Saturday, December 31, 2011

Where I am at....2011

As I look back at this year a phrase goes round and round in my head "If God put you where you're at, He will meet you where you are." And I think that pretty much sums up 2011 for me. It was a big year for my clan and I. Peanut's first birthday, Rooster's arrival. Another move by my school district, another fit thrown by me, another perfect fit for this time in my life. Christian started his PhD program. I wrote a children's book. 

It was a big year, and most of these were big surprises. And ones I certainly wasn't hoping for but am so glad they happened. I pray I never forget the lessons of this year. That my plans are so small, and God's plans are so great, and so good. That the less time I spend fighting what is to come, the more time I have to see Jesus in all of the impending chaos. That if God put me where I am at, I can trust that I am stepping into his mercy every single time I step out of bed, even when that is multiple times a night.

A couple days after Christmas I was nursing Rooster in the living room where the Peanut's new tri-cycle was resting. (Where else but Grandma's house are tri-cycles allowed in the living room?) I wish I could tell you that I wasn't resenting the fact that I was the only one in the house awake. But I was. I was so tired. And then I thought of fifteen years from now when the thing with wheels that the girls will want under the tree will likely not be there and will certainly not be operated with pedals. I can already here myself saying "Do you remember the year the Peanut got that tri-cycle? She couldn't yet reach the pedals, but she got around well. That was Rooster's first Christmas, she loved that Elephant rattle, we named him Elvis. Those were the days...."'

I am aware that in some respects I am currently living "the days" the ones I will think about every time I see a little girl. That in some respects, 2011 was the beginning of them. I see the wistful look on my dad's face every time he sees a couple of little girls climbing all over their daddy. I will long for these moments, so I best do less whining and more treasuring. And at the same time give myself more grace, and permission to have a good cry sometimes. Because that is where I have found His mercies on more than one occasion.

The biggest regrets I have for 2011 are the moments when I was stingy with my grace, both to myself and to others, especially my family. The truth is, sometimes your best doesn't cut it....But God can cover the rest. If I am nothing else next year....I want to be gracious, to my body as I get back to where most of my clothes fit, to myself as I balance motherhood, teaching, and being a wife, to my husband as he balances all the Lord has for him, to my friends as they heal through the wounds life has inflicted, to my students who are simply teenagers and no one wants to do that again. I want to give grace because the world says it is unnecessary and a waste of time. But I believe it is healing and facilitates the freedom to do better.

I want to do better next year, whine less, treasure more. Let 2012 be the year of grace. God's grace to me...and through me. I can't help but being a little nervous writing that. We all know what Christ-giving brought....

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Mary: Natural Birth Momma?

It is the second year in a row that I am celebrating Christmas having given birth that year. Hopefully third time is not the charm...... It changes my perspective on Christmas for sure. In the past I have always been sort of enamored with the shepherds. They were my favorites. I mean, there they are just minding there own business when BAM the glory of the Lord totally invades their life.I could relate to that. I have been there.

But the whole mother thing. I could never relate to it at all. I remember thinking as a teen, that maybe the Holy Spirit intervened for Mary, that it was a completely painless and peaceful birth. As serene as so many of those carols we sing suggest. Yes, I thought, a miraculous pain free birth, that must have been it.And that was pretty much how I pictured it all. Even after I went through it twice, until I read this. And I suddenly have a very different picture of how it all went down conjuring in my heart.

I picture Mary on hands and knees, panting and grunting. Looking to Joseph and asking him if it will be over soon. Calling to God that in the middle of transition, that He must have been mistaken. She simply cannot bear the Christ child, let alone raise Him. And then the sense of peace that comes (with all those awesome hormones that come rushing your way) as someone pulls Jesus into her arms and she sees that He is in fact okay, she did in fact bear this child just as the Lord called her to do. He is here, He is glorious, and He is hers. I picture Mary naked and sobbing as she buries her face into the top of Jesus' wet pink head. Later when she and her new baby are cleaned up, her and Joseph sit around and giggle about how tiny His little toes are, what a noisy eater He is. When the shepherds come Mary shows off her new baby. So proud of Him and what she managed to do. But her sweetest moments are the ones that first night when Joseph and all the animals are asleep and she pulls Jesus out of the manager just to smell Him. Joseph is a good guy and all but that was an arranged marriage. This is love at first sight.

