Monday, April 28, 2014

Stepping over toys to find the couch and courage for my calling

I didn't know it was going to rain Friday Night.

I also didn't know I was going to spend two hours reading.

Rain and reading. Sigh. So much love in my heart.

I love stories. Emotions and people and adventures. Loss and blessing, unknowns blooming into known, all woven together by the hand of the Creator. My heart was made for stories.

I love the sound of water. Raindrops falling from heaven onto rooftop, splashing onto the back porch overhang, fast forming puddles on the uneven side yard. Splish splash. Plink plunk. Dribble dribble drip drip. Whoosh.

A symphony that stirs me.

Oh, how I love being surprised by a perfect night.

(Laughter bubbles from the inside as I type that because I'm also surprised by what "perfect" now means to me. Perfect now means letting go of perfection. Because to get to my cozy spot on the couch I walked past the sink full of dirty dishes, I slid my hand over the batches of payments to post for my part-time job to grab the book that was beckoning me, I sidestepped the overflowing basket of laundry that needed folding, and finally I skipped over a collection of brightly colored kitchen toys strewn across the living room rug that I didn't make the boys pick up before bed.)

I actually had big plans for productivity, but three children were sleeping and my husband was away and I told myself just a few pages with my feet up after a long day was all I needed to recharge before charging into my to-do list for the night.

So I snuggled down in my fuzzy green blanket and found my place marker in the new book with the cherry blossomed covered: Surprised by Motherhood by Lisa-Jo Baker.

I've read Lisa-Jo's blog about motherhood for about a year so I've heard many pieces of her story before. I already had a sense that being a mom wasn't a dream she had carried since a little girl, but rather an unexpected gift she blossomed into. I knew her mom died a long time ago. I knew she balanced mothering three young ones with a passionate heart for working and serving others.

So the voice that spoke across the pages of this book was familiar. I wasn't shocked by any twist or turn her story took.

But as Lisa-Jo bravely told her story of being a woman who adamantly did not want to be a mom to becoming one with an unexpected heart-song, soul-call to be a cheerleader and champion for all other mamas, I was surprised by how deeply her transformation moved me. How her story changed me. Called deep to me.

Surprised by Motherhood is brutally real and beautifully transparent about the gritty moments of raising kids that can make us come undone. Oh, how I relate to tempers flaring at strong-wills willing. How you can love so deep you can hardly breathe and yet the mundane drain of a life stuck on repeat can nearly suck all your breath away.

These pages took me back to the days of battling what I read in parenting books against the real-life baby I faced and how the mismatched reality rocked me. But Lisa-Jo's melodic words also transported me back to the awe-struck wonder of growing new life, birthing new life, living for the sake of loving this new life! A miraculous dance with God who chooses to use a mother's womb and heart as life source for His children.

But what reached my heart deepest as the raindrops ricocheted off my roof, was Lisa-Jo's story of calling. That sometimes, most times, we don't have just one. As intricate as our baby's dark eyelashes or plump and pink new feet, so has God made our hearts and minds miraculously multidimensional, beautifully complex.

Her story whispered reassurance to my heart that my most precious calling to mother my children whole-hardheartedly doesn't have to negate a God-given passion for something else.

I am a mother. And I am more than a mother. And my mothering makes everything else that I am and do better, more blessed, than if motherhood was not part of my story.

Lisa-Jo has been called to help rescue girls from human trafficking. She's been called to drink tea and dance wild with her kiddos, to pray hard over her son on the bottom bunk, and pour affirmation over her blonde-haired baby girl. She's been called to advocate for heroes mothering a whole community of children in South Africa and to encourage every worn-out because she's pouring-herself-out mama who also deserves a red cape through the online community.

That's Lisa-Jo's story.

God is writing a different one for me.

But reading her journey gives me greater comfort and courage to live mine.

And maybe that's what has surprised me most about motherhood:
my need to do it in community,
my need to hear other mamas' stories,
my need to share my own.
And how we are all the richer for it.

Monday, April 21, 2014

When the nails still pierce your heart after Easter

Most afternoons if you drive by my house you'll find me perched in my yellow, orange, and blue striped beach chair watching Noah and Eli scooter circles around our blacktop driveway, little Jude tracing their trails with his yellow school bus in tow just trying to keep up.

But if there are no boys whizzing by on shiny Razors, no clunkety-clunk of wheels turning fast over pitted pavement, then you will probably find us in the backyard. Digging.

