Sunday, March 22, 2015

You Can Dance in a Hurricane

Parenting.  It's a perfect storm, yes?

It makes you feel foolish.  Helpless.  Successful.  Proud.  Wanting.  Found.  Lost.  Broken.  On the verge of giving up and entertaining the idea of more babies.  It's confusion and understanding all in the same breath.  It's too much space and not enough.  It's long nights and early morning and slides and swings.  Spills and blowouts, tears and blow-ups.  A leak in the dam; it all threatening to bust on through on your best day.  On your worst.  Celebrations.

Consequences.  And forgiveness.

My four-year-old (who will be a five-year-old tomorrow at exactly 4:55 a.m.) lied to my face yesterday.  Twice.  Blatantly and convincingly.  Why yes, of course he had finished every bite of that cubed ham.  We praised and freely gave the cookies.  Only when we went to clean him up after lunch did we discover the truth. Cubed ham was not in his belly, as he had claimed.  It was all pocketed in the bib he had been wearing to protect his good shirt.

I felt betrayal and despair.  Oh, honey.  Don't start doing this.  Hiding truth.  Altering.

Punishment came and a long talk and a nap later and we were done.  Thought so, anyway.  And then dinner and where did all the raisins go?  "I ate all of them, Mommy!  I'm not lying!"  My heart broke as I discovered a handful of raisins hiding, once again, in that dang bib pocket.  "They're old ones!" he tried to convince.  We knew better.  Back to square one.  Press repeat.

I felt helpless.  We've struggled with behavior lately, anyway.  I've been at the end of my rope.  I've tried to be extra sweet, extra patient, extra slow to get angry.  We've played the nice side and we've played the "We're serious and we will die on this hill" side.  Positive reinforcement, praise, favorite toys removed, favorite treats withheld, encouragement.  I cried to a friend in the late afternoon, "It doesn't matter WHAT I do!  Nothing is getting through!"  

I felt the conviction there under my heart, but sat on it.  Waited.  My own words came back to me the next day and I realized, humbled, that it wasn't ever dependent on me at all.  Ever.  Never.  His good or poor behavior is not completely, solidly, hinged on my gifts or my shortcomings as his mother.  He's a little sinner who needs Jesus.  And I'm a big sinner who needs Jesus and my unraveling rope means I need to let go and seek Him for wisdom.

I wilt into relief.

Over bedtime snacks and our Bible reading, I tell of Naaman who is healed and of the servant whose lies earned him leprosy in return.  I could see the connections being made in his little mind.  I could see the shifting, the shame in his eyes.  Recognized that humbled state.  My eyes seemed to reflect the shimmer in his and I looked deep and close into eyes that look so very much like my own.  "We have had a lot of talk about lying today, haven't we?" I said softly, gently.  My hand on his short hair.  His face tilted and cupped into my hand.

"I'm sorry, Mommy.  I won't do it ever again.  I'm sorry."  His eyes pooled.  And he dug deep into our locked gaze.  "Do you believe me, Mommy?"  I wiped his eyes.  And mine.

"Yes.  Yes, I do believe you."

"You forgive me?"  I heard the hope.  The dream.

"Yes, honey.  Of course I forgive you."

There's a beautiful branch of love and it's called forgiveness.  And we cheat ourselves and each other when we don't ask for it and we don't give it.  I felt it, sitting there at the dining room table with my sorry but forgiven little boy.  I have felt it more than once in my own life.  I'm sorry I failed you, I'm sorry I said that, acted that way, backed through the garage door.  I'm sorry I screwed up, sorry I forgot, sorry I failed to take care of that one thing again.

Forgive.  Forgive me, please.  

Forgiveness is rescue.  It's a warm coat when you're freezing.  It's a hand to hold when you're lonely.  Forgiveness is freedom and forgiveness is as necessary as breath and forgiveness is love.  It's the very best version of love.  Because love that is for ourselves is not really love.  And forgiveness is all about getting past ourselves, our need for revenge, our desire to be right... to simply love.  It doesn't whitewash anything.  It tears it down... and starts over.

No record of wrongs.  Patient.  Kind.

Love... forgiveness.  Love.

Forgiveness.

Love.

"... but if you do not forgive others 
their trespasses, neither will your Father
forgive your trespasses..."
~  M a t t h e w   6 : 1 5  



Friday, March 6, 2015

Your Name is Power

I took the steps back over the ice carefully.  Nice and easy.  No sudden movements, no looking to the right or the left or even forward.  Just down.  The sun glared off of my driveway turned ice rink.  I had already gotten my annual falling on the ice move out of the way. No need for a repeat, thanks.  

