A Dead Strand and a New Book

              Our Christmas tree is decorated the way I remember them being decorated throughout my childhood: a mixture of white lights and BIG colorful lights (because they look like candy), cherished ornaments, crafted ornaments, and lots of vibrant color. It’s a real tree because I’m a real tree person. You know what I mean. And my husband puts up with the chaos and color of it all, because although he personally would like a more orderly and white-light approach, he loves me. So he does it this way for me. And I love him for that.
           This year, there’s a strand of white lights on the tree that isn’t working. It was working just fine when we (read: the men, as the lights are a man job in this house) put it on the tree, but sometime in the first day it burnt out. And tonight as I was sitting in the post bedtime victory-lap moment, it occurred to me: of course there’s a strand that isn’t working.
             That’s sort of symbolic of how 2016 has gone for us. Let me be honest. It just wasn’t great, friends. There were some lonely moments, some genuinely frightening ones, and lots of bad days punctuated, of course, by grace upon grace. It wasn’t all horrible. We are still abundantly blessed. But 2016 was sort of the dark strand of lights on the otherwise quite colorful tree we have called our sweet marriage adventure.
            Every year, we make a photo book for the extended families and ourselves for Christmas. It tells the stories of our year from November to October, rather than a traditional calendar, because my side of the family celebrates Christmas on the day after Thanksgiving (Thanksmas is awesome!). As I waded through the photos of the last year, I appreciated the visual reminders of the special and positive moments of our year. And it was interesting to reflect on the fact that you hardly ever take pictures of the excruciatingly hard moments. I took one picture of Ryan’s fractured ankle (which took an eternity to heal), but in the end I didn’t even include it in the book. I couldn’t bring myself to commemorate the sour moments, our year of the broken light strings. Perhaps a more mature version of myself would have put those pictures and those stories in the book, so that I would someday appreciate this year more deeply. But the 2016 version of me just couldn’t include them, because in the end, we are still so ridiculously blessed that I simply feel foolish to complain.
             My parents and brother and sister-in-love all came to Michigan for Thanksmas. It was the most refreshing, love filled, delightful visit. There was snow! We hugged and prayed and spoke words of life, love, encouragement, and goodness. There were two vomiting kids (lest we get too idealized here… This is still real life, and I still totally freaked out… Because vomit…but dad spent a day scrubbing vomit out of carpets because he is a servant). We avoided too many political discussions, because as queen of the house I banned them from my table. We gave gifts and played games and sat by roaring fires. This visit absolutely gave me life.
            And I had the most wonderful realization as I took it all in: WE ARE IN A NEW BOOK. It’s November, and my yearbook is starting over!!! We are building a new year of memories. And even if there are more dead light strings to come, we are better for the growing pains that we experienced in the past year. We are stronger, I hope. We are closer to one another and more grateful and, I think, maybe, more grown up. God has been faithful to us even on a year that acted a bit like a burnt out strand of lights.
          Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go see about ordering a new strand of lights. ‘Cause this is a new year, and these pictures are going in a new book.
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On doorknobs and nice things

My beast of a toddler busted a door knob the other day, because he was slamming the door open out of anger. He has a temper that’s in full force these days, because toddlers. I said to him, “you are why we can’t have nice things.” Because I’m nice (imperfect) like that. But it’s true. The kids are often why we can’t have nice things, like, you know, doorknobs.

… And fancy couches, clothes that are predominately white, clean floors, meals that are relaxed and contain fancy ingredients, clean cars, silence, and the list goes on.

A non-parent friend joked recently to us about how our kids really tie us down, which is also true. We don’t party late at night, we don’t take impromptu trips or romantic getaways, and much of life these days is determined by these three little people who live here with us. 

 There’s no way around the fact that life with kids is different, exhausting, depleting, and sometimes utterly exasperating. Ryan didn’t want to have to buy and install a new doorknob that day (it was the door to the garage…). I get tired of the broken dishes, the marked up furniture, the mundane cleaning, and the ruined clothing. More than that, the emotional requirements of parenting seem well above my pay grade on any given day. My resources often seem to run dry. (Don’t even get me started on how absolutely minuscule my parenting issues are when I consider those who face much deeper and more significant challenges like terminal illness parenting, special needs parenting, etc. I probably sound like a broken record here, but I’m sending you a hug today.)

