Saturday, August 9, 2014

For When Your World Feels Painfully Small



He’s invited me to several reading parties at bedtime this summer. Usually when my husband’s out of town and it’s just the two of us. The book I carry into his bedroom is about discovering the wonders of God in the moment, especially the ones masked in the mundane.

As I’m reading with highlighter in hand, always in hand, I turn sentence into sunshine. No longer blending in with the mosaic of words, but shining right off the page.

She talks about her aunt, the one who traveled the world, “wandering the streets of the foreign and unusual.”* And the time she came and induced a tiny toddler’s squeals of laughter simply by rolling a red plastic ball.

“I will never forget your daughter’s wild joy in that ball – a happiness like I have never seen in all my travels through all these years.
And in the simplest of experiences . . .”* 


With my son’s legs sprawled over mine, I continue to read, continue to highlight, as Ann beckons me to open my eyes to see and unwrap the gift of the moment. The joy of the here and now.

And that example, that story of the well-traveled aunt, it speaks to me. Because I wrestle over our family’s world – it’s become painfully small. While others make plans for ocean views and starry summer nights, I hope to feel well enough take him to the library around the corner. I give thanks that he deems it a treasure, yet I ache when –
well, when I compare

But that aunt in the book just told me that in all her travels around this big world, she’d never seen the wild joy that she’d seen that day.
In a home. 
Doing something incredibly simple.

I sense a subtle tug to let what I’m reading seep into the moment. Because as I read, I’m in one of those moments. One of his last days he’ll ever live the simplicity of a single digit.

My awareness begins to wake up, and I capture his closeness. Side by side our legs dangling off the bed and books propped in hand, his little feet begin to nuzzle their way into my sandals. My loose sandals, my ever-present nagging reminders of sickness and weight loss, become divine dwelling.
My proclaimers of loss turn place of prosperity. 

With noses buried in books, neither one let on, but we both know it’s going to happen.
Clunk. 
The sandal falls to the floor.
The chance for joy rises to the moment. 


Sweet moments like these usually garner polite smiles from this weak and weary mom. But no, not this time. This time, I was primed for more. Primed for joy. This time, when he whips his head around with head-back, mouth-open laughter, I join in.
This time, I am a part of the moment, not an outskirt observer of it. 

In unusual playfulness, I kick off the other sandal.

And then, I am humbled. Because my son, my tender son . . .
He climbs off the bed,
Crouches down low on the floor,
And with gentle little hands, starts to put my sandals back on my feet.
Oh, how this boy has seen servanthood at its finest in our little world. It's shaping his soul – in ways no trip around the world ever could. 

Maybe our world hasn’t gotten smaller, after all . . .

But bigger.

I graciously tell him I’d rather leave them off.
The better to snuggle with. 

Well no doubt about it I was making a fashion statement that day with my hospital-white circulation socks. My elastic crutches that hold me up and help me stand. Picture black capris, white stockings, black sandals. Give me an eye patch and I’m half way to pirate. But a girl does what a girl’s gotta do, you know. At least around the house.

So before climbing back onto the bed, he examines the circular openings on the soles of my socks, wonders why they’re there, answers his own question – so my feet can breathe. Yes, the soles are indeed designed with a need to breathe.
The souls are also designed with a need to breathe.

I turn my head to look at the clock. 8:50pm on the dot. The exact time I said we’d be done reading. With a glimmer of glorious rule-breaking rebellion in my eye, I ignore it. Oh yes I sure did.

Minutes later, he mentions the time, but wants to read Chapter Three and shows me it isn’t very long. This boy, he knows his mama. He knows I don’t throw my yeses wild to the wind.
Tonight, I say yes. 

His voice and arm gesture proclaim a hearty YES as if I had just handed him the moon. As he gets comfortable on the small of my back, I hear cicadas out the window and highlight:
“But the irony:
Don’t I often desperately want to wriggle free of the confines of a small life?
Yet when I stand before immensity that heightens my smallness – I have never felt sadness. Only burgeoning wonder . . . all wonder and worship can only grow out of smallness.”*
With his Chapter Three adventure complete, I point out the chorus of cicadas, tell him they’re singing him a lullaby. He smiles, and pauses to hear their song.

