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Processing Freedom and Grace

I don’t write this post for any sympathy or empathetic comments. I write it because I know I’m not alone and maybe you and I can process together??

 

It’s been one of those kind of weeks. The kind where you’re just left depleted and you feel there’s nothing left to give. Your very soul is raw and sore . . . the kind of sore you’d imagine from a deep surgical incision. You’ve received somewhat alarming news, your toddler just doesn’t *get* how to pee in the potty and you’ve cleaned carpets and sofas and several pairs of underwear a day. You get your feelings deeply hurt in a creep-up-on-you sort of way and you feel like the doormat whose “Welcome” was stomped on the way through the door. Your life feels like it’s been hijacked and how do you get off this plane ride and regain control? Where do your boundaries lie, and more importantly, where do your *loyalties* lie and how much do you push yourself to keep on giving, or how do you find the strength to just say, “no” ?

 

Familiar words seep through and begin to fill:

 

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Oh. Oh yeah. Just pray. So I do.

 

I sit Dove-turned-Pixie on the bathroom counter and cut little toenails straight across. I knock glass and it falls, straight into the sink, shattering open. It’s my favorite perfume and it all washes right down the same drain where I spit my toothpaste. I want to cry. Perfume’s expensive and this one in particular was a Christmas present and I can’t believe it was me and not two-year-old Pixie who breaks the bottle.

 

The irony is not lost on me. The perfume’s name is Amazing Grace.  I walk into the bathroom a few minutes later and I can smell its sweetness, resting in the air. But not because I released it slowly, spritzing it on my neck and wrists. It was violated. Violently spilled down porcelain and now it’s gone.

 

And I realize, I’ve been literally shattering myself down the drain, trying to be that Grace. I try hard to be the bottle itself. I try to give it all away til there’s nothing left in me to give and I feel emptied way too fast. I know this is not a rare feeling. I think it’s one of Woman’s most beautiful strengths and one of her strongest vices – trying to be all and fill all and love all.

No one else has depleted me. I’ve depleted myself. There’s only One who has already violently poured down Grace – and rather than wasted disaster, it was perfect rescue. The rest of us, we’re finite, and grace has to first be poured on us before we can share it with anyone else. I can only bestow little grace-spritzes from the Source. It seems obvious, but how hard I, Woman, fight it:

 

I am not the Source.

I am not the Source.

I am not the Source.

 

 

I sniff the remaining scent of Amazing Grace and I shed a few tears. Not because of the lost perfume (well, okay, yes, mostly because of the perfume), but because He gently shows me that Freedom does not come from complete self-sacrifice or giving your life away to every person’s needs. There *is* joy and freedom in those things, if we’re doing those things for all the right reasons, but otherwise we’re imprisoning ourselves to everyone’s whims.

 

No, freedom comes from allowing Him to be the Grace toward all we love. And if we’re lucky, we get to spritz some grace too.

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Looking

When I was a teenager, I was often called a Pollyanna of sorts by my family members. The words stung. They weren’t meant as a slight, but they sure weren’t meant as a compliment. But they were true. I did have an irritating way of looking on the bright side of things – of glossing over things and putting my own bright, sunshine-yellow brushstroke over life.

 

I had an optimism that came from a lack of suffering. An optimism that didn’t understand pain, or heartache, or nitty-gritty ugliness. I hadn’t experienced it. I don’t think I believed that it truly existed.

 

I grew up a little more and pain entered.  It hurt and it stung and I wrestled. I still haven’t experienced pain and true suffering like so many in this world have. But for a long time, I looked at my life’s gaping holes  . . . wondering where Jesus fit into this seeming new, raw, unbrushstroked life He’d placed in my lap.

 

I grew up even a little more and learned that not only does life take things out of your hands . . . sometimes, it simply doesn’t give you what you want. Some call it the “death of a vision.” What do you do when you feel like the life you expected got lost somewhere along the way?

