not so little things

On Sunday morning, while visiting my brother and his family in Michigan, our vehicle’s horn decided to malfunction.  It blared a loud, piercing, continuous blast for ten minutes or more.  After Tim had been outside trying to make it stop for five minutes or so (it took a little while to realize it was our vehicle making the horrendous noise), I prayed God, please make it stop, and within a couple seconds, Tim had found the proper fuse and pulled it out, silencing the horn.

Later, on our way home, I developed a pretty bad headache.  While stopping for a bathroom break, I asked Bethany to pray for me.  She did, and the headache went away immediately.

As we continued our drive, around what would normally be bedtime, the kids all started getting somewhat unruly.  Our car’s cd player, which tends to malfunction, hadn’t been working for any of the 5 hours we had been driving up to that point.  At that moment, I thought music might really help the situation, so I prayed God, please let the cd player work, and I reached over to turn it on.  It worked, and continued working for the rest of the drive.

Still later, around 11pm, all of the kids were asleep when Isabelle woke up and started screaming at the top of her lungs.  After a couple minutes of trying to console her, and feeling pretty hopeless of having success since she almost never calms down on her own, I prayed again - God, please let her calm down and go back to sleep.  Only a few seconds later,  she was sleeping.

I know that maybe those all seem like small things, and taken individually, I probably would have been tempted to just call any one of those instances coincidence and not thought any more about it.  But, as we finished our drive, God was impressing on my heart that these answered prayers were purposeful reminders that He is with me, with us.

Sometimes life can make me think that maybe I’m missing Him.  Maybe I’ve taken a wrong turn.  Maybe I’ve forgotten His voice.  Maybe I’m deceiving myself by thinking that He will be our defender, that He is faithful to work in us and in our circumstances.  I question often whether I really know Him at all.  I’m terrified of the possibility that I could somehow become so wrapped up in myself and my ideas that I stop seeking Him, and then stop truly seeing Him.

I think God knows that.  I mean, I’m sure He does.  So, though these days have held a lot of unanswered questions, frustrations, and sometimes feelings of hopelessness, and though it seems that God’s timing in certain areas just isn’t what I would like it to be at times, He has been showing up in the “little” things.  And these things remind me that He is still loving, He is still powerful, He is still concerned with even the smallest details of our lives, and He is trustworthy.

words

I’ve been thinking a lot about words lately.  I like words.  I tend to place a high level of importance on words, both in what I speak…or write…and what I hear.  I like understanding and being understood and choosing the right words is, generally, how that is accomplished.

But, what has been weighing on me recently is the limitation of words.  As much as I might think that a certain word, or a certain explanation, clearly communicates what is in my heart…or what is in someone else’s heart, if I’m the hearer…the reality is that there are a number of things that muddy the waters and make it unwise to let anyone’s words alone be the basis for a determination of what their heart is in any given situation.

I say this because, as I consider some of my own words – words I’ve wanted to think were presented in an acceptable way, words I hoped would perhaps evoke a different response than what they’ve received – I’m realizing that I’m not even certain of all the reasons I used the words I did.  While I rarely try to make my explanations exhaustive, I usually think I at least know my underlying motivations, but although I usually can provide a reasonable accounting for what I’ve said, I’m finding that I sometimes arrive at a rationale based on what I think provides the best defense for my words, rather than based on an honest assessment of my heart.  It can be easy to just want to be right.

And even when I conclude that my words do accurately convey my heart in a matter, it’s becoming apparent that words can have different meanings to different people.  A whole host of factors can affect the interpretation and weight that we apply to specific words.  It isn’t simply a dictionary definition that will rule the day in how a word is understood, and I have to be careful in both the words I choose and how quick I am to judge someone else’s words because of this.  It’s possible that a communication breakdown is just that – some idea that simply got lost or distorted by our words – and not a deeper heart issue at all.

