viral depression-itis (an e-mail of explanation to my longsuffering husband)

I guess I feel I owe you an explanation on things. I know you’re not expecting one and that’s a sign of your maturity; nevertheless I feel prompted to write now, and I don’t have anyone else to whom to write, either for their sake or mine.

Do you remember in Maine when I was compelled to give up social media once and for all, and I told you how it made me feel sad?  

On Saturday of this past weekend, with a flood of emotion and physical pain, it was shown to me – at least in part – why this covetousness in me is such a problem, why it is ruining my life. I didn’t receive it at first as conviction because I turned it totally inward and used it as an opportunity to indulge in my self-pitying flesh (Galatians 5:13). My pride was hurt.

But now I see that this is real and true conviction because without any seeking on my behalf, God has mixed this reality with the knowledge in my mind and heart and spun the whole thing around to face Himself. And in the past 48 hours (having spiritual realizations like this while teaching bible study is an interesting experience), I have been left with a choice — a choice that, I admit, I am avoiding making because I know that the longer I let it sit untouched, the less important I think it will seem.

The choice before me is whether or not to be willing to repent. That sounds silly — I am aware. Who wouldn’t want to just leave something like this behind and begin again?

But my discomfort and lack of ease comes because the stakes are really high in this choice. This is boiling down to “deny myself” in the deepest way — to deny myself the things that up until now I’ve assumed were ways that god had made me; to deny myself all the ways of thinking I have ever known, that have gotten me anywhere I’ve ever been. And these past two days have seemed to be a “trial period” of sorts where god is gently showing me what life is going to have to be like if I decide to lay this down – and it is not a slow deconstruction, but complete obliteration. And it sucks.

And I’m ashamed to admit it (save for the one biblical phrase of “counting the cost” that has given me some mild consolation), but I’m considering my options. If I don’t or can’t or won’t lay it down, I know what that means for me spiritually: a dead end. But like the rich young ruler, I am saddened by the loss that is before me otherwise. It feels like saying goodbye to my very closest friend knowing that she’s going to have to die and I’m going to be the one to kill her. Which just proves the very thing I most recently taught on: we will always have a soft spot for our own flesh.

I think I feel resentment toward you and the church in times like these because it is such an added pressure for me to deal with such things. It’s kind of similar to how I felt when we were thinking of moving in here with your parents. I knew that subjecting ourselves to close proximity was going to bring about confrontation and revealing of bad habits, which I, naturally, wanted to avoid. (But really, who would ever go looking for confrontation like that?). Being in ministry, for better or worse (like marriage?), is making me feel manipulated in this decision, like I might choose to “go through the motions” of repenting without actually submitting to the desire to do so, just for the sake of “doing the right thing”. I sense that maybe these things are not real and instead just perceptions that I could probably be relieved from by praying, but still, this is me writing about my experience and so, it is what it is.

I am shuffling around despondent and unsure of what to live for because, I just found out (news flash!), I’m not secretly perfect as I had hoped maybe I was deep down. Instead I am quite evil and was on a path to continue ruining my life, just as I had been doing before I had even heard of this Jesus fellow.  For all these years, I had thought that I was getting away with keeping my cake safe and eating it, too.

Something you told me when we first got married was that you thought we were a good pair because we both liked to do “hard things.” And I do — or at least I used to. Hard things, to me, are defined by vertical feet, or miles, or levels of exhaustion. Hard things are defined by sweat and grit and preparation and, ultimately, victory. Hard things, however, are not defined by barely getting out of bed in the morning, or by falling to my knees in despair over a pair of arguing toddlers, or by getting up the energy to eat a proper meal.  What do you think?

There’s not a note here upon which to resolve, as I’m not quite sure in which key I am writing: hopeful or hopeless? Hormonal or genuine? Sorry or self-justified? Is it the headache of the viral meningitis talking, or the burning unanswered questions of viral depression-itis?

I do know that I’m forgiven, both by you and also by the Lord, and I am thankful that such extended grace is prevalent in my life. And I trust that this is just another spin of the sanctification rotisserie, for you and for me both. But I don’t want to be strangers in the same bed, orbiting minds. And I don’t want to be mad at you anymore for being the better person, the more mature person, the one winning the Christian race to which I have you pegged.

