Gentle Encouragement

Some weeks your need for “your people” is just so evident. This week has been one of those weeks. Nothing terrible or crazy, just little moments of realizing that I need help or encouragement and being so incredibly grateful that I have people to reach out to for just that.

The other day we went to the doctor for a regular check up with Jack and Eliza. They are both perfectly healthy but the doctor wanted to get a couple non-urgent things double checked with Jack. No biggie. But in a mama’s mind- big biggie. Say anything could possibly be wrong with one of my babies and I’m a mushy mess with an abnormally rapid heart rate. I called my mom and texted a few people just to ask for prayer that all was well, just as the doctor had suggested it probably is. The response was so beautiful. Gentle prayers and encouragement. No, “get over it crazy lady, he’s fine.” Just love and warmth and everything I needed.

Yesterday we were looking for a spot in the parking garage on our way to story time. I despise parking garages, I think about them collapsing, I think about the elevators suddenly getting stuck, or worse, plummeting us down to the bottom level. It doesn’t help that this particular garage smells strongly of urine and that the doors of the elevator open before it is actually level with the ground. Worst nightmare. I started rambling out loud about the tiny parking spaces, the leaky pipes, moaning and groaning and worrying. Then I heard this sweet little voice in the back seat, “It’s ok mama.” It was the best, I was peaceful for a half a second before I started again and then heard once more, “It’s ok mama.” Gentle, sweet, encouragement from my 2 year old, there’s nothing better in the world.

The verses from the lectionary readings this week have been spot on too. All about God not forgetting his promises, taking care of us, his compassion and might. I was gently reminded that fear is a choice and an emotion I can reject and that God is trustworthy. I can rest in those words.

Today has been windy and snowy after a few days of warm, lovely weather. Bare feet one day, boots and scarves the next. But those days served as a great reminder that days like today won’t last forever. This whole week has served as a warm encouragement just the same. And instead of focusing on the fear and frustration that may try to blind me, I’m going to focus on doing my best to be that taste of spring to those around me. We all need it and we all can be it.

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Gentle Encouragement

Receive

Receiving is great. Especially when it’s unexpected, something you really wanted, or in an exchange with friends or family. Receiving can also be really hard, especially when you have nothing to give in return.

Yesterday I caught up on some Lenten reading and came across Psalm 27:10

Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me.

The other reading was from Matthew 23…

How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. (vs. 37)

The idea of being received by the Lord really stood out to me. I am bad at receiving when I can’t give in return. It makes me feel guilty for some reason. And what I heard in these verses was God telling me he wants to receive me into his love and that there is no charge, no expectation, except to respond to his beckoning and settle into his warm embrace. He knows my story, and as much as he cares about it, it doesn’t really matter- what he wants is me, all of me, regardless of anything I’ve done, good or bad.

I was reading to Jack and Eliza yesterday out of Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing by Sally Lloyd Jones and Jago. It’s a beautiful devotional for kids and generally ends up speaking to me in some deep way too. Yesterday it was talking about blessing and said this:

“When God promises to bless you, he is saying, ‘I’m going to make you into everything I ever meant for you to be!’ It means God is taking every day and every single thing that happens in it-good or bad-to make you stronger, to mend whatever is broken inside, to change you into the person you were always meant to be.”

Never have I thought about God blessing us in this way. In my mind it has always been something I think will happen in an instant or will be a single experience, not a culmination of our entire lives being completely transformed. He is so much bigger than I can ever comprehend and his ways are so much greater. When we say “bless you” we’re inviting God to take all the good and bad in a person’s life and transform them into something even more miraculous than they already are. It’s receiving in the greatest sense. Wow. It makes our auto-response to a sneeze much more powerful.

Yesterday Michael and I got to receive in a fun way. We walked to a late lunch with the kids to a delicious fried chicken joint. As we stood in line I was tallying our bill to see how to keep it under $20. When we got to the counter I told the girl we’d have one drink and a cup for water with the rest of our meal, and she replied, “oh, I’ll just give you two drinks.” Then the manager came over and asked us if we’d like to do a Facebook review and get one of our meals for free. Uh, yes please! And then, to top it off, midway through our meal, the cashier comes over and says they get to pick a customer daily to give a free dessert to and that she had picked us… so we got a big bowl of delicious banana pudding… for free. I looked at Michael like what the heck is happening and this is so freaking awesome.