 

 

Let me tell you, it’s easy to trade in some good, old, trusting Pollyanna sunshine for a stone-cold, bitter, E. Scrooge sort of cynicism. And I think in some aspects of my life, that’s exactly what I did. Because after you’ve been hurt in sensitive areas, it’s hard to trust people . . . yourself  . . . God.

 

But He’s awakening me and I can’t dwell anymore on the things He-never-promised-but-I’d-come-to-expect, my assumed empty-handedness. He’s not left me to pine and simmer in bitterness. Thank God He’s been scooping me up, teaching me, teaching me, teaching me not to dwell on the seeming gaping holes of my life, but holding me close to His chest, pointing His finger, turning my face to see . . . Him. His hands. Toward this story He’s writing in my life.  So many times I’ve wanted to throw away certain chapters, or change the course, or scratch in Audra-chosen details, but all the while, He whispers, “Peace, peace, child. Let Me write. I am the Author. The Perfecter.”

 

I am learning to let go of the pen.

 

I am learning to trace the etchings of His filigree.

 

 

Cynicism looks in the wrong direction. It looks for the cracks in Christianity instead of looking for the presence of Jesus. It is an orientation of the heart. The . . . cure for cynicism, then, is this: develop an eye for Jesus.

~ Paul E. Miller, A Praying Life

 

 

 

My eye catches on something fallen to the hardwood.

Maybe Now

I remember how tired I was. Newborn baby in the sling, resting against my chest, and the two-year-old running wild in the milk aisle. I can still feel my tight hand-grip on the grocery cart and how I wrestled, trying to keep both it and my out-of-reach daughter in line, while trying not to wake the babe. It was dreary cold out. I was worn thin.

 

My eyes met those of an elderly woman who seemed to be surveying us in that milk aisle. I was too frazzled to make small talk.

 

But do you know what she had the gall to come up and say to me?

“Honey, enjoy every minute. This is the best time of your life.”

 

Now I’m not usually the type of girl who gets riled very easily. But just then, I really wanted to screech, “How can you be so cruel to say that me right now? Don’t you know I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in weeks? That my body is literally worn out? That my husband and I have barely had time to look each other in the eyes?! That I’m here in the milk aisle just trying survive this grocery trip and you say these are the best moments of my life?!?!” I don’t even remember what I actually said to the woman, but I was too tired to scream, so instead, I muffled my soul’s unbelief and gave the typical Southern smile and probably said something about how, yeah, I was trying to savor the moments.

 

To be honest, the woman’s words stuck like unwanted syrup on the outside of a glass syrup bottle, and until recently, still conjured up a twinge of panic whenever they surfaced to mind.

 

What if she’s right? This??? This could be the best time of my life?

 

Because my days are merely filled with wiping bottoms and folding underwear, sweeping floors and serving PB and J’s on Winnie the Pooh plates.

 

But recently, I picked up Laura Bush’s memoir, Spoken from the Heart. Whether or not you side with her husband in his politics, it is hard for anyone to deny that the former first lady has lived an intriguing life . . . doing things, visiting places, meeting world leaders and attending spectacular events that few of us will ever have the opportunity to experience.

 

And do you know what she wrote? After serving as the First Lady of the United States of America for two terms and having lived probably the most exciting time of her life, she reminisces on the first few months of parenting their twin girls:

 

Every morning before dawn, George would get up to make the coffee, as he had done from the start of our marriage; then he would go get the girls and carry them into our bed. We’d each hold a baby and drink our coffee while they drank their bottles, with the morning news droning quietly in the background. The start of the day was reserved for just the four of us. Those early mornings were some of the sweetest times in our lives.

 

My breath catches as I read her words.

 

That’s what I am living. Feeding hungry little tummies. Sipping coffee. Living side-by-side with the man I love. The words of the Wal-Mart lady wash over me and I realize her words just may be true.

 

And I wonder.

 

What if I lived every moment like it just might be the ______-est moment of my life?

 

Maybe every moment in our lives is *THE* something. The sweetest time. The busiest time. The most exciting time. The most difficult time. The craziest vacation. The most intimate Christmas. The stupidest recipe mistake. The wisest parenting moment. The tastiest dinner. The most hilarious date. The funniest Monday.