I was wrong, I’m sorry, and I love you. And this is what’s going on with me. How’s your heart? 

Maybe I’ll just come out to the living room to talk?

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All the characters

…I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams…

I was praying before bed the other night that God would give me visions and dreams.  

It wasn’t a request for a spiritual attainment of any sort; no, it was a plea for help.  It was a prayer thrown up to the throne of God, begging for something to give way.

I can’t well describe the place I’ve been in the past few months, except for the last post in which I revealed my utter lack of clarity and assurance of things.  This weekend, after a lovely and blessed women’s conference in our fellowship and a lengthy and vulnerable conversation with my dear husband over moonlit pillows, the foundation of this blinding wall began to crack a little bit and I felt the kind of excitement one feels when labor pains begin for real:  the pain is trumped, in the beginning, by a sense of relief.  

“Give me signs, and visions, and dreams … even tonight, Lord, that I might begin to understand,” I breathed softly to Him in the wee, dark hours.

I woke up the next morning (late, of course), and busily prepared myself and the three males in my life for church, arrived there early as usual to set up, organize, rehearse for worship, get classrooms and teachers prepared; we prayed, we greeted, we sang, we taught, then we did it all over again.  Not until 11:30 am did I sit down, in a chair in the sanctuary, and let the Word of God fill me up.

And as our pastor preached, saying no less than five of the things my husband and I had discussed the night prior (talk about confirmation!), I drifted softly to a place of peace, remembering basic things, returning to the first love, settling quietly into a forgotten grace from God.

About halfway through the sermon, though, I recalled spontaneously a dream I had had the night before.  It was strange, the way it came up, popped into my mind out of nowhere, and I actually momentarily tried to talk myself out of thinking about it — I was in church, after all.  And then I remembered my half-asleep grasp at prayer for a dream, a vision.  It actually was more like a vision in that there wasn’t much of a story line: just a brief glimpse into something inside myself that I didn’t know was there.  And so I let it unravel in a strange deja vu kind of way.

Essentially, in this vision, there were all of these things flying around me, like dark, black birds.  I stood down below their swooping in a large field.  In my mind’s eye, I was very small, like the camera was zoomed out.  

Somehow, I understood right off the bat that these flying birds were my critical thoughts and bad habits and sin — all the things about myself and my life that I am warring against on a daily basis.  I remembered thinking to myself (as is only possibly in a dream), How do I take these things down? and almost simultaneously, a large black machine gun appeared in my arms.  I began to shoot at them, hitting some, and missing others.

So, as I’m letting this scene unfold again in my mind, my ears tune in momentarily to the sermon at hand.  Pastor is talking about self-help as a form of self-glorification; resourcefulness as a form of self-glorification; determined self-will as a form of self-glorification…

I once told a small Christian group I was a part of in college (before I was actually a Christian, ironically) that one of the ways by which I knew there had to be a God was in the process of learning.  In college, being of the “mathletic” variety, I would sit hunched over books and notes working out the complexities of word problems, over and over, again until I “got it.”  And there were specific times when I would be completely privy to this phenomena of “learning” a concept — I would not understand something, and then, suddenly, the gears would click together somehow and God mercifully let my own mind observe this process, strangely.  Though I suppose it was all in the name of drawing me to Himself.  Which was a perfect plan because I remember marveling so openly at this mystery.

But I have found that there is no such learning that compares to the clarity and understanding that comes with real conviction from God.

As the gravity of this “vision” I had experienced began to sit in, my self-glorification stared at me creepily and without remorse, right into my own eyes:  I have been playing all the characters in my own story.  This realization resonated so completely, so plainly, that there was absolutely no avoiding it.  I have been the author, the main character, the villain in my own story; I have been the doctor who gives the diagnosis, the prescriptor, and the patient in my own disease; I have been the prosecutor, the judge, and the defendant in my own trial.  

That is ultimate self-glorification, by the way.  It’s not so much that I think highly of myself — most of the time, it’s quite the opposite.  But there’s no room in my story for anyone else.  I play all the parts, and I hog the show.  