Then the guilt set in. The restaurant was full of people, families eating and talking and enjoying themselves. I started wondering if we should give our dessert to someone else. I’d already read about receiving that morning and wasn’t sure why I couldn’t just do it. It’s banana pudding for crying out loud, it’s like my favorite thing ever. If I can’t just receive banana pudding, how the heck am I going to receive God’s unconditional love for me, for which I can give nothing, nothing, in return. So I ate it and it was so good. And I tried the rest of the day to let God’s love come just as freely as that delightful banana pudding.

Today I got to be on the other side. A woman came up to my car window as I was leaving the grocery store, I thought I must have left something on top of my car and she was coming to tell me. As I rolled down the window she said, “Please, please don’t be mean to me,” and continued to tell me how she was in a hard place. I stared at her face as she talked, I honestly didn’t catch what she said or what she needed money for. As much as I cared about her story, I cared more that she felt received in kindness in that moment, in love. I gave her what I had and she said, “God bless you.” It meant so much more to me than it ever has in the past. I tried, am still trying, to receive that in the way it’s truly meant to be received. I said the same to her. Normally it feels like such a canned response but I knew now that I wasn’t just asking God to fill her immediate need but to take it all- the good and the bad- and make it into something beautiful. That she would radiate his glory.

What is this crazy life we live? It is so awesome, so heartbreaking, so beautiful. We get to give, receive, breathe, love, cherish small and big moments with others. We get to be welcomed into eternal arms that grab us into a giant, never ending embrace that we don’t deserve and don’t have to give anything in return for. It’s crazy, it’s awesome, and I’m so glad to be living it.

 

Receive

Sun & Sabbath

Today the door is open as I write. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s 65 degrees, it keeps toying with being sunny, the birds are chirping, there are even church bells ringing right now, it’s kind of like a movie. I wish it could be a 65 degree sunny Saturday every day.

I’ve been thinking about the meaning of Lent today- why I’m reflecting, why it’s important to have an intentional season. I read yesterday about picking a word to pray each morning, to set the tone for the day. The first word that came to my mind was intention. I want to be an intentional person. In reading a little more about Lent I stumbled upon this explanation of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness on The Upper Room

“Maybe Jesus needed some time with God to sort through the major changes happening in his life. Maybe he needed to get away from family, friends and the familiar routine in order to see God (and himself) more clearly. Perhaps he wanted  some intentional time with God as he searched for direction and answers like you. Like Jesus, we may need to take some serious time to pray and listen for God.” 

It’s pretty simple, this season. It’s getting reoriented, like picking the compass up again and realizing that what we thought was north was south and being gently turned back around. For me personally, this season has been digging in with family and friends but trying to reject my familiar routine. Or at least being more intentional in it.

Yesterday I realized, as I often do, that I cannot do all that I think I can. This hit me in a comical way. I tried to step up my Daily Burn game and start a 21 day program called Inferno. Ha. On the second round of push-ups (I still can’t do full push-ups…) where they were jumping like frogs up and over on all fours and going back down into another push-up, I had to laugh at how ridiculous it was that I was trying to do this. I convinced myself for half the day that I would stick with it and continue and finally by night time laughed with Michael and realized I’m perfectly happy with what I had been doing before.

Yesterday I also let worry set in. I had a perfectly beautiful, stress-free day then let my thoughts get away from me. Worrying about finances and the future, what was ahead and what it would look like. I had a sweet friend reassure me that we’re not crazy for being in Kentucky and living as we are, that we’re here and doing what we feel is right for our family. To hear that truth from someone else’s mouth was exactly what I needed. It was the gentle turning back around, just as I was gently reoriented in laughter with Michael about my fitness goals.

