Another Word About the Ordinary

It’s been about ten months since my last post. Things have happened. The winds of change came barreling through like a tornado, leveling life as we knew it. We welcomed our fourth baby boy into the world at the end of August and the new baby fog has dropped a thick blanket of exhaustion, chaos, and monotony over our days. No longer free to simply pick up and go with the kids wherever weather and desire lead us, we are once more grounded in the newborn neediness. One month in and it still feels like I’m nursing an over-excited hamster. The gnawing… oh sweet Jesus, HELP. 

We have also made the switch back to homeschooling, which means we are all together, all the time. A first grader, preschooler, toddler, and a fresh-out infant. All boys, every minute of every day. The thoughts of all that I can’t do and be right now feel heavy. And that heaviness tends to give entrance to a number of convincing lies. Sandwiched in between the harsh whispers of “failure” are others that fuel the frenzy of self-doubt and what I perceive myself to be lacking.

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When the previous day rolls into the next without any sort of delineation (because infants view  nighttime sleep as merely optional), and dawn finally sets about permeating the darkness with strokes of color, I release a paradoxical sigh- relief that the sun has made its journey back around to bring salvation from the night, but also the awareness of another day of mothering the countless needs and developing hearts of four young boys. The daily work of mothering often appears so very unexceptional and ordinary in its redundant tasks, and so to view motherhood as somewhat cumbersome feels a whole lot easier than to embrace the journey as a treasure trove of opportunity, surprise, and delight.  

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But I wonder why we so routinely twist our perception of ordinary life into a thing of worthlessness; that it is somehow not enough, unfulfilling, or less important than the fewer shiny, flashier moments. Most of life IS the ordinary stuff. If I settle for the belief that raising and educating my children is somehow a lesser journey, that I could have been and done so much more had I chosen something other than them, then I’ve missed it. I’ve missed the reward, the growth, the joy, everything.  The struggle to raise good men will always look like struggle and never a display of God’s infinite glory, mercy, and grace. I will only ever see fallible humans failing instead of image-bearers of Christ being molded into His likeness in the day-to-day. 

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, an eighteenth century German poet, gifted us with this bit of wisdom: 

Cease endlessly striving to do what you want to do and learn to love what must be done.”

Instead of seeing a task, see purpose. Instead of simply pushing through, determine if there is a weakness that can be strengthened or a lesson learned- because therein lies the transformation. The beauty of ordinary life will begin to reveal itself as our perception of the ordinariness changes from one of worthlessness to accepting what’s actually true- that the ordinary transforms. Identifying purpose in the mundane unveils its worth.

So what does that look like? A recent example happened to me just minutes ago as I was typing these words. The baby, who had been sleeping, began to fuss. My initial reaction was to feel resentment toward fussy baby for interrupting my typing. Because instead of sitting comfortably on the couch typing about embracing the ordinary, I actually had to go live it out by calming a crying infant and putting him back to sleep, which could have taken who KNOWS how long. But I stopped my eyes from rolling and immediately put that feeling of resentment on hold, went to him, and pulled him in close to my chest. Nuzzling the top of his warm, fuzzy head I began to breathe in his sweet baby scent. And as I settled into  the quiet, ordinary moment of lulling him to sleep once more, I felt a deep sense of wonder at the gift I had been given in caring for this tiny, fragile human, and my heart was filled with the sweetest joy. I was able to experience a holy moment of genuine gratitude because this time I had chosen to love what must be done. I recognized purpose instead of a task- loving my child, not quieting an interruption.

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The Summer Day

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver

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Most of us don’t have time or opportunity to spend our days strolling through fields and observing the eating habits of grasshoppers, but I think the reminder for us all in this poem is to pay attention. Pay attention to the details, the minutiae, the bit parts in our daily story that reveal pieces of God and His mysterious, limitless grace. When we busy ourselves with the goal of discovering grace and beauty in the ordinary things, there is no longer space or time to accept the ordinary as anything less than extraordinary. God’s faithfulness and redemptive, shaping work in our lives- among our chores, responsibilities, obligations, reactions, interactions, and attitudes- is nothing short of miraculous. Every single day we are living out a miracle orchestrated by the hand of God. If we were to see the whole story from start to finish, the gradual influence of the everyday moments would become crystal clear and we would be awestruck by the confluence of these millions of tiny moments shaping within us something so grand.

So then:

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118L24, NIV)

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A final word from artist and author Ruth Chou Simmons:

“When we believe the Giver of every ordinary moment in our every day is the faithful God who is trustworthy for each next step we take in our daily lives, we have reason to rejoice in the gift of another day. “Let us rejoice and be glad in it” isn’t a grit-your-teeth-and-obey imperative; it is a response to the preceding truth that this is the day the Lord has made. The Lord is the author of this day you and I get to live. We become joyful and glad about this day- today- as we take our eyes off of what we must do and behold the One who created us to do it in the first place.”  (excerpt from Beholding and Becoming: The Art of Everyday Worship)

Peace & Love, Amy

 

Where the Light Breaks Through

When Jesus entered this world as a tiny, fragile infant, vulnerable and needy- as we all are- it was in the most inglorious of ways. A barn. Noisy animals. Smelly dung. And Mary labored like all the rest of humanity’s women- agonizing pain, sweaty, blood flowing, and the placenta… WHERE DID THE PLACENTA GO?

I have so many questions.

Did Joseph sterilize the instrument he used to cut the umbilical cord? If so, how? Or maybe young teenage Mary did it herself? Because there’s a good chance Joseph was feeling a bit queasy. I bet Jesus latched easily, though. The silver lining perhaps? And what about her first bowel movement after delivery without the softening grace of Colace? I sincerely hope the Lord had mercy on her post-partum body because it’s almost a sure fact there were no frozen icy pads to assuage the burn. Also, riding approximately 100 miles cross-country on the back of a donkey at nine months pregnant? There isn’t a NO big enough to express my feelings about that.

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If there’s one thing I know, it’s that God built a woman’s body to endure, adapt, and persevere. Amen.

This is the first year that I’ve read the story of Jesus’ birth and attempted to put myself within the experience, tried to place myself in Mary’s sandals, and ponder the missing details. I have found that by trying to empathize with Mary’s experience, the whole of the story has deepened its significance within my own heart and personalized it in such a way that she now feels more like an intimate friend than a distant, historical figure. I love that.

Oh Mary, how your heart must have burned when the angel first appeared to you! The questions that must have swirled in your mind as you stood and faced such holy Light! What did your spirit sense as the angel’s words were spoken? Did you have to swallow back your disbelief?