I am drawn to the comparison of Christs actual birth and the things that Christ births in each of us. Sometimes it is actual things (anybody know what I should do with that kids book I wrote...anyone out there a literary agent?), sometimes relationships, sometimes freedom from things. God wants to birth things in us. I am struck by the stories I have head about birth, how much they sound like people in spiritual labor.

Like my sister who says half way through pushing she decides it is too hard. She hears the people around her telling her to push, that it is almost done, but really she just wants people to leave her alone. She is too tired and does not want to do it anymore so she just lies there instead, when she should be pushing through it. How often do we do this? Get to the end of something God wants us to do and decide it is simply too hard, we cannot go on. So we do nothing, when we would be better off pushing through.

Or the woman who told her husband "You better get your brother out of here because I am about to take all my clothes off!" Sometimes what we need to do makes other people uncomfortable.....and we need to do it anyway, and let people leave the room if they can't handle it. Sometimes what God is asking us to do is lay our naked soul for all to see. And that can get awkward.

Sometimes it is like my cousin, who in the middle of transition she started packing her bags. She told her husband and her midwife she was not having this baby, that they were leaving the hospital. I can certainly relate to this. Sometimes when God calls us to something we simply flee. Jonah did that as I didn't really work out for Him. But I think sometimes I do leave, and then I am stuck spiritually pregnant and uncomfortable because I got scared and ran away.

Sometimes God's plan for us is like a dear friend's birth. She did everything she could but she needed a c-section. It wasn't at all what she pictured, and when she realized it wasn't going to go down as she had imagined she kicked everyone out of the room to grieve. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, what God has for us is nothing like we imagine. I think God understands that we need to grieve the old plans in order to embrace His new ones.

Or in my case, I need people around me who believe that I can give birth. Because even as I am doing it, I holler out that I cannot. I need my brothers and sisters in Christ to remind me that I can in fact and am in fact doing what I am claiming I cannot do.

Birth is messy and can feel confusing. It comes too quickly in some cases and not quickly enough in others (Oh were worth the wait). It never goes how we expect or plan or picture. I don't pretend to know what it was like for Mary, or any woman for that matter. Birth is completely individual and universal all at the same time, just like our relationships with God. It is hard. But oh it is beautiful in all forms. Birth at all, let alone in a stable, is not the most glorious way to show up on this planet. Often the things God births in us come as screaming needy babies, things that need to be nursed and protected.

If I had been asked how I wanted to come into this world, I don't think I would have picked through a birth canal as a baby. And yet, that is exactly the way Jesus came. He chose the birth process, and I am sure it changed Mary forever, just as it has changed me forever. When I think about Mary birthing the Christ child...I can't help wondering what God is asking me to birth this Christmas, and how it will change me.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Confessions of a Grudge Holder

You would think I would have learned my lesson by now. The one about withholding forgiveness do to my skewed sense of justice. The justice that does not hold hands with mercy but instead demands that I get my due right now! The justice that, when I have occasionally gotten it, leaves me vindicated....and hollow inside. Not at all the way I thought I would feel. Because that justice isn't of the Lord and from the Lord. It does not wait for the redeemer to come and paint a beautiful picture out of a fragmented mess. That justice is of the world......and this is not the first time it has seduced my heart.

You see, I am a grudge holder. Part of it comes from my excellent memory. I remember what people promised and did not, said and did not say. I remember. And more often than I care to admit, I hold it against them. And when the Lord calls me to repent, to go to my sister and brother in Christ and confess that my heart has been hard toward them....I tell Him no.