Honestly, this all makes me tempted to not say or write anything, ever.  I don’t want to miscommunicate.  I don’t want to misunderstand and I don’t want to be misunderstood.  My natural tendency when there is an issue over words is to want to dissect and analyze and figure it all out.  When I step back a little, though, I’m beginning to see a more important objective than figuring it out.  Because when words fail, there has to be a heart that is first seeking God’s glory.  And being understood may not be the most God-glorifying thing in a given situation.  Exposing someone else’s failed communication may not be either.  I need to make love most important.  Extending grace, forgiving freely, acknowledging the imperfect state of my own heart, seeking to understand another person’s heart even if their words have caused offense, choosing to believe that in these circumstances – as in all others -  true reconciliation, resolution, and peace are a work of the Holy Spirit. 

Lord, have Your way.

another year older

Tim is 37 today.  If you asked him, he might tell you that he doesn’t feel like he’s accomplished much in those 37 years.  He might point out that our house has far more projects that need to be done than have been done already.  He might note, with discouragement, that our bank account shows our finances barely in the black.  He might express worry that he doesn’t spend enough time with our kids, or that he’s doing something wrong in how he’s prioritizing life.

But I would disagree with him.  I do disagree with him on this, often and unwaveringly.  He has always and consistently put God first, and me and our children above every other pursuit in life.  If projects seem to be slow around here, it’s [almost only] because he’s been going to (and helping coach) basketball and baseball games, and serving me in innumerable ways, and taking time to read and sing and pray with our kids every night, and watching the same movie for the tenth time (or more) on Tuesday nights.  Or it’s because he does everything with excellence, which sometimes means things take a lot longer, and sometimes means things need to be re-done, and sometimes means project plans and priorities need to change.

And it can be hard to see that the money isn’t always there to do everything we’d like to do, but there has always been enough.  Through two rounds of unemployment in the past 7 years, there has been enough.  And we know that what is there is there honestly.  He has always handled our money with the highest integrity.  He has gone out of his way to never take advantage of, never cheat, never be miserly.  He gives generously and faithfully and without fear of what tomorrow will bring.

He’s not a perfect father, but he is a good dad.  As much as he wishes he could do more with our kids, I am positive none of our children feel a lack of attention from him, and every one of them loves the time he spends with them.  They know he loves them.  They know they’re more important than money and projects.  They know he is principled and kind-hearted.  They know he makes mistakes, and they know he knows that he makes mistakes.  They know what it is to be tucked into bed every single night by their dad.  He teaches them about God and tools and science and repentance and work ethic and honesty and vacuuming and cars and honoring parents and serving and giving and so many other things.  Our kids are blessed to have him as their dad.

It’s true that the world might look at Tim and see a life that isn’t filled with many things that are considered valuable in our society.  And it can be hard at times, not having immediately tangible results to show for how you’ve spent your life.  But I just want to take this opportunity to say that there is so much that Tim has accomplished in his 37 years.  His value to me and to our children is absolutely immeasurable.  The investment he has made in them will be bearing fruit beyond anything that any other investment could bear.  I am so proud to be his wife, and to be celebrating his life with him today.

and she’s one

Just like that, a year has passed and Isabelle is now a year old.

She was a smiley baby from the start, and that hasn’t changed.  She loves to laugh and smile.  Pat-a-cake is pretty much the most entertaining thing ever, as far as she’s concerned…because there’s so much clapping, which is just so much fun.

She is at the sort-of walking stage.  In a good moment, she can go four or five steps before she sits down.  She is taking the same cautious approach to walking that she did to crawling…wanting to have it all figured out before she’s all-in.

She’s eating some at every meal, but still has a definite preference for nursing, which, for some reason is harder to curb with her than it has been with the others.  Likewise, her sleeping habits have been stubbornly staying the same, which means almost every night still finds her waking up 3 or more times.  She is tenacious, and persistent, and tough, with just enough baby girl sweetness and sensitivity thrown in to make all of her siblings (and, usually, Tim and me, too) sympathetic to her demands.

Isabelle is rarely content to sit and snuggle.  She wants to explore and investigate and grab everything that her little fingertips can reach when stretching her arm as far as it can go while up on the tips of her little toes.  She has a loud, piercing scream that is her general announcement for wanting something she’s not getting (attention, food, a toy, being held, being put down), and is often an exuberant girl.