’I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.’” (Luke 1:38, NIV)

That is all we know of Mary’s thoughts and feelings about being impregnated by the God of all creation while still a virgin. Hmm. Some details are… missing. This verse doesn’t seem to fully encapsulate the situation. Luke’s Gospel account of this meeting seems far too nonchalant.

Perhaps the mystery is purposeful? Or maybe it’s simply that the tradition of oral storytelling left room only for the most obvious facts. Whatever the case may be, the opportunity for inference allows for a richness of thought and contemplation.

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What were Mary’s hopes and dreams before that visitation? Undoubtedly, she was preparing for a much different future. What a seismic shift that must have taken place in her heart and mind upon receiving the news that she would be carrying God’s Son! Who can even fathom such feelings? And what if Mary had said no? What if Mary had run through the litany of personal issues this would cause her as the angel stood before her? The discomfort. The questions. The comments and stares of others, knowing she was not yet married. And what would her fiancé Joseph think?

But she didn’t say no. She accepted it. ALL of it. This young teenage girl.

Further along in the story, when Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth, we finally discover more of Mary’s feelings regarding her new situation.

“And Mary said,
I’m bursting with God-news;
     I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
     I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
     the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
     on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
     scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
     pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
     the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
     he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It’s exactly what he promised,
     beginning with Abraham and right up to now.” (Luke 1:46-55, MSG)

She knows only of the future promise, yet her joy is unfettered. She trusts wholeheartedly in what is to come while still living in the present. And she rejoices over it! When the light broke through, she embraced it.

And oh what Love that followed her faith and willing spirit! She became the vessel for all of creation’s Saving Grace! This simple, humble teenage girl who chose the hard and unorthodox rather than the expected and conventional.

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Has the Light ever broken through and interrupted your story? Thrown off your path’s trajectory? Changed the course of your life? Did you face the Light and accept what was being offered to you? Or did you hide your face and wait for the opportunity to pass by because it seemed too impossible?

Two and a half years into our marriage, my husband and I were teetering on the edge of a cliff. We had separated for a time and I was staying at my parent’s house. I clearly remember sitting on the bed in my old bedroom, picking up the phone in one hand to call the lawyer to discuss a potential divorce, and then as I turned, my eyes stopped at my guitar case sitting on the floor. I hadn’t played my guitar or even picked it up since I had gotten married, but I had brought it back to my parents’ house with me. I set the phone down, picked the guitar up out of its case, and began to play an old worship song. Only the Holy Spirit knows why I chose the guitar over the phone call in that moment, but I‘m so grateful I did.

Because that is where the Light broke through. In between my heaving sobs and shaky, gasping prayers.

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I was offered the strength to persevere, the courage to hold steadfastly to the covenant promise of marriage we had made, the peace to overcome my anxiety… or to continue on with my present course toward divorce. Was I willing to do the hard work? To finally commit to my husband with the fullness of my heart rather than dish out ultimatums created in the shallow end of conditional love? I knew deep down that if I gave up then, I would never be able to trust my commitment to anyone else in the future.

I chose to embrace the Light. Thank God my husband did the same. And as painful as our journey has been together at times, I know now that he is my one and only. It was always him. We are just two very imperfect people trying to mesh as one. And sometimes it’s an absolute mess. But that’s us. And Grace meets us in the midst of it every time. So here we are- living, loving, forgiving, and raising our babies to do the same.

The Light is hope and it is hard. It promises beauty and grace but requires a spirit that is willing to labor for the future reward. Wherever the Light breaks through in your story, consider Mary’s heart and narrative as you make your choice.

May the peace of Christ cover you as you journey on through this season of advent.

Peace & Love, Amy

From Homeschool to Public School

The title is a bit deceiving because it makes me sound like I’m a seasoned homeschooler. I’m not. It *technically* lasted a whole five weeks. However, the hours I spent reading and researching would probably add up to a solid half decade… minus almost five years. Well regardless, here’s the story:

This journey began while my oldest son was attending pre-k last year. I was floundering about what would come next. There were so many options to consider! Public school, charter school, private school, magnet school, homeschool, co-op… We visited a number of places, but none of them brought the “aha!” moment. Until I visited our local public elementary school.

I have fears about public schooling. Much of them stem from my own lack of experience with it as a student, but my personal experience with it as a teacher. Yes, I am a former high school teacher. And it rocked my precious, naïve world. Also, the media is great about highlighting the worst possible stories related to public education. But while I was touring the building of this elementary school during an open house last spring, a former college friend greeted me in the hallway. It just so happened that she was a kindergarten teacher there. She also happens to be a genuine, compassionate, energetic, and kind person.

She would care about my son. And he could be in her class! That was all it took.

I gathered all the enrollment forms, went home, sat on the couch, and cried tears of gratitude for the grace that God had shown me through that “chance” encounter.  I turned in the papers the next day and felt total peace.

Fast forward to this past July. I began to waver and doubt.

Above all I have always desired that my children would love to learn, that they would understand that all of life is learning. Classroom walls do not determine the sum total of their education, and experience truly is the best teacher. I wanted them to have EXPERIENCES, not a desk and chair to sit in. I didn’t want them to become cogs in the wheels of an enormous, broken educational system.

The idea of homeschooling began pulling at me. So I started reading- articles, blogs, books… all the things. Through my research I discovered the idea of “unschooling,” which was immensely intriguing and seemed to be the exact answer I was looking for. (For a basic understanding of this educational philosophy go here.) I wanted my kids to be free to learn as naturally as possible, to let their own curiosity and interests guide their education without being hindered by traditional structures, labels, rules, homework, and standardized testing. (I despise standardized testing with all of my heart. Let that be known.)

I thought that more time together instead of wasting it in school was the solution for our family unit to become strong and cohesive; that by being with each other all of the time and learning together our love for each other would sink down deeper and stretch out wider.

Well, in theory this should be true. In practice, though, it didn’t quite feel that way.

I came to a few realizations after living out the summer months and the first few weeks of the official school year as a homeschooling mom:

  • I’m not as into this as I thought I was.
  • I should be planning things and I’m not.
  • My kid is bored and desperate for friends.
  • I am an introvert and cringe at the thought of meeting new people.
  • This is bad for a homeschooling family.
  • I am going to be raising socially stunted, awkward weirdos if we keep this up.
  • Something has to change.

And so I began trying to face my own personal discomfort and fears by taking them to attend social gatherings of other homeschooling families, becoming part of online communities, searching for a tribe to call our own.  It was utterly exhausting. It felt mostly futile since my kids refused to interact with the other kids, which defeated the purpose. I felt imprisoned by my own expectations, knowing that I was not doing this right or well, but believing that this was still the best thing for my kids anyway. I will get better at this eventually, right? That’s what I kept repeating to myself.

