meanwhile only me and the Israelites ate outside in the scalding hot 75 degree sun. Hmm. So by now I am looking for a pen to write about the delirious natives who’ve obviously sold their souls to the rainclouds and now have allergic reactions to vitamen D.

So I’m starting to feel like I am on a sitcom b/c all these little vinettes are just happening one after the other, leading up to my favorite one that I will now tell you. Just as the two guys who had the luck of scoring an indoor table went inside, two teenage boys started towards me on the sidewalk. I could hear them from quite a few steps away talking about the weather and as they passed me one of them said, “I know man, it’s just so humid.” HUMID????????? By now my emergency filter just broke, I’m laughing outloud, and I see Jason’s finally walking towards me with the food. Because he’s not a native like those people are natives, you know, crazy natives, I get the joy of telling him about my three act play that just took place, hopefully quietly enough that the Israelites don’t get wind of my entertainment.

I cannot believe this place! People moan and groan all year long, and when the sun comes out, everybody’s emails and facebook status’ are all about how the SUN IS OUT! yet I run into a zillion of these people who’ve got hats and sunglasses and umbrellas out and who’d like to have a seat in the shade. Okay Seattle, let’s just brave it up, face the unknown, enjoy our summer, ask our hostesses for a table outside, and get out there people!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Those Old Weekends

The parks department must have fixed the trail because every day that is remotely nice there are cars packed in the parking lot and running down the street in a long line. I glance over every time we’re headed to the store or a playdate or bible study. It always makes me think about the people who have the time to be there. They have nothing to do just moments after work is over. Nothing to do on Saturday mornings and, some of them, nothing to do at 10:00 on a workday. I could give them something to do :).

A number of times recently driving by, particularly this morning, I was thinking about the weekends Jason and I used to have together before we had kids. Oh my goodness. I literally laughed outloud in the car, making myself go into a coughing frenzy since I have a lovely sore throat. This is crazy, but I actually used to feel stress out about free time. (I would take a moment to mock myself with uncontrollable laughter right now, in a released moment of parenthood criticism….but I am surrounded by nice normal people in a Barnes and Noble so I’ll just peer around cooly and let the madness form in my head). Why would I stress out, you might ask? Well. I didn’t want to waste my weekends. Yes, that’s good. But I just felt like I didn’t have a lot of time and I had so many things I wanted to do. Now, I still relate to that. But now I’ve got like two hours a week to myself so if I stress myself out over that time I am screwed and it’s over and then I’ve got another week to patient for more of that. So although I do recognize that uptight girl, oh yeah I do, it’s just not over a free weekend anymore. I cannot imagine what it would feel like to have a free weekend, at home. Even now, when we have a free weekend, we run off to another city. I literally just took a sec to text Jason to tell him that next time we get weekend babysitting I’d really rather stay home and relax and go on hikes and stuff. I’d like to have a weekend like we used to have.

We would always sleep in. 9:00 is when I would start feeling guilty. We’d mess around a couple of hours with breakfast and reading and this or that and then we’d go run errands or go on a hike or meet up with a friend. So easy. Head out to dinner that night. Watch a movie at home or out, whichever sounded better, and go to bed late knowing we could go to whatever church service we wanted to that day. A nap always made it’s way into the schedule, as well as some gardening and phonecalls here and there. And then Monday would come and I would feel all gypped and cheated out of my time.

He he he.

This season can be really hard for me and Jason. Hard on our marriage. Hard on our insides. Hard on our sanctification. Hard on our schedule. My nights end with putting Salem to bed around 6:30 and then I usually spend until 8:30 or 9:00 cleaning up the kitchen and doing various other chores around the house so that I can crash and not have a ton of things hanging over my head. Jason usually takes the girls from 6:30 on and does a sweet bedtime routine with them that lasts forever, but that’s what makes it sweet, and is usually done with them and tinkering around with this and that by 9:00 as well. We watch about one show and have a short “how are you” before I’m toast and head upstairs alone.