I’m not a risk taker.  I’m just not.  I’ve never broken a bone, because you won’t see me climbing anything that high or running too fast or hurling myself off a bridge.  I’m not a daredevil.  I play it safe.  I don’t take huge chances.  

I don’t set myself up to get hurt.  Or to fail.

So, imagine how hard it is to want to be brave when you have very little to be brave through?  It’s not courage if you’re not scared, right?  How do you grow, how do you stretch, how do you flex the army inside your heart... if you never chance?  There’s wild and whimsical inside of us. I feel it strong, the mystery of the One greater than anyone, anything else... living in me.

A light inside a dark house of skin and bones.

In the past couple of years especially, I have been testing the waters of bravery.  I’ve been tip-toeing across a sheet of ice, step by step, moving me closer to Him.  Closer to who He has always intended me to be.  It is always one stepping stone after another.  Sometimes it’s ocean waves beneath the balls of your foot.  Sometimes it’s a dirt road.  Sometimes it’s a sheet of winter, glacier-shining ice.

... And sometimes it’s a song.

A couple weeks ago, I felt my heart squeeze tight on a dream.  A simple one, really.  Sing a song I love, to the body of believers that I love, for the God I love.  It was a secret dream.  Tucked down in the bottom drawer of my spirit. I didn’t talk about it.  I didn’t ask for it.  I didn’t share it on Instagram.  It just held steady, right there under a blanket of quiet.  A space where wishes remain just that. 

Wednesday night choir practice ends and everyone scatters home in the dark and the cold.  I go back to gather my things, prep the room quickly for Sunday morning.  Our worship arts pastor, my boss, walks by, commenting that he totally forgot that the always soloist for a song we do was unavailable for that coming Sunday.  I fiddled with my keys, adjusted my purse on my shoulder.  From bottom drawer to top and then spilling out of my mouth, I swallowed around it, whispered as he passed, “Maybe I could do it?”  He kept walking and then stopped at the entrance to the sanctuary.  

“Come out here and sing it right now for me.”  

And I did and I was terrified, elated.. and grateful.  I walked out of my church that evening in disbelief.  This was happening.  Sunday was coming.  And something held hidden and quiet for forever was brought into reality. Because He loves me.  He loves you.

Sometimes we just want God to show up.  That’s what we say.  I want a God with skin on.  I want someone here to hold me and fix it and wipe away these tears that won’t stop.  We want to know we’re not alone.  We want to know the ache, the journey, the curse, the disease, the shadows, the dreams... that it’s all... seen.  We want to know and be known.

As I turned onto the road home, the next song to sing me home was Matthew West’s, “More”.  When I was in my twenties and single and apartment-dwelling and often feeling alone and stuck, that melody was at the top of the charts.  And every time I’d drive home from work exhausted from trying to fix a few wrongs for a few people, it would be playing.  A reminder that He loves me more.

I start practicing and practicing from all day Thursday into Friday.  And after copious amounts of tea to calm the shredded vocal chords, in the afternoon is when I realize that the version I’ve been killing myself over is not the one we’ll sing.  I listen to our version and felt overwhelming despair.  Anger, almost.  “I can’t do that!”  Terror squeezed out hope,... and even some of His love.  All I could see was the impossibility.  I don’t have that kind of voice. I can’t sing like that. I’ll never, ever, ever sing like that!  It felt like a cruel joke. Here you go, sing the song you’ve always wanted to sing - but now struggle and be unable to pull it off.

I felt like a total fool for hoping.  An idiot for stepping outside of my comfort zone.  

I sank myself into a tub of lavender and turned on beautiful music.  I was too stuck to cry and so I just stared at the flickering flame of a candle.  “God, I don’t think I can do this.  No, I know I can’t.”  The flame danced against my breath.  

And that’s when He showed me... it wasn’t my job to light up the sky.  It wasn’t my job to even set myself on fire. The impossibility of it made me smile.  If I’m a wick in wax, the last thing I can do is reach out and grab a match.  If any light comes,... it is given.

It was only... only ever... just my job... to burn.

Could I believe and trust that He’d hold me together, like the glass around that fragile wax and that gentle but fierce flame?  I read about Moses that night to my boys.  The struggle against his own inabilities, his inadequacies...

“God, I can’t talk like that!”, the man with the staff says to the God in the flames.  

And I realized that it wasn’t about what I could do or what I couldn’t. It wasn’t about what I could feasibly vocally achieve... or not.  The last thing it was about was judgement or a performance.  Did I believe that I could stand there, hold a microphone and trust Him to hold me together?  Could I trust Him to give me a song and a voice that would honor Him?

