I Still Do (part 2)

The next ten years have been what they call, “the best of times and the worst of times.”

Enter a 30 year-old mama, finally out of my “baby days” and heading into a brighter future. Enter a 37 year-old hubby who is about to hit mid-life. Crisis pending.

Yet, what I gained in confidence and knowledge through my 20’s, I seemed to lack in applying it to daily moment-by-moment life. I found myself easily overwhelmed and often frustrated, with myself and my family.

One day, we up and decided to move out of state. WHAT WERE THINKING? Oh, alas, we seemed to have checked our brains at the door of  “keeping up with the American dream- living better & bigger”. This proved to be (despite the wonderful blessings of beautiful, lasting friendships formed), where God would dig up the weeds in our lives- spiritually and martially speaking.

Now, this uprooting of things was, to put it nicely, a little bit of hell. Remember the duty driven wife of my 20’s? Well, just like duty driven Christianity, it gets old quick. It breeds resentment. This is because it lacks depth and richness of meaning. Any husband or wife can go through the motions (even while still being madly and deeply in love) yet, miss the mark completely. That was me.

Enter a 34 year-old broken mama- broken down by years of selfishness, depression and {self-imposed} violated expectations. God had his way with me. The weeds were pulled out and it hurt- a lot.

Here are the pervasive things that got yanked out: being- the perfect, model Christian wife, the Martha Stewart homemaker, the genius-raising home schooling teacher and more. I stopped trying to find fulfillment in my  “perfect” husband, awesome kids and American dream life and started FULLY, with reckless abandon, worshipping the ONLY ONE DESERVING my worship- GOD.

This transformed my marriage in ways I could never have imagined- even if I had read every “how to be the best wife” book I found. It breathed renewal, hope and new meaning into the vows that had been tangled up in the craziness of life.

Enter a 40-something husband whose career had taken unexpected twists and turns. Mid-life had set in and this was one weed that grew rapidly, with deep roots dating back to younger years. Sparing all the gory details, it was an unpleasant season for us both. My husband had to come to his own reckoning with the living God and it took a great amount of loss and humbling.

But God makes things beautiful in His time and although it is not the path I would have chosen to walk, He walked it with us- moment by moment.

The forward-looking journey of our 20 year union, is filled with so much hope, deeper abiding faith, and a friendship that is stronger than ever. Our commitment to walk through life together in sickness, health, good, bad, plenty, want and forsaking all others until our last earthly breath, still stands.

Our story isn’t over, but unlike the rather idealistic “love conquers all” beginnings, you will find written on the pages: struggle overcome by grace, stubbornness overcome by forgiveness, violated expectations overcome by fulfillment in Christ alone and two sinful people loving each other wholeheartedly and passionately.

unraveling…

unraveling….

Like a loosely woven skein of yarn, some days I come undone.

It can be nothing in particular sometime. I just wake up feeling as if little devilish imps are tugging yards out of me. (Do they come in the night to torment me all day?)

Or some days, it is the rebellious taunt made by my son that he is moving out at 12:01 the day of his 18th birthday- a fresh twist of the proverbial rebel’s knife and my emotions well up, uncontrollably.

Even other days, it is the thought that I have NO IDEA WHAT THE FUTRUE HOLDS FOR OUR FAMILY. Will we move again for the 11th time in 20 years? (Long story for another post, I promise). The gypsy lifestyle runs so CONTRA to my personal bents. Yet, it would seem to be God’s comical way of keeping me supple, humble, detached from the material “stuff” of life and even people if you will.

I sometimes think, “OK, God, am I REALLY that hard headed, that you need to keep driving the SAME lessons home to me?”

~ Here’s a “need to know” about me: I used to cry almost daily. I have also struggled majorly with depression in the past (yes, another post about this one too). But, as I have been worked like taffy in a “puller”, God has seen fit to stabilize my emotional roller coaster a bit. For that, I am truly humbled and thankful every day.~

Despite this, the unraveling is SO unpleasant. And it’s not like I sit by idly watching it happen! I fight it. I pray. I dig in mentally and remember the words of God that He does not give me more than I am able to bear or that He never leaves me or forsakes me. I cast my cares on Him and wait. And some days honestly, I feel nothing. Is this all a big joke? Doesn’t He (or anyone for that matter) see what’s happening to me?

