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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.

What They’re Teaching Me

I listen to my girls, in the other room, unwinding from a busy day of play and readying for another night of dreams. I sit in the room next to theirs. Sit in awe and thankfulness, wondering how two such little people teach me so much about life. About myself. About God.

 

They teach me just how human I am. And how this girl who always thought she was so laid-back, so forgiving, so patient, is really just one wrong word or wrong move away from a few more-than-snappy words. They also teach me just how vulnerable my heart is in love and just how easily something happening to those I love would completely shatter my heart. Yes, they stretch my patience limits, but they also enlarge my love with their every growth spurt, new word, or new display of personality.

 

They teach me that one moment of fun and togetherness, and just loving one another’s company, is more important than all the tasks and to-do lists I could write and check off in a lifetime.

They teach me that it doesn’t matter how small you are or how big or vast your journey or surroundings are. Just explore and enjoy and know that all is well in God’s hands. Fear has no place  in the adventuring seeker. Just trust in Him and everything He’s given, opened wide before you.

 

 

They teach me that you never know what you might have inadvertently left behind you, just might become someone’s greatest heart treasure.

 

 

And searching for long-lost provisions, with hands full of questions, underneath what might be considered traditional boundaries is more than okay in the presence of the Father of all surety.

 

 

And running.

 

Just running – headlong into what you once feared because it was unknown. You might just find that it is above your fears, above all you thought scary in its unfamiliarity, might just be what draws your full spectrum of life together. And there, hanging in the balance of the unknown, under the Light Constant, what was invisible becomes visible.

 

So, I try. Just to be a little child.

When You Know You’re Not Enough

This will be a bit cliché. But it’s something I have to do. And I question how to write something like this without sounding self-absorbed. Narcissistic. Like a navel-gazer. But then, maybe I am all of those things and that’s my problem.

 

But aren’t there days as women where we just feel like we can’t get our acts together? Maybe weeks of this. Months. Maybe lifetimes. I feel my feet, trudging through just the dailiness and I can’t move fast enough, can’t find satisfaction. Like Eve, always wishing for more than I’ve been given, while watching others seemingly running miles around me.

 

And I lash out at myself, all inside mind you, but the words tear deep and I believe the tongue-forked lies and the wounded beliefs bleed out onto all the ones I hold sacred.

 

If I just was more organized.

 

If I was just a better planner.

 

If I was just a better lover of God.

 

If I was just a better Christian.

 

If I was just neater.

 

If I was just a better wife.

 

If I was just a more patient mom.

 

If I was just skinnier.

 

Or more fit.

 

Or prettier.

 

Or . . .

If I was just.

And I know.

It’s plainly evident.

I’m not enough.

I know I’m not the only one. Don’t we all do this? We compare our children. We compare ourselves. We compare our homes, our husbands, our bodies, our abilities, our  achievements. Everything.

The problem is, we compare them to one another instead of to the Most Perfect. The problem is, we compare them to one another rather than to our former selves. Because hasn’t each one of us been fearfully and wonderfully made? And hasn’t each one of us a Wonderful Worker, completing His work in us?

A friend of mine recently posted an Anti-List. Things she’s not that she’s come to embrace about herself. That my friends, is some sort of freedom. And I’ve been thinking a lot about that over the past few months as well. Maybe it’s part of growing up . . . realizing that God has made us certain people and learning that it’s okay that we’re  not like so-and-so or so-and-so.  Maybe it’s part of the letting go of our hunger for power – not in the ruling sense of the word, but in control sense of the word – giving thanks to God for who He’s made us, instead of shaking our fists, wondering why He didn’t make us the way we think He should have made us.

So I come to another Thanking Milestone. It’s time to thank Him for making me. I gulp.

Because when I know I’m not enough, that I don’t measure up, I can either dwell on my inadequacies, or I can thank Him for His grace in even creating me and for His continued work in me.

So I look up, eyes to the August sky.