Until last Friday when I was attempting to actually do a thing with him by practicing some sight words and he was not having it. He looked at me with those enormous sea-blue eyes and sighed, “Mom, I just want to have friends. Not just you and baby Isaac. I want to go to school and have friends.”

There is something I know about my son. And that is that he cannot just be thrown into random situations and make friends. He needs consistent time and interaction with a variety of kids in a familiar setting in order for something to finally click- in order to find his person or people. Now, I understand this can be found within homeschooling communities and co-ops in much the same way. The problem was that we still hadn’t found one AND they all cost a chunk of money that we don’t have right now. So that possibility wasn’t going to be in the cards for us for a while, but we needed something NOW.

He is also very curious and inquisitive and thrives on mental stimulation. He was getting very little of that at home because I lacked preparation and structure. Deep down I could feel something was not healthy about our situation.

So after my son made that statement I looked him in the eye and asked him if he really wanted to go to the elementary school. I repeated that same question three or four times before we left the house to go re-enroll him. Each time he said yes, this is what he wanted, that he was ready. So I said okay. He asked if he would be able to have the same teacher that he was going to have when I first enrolled him. I told him probably not, but I would ask and see if it was possible. So I sent a quick message to her letting her know what we had decided and asked if it was possible for him to still be in her class. She responded almost immediately that she would make it happen. And she did.

God’s grace continued to flow.

We put down the sight words, got our shoes on, drove down the street to the elementary school, walked into the building, and there at the front desk stood his new teacher, waiting for us. I had no idea she would be there. With a big smile on her face we hugged and I whispered thank you. She assured me this was good- it was so good.

Grace upon grace.

As soon as we were done and walked out the door, however, old best friends Fear and Anxiety came to crash the party. How could this possibly be the right decision? How? WHAT DID I JUST DO? And as we drove home I began to think and analyze and over-think.

I felt grief for the loss of a dream, fear of the unknown, worry that the sibling relationships would break down, anxiety that I would “lose” my son, and frustrated at the loss of control I now faced. I was overwhelmed, but still I was determined to listen to my son’s needs and at least let him try this new thing.

We can always take him back out was the thought that I clung to.

A few hours later we went to pick up Isaiah from preschool and were driving home. The song “No Longer Slaves” was playing and from the backseat I could hear Silas belting out the words at the top of his lungs: “I’m no longer a slave to fear! I am a child of God. I’m no longer a slave to fear! I am a child of God.”  That’s when I started to pray.

“Lord, I pray that he would be a light-bearer…”

Wait. What? That’s not language I would normally think to use. So in that moment I understood immediately that God had given me these words to speak and pray over Silas.

“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16, MSG)

Aha, God. I see what you did there. So now what are You up to…? A few fuzzy details were beginning to take shape. Silas knows love, and he knows God. He is going to be used to share both with the kids at this school who know neither.

Oh God, but what if he gets lost, trapped, bullied, lonely, sad, angry, confused, misunderstood, forgotten…?

And God’s reminder of what’s true shook me: “He is not yours to keep. He is not yours to hold on to. He is my child FIRST and I love him more than you do.”

*Cue the ugly silent cry and dripping tears.*

I have to surrender control of my child and the micromanaging of his discomfort. He needs to experience hard things, painful things, and sad things in order to grow in grace, courage, hope, and compassion. God has purposed him to bear light and love. He cannot fully understand the hope and joy of this Light without confronting darkness. So I must let him go do it. Without me.

But Lord, can’t I just stand in the back of the room? Sit behind the bushes during recess? Hide under a table at lunch time? I was getting desperate.

“Nope. Let him go.”

I am being forced to face my fears and trust that God can and will take care of my son. I have to start releasing him to take walks in the wild without holding my hand.

An aside: I must also now give up the convenience of living outside the system and its rules. This is hard. I like convenience. I do not like rules.

Growing pains hurt really, really bad.

To a lot of people (and even to myself at first), this decision might not make sense, especially since we are blessed to even HAVE the option to homeschool because my husband works extremely hard to provide. So why, then? Because God doesn’t often make sense. He works and moves inside AND outside of our boxes, often thwarting our best-laid plans for His better one. Maybe the type of education I desired for him was, in fact, NOT the kind of education he needed in order to do whatever it is that God has purposed him to do.

We are five days in now and I can say with total certainty that this was the right decision. He is clearly a happier, more engaged child. I am clearly a happier, more engaged mother. Everybody is winning. (Except baby Isaac in the after school pick-up line. Wah.) He comes out of the building smiling every single day, always talking about something new he has done. This child thrives on structure and routine. It was obvious that at home he was wilting. No longer. It brings me great joy to see his love of learning expanding and growing.

God is faithful.

“I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 42:16, NIV)

Satan is aware of all of my fears concerning this new journey. He is aware of how powerful a mother’s desire to protect can be. It can cripple the life and spirit of a child. So as I pray for my son, I pray also that fear would not distract me from the good that is happening; that I would not allow fear to dictate my actions or reactions; that with each new day I would choose surrender instead of control.

And dear God, PLEASE bestow an extra measure of patience upon his teacher to handle all of my initial crazy. She truly is a gift.

If God can strengthen a small young boy to slay a giant and save an entire nation of people (1 Samuel 17), God can strengthen my son to walk the halls of kindergarten and beyond.

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There is a candle in every soul
Some brightly burning, some dark and cold
There is a Spirit who brings fire
Ignites a candle and makes His home

Carry your candle, run to the darkness
Seek out the hopeless, confused and torn
Hold out your candle for all to see it
Take your candle, and go light your world
Take your candle, and go light your world

(Chris Tomlin, from “Go Light Your World”)

Go light your world, sweet boy. You are infinitely loved.

Peace & Love, Amy

Perfectly Imperfect

I spend far too much time bemoaning my failures as a wife, mother, and overall human being. There exists this veil between my heart and God’s- self-imposed, of course- that separates me from His infinitely deep and wide well of joy. I look at all the ways I get it wrong, do it wrong, say it wrong, live it wrong- clawing at the veil in vain attempts to see more than just my own mess. I waste a fair amount of effort begging God to take away the failing parts, to improve them, reshape them, turn me into that other, better thing.

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Because then I would be able to rip off the veil, see Him clearly, and do everything right. I mean, being perfect and living perfectly would have some significant advantages, right? That would make our relationship strong and healthy- not needing God to help me with anything anymore or having to bother Him about giving me grace and all that- just coolly hanging out together on His level of utter perfection.

Or maybe I just need to light a match and set my arrogance on fire.