Maybe it is God Himself wrenching out pieces of me – a purposeful discomfort, a test of my control freakish nature- to make me into someone different, better??

I am conflicted. For if my beautiful yarn were being woven into a lovely shawl or intricate blanket, I would feel satisfied, happy even. But I DO NOT see the string’s end! All I feel is the tug. I don’t comprehend the purpose!

This is the essence of my faith-  “Faith is being sure of what we hope for. It is being certain of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1

However it is being yanked from me, I conclude that all I can do is trust the elusive picture I cannot see. If I balk and try to tuck it’s length back in, I will fail. You know you can never wind the yarn back the way it was. If I let it go, even allow the extraction to happen, I have to rest in God’s providential work, however painful the process.

He is the skilled weaver and can make the gnarled, knotted, yards of string into something beautiful in His time.

unraveling for a purpose…

The Great Dichotomy

I’ve been plagued this week. Burdened. Weighed down- with this thought:

Why do we, who already have the victor’s crown sitting atop our heads get defeated, bogged down and live as if we are losing the race???

This is the great {seeming} dichotomy of the Christian life- something our previous pastor liked to refer to as “the already and the not yet”.

We already have victory over sin in Christ because at the cross, He paid the FULL AND COMPLETE redemption of our souls. He did not cry out from the cross, “I am done here.” He cried out, “It is finished.” This meant it was done, consummate, having fully satisfied God’s demands, wholly assuaging His wrath against sin.

In Christ, we have that same fullness and encompassing finished work given to us. We are wearing the victor’s wreath though instead of the crown of thorns. Ours is the sweet rest and relief of a triumph- and here’s the amazing part- that WE DID NOT HAVE TO EARN OR WORK FOR.  Imagine getting to the end of a 26.2 miler without a drop of sweat, twinge of sore muscles, or one ounce of fatigue. Impossible with man. Not just possible but our REALITY with Christ’s cross work! How amazing is that?

Yet, the “not yet” of our humanity is that we grovel in the dust of defeat, wallowing around in the entanglement of sin or trying circumstances. For many sweet Christians I know (and myself included), we have spent many seasons of time on the ground, in the dirt with the paralysis of a side stitch or Charlie horse. Perhaps it is depression, debilitating physical pain, anxiety attacks, prodigal children, a rocky marriage, or financial despair. It could even be an outright denial of God’s truths that we once had clung to unswervingly.

We find ourselves temporarily unable to go on, press forward or run through the discomfort. We have allowed Satan to convince us that we have already lost this race. Suddenly, we look around and see the other runners passing us, our goal time or hopes vanish. We succumb to the subjugation of sin and self- unable or not willing to remember the victory.

But remember it WE MUST! For when those seasons of life fall upon us (and they will in some form or another), this is our only HOPE, our SOLACE, our POWER to carry on.

In the book, The Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian on his journey of faith carried a burden. It was a heavy load- pressing hard against his back, making walking almost impossible, causing strain and toil that felt to him unbearable. When he came to the cross and looked upon it, he considered the magnitude of what had been done there. In that beautiful yet agonizing moment, his burden came off and rolled into a nearby cave. He never saw nor felt it again.

So you see, my dear readers, this is really no dichotomy at all. We ARE victors in Christ. It is finished. Let’s start reveling in it! Savor the prize! Delight in the Savior! Rest in VICTORY!

May (in a nutshell)

This month has been a strange mixture of very good and very bad.

First, the very good:

My Love and I celebrated 20 years of marriage- a feat in this modern day world- a world that tries to make marriage look a like fairy tale, but when the magic wears off, the spouses move on to the next chapter in the story.

Our celebration was comprised of a few lovely dinners, a two-day get away sans kids and a bouquet of red roses and white carnations. We were able to spend many moments reflecting on our lives together- the not-so-pretty days, the precious, beautiful days, as well as our future together. I was humbled and awed remembering all that God has brought us through. Looking forward to 20 more years walking hand in hand with my best friend by my side.