Tears still come to my eyes sometimes when she smiles at me and I can’t really explain it, other than to say that there’s a particular joy and innocence in her expression that I haven’t ever noticed in my other kids.  It melts my heart.  She’s beautiful, this girl of mine.  And I am so thankful for this first year of her life, for all of the things that make her unique and special, and for the life of purpose and destiny that stretches before her.  Happy Birthday, Sweetpea.

fifteen

Today is our fifteenth anniversary.  There’s a lot I could say about those fifteen years.  There’s a lot I could say about this past year.  Hard times, lessons learned, and issues we’re still figuring out how to work through.  But I’m not in much of a writing mood right now.  Maybe it’ll be a post down the road.  We’ll see.  But for now, I just wanted to say that I am thankful for my husband – for his principles, for his servant’s heart, for his love for our children, for his love for me.  He’s a good man and I love him.

a follow-up

Last week, I wrote about my frustrations with my temper.  I’d had a couple of days in a row of just not being able to stop myself from responding in anger to just about everything.  And while not every day is that bad, my daily reality is generally punctuated by at least an instance or two of me yelling when I should hold my tongue, or worse.  I regularly bring it to the Lord and ask for help in overcoming this particular sin issue, but any progress has always been negligible from my vantage point.  These past several days, though?  There’s been a difference.  A number of times, things that would usually get under my skin just…haven’t.  And other times, when I have gotten angry, there’s been a check in my response, a not speaking before I think – a remembering to reply calmly and with grace.  I know it’s only been five days, and I don’t expect that I can let down my guard in this area, but the change in these days gives me hope that I’m not beyond help.

If you read that post, and you prayed for me, thank you.  It matters.  So very much.  I don’t know why it is that someone else’s prayers make a difference when mine seem so fruitless, but those prayers are precious to me.

In that same post, I was also struggling with how to come to God in my imperfection – wondering how many times I could fall and still, somehow, be welcomed into His presence.  It was a bit of a pity-party, I guess.  ‘Cause, yeah…I get it.  It’s not anything I’ve done that allows me to come to Him anyway; it’s not about me at all.  And even in my worst moments, God is unchangingly good, and worthy of being worshiped.  He doesn’t somehow become less deserving of that sacrifice of praise just because I happen to be more aware of how desperately lost I am apart from Him.  If anything, the disparity should only serve to send me running to Him all the more in gratitude and awe.  I do get caught up in my selfishness sometimes, though, and I focus on myself and not on Him.  In these moments, I am thankful for reminders that help me correct my gaze, that magnify the Lord, that speak truth to my soul.

I know I’m not perfect.  I know that I let that imperfection show pretty blatantly on this blog, sometimes.  I guess if you’re reading this, then it means you haven’t written me off even though my words aren’t always redemptive.  Thanks.  And if you pray for me, thanks a thousand times over.  God’s got a lot of work to do in me.  But He is working.

because it’s that time of year

Things are starting to grow outside.  I think this is always my favorite part of gardening – the part when the brown, barren-looking ground starts to give way to new life.  When my soul breathes a sigh of relief that this cycle of death and re-birth hasn’t been broken.  When I am reminded, again, that even despite the discouragement of some things not turning out how I would like, God can make other things flourish that I expected to never see again.  It brings joy to my heart, this assurance that even when my best plans fail, He always has good prepared for me.  I’m so thankful for how springtime displays His faithfulness and speaks truths about His nature that I can be prone to forgetting.

bleeding hearts
azaleas, our most recent addition
one of our three tulips
the first-ever blossoms on one of our apple trees
a mother’s day gift that Elijah brought home from Friday School
Elijah’s bean plants that he is so proud of
our asparagus patch
spinach sprouts
bean sprouts
kale
sugar snap peas

as time disappears

As I was making my bed this afternoon, for a moment, I felt like it should be February still.  Since Tuesday is our sheet-washing day here, in the earlier months of the year, I often ended up making the beds in the evening, while almost everyone else was gone to Upward practice.  So today, even though there was sunshine streaming in through the windows, I was caught off-guard for a moment by the realization that this is May.