We close our eyes to pray, and I pray differently tonight.

I thank Him for the chorus of cicadas, 

for holes in circulation socks, 
for sandals falling, 
For feet! he says. 
Yes, Lord, for feet. 

For kind ladies at two separate bakeries who each offered my soon-to-be birthday boy a special treat this afternoon, 

for the breath of life, 
the miracles that surround us. 
I pray for friends and family. 
The sick, the grieving, the ones in harm’s way.

Open our eyes and open our ears, Lord,
to see and hear the miracles that surround us every day. 


As soon as I amen, he asks what I read. Apparently, he heard a changed prayer, too. With pleasure, I share with him truth and grace, simple and profound.

“The holy grail of joy is not in some exotic location or some emotional mountain peak experience. The joy wonder could be here! Here, in the messy, piercing ache of now, joy might be – unbelievably – possible!
The only place we need to see before we die is this place of seeing God, here and now.
”*
~ Ann Voskamp


And so, on an ordinary August night, my son's bedroom became holy ground.
A simple summer reading date turned vehicle to the Sacred.
The goodness of God set loose through a pair of ordinary sandals.
Together, our hearts traveled where no footsteps of ours ever could.
In the grandeur of the small.


"Take off your sandals,
for the place where you are standing is holy ground."

 ~ Exodus 3:5



* Excerpt from One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully by Ann Voskamp 
Image courtesy of Tim Pirfalt

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Your Desperation, Your Worship

“Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, 
that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. “ 
~ Heb. 13:15, ESV

It was a pretty pitiful scene. In one corner of the house, I sat on my bed clutching the pepto-pink trash can, barely enough strength to be upright. In the other corner, my son crying over a hard-won battle that fell into computer abyss. Sweet victory turned sting of defeat. And my husband was out getting groceries, so unavailable to offer comfort to either one of us.

I sat there weak and helpless on my bed, the sound of my son’s unaddressed disappointment well in ear shot but out of my realistic reach. And I couldn’t help but second-guess a self description I’d penned just a day or two before. I described myself as “one who’s learned how to live in survival mode – and even worship there.”

"Are you kidding me?," I thought. "Have I really learned that?
What about this trying-to-survive moment right here and now?"

In entered His grace with this thought:
My dependence is my worship.

My helplessness reminds me that I need a Savior for eternity, and for the here and now. Every time I acknowledge that I am not self-sufficient, but instead incapable and desperately needy, I worship. I worship by removing my [perceived] ability off the throne of my life, and bowing down to the only One Who is worthy of that throne. Worthy of my trust. And welcoming of my desperation.

That desperation has been one of my primary places of worship in this hard season. That choice to bow down and trust Him instead of myself. That choice to surrender. That choice to invite His grace into my need.
Again. And again. And again.

In my desperation, my dependence is my worship.
And can be yours as well.


Picture compliments of Aaron Burden

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Leaving the Principle Behind



I'd like to think I'm a relatively easy-going kinda gal. But if there’s one scenario that’s always been a guarantee to get my blood boiling, it’s an offense to the principle of the matter. Sometimes individuals have been my offenders, but usually it’s a case of a company not doing the right thing, not making my satisfaction their primary goal.
Because I am consumer, so hear me roar. 

Of course, that's too ugly for a Christian to admit. So I've wrapped it tightly in justice, a perfectly justifiable (and responsible!) intellectual alibi.

One day several years ago, the Lord planted this strange seed of thought in my head. He asked me if the principle is truly what’s most important in a situation.
Is principle really what trumps all? 

It was confusing to even consider deprioritizing the principle of a matter, because isn’t it just plain RIGHT? Why would I not pursue what is right? That would be counter Christian.

And if the principle of the matter weren't most important, wouldn’t that mean I'd have to resign the respect due me? Even give up innate rights as an individual? There are all kinds of ramifications.
The wrestling ensued.

~ ~ ~

Ocean waves crashed their majesty just up the road. And the siren sound of seagulls was all around. But me? I was behind a closed bedroom door on the second floor on hold with customer service. They’d double-charged us for our internet service, and she was submitting a request for our account to be credited.

