Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Advent

She's not asking me why yet. She's a mighty little chatterbox who has lots of words in her vocabulary – functional words like shoe and milk, typical words like bye and outside, unusual words like tickle and clock, and fanciful words that only make sense in her toddler mind – but 'why' isn't a part of her life yet. She's still focused on the concrete, the names and the things and the places. The why is a detail that's harder to reach because we don't know to ask the question until we've run out of answers. The why requires a journey, and many times these broken vessels we call our selves never arrive at the destination.
Struggling during Christmas season

And that is why faith can be so hard. 'Why' is not an easy question to answer. The expectation of hope can be beautiful, but the expectation of an arrival that has yet to come can be like a tiny flame in a dark winter night, waiting in peril for the slight draft that will blow it out.

For those of us who are experiencing a season of so much anticipation, so much expectation, while suffering through all the hurt and disappointment of the seasons before, guarding that candle's flame can feel like a lost cause. What's the use in protecting a fire that doesn't appear to give enough light or warmth?

To everyone who is broken this season, to everyone who is weary and tired, to everyone who has battled loneliness or loss or addiction, fear of the unknown, unfulfilled dreams, illness, financial hardship, painful relationships, or suffering beyond what is even imaginable –

There is hope on the horizon.

That is what this season is meant to represent. Though much of our experience has taught us that joy is hard to come by and pain will inevitably prevail, what we've come to expect is not always what arrives. Joy is coming. We hold the candle to invite Him in so that the peace of His presence can fulfill what the flame cannot.

When she's older and asking me harder questions than “Cookie?”, she may find that at times, the answers don't fulfill the longing. They aren't meant to. There is more to seek beyond answers, beyond expectations. My prayer is that asking why would always point her back to 'who'.

We celebrate. We prepare. And we wait with yearning for the joy to come.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Why I'll Be Rejoicing In November

Oy, this election. You're killing me, Smalls.

Election seasons are hard. This is nothing new, and yet every time one happens we seem to act even crazier than before. I will admit, however, that this one is particularly bad, for reasons of which I'm sure some of us are all too aware.

Beginning long before this outlandish spectacle began, I have often found myself under the spell of discouragement, and even at times, of despair. As the world appears to spiral more and more out of control with each passing day, I get caught up in the horror of it all far more often than I should. It's like a disease that flows over into other parts of my life, affecting even the areas that are supposed to be filled with joy.

That is complete and utter insanity.

Given all I know about God and His promises, and His incredible grace and love, I am nothing but a great fool when I give myself over to the pain and confusion this world has to offer. Why do I hold this redemptive hope in my hands and still walk around like it doesn't exist? I have everything and act as though I have nothing.

Every obstacle should be viewed as more opportunity to grow in grace, to fully understand that my life does not end with my departure from this earth. If it did, I'd have every reason in the world to fret, throw my hands up in disgust, and give up. Instead, I have every reason in the book to celebrate.

God is sovereign. “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all” (Psalm 103:19). None of this has changed. Just because I feel as though everything is completely out of control doesn't mean that it actually is.

He is good. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). It doesn't look good. It doesn't feel good. In fact, I'm willing to bet that most of us would describe the past several months (and longer) as awful. But we trust in Him and all His wisdom and might and love because HE is good. Even when we're surrounded by the bad, we're enveloped in the good.

He wins. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). We are already victorious. In spite of ourselves, all that is messed up in this world will not defeat us. We will not remain in the wilderness forever.

I am vowing to remember these points as I set out to change my approach. I've lived far too long under the blanket of defeat, missing out on the peace held out to me just on the other side.

I will rejoice because I still have the abundant life, and I carry blessings with me in each and every step I take.

I will be thankful for that knowledge and remember that until my dying breath, I will fight for what matters.

I will not allow my sense of worth to diminish because I feel as though my voice hasn't been heard.

I will not forget that there is a plan and purpose for it all, even when it hurts, even when it sucks, even when I am in fear.

I will seek to live in the light of glory, praising Him with every breath.

