What I’ve learned.

It’s taken me a little bit to figure out how to sum up this Lenten journey. I’m still figuring it out as I sit down to write now. Reflection is not easy for me because it requires slowing down and slowing down requires letting things I feel like I should be doing go and that really impinges on my affinity for performing to the best of my ability. Which leads me to what I’ve made my mantra since Easter…. presence over performance.

I said this to myself as I ran through the kitchen last night after Michael already had the kiddos in the car, putting away dishes and straightening things up so the kitchen would be a little cleaner when we got home. I think about it sadly now as I remember snapping sarcastically at Jack Monday night for grabbing the cupcake carrier and knocking them over, sacrificing what could have been a teaching, loving moment to mourn how others would view my little creation. I’m a performer, I want to be the best, I want to do everything to what I know is the best of my ability.

This is funny, this little (or rather, big) perfectionist quirk, considering Jesus died on the cross because perfection is not possible. It’s funny that what I want the most is to be present, to be loving, for my husband and kids, friends and family to know how much I care about them but instead of slowing down for them, I create for them or clean or cook or whatever to the point that there’s no time left to be still and know them from the inside out. It’s not funny, it needs to change.

There is a slowness that needs to start deep within me each day, each hour, that I need to let seep out from being just a slowness of mind and spirit, to a slower physical pace of life. I’m not saying I need to sit on the couch all day… I’m just saying I need to sit and play more, read more, reflect more. I need to think less about what I see in the mirror and more about the people I see in front of me.

On Easter our pastor talked about being “resurrection people.” About being people who bring restoration wherever we go, that live intentionally, a people of hope and love in a world much lacking both of those. I cannot be that person with my mind all aflutter with my to-do list and how active have I been today and what will we eat for dinner next week and on and on and on. I need Jesus to inject stillness into my soul. I need to sit still long enough for him to get an accurate shot at it.

I know God can stop us in our tracks and do amazing things within us. He’s done it for me before. But I also know there are times that the ball is in my court and I need to reshape the way I structure my days and structure my thoughts. This season, it’s in my court. I have no excuses, believe me, I could come up with plenty, but none are truly valid.

My prayer for this season, for myself and for anyone else who may be in the same…

Lord, bring me focus. May my soul be still within me, may my heart beat to the rhythm of yours and may my life follow. May your love flow through me intentionally. May I serve those around me in meaningful ways because I’ve stopped and reflected enough to know what they need. May that start in my home, with my children and husband. May that start with my attitude towards you and my time spent with you. May I no longer let the need to perform weigh me down, but allow you to take that away. Show me balance between getting things done and taking all the time needed to love well. Give me strength to rely more and more on you. Give me more of you Lord, be my everything.

Amen.

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What I’ve learned.

Both/And

I mourn the end of vacation… we got back Sunday afternoon from a few days away- lots of time with family, a cabin with a hot tub, mountains, it was wonderful. Sunday night the funk started in, Monday I was crabby and off my game.

Vacation is fabulous but coming down from the high of it is hard. I think about how I never want it to end but after my post-vaca blues fade I realize all the things I love about home. We drove into spring in full bloom, I realized the tree in our back yard was the same beautiful red bud that I had admired along the highway our whole drive home. This morning I got up early with coffee and snuck upstairs before everyone was up and had some peaceful alone time. Home is good, yet we love to get away. Vacation is good, but we love to come home.

For some reason every thing I’ve been reading lately has talked about how all the crappy things can later become beautiful things. Or at least beautiful things can come from them. I’ve seen this in my life many times but in others I’ve felt like crappy things have just been crappy things. So many events in our lives are both/and. I read part of Psalm 71 today, which is a beautiful prayer of acknowledging all God was to David and all he hoped he would continue to be even though people called him forsaken. He calls himself a portent at one point. I had to look that one up, I mean, using my context clues had gotten me the same answer but what I found surprised me. It’s main meaning is to be a bad omen but it has an archaic meaning of being a marvel or prodigy. How could one word have two completely different meanings?

