Wednesday, August 31, 2016

the soul of your marriage

"Of all the knowledge that we can ever obtain, the knowledge of God, and the knowledge of ourselves, are the most important.”
- Jonathan Edwards

Morgan and I sat in the low light of a lovely restaurant, with quiet words passing between us. A jazz band played somewhere around the corner, and at the other tables sat beautiful people, smiling, feasting, and celebrating who-knows-what.

The conversation turned from the the events of the day to the grander topic of our own lives, and to our marriage. My mind followed the trail of our married life, back along the path of pastoring in Austin, then our time in Nashville, through the early years in Austin with babies, all the way back to the beginning.

We have come a long way. 

We began with a flimsy hope and promise to love one another forever.

But you can't know God and stay the same. He isn't just a person you meet and then catalog His characteristics.

God is like a fire in our bones, and knowing Him means becoming like Him. 

Suddenly you find that you only really know yourself in the light of His way, His truth, His love, and His forgiveness. Selfish ways and empty thoughts just leave you feeling burnt up, and you run to Him again and again.

I can't really remember the inner thoughts of the girl I was when I wore a white dress and promised forever. She is a hazy shadow of who I have become after all these years of running to God. 

But I know that she would have been grateful to know her path would lead her here.

After dinner, we walked out into the cold night air, watching cars drive past on the busy street. The city rose up all around us, full of energy, life, and people finding their own way. I love this little gathering of bricks and dreams here in the middle of Texas. A city is more than buildings and streets, it's got a sort of soul.

I sometimes try to imagine what God sees when He looks at all of us. He doesn't see what we see, the five pounds we want to lose, the new way we wear our hair, or the accomplishments that have given us favor at work. God sees our truest selves, and those are made of unseen things, like love and faith and hope. It's easy to forget we are more than skin and skills. The parts of us that will live forever must be tended well.

Our marriage has a sort of soul, too. We look at the outside of our marriage. We see the argument we can never seem to avoid. The way we are learning to work this love out. We wonder how all of that will fold into our dream of growing old together. But God sees so much more. He sees the way our love for one another draws us deeper into Himself. My love for Morgan is supposed to help him find his way home. I forget that too often.

Another car sped through the intersection. I pressed my hand into Morgan's and we walked in search of our car. We have filled our stomachs, realigned our hearts with one another's, and now we long for a place of our own, for rest and sleep. This is the clearest picture of life I know.

Together, we can make it through anything. All this hustle we call life will be over in a minute and then the real soul of our lives will live on forever.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

the speck in my eye (and tooth)

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”
-James 1:2

“To have courage for whatever comes in life - everything lies in that.”
-St. Theresa of Avila

A few days ago I went to the dentist for the second time in a month. Clearly, I am a girl who knows where to go to have a good time. I wish I could say I got hooked up to some kind of magical sleepy drug machine while my teeth were sprinkled with fairy dust and made shiny white, but real life is never that exciting. I went because there is a strange, foreign, alien dull-aching pain in the right side of my mouth, and I hoped someone could FIX ME.

Turns out I am a medical anomaly, a freak, a case for the books!

Actually that is a lie. The dentist thinks I’ve had something caught in my gums for a month. This is what’s causing the tiny-massive-elephant-sized-bit-of-pain I’m experiencing. As he dug around my gums with that tiny Captain Hook tool, I closed my eyes and distracted myself by remembering the parables of Jesus- mainly the bit of leaven in the dough, the fox in the vineyard, and the speck in the eye.

Ah, yes, the speck in my eye.

I drove home from the dentist, mulling over the fact that ten days ago I went to the optometrist because I really did have something caught in my eye. The pain was unbearable. It turned out that my faithfulness to my skin regimen/middle-aged vanity had finally caught up to me. A tiny microbead from some anti-aging facewash was embedded in my eye. The doctor USED A NEEDLE to remove it. I felt like I was in some kind of Tom Cruise sci-fi thriller and she was about to harvest my visual memories. Not at all disturbing.

In order to avoid either of these things happening again, I plan to never wash my face or eat in the future. It seems the wisest course of action.

But with two bizarre doctor visits behind me, I'm beginning to wonder if I have become some sort of modern day Old Testament prophet. (Because that is totally possible.) The more things I have dug out of my head, the more I feel the need to warn the world that my trial of pain is surely a sign.  