I will not throw my hands in the air and give up and quit fighting and close my eyes and wait for it all to be over. I will not let the fire in my soul burn out. I will walk this weary road, but I will not forget where it leads.


Sunday, July 17, 2016

Laid Bare

I don't belong here. I'm worthless. What's the point?

I felt it when I held my sick, teething baby and wondered why I couldn't be any better at this. Upset and frustrated, I cried along with her, telling myself I didn't deserve children because I couldn't handle the hard parts. Not like other moms could. I didn't have patience, I couldn't handle sleep deprivation, and what kind of mother is angry because she is exhausted? I'm bad at this just like I'm bad at everything else, I thought.

I feel it when I want to write encouraging posts for other Christian moms, so I delve into the latest from other bloggers and writers I've enjoyed, but I can't relate. Their posts are progressive and provocative, and I am not. I question if I even truly have a platform or if what I'm doing even matters or makes a difference. If this is my calling, then why do I get the sense that I don't belong? No one even cares what I have to say anyway.

I feel it when I've spent months working out hard and eating right and doing all the healthy things but still not getting completely rid of the tummy that housed three little souls until their births. It's not enough that I lost all the baby weight and then some because there are other women doing it better. She's had kids too – how did she get that flat stomach and those abs? If she can be that fit, why can't I? It's useless for me. I guess I should just give up.

I tell myself that I'm telling myself lies, but for some reason it's harder to believe myself then. The lie is more comfortable, more convincing. It has been a companion for far too long. It has grown roots and taken up shelter in the depths of my soul like a weed that won't die, and I let it because I've never lived life without it. I know I'd be better off to dispose of it, but I still keep it around, hidden like a secret treasure, because I can't figure out how to let go of something I've held on to for so long.

All we have to do to see how easy it is to believe lies is look at the world around us. We think everyone has gone mad, but it's more than madness; it's the enemy. When the world has been led to believe that lies are better than the truth, we can't be surprised when madness ensues. It's no wonder we are in this place we don't want to be, in the midst of insanity. But if I can't let go of my own lies, what makes me think I can fight the rest of them?

The mind is the easiest place to attack – at least, I know mine is, because I'm already attacking myself in there. I don't matter, I don't measure up, I'm not good enough, not doing enough, not funny enough, smart enough, wise enough, pretty enough, successful enough...I am vulnerable...discouraged...wide open to pain and hurt...and wide open to MORE lies.

I don't want to be here anymore, held captive by thoughts. And quite frankly, I don't have the luxury of being here anymore. There's too much at stake. 

Peace In The World's ChaosIf I could give people on this earth anything at all, it would be to give them the truth – that they are loved by the creator of the universe, more than they could ever possibly imagine. If each and every human soul could feel the love and hope that rests in the promise given to us on the cross all those years ago...if they could see that the lies they've filled themselves with all this time have a purpose, and that purpose is to prevent them from reaching that promise...if only they could see that we are at war in unseen ways…

But I'm speaking to myself. Because I forget all of it when my mind is filled with all the wrong stuff. I can't fix the world, but I can get my head right. I can't convince the world that it's wrong, but I can remind myself and anyone who cares that we don't belong here – and that's precisely why we feel it. We can feel it together.

I can no longer live under the weight of the lie that the enemy is not that big of a threat. It's certainly more comfortable under it – like a child's warm blanket pulled up in the night when sounds get scary. But those sounds are real. The enemy is not just toying with me – the enemy seeks to keep me underneath the covers. Only I can decide what I am going to do with that truth.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

You Have So Many Things To Love When You Love Everything

How To Love WellIt doesn't take much for our children to get us thinking, does it? My oldest draws pictures all the time to express what's in her heart, and although my boy doesn't care much for drawing, he loves to tell us stories and make silly analogies that give us a little bit of insight into the way his mind works. Children are often so much more clever than we 'grown-ups' give them credit for, but what I treasure the most is how they challenge me to get back to the basics, to a simplicity that I lose when I have my head in 'the world' for too long.

You have so many things to love when you love everything.