#649 these arms . . . no defined muscles, but strong enough to lift my children to high slides, or hug my husband tight

#650 these lips . . . nothing special, but made for smiling and laughing and saying “I love you” and giving kisses goodnight

#651 these hands . . . covered in inherited great-grandmother’s veins, but able to bring Chopin or Debussy right into our living room

#652 this waist . . . larger than on my wedding day, but stretched by life and often surrounded by my husband’s arms

#653 this mousey hair . . . hmmm . . . well, it covers my head and keeps me warm??? 🙂

#654 these spider veins . . . broken capillaries from all those hours, running on the hospital floor

#655 my lack of neatness . . . it keeps my trying and keeps me humble

#656 my lack of patience . . . it keeps me calling on Jesus

#657 my lack of achievements . . . this keeps me standing on the Solid Rock

#658 my lack of being the kind of wife I want to be . . . keeps me digging deeper, giving up more of myself, leaning on Him to fill my gaps

#659 my lack of being a good planner . . . keeps me flexible while trying to learn to use my time better

#660 my lack of being organized  . . . keeps me thinking on how He is a God of order

#661 my words of “if I were just” . . . compel me to re-focus on Him, His continuing good work

#662 that He is not finished with me

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

#663 beach-like breezes in the mountains on an August evening

#664 green swing, swaying, lonely in the breeze

#665 feeding the pond-fish

#666 rocking chairs and lullabies

#667 little voices singing with me

#668 spontaneous dates

#669 a wonderful babysitter

#670 a girls’ day coffee

#671 seeing old friends

#672 that weddings and babies keep us coming together

#673 peaceful Sundays

#674 a good mystery

#675 a sister with long, golden curls . . . still Goldilocks after all these years and how I just. love. her.

#676 a husband who thinks I’m cute in the early morning . . . that he’s just crazy enough

#677 the continued rescue

#678 a job well done

#679 get-aways with friends

#680 5 pairs of eyes, all glued to the screen

#681 minivans to fit us all

#682 summer

#683 Thankfulness. It frees the soul.

Why I Thought I’d Failed the Counting

If you’re a regular around here, you know that my Multitude Mondays have been a little . . . ummm . . . lacking. I haven’t even been able to put my finger on why, but I just. couldn’t. do. it. I couldn’t formally count. I’ve found little things to be oh, so thankful for over this course of thanking-silence, but I just couldn’t come to this space and actually number them one by one. I thought I had failed the counting.

 

Looking back over the last few weeks, I’ve realized that it wasn’t that I’d failed. But it WAS that I was being ungrateful. While there have been AMAZING blessings in our lives over the last few months (and I’ve been extremely thankful for those), I was silently resentful toward God because of my perception that He’s been holding out on me. You see there’s something I’ve wanted for a long, long time.

 

Our own home. You’ve heard me speak of it before.  This quest to stop renting, to buy our own house, one where we could settle and make our own home . . . life . . . became my greatest want. I lived and breathed it.

 

I could think of hardly anything else. And although, yes, I can’t deny it, I’ve grown weary of our, ahem, vintage bathrooms and linoleum parquet, it hasn’t been so much the house that I’ve been so desperate for. It was the feeling of certainty. The assurance that we were free to plant good, solid, long-reaching family roots. Yes, for me, but even more so for our daughters.

 

And while I knew in my head that a house could never provide true security or certainty, inside my heart was pinned to the floor with the suffocating, relentless, false weight that we had to have this house to make us a truly rooted family.

 

We’ve been working toward it. We’ve looked at enough houses that I feel pretty bad for our realtor. 🙂 I have every zip code in the area memorized. If you showed me a picture of a house anywhere in our hometown (in our price range), I could probably quote you the listing price (Isn’t that pathetic?! I’m thinking maybe I should become a realtor?). But we just weren’t finding the one.

 

Then, Jonathan and I jointly decided to make a large family purchase and much of our savings needed to be put toward it. We decided this together. I watched him write the check.

 

But, I grieved. Because I knew, this was putting our home on hold. Just on hold, mind you. I guess a friend was right in dubbing it the “death of a vision” because for a few days, I was in tears. I had a hard time functioning.

 

But I am so thankful. That God wrestled me to the ground and one by one, released my fingers’ death grip on my self-made idol. He pulled my hip and rescued me from my false footing…. And in pleading with him to “bless me” with what I thought I wanted or needed to provide our security, He blessed me with something else . . .

 

Release from a misplaced passion.

 

A freeing demolition of my self-elevated idol.