What the Holy Spirit convicted me of, in seeing myself armed with that gun and shooting down those black things in my mind’s sky, is that there is a war going on inside of me — a war that is common to man, and written plainly in Romans 7.  There is a battle between the spirit and flesh, light and darkness, and even between who I am and who I want to be.  There is a gap between my mind and my heart, my conscience and my created being; and there always will be, for me, and for all of us.  But just like one cannot judge and defend his own self fairly, I cannot be my villain and my hero.  I am a house divided, and I cannot — will not — stand. 

So I stood mocked by 1 Samuel 17:47, found at the end of my children’t favorite Bible story, where David stands before the giant Goliath and proclaims that “the battle belongs to the Lord.”  You know, when I read that story — which I do, often, for the sake of the kids — I see David as the hero, not God.  I see David as “a good shot” and a “faithful boy” and a “fearless servant” and as “anointed by the Spirit.”  And I look to those things in my own life, too.  My gifts, my callings, my faith, even my mistakes made redeemed.  Me, me, me, me.

But the battle does belong to the Lord.  And I need to stop it.  I need to put my own weapons down, disengage from my own war, and I need to repent, turn the other way, walk back to the place of hiding, and surrender God’s glory back to Him, the rightful owner.  I would never in all my lifetime have called myself a show-off.  But that’s what I’ve been doing to Jesus.  I’ve been trying to show Him how wonderfully I can do without Him.

I am a Christian.  And I’ve been stealing God’s glory.

Oh, Lord, thank you for knowing that I would do this and already forgiving me for it.  I am sorry for trying to prove to you how well I can do on my own, how much war I can withstand without Your help.  I am failing and losing the battle, and I have no rest.  I am sorry for believing in my heart that I can do this on my own.  Lord, you anticipate my needs and provide a solution before I even know there is a problem.  You have already known that I would be, that I am, in my own heart, a house divided — split down the middle between flesh and Your Spirit and these things will never be at peace with one another.  I will never find rest apart from You.

I choose today, Lord, to lay down my weapons — my resourcefulness, my hope in myself, my determination and will and my belief that I am strong — my self-glorification belongs to You now.  I am not glorified in it.  I am ashamed and debased. 

God, it goes against my flesh to even pray this, but Lord, I want YOU to be the main character in my story.  I must decrease, Lord, and you must increase.  I don’t really want this to be true — I’d rather be the center of attention — but I know enough to know that You have better things for me than I can have for myself.  I have tasted and seen, Lord, that you are good.  And I am not.

And Lord, I pray for anyone who might read this, that if they, too, struggle with playing all the parts of their own story, they might find rest in You and not only in Your willingness to fight the battle for them, but in Your provision that it is already finished and that you have won.

Thank you, Jesus.

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Philippians 3

I was praying this morning about ministry stuff — what is my role? what I am called to do? what am I not called to do? what am I unwilling to let go of? what am I not willing to pick up? — and was getting so frustrated with the lack of clarity I’ve had in this specific issue. It feels almost as though there is an actual wall I am up against, something physically keeping me from seeing clearly at this time.

I was led to read the account of Isaiah in the sixth chapter of his book. I read through the part that I am familiar with rather quickly (“Woe is me! I am undone”), assuming that the notion I had experienced to get me to this chapter was just a fleeting impulse. But the part that comes after those first few familiar verses started to strike some chords deep down, in a way that only the conviction in the Scriptures can do.

He talks about hearing, but not understanding — seeing, but not perceiving … Having dull hearts, heavy ears, eyes shut … Cities laid waste and desolate, people removed from the land, with many forsaken places in its midst…

And then, God tells Isaiah that only a tenth of the people will remain, will return to be healed; kind of like the stump of a tree that is left after it’s dead part is cut down. “So the holy seed,” He says, “shall be its stump.”

For us, that holy seed and stump is, of course, Jesus, and it makes me laugh to think of how close in proximity I have been to this very same message in Philippians 3 — “count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.” I have just spent three weeks reading through the book of Philippians myself, and attended a conference last week where the highlighted passage was, by no coincidence I’m sure, Philippians 3.  Paul basically says, “cut down the tree of your life and let the holy stump of Jesus remain.” (My own words).

I think that God is asking me to let Him destroy 90% of my existence, to count 90% as loss. I would never have come up with that number myself — but there was something so striking to me about how he only reserved a tenth of the people for Himself in the verses from Isaiah. He only left 10% remnant — and that 10% became 100% of the population. And I wonder what this really looks like in my life?