But y’all. This motherhood thing is my calling. I was put on this earth to serve Jesus, love Ryan, raise my boys, and love people. I count myself infinitely fortunate to be living this life, especially in view of the fact that so many of my friends have longed for and prayed for children of their own, to no avail. I do not shrug off the weight of that statement easily.

AND, sure, there are many astounding benefits to mothering these cute boys. They’re adorable. They are sweet, funny, energetic, and life-giving. They keep me young (and simultaneously age me and give me gray hairs 👵😏😉). Being a mom gives me purpose and teaches me lessons I had never imagined. And some days it is ridiculously fun! I get to play for a living. Even at the end of hard days, there’s no other life I would ever choose. Ever. But I think it goes beyond these benefits to something that is, or at least should be, more universal in the Christian experience.

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:3-8

What this passage reminds me personally is that motherhood is my own daily opportunity for service that mirrors the humble Savior who came “not to be served but to serve” (Matthew 20:28). Here in the midst of the laundry and the dishes and the snotty noses and the broken everything, I can choose to “count others as more significant” than myself. While serving might not mean that I humble myself to the point of death (though let’s be honest about the love of a parent, through which we would gladly do that), we face perhaps the equally challenging task of serving others with gratitude, giving up selfishness, and welcoming even the mundane tasks of life. One thing I love about this truth is that it puts motherhood in the proper light. Motherhood itself is not the highest good or the only right thing for a Christian woman to do. Motherhood IS beautiful and amazing and holy, even among all the broken doorknobs and forfeited things, but lots of other callings and journeys are just as beautiful and challenging! Motherhood is ONE niche, and happens to be my niche, where this whole sacrifice business can be practiced, tested, and beautified. 

It’s not pretty, this isn’t a novel concept, and I am a major work in progress. I have trouble finding a servant’s heart especially when I first wake up (cofffeeeee… Where is my coffeeeeee???), and the dinner to bedtime hours are sometimes just brutal (you know this, moms, amen). I looked at my littlest one this morning, though, and realized how utterly fortunate I am to be laying down my life for these little men, whom I already so ardently adore. So maybe this week I’ll start with with something simple like NOT being snarky/ telling him he’s the reason that I can’t have nice things. I clearly have much to learn. I hope and pray that the boys will get something good (well mainly I hope they just get Jesus) from growing up with me as mom, but I do at least know that God is using their childhoods to shape and refine their imperfect, grateful, sometimes crazy momma.

 

 O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life. (St. Francis of Assisi)

Our various callings can be (or feel) similar to dying as we lay down our agendas, our selfishness, and sometimes our desires to prefer someone else. It isn’t glamorous, and the heavenly equation is too lofty for me to fully understand or explain. I just know that I wouldn’t trade this life of humility and service and inexplicable JOY for all the beautiful doorknobs and nice things in the world.

Flying Solo

This post is for you, Momma. You are the reason for so much blessing in my life. Your 60th birthday seemed like the perfect time to finally listen to your incessant suggestions that I ought to write down my deeper thoughts more often. So I have been working on posts for this blog to chronicle some thoughts on life: on the sacred, the secular, and everything in between. Maybe, like you would suggest, it’s not so separate as it seems. Maybe it is all just a part of the journey.

 I went to church by myself one Sunday not too long ago. It’s a bit of a long story as to why, but suffice to say that we have had enough illness and exhaustion and bad tempers and lame church experiences to last us for a while. That Sunday I needed to go, though, and we both knew it. So Hubs stayed home with the crazies and the croupy while I went off in search of a fresh breath of Sunday morning grace.

   It was a long week prior. A long few months. Between regular parenting life, a frustrating foot injury for Hubs, some other health issues, and you know, life, I was thankful just to be in God’s house. One of them, anyway.