Could I believe and trust that my only responsibility was simply to burn?  

I nodded to my bedroom ceiling, to the Heavens, to the Unseen, before tucking myself in bed the night before.  Yes.  Yes, I could do that. I could believe and trust and set myself, leave myself, securely in His hands.  

The morning dawns and I’m so full of joy I can’t stand it. My skin was the only thing keeping me in one piece.  My only task... to go out there, place my sacrifice, my offering, at His feet, before His people in His tabernacle... and burst it all into holy flames.  It was honor.  For someone who has kept her voice nearly speechless for so long, to be able to stand and speak before her Creator?  To proclaim His greatness, His majesty, His truth... His return to scoop us all up and take us Home?

I don’t remember voices or lights or how I sounded in the  stage monitors.  All I remember is raising my hands.  All I remember is smiling straight up to the lights above and declaring that there is, without a doubt, with no question, no other besides Him.  That His very name is power.  That it is very breath.  That it is living water to our dry, straining throats.  And it’s a mystery.  A mystery how He comes to us.  How He always, always shows up.

How He reaches down and sets fire to just one more lone candle in the dark...


"And all You ever wanted...
Only me, on my knees, singing,
holy, holy... and somehow all
that matters now is
You are holy, holy..."
~  N i c h o l e   N o r d e m a n





Friday, February 13, 2015

Grace That is Greater

I think about it as I sip my first perfectly good cup of decaf coffee (it pays to shop around).  My four year-old playing a musical app on my phone, a cat singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”, the littlest still asleep, the husband still resting.  The moon out, since darkness.  It's early.

I think about the blessings.  I think about the estimated two inch incision in my chest and the ache of healing and I’m grateful for health.  No.  My life.  My very life.

Thankful for the kids who push me over the edge during long afternoons and who fill up my heart like no one else can.  The way their cheeks can still feel baby soft, even if it’s been years since they were teeny tiny in my hands.  The way Joel sleepily wakes up and says, “I was dreaming about you and then you are here!”  

I got busy.  We all got busy.  Between work and ministry and preschool and marriage and a home and building a future... it got scrambled.  Maybe the answer was a new calendar.  So I could plan better.  Stay on top of it all with more efficiency.  Fancier.  No, maybe simpler.  More colors; no, none.  Write with a pen; no use a pencil to display flexibility.  Do less?   Do more?  Go to bed later, get up earlier?  Where was the missing piece, the definitive instruction that would get me out of wherever I was and into wherever I was supposed to be?

And then the world stopped and then began spinning backwards.  I swirled like water pulled towards a drain.  What if there was a limit, what if the diagnosis confirmed and matched all of my Googling and my worst fears?  

But then... grace.

Grace that not only allowed me to catch a warning signal early, but grace that allowed me to see.  That pushed back the blinders of busy, of to-do, of the mighty list and the unrest... grace that allowed me to see and feel my children.  Grace that reminded me how I am matched so perfectly with a man who, after 7 years, can still make a kiss feel new.  

We’re not promised everything.  I know that.  I know grief.  I know sudden, shocking, how-can-this-be-happening realities.  I know loss.  I know anxiety and depression and I know all about feeling unworthy, like less and like giving up.  I know panic attacks and how there is no shame in saying you can’t take one step forward or else you’ll fracture into a thousand pieces.  It’s how it feels and in that moment, that’s all that seems real.  

But the truth?  The real truth... grace.

Grace for my humanity.  Grace for my heart that races and panics and is prone to be over anxious when I am overextended.  Grace for my busy, grace for my work, grace for my Pinterest-pretty-failing home.  Grace for all I’ve tried and failed.  Grace for when I open my mouth to worship and I fall off a note.  Grace for what I only see as imperfect, when all He sees is love. 

Grace for the daily grind.  

And grace for the climb.  

The fresh cut in my fragile skin seems to throb with every heartbeat.  Reminding me that life is a gift and pain, also, can be a gift.  That you can write and live and minister out of the thorn, the scar, the history that will never go away.  You can be better for it all.  Because of it all.

And that in the end?  In the end He is our Father and Master and the owner of all on a thousand hills.  It’s all His.  Nothing gets missed or lost.  Just continually found, rescued, loved,... and healed.

Because very grace is Christ.  Grace was the cross, the blood, the cuts in His own body.  It's all gift, because it's all grace.  And it's all grace because it is always all Him.  Always has been.  Will be.  No calendar or app or time management system, vacation or new anything can beat out what resonates, what comes, what calms when grace is the ruler and grace is the measure.