Today has been a blissful day of slowness. There is a certain softness to today, I feel like my mind and my body have slowed, possibly because it’s hard to move after yesterday, but possibly because those gentle turns were just what I needed. Little reminders to be intentional about now. About listening more to the inward, quiet, soft nudges inside me rather than the loud, raucous voices that tell me to push myself in unhealthy ways and doubt the big life decisions we’ve made. I think today is what sabbaths are supposed to feel like. Slow, soft days where our minds are clear and our bodies relaxed.

Today I’ve been trying to take pictures with my mind. I listened to a recording of Brene Brown recently and she talked about how one day she was out with her daughter who suddenly got strangely quiet. She asked her daughter if she was alright and she said that she was, she just liked to take pictures with her mind of moments that she loved, so she was quietly taking those pictures. Today we flew a kite, Jack rode his little bike down muddy trails and we relaxed on the bent trunk of a big tree that was resting gently in the water. I could feel Eliza’s sleepy breath on my chest and I fought the urge to fall asleep myself. I didn’t want a permanent mental picture of the two of us falling off that beautiful tree into the murky creek water below us. I tried to be intentional with our time and find confirmation for our big decisions in our little moments.

Today is a gift. It’s a cheesy saying but it’s so true. It will be gone tomorrow and we’ll never get it back. If I can see God and myself more clearly today, just as Jesus went into the wilderness to do, then I can be more at peace, more intentional and focused in all the beautiful moments of today. Even in the not-so-beautiful moments, intentionality will still be just as beneficial.

These 40 days help us to remember what north looks and feels like. To pay attention to the pull we feel inside us to recenter. What we do in this season we could do anytime of the year, but doing it now and not putting it off and doing it with people around the world who we don’t know that are doing the same, is a cool way to tap into the deeper current of humanity. The undercurrent that runs through all of us and connects all of us on some deep mysterious level thats makes us care about each other, care about people we see on the street who we don’t know or people we hear about on the other side of the world. It’s a time to encourage each other, directly or just through a simple smile that life is beautiful and meaningful no matter how opposite our current circumstances may seem. It’s a time to see ourselves more clearly, to shed our old skin and start again.

Sun & Sabbath

Mystery and Abundance

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Today, Jack jumped with both feet into a giant foam pit at an indoor gym. The height from where he jumped was a good bit taller than him. He did it without hesitation. Every other time we’ve gone he’s lowered himself in or jumped while holding my hand. Today he did it all on his own.

Eliza has recently learned to roll from her back to her belly and now she just can’t stop. As soon as I put her down she rolls over. Even swaddled in her sleep, if she starts to stir she starts rolling onto her belly, burying her face in the bed, trying sleepily to practice her new skill.

Today the mystery of God has been on my mind, the mystery and abundance. There is always more, more to learn, more to experience. It’s never ending because what we can know of him is never ending. I’ve done my fair share of boxing him in and feeling like I’ve got it all figured out. Then, at some point, the ground drops out from underneath me and I realize there is so much more I don’t understand. Sometimes it happens in a conversation, sometimes when reading a book that makes me look at things in a different light, sometimes in what I hear in the news or see on the playground while Jack plays.

I usually enjoy having things all figured out. I think I took safety in feeling that I had it all figured out with God. But when it became apparent that I didn’t and it freaked me out and left me feeling like a tiny speck lost in a giant cloud of dust, I realized I like it better that way. Knowing it all is boring, there is no adventure in it, there is no room to grow or places to move or explore. Sometimes I have no clue why God does things the way he does, or created us the way he did. I have to admit that sometimes I even have the audacity to think I could have done a better job. But then… then Jack jumps off the ledge with two feet and Eliza rolls over again and again.

We are made to experience life, not just watch it float past us. When we’re kids we get it, we do it without thinking, we learn and we learn and we learn. We push into the mystery of the big world. We recognize that we’re small when we can’t reach up to the counter but we don’t let it hold us back or knock us down. We find a way to climb up. We find ways to discover, we imagine what things could be. Last night, Jack’s slices of quesadillas were dinosaurs. The other day I found a train track blocked by the feet of Mr. Potato head holding carrots. To him, it was something more.