What made me laugh and also kind of cry a little inside thinking about those old weekends is that I have always been feisty and argumentative and hard on my husband. (Sorry baby. At least it's being confessed and hopefully becoming less and less and less). I am passionate. We have a great time and then we have some low times, often when I do not give the Spirit the reigns on my emotions. I very often feel a little bipolar and it doesn't give me much peace to know it runs in the family :(. Sometimes I feel like, okay, if we can get through this pressure cooker of a season, we will be fine. But then I have memories like I did today where I remember, oh crap, we weren’t in a pressure cooker then and I was still exhibiting some of those same qualities. Uh oh. So a new season isn't the answer.

That’s why I know the Holy Spirit’s message to us in this season is NOT, “Hey just make it through this season and then it will be easier.” Ha. That is not his way. His way is to change us IN the pressure cooker. He’s got a huge purpose for us. And it’s not to get us out of there or even just to sustain us while we’re in there. He sees it more like a crock pot. I went in there raw and he wants to make me into something like what I was supposed to be. This is not a waiting room, a get through it trial. Are they ever? I don’t ever think we’re just waiting. I think we’re changing. The pressure is heat that, with the gospel of Christ, is going to do something miraculous to us.

So I see those trails day to day and I miss. I miss the early days of our relationship, the time we had for each other, the freedom to just stop the car and go get on that trail even if I had been on my way to go do something else. But. We were also different people then. So I’m hoping in twenty years when this treasured season with children sadly comes to an end, that our weekends actually won’t look the same as they did. I think we’re going to be different. We’re going to be healthier. We’re going to look different than we did when we got into this crockpot. And just as I read in Romans 12 today, I am “joyful in hope” for us, because of Jesus.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Thirty Two

Written last Wednesday on my thirty second birthday.

I’m 32 today. It’s such an odd day. I have my feet up on a table in a coffee shop on Alki beach, where I have already been for a few hours. But my heart is far away, way over on that island I see across the sound. My friend had a tragic loss yesterday and I cannot stop this crushing chest pain I have for them. I cannot just steal away to do my birthday or go to dessert with friends. Maybe that’s fitting since I have struggled since probably my 30th birthday with special days that are supposed to celebrate me. I made feeling special too important. I prepared my heart a little better for my birthday this year and prepared myself to battle my expectations that buzz around my heart like knats, declaring that it’s not enough.

So with sober perspective with the news from my friend, the knats just dropped to the floor. The buzzing expectations were silenced, as they should be. I am blessed to be alive, so I need to stop being all about me and learn to live to serve others in love. That’s why Jesus wants me to be here anyway.

I guess what I am trying to write about is what this year has been all about. My thirty second year. What has it looked like. Who was I. As daughter, woman, wife, mom, friend, sister, on and on. What was different. How did I grow. How do I look different now than when I was 22. Or even 31.

Some things weren’t different. My shoes are still the same. (Because I still hate shoe shopping, no matter how out of style I get. Actually I did get a compliment on my light brown shin high boots the other day and I laughed b/c they are like six years old and somehow back in style). My addictions to coffee and being alone and gardening and good good friends are the same. I still like to write incessantly, except no one would know that because it’s mostly a collection of things on Word and not my blog. I have gotten back into good ol journaling with the introduction of the moleskin and it’s gloriously floppy pages. I can’t think of any other reason why “floppy” would make me so happy but when it comes to journals it makes my insides take a deep breath of delight. I still like a light rain when I am reading or a heavy rain that lasts for three minutes. A good dose of a garden nursery will put me on cloud nine for at least an hour, which is a long time to be joyful for a melancholic ;). I still really need dates with my husband and now really need dates with each of my kids too. I still have long long hair and don’t plan on cutting it anytime soon because I think I have finally learned how to fix it, which is maybe my biggest miracle of my thirties so far. I still don’t exercise (oops) and the only type I miss is hiking, which I am hoping will change this summer. I still go to bed at 10:30 and sort of can’t function except to blink my eyes and have minimal brain function after nine o’clock pm.

