Sunday, March 13, 2016

Come like rain...

The past few days, I’ve felt like I’ve just ran into dead end, after dead end.  

I’m delightfully in my 27 week of pregnancy with our third, sweet, crazy, little boy... and I am so grateful.  But I have also been nauseous nearly every day since we conceived back in September. I’m not exaggerating.  

On top of persistent (and finally medicated) nausea, I’ve had a flu bug that left me severely dehydrated and with monstrous headaches for days.  I’m still a mother to two boys under the age of five and have continued all of the shopping, the tasks, the runs to and from preschool and a husband on travel for work.  It doesn’t sound like much, maybe - I know we all have our own battles.  This is just where I’m at and physically I am beyond my breaking point.

And then I caught my preschooler’s headcold.  

I’ve been coughing for days.  Horrible, racking, my lungs are going to be shredded to pieces, coughing.  I’ve been awakened anywhere from 1:30 a.m. to 3:30 a.m. with a hacking fit that would persist for hours.  Literally.  I’ve had very little true rest, but I’ve gotten a lot of Pinterest plans and online shopping accomplished. The other night I went ahead and ordered an embroidered stocking for the new baby.  I realize it’s March and this made me feel like I was really killing it.  Take that Christmas 2016.  I own you.

It’s been such a struggle - not to just “feel better” but to act better as I’ve done nothing but feel worse as the months have gone by.  I’ve come close to asking for help and then I’ll retreat.  I’ve come close to asking for prayer and then delete my request.  My problems aren’t as big as others that are out there.  I’m blessedly pregnant and we have a comfy house and plenty of snacks in the pantry.  My kids have been incredibly healthy (headcold aside) and when my husband travels we splurge on pizza and donuts and fresh flowers to get through the long days. Admittedly, life could be worse. I’ve worked on my mental outlook, made lists, striven to be more productive and have tried to rest more.  

Well, not really the resting part.  That’s a lie. I’ve mainly just been pushing myself continually forward. (The abundance of pizza is real, though.)

Another long night, a restless couple of hours spent trying to sleep in a recliner and my kids are up promptly before the sun.  I couldn’t have been more weary.  Couldn’t have been more ready for a Sunday morning at church.  Couldn’t have needed worship and my church family more.  And yet I’m on the couch with a tumbler of water and my three year old.  Because I can barely breathe, can hardly speak and I’m not real sure when I showered last, to be honest.

Desperate for “a good word”, I shamelessly handed my kid the iPad and pulled up a previously DVRd segment with Beth Moore.  I watched and listened and paused and prayed... and I watched the rain outside and felt myself begin to really breathe again.  Not in the in and out way, but in the “I’m alive and I’m grateful” sort of way.  And then she said this; my head jerking away from the view outside to the television screen as I went from watching rain splatters on my window to hearing her say the word, “umbrella”...

“... I had an umbrella in my hands that I never opened, because I wanted to get drenched with rain... I want to tell you, it was one of - the most romantic moments I have ever had with Jesus.  Cause you know what, I feel like He said, “You know what? You’re in it anyway.  Praise me with everything you’ve got. You praise me.  And with every bolt of lightening you dance with everything you’ve got. You go ahead and call upon my name. I will put my hand over you, but you give Me praise. You give Me the praise that I am due.” ~ Beth Moore

I will tell you... by the end of her sharing this moment, I had my face covered with my hands, sobbing.

Why?  Because honey, you’re in it anyway.  For me?  The cold, the less than dreamy pregnancy, the long days, the long nights, the restlessness, the inability to focus or work or feel like a success... the frustration with no energy, my lack of patience with my kids, with others.  Lightening bolt after lightening bolt, slamming down on the ground next to me.  And I can’t run away.  I’m just here, right smack dab in the middle of it.  What do I do? What am I supposed to do?

Praise anyway.  Give thanks anyway.  Worship anyway.  

I’ve been trying to do that, but not really. I’ve yanked out my gratitude journal a few times and sometimes I wrote stuff down and other times I just pulled out my pen, only to lay it back down.  It’s not that I wasn’t feeling thankfulness somewhere in my core, but I just couldn’t summon up the exact words.  The precise praise.  

I was too focused on just getting out of my bad mood or my depressed feelings.  There had to be a way out.  Something I could fix if I worked harder or cleaned more or had an afternoon by myself.  Something that would be relieved with a trip to Target or a genuinely restful nap.  Maybe if I organized some more or threw one more bag of stuff in the van to get rid of.  Maybe if I dusted or decluttered or called my Mom. 