As he moved on, Jesus saw a man named Matthew at his post where taxes were collected. He said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Matthew got up and followed him. Now it happened that, while Jesus was at table in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and those known as sinners came to join Jesus and his disciples at dinner. The Pharisees saw this and complained to his disciples, ‘What reason can the Teacher have for eating with tax collectors and those who disregard the law?’ Overhearing their remark, he said, ‘People who are in good health do not need a doctor; sick people do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, “It is mercy I desire and not sacrifice.” I have not come to call the self-righteous but sinners.’” (Matthew 9:9-13)

He came for the weary and frustrated me. The yelling-angrily-at-my-kids me. The compassionless me. The ungrateful and childish me. The despairing and tearful me. The willful and controlling me. All of the things that I am- the good, bad, and ugly- He wants to sit at the table with all of them.

What a guy.

The very purpose of Christ coming to earth, dying, and coming back to life was for us to finally be able to escape the burden of laws and rules and the pursuit of moral perfection, and live life immersed in a new kind of freedom. We were set free from the Law and invited into relationship instead. We are perfected through our imperfections– by experiencing God’s grace filling in the cavernous failures with His endless forgiveness and love, and ACCEPTING IT without assuming there’s a caveat. Because there isn’t. That is sanctification and it is so, so beautiful.

Now, dear brothers and sisters—you who are familiar with the law—don’t you know that the law applies only while a person is living? For example, when a woman marries, the law binds her to her husband as long as he is alive. But if he dies, the laws of marriage no longer apply to her. So while her husband is alive, she would be committing adultery if she married another man. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law and does not commit adultery when she remarries.

So, my dear brothers and sisters, this is the point: You died to the power of the law when you died with Christ. And now you are united with the one who was raised from the dead. As a result, we can produce a harvest of good deeds for God. When we were controlled by our old nature, sinful desires were at work within us, and the law aroused these evil desires that produced a harvest of sinful deeds, resulting in death. But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit.” (Romans 7:1-6, NLT)

“…the new way of living in the Spirit.” The way of mercy, grace, forgiveness, and love.

The veil between humanity and God was torn the moment after Jesus released his final ragged breath on the cross and surrendered his spirit to Death. I, however, have worked hard stitching my own personalized version to take its place in my own heart. Deep down I still fight the lie that tells me I’m supposed to do something more to deserve God’s love and grace; that I am required to “repay” Him in some way by way of deeds that I do or my level of morality. Even though I know in my spirit that’s not true, I still live as if it is.

I find it difficult to accept a gift or act of service from anyone at face value. I’m forever suspicious of an underlying motive. If someone gives me a gift for no particular reason or does something nice for me, I usually feel obligated to repay them in some way, negating the spirit of the initial gift. But a gift is called such because it is free and comes without strings attached.

God’s grace is a gift. It is the active expression of His love for us. There really are no strings attached.

And His grace is best taught and demonstrated through our failures- to our kids most especially. If you are like me and cry yourself to sleep too many nights because of the way you parented that day, because you can’t seem to control your frustration and the way you speak to your children at times, breathe in because there is grace enough for us, too. This is a weak spot of mine where I feel most defeated by Satan. I am distracted from pouring the Gospel of Love into my children because I am too busy yelling at them instead, and then later crawling in my dark hole of shame. Regret ends up overshadowing joy most days.

We are told often, and with good intentions of course, that we are not failing at this or that, or that we are not failures as people. Wrong. We are. We are all total failures. Jesus’ death and resurrection would have served no purpose if that weren’t the case. But the JOY comes in knowing that it is through our failures that we are made holy and perfect in the eyes of God. Without the broken bits and pieces there would be no cracks for grace to flow through.

Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life… It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage. Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: ‘You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything, do not perform anything, do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted.’ If that happens to us, we experience grace.” (Paul Tillich, The Shaking of the Foundations)

The joy gets lost in my failed attempts at trying harder, doing better, and attempting to become “my best self.” (*throwing up on a pile of self-help books*) I am not the answer to my problems and mistakes. The answer to any and all failure is Jesus.

Rich Mullins was a very successful Christian singer and songwriter who produced many classic contemporary Christian hits from the 90’s. He was also an alcoholic, struggled with substance abuse, and suffered from mental illness. He was intimately aware of his imperfections and desperate need for God’s grace.

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I would rather live on the verge of falling and let my security be in the all sufficiency of the grace of God than to live in some kind of pietistic illusion of moral excellence. Not that I don’t want to be morally excellent but my faith isn’t in the idea that I am more moral than anyone else. My faith is the idea that God and His love are greater than any of the sins we commit.” (Rich Mullins, Pursuit of a Legacy video)

And therein lies our hope- that experiencing Grace has absolutely nothing to do with what we do. It is through the very imperfections we may be begging God to fix that His love and grace are able to be most intimately understood- and an intimate understanding of God’s love and grace is the sustenance for a deepening relationship with Him. God’s power is most clearly demonstrated through us in the midst of our weaknesses. This is the place of genuine transformation.

But even if, for some reason, this transformation alludes me and I find myself still battling this same angry thorn in my flesh twenty years from now, His love will remain steadfast, His mercy unending, His forgiveness infinite, and His grace boundless.

“The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.” (Psalm 51:17, NLT)

Thank you, Jesus.

Peace & Love, Amy

The Garden Heart

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Some of you may be openly weeping at the devastation pictured above. Feel free to grab a tissue if needed. Yes, this is indeed my garden. Or was, rather. Clearly I didn’t care much for common sense gardening this year… or even basic upkeep.

That is one depressing cucumber plant.

When I took notice of the state of my garden this morning, an uncomfortable feeling washed over me- a realization of something even closer to home than my own backyard: that this mess of weeds, vines, and decaying vegetables was mirroring the current state of my heart. Right now. Today.

This garden tragedy looks how my heart feels.

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Jesus, help.

Living things will deteriorate when care is not taken to maintain them- most especially the human heart. Distractions keep us from noticing the gradual withering. Oh the distractions! But when did everything become so twisted and gnarled and dry? It’s difficult to pinpoint. There is no one particular moment- only a slow and steady trickle of life dripping out into the world’s abyss.

Soon enough, though, life begins to feel harder and harder to manage and we don’t understand why. We don’t recognize that we are dying. All of our heart reserves have been emptied and poured out, the point at which we are attached to our Life Source vine is beginning to crack and separate from the vine because the pathway becomes obstructed by all of life’s worries, tasks, and diversions. We become weary and tired, crawling through our days. Every issue, monumental or minuscule, begins to weigh on us like an impossible burden.

Where did the hope go? Where is the joy? What happened to love?

Jesus had something to say about this.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15:1-17, NIV)

Try to sit with these verses for a minute. How much of what you do is you and how much of it is God at work through you? Where do you source your energy each day?

Set the coffee down, Linda. What else?

