Tuesday, April 21, 2015

midlife and mercy for the mamas and the papas

Growing up is hard to do.

Because we live in the land of the free and the brave; because our parents told us that we could do anything we set our minds to do; because the blessings of capitalism and democracy have declared that we can "have it all"; because of all those things and more, we spend our youths continually growing and expanding. 

It is an adding, this growing up of ours: adding skills, knowledge, responsibilities, privileges, choices, and freedoms.

Remember the shock we felt when our parents didn't think we were old enough to wear eyeliner/ stay up later/ have a voice in a decision about our future/ eat cake for breakfast? Remember the inner smugness we felt when we reminded ourselves that someday, we would get to do it all our own way? And then, recall the joy when we sat behind the steering wheel of our own life and pulled out of the driveway and into the great big world of freedom at last?  

Slowly, adulthood is gathered like daisies from a great big field of beauty. Sure, there are some ant piles that get us along the way, and we fall down sometimes, but we fill up our basket: career, love, accomplishment, adventure, quiet days, grand plans. 

Until the day we realize we are the fullest we have ever been, and we begin to see that, sure, the adding continues, but the basket has a crack in it. One by one, tiny petals are slowly blown away by the winds of time. That sneaky storm of time has blown us into midlife, and we are no longer the starry eyed youths we once were.

Midlife is simply the moment that we realize we have as much to gain as we have to lose, and that there are parts of life we cannot hold forever. We have learned we can't actually have it all, but we also have decided "having it all" may not be as great as we once thought. We take inventory a lot in midlife. We want to keep a firm grasp on what we can and cannot control:

We are losing our patience for Jerry-Springer-type drama in our immediate lives.

We are gaining the Jerry-Springer-type drama of our teenage children and their friends.

We are losing the carefree years of our flashy youth and easy health.

We are gaining quieter years of rich friendships and trusted confidants.

We are losing their baby faces and tiny hand prints.

We are gaining their funny and insightful conversations and the trust of our growing children.

We are losing career options and opportunities. (We are almost as high as we are probably going to rise.)

We are gaining stability and experience, balance and perspective, wisdom and patience.

The past slips away, and we know now that the happy future means letting go of today, so we cling to right here, right now.

We trade our baskets for a sturdy bucket in midlife (much more practical), and along with the flowers of today we gather the water of what can never be taken away from us. Eternity flows from a fountain that washes away everything we gain and lose in life. We are filled for His glory, then drained to show the world His greatness. We learn to receive what is offered with thanksgiving, even when it is destined to be taken away someday.

But there are days the flowers we just finally gathered and placed in that bucket fly out faster than we can stand. We never know what's going to happen to send our bouquet streaming out all over the place.

This time, for me, it was just a haircut. But, as we all know, there's rarely such a thing as "just a haircut".

My sweet daughter has had hair past her waist since always and forever, it seems. Every day, she has worn thick, golden tresses that most women only dream of growing out of their pretty heads. But for a year now she has wanted to cut it off. A mama can only ask her to wait for so long.

Last Saturday was the day it all sort of crashed into place, and the inevitable happened. I know it's only hair. I know it will grow back. But it broke my heart.

I still don't understand exactly why. I suspect it's because being a mama is really, really complicated.

Only a mama knows that even though hair can grow back, the truth that she is no longer a baby, or even "little", changes more than I would like for both of us. The days won't grow back like they once were. I stand here with a bucket in my hand and a field of big girl flowers spread out before me. The field of baby days is far behind us, and I taste the bitter irony of the truth that when we are shopping for prom dresses someday in far off pastures, I will long for these "littler" kindergarten days.

The truth is, my children aren't the only ones growing up. My view from the fountain of forever proves I have a very long way to go, and many buckets to fill before I will be fully grown myself. Midlife is really only the beginning of our stories, as unfathomable as that is for our earthly minds.

There is space here, in the midlife; space to freak out about haircuts and mistakes and the growing pains we face. There is time to get mad, to apologize, to try again, and to hold hands and laugh at all the things we got wrong when we were younger. We have grace and love and truth cheering us on, and a God who delights in who we are every day. We are His every. day. delight. That alone is a miracle I can scarcely wrap my heart around often enough.