It feels scary to me to even consider letting God knock down my “cities” (as is described in Isaiah) — these big towers in my life that I have built, invested in heavily over a long period of time: my homemaking skills, my mothering approach, my goals and hopes and aspirations (and my secret desire to be a world-renown blogger), my good deeds, my strengths and weaknesses and how I’ve oriented my life around accentuating the former and minimizing the latter, my commitments in women’s, children’s, and worship ministries at my church; even my knowledge and what I have deemed understanding at times has grown into something bigger than expected or intended, something of which I find difficulty in letting go. There are so many hiding idols among these things; idols bearing, and giving birth, to more idols.

My 3 year old loves TV, and the reason I know this is because of how he reacts when I turn it off. It doesn’t matter for how long he watches; every time the TV gets turned off, there is a battle. That, to me, is proof enough of an issue. No matter how much he is able to indulge, when it’s time to let it go, he cannot.

And what of this battle in me? I am finding that the nearer I come to accepting that God wants me to lay down certain things, walk away from other things, surrender all things, give up on 90% of what I have going for me, the more resistance I feel. “But maybe I can just keep doing that one thing” or “surely, this one habit is a good thing and God wants me to continue in it.” But maybe He doesn’t. Maybe he doesn’t even want me to do the good things. Bringing back only ten percent of the people really isn’t much. I think we can wrap our minds around a percentage like that, but we can’t really imagine what it would look like, especially when we are talking about death: nine out of every ten people written off as dead, “removed,” not counted as alive anymore; nine bodies lying on the ground, compared to one meager, scared soul standing, trembling.  Nine out of every ten things in my life, discounted, demolished, removed …

And this 10%, of course, is the amount God has Scripturally used as the amount set apart for Himself, a tithe. He required it be offered first, the cream of the crop; what we have to offer is usually leftovers.  He doesn’t want me just to peel back the things I already don’t like about myself and offer what’s left; He wants me to raise up one tenth of my heart and mind and soul in faith, and let the rest of it die.

So, I’m not really sure what to make of all this — and I sure as heck am not sure why I just posted it on the internet; I suppose it is here more as a reminder for me and for accountability’s sake than anything else.

Nevertheless, I stand blankly before this revelation.  Am I living this life backwards?  Am I willing to count all that I have going for me as utter loss, even garbage, in comparison to knowing Jesus?

 

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Happy Easter!

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To serve and be served

So, I have this friend. She wishes she were someone else. Always has. Uncomfortable in her own skin, dissatisfied with the ways of her inner make up, her inner mind. Looking to new things, new places, new people, new trends, new hobbies; something to fill, something full of something. She doesn’t find it really anywhere, and her disappointed heart grows jaded, faded. She is onto the next thing before this one thing is over because, truly, what’s the point in waiting for the soul to catch up with the mind when one already knows the darkness lurking deep?

My friend is difficult to serve.

So, I have this sister, one who is a bull. She works, and works, and works more when the work is done. She takes responsibility in heaping tablespoons, gulps it down with a swing of independence and then claps, “chop chop,” for the next item on the agenda. She is capable, resourceful; a leader. Yet her eye winks weary, blinks long — and there is a catch of tiredness tied up for a moment. Her plate is full — so full — and just as she’s about to take a bite, to be enjoyed and received with thanksgiving, it is offered up to the birds swooping round, cawing in hunger, greed.

My sister is difficult to serve.

So, I have this wife. She is tempermental, with an emphasis on the mental. Most days, she doesn’t know if she’s coming or going — she might as well stop keeping track because, Lord knows, I’ve had to. A mood here, a mood there; something’s great, another thing devastates. There is drama wrapped tight, like a Chinese finger trap — the more we pull, the tighter it grips. Unpredictable, she is, and her anger, her sadness, her joy, it is all just as much a surprise to her as it is to the rest of us. She laughs cynically, but with underlying trepidation, that she might actually be crazy. None of us try to argue.

My wife is difficult to serve.