Somewhere along the way we forget that mystery is fun and exciting. We like it in books and movies when we know we’ll have the answers in the end but we resist it in day to day life because we don’t know if we’ll ever get the answers. When we reject mystery we reject the abundance of experiences that are there for us every single day.

I want to jump in with both feet. I want to learn and practice new things. I want my mind to be constantly desiring more while being at peace with knowing that it will never be quite enough. I don’t want to let this life push past me, I want to jump into all the crazy, all the quiet, all the seemingly monotonous, and imagine what could be. I want to bring “what could be” into existence.

Those are big and lofty goals. I know I won’t end each day feeling like I’ve accomplished this but I want to start each day trying.

Mystery and Abundance

The Foggy Days

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Today I woke up foggy… a little achy, a little stuffed up, it may have been a gluten coma. I’ve eaten bread like it’s going out of style lately and maybe it caught up with me. Everyone slept last night so I shouldn’t have been too tired but I was just, foggy. It was foggy outside too which didn’t help. I want, no, I need sunshine. The sun is supposed to reappear Friday, I’m going to do my best to bathe in it all day. I just finished the Daily Burn exercise of the day and the trainer seemed foggy too, it must just be one of those days.

For some reason, when I feel this way I start to push myself harder than ever. It’s like I think I can work my way out of it. If I strive a little more, accomplish a little more, drink 10 smoothies, run 10 errands- I will finally snap out of it. Today I decided the house had to be vacuumed before 9am. Why? Because I thought feeling accomplished would break this fog. I was thinking about writing about patience or body image, or something else that felt meaningful but I’m just, foggy.

These days don’t happen all the time, and sometimes they do mean I need to change something, eat better, move more, or whatever. But sometimes, they just mean I need to slow down. Yesterday my friend sent me a great link about gentleness. You can read it here if you’re interested, it’s directed to moms of little ones. I think days like today are supposed to be gentle days, days where we don’t push too hard and we give ourselves and those around us lots of grace.

Jack seemed to be feeling it too today and decided his legs didn’t work anymore while we were at the library. He laid on the floor and refused to get up. I sat on the floor next to him and realized I just didn’t know what to do. We were parked in the parking garage which was a little walk and a couple elevator rides away and he would need his legs. As I envision myself sitting on the floor with him and how silly we must have looked I realize that that moment is what today is about. Grace and gentleness and slowness. I rejected the robot who would have tried to carry him out by one arm and asked the librarian, who by the way is the best librarian ever, to hold Eliza for me. I strapped Jack to my back, picked up our bags, retrieved sweet, sleeping Eliza, and headed for the car.

It’s only now that I realize that today has been a win so far, although it feels weird and groggy. No robot, no rejecting help. Maybe foggy days are practice days. There are still many hours ahead of us today but I’m going to focus on making them gentle hours, grace-filled hours, for myself and those I encounter. I’m going try to remember to go slow, because when we slow down we see so much more and even if I’m seeing through a foggy lens today, it’s better than missing all the beauty and mystery around me.

The Foggy Days

Rejecting the Robot

Yesterday was a sleepy day. Jack and Eliza woke up at 5:30, the snow turned to rain which made the town a giant sloshy puddle, I kept Jack out way past nap time to try to consign clothes and toys and he, in turn, turned into a giant sloshy puddle on the floor of Plato’s closet. We stayed out too late last night which had Jack alternating from dancing like a wild man to crying like a wild man. Why would I do all these things when the day started out sleepy? Good question.

Also, I totally shot someone down who asked to carry my bag to my car for me as I carried sleeping Eliza and should-be-sleeping-but-instead-wailing Jack to the car yesterday. It may have been because I heard someone behind the girl who offered whisper “HELP her!” to her before she asked. So me and my pride trudged to my car carrying babies and bags and then the person next to me hit my car door as they reversed which pushed me into Jack as I buckled him in. Her shocked and smiling face met my frustrated bitchy face and I realized it was the universe waking me up. “Hey dummy- go home! Your kid is tired, you’re tired, you’re going to be out late tonight- GO HOME.” So, I listened. Work in progress.