Honestly, my heart sank a bit.  It’s not that I have any interest in five o’clock sunsets or piles of snow.  It’s that time seems to be slipping through my fingers.  Maybe it’s because I couldn’t stop yelling at my kids today.  I could say it was because I didn’t sleep well, or because the baby is sick, or because attitudes were atrocious – but the truth is that it’s just me.  I know it is.  This self-control issue that I just can’t get a handle on, no matter how many times I repent, or plead for God’s help, or think maybe I’m starting to do better.

And when I am blindsided by the disappearance of my days, I think about how fast my opportunities to demonstrate kindness and grace and patience are being swallowed into history.  I wonder at how my vision gets so filled with momentary cares that I completely lose sight of what’s important.  I try to adjust my perspective by spending time in worship…but really?…so many songs make me feel like a hypocrite, because I know that I can’t honestly claim that my life and my days are all His, or that they demonstrate any belief that He is holy or worthy or good.

Does He see me as a hypocrite when I can’t manage even the most basic effort to do what’s right in His eyes?  How far do His mercy and grace extend?  Will He work in my kids despite my terrible example?  Can He possibly have any use for me when I can’t even get this most important job – of helping my kids see Jesus – right?

I know that nobody’s perfect.  I understand that my children need to see my brokenness to get a clear picture of what Jesus has done for me, but there are times when I have a hard time believing that they would want to be anything like me, or want to serve the God that I claim to serve as I’m throwing a fit.  And maybe the worst part of it is that all of this can go through my mind and I still don’t change.  I hate who I am but I feel helpless to change.  And time is running out to do better.

my life and my Life

I want to tell you about Jesus.  I’m not a great story teller – I tend to be a bit too detailed, but not in the way that makes you feel as if you’re in the story.  But the best way I can tell you about Jesus is to first tell you about me.  Because maybe you know something about me.  Maybe you have an idea of what my life has looked like.  Chances are, though, you don’t really have a clear picture.  What most people have seen would probably lead them to conclude that I was raised with good Christian values, with a strict presentation of right and wrong, in the safety and security of a godly home with no idea of what “real life” looks like.  And while I know for sure that there are people whose upbringing was much further from those things than mine was, mine was still far from ideal.

In our home, my mom always worked full-time (usually at decently paying jobs), while my dad stayed at home and looked after whichever of us ten kids were not in school.  Neither of my parents were raised as Christians.  While I don’t know all the details of their childhoods, I know that for my dad there were a number of things that made life hard for him growing up, things that carried over into the rest of life.  Not that I want to make excuses for him, but I want to say up front that I love my father and I am thankful for him.  He was there for me and my siblings in a lot of ways throughout our lives.  I know he loves me.  But he made mistakes, some hundreds of times over.

He was/is an alcoholic.  I guess that means different things to different people.  For us, it meant that, for nearly my entire childhood, hundreds of dollars every month was spent at the bar.  It meant often not having money to buy food or pay bills, and relying on food pantries, or bottle collecting (walking along the road, looking for bottles and cans that we could return for the five cent deposit), or searching through couch cushions to try to find enough change for a loaf of bread.  It meant hiding in my room as often as I could when I knew my dad was on his way home from the bar, because he was loud and violent and I was terrified of him when he had been drinking.  It meant switching homes and schools every year for the first ten years of my life because my parents could never stay caught up with rent.  It meant rarely having new clothes or shoes, not having milk money in kindergarten, sometimes missing school field trips because we couldn’t afford a couple dollars.  It meant feeling ashamed of myself and my circumstances and my family.  It meant learning to never trust authority.  It meant exposure to people in some of the lowest of circumstances, who were caught in oppression, running hard after physical pleasure and ending up very obviously dissatisfied in the pursuit.  Without a doubt, this particular failing of my dad’s affected a lot in my life.

Even beyond the drinking, though, there was a general lack of moral integrity displayed in our home.  Verbal communication was full of cursing, degrading, yelling, crude remarks and more.  There were almost no restrictions on movie and tv viewing which means rated-R movies and all the things that make them inappropriate for children were watched with regularity from as far back as I can remember.  Discipline was always accompanied by yelling and anger.  There was very little routine, almost no tradition, constantly disappointed expectations.  My mother worked hard and managed just about every aspect of our home and family and lives on her own, but was also often interested in just doing whatever would bring peace in the moment, which usually meant appeasing my dad’s whims.