And this co-worker of mine? The one who has her life all together? The one with the smattering of kids, well-behaved and bathed and dressed with both shoes; the one with the tidy house, tidy lawn; the one with a comfortable income and trained dog and the prettiest shoes and the whole package? Yeah, her, with the smiles and immaculate taste in clothes and eye make up on and who actually remembered to put the dinner in the crock pot that morning and how in the world does she do it?

My co-worker is difficult to serve.

And I have a daughter. She is selfish, a self-centered teenager. She isn’t helpful; she is lazy. She makes messes that she doesn’t clean up, and she blames others when she’s actually being convicted herself. Her world ends tomorrow, when she’s grounded, prohibited, but begins the day after with the first kiss, the first love, freedom defined. It seems as though she’s caught somewhere between immaturity and completion, somewhere between innocence and adulthood — somewhere where there is angst and discomfort, but no clear explanation as to how she ought to move. It’s too late to go back, and it’s not yet time to step out. So where does she go, but into her self?

My daughter is difficult to serve.

I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. John 10:10

And I’m struck by that word, “abundantly” because it means “overflowing, surplus, over and above, more than sufficient.” What I see when I look around is not abundance, but lack. What I see is not peace, but shifting plates, grinding and building tension beneath the surfaces of these lives. What I see is not rest, but worry. It seems we’re all concerned here about getting a good grip.

The problem lies not in the lack of able and willing servants, but in the humility it takes to be served.

And yes, the harvest is plentiful and the laborers few — but what if this harvest isn’t only the saving of souls, but also the Promised Land of rest for those of us already in Jesus? What if the labor of love we are called to here is to lay down our pride and receive grace, receive hospitality from another, that we might be led, carried, held in an embrace on the way into peace?

When I am a servant who refuses to be served, I am thorn, a theif of joy. When I refuse charity, mercy, kindness from others, I am a closed door into the kingdom of God. When I think I know better, when I think I don’t need help, when I think I’ve got a handle on things, when I think it’s better to keep that to myself, when I think, well screw that I’m just going to do whatever I want … I am difficult to serve and I will cut off the flow of a work that God might be doing for me, and for others. And the travesty of it all, God will let me be like that.

Let me just wash the dishes my way, I don’t want to think about that right now, let me just go be in a bad mood, I can’t help but be envious of those things she has that I don’t have, it’s just easier to put on a good front than tell everyone everything about my life … It’s easy to look at others around me and play the victim because, you know what, I’ve had it hard too and I’m just doing the best I can.

Is that the abundant life? You tell me.

Sometimes, maybe all the time, the sweetest sacrifice we can offer is the one where we actually let ourselves be blessed.

The place we go for peace is to the cross; the place we go to rest is with our dirty feet in the hands of a God willing to get on His knees to wash them. Sometimes, He’ll send his laborers to do the washing for Him. Let yourself be served.

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What I’m not saying

It’s hard to remember how or when it started, exactly. Maybe somewhere in between the pipe in the laundry room bursting and the children’s newfound habit of sneaking food from the table and making messes of it in the closet in the other room, or maybe upon the realization that I had, over weeks and months, developed a bad habit of not brushing my teeth until 1 p.m.; I really don’t know. All I can tell you is, it’s been a long winter.

And things is gettin’ a little crazy ’round here.

To the point where mama’s going a little, or maybe a lot, crazy.

I suppose small doses of crazy might be necessary for a Jesus-following mother in this strange world. But really, any more than what calls us to pack up all our belongings and move back in with the in-laws is really just plain dangerous in this household.

One of the pieces of premarital advice that my husband and I have heeded throughout the past few years is to date regularly. This only happens by the world’s standards once every few months; but we’ve made a point to date radically in our own home, to spend intentional time alone together even when things around us like broken pipes and dirty dishes and whining children beckon distraction. Some of my favorite “date nights” are hummus and bread dipped after late arrivals and long days with dim firelight and bags under our eyes. Saturday morning coffee in bed to the soundtrack of Thomas the Tank Engine playing in the next room is always nice, too.

But something that I haven’t been told before — and which is proving to be necessary — is that my relationships with my children require a similar maintenance schedule. Gone are the days when nursing in the rocking chair covers a multitude of needs. These kids have demands! Not only are they hungry, or tired, or in need of “soooooooomething” (that’s what the three year old whines, constantly) at virtually all times, but now they need attention, for Pete’s sake, and constant watching, and no-you-cannot-shove-graham-crackers-in-the-dvd-player-gosh-how-many-times-do-I-have-to-tell-you’s. And really, I vaccuumed popcorn and pancakes out of a bedroom closet the other night. Really.