All we ever need is all we've already been given.

Grace.


"I will not accept a bull from your house
or goats from your folds.
For every beast of the forest is mine,
the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know all the birds of the hills,
and all that moves in the field 
is mine."
~  P s a l m   5 0 : 9 - 1 1 ,   E S V 

Friday, February 6, 2015

When Cancer Cures

I noticed it one day, reflected there for me in the mirror.  A dot.  A speckle.  Something.  I don’t know, but I just stared.  Had that always been there?  Had it always looked like that?  I called myself crazy and dressed and moved on.  

But it kept staring at me. A month, two, (or five) later.  Small but somehow mighty.  Changing.  I started feeling needles of anxiety and wondered, “What if?”  What if that was something that should be checked out?  What if it was... 

No.

So, I asked my husband.  And I had hoped, kind of hinged my expectations on a, “Yeah, that’s always been there, why?” kind of response.  The laid back, easy-going, calm kind of thing I’ve come to know, love (and appreciate) about my husband.  He looked close, long enough to make the fear flare and said, “Yeah. You need to get that checked out.”  

My face crumpled and I turned away fast to unload the dishwasher.  The worst filling my head.

Because... what if?

What if it was... cancer?  What if those years of tanning in my 20’s was coming back to haunt me?  Every sunburn I had ever experienced (and there have been plenty) flooded  my mind with fear and remorse.  I tucked my kids into bed each night and wanted to bawl my eyes out.  What if there was a time limit that was coming for me?  Fast?

What if the worst?

I headed off to my doctor, sure he’d tell me it was fine and nothing to worry about.  Nope, no such luck.  “We’re going to take that right out.”  Numbed me up, dug around, two stitches later I’m sent home, “A nurse or the doctor will speak to you about your results at your stitch removal appointment.”  

Fantastic. 

I cried and tried to sing praise music all the way home.  I raised my hands and sang that He was my Rock Who wouldn’t move, but terrified tears still raced down my face.  I didn’t want to think the worst, but how does your mind not go there?  And everywhere I turned there was another story. Another young mother snatched away too soon, leaving babies to grow up without ever knowing her.  A husband gone, just like that.  Blog after blog of seizing the day and making the moments count and how it could all be gone in a flash.

What if my own flash was approaching?  

I smoothed peppermint oil down my spine each night to relieve tension and crawled into bed and cry-prayed myself to sleep.  The tears rolling and dumping into my pillow.  My prayers too messy, too real, too desperate for any words.  I kept thinking, “I have kids!  It can’t be cancer!” but then I know there are no such deals.  I’m not immune.  No one is.  I was scared that this might be a new chapter for me.  And someone else would have to be writing it, because I would never, ever write that.  I had no control and I was free-falling into what felt like the scariest black hole.

I voiced my deepest fear to a best friend as we sat in our shared office one day.  I hadn’t intended to tell anyone or to even ask for prayer.  Surely it was nothing.  There was no sense in blowing things out of proportion.  I finally turned to her and told her I had this little thing that was going to get checked out and would she pray?  I felt desperate and needed for someone to know. The tears I had been shoving down sprang to life and I said, “I’m so scared.  What if...” the words choked, came out softly, as though I was trying to deny they had ever even crossed my mind at all, “What if...I die?”  She slammed the door immediately with her foot, the noise rattling through what felt like the entire building and leaned close and grabbed my hands.  Tight. “No.  Uh uh.  That is not happening.”  

We bent head to head and she prayed strong over me.

I called the doctor after a week for my results. I couldn’t wait any longer to know.  I was told that it was benign, however it had some characteristics to be concerned about and the pathologist was recommending that a larger margin be removed due to the warning signals and my age.  I cried relief.  I poured thankful.

I could put my kids to bed without counting them as though I had a handful left.

Or.

Or I could keep counting them.  Protecting them.  Valuing them.

I could let this change me.

I got slammed immediately with a cold that exhausted me.  On the heels of an emotional week, my immunity and physical strength was low and I got beat down.  I missed church.  I missed choir.  I dragged myself into work but could barely form a sentence.  My throat ached on one side and I couldn’t sing.  My head pounded consistently.  I still had stitches that ached and pulled and that needed healing.

And yet... how could I complain? 

It wasn’t cancer.

I didn’t post about my cold on Facebook.  I didn’t Instagram my bloodshot eyes.  I didn’t ask for remedies or solutions or help.  I drank tea with honey and went on with my day.  I hugged and kissed and laughed.  Because... I might not have.  