Yesterday was a day of realizing how often I let myself become a robot. We gather with friends on Monday nights to eat together, laugh together, juggle each other’s babies, and explore in more depth who Jesus is. It’s really great. But by the end of the last night, once we had Jack and Eliza strapped in the car and were heading home, I was so so tired. Jack turned into a broken record, “I want the blue cup, I want the blue cup, I want the blue cup….” and I felt it happen- something switched inside me. I felt like even my voice changed into a droning, robotic tone- The. blue. cup. is. not. in. the. car. here. is. a. yellow. one. please. stop. repeating. yourself. i. hear. you.

As I sat awkwardly holding a pacifier in Eliza’s mouth and reaching around mindlessly handing Jack things at the same time, I realized what I was doing. I had let my brain and my heart go numb. I let the things that make me human be pushed aside so I could function without feeling. This is my defense mechanism, my go-to in awkward social situations, or when I’m tired or overwhelmed. If I’m around others I start asking shallow questions and giving shallow answers (How are you? I’m good, how are you?). It’s easier than digging deep and figuring out how I’m really doing or taking the time to hear how the other person is doing. That requires being very human, caring, investing. But if I’m not doing those things, I’m living blindly, living alone, surrounded by a bunch of people who may as well be robots because I’m not allowing them to enter into my life and I’m not allowing myself to enter into theirs.

This is funny, because one of the things I appreciate most about God, is that he didn’t create us to be robots. We aren’t forced to love him or follow him. He didn’t make humanity to blindly follow him, he allowed it to be a choice. He allows what makes us human to decide how we view him. If it was any other way, it wouldn’t be legitimate, it would just be fake and shallow- something we do because we don’t know any different.

I have this ability- the ability to choose how I act, react, how much I care and invest. But I willingly turn it off in an effort to make life easier. I zone out in meaningful conversations or don’t listen to Jack and reflect about why he is acting the way he is and how I can help versus just pacifying until bedtime.

This morning I looked through a couple of pictures I took last night. I thought about Eliza being held and loved on genuinely by people that we’ve only know a few months. And I trust them, I can walk out of the room and know she’s in safe hands and feels so loved and cared for. I thought about Jack eating a chocolate chip muffin out a friend’s hands- it was a mess, Jack was picking chocolate off of our friend’s fingers and they both were smiling so big. Something about it was so crazy beautiful to me. At the end of the night a mini jam session started. Jack and his best bud Kai were playing the bongo together, periodically taking breaks to eat chips off of it or to kiss it…. for whatever 2 year old reasons. Another friend’s 4 year old was strumming a guitar and a couple of adults sang and played too. It feels important to note that the jam session was started by the adults and they willingly invited the kids in, not the other way around. Jack danced and jumped and banged… and felt. He felt- he was fully engaged. He was also fully engaged as he threw his hat off when I tried to tell him it was time to go. And when he asked for the blue cup 50 times.

Kids are on all of the time. They feel, they haven’t learned the adult art of roboting yet. They are in the moment, every moment. And while that may mean meltdowns and crying, it’s much better than apathy and indifference. I realized last night that I appreciate Jack and Eliza’s emotions, even when they are driving me crazy, because they are allowing themselves to feel. If I could only safeguard this for the rest of their lives, to teach them that even when it hurts, it’s better to feel and work through it than to shut it off and push it down.

When we go into robot mode we have two choices. Either we stay there, forever, rejecting the very way we were made, or we have to turn our human back on. And when we turn it back on, the things we pushed aside come right back. And then the choice is in front of us again. Living ain’t easy but it sure is beautiful. I saw it last night, I see it every day if I let myself. And we have each other to share in the hard parts and the beautiful parts if we let ourselves.

Today I am rejecting the robot. Even if it means I have to go have my own tantrum in another room, I’m going to try to allow myself to be present in every moment instead of being mindless and numb. Pushing to be present is something I’ve desired for a long time and today I’m going to give it my best attempt to knock down one of my biggest hurdles to achieving it.

You may have this in the bag, but if you don’t, try rejecting your robot too. Let’s do this human thing together, feeling and living and supporting each other in the most meaningful ways possible.