And in the end, all the space we give ourselves and others means that mercy triumphs. We will cross the finish line with arms raised up, emptying our buckets one last time for the glory of the God who led us all the way home. Because growing up means finding our way back to the Father who calls us with whispers through the winds of time.

No, it's never just a haircut. It's always a stepping stone to Him along the path. And it is how He wins our hearts.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

dear angry child...

Dearest Angry Child,

I hear you.

I hear your loud words, your cries of distress, your accusations, and your frustration with your circumstances.

I also see you. 

I see your eyes rolling, your fists clenched, your foot stomping, and your red face of ire.

I have been in your place, and I know what it's like. I do, really. I have had words that exploded from my mouth before I was able to catch them. I have lost self-control, had my pride offended, and wanted to make someone pay for the offenses that have wounded me.

Sometimes I am surprised by your outbursts, but the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, I suppose. All God's children have to walk this road of anger to learn what to do with it, and who we want to be when the tempest of our own soul is stirred into a frenzy of fierce emotion.

I, myself, am just now learning that anger is not bad or wrong. It is a part of life. Much like hunger is necessary for us to feel so we will fuel our bodies, we need anger to remind us to fuel our souls. Why would we reach for forgiveness, love, mercy, and compassion if we weren't first angry about the injustice, cruelty, or pain in the world? Anger is an arrow to our merciful, loving, and forgiving God.

What we do with anger may be one of the most important decisions we make for our souls and for the world.

So let's get down to business, sweet child of mine. I cannot walk this path for you. All I can do is decide who I will be when you engage me with your own rage.

I will not yell back at you. I will calmly ask you to lower your voice, or instruct you to go calm down somewhere else before addressing me again.

I will not take the blame. You are mad things didn't work out, people won't do as you please, or that you can't have exactly what you want. As the parent I am often the bearer of bad news for you. Even so, I can't change the rules of life for you, make people do what you want them to do, or stop the world from ruining your plans today.

I will point you to repentance. If you lashed out at people, you need to make amends. The people you hurt are God's children, and therefore worthy of love. You were not loving when you yelled, threw things, and fought with words and fists. Apologize to them and God, and ask Him to help you. Self-control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, and your life can be changed by the discipline of repentance and prayer.

I will help you find a solution. When you find the self-control to have a rational discussion, I would love to talk about your options. Every problem has a solution, although the consequences of your choice may not be as appealing as you would like. Welcome to life, dear child. Sometimes you have to take what you can get.

I will love you no matter what. Should you choose to let anger win the battle, I will still love you. If you continue to point your finger at me or someone else, I will still love you. If you won't repent, I will still love you. But know now, uncontrolled anger is an unwise and lonely way to live your life. When you decide you want my help, I will be here for you.

In the end, dear child, you must learn to discern which are the battles you have been created to fight. You will learn to fight for God's goodness and His glory. Humility will regulate your prideful tendencies. You are God's warrior, created to stand firm in His righteousness, and He doesn't want you to lose your mighty calling to do that.

I am grateful and proud to be your mom. It is an honor to walk along with you as you learn to love and make peace in the midst of battle. In many ways, mothering you well has been a battle ground of my own soul, and I would not know God as I do were it not for you. When the day comes that you strike out on your own, I will raise a banner of praise to God for all He has done in both of us both along the way.

I know you are still angry, but I also know that this too shall pass. When it does, the love will remain, and all the drama will have been a worthwhile adventure in learning grace and mercy. So hang in there, kiddo.

I love you,

"For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." -Ephesians 3:14-19 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

beautiful shame

I see Your face as it rises over the land,
Who can behold such a vision and not surely die?

I stand amazed.

I crumble slowly in the light of Your mercy,
Fear flourishes within as pieces of me I deemed precious fall lifeless from my grip.

The trumpet blasts- I fall to my knees;
The darkness within me spins as a cyclone, a mighty wind within.

My great need sucks the Word into my soul,
Like spark and wood, Your presence and Your promise ignite.

I am ablaze.

Sparks fly within as Christ my brother opens His arms;
I can't deny the beauty and tragedy of this sacrifice.

I am consumed by this Love and this Lesson,
And born again by the Spirit of the Holy, Righteous God.