I don’t know about you, but I see this in myself all the time. I’m both/and. I’m impatient, rude, and selfish but I’m also compassionate, empathetic, and giving. I don’t know how all of these things can reside in my person, but they do. I don’t know how all the ugly and beautiful can fit into life and reside side by side, but they do.

About a year and half into our marriage, Michael and I had multiple losses that really rocked us. We had two miscarriages, lost his dad and his granddad in the course of two years. It felt like death surrounded us, like when we finally came up for air we got shoved right back under again. It was awful. I didn’t know how anything good could come from those two years. They were terrible. They were ugly. But somehow, looking back, now all I see is the grace of God strewn everywhere. Of friends holding us and mourning with us. Of people driving hours just to be by our side and making us laugh when it felt impossible. Of learning what community truly was meant to be and experiencing it in amazing ways. Of deep healing God brought out of the deepest pain. I can’t logically figure out how those memories can cozy up with some of my most painful, but they do and I’m so thankful for it.

My last semester in college my senior seminar was on C.S. Lewis and J.R. Tolkien. I don’t know how I lucked out with that being offered but I did. One of the most interesting conversations we had was about how Tolkien considered himself, and all of us, sub-creators. His theory was that if we are all made in the image of God, the ultimate creator, then we too by nature are creators, sub-creating our own worlds within our walls and out on our streets. For our final project we could “sub-create” an entire new world (woah) or write a 17 page paper… I went for the paper.

Today sub-creating was on my mind. I thanked God for using the ugly to create something beautiful, and in that prayer realized that if he can do that, so can I. I, in my home, on my street, in my city, can create beautiful things out of the seemingly hopeless things. I’m not talking about rebuilding neighborhoods single handedly or planting trees on every street corner- but I can pick up the trash I find while I walk down the street, smile at the person passing me who looks like they’ve had a rough day, even (what?!) ask them how their day has been and be a listening ear! I can sit down and help Jack fix his broken toy instead of deciding the laundry has to be finished that moment, send flowers to a friend I know is feeling alone, love on the people God has so graciously placed around me. These things are doable and in my power.

For some reason, we live in a world that is both beautiful and ugly, both amazing and appalling. And we find these things to be true about ourselves a lot of the time too, at least I do. Yet, in that, we don’t have to focus on all the negative or endlessly hunt to find all the beautiful outside of where we currently are, we can simply be and sub-create in simple ways, bringing beauty in the most tiny and magnificent ways.

Both/And

Spring

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I’ve never really experienced spring, or at least I’ve never experienced a true winter and welcomed spring so wildly. This morning we walked to our favorite bagel shop and realized spring is absolutely everywhere. Every tree seemed to be blooming, there are tulips all over the place, bright yellows and whites. Cherry blossom trees are in full bloom and lawns look like maybe they could be mowed soon. Birds are chirping vibrantly and as I stopped to take a picture of a blooming tree we realized it was swarmed with bees, an almost soothing hum filling the air as they got to work for the season.

Spring is absolutely necessary after a long, gray winter. I was thoroughly warned about Kentucky winters, and it was long and gray, but today I realized it was all worth it. The appreciation I feel for the new life springing up all around me, for being able to open up the windows and turn off the heat, is so wonderful.

As we walked to breakfast this morning we talked a little about renewal. It was in the air and all around us so it seemed natural to talk about what inward renewal looks like for us too. Michael needs time away, out in the wilderness to find clarity and to get centered. He is setting off for a couple of days on the Appalachian Trail by himself later this week to get just that. I on the other hand need to remember to feel renewed; to see where God has worked in my life, to remember the ways he has delivered me and rescued me, to see how he has stayed by my side in the darkest of times and the most jovial of times. Remembering for me brings me back to realizing God is who he says he is and I am who he says I am.

God knew what he was doing with spring. This morning it was if everywhere we looked he was saying, “I am here. I am here. I am here.” Nature was singing out, “He is here! He is here! He is here!” He was here in the winter, even when we couldn’t see him or feel him and here he is in all his glory in the spring, showing up in unexpected places, reminding us that his presence is enough, that he hasn’t abandoned us.