 

Because it was an idol. When He didn’t seem to be giving me what I wanted, or thought we needed, I doubted His goodness. Even more than doubting His goodness, I doubted His good work in me. I wondered if I was doing something wrong, or if He wasn’t pleased with me or if I didn’t deserve a home.

 

Writing this even now feels so silly. So American. So often, I’ve reminisced over shacks I’ve touched in Peru. Dirt floors. Children drinking water in which I could see things floating. Women begging on street corners, holding borrowed babies, hoping to make a dollar or two. And here I’ve been in a nice home, in truly the best neighborhood I could ever imagine, and in a beautiful community — all gifts the Lord has freely given me — and I’ve wanted to throw it all away.

 

For something I could call mine.

 

Do I still want that house? You bet. But in the meantime, He’s teaching me to trust Him. To be content, right where He has me. To be used. Right. where. He. has. me. And He gently opens my eyes to the truth that I can’t be truly thankful for the “smaller” gifts He gives . . . the birds chirping in the trees, little pitter-pats down our long hallway, mocha frappuccinnos . . . if I’m also resentful that He hasn’t given me something greater. And neither can I be truly thankful for the greater gifts, if I’m flippant in my gratefulness for the smaller. He says to give thanks in everything. Yes, and now I know why. Because there is no distinction in what He’s given or what He’s not given. He gives good gifts. And what He withholds is also His goodness.

Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

Psalm 34:8

I have tasted Him. In this refuge.

 

Again . . . taking up the count . . .

#614 His withholdings.

#615 Because He is a good Father and knows how to give good gifts to His children.

#616 What He gives is good.

#617 What He doesn’t give is good.

#618 That He rescues me from myself.

#619 That He loves, even me.

 

Giving thanks in all

A Stretched Canvas

Posted on

It was last Christmas, near my birthday, and a good friend sent me a link to check out and asked if I’d like to do “it” for my birthday present.

Intrigued, I clicked the link. A PAINTING party? “Maybe Anne doesn’t know me as well as I thought,” I smirked. You see, stick figures challenge me. Literally. I don’t have an artistic bone in my body. Give me Debussy or Chopin and the emotion comes through, but a blank piece of paper? A CANVAS? That would *definitely* be challenging. But I could tell my friend really wanted to give this gift to me. Something for us to do together. We could bring a drink. Wine? Yes, wine. Surely, we could just giggle and paint and have fun.

Hesitatingly, I said yes. Online, I chose our class. Our city’s skyline. The day came and I was a tad bit nervous, but I told myself that the painting was going on a wall. No matter what.

“We can always hang it in the closet!” Anne said when I confessed to her my personal pep talk. Yes, she has a way of making me laugh and keeping me humble all at the same time. 🙂

So the night came. I step into the building and art is everywhere. We grab aprons. Our paints. The whole class sits at our personal easels and a lady stands up in front and guides us through the painting. She makes us laugh. Anne and I exchange glances and smothered giggles and we just do it.

"I thought this was a Paint-by-Number!"

We sponge on gold and scrape on orange. This was fun. This was something I had never done before. I honestly had not painted a picture since I had held little, paint-filled cups all in a perfect row and followed a number chart. Probably back when my age was in the single digits.

So we kept going. Laughing. Cringing every now and then as we made a mistake, occasionally looking around, in awe at the other painters. Clearly, some of them were real artists. Some would pass my painting and sweetly say, “Oh, that’s really good!” Yes, it was merely sweet, Southern charm. But I’ll take whatever I can get, bless my heart.

So, I learned something that night. Friends can stretch you like a canvas. Even in a simple, girls’ night out. A friend by your side gives you courage to do things that you would never do on your own. And even in the widening of your horizons, the discomfort of trying something new, she can make you laugh and mix the rather ordinary palette of your life and create a beautiful gift of a night.

And yes. It’s hanging on my wall. Sometimes, I walk by and laugh at its ridiculousness. Sometimes, I stare at it and can’t believe I actually *painted* something – anything!

I want to go back. And I think I might look for other ways to stretch my canvas.

What is something you have done that you never thought you’d do?

Cradled

Apparently, one of our pastors has been known to say something to the effect of,

“True brokenness is when you no longer have any possible plan in your head of how God could possibly work out a particular circumstance.”