   As I parked in the parking lot, I contemplated the fact that I have attended church solo maybe three times in my entire life. I grew up in music ministry with my fabulous and faithful parents, where the church felt as much like home to me as did our own cozy dwellings. I remember running in the halls, playing hide and seek in the pews, and always being surrounded by people who knew and loved me well. They fed me, cared for me, and taught me Jesus Loves Me. I was sort of like a preacher’s kid, though I never felt the pressures which are so stereotypical in that role. It was in the church that I later found mentors and close friends, people who would have profound impacts on my spiritual formation. Whether in services or choirs and youth groups or praise teams or many other involvements, the community of believers has always been an integral and welcomed part of my faith journey.

   This is also why it has been difficult for me in recent years while we have struggled to find a church home. When we were first married, we had a lovely, imperfect, and passionate church home in Memphis. We grew so much during those five years, with some great community happening, and it’s a place we will probably never recover from- in a good way. In Chicago, there was a single church within walking distance of any similar doctrine to ours, and we found rich teaching, savory relationships, and a church that fit our needs for those two years. Since moving to our new home, we have loved everything about our new community, but we honestly keep feeling like a square peg family surrounded only by round hole churches. It is not because there’s anything wrong with the churches.  We have simply struggled to fit, for one reason or another, in each and every place we have tried. This lack of a church home has caused me many feelings as of late: frustration, panic, striving, sadness, and more recently, apathy. That last one probably scared me (and my mom when I told her so on the phone) the most.

   I was cognizant of this history and this struggle as I entered the simple church double doors on Sunday, but I didn’t really care. I just wanted to meet Jesus there. And I did find him there, specifically through some brave and warm church members as well as perfectly appropriate music and liturgy. I find it somewhat poetic that the reason I chose this particular church that day is because I have recently befriended the, wait for it, music minister there. This new friend found me and seated me with her own family in the cozy pews, and it was only slightly embarrassing as I wept my way through the music next to my friend’s mother-in-law. Yet there was something comfortable and warm in that sanctuary, finished with vaulted wooden ceilings and a simple, exalted cross above the altar. Kudos to the church members who welcomed me so warmly, and hats off to you if you have to fly solo to church some/most/all of the time. It was no small feat of bravery even for an avowed extrovert like myself.

   If this blog is to be about how Jesus inhabits even the messiest parts of my life, then the sermon on my February church visit certainly fit the theme. The sermon was, appropriately, about how God descends into our brokenness. Based on the Genesis account of Jacob fooling Isaac and cheating Esau out of his blessing, it is a story that wreaks of brokenness and messiness and so much unfortunate and… Normal human behavior. But it’s no secret that God is inexplicably attracted to his people, filth and all. Jesus dined with the worst of society and was berated for associating freely with sinners and prostitutes. He has always had such a knack for meeting people right where they are, right in the middle of the mess. The sermon was followed by a beautiful and simple song by All Sons and Daughters, called Brokenness Aside:

Will your grace run out
If I let you down
‘Cause all I know
Is how to run

‘Cause I am a sinner
If it’s not one thing it’s another
Caught up in words
Tangled in lies
But You are a Savior
And You take brokenness aside
And make it beautiful
Beautiful 

   So then there’s me, and maybe you, too. I sometimes hide it well, but my life is full of various messes. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. I’m figuring that maybe if I invite Jesus into my daily activities, the ones that seem mundane or secular or unholy, I’m guessing that He will delight to meet me here. He will make it beautiful somehow. The mess of that stressful week, the frustration of our haphazard church hunt, the reality of my constant sin and parenting struggles, the tendency towards apathy– these issues don’t bother my Jesus.  Even if he doesn’t fix the problems right away, or ever, at least I can imagine him lounging with me at my sticky table with my loud children, laughing with peace and ease, and reminding me gently, “I am with you always.” Even now. Even when it feels unholy. In the sacred and the secular and everything in between.

What about you? Do you find it hard to go to a new church by yourself? Do you find it difficult to welcome visitors into your home church?