I just wish I knew what the sign meant. A proper prophet should know the meaning of her prophetic tribulation. So maybe I'm not a prophet after all, but just a common, everyday paranoid woman with stuff stuck in her eye and teeth. In fact, it’s entirely possible that these inconvenient, uncomfortable problems of mine aren’t a sign at all, but an invitation. Most of the really hard things in life seem to be invitations when we get down to the heart of them. God parts the Red Sea of our comfort and convenience, and invites us to cross over and learn who we really are, how much we really need Him, how little we can really save ourselves.

For so many years of my life, I thought that pain and suffering, conflict and confusion were the worst part of life. If they were invitations, I thought they were invitations to some kind of ultimate fighting cage match, created for the sole purpose of proving my inadequacy.

I am finding that all the unbearable things are gifts. I get happy blessings from God, too, but these unbearable gifts are a kind of delicacy. I unwrap them and set them on the shelf of my soul, awaiting their full revelation. Happy blessings have brightened my life. Unbearable things have carved space for more of Jesus in my soul because I can't carry them alone.

The thing caught in my eye and my tooth is probably just my tendency to try to be the center of my own life.

My eye and my tooth and all my other trials remind me I’m supposed to need grace and patience and straight-up salvation. To need is not a weakness, to be broken is not shameful. Unbearable things tell me to kneel down, and ask for help when the darkness surrounds us.

So this is me today, on my knees, tired, weary, a pain in my eye and my tooth inviting me deeper into the peace of Christ that never makes sense, and yet always ends my striving. The speakers in the living room are blasting some sad, soulful songs and I'm waiting for all the stuck things in my head to come loose. I want to know freedom and grace and total dependence on a faith I will never be able to see or taste or hold in my hands, but is more real than any cure a doctor could prescribe.

I am answering God's invitation to know Him better by refusing to wish all my problems to disappear. I think that's the beginning of the joy James 1 offers us, and it's certainly a step closer to the courage St. Theresa wrote about. I'll take it.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

how to find your place in all the confusion

Last Thursday, I rearranged the whole downstairs of my house because there were feelings and thoughts piled up in my head. All those feelings and thoughts needed new places, but I couldn’t make them all fit. So I moved the tangible things I could.

It’s my own favorite kind of therapy.

Because, I don’t know if you know this, but in order to achieve my dream of publishing a book, I’m supposed to be famous and I’m supposed to be exceedingly secure about myself and my life.

(Spoiler alert: I am neither of those.)

Still, these two conflicting messages hover about in the writing/publishing world:
  1. Get as many people to like you, follow you, promote you, and love you as possible so that we can invest the money in your project and actually see a profit. We won’t publish you unless you are adored by a legion of people.
  2. DON’T confuse your work with your value and identity. Finding an agent to represent your book doesn’t mean the like you. It isn’t personal. It’s about the work, not who you are. Take a deep breath and just let the Holy Spirit comfort you when you feel like a failure. Chin up, Buttercup, you’re famous in the eyes of Jesus.

Although both points here are solid advice from experienced people, it’s confusing to be told to make sure lots of people like you, but not to worry if people don’t like you. BECAUSE THOSE ARE OPPOSITE THINGS.

But maybe if the china hutch is in the living room and the Japanese art is in the reading room, I will find my way through the confusion. Moving furniture isn’t the most dysfunctional way to sort through your life, after all.

Somewhere in the middle of all the chaos is just me and Jesus. There’s what I want Him to say, and what He has already said. There’s what I want Him to do for me, and what He’s already done for me. There’s who I want to become, and who He has already made me to be.

There is my tiny faith and my minuscule works dwarfed by His immeasurable goodness and His eternal love.

I’m beginning to grasp that most of the hardest dreams we fight for in life are less about achieving something and more about needing (and eventually finding) God’s grace. In God’s Kingdom, the product is important, but the process is vital.

Maybe I’m just moving all this furniture around to prove there is a way through. Isn’t that where we all want to get- Through? Through is a funny place. It isn’t here or there, exactly. Through is that moment we realize everything that’s happening to us is part of the grander story of God’s will, and the whole of our destiny is simply to be caught up in and carried by His great love for us.

Through is the moment we find life and rest and peace, even though we aren’t quite on the other side yet. Through is when we stop worrying about being and doing, and we decide to simply belong.

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” -Matthew 7:13-14

And so, it’s time, once again, to take the narrow gate and follow Jesus.

The grey rug needs to go over there. The framed painting from Paris must go here. And I must choose once again to seek and love the Kingdom more than my own life. The path ahead may look like success or it may reek of failure to everyone around me. I think it will probably be a bit of both. But that is of no true importance.