 

I think that the Lord has *finally* taken me there over the course of the last couple weeks. You see, for the last 8 months or so, I have been striving and wrestling to work out my own desires (the ironic thing is, I don’t even really know what those true desires are). Not only that, but I’ve been rebelling at the mere thought that His plan could possibly be the one thing that I didn’t think I wanted.

 

It’s taken a full 8 months, and maybe really longer than that, but I think I am finally at peace for whatever might be around the bends in our road.

 

I have taken His silence – His seeming lack of direction – as a hard case of discipline. It’s even made me wonder if I’m truly following Jesus.

 

Short story:

My striving – even at the thought – against certain possibilities in our lives, sent me into a frantic searching. A spiraling depression. Doubts.

But He sends truth-filled words and He helps me develop an eye for Him in my life. He allows me to groan through nights of insomnia.  Until, I just can’t do it anymore. Like a young toddler, my temper-tantrums and wrestling against the waiting . . . the possibilities . . . did nothing but lead me into sheer exhaustion. He held me through my fighting, lovingly waiting for me to surrender.

I’m done striving.

I’m letting go.

I’m done trying to figure out what He wants.

I don’t even know what I want.

But, of course, it’s not about what I want, now, is it?

It’s all about bringing glory to Him.

In the waiting.

The not knowing.

The surrendering.

I know nothing better

than to

rest peacefully in His arms.

Where He leads, I will follow.

By grace.

 

The Hard Thanks

Joining others in the hard thanks

 

It happened again last night. A group of people getting to know one another and the typical “couples” questions came up.

 

“Tell about yourself. Let’s get to know one another. How did all of you husbands and wives meet?”

 

We, my husband and I, don’t like telling our story. It’s gritty. It’s ugly, really. And our hearts still feel raw at times. I skim just the top off the story, and I’m still reeling a few hours later. It’s not that we mind the question. It’s hard to answer, but in order for anyone to truly know us as a couple, or even as individuals, the chapter must be told.

 

It’s not the question we mind.

 

It’s our story itself.

 

It started out all well and good. I was seventeen and I had all the butterflies and hopes and dreams over a certain brown-eyed, brown-haired, brilliant young man. We were best friends. And then . . .

 

we fell in love.

 

We planned on marrying from the start.

 

It felt like a fairy tale. Our families loved each other. Our families spent lots of time together.

 

And then.

 

It all fell apart. Our parents’ marriages disintegrated right before our eyes. Within two weeks of one another, both sets of parents were separated. Accusations flew. So did denials. But, relationships between parents became too close. It can no longer be denied.

 

We surveyed the devastation and thought it was all our fault. If it hadn’t been for the two of us, falling in love, our families would still be intact, we thought. We broke up. Again and again. Wondering how we could ever navigate a marriage in the midst of two families that were now feuding.

 

But we loved each other.

 

We couldn’t stay away.

 

God sent us counsel.

 

And in September, after Hurricane Ivan left our hometown flooded and our honeymoon destination shutdown, we woke up to a beautiful, blue-sky kind of wedding day. The kind of wedding day every girl dreams about. Ivan means, “God is Gracious.”

 

Yes.

 

We stood on the rocks of a Mountain church and pledged our vows to one another. Looking back, I realize we kept the vows before we ever even said them. I hope to live them for the rest of my life, by God’s grace and only His.

 

 

When the seemingly normal questions come, my hearts shrinks back in the wanting to hide. In the wanting for the simple beauty of just a regular love story. In simple family ties.

 

But God gave us something different. And I’m learning to accept that a little grit, a little lightning, make the most beautiful vessel-like glass.

 

Ah, yes. I must find the eucharisteo of the past  . . .

 

that I might live it in the present.

 

#327 the necklace with nine and twelve . . . my comfort in the not understanding

#328 that we had two years before each blow

#329 Jonathan’s roommate’s encouragement, when we thought we were crazy

#330 that we can understand each other’s wounds

#331 that our siblings have never blamed us

#332 for truth-speakers when we didn’t know what to believe

#333 that He helped us to hold onto one another through it all

#334 that we actually went through with it, we said the vows

#335 that we can be honest about the wishing our story was different

#336 that we recognize that it made us stronger

#337 that our story is not finished

#338 that God builds on chapters

#339 that I love him more than ever

#340 two beautiful baby girls

#341 that if I knew this would still be the result, I’d marry him all over again