Silly little different things. I am getting up early and though it’s painful the first few minutes and I have almost crazy schitzophrenic conversations wildly dancing in my head about why I should or should not get up, in the end I do enjoy being up before everyone else. Go figure, Proverbs 31. Maybe I did something right this year after all ;). I have started to eat much healthier and actually have enjoyed the food network, reading cookbooks, looking at ingredient labels, and trying out new recipes to help our family stay healthier. (But confession – I still think we all deserve treats fairly frequently and for my birthday I bought myself a big slice of chocolate cake with a container of mint chocolate cookie icecream. No guilt whatsoever and it was delicious). I am back to my five year old days of perferring pink and purple. But mostly pink. Any shade. Anyway, lots of things have changed, but let’s get on to the real change. You know me :).

One year ago I was…not doing well. I mean, I was blessed beyond belief with a new son and surprised by the gift of his life. But I did not handle the blessing well. I floundered with my overwhelming responsibilities and life with three little children age two and under. I needed a lot of help and a lot of perspective. I also needed a lot of grace that even though my life with the girls had changed, and I could grieve that, we would all grow together now into something different and good. I remember after eight weeks of having some sort of help every single day, there finally came the first day I had to do it on my own. Instead of doing that, I asked like five moms to come on over, with all of their kids. And they did, and it was a zoo, but I needed the company. Somehow a zoo felt more desirable than the four of us. I was just scared. And then when I tried my “first day” at home with the kids for a second time, I did it and I was okay…but it was hard and it took a while to adjust. But eventually I got the hang of having three, with lots of grace.

One of my biggest appreciations last year (and actually the year prior too) was my accountability group. We focused only on confession as well as what God was teaching us. It kept me close to something I have needed to cling to: repentance. Jason and I have described parenthood as a pressure cooker and I feel like last year I learned a crucial part to coming out of this season a different person, rather the same with lots of ugly and that’s just that I need to stay in humble confession of my sins. I have been learning (and it’s not over) to be more genuinely saying I’m sorry for ___ and asking a lot, a lot, a lot more sincerely for forgiveness. And stopping there. Just dealing with my side. Having peace with God that I am being faithful to respond to his Spirit about ME and then STOPPING. I am still working on this but I feel fruit forming. And it feels like maybe the most right thing I have done in a while. My husband would account that I have a lot more to learn in this area, and I surely do. Lord take me further.

One of my biggest revelations in motherhood is that I am teaching my kids what the Lord is always teaching me. We do one bible verse per week and then lots of instruction and discipline in between from loving your brother and sister, to sincerely apologizing, to asking for forgiveness, to forgiving, to rejoicing with one another, to grieving when we’ve hurt one another, to obeying, to being kind and compassionate, to being completely humble and gentle, to being willing to share. I have not perfected one thing I am teaching them. I am a child in the spirit too. I have a Father who is raising me. He is parenting me with his Spirit daily, moment by moment. And I MUST STAY HUMBLE with my children, revealing to them when I am wrong and when I sin against them and when I am not obeying God. I know I am the worst, most disobedient children out of all of us, so I cannot lord over them in their sin. I must confess my own when it is against them. And staying low helps me to not “punish” and demean and roll my eyes at them, but it keeps me burdened for them to grow and change and “get it” and be saved by Jesus one day.

A recent blessing is that our bible study group took a spiritual gifts test and I was really surprised by the results. It’s probably been ten years since I took one and although my “old” strengths were the same (discernment and prophesy), they were not #1, 2 or even 3. They were like four and five out of like 15 different giftings. They still scored super high but I had new highs. #1 was shepherding. #2 was encouragement and #3 was exhortation. The definitions really really helped me. Shepherding is “the capacity to guide and nurture an individual or group to grow in faith.” Encouragement is “the capacity to give reassurance and support.” Exhortation is “the capacity to stimulate faith and promote Christian maturity in others.” When I finished the test and saw my results, I was shocked at first but then felt really at peace. Yes, discernment and prophesy are in me. Nobody who knows me would doubt that :). Yes, teaching is in me; it’s a heartbeat of mine. But this shepherding thing is always always always on my mind. How can I guide x person. How can I nurture growth in x situation. How can I guide x group to maturity about x. Now that I have learned x, how can I be patient to wait for that in others. It’s forever on my mind and heart and in my words and conversations. I cannot cannot cannot escape that this is part of me, compelling me, moving me forward in relationships and in groups. And it feels good and to see it on paper makes me feel not crazy or controlling but just that as I abide in Christ, this is a Spirit thing. And it feels right to walk in it.