 

How will I embrace it?

 

Taking the time to count those little moments that make up all of *my* time, my story, my one, all-or-nothing chance at life on this earth….

 

#207 a room of sharing mamas and learning mamas-to-be, an honor to sit, listen, watch and pray

#208 that He is Sovereign – even when I don’t understand His plan in the giving and taking

#209 grace in the seeing, the seeking help, the beginning of healing

#210 a small affirmation

#211 sisters-in-law and sisters-in-law-to-be . . . little pieces of hearts known

#212 a brother’s love, brimming beneath the calm surface

#213 drawings, drawings, drawings

#214 the little one’s grasp of a crayon

#215 baby friendships blossoming from their mamas’ years’ worth of shared phone calls, get-togethers, funerals, weddings and pregnancies

#216 spontaneous sister-dates

#217 that we were made to cleave

#218 flexibility and her learning

#219 the missing of the one I love on a Monday

#220 that he misses me too

#221 hearing him play with her and watching her love tank fill

#222 that heart-stopping moment that she grabbed my face just to kiss me

#223 a shared journey

#224 that every moment is full of possibility

#225 that maybe, just maybe, I could right now be living the very best time of my life

 

 

Let me embrace. Let me anticipate. Let me find.

He is here.

In this moment.

And the next.

 

 

Joining the gift-thankers

Wisdom Nuggets from the Trenches

No matter whose amazing book we may have just read, or whatever eloquent interview just played on the radio, or even that astounding blog post we may have just happened upon, when it comes right down to it, some of the most life-changing, attitude-adjusting words can come from the women in the trenches next to us.

 

I’m not even kidding. There have been several times in the last few years that a friend has casually said something in passing and while she’s already moved on to the next topic, I’m still trying to catch my breath from what just came out of her like it was nothing.

 

Let me explain. I’ve said before that I am a perfectionist. But you’d never know it by looking at my life on the outside. My house is usually disorganized . . . well, really, my life is a bit disorganized. You see, unlike the perfectionism which drives most women to be Superwoman, my particular brand of perfectionism usually paralyzes me into doing nothing. Start some new project? Well, you see, I know it won’t come out the way I want it, soooooo, I just don’t do it at all.

 

This is a suffocating, boring way to live, and by the grace of God, I am working on this. But my fellow-mama, well, really just woman-friends, the ones who’ve been right next to me, fighting in the kid-raising, house-cleaning, husband-loving trenches? They help release my tightly-clenched, perfectionistic grip.

 

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Back when I was in my last year of nursing school, I had a friend about 20-25 years older than me tell me, “You can do anything for a year.” She was a nurse herself. She had lived the life I was currently living and my weary soul sopped up every ounce of her words. She was right. I did it. I frequently think about her words in parenting. Because when you’re taking care of a newborn who’s waking every two hours and you’re not getting any sleep? It feels like life is never going to change. That you’re going to be stuck with no sleep for the rest of your life. Thankfully, in parenting (at least in parenting young children), there are rarely things that you have to do for a whole year.  Children hurry along through their little phases so quickly and just when you’re getting used to them, you’re left with an aching heart, wondering how that phase was over so quickly….

 

Potty-training?

 

Teaching a little heart not to whine?

 

Pulling a little climber off the dining room table for the fourth time in 5 minutes? (Ahem, this would be me)

 

“You can do anything for a (fill in: a few weeks, a few months, a year).”

 

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When I was pregnant with my firstborn, several women shared mothering advice at my baby shower and a little nugget stuck with me.

This was from a woman with seven children. She lived in the trench.

 

“When you walk in a room and find your children have created a disaster and you just want to cry? Take a picture of it. It gives you a bigger perspective and will make you smile.”

 

Oh, have I taken this fun advice to heart….

A recent "tent" made by Firefly.

Crayon . . . on our glider's ottoman. It all came out. 😉

Dove is ALWAYS getting into my makeup....