They want to be cuddled, then they want to kick me in the face. They want to do it themselves and then cry as if abandoned, “mommy, HELP ME.” They want to make messes just so they can refuse to clean them up. And they want things “because he has one” and on, and on, and on. (Ringing true with anyone else? I’m quite sure I’m the only mother who has ever experienced this!)

Why is it that everyone expends all their energy encouraging new, sleep-deprived moms who don’t remember a word of it anyway?

But this thing that has happened recently, this thing that is breaking me down from the inside out, is that I am finding that while I love my children in a “I carried you literally inside of me” kind of way, I am not always in love with them. They exhaust me, and I’m resentful. They make demands on me, and I serve bitterly. They spill, and make messes, and make mistakes and it makes me angry. I hug them sincerely with intentional “I love you’s” but my words are not speaking the action there within. What I am not saying is, “I am actively in love with you right now, like this very moment.”

So I sputter apologies and repent and try to be better. And it all fails, because I am not taking the time necessary to “court” my children, to desire closeness with them. I am not taking the time to spend with them in love, in affection, in adoration. I am not taking time to pray for them, to pray with them.  My flesh doesn’t want to spend any time longer than the bear minimum with them hanging at my ankles, clawing at my legs for attention. How can I even find the energy to pour into them this extra attention?

But I think to Jesus. I think to Jesus’ pursuit of us, what Scripture even calls a “jealous love” for us. I think to God’s woo-ing of us, His convicting love, His attractive grace. He is our Father, and still He courts us, pursues us, intends time with us, has a desire to be with us, tries to get our attention. Even after we are His, we continue to be the apple of His eye. How awesome is that?

And, yes, there is a place for discipline and for chastisement — a Biblical place, no less. But not when it is inflicted apart from Godly love. God has ample opportunity to smite me when I displease and fall short. But His nature is longsuffering, and the definition of that couldn’t have come to me sooner than it did this week at Bible study: to suffer long and remain kind.

This is the kind of love I want my children to experience from their parents, if not for the sake of my own sanity, then for the sake of them being led to accept and receive the love from a God who died for their salvation, a God who loves them even more than this woman who just halfheartedly surrendered her will to raise them up. I want them to taste, to see that God is good, and that He doesn’t condemn them for failing expectations or just figuring out who they are or just plain experimenting again with that glass to see if gravity will take it down any differently this time. He is in love with them, actively and with infinite kindness, in an always and forever kind of way.

And that is what this is about, by the way, this surrendering of my will. I had a friend tell me just the other day how, when you marry, half of your self dies, and when you have children, all of it dies. That’s what we should be telling new mothers! “Get ready: You’re about to die. But don’t worry, it will be in a good way. Promise” My sister-in-law is in pre-labor right now with her firstborn … I’m sure she’d love such encouragement!

So here I stand, on the boundary line of yet another limit I didn’t see coming, pushed to the brink by inconvenience and mental anguish and spiritual fist-raising and perhaps a small lack of Vitamin D. I know that to charge on over the line is to pursue the things of my own — my own agenda, my own to-do’s, my own life because, heck, I deserve it, especially after four years of “lending” my body to others to be used in various life-giving ways, all without nary a good night’s sleep. But I know that doing so will only ever bring more of this same baloney.

Yet I haven’t quite retreated from this boundary line; I guess I am still somehow enticed by a life that looks like pressing on to fill my own needs. The laundry pipe was fixed, I believe we’ve nipped the food-stashing habit, and I’ve regularly brushed my teeth first thing in the morning all week long … Which is to say that things are looking up. And it was 44 degrees today, so maybe I’m just being dramatic …

But I can tell that this issue lingers deep, this discomfort I feel with the level of exhaustion I carry, the amount of times per day I have to squash down anger, the sharpness of words that unfurl toward such small and tender souls. I am not content.