It was a stressful conversation, the explaining and the advocating. I’m not a fan of those. At all. Most certainly not while on vacation. But the return was worthwhile, so I made the investment of my time and energy. An expensive one, though. It left me wiped out the rest of afternoon.

A couple months came and went, but only a partial credit was issued. And so I called.

Month after month. 
Hold after hold. 
Operator after operator. 
For six months. 

Explaining every time the complicated nuances behind the relocating, the residential vs. the business, the double charging.

Finally, one wonderful fall day, an operator seemed to get to the bottom of the hold up. But. In order to resolve it, he had to send it back to the other department . . .

Return to sender. 
Hope they comply. 
More realistically, hope my remaining credit hasn’t gone back into a black hole. 

I took scrupulous notes all the while. I documented names, operator IDs, dates, details of who said what. I had a case, and I managed it well.

The holidays came and went. No remaining credit. And no time to do those dreaded calls.

So after ringing in the new year, I picked up the phone again yesterday. And I was bounced between departments more than ever before. A tennis match of my time and energy, and I was clearly losing.

The dialogue with the last in the string of operators was particularly unproductive.
It was disheartening (to say the least) when she informed me for the first time of a note in my account saying the request for credit had been denied last summer.
And it was frustrating (to say the very least!) when she had the nerve to ask me why I think I should receive this credit.
AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!

I kept my cool, though. Didn’t even wear the ugly manipulative tone my nature sometimes puts on. I sought to take the higher roads of respectful communication despite her coldness.

But after a little while of getting nowhere, I got practical and decided I’d be better off hanging up with her and calling back to speak to a different operator. So right in the middle of our somewhat-mutual troubleshooting, I interjected a seemingly random,
“Thank you, operator. I think that will be all.”
Some silence, a few more obligatory formalities exchanged in closing, and no more wasted time for me.

As I put the phone down and placed my right hand on the mouse to start documenting our conversation, I couldn’t maneuver it because my hand was so shaky. I didn’t feel stressed, but clearly, I was.

After a few minutes, my hands relaxed, and so did my soul. Because instead of picking the phone back up to get a better operator, I reconsidered.

That particular moment is the point where my principle-trumps-all nature typically rises up, and my blood start boiling in agitation. Because really, this is all very simple, right?

We asked them to discontinue a service. 
They didn’t. 
Instead, they began to double charge us. 
Their fault, not ours. 
Therefore, we deserve to be reimbursed. (Fully! Not partially.) 
Simple, simple. 

As always, I heard my nature’s invitation to pursue the principle of it, but it wasn’t screaming in demand like it used to. It was much quieter. And this time, I also heard a different Invitation.

Despite the reality that they owed us money. And despite the reality that we could certainly use it. I sensed a need to let it all go.
The money, the principle, the stress.
A readiness to throw away all the papers and close the door to my file of scrupulous notes, and leave it all buried in last year.
Not in resignation. In freedom.

I could have pushed through, like usual, ‘til I found the frayed end of my rope. But that's what was making it sound like wisdom to me, offering me a sense of peace and contentment in the surrender.

~ ~ ~

Life is a series of dethroning exercises. Discovering who and what I have on the throne of my life. Going through the painful process of removing my grip on each one. And entering into the liberating experience of having Jesus there instead.

When we think about idols, we typically think about lures like materialism and power. But I've discovered so many more in my soul: People. Ministry. Fellowship. Even convictions.

And I’m finding freedom in leaving the principle behind. They are welcome in my life, but not on my throne. Only Jesus is welcome on the throne of my life.

HE is what will trump all.

Including my convictions about Him.

Oh and that first operator I originally spoke with last summer? The one at the beginning of this dethroning opportunity?
Her name was Angel.

"Beware of being obsessed with consistency to your own convictions
instead of being devoted to God."

~ Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest


Image above courtesy of Travis Silva

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Celebrate Your Moo!