Sometimes it’s so hard to know God is present when he doesn’t change our circumstances. When I think of God being present and moving, I think about him making big changes and taking control of the difficult situations in my life. But today I’ve realized there are lots of seasons when he is just here, just present. And in being present with me and around me, he may be moving inside me, changing my perspective, asking me to surrender my ideas of how things should be going instead of actually changing my external circumstances. I have to surrender to that. Well, I guess I don’t have to, but when I do it makes me realize spring is all around me.

My friend Ben quotes an old favorite band of mine quite a bit. Every time he quotes the lyrics of this particular Me Without You song I realize just how much my soul longs to feel the same…

“I used to wonder where you are- these days I can’t find where you’re not.”

May we allow ourselves to be renewed in God’s presence. May we let his presence be enough. May we never stop believing he can move mountains but may we never give up as we trudge up them with him by our side.

Spring

When Everything & Nothing are Profound

I’ve been waiting for something big or profound to happen before I decided to write again. It’s been a few days and I feel like even in reflecting I haven’t seen anything worth sharing or working through with words. But this morning I realized, the past few days have been ones of realizing that from the surface nothing has been profound, but when looking a little closer- everything is.

I recently started reading Simply Tuesday by Emily Freeman. I’m not very far into it, just a couple of chapters, but it talks about slowing down for the small moments, for the ordinary. The past week has been really… ordinary. Except within that “ordinary” are extraordinary little moments and lessons that I never want to lose or forget.

Tuesday tulips bloomed by our front porch. I hadn’t realized they were even there, and after days of gray and cold, that burst of yellow was so refreshing and beautiful.

After beginning to watch my friend’s little one a few days a week and having to get up earlier, I realized I am a much happier person when I’m up at least 15 minutes before everyone else. It energizes and centers me, it completely changed my demeanor after letting my alarm clock be my little ones for the past few months.

It was sunny and 70 for two days… what the what?! It was awesome, we lived outdoors.

Eliza sat in the high chair at the table while we ate dinner last night, holding a spoon and practicing for her upcoming first bites. She’s growing so fast. Her smile and laughter beamed as she looked at each of us and realized she had her own place at the table instead of being on one of our laps.

Jack shared on his own today and brought me two packages of wipes from the other room when I went to change a diaper and realized it was more than I realized it was going to be… he loves to help, especially with Eliza. Earlier in the week he got quiet while playing with her and I looked over to see him kissing her head. I’m not sure these days could possess any more beauty.

As I look back on these moments, I realize how alive life is, how alive it has been, how profound. Yet, I so easily end my days ready to veg and let all the beautiful little moments slip my mind. This morning a devotional I’ve been reading asked the question of how I’ve been hearing God lately. I realized it’s been in reflection. Maybe more sensing than hearing but once I sit down and think about my day or week or hour I suddenly see little glimpses of where he’s been all day and it has never been far away.

 

 

When Everything & Nothing are Profound

Fragility

Tonight Michael held Jack as he cried loudly and miserably because he didn’t want to go to bed. I warmed up some milk and decided I’d take him outside and we would look at the stars to distract him and then try again. As I came into his room, Michael waved me away and mouthed that he was fine. I hate hearing my baby cry but I knew it was ok because he was wrapped up in his daddy’s arms. A little while later the cries died down and he fell asleep. I wanted to distract him from his frustration. Michael was allowing him to embrace it while being held, while knowing he wasn’t alone.

My tendency is to fix problems even when I shouldn’t be the one fixing them. Or trying to calm the waters when maybe they need to be stirred up. Peace is important and a gift but sometimes turmoil is so great and so awful that to not feel it or to push it aside would be an injustice; a rejection of what makes us human, of what makes us feel and empathize and be there for one another. Sometimes we need to feel what we need to feel, not be distracted from it. Sometimes we need to be the person sitting with the person feeling, just sitting with them- not fixing or distracting, just being.