Ever since she drew this picture, I've had her words rolling about in my head from time to time. There's so much to hate in this world. There's so much to fear. There's so much to wonder and worry about all over the place.

What Is LoveAnd yet she wrote about love. That is what sticks with her, and I'm so thankful. It's not what sticks with me anymore after innocence lost and years of words that don't match the actions. That's the reality of life as we get older and find that we have to return to love...to recall its power...to fight to remember its truth and beauty. It's far too easy to get caught up in everything else.

I am wanting, simply, to love well. I could hate that I'm not always good at it. I could be afraid that I might cause another to forget its true meaning. I could worry that I'll never be able to do it well enough. But those thoughts are NOT the ones that should stick with me.

I have so many things to love.


Friday, May 13, 2016

Compassion And The Bathroom Issue

I wasn't going to write about this.

But it has exploded.

I will try to word my thoughts in the most compassionate way possible, as I always do, but I have no doubt that it doesn't matter. I will be labeled a bigot and my feelings will be dismissed as 'just motivated out of fear and hate', as I've gotten so used to hearing these days. It sucks, and it hurts, and I don't know if I'll ever get used to it, but I've come to one conclusion – I'd better get used to being uncomfortable, and if I'm going to be uncomfortable, I might as well go all the way.

In America we have a tendency to get all riled up about issues that on the surface appear to be quite trivial. I do wish I saw more zeal for the 'bigger' stuff, and I could go into a whole spiel about that, but those seemingly trivial issues still matter – because in this country there has been a massive shift in what it means to be truthful. And once we throw truth out the window, I don't know that it can ever be retrieved.

This is what it has come down to – who should use which bathroom? Should biological males have a legal right to share a private space with biological females? Will offering legal protections to the transgendered create issues with predators taking advantage of such laws?

Or better yet, are any of those things the 'real' issue?

Conservative Christians are often accused of lacking compassion, but I'm here to tell you that we have a lot of it. Many of you don't recognize it because of a difference in thought, not a difference in caring. I look at Caitlyn/Bruce Jenner and see a confused individual in dire need of counseling, guidance, and direction. I see someone who suffers psychologically and bears emotional scars as a result, and instead of this person being given what is desperately needed, he is encouraged to continue in turmoil and celebrated all the more for it. In all honesty, it breaks my heart. You may not agree with any of that, but what kind of hypocrite would I be if I went along with what our culture tells me to do and accept as normal something I find to be heartbreaking and in complete opposition to reality?

I know about the terminology and gender theory and the studies that claim that gender is not binary, etc, but research is ongoing and the results are ever-evolving, and as much as progressives like to try to convince us that their views on this matter are 'truth', there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. And for most of us on the other side, we are unwilling to bend on what we believe to be the actual truth.

I want to ease suffering. I want to see hurting people healed. I want to see love in action because this is the life Christ has called us to lead. What I don't want to see is people being told lies, truth being distorted in the name of tolerance, and emotions reigning supreme as we determine how to legislate our nation. That last one is a biggie. I can have all the compassion in the world, I can truly love someone and hurt for him, but I don't have to agree with him when he says he has a 'right' to something. I can't compromise my convictions about rights to privacy and the rights of women and children just because it's popular, and that is because I do value the protection of the vulnerable and innocent.

I am aware that I have been in bathrooms and other situations with transgender people. I never considered it to be a problem and treated them with the same respect I would give any other human being. But how do you enforce a law based on something as ambiguous and subjective as gender identity? A man doesn't have to put on a dress to use the women's facilities if the law is based on how he 'identifies'. He can walk right in looking just like a man, and even undress in the locker room if he wants. There's simply no way to tell how a person 'feels' about his or her gender – unless we all start carrying around paperwork from our psychiatrists in order to use the bathroom.

I certainly have no intention of standing guard at the door checking everyone's pants. What I do intend to do, however, is be aware of my surroundings, and if anything appears to be suspicious, I will take measures to keep myself and my children safe. In the past, if I'd ever walked into an empty women's locker room and seen a male standing there, I would have immediately been on the alert and questioned his intentions. Now what I am being asked to do is take it on faith that his intentions are good. I am being asked – no, TOLD – to no longer act upon my common sense.