Texting with a friend - her at church, ready to worship, me at home, wanting to be at church - and I told her I was praying for her and the service (and I was) and she said, “Maybe God wants you at home to pray.”

For such a time as this.  Beth Moore echoes it from my television screen.

I hadn’t thought of that.  I’m part of the Worship Arts team.  I’m supposed to be there.  I’m supposed to be smiley and present and ready to belt it out.  That’s all I could think of when my cold rendered my voice useless.  I can’t sing.  Great.  Awesome.  Now my Sunday is shot.  I can’t be at church and staying home feels like a failure or an excuse.  I rankled against all of it.  Cried a little because of it.  I didn’t want to be here, I wanted to be there! I felt cheated and guilty because a cold had deemed me useless.

But what if... what if He really wanted me right here.  Right now.  Today.

Not just to pray and do my part from wherever... but to realize that He can do His part with me any time.  Any weather.  No matter if I can sing or not sing.  And that not only could I still worship from right here... but that He could and would meet me.  

I had all my fingers in all the cracks in all the dams.  

And then... then it started raining.

Forget what I was trying to hold back or hold in... now it was coming down.  All sides, all angles.  No umbrella big enough.

And that’s when I stopped.  When I inched my hands back.  When I realized the futility in what I was actually trying to accomplish.  I watched the grey skies with a sense of relief.  I watched the puddles become rivers with a sense of joy.  I didn’t think about the promise of Spring or sunshine that will come or how it’ll all be brighter and better someday.  

I just watched it rain today.

Gently pulled my determined fingers from the leaking holes.

And thought how good it would feel to humbly just surrender them out.

It’s raining anyway.  I’m here anyway.  

What if I praised... anyway?

"Let us know
let us press on to know the LORD
his going out is sure as the dawn; 
he will come to us as the showers, 
as the spring rains that water the earth..."
 ~  H o s e a   6 : 3 ,   E S V 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Love like I'm not scared...

I was working at the church this morning with both boys.  They were running around and climbing on the chairs in the choir room, pretending to be planes and Angry Birds.  I don’t ask. I just let them run, climb and beg them to not scream louder than my Pandora playlist can play.  I was stocking, prepping for Sunday and praying over the service, for our ministers, for our team.

I got a text while stacking Dr. Pepper and water that wasn't the best of news.  I froze immediately in fear and despair.  My heart wailed.  God, I can’t handle more.  I just can’t.  I all but fell down on one of the floor speakers and buried my face and cried.  I thought the boys were oblivious until the squealing stopped and I heard a voice, “Mommy, why are you crying?”  

So, I lied.

“I’m not.  I’m just praying.”

Not entirely a lie. Sometimes tears are prayers all by themselves.  

I got up and pushed myself to refill both of the Keurig machines and prop up the bags of bagels.  Organized bags of chips as though it mattered.  I stood a little long at the back door, staring at the pond.  Pandora paused.  Silence.  

Good, I thought.  

I just wanted to stand in complete quiet.

“Why did the music stop?” Five year olds never stop asking questions.  I took a slow breath.  Watched the clouds float slow over the blue sky, the blue pond.

“Just wait.  The music will come back on.  It’ll always come back on.” I told him without turning.

I pressed pause on my heart.  Just wait.  Just hold on.  Just listen.  Fix your eyes and tune your ears and honey, oh sweet baby, you’ll hear it.  You’ll hear the music continue.  You’ll find a song to keep singing.  

Early this morning, while my house slept and the sun was still hidden, I read about how we are living stones.  All rolled up together for His glory and His purpose.  How we’re a treasure to Him.  

Living temples, if you will.  

We’re a cocoon for grace and mercy.  A holy of holies, right here under our hearts.  A walking, breathing, living church.  Hinged on Christ, the cornerstone.  

"The Rock won't move and His word is strong..." 
~  V e r t i c a l   C h u r c h   B a  n d   

He is unmoving.  He is unchanging.  His song, His anthem, bellows out above us, regardless of the times, the shipwrecks, the sorrows.  There’s peace and hope in that.  Apart from Him, we fall apart.  But knotted together, we’re a strand of living stones, a string of much-loved pearls, around His neck and in His hands.  We always mater to Him.  We never stop mattering to Him.

And when our throats are too sore to sing, it’s okay.  We can quiet and wait and listen...

And hear.

"The things of earth are dimming
in the light of Your glory and grace.
I'll set my sights upon Heaven;
I'm fixing my eyes on You,
on You; I'm fixing my eyes on You.
I'm fixing my eyes."
~  F o r   K i n g   &   C o u n t r y

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

He Breaks Every Chain...