I grew up spending summers at my grandparents lake. There were thirteen cousins when I was young, with ten of us squished in to the span of 10 years. It was fun much of the time, but when there are that many cousins squished that close together, someone is bound to feel left out. And the dynamics were not in my favor. Looking back from an adult perspective I can tell you that much of the time it wasn't anyones fault, and with my propensity for fit throwing I probably deserved some of  those doors that were slammed in my face. But I needed someone to blame. So I picked my cousin Rachel, the one who was born just six months before me. The one who had no need or desire for the close relationship that I longed for.  I hardened my ten year old heart toward her. And as I grew older I did not put away the ways of my childhood. I continued my grudge-holding. 

When I was in college we both were believers and the Lord called me to confess to her, that I had been storing up slights (real and imagined) since I was ten and holding them against her without her knowledge. But I refused. "No," I told him, "she snubbed me she should go first. If she has this relationship with you then she should know how much she hurt me. She should come to me. I deserve that." Typing this now makes me cringe. What a foolish brat I was. Year after year when we were getting together at Christmas or in the summer I would hear the Lord call, and every year I ignored it. I had stopped adding new slights to the pile and figured that was good enough. Even when I knew it wasn't. 

Rachel died in a car accident the summer we were twenty-one. I never did have that conversation with her. I know I shorted myself out of the relationship that God intended for me to have, and it jacked up my relationship with my aunt for awhile. Until I confessed it all to her. She was gracious enough to forgive me. Good thing she isn't a grudge holder.

A month ago I wrote a post about Christ-Giving, about how I wanted to give this advent season the way that Christ had given to me. At the time I was thinking about financial generosity. He has been so generous to our family this year. But that is not what the Lord had in mind, and apparently He takes the intentions I profess to the internet seriously. He gave me forgiveness, and He has been asking me to forgive others, more like He forgives me. You know, no strings attached. And oh is my heart a tangled mess of strings attached it seems.

I was called to let go of a grudge I had been nursing for a long time. Grudges are like stray cats; they only hang around as long as you feed them. And if I am really honest with myself I have been nursing that grudge because I know that the person I was mad at doesn't really understand how badly I was hurt, and likely never will. I only wanted to confess my grudge if that person would then tell me how I had a right to it, and that I was of course forgiven because what they did was in fact as terrible as I had thought. I only wanted to confess if I would be told that my grudge holding had been justified all along. Which, thrown out in plain English like that, isn't much of a confession at all. 

But that wasn't God's plan. Before any interaction with this person my dear neighbor Esther, who speaks truth in a gentle way I hope to one day emulate, had looked at me and said: perhaps the Lord will allow you to restore your relationship. If that wasn't enough, the Lord gave me the exact words to say on Saturday, moved me to tears in worship on Sunday, and then because God knows just how stubborn He made me, had my pastor list the fruit of the spirit, and stick forgiveness where faithfulness belongs. I know my pastor knows the verse, that slip of the tongue was just for me.

And then God showed me something else. That I had been extending grace and mercy in a certain situation only because I expected that person to repent, and repent soon. The string attached to the love I had been so proudly extending to my friend was that she would change on my timeline. And I was frustrated because my time limit had come and gone and outward change. I felt like this person didn't deserve that grace and mercy anymore because they hadn't changed. How gross is that?

Christ has given me forgiveness, no strings attached. Even if I never repented of anything He still would have come to earth as a baby and grown into the man who chose to die a horrendous death for the sins that I committed. And this Christmas season, I want the gifts that my savior has given me to spur me to give to others, even if that doesn't mean what I thought it meant when I wrote it the first time. And the Lord has certainly granted me forgiveness. Even forgiveness for holding grudges; no strings attached.

I don't want to be a grudge holder anymore. The Lord has scrubbed that crevice of my heart clean. It is raw and a little tender to the touch, but that piece of my heart is clean. 

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Let's get physical, physical....