Lessons from a Stuffed Cow on Self Worth
“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made”
~ Psalm 139:14


That night after Thanksgiving, I went into my son’s room to tuck him in and there was plastic food nestled in the middle of his blue, dinosaur comforter. I asked him if his stuffed animals were having a picnic, and he said they’d had Thanksgiving breakfast that morning. And they wrote down things they were thankful for. I asked if I could read what they wrote, and his tender hands offered me a miniature 5-sheet pad of paper.
Just 1x2”.
With a turkey on the front – of course.

Oh, what overflowing treasures in those five tiny pages. At the top of the first page, Crocodile and Alligator with four items below their names. A bulleted list, nonetheless. But it’s the next page that really got me. The page with Spotty, the Dalmatian’s list. And Belty, the belted Cow’s list.

Because the first thing on Spotty’s list was “my spots.”

And the first thing on Belty’s list was “my moo.”
[Because he really does!]

As if the sheer sweetness weren’t enough, here’s what struck me about the spots and the moo. In their tiny little list of thanks, those animals didn’t start with the material. They didn’t even start with the grand external beauty that surrounds them, like the warmth of a summer sunset or the arresting sound of waves crashing up against the shore.

They thanked God for the unique way He created them.

Their own personal beauty that displays His glory.

It was at the top of their list.


I was struck by that because admittedly, I struggle to believe that I am fearfully and wonderfully made, let alone thank God for the way He’s made me. I struggle to believe the very passion of this blog space  – that His glory is made known through my weakness, my shortcomings. Especially since invisible illness has made its home in my body.

But I want to follow Belty and Spotty’s lead today. I want to celebrate my moo, enjoy the beauty of my spots. And I’m encouraging you to do the same.

So! One way God created you in His image. GO!
(And no, not an attribute that nobody else on the planet has. Spotty’s certainly not the only Dalmatian with beauty spots.)

It’s time to celebrate your moo!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Accepting the Sidelines

(or "The Night I Got Over Myself. Again.")

“The close confinement of a pit exhausts us with the endless echo of self-absorption.” 
~ Beth Moore

We’d approached these familiar church doors many a Sunday morning. Almost 16 years ago, we walked through them for the first time as a young married couple from the north looking to make our home in the south. And we did. Because although the doors open wide to a campus that many find intimidating, we soon found an inviting nook in the vast array and called it home.

We enjoyed those carefree years as young marrieds, actively partaking in all the small group parties, Bible studies, you name it. The only reason we missed anything was because we couldn’t stay put long, regularly hitting the road and the air to visit out-of-state friends and family. Our lifestyle was an active one, and we liked it that way.

After a year or two of being nestled into the warm space of our small group, our hearts were stirred to plug in even more. And the Lord gave us the opportunity to start a new small group with dear friends at our church for newly married couples. Seriously newly marrieds! We’re talkin’ – folks just back from their honeymoon. What a privilege to be a part of that sacred season in their lives.

Fast forward a few years when my husband had the privilege of serving as a deacon, then I had the privilege of helping to lead a women’s summer Bible study. Our list of involvement goes on, but my point is this:
We were active.
We were connected.
And that was just the way we liked it.

But then life took some twists and turns. And as a result, my stride's taken quite a toll since those days of carefree. Because as I approach those same doors, I’ve had Sunday mornings when it’s been physically challenging just to walk through them, let alone be actively plugged in to church life. So it’s been years since I’ve been in organized ministry, or even participated in an organized event. Because I’m doing well if I can muster the stamina to do all that’s required simply to show up on a Sunday morning.
Meanwhile, church life continues on all around me. Without me. 

And this health adventure hasn’t just impacted my physical frame. My mental, emotional, and spiritual gaits have also become fragile from the harsh winds of life. My journey through chronic illness has brought intense storms to the deepest recesses of my being, and it’s changed me. And the loss of life as we knew it with our church family has been hard to swallow. 

Let me explain a bit further. Whenever you haven’t seen somebody for a considerably long time, there’s an enthusiastic reunion, right? And the typical catch-up questions come naturally. Then on the opposite side of the spectrum, when you see somebody frequently, like every Sunday morning, you get to go beyond those surface questions to dig into the day-to-day grind, and walk through life with them. But my husband and I, we’re in this awkward frequency of the in between. We’re not seeing these folks regularly. But it’s not like it’s been 5-10 years since we’ve seen them, either. In reality, our circumstances have left us doing all the things you’re NOT supposed to do if you want to experience close community:
We show up inconsistently on Sunday mornings. (Sometimes as a couple, but more times one without the other.)
We go into the worship center. We worship. We go out. 
No small groups. No Bible studies. No outreach events. 
No more relating than cordial Sunday morning smiles. 