Life is fragile. I was reminded of this today and it makes my heart hurt. It makes a million questions rush to my mind about why things are the way they are, why our bodies fail us so easily, why we have to face pain, hurt, and loss. Losing someone, whether to death or to distance or a broken relationship is so very painful.

I’ve felt the need to reconcile that today, to have answers, but all my questions have just kept me spinning circles in my head. And what I really need to do is feel for my friends who have experienced a deep loss, let myself feel what it brings up about dear ones I have lost in the past. Let myself feel frustration and anger about the way things are and allow others space to feel the same. Tomorrow can be the day of finding answers or finding contentment in mystery but today it is ok to feel and leave it at that.

 

 

Fragility

Peace Like a River

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Yesterday was one of those glorious days where peace just settled beautifully all around me. I didn’t have to strive for it or even think about it, it just happened. I’m one of those people that have to talk myself into being peaceful and slow but yesterday, without any effort of my own, I was just there.

Jack, Eliza, and I went to walk around a little preserve that’s oddly tucked into an industrial park. It’s beautiful and strange, a bubbling stream, a blue hole, a final sink where all the water disappears back underground, surrounded by the sounds of construction equipment and trains. I let Jack lead the way which meant a lot of time spent sitting by the water as he threw rocks in.

Peace like a river, I thought. Peace like a river. My soul was still, my mind was quiet, I was completely without any agenda. I thought about a story I heard Rob Bell share about his young son collecting seashells one day on the beach. His son suddenly saw a starfish floating in the water and got super excited. Rob watched his son run back and forth into the waves and encouraged him to just go get the thing. Finally his son came running up to him and said, “Dad, I want it so bad but I can’t get it, my hands are full of shells.”

My life is full of so many wonderful things, my family, friends, community near and far. And with all of those wonderful things come obligations, responsibilities, and to-do lists. I feel like I’m just like Rob Bell’s son most of the time, knowing there’s something big and awesome that I want, that’s in my reach, but I just don’t have the time or resources, or enough hands. The things I’m trying to juggle aren’t bad things, they’re good and wonderful but sometimes they don’t allow me, or really, I don’t allow me, to get past them to the most important things.

Yesterday it was like I had dropped the shells and grabbed that big beautiful starfish. As Eliza and I sat there and watched Jack, I thought- this is it. This is my starfish. It is well with my soul.

As the day went on and we left our blissful, quirky little park, I tried to cling to that peace as much as I could. I almost dropped Eliza on her head in a parking lot- strike one, trying to cook dinner and the kiddos went crazy- strike two, Jack yelled “Mommy!!!!” all night long until we were in a 4 hour back and forth until 6am- strike three. I could feel it slipping, I could feel my frustration flaring, all my “poor me’s” trying to pin me down. I looked at the clock the last time I went into Jack’s room- 5:58, my alarm was going to go off at 6:15. I took a deep breath and decided to think- “whoo-hoo 15 more minutes of sleep!!” instead of spending that last 15 minutes crying and throwing my own temper tantrum.

What I’ve realized these past 24 hours is that peace and a true sense of wellness deep inside of us is a choice most days. I could have chosen to allow the things that didn’t go my way or my personal agenda to disrupt that peace completely and it did for short little spurts, but I realized ultimately, that this is my choice. I can choose to keep surrendering my thoughts and emotions and concerns to the One who can ultimately truly take care of them, or I can take them into my own hands and be a frazzled, frustrated mess. Most days I’m the later but yesterday I tasted something so much greater, so refreshing, that at least for now, I feel like it would be foolish to go back to trying to control and manage it all myself.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

I’ve been singing this old hymn to myself all day- even when it doesn’t all feel well. Each time it brings me back to the center, back to the most important things. I encourage you today (as I’m constantly encouraging myself) to let go of the shells and breathe. Let peace settle deep within your soul and invite Jesus to place his gentle hands around it, keeping it safe and in place so that no matter what happens around you it is well with your soul. 

 

Peace Like a River