“I dwell in the high and holy place,
   and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
   and to revive the heart of the contrite.” -Isaiah 57:15

God is in high and holy places, and He is also right here, reviving the people who bow low before Him. Those are opposite things, and yet not so confusing.

Everything and everyone has its place, and mine has already been chosen for me. The way Through has been cleared for me and I’m not confused at all anymore.

Monday, August 8, 2016

the hidden gift in motherhood

We have been at the pool almost every night for the past few days. Post-dinner swimming is my favorite part of summer living in Texas, where even after the Sun has set, the air hangs all hot on your neck like a wool sweater.

The boys hit each other with pool noodles in some kind of destructive boy ritual, my daughter calls out for me to watch her do tricks and flips underwater, and I sit in awe that they are growing up so fast.

Two of my boys are middle schoolers, and the third one likes to remind me that they will all be teenagers in two years. I die on the spot every time he says it.

I remember when The Teething Years hit our family and created mass destruction a decade or so ago. I thought teething children were the worst version of people ever. But moody preteens definitely give them a run for their money.

I’m not sure if you felt the world end the other night because our family had to eat In N Out burgers for dinner instead of Lupe Tortillas Tex Mex, but it TOTALLY DID. Given the grunts and moaning emanating from the backseat about the horrendous injustice of our change of plans, I thought Jesus was coming back to take us to glory during the car ride to those delicious California burgers. But then, once the child whose life had lost all purpose got two bites of a Double Double in his belly, he told us it would all be okay after all.

“Sorry I freaked out. I think I was just really hungry,” he said in between bites.

We know, buddy. We know.

Even with all the hangry moody feelings flying around our house, I love this season. I love that I can sleep all night and leave them to run to the grocery store. My kids are funny and kind to me, and when their dad is out of town, they take care of me as much as I take care of them. They tell me about their books and I tell them about mine. We watch movies together that don’t make me lose brain cells like the ones we watched when they were little. We can travel and they can pack their own suitcases. They are learning to cook and they can clean their own bathrooms. It’s all simply fabulous.

I don’t know how it happened. I don’t know how the invisible passing of time turned babies into big kids, but I’m loving it. I want life to stay exactly like this forever.

Except I don’t. Because I need to see who they will become in ten years, when they’re all in college. I can’t wait to meet the spouses they choose. Also, I need grandbabies one day. Lots of grandbabies.

There are no spoilers available to help me bide my time until I find out what paths my kids will take. I can’t troll the comments on a blog to find out what happens in season 8 or 10 or 22 of my kids’ lives. It’s all live streaming right here in front of me, and it’s the most brilliant comedy/tragedy/action documentary of all time. I can’t take my eyes off of it.

I spoke with a young mom who is so freaking tired yesterday. Because I’m sleeping a solid eight hours every night, I forget sometimes that scientists haven’t developed a cure for the exhaustion I once endured when my boys were little. But as she described her life, I had flashbacks to the days when I was so tired it hurt everywhere, like a truck had run me over but no hospital would take me in so I still had to make sippies full of orange juice all day. Honestly, my favorite part of getting pregnant was knowing I would get three whole days in a hospital after giving birth, because for several years I just wanted to lie down for more than five minutes without someone screaming at me or almost dying because they fell on the fireplace or tried to swallow something sharp. Small children don’t sit still or sleep enough, in my opinion.

I looked at my friend and I told her I knew how awful it is. I also told her it gets better. It gets so much better. There’s a deep blessing in serving your little people alongside the God who entrusted them to you. Hidden in motherhood is a gift of grace like no other, but we must suffer a bit to find it.

You sacrifice sleep and sanity for a while. You practice patience and kindness when they’re being crazy bratty little people. You draw boundaries and coach them on how to navigate an unjust world and keep their souls intact. You cheer for them, pray for them, listen to them. Then one day you look up and there they are, standing on the edge of the pool, having a cannonball contest while you sit in a chair with a can of Lemon La Croix and a heart exploding with a fierce love that you never knew existed before you had children.

Then the shocking realization hits you that this love is not just what you feel for them, but what God feels for you.

That’s when nothing is ever the same again.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

a few things that are saving me today

Last night I was home alone with the kids, and so I did one of those awesome Mom Things and made them watch a movie I knew they wouldn't love as much as I do: Chariots of Fire. I am clearly suffering from the Olympic fever. But truly, I love that movie- the story, the faith, the sacrifice, the dreams realized, the lessons learned, the running in slow motion on the beach with grand music playing. It's all so beautiful.