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And then there was the time a friend and I were talking about keeping our houses clean. I was talking about how I just never have time to mop or dust as much as I used to and how I thought her house always looks nice.

 

This mother with three children replied, “You know, my house is rarely clean. I just keep up on clutter. Every time I walk through the house, I carry something with me that needs put away.”

 

Hmmm . . . that sounded manageable.  Much more manageable than keeping up with two young children 24/7 and have a spic and span house. I’ve found her words empowering. Clutter. A manageable enemy. And if I do keep on top of it (I’m still working on it!), then it’s much easier to actually clean because I have a clean slate.

 

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And last, but certainly not least, I have a friend who completely changed my attitude about being a good mother. She’s one of those girls who when you meet her, you instantly feel like you could tell her anything and she would still give you a big ol’ hug and send you home feeling like you’re the most special person in the world.

 

We were at a women’s Bible study one day, both at the coffee/tea counter, grabbing something warm to drink beforehand.

 

“Hmmm . . . I’m not sure which tea flavor to choose. I already had my mug of coffee this morning,” I said, trying to make small talk.

 

“Oh?” she asked with her raised eyebrows. “Are you still nursing the baby or something and watching your caffeine?”

 

“Oh, no. I just try to be good and limit my coffee to one mug a day,” I explained.

 

“Well, let me tell you something, girl,” she said, like she was letting me in on some deep secret. Little did I know, she was. “I’ve found that I’m a much happier mama if I sit down at 4:00 in the afternoon and have me an oreo and another mug of coffee. If I get that little boost in the afternoon, I can make it through bath time and actually be a fun mama while doing it. I’ll work on my caffeine intake in 10 years or so when the boys are putting themselves to bed.”

 

I’m telling you, girls. That was revolutionary thinking to me. Because she showed me to look at the big picture. Not every single detail of my life is going to be perfect. But so what? There are some battles just not worth fighting in particular seasons of life. So, if an extra cup of coffee helps me be a happier mama? I’m going for it.

 

So, listen to your friends, dears. One little sentence might just rock your world.

Abundant

The last time my husband’s family was together, I lost it. I was tending to our newborn, the 2-year-old was pitching a fit and running toward the road, my dear hubby was deep in conversation, and I was exhausted. In my husband’s defense, I have a bad habit of not letting him know I’m about to lose it . . . until it’s too late. He quickly came to the rescue and everything came under control, but my damage was done. Everyone was a little uneasy and I was really embarrassed (the bad thing about being a “stuffer” is that everyone’s super surprised when you snap and they wonder what in the world the big deal was?). This morning,  as I was day-dreaming about tomorrow’s Thanksgiving get-together, this memory suddenly flashed before my eyes. “Oh God, please don’t let me do that again.”

 

The problem is I usually do have these amazing, albeit unrealistic, expectations regarding the holidays. I’ll bet you do too? I dream about heartwarming chats with my sister-in-law over a steaming mug of coffee, sleeping in every morning with my hubby, perfectly baked apple pie, sweet memories of hunting the Christmas tree….

 

But it’s more like . . .

 

Two sentence conversations with the sister-in-law sprinkled with, “No sweetie, don’t touch that, and yes, you do have to eat your veggies.”

 

Waking up at the crack of dawn to a little hand patting my arm and a whispering voice saying, “C’mon, Mom, the sun’s up.”

 

Gooey apple pie in the middle that gets increasingly burnt crisp as you go toward the edges.

 

Everyone being aggravated by all the pine needles in the car and house.

 

Please tell me this is familiar to someone besides myself?

When all is life-filled, but my expectations are not, let me be still and give thanks.

Let me embrace the moments . . . the moments not created by my own dreams and expectations.  Maybe those moments are created by Someone much more creative and loving and all-encompassing than this girl who thinks she knows what perfect is.

Let me remember the wise words of Jim Elliot,

“What is, is actual — what might be simply is not, and I must not therefore query God as though he robbed me — of things that are not . . . [the] things that are belong to us, and they are good, God-given and enriched.”

For He is good and His mercies are new.