I will never be the same again.

He has made my ugliness His glory,
He calls my shame His own and sets me free.

The fear of all I lose for Him subsides in the light of all I gain;
How can a Love like this be for me?

Another beautiful shame has come home.

Friday, April 10, 2015

when you know exactly what you're doing

I had a strange thought yesterday.

This one curious thought was born from many smaller thoughts. One of them came in the middle of our new online French lesson. Another popped into my head when my boys collapsed under the weight of laughter that results in writing fictional names on Which Wich order bags (getting the sandwich guy to yell out "Bobby Joe!!" and "Elvis Presley!!" is the end of hilarity to a ten year old). One happened when I was in the car driving all over the great state of Texas for baseball games and practices. There was one more when I purposefully made a salad for myself (why does this always seem like a miraculous act of greatness??). Still another was when I managed a grumpy child (like a BOSS).

All together, these thoughts mixed and mingled and became one giant newborn thought: I may actually know what I'm doing!

My closest friends will mock me for this. They love me and think I am amazing and always believe in me. {Which is why they're the kind of friends of whom the world is not worthy.}

But the truth is that being things like a mom, a wife, or {Lord Jesus, have mercy}"the pastor's wife", generally means that there are several people every day who feel disappointed by you, who wish you could/would do more for them, who need something you can't give. Learning to carry that weight with grace is the hardest part of any kind of leadership.

The other truth is, many times the person most disappointed in you is staring at you from the other side of the looking glass. The most difficult person to please some days is yourself, or at least the critical voices in your own head. Learning to love who you are, faults and all, is like slaying a dragon in a fairy tale- you have to be perfectly cunning and have perfect aim. It takes some practice and and maybe the help of a magic ring to make it happen.

Nothing was particularly different yesterday. I wasn't more patient, or kinder, or better at caring for the people around me. I didn't hear angels singing, or see a bright light, or have some sort of life-changing moment.

But I took more deep breaths. I let the beauty of each individual moment seep into the pores of my soul. I stopped the whirligig lie that puts performance in the center of every situation.

When the buck stops with you in your life, when you lead and love with all your heart, it's challenging not to feel that you are responsible for making everyone and everything perfect (or at least okay). Breaking that pattern of thinking takes a great deal of soul-work.

But this morning, I awoke with that new thought of freedom and grace tucked into the pocket of my heart. The air outside was cool and breezy with magical Texas Springtime happiness. I opened the windows to the backyard. I breathed fresh air and swam through memories of open Southern California windows, of succulent lined paths to beach waves,of riding bikes with my brother through suburban streets, and of childhood joys that slipped away so quietly I had forgotten them until now. It's funny the way tiny, seemingly insignificant things become foundational in your soul.

My children won't remember disappointment. They will remember Which Wich bags with stupid names. I won't hold the memory of their early morning fights years from now. I will tenderly carry the feeling of their little faces pressed into mine for comfort. The kids won't remember the time I told them they couldn't have that cookie before dinner or that they couldn't go to baseball practice until they finished their responsibilities. But I will be proud of them if they choose to be the kind of adults who patiently wait for rewards and diligently serve the world in love.

My boys have already had a fight that came to blows. My daughter has already issued a meaningless complaint. The puppy has already been naughty in ways only puppies can think of. My day is off to an imperfect start.

But I know what I'm doing here, in the breezy morning air. I am living and loving and learning to be who God made me to be, and so is the rest of my family.

And you know the most amazing thought of all? That is, and always should be, enough.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

what I'm reading: The Pastor's Family book review

When my husband became a Lead Pastor five years ago, we entered a new season of ministry. It is very different to lead and build a church than it was to do campus ministry, and the first couple of years made one thing very clear: the learning curve was a beast.

Our church, Mosaic Church Austin, has had three different names and three different Senior/Lead Pastors. It has not always been a bastion of healthy church culture. We have watched other leaders in our church and in other churches make poor decisions that cost them their jobs and caused great pain to the people in their churches.

Put simply, there is an eject button on our seats on the front row. If we can't do this job well, Jesus will find someone else to do it for Him. We strive to lead with humility and submitted hearts full of fear and trembling that it is a holy God we serve and His precious people we are tending.