Ride fast or dig deep. Those seem to be the two forces that drive my boys.

One afternoon a couple weeks ago it was a backyard kind of day. White puffy clouds popped against a brilliant blue sky, the bright sun warming us against the cool early April air.

The boys abandoned their favorite digging spot in the flower beds that hug the back porch steps in search of new treasure. They scoured the landscape and finally settled on a patch of untouched territory—the far side yard. Empty save for a winding path of mismatched stepping stones and a mishmash stash of building materials for the vegetable garden we intend to plant, some day.  

They plunked down their little buns and array of treasure-hunting tools and got to work. Digging deep and on a serious search. Looking for shiny rocks that could be diamonds.  Pursuing petrified wood that could be dinosaur relics. 

But instead of sparkly stones or ancient bones, my excavating boys uncovered rusty nails.

One after another.

Treacherous and sharp.

I put the first one up on the wooden fence ledge, just to keep it out of little arms' reach. But then Noah found another nail. And another screw. "I got one more, Mama," Eli called out in delight.

Soon I had a collection of dangerous daggers, a small parade of pointed decay.

The boys kept digging, driven by curiosity for the next discovery.

But I didn't feel very adventurous anymore. Because this backyard game suddenly reminded me of real life pain. 

Each freshly unearthed nail on the fence pressed my heart with the reminder of each freshly surfaced sin I've been dealing with. 

I'm in one of those seasons. 
Have you ever been there? 

One of those seasons where my relationship with God is growing along with my desire to live more like Christ, yet the more I get to know Jesus, the more I see how far from being like Him I really am. 

I desire to be humble. 
Yet, I'm more aware of my pride.
I desire to be like a servant.
Yet, I'm faced with my selfishness.
I desire to be full of mercy, breathing grace. 
Yet, I'm choking on my judgement.
I desire to be gentle.
Yet, I can not handle my anger.

It's painful.

Jesus has been my Savior for more than 25 years. I've walked with Him as my Shepherd for almost 15. I thought I had let the Great Redeemer reign in all areas of my life.

But apparently there's still some untouched territory here, too.
Apparently following Jesus means sin-scorched nails are an ongoing part of the story.

Last Friday took me back to the most important day in The Story. 

It was Good Friday. I stood in church praising God through age-old hymns about His ultimate sacrifice, the crucified Son-Christ.  Jesus' pain was payment for the world's sins. Payment for mine. Without that bloody execution there would be no Good News. Just news.

With hands held high in praise I thought about my rusty nails on the fence. The rusted, rotted, rooted in unrighteousness sins I struggle with. I pictured Jesus hanging between robbers, allowing each one of my nails to be driven into his hands and feet. 

He died for the world. But He would have died just for one. My nails alone enough to kill him on that cross.

But He didn't stay dead.  No, death can't conquer Christ! His work of paying the penalty of sin was finished. But the work of redeeming the world had just begun. 

Hallelujah to the Risen King!

Hallelujah that Resurrection Sunday came three days later and new life for Christ means new life for me!

This world is still fallen. I still fall and fail. But my failures have been overcome. Resurrection on Easter Sunday means hope for righteousness the other 364 days of the year, every year until Christ returns or takes me home.

I don't have to be perfect. 
I'm never going to be perfect. 

Rust-covered nails will get buried now and then in the back corners of my heart. But I can give thanks for the work of uncovering them. I can give thanks for the work of discovering that I need Jesus every day. Give thanks that the Holy God loves me enough not to leave me as I am but to renew me day by day for my good and His glory.

High on a hill Christ hung on a cross and took nails for the glory of God.

Yes, glory through rust-covered nails is possible. Because the nails didn't stay there.

Monday, April 14, 2014

How to offer up your not enough

Jude is one of my greatest joys.

He's 22 months old, super sweet, silly, and a little sneaky. He loves hiding under the covers with Daddy for wild peekaboo games. Loves dragging his green stuffed monkey around the house while chasing hard after his big brothers. He loves to be hugged and squeezed and tickled. Loves to wrestle and climb and run in full delight with all his little legs might.

He is pure and winsome.
Utterly adorable.

I am in LOVE with this little boy.

I love his bubbles-from-the-belly baby giggles. Love the way he grabs my face with two hands and pulls me in for super squishy hugs, cheek pressed to cheek by strong-tiny arms clasped tight around my neck. I love the way his eyes light up when he catches me looking at him just because.

And I love his heart to give.