It’s an unhealthy pattern that leaves longing hearts lonely and unfulfilled. Yet sadly, it’s a pretty common pattern in churches, so we’re not a total anomaly. But in our case, we know better. And we want better. We’re willing to do what it takes to be connected, but our circumstances inhibit us. Our hearts LONG to serve and plug in again. We’re just not physically able to. And that's been a painful place to live.

That particular evening, I approached those now-awkward church doors yet again. My footsteps carrying the imprints of one who’s spent the last several years wrestling her way through pain and loss, through life. And that dreaded in-between awkwardness started to settle in the closer I got to the doors. But the next step held something different. Because in that step, He whispered to me:
“Can you accept it here?” 

Can I accept it here . . .

On the sidelines.

In this awkward and isolating in between.

Can I accept this disconnected place I’m in?
And make the most of it. 

 The moments between His question and my entrance were so brief that I didn’t even have time to consciously respond before I was through the doors and swept into the flow of church goers.

Yet His question alone empowered me. Because this time when I walked through those doors, the awkwardness was replaced with confidence. I was no longer focusing on my disconnectedness; I was focused on embracing the brief moments that I HAD with these people. And wanting to taste the sweetness of being a blessing to them – even from the social sidelines. 

My experience that evening at church was entirely different.
Because rather than throw out a fake hi,
I reached out and offered an embrace. 
Rather than avoid eye contact to dodge the awkward shallow,
I called out her name. 
Rather than turn away after the obligatory hellos,
I turned back to reengage and encourage. 
Rather than stay quiet in my seat before the program started,
I introduced myself. 
And rather than keep that restroom tunnel-vision stare straight down at my hand washing for fear of the casual acquaintance standing next to me not remembering me after all these years, 
I looked up. 
I took a risk.
I initiated conversation.
[Turns out she remembered me, too.]
 

Rather than fixating on being a part of community, I got over myself. And experienced a taste of community when I did. 

A sweet embrace.
The laughter of grace.
The delight of relational reconnections.
The blessing of a new friend.

All rich treasures I would have missed had my focus remained on community – instead of on Jesus. 

That getting over the awkwardness, getting over myself at church, wasn’t anything I pursued. Nothing I’d been praying about. Not a conscious mental shift I made that evening. It was simply another miraculous moment when His grace entered my reality to bring about the change my heart and mind desperately needed.

And sure, it was different from the strong pulse of community we’re used to being a part of. But it was okay. I was okay. I was content with the less than ideal. Content to accept the sidelines.

With an overflow of grace, God brought my self-centric mind back to what church is all about taking my eyes off myself, and turning them onto Jesus.


[Psst! Don’t look now, but this little kite seems to be wrestling a little less, and resting a bit more these days. Well . . . at least THIS day!]


Image courtesy of charamelody

Monday, July 22, 2013

A Fortress of Fear

"There is no fear in love. Perfect love casts out fear."
~ 1 John 4:18a

She had me at the title: Held Captive by Fear. But the entire time I was reading her piece, there was a nagging question in my head that I couldn’t shake. I’m all about God removing my bricks of fear, but what I couldn’t figure out was how, exactly, He does that. Where in my heart and mind does that process begin? In other words, what needs to happen to get results? [Okay, so I like formulas. And writing in the sky. And perceived control . . . ]

As I was chewin’ on all this with the Lord, I thought about my constant toggling between love and fear. A frustrating and exhausting tug of war in my life . . .

(Click here to read the rest.)


Thanks to my dear blogger friend, Jamie Harper, at Brown Paper & Strings for the privilege of joining her "Out of the Dark, Into the Light" series as a guest blogger. Come join us, and make sure you leave a comment so we can greet you when you stop by!