One of my problems is that I launch myself into the day with personal promises to be kinder and gentler and more patient. Today is a new day, I say to myself. I can do this! I am my own source of strength… until suddenly one interaction bursts into flames and spirals into more chaos, which then leads to the whole day feeling lost because my kids are acting the worst- but only because I am, too.

Mama can totally bring the drama llama, unfortunately.

Other stresses of life present themselves, too. Decisions are made without so much as a nod in God’s direction – which is everywhere- so basically we look down at our toes and say “we know what we’re doing” or “this feels right.” These thoughts have sometimes actually been enough to seal the deal on big decisions. Sad.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Pass the dynamite, please and thank you. I need to blow this pathway obstruction to hell. I am dying.

My garden may be beyond saving this year, but my heart certainly is not. “You did not choose me, but I chose you…” said the Son of God, Master of the universe.

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He chose the eleven apostles. He chose me. He chose you. Do you realize what this means? HE CARES ABOUT US. My shriveled up heart. Your broken one. I want a garden heart that grows wild and free and full of fruit. To have this I must “remain in Him,” which means receiving that which He passes through vine to branch: love. I must first receive His love, accept it, bask in it, grow in it, then bear the fruit of it and share it with others.

Accept His love and grow- that’s the Gardener’s gift to all of us. And as He shapes and prunes, we need only remain in His love through the pain, sacrifices, grief, and struggles. It’s the kind of love that calls us by name. A love that would leave the flock of ninety-nine other sheep to go find the one who is lost. And once we recognize this Voice of Love within the deepest recesses of our hearts, nothing else will do. No one else will satisfy.

“3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” (John 10:3-5, NIV)

It’s not the stranger’s voice that leads to life. The stranger’s voice pushes us to distraction, working every possible angle to keep us from hearing the only Voice that wants to draw us into perfect, unconditional love. The stranger could care less about us.

But how do we recognize the Voice of Love?

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails…” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

It’s the One that draws us to truth, to hope, to life- in all things.

I am going to challenge myself to find a few moments each day over the next week to sit, invite God to sit with me, and be still- perhaps think about a scripture verse that feels significant in that moment and dwell on it. Feel free to join me in this simple challenge and share what results from your experience if you’d like.

I’m ready for my withered garden heart to be revived.

Peace & Love, Amy

 

 

A Big Life

Sometimes I get a crazy dream wedged into the channels of my cracked mom-brain. Most recently I watched a documentary on Netflix about the Ketogenic Diet. I finally got tired of hearing too many people talk about it and me not knowing what it was, so I decided to educate myself a bit. Well, this of course led to the realization that we just had to buy a farm and raise our own livestock and grow our own food. It’s the only way to truly LIVE, I argued with myself. I think at one point I even got mad at my husband without telling him, simply because I knew he would never get on board with my grand vision. Poor guy. I can be a bit much at times.

So since I knew we wouldn’t become farmers anytime soon (or ever), I began thinking about things I could do around my current space to grow a smaller version of this dream. Maybe a chicken coop? I mean, we have a decent-sized yard. A cow could totally fit back there, I bet. Section off a large portion on the side of the deck for three or four raised garden boxes surrounded by gravel walkways and properly fenced to keep out the creatures? Beautiful! Yes!

Wait.

I currently have one raised garden box. I planted six things in it. So the one wilted tomato plant and solitary thriving cucumber plant may not be the best indicators of future success… unless all I grow are fields of cucumbers. I do like cucumbers.

Final conclusion: maybe I shouldn’t be responsible for an entire farm. Or animals that will depend on me to live.

Ugh. Another dream is dead. MY LIFE IS SO SMALL, I fume. Everyone else can raise cattle, become CEOs, travel the world, get PhD’s, and live these fantastical lives of adventure doing really big, important things. I’m a stay-at-home mom to three small boys. What am I even accomplishing in life? I should be working! Travelling the globe! Going back to school! Volunteering at all the places! Making my mark on the world!

I can’t know the whole of my future or what I will do years down the road, but one thing I do know for certain: I already have made my mark on the world… in the form of three young babes who call me mom. (Well I guess technically the baby doesn’t yet, but I’m bound to hear him screaming it soon, too.) And the reality is that the lives of my sons are creating a ripple effect that will ultimately produce waves throughout forthcoming generations of history. How I raise them matters. What I teach them matters. Because what they go out and do unto others will matter in the future of humanity.

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So yes, my life IS big. It IS significant and meaningful. The problem isn’t my life. The problem is the way in which I view my life. Oddly enough, my definition of “big” is actually very small when I take a second to consider it. In essence, I reduce people’s entire lives to an idealistic- most likely completely fictitious- notion about their profession or hobby. Social media is the absolute worst (or should I say best?) at narrowing my field of vision.

I need to remind myself of the truth. Often.

Here is what I am learning: Living a “big life” most often means cultivating a heart brimming with wonder and gratitude; constantly asking yourself how and why and what about the world you are already standing in, and being grateful for all the bits and pieces that form it. It is a life that is moving, learning, and evolving, growing, stretching and becoming. Becoming what? Something new. Or something renewed.

I habitually clutter my heart and mind with tasks and things and negativity. And what become visible to me, then, are only those. I fail to experience the fullness and splendor of the actual life that surrounds me, the one that I am living – the bright eyes of my children, insatiable curiosity, nonsensical laughter, bear hugs and wet baby kisses, bedtime prayers and God questions too big for me to answer. There is wonder in all of it. The little things add up to something much, much larger than me. And I miss so much of the “bigness” in a blur of haste, to-dos, and cynicism.

A heart of gratitude and a childlike sense of wonder. These are what I need to live the biggest kind of life. Not a trip to a hidden beach paradise or an off-the-grid wilderness existence. Although I might still go if the opportunity presented itself… 🙂

Go here for some great thoughts on gratitude. Read Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts for even more. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Cultivating gratitude and wonder changes everything. 

Peace & Love, Amy

Vacationing… Mom Style

Gazing out over the vast expanse of rippling, pristine blue, I relax into the thick cushions of the lounge chair, take a sip of bubbly moscato, and sigh deeply. This place harbors the sort of magic awakened only in fairy tales. Sparkling under an ombre of colors crafted by the setting sun, small waves of water lap gently against a gathering of boulders near the water’s edge where wavy grasses meet rock. Wildflowers congregate in large bodies near the outlying trees that encircle the open field of green, gently bowing their delicate blooms as a slow wind sweeps through.

I feel the tension ease and slowly melt like hot wax as I close my weary eyes. Birds sing and dance their way across outstretched limbs, taking flight into the fading twilight. Wisps of clouds inch lazily along. Inhaling slowly, I relish the scents of an air unmarred by city life, the sweet fragrance of lilac and honeysuckle reminders of a bygone world before the cancerous spread of concrete and smokestacks.