On the way home from preschool, Joel tells me about the video they watched of Jesus dying on the cross.  I tilted the rearview mirror to see his face, his eyes.  He was visibly upset, moved.  He kept saying, "But they took His body away!" and his voice snagged against the words.  "How could they take His body away?"  

How could they take Him?

It's the great goodbye.  When someone you love is gone, for what feels like, forever.  How can they be gone? How can this be the end?  How do we let this all go?  The memories flood and you sob under a hot steam of water in the shower.  How did you go from there to here?  How could I have forgotten to send that card, make that phone call?  And now the what if's and the should have's are small on the scale.  The loss itself outweighs it all.

How can they be taken away?

I thought of the concept of loss, of letting go, earlier in the day.  I stood at the edge of the pond behind my church, reflecting on my own baptism, reflecting on my own fears, reflecting on my own terror of the possibility of having to let go of what feels too soon.  I watched two geese move from the brown bank into the blue water.  They sailed effortlessly across the surface.

Moving from land to water didn't bother them.  They were unfazed.  If anything, they looked more at home regally gliding than standing against the hem of the water, honking at me.  They could easily be at home in both places - land or water.  They were just fine up there on the growing grass.  But they were more them in the pond. I nodded to the ripples and to the clouds above.  Okay.

Whether it's family or friend, loss is loss.  And watching them go through the great door that is not for you, not yet, is hard.  Unbelievably hard.  But when we can get past the sudden wrenching in our own hearts, we realize that while they could be just fine here with us, at home even, they were never created to stay here.  They weren't made for this world, this kingdom.  They were made for a greater space, a greater glory.  And jealousy might itch against our palms a little, wishing we could walk through, too.  It's always worse for the ones left behind.

I watched my son's face and thought about that despair I heard in his little voice.  We've read and talked lots about Jesus in his five short years.  We've done a lot of prayers, a lot of explaining, a lot of personalizing that Christ is real, that He is relevant, that He is here, that He loves.  He saves.  He's as real to my son as is his great-grandmother who is hours away.  He's family.  He's Someone we love.

And how could they just take Him away?

I get it.

We love Him.  His disciples loved Him, too.  When He told them that He was going away, that He would prepare a place... did they want Him to stay with them?  No, they wanted to go, too.  They wanted to be wherever He was.  If they take You away, let them take us away.  The gut wrenching terror.  Oh no.  No.  Don't.  Don't go somewhere that we can't follow.  Don't leave us here... without you.

It's love that makes us want them to stay.  And it's love that makes them want to go.

I watch Joel's face as he stares solemnly out the window. The tears just beneath the surface.  He's processing. Dealing.  Questioning.  "Honey, I have to run in and get Travis.  I'll be right back and we can talk more about Jesus, okay?"  He nods with sorrow and with mixed relief.  As soon as I get back in the van and we're all stowed away and ready to head home, he turns to me.  He wants to know more.

I remind him that yes.  Yes, they did take His body away.  Yes, He died on that cross.  "Did they put him in the tomb in the movie you watched?"  He said they did.  "And what happened?"  His eyes seemed to brighten a little, a small light being switched on.

"He rose again."  I choke.

"That's right. Baby, He rose again.  They may have taken Him away but they could not keep Him there." 

I feel truth burning in my heart, a recently learned choir tune racing through my mind.

"Joel, do you know what Jesus did for us while His body was taken away?  He went down into the darkest place, into death... and He took all the keys.  All the keys that would lock us away... He took them.  So that we can be free.  So that we can live with Him forever.  He had to die on the cross and they had to take Him away... it's the only way He could come back and take us away, too." 

And in my minivan on a Tuesday afternoon I proclaim freedom to my son.  To myself.  In the midst of the scary, the unknown, the please, please prays... into it all, I speak what I know.

He took the keys.  And He had to be taken away.

There was no other way.  It had to happen.  It had to go down just like that.  So that we can have hope.  Life.  Forgiveness.  Grace.  Mercy.  Love.  

So that when we are all taken away,...

...we know exactly where away will be.

Do not let your hearts be troubled. 
You believe in God; believe also in me.
My Father’s house has many rooms; if that 
were not so, would I have told you that I am 
going there to prepare a place for you? 
And if I go and prepare a place for you, 
I will come back 
and take you to be with me that 
you also may be where I am. 
You know the way to the 
place where I am going.”
~  J o h n   1 4 : 1 - 4

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.



"... 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