But as you know: Life can change in a moment.

{Think of all the people whose lives have forever been altered just this week by the horrendous tornados. They had only 15 minutes warning. That’s it.}

I had no warning for my bad news.

It was dropped on me like a bomb: one of my children had been deceiving me for months. It was like the world stood still and in a few moments, scenes from this child’s life flashed before me like clips from a movie. Stunned. Incredulous. Hurt. Angry. All the emotions washed over me in a nano-second.

It’s pretty much been a living hell- not going to lie.

So as we have been sifting through, the garbage heap left behind the lies, I have experienced what I consider an astounding amount of self-realization. Maybe, just maybe if I share, you will be able to relate. (Or maybe this is just a cheap form of therapy for me J)

 – I have spent too many years self-deluded about parenting- seeing it as some sort of chess game, where I am the player, moving the pawns (aka- my children) exactly where I wanted and they’ve stayed. Now all of a sudden, they are able to move themselves, taking initiative, make decisions independent of me. I don’t like it. Not one bit. Sad to say, I have reacted like that poor sport, the one who, in a fit of rage, takes the board and topples it over, upsetting the entire game.

– My brain turns to mush when I am under great duress. I have truly had scary moments when I felt that I had been struck with an early onset of dementia. I have forgotten more than I’ve remembered these past few weeks. Quite disturbing actually.

– I am and always will be a hopeless mess without Jesus to hang on to.  I am messy enough WITH Him.  He is my SALVATION- rescuing me not only from myself, but also from the wrath that I deserve when I let my messy, sinfulness take over. He is my ROCK- when the ground all around me turns to quicksand, waiting to devour me heart and soul. He is my FORTRESS- my protection against the enemy’s wily schemes to destroy the very faith that makes me who I am. So, so incredibly thankful for this one unmovable, constant relationship!

– I have a few great friends in my life who love me enough to suspend judgment, give me a listening ear, pray for me, bear the struggles with me and point me to hope.  I have been blessed beyond measure in this area.

Although I am not at the end of the difficulty, I am confident in the future because I am sure of this: I am loved and cared for by God Himself. Psalm 17:8 “Take good care of me, just as you would your own eyes. Hide me in the shadow of your wings.”

Tug-of-war

My mental tug-of-war goes something like this:

I make progress, inching my way to the winner’s line. Then without warning, I am swept onto my posterior- ouch!

I am dusty and weary, but the worst part? My pride is hurt. I was SO close to victory, to bearing the necklace of the winner. Now, I’ve not only lost, but I am groveling. Defeated, fine dirt in my mouth and eyes. Angry. Disgusted. Done.

I can’t say how badly I want to walk away and throw my hands up in the air- be done with the struggle altogether. Do I grab the rope firmly with both hands and try again? I give myself a mental badgering for being so weak-willed, so wishy-washy, so on again, off again.

I know what’s right but in all honesty, some days I don’t give a flying leap if I do it.

I’m mad at my husband’s insensitivity to my needs.

I’m hurt by a mom who has shunned my kids because they are “bad influences”.

I’m tired of continuous financial struggles.

I’m frustrated by the insincerity I see in people all around me.

I’m loving self more than God.

I’m thinking “I’m all that” or (like Jekyll and Hyde) I am thinking I’m so evil, I can’t stand myself and am sick of trying.

So there I go, again, ignoring the tug I feel in my soul to pick up the rope and put my back into it. No biggie. I’ll right this wrong some other day.

I know what’s right. Today, I dig in mentally and spiritually. I am firm in both my stance and my grip, armed with my spiritual armor. Ready for the fight; my opposition becomes clear to me. I am prepared for him. (Some days he comes in such a guise that I think he is actually helping my side.) Valiantly, I tug, and then I wear. The sinew in my arms burns hot. My grip on the rope loosens and defeat is imminent. NO! I scream inside.