My kids were totally "meh" about it, though. I pretty much expected that. I mean, I knew they would love the 3.2 minutes of actual race competition, but it's deeply embedded in an hour and fifty minutes of people talking in low, hushed voices. It's not exactly an action packed thriller. My daughter lost all ability to recognize humans based on facial features and/or hair color and spent the entire movie asking me which one was Harold Abrahams. The boys could barely sit still the whole time because boredom makes them all fidgety. I had to stop it and explain what was happening at least 17 times. It was a precious family movie night, indeed.

By the time Eric Liddel was being manipulated by the Prince of Wales to run on Sunday, one of my boys groaned loudly and said, "Why doesn't anything ever happen in this movie??!!"

I kept my mouth shut, but I wanted to say, "Because this movie is like real life: lots of complicated conversations in the midst of identity crises, all made worthwhile by the occasional chance for a spectacular victory."

(Spoiler alert, dear children! Your whole life will be more like this movie than you expect.)

But then the final race captured our hearts, and we all lost ourselves in the romance of a man clinging to his passion for God and winning in the end.

Is there anything more fabulous in the world than that? No. No, there is not.

I began to mentally list all the ways I seem to be losing right now, all the dreams I have cast at the feet of Jesus, all the painful things we are processing as a people, and all the hopes we cling to so ferociously. There always seems to be such a chasm between us and the finish line, doesn't there? Some days there's simply not enough talent, courage, or general "brilliance" within us to get us through the mundane and ordinary days so we can have the chance to be victorious for God when our chance comes.

(Gosh, I hope our chance to win for Him comes soon.)

In the meantime, a few shining things are helping to save me from my existential angst. I have found some bright spots in the middle of the grind of momhood and pastor's wifery. (Is pastor's wifery a new term? I hope so. I love making up new words.) I thought I would share them with you, in case you're feeling like nothing seems to be happening in life, and you need a little help to get on through the day.

Here goes:

1. Chef's Table on Netflix: Our friends told us about this documentary series, and it is fascinating. Every episode makes me want to be more creative and courageous. They're about chefs, but they're all really about purpose and dreams and people. The episodes make me want to go out to eat right now, so that's a bui of a bummer at 10pm when the kids are all asleep, but I love them anyways. Some of them are even suitable for kids, but I would recommend previewing them first, because they have some heavy content and occasional language, depending on who they interviewed.

2. My New Journal Bible: I lent my Bible to this really cute campus minister about twelve years ago and HE LEFT IT AT THE CAMPUS MEETING AND I NEVER SAW IT AGAIN. (Not that I'm bitter or anything!) But all is forgiven because I finally got a new one and some pretty pens to use in the margins. I feel a tiny bit guilty that blank pages and purple and yellow ink make me want to be with Jesus so much, but I think he's cool with it. I'm reading Matthew 6 right now, and as always, the gospels challenge my comfort and complacency. Secret sacrifice that goes unseen by the world is always seen by God and rewarded. The humble places in our hearts are woven with His glory.

3. Modern Fiction: I just finished Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty, and it was so good, you guys. Here's my list of other reads I'm hustling through while I wait for the the new Alan Bradley. Whenever my life gets too heavy, I love to pick up fictitious lives and forget reality for thirty minutes, or even two to five hours after everyone else in the house is asleep.

4. Making my Bed: I don't know how to describe the difference in my day if I make my bed. Because I work from home, I see my bed dozens of time during the day, and if it's made up, I get this sparkly feeling of accomplishment every time I walk in my room. It's proof I've won some kind of life test! You should totally try making your bed every day. This video proves I'm not as crazy as I sound:

5. Chocolate Milk, More Coffee, and Topo Chico: This is a trinity of beverage perfection, and I love them almost as much as the new mini chewy SweeTART disc candies I found at Walgreeens. Almost.

6. Parkour Class for My Kids: I found a Parkour gym in Austin and signed two of my boys up for the classes. TOTALLY WORTH IT. Now, all four of my kids are trying to run up walls and balance on top of stuff and roll under things and they keep shouting, "PARKOUR!" while they do it because I told them that was actually how you're supposed to do Parkour, since I am a twisted person who loved the Parkour episode of The Office:

Let's just hope my kids don't find out about HARDCORE PARKOUR....

 7. And lastly, this quote by Eric Liddel reminds me that I am running this race my own way, and life sometimes won't make sense to other people or to myself.

As we talk in hushed voices and sort out our latest identity crisis, may we also find within us God's power to see our race to the end. I hope you win for God today, my friend. And if you don't, just keep running. Tomorrow may be better.