Spring is the best time to travel here; an untainted gem hidden away from the world, guarded by century old blossoming trees. Their cascading, weepy tendrils, all various shades of pinkish white and purple-y blue coat the landscape. Behind me, a solitary golden chain tree stands prominently next to a small stone cottage, arching long, twisted arms upward as tender ringlets blooming fiery yellow dangle and sway and tangle themselves together in the warm, whispering breeze.

The two-story cottage, weathered by time and elements, stands firm in its white-grey stone frame. Large windows have carved spaces into each of the four sides, giving entrance to an uninterrupted flow of natural light throughout the day. Vines creep and stretch their delicate florets across the rough stone.

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I allow my senses a few moments to draw in the sights, sounds, smells, and feelings of this beloved escape of mine.

Ahhh…

“MOM! MO-OOOOM! CAN YOU WIPE MY BOTTOM? THERE’S A BIG GIANT POOP IN THERE!”

I blink several times, jolted from my reverie. What a lovely few moments that was. I carry the warm feelings of my seaside cottage vacation with me as I mentally prepare to wipe another poopy butt for the fourth time that day. I slowly push myself up off the ground and drag my feet to the bathroom.

I take approximately three to four vacations per day. They can last anywhere from five all the way up to ten minutes… but only sometimes ten. Those are extra special ones. My holiday usually begins by lying face down on the floor across strewn bits of Lego pieces and hot wheel cars while my kids are entertaining themselves for a precious few minutes. I return from my travels often by way of the baby pulling my hair, a child needing a snack, or a sibling squabble that requires mediation.

This is my “me time,” people. This is what that looks like right now. And it gets very detailed.

Each season of the year has its own vacation spot. Yeah.

In the summer I like to walk along an ocean shoreline dotted with colorful seashells, the sand cooled by the receding tide, and a sugar-rimmed strawberry margarita in hand. Seagulls dip and dive against the dramatic, flaming backdrop of a setting sun while calling out to each other. A pod of dolphins playfully jump through the rising and falling waves. And the sound of the crashing surf lulls me into a state of total peace.

Autumn brings brilliant shades of reds, oranges, and yellows, and over-sized sweaters. A large crackling bonfire snaps and pops. Shooting sparks dot the night sky like fireflies as I double-fist s’mores. Of course. This trip also includes a necessary hike through an untrampled wood surrounded by majestic, towering trees loosening their colorful leaves. Silently they float to the ground as I crunch the already fallen ones underfoot, sipping from a thermos filled with hot spiced cider while breathing in the crisp, cool air. Heaven on earth.

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Winter releases a gentle snowfall as I sit cozily curled up in a quaint log cabin nestled in the mountains with a stack of books, fuzzy socks, an extra-large down comforter, and a colossal mug of hot cocoa- filled mostly with marshmallows. My gaze wanders toward the wood-burning fireplace as it casts a warm glow across the earthy room. I stare into it, allowing the stress to unwind its grasp and a soft heat to envelope me. The quietness of the moment stills my racing thoughts.

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These are my sanctuaries, my temporary respites from the daily grind. I vacation alone. Always alone. And the tone is invariably contemplative and reflective. I don’t get out much these days, and it’s okay. ‘Tis the season with three young, needy babes. It won’t last forever, though, I know. So I will enjoy my children as they are, while also shamelessly allowing my mind to wander to beautiful, relaxing destinations a time or two… or four… throughout the day.

The call of the natural world has been weaved into the fabric of my being by The Creator. There is so much joy and peace to be found in it- whether in reality or simply in my dreams.

Maybe I’m weird. I won’t deny it. But maybe you’re weird, too. Do you have any favorite getaways hidden in the corners of your imagination? Do share. I’m currently in the market for some new locations and experiences.

Peace & Love, Amy

Beyond Natural Eyes

There’s a song out by Hillsong United called “So Will I.” Maybe you’ve heard it. With over 14 million plays on YouTube and constant radio air time there’s a good chance you have. It’s the most lyrically rich “current” worship song I’ve heard in a good long while. The word crafting is thoughtful and expressive in a way that’s not the typical cliché of Christian worship music.

God of creation
There at the start
Before the beginning of time
With no point of reference
You spoke to the dark
And fleshed out the wonder of light

And as You speak
A hundred billion galaxies are born
In the vapor of Your breath the planets form
If the stars were made to worship so will I
I can see Your heart in everything You’ve made
Every burning star
A signal fire of grace
If creation sings Your praises so will I

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God of Your promise
You don’t speak in vain
No syllable empty or void
For once You have spoken
All nature and science
Follow the sound of Your voice

And as You speak
A hundred billion creatures catch Your breath
Evolving in pursuit of what You said
If it all reveals Your nature so will I
I can see Your heart in everything You say
Every painted sky
A canvas of Your grace
If creation still obeys You so will I
So will I
So will I

 

If the stars were made to worship so will I
If the mountains bow in reverence so will I
If the oceans roar Your greatness so will I
For if everything exists to lift You high so will I
If the wind goes where You send it so will I
If the rocks cry out in silence so will I
If the sum of all our praises still falls shy
Then we’ll sing again a hundred billion times

 

God of salvation
You chased down my heart
Through all of my failure and pride
On a hill You created
The light of the world
Abandoned in darkness to die

And as You speak
A hundred billion failures disappear
Where You lost Your life so I could find it here
If You left the grave behind You so will I
I can see Your heart in everything You’ve done
Every part designed in a work of art called love
If You gladly chose surrender so will I
I can see Your heart
Eight billion different ways
Every precious one
A child You died to save
If You gave Your life to love them so will I

 

Like You would again a hundred billion times
But what measure could amount to Your desire
You’re the One who never leaves the one behind

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This song causes me to feel God’s bigness to the point of total awe. It shifts my mind to a place that transcends my teeny tiny miniscule corner of the galaxy. Sometimes I wonder if God is just up there shouting at our steel walled minds and hearts, “If you only knew! If you could just see the WHOLE of it! The entire story! All of the life in existence that is seen and unseen by your eyes! Were you willing, your eyes would open to the greatness beyond the natural and you would understand…”

I wish I could see the world that exists beyond my natural eyes. And yes, I believe one does. I believe in the paranormal, the supernatural. But just the term paranormal often elicits negative emotion- fear and/or crazy usually being at the forefront. It simply means, though, happenings or phenomena beyond the scope of scientific understanding. And that pretty much sums up God and all the inexplicable things about life in general. Unfortunately, Hollywood has written a narrative about it that is very much… well, Hollywood. And by that I mean exaggerated and distorted.