Thinking on my feet, I picture my Savior hanging on the cross- dead for me. Where the wooden beam is stuck into the hard ground, has bubbled up a spring. Clear, beautiful, refreshing, the water of grace is gushing out- unhindered. All I do is draw a draught for my weary soul to drink in. Immediately, my struggle quiets. The rope seems to glide my way effortlessly. I rest.

Why do I forget that my victor’s crown is already won eternally? Why don’t I recall that my Jesus fights with me in His humanness, knowing full well my struggles, yet having resisted them all in His perfect deity?

Next time, I promise myself, I will RUN to the fountain of grace sooner and find the living water to assuage my thirst for something better in my struggle.

Have Your Cliche and Eat It Too

So here’s the deal, christian clichés really bug me.

In the last week, two (well meaning) people have admonished me to “be Jesus” to someone else. Excuse moi, that just sounds wrong to my ears. Yes, I get the concept. I know we are told to be imitators of Christ (key word: imitators), but me? BEING GOD INCARNATE? I don’t think so. I am never able to measure up and be a sinless human because sin inhabits every little crevice and nook and cranny of my mind and heart- continuously. The Bible tells me so. Ask my husband and kids.

Another one, and forgive me ’cause I know this is so last decade, but the whole WWJD? thing bugged big time. Again, I get the concept behind the acronym. (What Would Jesus Do? in case you were living in a cave or something.) To ask that question is a good thought provoking consideration- not a bad place to start. But were we to be able to honestly answer what the Savior of the world would do given a situation, would be to fully grasp the thoughts and motivations of a sinless Man. The first Adam wrought into the fibers of our nature and being deep down depravity. The second Adam, Jesus, calls us to put off that nature and take up His righteousness, which we can only do by His graceful help. I am afraid that WWJD? sets us up for moralistic failure because if we use that as a literal behavioral barometer, we would still fall miserably short of the mark.

So, here’s what I like to do instead of subsist on “sounds good in theory” clichés-

Revel in the gospel every day! Think about Jesus’s cross work FOR ME. Ponder how MUCH I’ve been forgiven. Refresh myself in the grace of God that is poured out like living water to a weary soul. Consider the magnitude of my expunged verdict– His death for mine. Remember the victory I have already won against my sin! Talk about this awesome undeserved gift to those around me. Look forward to my final destiny- heaven.

Quaking in my Converse®

FDR once said: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Obviously, he was too busy being Mr. smarty-pants president and not with raising his 6 children. I have two teenagers plus a tweener right now and I can heartily assure you that I fear more than fear itself.

The past few months, I have likened raising children into adulthood to walking along the edge of a cliff. It is slow going, laborious, scary as hell, nerve-wracking and many days, just a rather unpleasant experience. Every day, here I go, one foot in front of the other, not exactly seeing what lies up ahead; never knowing for sure if I will loose my footing and take a tumble or make it safely over to the other side. Most often, I am so hot (under the collar- that is), bewildered and frustrated, I am totally unable to take in any scenery (if there is anything beautiful worth seeing). But every once in a while, (oh, say, when there is a blue moon) a cool refreshing breeze blows, bringing with it a smile of relief and refreshment; giving just enough respite to keep me going. Then I begin to say to myself: “one step at a time” like a mantra over and over again.

The high and lows come in dizzying cycles. Just when I think: “Oh ok, I am getting the hang of this walking along the edge of a cliff thing”, SHABAM! an evil wind of change comes blowing, threatening to either knock me on my booty or off the ledge, plummeting to my undoing altogether! I relegate myself to sit down, collect my nerve, soothe frazzled emotions (drink some wine maybe) and take a deep breath before going on.

Accompanying me every step of the way is FEAR- downright abject doses of it- the kind that makes my tummy feel swirly and my knees weak. And here’s the million dollar question that runs continuously, like an electronic banner through my frontal lobe:

How will my kids turn out in the end?

I can almost hear what some of you are saying to me right now: “You think too much. You don’t trust God enough. You forget that your children belong to Him anyways. Don’t you just pray when you feel afraid?” Yes to every query! But that still doesn’t change the fact that every day when my children are away from the safety cocoon we call “home”, they are doing, saying, thinking, acting, only God knows what/how.