From half-eaten crackers off the kitchen floor to backyards rocks and weeds, Jude is always trying to give me something.

To him each leaf and stone and squishy tomato is a treasure. He doesn't care if it's broken or rotten. He doesn't know that to others his gift would be overlooked or forgotten. He just wants me to have whatever he has. He wants me to delight in each jewel he's discovered. He wants me to genuinely enjoy each gem he's uncovered.

And I do.

Not because I need another dirty rock or tomato left too long on the vine. But because I delight in Jude. I enjoy what he offers because I enjoy him.

And if that's how I feel as Jude's mama, then certainly that's how God must feel as our Abba.

Sometimes it seems like all I have to offer God are broken bits and inadequate pieces. I wonder what on earth could He possibly do with my messy life, my imperfect words and heart? What meaning could my meager gifts have? What value could my vulnerable offerings bring?

But then I know.

God doesn't need my offerings. He chooses to use them.
I can't give enough. But He chooses to make my not-enough His perfectly-enough.

He didn't need the boy's five loaves and two fish. He didn't need the woman's last drops of oil and handful of flour. The face value of each sacrifice was about as useful as a dried up flower in a broken shovel.

But God turned these willing hearts and humble offerings into glory. 

The people, the things—poor and feeble.  
What God transformed them into—full and perfect.
And all who stood witness and received the tangible blessing in turn understood the fullness of God's power and gave praise for the perfection of His plan.

And today that's what I need to remember.

To trust that God can multiply my meager long as I'm willing to give it.

I'm a mama who looses her temper
I'm a wife who forgets to be grateful.  
But I'm also a woman committed to counting each perfect gift from God,
a woman who's vowing not to let my insecurities and not-enough hang-ups prevent me from offering to Him all that I have and all that I am.

And God will use what I give because He delights in me.

Friday, April 11, 2014

A Letter to God in the Pain

Your goodness is greater than the grief.
     The grief that makes us feel so weak. 

Your strength is greater than the sorrow.
      Sorrow that drains our hope for tomorrow. 

Your love is greater than the loss.
     Searing pain You knowSon hanging on the cross.

Your peace is greater than all the pieces broken.
     Shattered lives, shards of dreams unspoken.

May we know these truths in the face of each unknown.
   Your healing grace please do not postpone. 

May we feel Your presence in the midst of all the mess.
     Please lavish compassion, reveal Your nearness.  

And may we trust You, Lord, with full-surrendered hearts,
because we know Your arms are the only place to fall, 
the only place to start.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Cost of Joy

I rushed through the narrow aisles, navigating my little red cart with professional-shopper precision. Past grandmas stooped over in food label inspection, past mamas wrangling little hands out of frozen treat freezers. This Trader Joes trip needed to be quick.

Just the basics.
Just a few necessities.
Milk, bananas, eggs, and crackers.

My husband was waiting in the car with our three wriggly boys. I think I made record time.

I opened the slider to our silver minivan and slid the brown paper bags under Jude's dangling feet. Chris craned his neck around to tell me the cute thing Elias said while I was gone and caught sight of the small bouquet of flowers peeking out next to the milk.

"What are those for?' he asked.

"For joy," I replied. "$3.99 for joy."

Later after the wriggles were snuggled sound asleep, after the milk and eggs and bananas were all put away, I took hold of those sweet little flowers. Unwrapped the clear plastic, cut the rubber band wound round the stems. Snipped off angled inches of green. Filled the blue fluted vase given to me by a sweet friend with water and then arranged my joy flowers in their new home. Perched on my kitchen window.

The whole week through I gazed at my little glory vase.
Through the dinner making and temper taming.
Through the little hands washing and dishes sloshing.
Through the morning, noon, and night, I took notice of my red, orange, and yellow blossoms, took notice of this beauty-art grown from earth and picked for pleasure.

Took time to give thanks.

$3.99 was all it cost for a whole week's worth of joy.

Oh, the mystery of this lifeblood that costs so little, that costs so much.

Costs a smile, costs a second look.
Costs a moment stilled to breathe in gratitude, breathe out thanks.
Costs "I'm sorry" or "Please forgive me." Costs a whispered breath of "I forgive you, too."
Costs slowing down to take in each gift: the lizard scurrying across the cracked patio, the child throwing his head back in abandoned laughter, cackling out his boyhood call.
Costs saying yes when you're called.

Choosing to be joy-filled can cost so little. Choosing to be joy-less can cost so much.