So I often wonder what else is going on around me that I am unaware of.

Thoughts of the supernatural or otherworldly experiences are usually thrown into the category of mysticism and dismissed by most. They aren’t easily understood, don’t follow the normal laws of nature, and can’t be explained away by intellectual reasoning or “proven” science. They are too mysterious and open-ended to be comfortable. There are no lines that can be drawn around them or boxes to fit them into. And as sure as the sun rises, we LOVE our lines and boxes. We need things to make sense and be controllable and interpretable. And if they aren’t, well, then they can’t be real or true… right? I disagree.

If you believe God to be the Intelligent Designer of creation, then the fact that everything was created from nothing is, in and of itself, unfathomable to the human brain. We have zero point of reference for this. Have you ever tried to think about the length of eternity, or of God always “being”? It usually ends with your brain imploding. The concept of “forever” just doesn’t compute. There are no boxes or lines for it.

We think too small and see too little. The myriad of limits we impose on ourselves and the world around us shackles us to this simple dimension of life. How long has it taken humanity to discover and put names to all of what is currently accounted for and understood? How much more is out there? Well, we don’t know what we don’t know until we know it. We can’t see what we can’t see until we see it. We don’t understand what we don’t understand until we understand it. Just because something doesn’t make sense to us right now doesn’t mean it isn’t real or true right now, regardless of our belief in it. God isn’t constrained by our paltry parameters of knowledge.

I love that God is so much bigger than all of this and all of us.

There are about a bazillion more thoughts I could add to this post, but I’m going to keep it simple and end by encouraging you to take some time to meditate on the mysteries and inexplicable things. Let your mind wander into the infinite vastness of God. Spend some time in worship. Peruse scripture. There is so much more to all of this (and us) beyond our natural eyes.

Job 11:7-9

“Can you fathom the mysteries of God?
Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?
They are higher than the heavens above—what can you do?
They are deeper than the depths below—what can you know?
Their measure is longer than the earth
and wider than the sea.

Romans 11: 33-36

33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”[
35 “Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?”
36 For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.

 

Peace & Love, Amy

(Other verses for pondering: Job 12:7-10, Psalm 19:1-6, Psalm 33, Psalm 95:1-7, John 1:1-5, John 14:10-14, Ephesians 6:10-12, Acts 2, Acts 3:1-10 & Acts 4:1-21, Hebrews 13:8)

Caricatures of Love

I used to love sappy romantic comedies… before I got married. The Notebook was my jam just about every other Friday night, along with frequent showings of Ten Things I Hate about You and Love Actually. All were routinely accompanied by a too- large bowl of ice cream or buttery popcorn. And as I watched I would heave heavy sighs, swoon over their grandiose expressions of “love,” marvel at the subtleties woven into their unspoken language, and, generally speaking, turn into a puddle of ridiculous, nonsensical tears.

Talk about embarrassing.

And then I got married and realized very quickly it was all garbage.  Total, utter garbage. Those movies, storylines, books, articles… every single one only a caricature of love- distorted, exaggerated, and unrealistic. Within the whole are bits of color and pieces of lines that seem honest, that give some sense of an image, but everything else is bloated and unnatural; a false representation of the facts.

I think I’ve watched The Notebook once since being married, and I’m fairly certain I rolled my eyes through the entire thing (or however much I could stomach). Because I know now that actual married life doesn’t get edited and coiffed like the beautiful people and magical moments in those types of stories. The endings don’t often bring satisfying closure. I doubt my husband and I are going die peacefully next to each other while holding hands. There are no hidden lagoons filled with swans in the Midwest.

Notice how markedly absent all the in-between years are in that movie. You know why? Because the in-between years don’t win awards and sell millions of books. But it’s in those very years of mountains, valleys and endless plains, grinding out the monotonous tasks of daily living and raising a family, physical changes, emotional roller coasters, misunderstandings, running from and then back to each other over and over- it’s in the in-between where love develops its roots, spreads, and grows.

After nine years of marriage, love in our house looks a lot like my husband cleaning out my van just because, washing the dishes after dinner, folding a load of laundry, or calling the cable company to negotiate our current rate. Talk about sexy. Have YOU ever had to deal with your cable company? Lord have mercy.

Now, I’m going to make an important distinction here: love and desire are not the same thing. Desire is a feeling, love is a choice. Desire is emotional, love is action. Desire isn’t reliable, love is. Caricatures of love would have us believe that desire is love. Oh no.

“4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Tell me that you’re “falling out of love” with someone and I will tell you that is impossible. I will also probably roll my eyes. That has to be one of the most ludicrous expressions ever created by western culture. Maybe your desire has waned because you’ve discovered something you don’t like, or you feel too tired to put in the work of growing roots so you stop trying, or the hard parts feel way too hard so you let your lack of desire dictate your decision to choose to love that person. There is no “falling out of love,” only lack of desire. When you love someone you are choosing hard labor. Desire is not enough to carry any relationship very far. Desire is driving a car, but leaving it on the side of the road when it breaks down. Love is driving that same car, but staying to fix it no matter the location or weather condition; choosing not to walk away despite how impossible the brokenness may seem.

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Desire can also disguise itself as love’s sustenance, and without it love dies. LIE. What sustains real love is choosing patience instead of irritation, kindness instead of frustration, selflessness instead of selfishness, hope instead of despair, protecting instead of damaging, persevering instead of abandoning.

At one point a number of years ago my husband and I were walking the line of divorce. I told him that I didn’t think I loved him anymore. Looking back, what I realize I actually meant was “I don’t want to be patient or kind to you anymore. I would rather be angry. I don’t want to honor you. I would rather be selfish. I’m keeping a running tally of all the things you’ve done and are still doing wrong. I don’t trust you. I don’t have hope for our future. And I certainly don’t feel like persevering through this mess.”

I had to choose love over succumbing to a lack of desire in those moments, as did my husband. We did not like each other, but we made the decision to say yes every time we wanted to say no. It was incredibly difficult, but suffering produced perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope (see Romans 5:3-4).

Don’t look for an accurate image of love in the caricatures. They will always be misleading. And never trust desire to dictate love’s decisions. When you choose love, you are choosing the whole- not parts. You are embracing the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, the easy and the hard. You accept the pain along with the joy. When you do these things and love this way, you nurture the roots of your relationship. And when you learn to love well, desire often reappears or is strengthened in unexpected ways.

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Jesus didn’t pick and choose. He loved us wholly and then commanded us to “love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15:12) I’m sure the human side of him tired and hurt from the constant heartache, of feeling so deeply and passionately for humanity yet knowing the thoughts and hearts of the people surrounding him and bearing the weight of their rejection over and over. Still He persisted, fought, and died for us… all for the sake of love. Even though we deserved none of it.