There were good points, too, though.  We went for hikes and bike rides as a family.  My mom was loving and patient and encouraging.  My dad would take us to the beach, and play catch, and sometimes come to my track meets and school concerts and plays.  He’d randomly stop to get ice cream, and was so excited for us kids to see what we got on Christmas morning that he would often wake us up at midnight to open gifts.  I guess hindsight is closer to 20/20 than a moment’s perspective, but I think even as I was growing up, I recognized in my dad a desperate desire to do right, but an almost anguish of soul that his best efforts somehow always ended in what he considered failure.

Outside the home, I pretty much always struggled with feeling inferior, rejected, and invisible.  I found worth primarily in getting good grades, because it was the only thing that I was reliably good at, and it was the only thing that ever garnered me any sort of positive attention from anyone in life…or, at least, that’s how I remember feeling.  I was generally very good at doing what I was supposed to do.  I was, in fact, mortified of being seen as less than perfect, which was then, obviously, in direct opposition to my belief that nobody ever saw any good in me   In many ways, I was desperate for attention and affection.  I wanted to be known and loved.  I think it’s only fear of my father, and a deep conviction that nobody would actually ever want me…both of which perhaps turned out to be the grace of God…that kept me from trying to find acceptance in unhealthy relationships.   But my heart was always yearning, always breaking, always wandering.  I was never taught to be discerning in the emotional attachments I formed.  I was never taught to guard my heart.  It wasn’t stated blatantly, but in a thousand different ways, I was taught – at home and everywhere else – that my value depended on being loved by other people.  This meant I almost always felt worthless.

So, how does Jesus come into all of this?  As it turns out, often and randomly and sometimes unexpectedly.  Though my parents were not raised as Christians, they both became Christians early on in their marriage.  I’m not going to speculate on the sincerity of their conversion.  As I already described, ours was far from a godly home, but whatever else was said and done, Jesus was always presented as a standard and as a Savior.  Our church attendance was irregular for most of my life, usually just my mom and us kids, but we did have a regular church home through my high school years.  There were occasional periods of a month or two here and there when my dad would get us up early on Sundays to watch a preacher on tv, and I would sometimes see him reading his Bible, but for much of my life the evidence of his professed faith was quite limited.  The exception to this – really to a lot of what was “normal” in my childhood – came during those high school years when he did attend church and when (as a result, I think, of church attendance and a DUI which resulted in mandatory attendance at AA meetings) he rarely drank.  During this time, life was almost pleasant.  I don’t know that I can pinpoint all of the particulars, but I do think many of my “positive” notes that I mentioned earlier are memories that were formed during this time.  The difference that pursuing the Lord made in my dad’s life was significant, and it was not lost on me.

For my part, I remember praying to receive Jesus as my Savior when I was somewhere around five.  I had listened to a tape of Christian comedian Mike Warnke and cried my eyes out during the gospel presentation at the end.  I don’t remember anyone else being there, but my memory isn’t super clear.  I know I didn’t really understand what sins were, but what I do remember is realizing that a part of me was broken and that I needed Jesus to fix me.  It sounds simplistic, maybe not entirely theologically sound, but I am completely convinced that God saw my heart in that moment and came into my life and stayed with me through every moment since.  I was ignorant about much of what the Bible says – and about what it really meant to need and receive Jesus – for a very long time, but when I asked Jesus to be my Savior, I was entirely sincere and have never once doubted my need for Him.  That might seem strange – that my belief in Jesus which was initially founded on so little could grow and mature and deepen without some crisis of faith, some moment of wondering whether maybe I’d bought into a lie – but at every turn, it seemed there were answers before I realized there was a question, there were truths that affirmed my faith before that faith was ever attacked, there was just a knowing that God was with me.  He was faithful, when there were so many opportunities for me to go down the wrong path, to keep me following Him.  He protected my life.  He gave me hope and a future when I was often surrounded by what seemed like futility and despair.  He carried me through every storm -  I knew it then, I know it more now.