It can cost you bitterness and bitter envy.
Cost you the comparison game—a game always lost.
Cost you relational atrophy and spiritual amnesia and sink-inside-yourself despair or a whole  host of other sickly diseases caused by failing to look outside yourself.

Little or much, it will always cost you. And it IS always a choice.

A $3.99 bouquet of flowers were not on my Trader Joes food list of necessities. 
But joy IS always necessary for nourishing my soul.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Why I'm a Writer

"The learning often doesn't come until the writing."

She wrote these words almost a year before I read them.

I picture Father Godmiraculously not bound by time or spaceplanting this post in one daughter's heart for the very purpose of encouraging another one many months and miles later. He must have because Sarah Markley's words express exactly how I feel as a writer.

And there is such great hope and affirmation in knowing you're not alone.

When I steal twenty minutes at nap time or stay up way too late into the night to tap out the messy mama moments of my day or the deep stirrings of my soul, it's an exercise in hearing God.

I'm a writer because I love language. I love the way alliterative pairs perfectly punctuate each other. Love simile and metaphor. Love using words to bring an image splayed before my eyes to life or one buried down in my heart to light.

I'm a writer because I love stories. Love epic ones of love and adventure. Love little anecdotes that make my sides split. I love how people, places, and divine circumstances weave together for a beautiful tale that gives glory to the fingerprints of God.

I'm a writer because I love art. Love beauty and creativity. My heart is stirred by the wonders of God's creations, in human and earthen vessels both. I love using the art of words to humbly shine a spotlight on The Light, The Artist who breathes life into all the world through giving art and making His art.

I'm a writer because I love to encourage. Love offering hope and cheering you on. I love assuring you you're not alone on the journey of mama or wife or follower of Christ. And I'm willing to peel back the layers of pretense and posture for the sake of showing you who I really am and Whom I really need.

But most of all, I'm a writer because that's how I learn. I don't sit down at the curb-rescued desk my amazing husband refurbished or plop down on the brick red settee on my back porch to pen a lesson. I write to learn the lesson.

Yes, I learn by listening and reading. I learn by doing and observing and contemplating it all through.

But there's something special about writing. Something about how God made Sarah, how God made me. We're writers. And I don't always know the meaning of that trip to Costco or the significance of that spilled milk until I write about it.

When I'm not writing I'm missing out on some of God's greatest riches.

So I gladly snatch up those last twelve minutes of Jake and the Neverland Pirates or whatever writing moments I can muster, so that I can become more of who God made me—a lean-in-and-learn writer.

*     *     *

So grateful the writers encouragement of Lisa-Jo, too, and the beautiful community of Five Minute Friday writers, who are all aptly writing today on the word: Writer.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

How to Fight Anger with a Robot

It's one of those days where I almost needed round two of Fritos in my laundry room just to make it through.

It's one of those weeks where that area of struggle and sin in my life that I thought I had made so much progress in rears its ugly head again and leaves my heart reeling, too.

I'm struggling with anger.
I'm wrestling with right perspective.
I'm aching to live holy, live fully in the freedom of thanksgiving. In the freedom of Christ-first, me-last service.

I'm falling short.

I'm falling into the jaw-clenching, neck-tensing pattern of trying to control what doesn't need to be controlled. Boys wanting a certain snack or specific bed-time song. Boys laughing and boys shouting and boys stampeding--every sound echoing off every wall. I don't need to control it all. Be burdened by it all.

My desire to control comes out in the shortness of my answers, in the sharpness of my tone. I'm sure my babies can hear it in my long huffy sighs. See it in the way I crack my neck before I crack out a reply.

I'm grumpy and I'm grouchy and it's all a choice I don't have to keep choosing.

Instead of wanting to suppress the boisterousness of boys I could celebrate it.
Instead of cringing over my need for quiet I could join in and make some noise.

We could stomp together. Growl like tigers together. Leap like lions together.
I could model joy by being joyful with them. 

Today, instead of soothing my mama woes with more salty Fritos, I chose to let go and be free. Instead of responding to poor table manners and ugly brother banter with harsh discipline, I chose to redirect with humor.

Mad mommy became Robot Mommy: Food Enforcer!

Soon my crazy, stiff-arm gestures and silly, computerized-voice instructions about chewing food before you speak had us all laughing so hard we could barely stay in our seats.

My mouth was sore from smiling so wide and the ache in my heart had been replaced by one in my side.

It's hard to be angry when you're laughing.