Loving means dying to oneself to bring life to another. It means serving instead of waiting to be served. It means giving instead of expecting to receive. It means holding on even when everyone around you would understand if you let go.

I took this photo many years ago when I was a college student studying abroad in Mexico. When I look at this picture I see decades of two lives intertwined spent living, working, struggling, fighting, celebrating, laughing, crying, persevering- two people who didn’t give up on each other despite the influence of a world so steeped in desire.  They made it. I wish I could go back and ask them what life is like on the other side of the in-between.

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But I guess that all just depends on how well we choose to love each other where we are right now.

Peace & Love, Amy

(Important Note: This essay is not a case for justifying abusive relationships of any kind. If you are in such a relationship, please get out and seek help.)

All the Little Things

Scrubbing dishes. Picking up toys. Washing clothes. Folding clothes. Putting clothes away. Making meals. Preparing snacks. Grocery shopping. Fixing broken toys. Playing with children and still-broken toys. Vacuuming. Bath time. Bed time. Early mornings (Lord have mercy…). Potty training. Changing diapers. Buckling and unbuckling car seats. Settling arguments. Disciplining. Putting on clothes, jackets, hats, shoes. Cleaning up messes. Wiping noses. Mopping up vomit. Plunging toilets. Training kids to do things themselves. Taking out the garbage. Holding a wailing infant. Feeding wailing infant. Putting wailing infant to sleep. Making coffee. Making SO MUCH COFFEE. Gazing longingly through dirty windows at a road that leads anywhere but here while doing any of the aforementioned tasks…

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The list could fill a library. All the little things add up, don’t they? In and of themselves they seem completely insignificant. I regularly find myself thinking back over the previous twenty-four hours wondering what I actually did that mattered that day. Too often the guilt of what I didn’t do overshadows what I did. I didn’t play with the kids enough. I didn’t organize that mess. I didn’t scrub out that stain. I didn’t make dinner. I didn’t speak kindly. I didn’t hug enough. I didn’t exercise. I didn’t save the world. Gah. I dig myself a nice large hole and lay down in it right next to Self-pity and Shame.

BP; Crushed Flowers on Road

Who is this person? I barely recognize myself at times. The problem that I’m discovering, though, is that I keep comparing my current self with kids to my former life before kids. But an irreversible transformation has already carved new lines and edges into my skin, heart, and mind. My time spent drawing comparisons and daydreaming about old freedoms is simply wasted effort and squandered opportunity. Because all these new responsibilities that are now required of me since becoming a parent mean something. Yes, they really do. They are reshaping my life’s purpose.

That seems like kind of a big deal.

My purpose is no longer me finding my own way, on my own time. My purpose has become leading, guiding, sheltering, releasing, giving, sustaining, embracing, teaching and loving so far beyond myself. I have come to understand a new definition of perseverance through the menial tasks and rote chores of daily life as a stay-at-home mom. God must become greater. I must become less.

Jesus specialized in menial tasks that everyone else tried to avoid: washing feet, helping children, fixing breakfast, and serving lepers. Nothing was beneath him, because he came to serve.” (Rick Warren)

Jesus didn’t do all the little things because he had to. He did them to show us how life was meant to be lived and shared; a better way to be and love and do life with others. Can you imagine what this world would look like if we were all willing to serve others more than ourselves?

43 …Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-45)

Living a life of service doesn’t mean being a doormat for others to walk all over. It means paying attention to what can be done to show love and doing it. I love my family, so that’s why I’m learning to embrace doing the little things instead of always complaining about them. I’m not going to make my sick children clean up their own puke, or force them to eat off dirty plates, or sleep in urine soaked pajamas. The things my husband and I do to make our life work and keep the wheels spinning, we do out of love for each other and our children. It’s exhausting and can be incredibly frustrating at times but we are growing and stretching outside of ourselves, strengthening weaknesses and retracing character flaws to create someone better, someone stronger, someone wiser. As our children grow we train them to do things for themselves, to not become dependent in areas that they are capable of being independent. It’s a long, time-consuming, life-consuming process. But all the little things are part of that process.

 

 

I chose to marry my husband. I am here to serve. I chose this life with children. I am here to serve.  I chose to stay at home and walk with my babes through their early formative years. I am here to serve. My life is not, and has never been, my own. When I became a follower of Jesus, I was committing myself to a life of service. That is His way, therefore it must become mine, too.

All the little things we do are a service to someone, whether that person recognizes it as such or not. But their recognition of our service is never the point. It’s the race that we are running, the endurance we are building, the will to persevere that we are strengthening. It’s the love in our hearts for those that we are serving as we do the thing. A transformation is taking place, slowly, carefully… one task at a time.

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My oldest son loves puzzles. I thoroughly admire his quiet thoughtfulness as he takes his time hunting for right pieces and fitting them together to create the larger picture. He’s always so proud of himself when he’s done, even if he’s done that same puzzle a dozen times already. But I notice that each time he starts the puzzle over again, he begins in a new spot. He doesn’t have one particular method, like fitting all the edge pieces together first. He simply picks out a piece from the pile and then searches for another that fits with it, and continues this way until the image begins to take shape.

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Every bit of our days is a tiny piece of our much larger life puzzle. The struggle that we face, however, is that the final image has not yet been revealed to us. It frustrates us to have to inch along in the process, unable to control the building sequence. If we could, I’d be willing to bet that most of us would start with the perfectly lined edges and build in. It’s much cleaner, more ordered, and faster that way. Life doesn’t flow that way, though. I know I’ve spent more than a few moments petitioning God, “Why this thing, Lord? Why now?” But still the days progress at their own pace; and as each task is completed, the pieces connect. At times, everything we do can feel so random and inconsequential… until all those tiny details begin to fit together and form the bigger picture of our life story, day after day after day.

Video games provide another logical understanding of this. “Leveling up” in life doesn’t mean finally getting past all the hard and boring parts; it means that you have been prepared to face far greater challenges that require more skills, knowledge, perseverance, and patience. You haven’t beaten the game when you complete a level, much the same as you don’t win at life when you’ve finally reached the end of a particular phase or season. You simply move into the next with its own set of challenges and obstacles.

The things we do today and every day are a training ground for skills that need developing, hearts that need reshaping, attitudes that need adjusting, and wills that need fortifying in order to be ready to enter into the next season and face new opposition.

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So while you’re chore-ing through your day, consider the tasks opportunities for growth, time for reflection, moments to declutter your mind, a chance to silently pray for clearer vision and strength to move beyond yourself and see a bit more of the larger picture. Because God’s designs never disappoint when viewed through a freshly cleaned lens.

Peace & Love, Amy