Not that there has never been struggle.  Far from it.  There were a lot of things that my childhood ingrained in me – and a lot of things that I just come by naturally – that strain against the truth of the Word of God.  There is a part of me that has always had a hard time understanding how God could see all of my worthlessness and think there was something about me worth the sacrifice of His Son.  This condition of my soul, the condition of every human soul – of having been born into sin, of having been separated from God’s presence, of being incapable of being good enough on my own no matter how hard I tried, of recognizing a deep longing in my soul for a love and a relationship that no person could satisfy – this condition has rarely been at the forefront of my conscious thought, but it has persistently made itself known throughout my life.  I’ve seen it in the ugliness – the selfishness, the jealousy, the hypocrisy, the cruelty, the heartlessness –   that is always arising in me, even when it doesn’t manage to come to the surface .  I’ve seen it in how hard I can try and try and try to do what’s right, and still end up doing wrong.  I’ve seen it in how every.single.person that I’ve ever thought could fill that void in my heart has somehow, sometime…and often many times…failed me, and left me unfulfilled and longing for more…more, such that enough couldn’t ever be found even if I had a million someones to try to fill this one greatest desire of my heart.

There is no question in my mind that I was made for relationship with God, because God wanted relationship with me.  And because God is only holy, and only good, and only righteous – and because all the sinfulness that I am can have no part in His glory – He traded with me.  The perfect life of His Son, laid down as a sacrifice – a substitute.  My sin that should have earned me eternal separation from God was laid on Him.  His righteousness that allowed intimacy with the King of kings, was given to me.  In truth, I can’t explain it all.  But I know what it is to feel the nearness of God, and, to some degree, I know what it is to be far from Him.  And I know, more certainly than I have known anything in life, that nearness with God is what I was made for.  In His presence is fulness of joy, and pleasures forevermore.  It’s true.  It’s the answer to the paradox that my heart was always faced with growing up – knowing my unloveliness, but wanting more than anything to be loved anyway; knowing that I could never be good enough, but wanting to be seen as perfect anyway; knowing that I didn’t deserve anything good, but always wishing that someday I might have better.  It doesn’t make sense, apart from Him.  It can’t make sense apart from Him.

He’s the answer.  The only answer.  Ever.

when words fail me, I try to explain anyway

Sometimes, words fail me.  How can I describe the indescribable?  How can I tell you of the way just a glimpse of God’s greatness completely shatters my heart, but in the best way?  I forget, easily, how not like me He is.  And when I have a moment of realization that He is all the good that I could never, ever be on my own, I am floored.  It’s not shock.  It’s not amazement.  It’s not even awe, necessarily.  It’s just this feeling that I couldn’t possibly ever put myself low enough before Him…like being prostrate on the ground would be too exalted a position in His presence.

And then, bowing before Him, recognizing that He wants me.

My heart.  My affections.  My service.  My worship.  My love.  My life.

As if there is anything about me that could ever add anything to Him.  It’s a paradox to me, that this Creator of the universe, self-sufficient, limitless, Holy, Almighty God would have desire, and that anything I could give could bring Him satisfaction or joy.  This amazingly beautiful, infinite, glorious God…He’s seeing all I am (which, trust me, is nothing short of inglorious on my best day) and is pursuing me relentlessly.  And shouldn’t it be the other way around?  I mean, of course it should…but how is it possible that I fail at this???  How can I, for even a millisecond, think that there’s anything else in life worth my pursuit – worth my attention and affection and desire?  How can I walk away and forget how worthy He is of everything I can possibly think to give?  And when I do…because I always, somehow, do…how is it that He still pursues me, as if I’m the one worth anything??

I can’t wrap my head or my heart around it.  But I know I need to take every opportunity to enter into His presence; to be reminded of all that He is, and all that I’m not; to let Him, in His grace, convince me again, and again, and again that satisfaction – deep, soul-filling, sufficient satisfaction – is only in Him.  It’s only in Him.