Pastoring is a kind of hard living that has been known to strain the pastor's family to a breaking point.

That's why I logged onto Amazon one night and searched for books that could help us. We aren't breaking yet, but some days seem longer than others, and some aches don't subside as easily as we would like. Also, our children are getting older, and they are forming their own opinions about this life they didn't choose. Mr. Fantastic and I long to parent and pastor for God's glory. We don't want our children to resent the church or resent us for failing them while we fulfill God's call. We have mentors who help us, peers who link arms with us, and friends who cheer us on. And we have books. Lots of books.

One of the books I ordered that night is The Pastor's Family by Brian and Cara Croft. I don't know the Crofts, but after reading their book, I feel like I do. This is an empathetic, honest, and hope-filled resource about how to love Jesus as you answer the call to lead His church and love your family. At the end of each chapter are discussion questions for pastors and their wives to talk through. They are wonderful, practical and help hone your heart for the task at hand.

I wish we could have had this book in our hands five years ago when we were beginning this journey. Mr. Fantastic and I have learned some of the lessons in this book the hard way. Others we are still sifting through in our daily lives. As I read each chapter, I thought of so many friends who have hearts similar to ours, and bear the burden of finding healthy balance in ministry responsibility and family needs. We are all doing such an important thing, loving and shepherding God's people. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone living in the tension of how to do it all well. You'll be helped and encouraged by it. I promise!

{I wrote this post because I chose to- I am not part of a launch team, or a review team, or anything else. I have not set up an affiliate link for this item. I am in no way benefiting from any sales of this book. This is totally just my own opinion. Happy reading:)}

Friday, April 3, 2015

joy for when your wretched flesh grocery shops for a passover lamb

Last night I flitted about in the grocery store, buying supplies to make our Seder dinner. I searched out bitter herbs, unleavened bread, an egg, some sweet apples and raisins, and grape juice. I stood at the meat counter and requested a lamb shank bone.

"No bones, but I can sell you the whole shank," the man informed me.

"Great. I'll take it," I casually replied.

He wrapped up the meat, printed out the price, and handed it to me. I reached out my hand and suddenly it all seemed absurd.

This is too easy. A pound of meat felt too light to be symbolic of my Lord. Five dollars for a Passover lamb seems a shoddy price to pay to for a Redeemer. My time spent preparing a plate of symbolic food for our friends and family is a piddly investment in light of His eternal love for us.

And yet, maybe that's the point.

Maybe I need to remember that my life is light and easily given compared to all that Jesus has sacrificed for me. And maybe the fact that He was willing to die for someone so small means I am loved more than I recognize most days.

I left the meat counter and walked through the bakery. I absent-mindedly snatched up a box of chocolate cookies because I wanted to eat chocolate cookies after shopping. I literally smiled as I placed them in my basket.

My heart is easily distracted, obviously. What are cookies compared to eternal love? The words "wretched flesh" seem harsh, but that's what I'm dealing with here. I can make myself happy, but only God can give me joy.

Joy- true joy comes from a proper view of ourselves. 

The curse of death passes over the children of God. We are the of those who are spared from eternal darkness. We are the redeemed, the purified, the whole, the loved, the treasured, the saved. And we deserve don't deserve any of it.

The harder scriptures prove the humble truth and help us find real joy:

"We, too, writhe in agony, but nothing comes of our suffering.
We have not given salvation to the earth,  nor brought life into the world.
But those who die in the Lord will live; their bodies will rise again!
Those who sleep in the earth will rise up and sing for joy!
For your life-giving light will fall like dew on your people in the place of the dead!"
Isaiah 26:18-20

"We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life." 
-Romans 6:4

"Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." 
-1 Corinthians 5:6-8

"God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed." 
-2 Thessalonians 1:6-10

“Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven,  whose sins are put out of sight.
Yes, what joy for those  whose record the Lord has cleared of sin.”
Romans 4:7-9

Tonight we will joyfully remember, the body broken for us, the blood of the final Passover lamb that was spilled to wash us clean, the nail-pierced hands that hold us securely. We are loved, our names are written in heaven, and His joy makes us complete.

Hosanna in the Highest. May our joy-filled lives bring glory to the Lamb who takes away our sins....