I am lying in bed exhausted. My hands feel as though my thumbs could fall off, my fore arms ache, and my back is asking me why in the world I contorted myself into a c shape for about two hours this evening. My feet aren't happy with me either. The Rooster has had a couple rough nights, and tonight while she wanted to fall asleep around 7:30 or 8, I didn't manage to actually get her truly asleep until about 9:45. I had her asleep three separate times before the fourth one finally took. Lately we have been coming up with "Roosters Rules for Babies" and the first two are: 1. Never ever leave the baby in a room by herself. Ever. Even for a moment. Even if you have to pee. 2. Babies are for holding, pick the baby up whenever possible.

Loving babies is such a physical act. It is even more apparent with my double helping of babydom. Putting on and taking off clothes, and shoes, and jackets. Picking up and putting down. Rocking and swaying and bouncing and walking. Tickling and hugging and kissing and patting. Holding Rooster in one arm while the Peanut grabs my hand and proclaims "walk!" So we go round and round the three rooms and a hallway that connect into a never ending circle of toddler path. And the feeding. Even the one who isn't actually being fed by my body still needs to be put in her seat and sometimes needs help with the spoon.

It is exhausting this physical love, even as I reflect on how it is fleeting. There is only a limited window that I will be able to hold both girls as we head for the car.The Peanut will one day take her own shirt off, rather than pulling it over her head and yelling "tuck, tuck!" (stuck, stuck) and there will come a day when the Rooster will no longer want rocked to sleep.

 I never think about the physicality of love, when I think about love I always think about the confessing of emotions or the listening to someone in pain, the being with someone who is lonely. The emotional burdens bared and shared. But that is not the phase I am in with my children, babies are for holding after all.

And Christ, he came as a baby in a physical body. He needed holding and patting and rocking and changing. This Christmas I have been thinking a lot about the physicality of the incarnation. Christ came in a body that grew just like the two bodies that grew inside of me. He was birthed by a woman in labor just like my own babes. He stubbed his toes often as a toddler and fell every couple of steps when He was learning to walk. And later that body was used to physically touch the people society deemed untouchable. He scooped up babies and stroked the hands of old women. He literally carried burdens for people, firewood or well water.

And then the physicallity of the cross, the brutality inflicted on the body that Christ chose for himself. The willingness of Jesus to endure it all. I am struck this advent season, when I think about Christ coming, by the physicality of Christ's love.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

It's complicated.

I had a hard conversation last night. One of those conversations that you dread getting into and don't feel any better at the end. I felt like I was supposed to speak up, but now I don't know. I could have said some things better, not said some things better. And I find myself thinking about it today. Lucky for me the person that I had the conversation with, we value each other and our relationship more than one awkward conversation that ends in......"well, I'm glad we can be honest with each other." And this person had the grace to email me afterward, just to affirm that this would not change the way we loved each other. Which I appreciate, I needed.

Sometimes friendship is hard, relationships are hard, community is hard. Sometimes you are caught between saying and not, going or not, waiting or not, and there isn't a clear right answer. You can't figure out what the most loving thing to do is. You pray for guidance, but there is still mostly grey, when you are a black and white kind of girl.

You remember the time in the 6th grade when you very sincerely wore your WWJD bracelet, and looked down at it, and contemplated the ramifications of inviting the girl who no one had talked to your entire elementary school career to hang out with you at lunch....and then play with you at recess. You were sort of on the edges of the crowd as it was and you know you are risking a very uncomfortable rest of the year if this goes poorly. But at least that was clear. At least there was a very clear biblical precedent of Jesus inviting the outcast to eat with Him. Jesus would invite this girl. Clearly. So you did, and it worked out.

But right now there are a whole host of things that you don't know how to respond to. You no longer have the bracelet, but asking the questions embroidered onto it leaves you with a new acronym sixth graders have been using, IDK. You don't know what Jesus would do. As much as people like to pretend that the behavior of Jesus was completely consistent; that all we have to do is follow a set of rules that are clearly laid out in the Bible, you've actually read that book and it isn't so clear. Jesus responded differently to what seem like the same set of circumstances. And you are neither omniscient nor omnipotent and you don't want to pretend that you are.