I won't do that.

The media has a tendency to paint conservatives as 'outraged' about everything, but I can guarantee that hopelessness has a stronger hold. The anger is often overshadowed by the discouragement. This is not my country. This is not my culture. But here I am, trying my best to navigate it. The one thing I need to remember is that there is no reason to feel hopeless – because of who my hope is in. The best I can do right now is offer that one bit of encouragement to you.



Sunday, May 1, 2016

In The Desert


+-Parenting older vs younger childrenShe can tie her shoes now. She's lost four teeth, makes her own snacks, and has better handwriting than many adults I know. No one can make her baby sister laugh like she does. I look at her sleeping, long limbs stretched out across a twin bed, and try to remember how small she used to be, like the baby I have now. And even though I know it was just as hard back then, I also know that it was long ago.

This is an interesting place where I am – at the beginning again with a new child, but knowing all too well how quickly I'll be five years down the road. So I keep asking myself why I still get so irritated. Why do I let the little things add up? Why do I allow the baby's mood to determine how my days go? Why do I still get weary even though I love them so much? The answer, I'm aware, is simply that I'm living in humanity. Perspective goes a long way, but it doesn't make the living any lighter.

When we first decided to move to Arizona, I was convinced that I would hate it. I had never been in a desert environment, and having grown up in a wet climate with lush green all around, I assumed I'd feel completely out of place in all the dust and heat that awaited me. A desert had always held negative connotations for me, like isolation and bleakness.

Surprisingly, I ended up loving the desert. It holds its own beauty not found anywhere else on earth, and there's something about its solitude that can give a sense of freedom. I can understand why U2 named my favorite album (The Joshua Tree) after a desert plant. In an interview Bono said, “Spending time in Africa and seeing people in the pits of poverty, I still saw a very strong spirit in the people, a richness of spirit I didn't see when I came home… I saw the spoiled child of the Western world. I started thinking, 'They may have a physical desert, but we've got other kinds of deserts.' And that's what attracted me to the desert as a symbol of some sort.”

Metaphorically speaking, we've all lived in many deserts. All too often I've walked paths in which I've had to reach really hard for that richness of spirit, and sometimes I just couldn't pull it off. I know deep down that there's beauty to be found, even there, but that doesn't mean I can always see it. Even in the dry path I'm walking now, with the scorching sun at my back, a cactus blooms. And I may miss it if I'm too focused on the rest.

And if I'm being completely honest, I've been missing it a lot lately.

My third child teaches me daily about the importance of letting go of expectations. It has been a recurring theme for me throughout her little life thus far – reality not matching up with my ideas for how things should go down. Babies are like that anyway, you know – always thwarting your well-intentioned plans (like naps and leisure time). This third go-round for me has revealed just how much of my hangups in life have to do with holding tight to what's comfortable and safe, of how much my joy in life is dependent on everything it shouldn't depend on. I'm still living in the expectation of what should be, not what it truly is.

Those unreasonable expectations hold disappointment on the other side. When I convince myself of how my day will go. When I make a choice, believing I already know the outcome. When I fold the laundry and expect all the socks to match up. (I'm a silly creature – you'd think I'd have learned by now.)

I believe we're meant to crave the unknown wild, but instead I run from it, afraid of what I might find there. I'd rather it all work out. I'd rather have control. I'd rather not feel so small. Or so I think.

Spend just one night camping underneath a starry desert sky, and the smallness you feel is unlike any other. It envelops you...embraces you. It can be an amazingly freeing feeling to realize how tiny you are in the vastness of the universe – but only if you don't allow it to overwhelm you first.

If only I could remember my oldest every time I look at my youngest, and think about how soon she'll fill up that bed instead of being overwhelmed by her smallness. If only I could always see that the worn-out-cranky-kid-chasing days will soon give way when the sun sets just up ahead. If only I could stop caring about lost socks. If only I could fill up on that richness of spirit instead of running on fumes and frustration.

After all, I can't spend too much time in the desert if I haven't quenched my thirst.