If God has chosen me specifically to be the mother of these children, then that means that each day new is a divine appointment; that each day together is one that He calls blessed. If God has chosen me specifically to raise these boys, arranged it perfectly in His time, then surely, there is to be more to it than days spent hiding from my own fears.

That said, I am looking for a reliable babysitter. Any teenager willing to work for free and for indefinite periods of time will do. Also, experience making beds and unloading dishwashers is pre-requisite.  Willingness to learn massage therapy encouraged.

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Wasn’t meant to be …

The irony is not lost on me that I just spent over an hour writing a blog post called “Rewriting the story” where, mostly, I pondered how God can change the outcome of things to be different than we could ever imagine when we are obedient …. And that as I clicked on the “publish” button, the whole thing erased and can’t seem to be undone ….

So, cheers to God re-writing your story today. I have left the original post there, blank, as a reminder of this sovereign God I serve. He is rewriting my story, constantly, and I owe Him a great praise for saving me from whatever detriment would have come in publishing whatever it was that I wrote earlier.

I imagine that, at times, we make God chuckle.  This might be one of those times for me.  I love Him.

Have a blessed weekend!

 

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Rewriting the story

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When the cold won’t go away

I am not surprised when the thermometer reads 4 degrees in the yellow-gray light of the delayed dawn.  Brushing the snow dust off from the bottom of my boots, I lay down the wood and peel off my ski gloves, hat, and winter jacket.  The wood I had just gathered is from the woodpile, maybe not even twenty feet from my front door.  Somewhere vague in my mind, I remember myself a few months ago, jogging out quickly in pajama bottoms and slippers to grab the morning’s kindling.  Feels like a lifetime ago, or maybe just a dream?  I unlace my winter boots and shiver.

I kind of can’t believe that it’s been this cold, for this long; that the norm has become donning every last piece of winter outerwear I own, just to go start the car or drop something in the mailbox.  And it’s been months since my kids have played outside.  I remember a green Christmas morning spent in the sunshine; I believe that might have been the last tolerable day for such sensitive baby skin in this polarized vortex of a winter.  

And it gets me thinking (of course this is spiritual, were you momentarily fooled?), how similar our spiritual thermometers can be?  Where the temperature starts to drop, the pressure changes, first for a few days at a time, and then, suddenly, we’re no longer surprised when the thermometer is below zero for days, weeks at a time?  Or, we find that it is the talk of the grocery store when it *might* reach 20 degrees?  Twenty degrees, I can tell you, is nothing to write home about.

So, I’ve been thinking about marriage a lot recently — and how powerful it is, to both build up and to destroy — and I am wondering if these trivial observations on weather hold any deeper application.  I mean, doesn’t this speak to a paralyzing theme in discontent marriages across the globe?  These seasons of cold?  These lifetimes of frostbite?   

Sometimes, I think, bitterness creeps into our relationships because of complacency.  We couldn’t be bothered to take a stand against bad habits, or critical thoughts, or impulses of our flesh.  Our default position as human beings is to indulge our pride (see Eve, Genesis 3:6) and secondarily, to blame someone else for it (look at Adam, Genesis 3:12); when we don’t take a position guarded against these things, then what we end up with looks like how I would guess Adam and Eve’s marriage looked, after the fact:  probably filled with bitterness.

And how bitter is the winter, especially north of the Mason-Dixon Line?  It is BITTER.  They call it “bitter” cold for a reason, don’t you think?  It hurts.

Bitterness is like the cold, too, and it sticks around quite naturally.  Have you ever noticed how, in the summer, if you leave the door to an air-conditioned room open, you feel the cold coming out, not the heat going in?  And in the winter, if you open the door even briefly, the draft will quench in moments what it might have taken your old and trusty furnace hours to heat?  There’s a science there somewhere, but I don’t know enough about energy or thermodynamics or really anything at all to make suppositions.

Annnnyway, the point is that the coldness trumps the warmth.  Bitterness naturally trumps love, thanksgiving.  It is an easy game for bitterness to play, and to win.  

…Except when we decide not to play the game.  James 4:7 says, “resist the devil and he will flee from you.”  I think bitterness, as a bona fide scheme of the devil, is the same way:  resist the temptation to be bitter, and bitterness will flee from you.