There is just so much grey lately, and you aren't very good at grey. You just want to do the loving thing......and are afraid of unintentionally doing a very unloving thing in the name of doing a loving thing because you did in fact do the wrong thing in the name of love. And it is all as confusing and jumbled up as that last sentence. You realize that there are times that you will in fact do the exact wrong thing. But that the grace and love that you are trying to extend to others is also extended to yourself. So you rest in the knowledge that that grace is enough, even as you stumble through the grey patches.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

What I did this weekend.

Today I am scared. I feel like I am going to throw up. But also, I am proud of myself. I finished my book this weekend. Not that book, the one that has been hanging over my head for four years. Instead I finished the children's book that God laid on my heart a month or so ago. The one God was talking about when He spoke to me as I was looking at myself in the mirror brushing my teeth. "I gave you the kids book because you are afraid of the other book. So finish it, and give it to me and I will prove to you what I can do." I suppose I shouldn't need proof from God that He can provide all my wants and needs. Just look at my great little family.

But stuff I create somehow feels different.It is hard for me to value my own writing. I am not even sure why, I mean, you people read this thing after all! (Thank you for that, I really do feel privileged.) The self doubt screams at me, "Who do you think you are anyway?" I didn't have an answer for that. Until I read this. And the answer is so simple.Who cares about who I am, this isn't about me. This is about not who I am. This is about THE I am, and my obedience to Him. And this weekend (because Christian took the kids, thank you!) I was obedient. I wrote a book that the Lord had laid on my heart. I don't know what He is going to do with it. I am terrified of the rejection I may have set myself up for. But I did it. This weekend, I was faithful. And I need to trust that the God who has always been faithful to me in everything will also be faithful in this. But I still kind of want to puke.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Oh the death spiral.....

The Rooster is sleeping upstairs. The Peanut is at Elizabeth's sleeping in her toddler bed, (her toddler bed! I know...I don't want to talk about it!) and I am sitting on the couch in my silent living room feeling like a bad mom, a bad friend, a bad writer and wife..... I guess bad is not the right word. More like.....not enough. I am feeling like I am not good enough. And I know that I am not enough, but that through the grace of Jesus Christ He makes me enough, more than enough. But right now in this moment I don't feel like that. I feel like I don't cut it.

I suppose I should recognize the pattern in my life. I have been believing some lies about my body lately. Lies about what is\t should look like two months post partum. And so I skimp on the food for the day, not a lot. Just enough to be a little bit hungry. And by not feeding my body I am feeding this lie. That my body is not good enough. And that pretty quickly bleeds into how I am not good enough. At anything, because my kid is not with me, because my house is not clean, because I don't write in this or anything else enough, because...because....because. My sister calls it the death spiral.

I know you know what I am talking about. A post baby body becomes "my body isn't good enough" becomes "My kids are crying because I am not a good enough mother" becomes "my house becomes evidence of my inability I can't even get the toys off the floor" becomes "I am not a good enough wife" becomes you crying in a heap on the couch. Because I fed the lie. The first one. And I have learned that the only way to combat those lies is with truth. It is the only way to stop the death spiral. Because truth brings life just as lies bring death.

The truth is that I am good enough. That God has empowered me to be what my family needs for me.....He gave me them, He knew what He was doing. The truth is my house is a mess.....and my friends don't really care. They get that two kids under two means chaos reigns, and they respect my choice to let the Peanut take all the pans and spoons out of the kitchen drawers while I make dinner so that we can all be in the kitchen happy. They are perfectly happy to trip over those pans. The truth is that my worth resides in not the happiness of my kids, the cleanliness of my house, or even the quality of my words and whether anyone is impressed with them. My worth resides in Jesus Christ, what He did for me on the cross. My savior thinks I am enough, perfect in His abundance. And when you start spouting that, the death spiral has nowhere to go but up.