And now, when I’m tempted to be afraid, I remember how I learned how steady my Rock is.  That even if the earth does give way, He remains.  I remember how scared I was to have everything taken away, and instead, everything remains.  I can take it all back greedily or I can hold it in my hands gingerly and carefully, because it’s all gift.  Someday it will go.  I will go.  But I have today.  I have this moment and this voice and this life.  

I can live it as ordinary... or I can live it as extraordinary.  

Bonus.  

Undeserved.


Oh,.. thank You.


"Even though I walk 
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for You are with me..."
~  P s a l m   2 3 : 4 a

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

I see the work of Your hands...

I pick up on it days later.  

I notice and draw the dots together after I finally upload recent pictures to my Facebook photo album.

And my heart pounded in my ears with gratitude... and regret.

Because it had taken me days to realize.

On Thursday morning I pulled up to a snow-covered stop sign and rolled down my window, allowing bitter and biting 12 degree Northern Indiana air to crawl into my van.  We were headed to the store, to preschool, but I had to stop.  Not for Instagram’s sake.  For my own.  The sunrise was marvelous; other-worldly.  I snapped a picture to the curiosity of my four year old.  

“What are you doing?”  


“I’m taking a picture of this sunrise. Isn’t it amazing?”

“Did you ask God to do that today?”  My eyes feel itchy.  Tears wiggling forward.  

“No, I didn’t.  But that’s what God does.  It’s a gift.”

And we rolled on to our Walmart destination.  Phone tucked away.  

My Thursday was a roll of to-do’s and missions to accomplish.  I had a crock-pot full of mac and cheese to salvage for my son’s preschool Thanksgiving feast and I needed to shower and I had a van load of groceries to drop off at our church for our upcoming Southern gospel concert.  I was feeling a “little” stressed.  

Okay, I was pretty much living on chocolate and coffee.  Don’t judge.

With Daddy on a three day hunting trip and it was just me and the rest of the world.  I briefly thought about giving into the stress and panic and tuck myself in a corner somewhere, but I would have had to schedule that.  There was no time for a nervous breakdown.  Just keep it going.  Roll on family, roll on crew.

The evening comes and Daddy gets home and I’m able to breathe a little easier.  Off I trot to rehearsal and on my way I’m blindsided.  The sunset is from another world, from a Greater hand and I am trying to snap pictures as I drive, which is wildly unadvised. I’m blasting Christian radio and my heart is crying and soaring and begging for more.  I need more space to contain what He is showing me.  My iPhone camera is barely taking it all in. 

I pull over.  I’m sitting there in a big truck, taking pictures of a sunset as though it’s the last one I’ll ever see.  And if it was, wow, what a way to go.  The radio was loud and tuned in to a song I had never heard, one by Big Daddy Weave and it’s so perfect.... too perfect... And it was God in that moment and all I needed.  And I just wanted to hold it.  


I wanted to stay in that glow forever.

And I sing and I come home tired and the day is done.  Friday is a blur.  And tonight, with the boys occupied and playing good, I plug in my phone to download the most recent images.  I sit down with a pot pie, download “Overwhelmed” on iTunes and set to editing.  

As I upload and add dates, I realize... God didn’t just give me an amazing sunset that night.


He’d given me an amazing sunrise, too.


It was all in the same day.

In my busyness, in my rush, in my holy-cow-that’s-a-long-to-do-list,... I missed it.  I was thankful in the moment but then I let it go.  Dropped the ball.  Like a child who tears open a gifts, laughs with glee and then shoves it away, half-unopened, to tear into the next. 

What would my day have been like if I had recognized that my entire day had literally been one well-planned gift after another?


What would future days be like if I started off planning to recognize?

What if I came prepared to give thanks?

Another 5 a.m. morning.  Another cup of coffee.  Another little bit of worship via Pandora as I curl my hair.  And I think about it.  Messy notepad full of to-do’s aside.  What could the potential of this day be if I started off in preparation to be thankful. 

If I prepared to notice.

We know that an attitude of gratitude changes things.  And only for the better.  If you know something to do that is good for you... why don’t you do more of it?  All the time?

I sip my coffee and think.  

And say thank-you into the yet-to-be-sunrised morning.


~ How can you remind yourself to slow and give thanks?
~ What are five things you’re thankful for right now?
~ How do you cultivate an attitude of gratitude in your daily life?




"And whatever you do,
in word or deed,
do everything 
in the name of 
the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to
God the Father
through Him..."
~  C o l o s s i a n s   3 : 1 7