A friend spoke some wise words to me this week (as I was taking a chillaxing break on my little cliff edge). She said: Stop striving to be the thermostat keeper of the home, always adjusting the temperature, trying to keep it a perfectly, comfortable 78 degrees. In other words, some days it’s gonna get hot, real hot. Other days, it will be so chilly, it may feel as if your toes would fall off. Stop trying to control every point in your children’s existence. OUCH! That hurt my control-freakish nature. But I was forced to admit that if I have nurtured my kids in light of my faith, to the very best of my ability (keeping in mind own mile-long list of faults and failures), I have to trust that they will turn out OK- whatever that looks like. (Which, in all likelihood won’t match my cookie cutter impression of what I’d imagined).

If I’m being honest, and I am, my fear is holding me, gripping me, sometimes paralyzing me. It is the very component that keeps me walking the precipice, frightened. I wage an all out mental war with myself not to jump off or just sit down and say, “Forget it. This is WAY TOO HARD!”

For now, all that keeps me going is prayer and the reminder that someday, in the not so very distant future, I will be ambling down a serene path, unafraid, knowing exactly how my kids turned out.

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I’ll Race You

I stood slightly hunched over with a concentrated anticipation. My ears rang a little from the clamor of the crowd. I might have appeared poised and ready -in a solid runner’s stance- but my legs were all wobbly. My heart felt as if it would convulse right out of my chest. My mouth was dry like the desert in June.

Clearly, I was out of my league, surrounded by collegiate looking athletes- the kind that run a sub 4 minute mile. All I could think was: “What were you thinking, signing up for this wave of the race? Remember, this is just a personal goal thing. Don’t kill yourself. Ignore the fact that you are in a sea of 20-somethings who are literally going to leave you in the dust.”

POP! The gun startled me even though I was ready for it. The mass of amped up humanity moved together– but only for the first 30 seconds- to complete this one-mile race. It would be over in less time than it takes to eat lunch.

By the first corner, I realized that most of the pack had passed me. When I rounded the second corner, into the straightaway, I saw an almost empty street.  My heart sank.  Was I really going as slow as that?

My legs were feeling like the legs of a Barbie doll- rubbery and stiff. Then before I could process what was happening, they buckled under me. I almost fell to the ground if not for the arm of a friend that held me up. She looked at me worried and said that I should quit. Determined, I stood.  I would keep going. (Hey, my stubbornness has to count for something, right?!) 🙂

For the next minute or two, all I remember is seeing people cross the street in front of me, acting as if the race was over, the ringing in my ears- the kind you hear when you are about to pass out, my parched throat and the burning in my chest.

But as I rounded the next corner and finally the last, my eyes saw what I came for- the finish line. I had to gather every ounce of strength to cross it and I prayed that I would not be the very last to do so.

At  9:39, I finished the one-mile loop, fourth from the last runner. Exhausted. Depleted. Weak. Embarrassed. Perplexed. It was one mile and I totally bombed it.

What happened that day, I am still unsure of. I had trained for weeks and hoped to achieve a personal goal time. I felt prepared, but failed. My mind said yes, but my body said no.

Even though it didn’t feel like it at the moment, I realize that I did achieve what I set out to do-run the mile race. It just did not happen the way I expected it to. Did I fail? No. I finished after collapsing. I competed against myself that day- and WON!

Lessons were learned that I have not forgotten.

~ No matter how prepared you are, sometimes things do not go as planned. Readjust your expectations for the moment you are in.

~ Trying with all your might at something doesn’t always bring about what you thought it would, but realize that success has many faces.

~ You can do more than you think you can when push comes to shove.

~ Comparing ourselves with others is a dangerous and often destructive tool. It strips us of being able to recognize the value of our own accomplishments.

~ If you run, make sure you sign up for the wave of the race where all the other 30-something, moms (with hip diseases) are so you are in the company of 9-12 minute milers instead of sub 4-ers!