Marriage is difficult because, Lord willing, a marriage is comfortable.  It should be a place where you can be yourself, where you can fail and flop, where you can experiment and try out new things, where you can share your heart without fear.  But when we get too comfortable places, we start overstepping the bounds at times and we can take liberties that might be inappropriate or even offensive; we can do things that desensitize us to bad habits.

Take, for example, my children.  When a guest comes over the house, they will be all coy and shy for a few minutes, hiding behind furniture and smiling sheepishly from under their blankets, snuggled quietly next to me, checking the new face out.  But soon, once the person has engaged them and seems the least bit trustworthy, my kids will begin asking questions, then asking favors (“Didn’t you bring me something?”), and before you know it, they are helping themselves to that person’s personal lap space and describing to them in various colors the explosive poopy diaper their baby brother had earlier.  (This may or may not have happened last night).  The way you know my kids really like you?  They will begin throwing their blocks at you and laughing hysterically.

They probably seemed like nicer, cuter kids hiding behind those blankets.

The point is, sometimes places of comfort allow us justification in failing to heed certain healthy, and Godly, guidelines. The world will try to argue that we should feel free to “be ourselves” but, I’ll tell you what, you better beware if I am feeling loose enough to “be myself.”  I am a wrecking ball and have all the power necessary to tear a person down, right in my itty bitty tongue.  For those of us who call Jesus our Lord, our Master, then we are no longer free to be ourselves … We are constrained by His love for us, compelled by the things He has done; we are free instead to serve Him and to walk in the Spirit.

The way to get out of seasons of cold, seasons of bitterness, then?  I’m not sure.  I’m tempted to give instruction here, but I can’t find consistency in the application I’ve set out to make — using winter as my illustration.  The only thing we can do to get out of winter is to wait for spring.

But perhaps therein is part of the deal:  we wait for spring, yes, each of us, for the same amount of time.  But how do we wait?  Do we wait with longing, and anticipation?  Do we wait with hope, excitement?  Do we wait with expectation?

Or, Do we wait with anxiety because the time is moving too quickly and the passing of another season just means more time is lost? Do we wait with bitterness that this has been a long, dark, and cold, cold winter?  Do we wait with regret that we have wasted the frigid days away longing for something better?

I wonder if this is like marriage — two people, in love and united at the beginning, fallen away to some bad habits and neglected affections somewhere along the way, and now in a season of cold, a circulating polar vortex.  How much does it take to seek revival?  

Both partners in a marriage must endure two sides of the same coin, the same days of a long winter — is it possible that one wait with longing and hope for melting snow, even while the other wallows in disappointment and regret?  Is it possible that revival comes from underneath, the first flows of the stream under the ice caps, breaking up the things of the frozen?  Or from the ground that begins to thaw underneath, even before the snow is melted away?  Even when one set of hands sits stubbornly atop the cold, clenching bad memories and mistakes gone by?  Can this thing still be moved?  How much does it take?

I have seen this happen, the chunks of ice lifted and carried down stream, and I’ve tasted of the warm, sweet breeze that blows behind this very miracle: that one half of our united flesh lags behind, sorry for itself, and its better half marches on with sights set on longer days.  I am not proud to say which half I have fulfilled for the most part, but I am thankful to say we always catch up to one another, and that eventually, we keep moving forward.

And maybe that’s what marriage is like in these changing seasons.  There is no Biblical reason we have to defend ourselves against difficulty and struggle, suffering on the inside or out; in fact, Scripture says we should expect it, even count it as a blessing.  But what we do have in our marriages, and in our walks with the Lord, is continued motion, the momentum of one foot in front of the other, the leaning in and the pressing on.  We have strength, in Him, to put one foot, one heart, out in faith, and inevitably, the other foot — or heart — will have to make a choice:  to stay, or to follow the lead?  A disgruntled but softening soul can still yield to the forward motion and follow; I promise that it is possible.

One day, months from now, I will be sitting at this very keyboard in short sleeves, sipping a beverage with ice in it, and I will re-read this tediously long entry and vaguely remember how cold I really was feeling at this time, writing from the hearth and shivering under my long underwear and wool sweater.  But it will be just a memory, with no way to re-create the experience of it in that moment, and I will wonder at the miraculous creativity and drastic works of this mighty God we serve.

 

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Two marriage questions and a new life verse

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