In that I will say that I have thought a lot this year about how I am “bent”…both spiritually and also how I bend when I am seeing life sinfully. I have really appreciated how Kalle and Annie have described me recently b/c it has helped me to have better understanding of what tends to be a more melancholic side of me. K says that I see the world (or a person) how it (or they) were intended to be, and how things should be. So instead of just saying I am a downer about things or generally kind of despairing or seeming to never stop with my expectations, it truly is a lot deeper than just having trouble being joyful. I have Kingdom eyes. I long for what we should be, how I should be, how it would have all been without sin. And I guess I long for…heaven! For our glorified selves. And I long for what Christ can accomplish in us while we are still here. It burdens me greatly and when I use this gifting rightly, I am very prayerful, hopeful, discerning, shepherding, careful with my words, counseling, and intentional. When I use this lense but with sinful eyes, I get super disappointed and tired and emotionally unsteady and untrusting and disgusted and hopeless and despairing. Quite a difference. It has helped me immensely to have my friends help me to define what is going on there. For them to help me see a spiritual gifting there and to also help me see how I can be bent sinfully when I am not abiding in Christ.

If you looked at my relationship with the Lord this year I can say confidently it has looked very different than other years. Something definitely turned a corner in my heart this year. Quiet times were not these little sweet devotions. They were not irrelevant studies that I had a hard time making practical by the time I got to the application question. “Quiet times” this year, if you can call them that, were intensely desperate for me. It is interesting to me that the longer I know Jesus the more I need to connect with him during the day to feel like I can get through the day. I have desperately, desperately needed, wanted, prayed that his Scripture was REAL this year. That they were not just words or even distant truths but if they were real and living and active, sharp enough to divide my soul and spirit, that he would use them to change my life. If 1 Co 1:9 says that He who called me into fellowship with his Son is faithful, then I have been desperate to experience and grasp and exist with a peace of his faithfulness. If Romans 4 says that God is the God who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist, then when I look at my dead heart that is so selfish in my marriage with Jason, then I am desperate to know that he can call into existence a selflessness and gracious spirit into my life. When Romans 15:13 says that the God of all hope can give me joy and peace as I trust in him so that I may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit, it doesn’t just sound nice to me…I WANT that desperately and I feel my insides clawing for it if I am indeed able to have that. I feel myself looking at God’s promises especially the second half of this year, not with doubt or irritation or distance, but with a great hope and request and expectation in my spirit, that He who wrote the Scriptures will indeed make them come alive in my heart and in my behavior and my life. I am looking constantly to have my mind renewed, one small piece of Scripture at a time. I find myself sloooowing down. Reading less verses, meditating more. Praying verses more. Asking for the gift of faith more. Landing on life verses like Romans 15:13 and praying them often. And lately the closest one to me is being prayerful for JOY and HOPE.

So I’d say that carrying over into my thirty third year I am expectant for some fruit of this new time with the Lord for certain. I am hoping that next year I will be writing more about a promise carried out from Romans 15:13, that the God of all hope would give me joy and peace as I trust in him, so that I would overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. I am praying that I would overflow with hope. That as I see into relationships and my marriage and my children’s eyes and my friends’ lives, that even as I see how we need to grow and change and lean into Jesus, that I would simultaneously be quicker to light up with an expectant hope about what Jesus is capable of doing. He gave me this heart but he also gives me this hope. Here’s to 32 and a joyful hope to come.