Stone Wall Image Credit: Ioan Besoiu

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Stuck



“How do you keep going so hard for so long when you can’t even stop to take a breath?,” she asked. I told her this season of life is clearly my [much-needed] boot camp for dying to self, and for coming to hard-core terms that this world will never satisfy. It’s broken. It’s hard. It’s not my Home. Those realities are what keep me hanging on.

But several nights later, the rubber met the road of routine and my soul pounded the pavement in resistance. I just wanted to stop, let my mind soar freely beyond these four walls, and let my soul breathe. But I was called yet again to the same place, at the same time, to do the same thing. And I didn’t want to. There was a temper tantrum raging in my soul, and I wasn’t ready to surrender.

So I stepped out the front door and sat down on the top step, beneath the warm blanket of stars. It was a quiet night. And the only motion in view was the flickering of the street lamp, wavering back and forth just like my soul. What it needed to do, was the very thing it was struggling to do.
And so was I.

And there was that kite. The one stuck in our walnut tree. My son had pointed it out to me from the Dining Room window a few days before. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have ever noticed it.

The breeze that night was enough to border chilly, and enough to entice the kite elsewhere. So I watched that kite. I watched her fight in the darkness against the branch that held her there.
Constantly wrestling to be free.

She’s a kite, afterall. She’s designed to be in motion, to soar high among the roving clouds and endless sky. Not to be stuck stagnant at ground level.
She was clearly out of place. And in essence, useless.

Then I saw what surrounded the kite.

Flower buds.
Quiet whispers of life.
Steady companions anxious to burst declarations of beauty. Declarations of their Creator.
Reminders of His presence.
All in the same place that months ago, held coldness and death.

On top of that, the kite was free to behold the majesty of the night sky.
Because she was stuck.
Had she not been stuck, her nights would have been spent in the sterile darkness of storage. Missing out on the radiance of the moon, and the canvas of constellations.

As she wrestles against the rough branch, He whispers to her in the wind. So she does something different this time. She leans into the branch. And she begins to see things she's never noticed before. 
She sees a young Daddy swing his little girl around and land her on his shoulders.

She breathes the crisp night air, watching the sky expectantly for shooting stars like a child on Christmas Eve. 


The other day, she watched as a family, 15-year neighbors to the walnut tree, packed up their memories to make new ones in a new home. 


And she's witnessing the sacred courage of a husband and wife as they battle their way through the dark alleys of a cruel disease.
Despite her struggle to break free, she’s beginning to see beauty blossom around more corners than ever before. Even while wrestling lonely in cold, dark nights.
As I write, she remains stuck in my walnut tree.
But maybe she’s not so out of place, after all.

Because apparently, this isn't about the chance to fly again.
This season in the walnut tree IS about the kite breaking free. But it's about her breaking free from something greater. Something that holds her back far more than the heaviest of branches ever could.
It's about discovering strange new sources of joy. And peace.
And surprisingly – freedom.


In fact, it's about redefining freedom.

Finding a freedom she's never known before. Freedom from herself.
One that soars wild and uninhibited, closer to the Heartbeat of Heaven than even the open skies.
One that finds glimpses of His glory in the small, but sacred, plot of land where He's placed her.

A thrilling liberation to embrace that her worth goes far beyond what she can and cannot DO.


She's finding these freedoms.
In the stuck.


She's beginning to see that we glorify God not just by doing big things, out there, for all to see. But by doing the little things.
Right here.
With nobody watching but Him.
Because He's enough.


She's beginning to trust that the significance of her days isn't defined by her scope or reach.
And that her value isn't secured by grand scenery or a seemingly extraordinary calling.

Because when God's in it, it's all extraordinary.


She's discovering this grand paradox. This freedom in the stuck. This beauty in the tangled mess. Soul rest in the assurance that no matter how useless she feels, or even looks, in her stuck state, she can still partake in the goodness and glory of God.

~ ~ ~

What circumstance has been beyond your control and left you feeling stuck?

My experience on the branch has been an isolating one. How would you describe your experience?

Have you ever considered ways the branch might be a friend in disguise, rather than an all-out enemy?

And I constantly misplace my identity in what I do (or think I should be doing), rather than in Who He is, do you?


Share your thoughts, & share the post!
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