 

Rejecting the Robot

Failed Lattes

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This is what my latte looked like this morning. I loooovvveee getting  a 1/2 caff soy latte with a little bit of honey. Saying it makes Michael groan, I’ve been sarcastically called a princess for ordering it, but when I hear other people order their coffee drinks they sound just as ridiculous and complicated. What I don’t like is paying for them or having to drive to get one so this morning I busted out our $20 espresso machine and made one. And this is what happened. The milk was too foamy and still cold, the coffee was watery, I couldn’t taste the honey, it was just gross. Michael looked at it, laughed a little, and asked if I wanted him to make me one. I paused for a minute, contemplated drinking the sad concoction I had made, and then sighed and said yes. Accepting help, accepting a new latte, is ridiculously hard for me.

I’ve always wanted to be able to do absolutely everything on my own. I think it’s Beyonce’s fault (all the women, who independent, throw your hands up at me), but really it’s because I’m stubborn and I like to have all the glory for whatever I accomplish. Oh man, that sounds so awful now that it’s written out. Ick, sorry guys, I’m working on it. Being independent is portrayed as so sexy, strong, so kick-ass. I may be flipping in between this post and watching the Destiny’s Child video for the song… Right now they’re defeating a bad guy all clad in matching, flowing, sexy blue outfits, then they zoom off on a motorcycle. I mean, after watching that, how could you not want to be capable of the same?

Being out numbered two to one on most days now has altered this desire to do it all on my own for the most part, well maybe not the desire, but the capability for sure. Yesterday I was leaving the grocery store and had not strategically parked, as I normally do, by a cart return, so I decided I could get two kids and my groceries to car sans cart. Ha. Jack saw the Girl Scouts on our way out and decided he must have another sample and a meltdown ensued. A nice man who seemed to be waiting for someone by the doors kept dodging my cart which kept ending up aimed in his direction as Jack kicked around. He picked up my groceries and asked if he could carry them to my car. Immediately in my head I tried to figure out how I could get everything and everyone to the car, started to say, “No, I got it!” but realized I did not. There was no way this was happening without this man. “Yes, thank you sooo much.” He was so patient as I carried Eliza’s carseat, and Jack’s floppy body by one arm across the parking lot to my car. Superheroes, I tell you, they’re everywhere.

We live in a society where we’re taught the importance of teamwork (oh how I despised every group project in high school and especially college) but everything we hear on the radio or see on TV is how we should do it ourselves, how we can improve our personal efficiency, etc. I have bought into this and believed it was the best way for so long. But you know one thing that brings me the most joy? Helping people. I love to be able to help people get something done or figure something out. But if everyone were as stubborn as me I would never ever get to do this. There would be a void I could never fill.

How many times I have shut people down who love the same? How many times would it have redeemed their crappy day if I had just said, “yes, I could totally use your help,” and they were able to see that they were capable of good, that they were needed, useful, had a purpose. That is what I shut down in others when I refuse help. That is what I feel and need sometimes when I ask someone if I can help them. Sometimes we need reassurance that we’re capable, useful, purposeful beings, and sometimes the best way to be reminded of that is helping someone who really needs it, or really doesn’t but is willing to let us into whatever it is they’re doing.

We can’t be great at everything, it just isn’t possible. We can try, but at best we will do it all, just ok, when it could be GREAT if we had other people helping us accomplish our goal. 1 Corinthians 12:25-26 says..The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.” I’d say this is true outside of the church to0. When we shut others out, regardless of where we are or what we’re affiliated with, we shut down something inside them, something they were created for. We ignore the capabilities that they have that we don’t and we call them and all that they can bring to the table useless. I am guilty of this. I have felt this.

So, while my first inclination may be to do it on my own, I’m going to give it my best effort to accept help and to keep my eyes open for others who need it too. We’re all in this together- all of us, yes all of us, whether we like it or not. So why not live in a way where we compliment each other, help each other, propel each other forward. That’s my goal for today and for tomorrow and for every day that follows. And I’m going to need your help to do so.

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From David Ezra’s The Nice Book

Failed Lattes