Thursday, February 23, 2012

down with a thud

In January, God gave us the gift of rest.  

A whole week of sun and sand and blue ocean, and eating delicious food I didn’t have to cook on dishes I didn’t have to wash.
It was wonderful.

But even as I was stretched out full length in the sun, uncurling inside and out, luxuriously unwinding from the cold weather and stresses of life in Central Asia, I found my mind irresistibly drawn to the question of “How can I preserve this feeling when I get back?”  
Every moment in the sunshine I had to choose to live in that moment and enjoy everything it held, instead of fretting over how to plunk it in formaldehyde so I could take it home with me.
On the flight home, my suitcase in the belly of the plane filled with dried papaya, shells and silk scarves, I felt the heaviness start to descend again.  The closer we flew to the cold and the dreariness of bureaucracy and politics and frozen pipes, the more my heart sank.  Forgetting my slightly tanned skin, massaged shoulders, lighter heart, and images of blue ocean filling my mind’s eye… I could feel the fingers tightening around my stomach.  
Frustrated, I spent the first few days home spreading reminders around my house: bowls of shells, a windchime, woven baskets… I wore my new silk scarf every single day, and in defiance, I even layered my new sundresses with warm leggings and a merino undershirt to try to preserve the tropical feeling a little longer.  

It’s not that I don’t love our life here.  It is truly everything I dreamed for my life to be - deep down, at the heart level, where it counts.  I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else or be ministering to anybody else.  But living in Central Asia is just plain hard sometimes.  It’s inconvenient,  frustrating, depressing - a daily fight to stay joyful, cheerful and focused.  Hence, the reason our week of resting in the sun was so essential and delightful - and why it is always hard to come down with a thud.
So… what‘s the secret to staying sunny and relaxed in a stressful, challenging environment?  Well, if you have any thoughts, leave them in the comments, since I sure don’t have it all figured out yet!  

But part of it, I think, is choosing to be all there, right where you are, wherever you are.  I chose to be all in the sun while I was in the sun, and when I got back to the snow, I had to choose to be all there in the snow too.  Our first week back home from our holiday we went sledding, drank hot chocolate, lit candles, watched movies, lit a fire, cuddled up with cozy blankets and read new books from a wonderful package from home that was waiting for us when we got back.  

And I wore my sundresses and listened to my windchime and caressed my shells, and put the ocean on my computer desktop.  I think part of being all there is weaving in bits of everything you love, wherever you are.  Don’t you?

What’s one way you’ve found to be all there, wherever you are?

Monday, February 20, 2012

exercising the gratefulness muscle

Another Monday… and I’m struggling to be grateful.  This gratefulness thing is like a muscle in my heart: when I consistently give thanks, the habit gets stronger and stronger and joy flows steadily, even in inconvenience.  When I stop for a few days (or a few weeks), my heart-muscle degenerates quickly back into mushy complaining, and the world goes back to looking gray and dour.  
Maybe it’s because I’m so “all or nothing” - if I don’t write down a whole list in a day, I just don’t write down anything at all.  And I feel awful.  Bland.  Joyless.  Guilty.  Heavy.
How do I keep strengthening this gratitude-muscle?  What if I gave thanks for just three things a day?  What if I wrote down JUST ONE THING?
The cross of Christ.
My healthy, thriving children.
My faithful, loving husband.
A roof over our heads.
Aren’t these things true every single day?  And couldn’t remembering to give thanks for them spark joy every single time?
I write “Feb 20” at the top of a fresh page in my gratitude journal, and start new today: 

1199. New praise from Kari Jobe1200. Fresh sounds, inspiration1201. WATER RUNNING1202. Living Water1203. Chicken and dumplings1204. A little more energy1205. That even though I keep taking my eyes off of You, You shine out so gloriously that You call me back to You, and I come running

Deep down, under the tiredness and the water issues and the depressing, defeating state of affairs we’re currently walking through, I can feel the joy-trickle start.  
He never changes.  
He is always the same.  
He is always Joy Himself, Joy-filled, and able to Fill with Joy.  
What do you do to exercise your gratitude muscle when you just don’t feel thankful?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

of trust and knotted shoulders

Proverbs 3
5  Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and lean not on your own understanding
6  In all your ways, acknowledge Him,
and he will make straight your paths.
7  Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
8  It will be healing to your flesh,
and refreshment to your bones.
Morning and evening, all of January, I’m mulling over these words.  I’m practicing trust.  One day, my mind zeroes in on the last two phrases, as though I’ve never heard them before: 
It (trust) will be healing to your flesh,
and refreshment to your bones.
I’m a wound-up tight kinda girl.  I’ve had chronic tension in my shoulders and neck for years.  It’s hard to fall asleep at night because my mind churns over all the things I didn’t get done that day.  
Could trusting the Lord actually heal my tight shoulders?  And what would “refreshment to my bones” feel like?  

After an evening of ending up in a sobbing puddle over tangles of addresses and spreadsheets and imperfect systems, I call my Mom the next morning.  She can tell I’m wound up tighter than a steel drum.  I snap, “Be QUIET!  Mommy’s on the PHONE!” at the boys in the first five minutes of our conversation.  I can feel her taking deep breaths (for me) on the other end of the line.

Eventually, I’m calming down under her familiar, loving voice.  We wind around through the tangles until we get to the root: In this “Year of Letting Go” (newborn, less than one month old), I just can’t seem to figure out how to “let go” of things that are actually and rightfully my responsibility.
She reads me a quote from C.S. Lewis.  We’ve always loved reading aloud to each other.  
“Man’s love for God must always be very largely, and must often be entirely, a need-love.  This is obvious where we implore forgiveness for our sins or support in our tribulations.  But in the long run it is perhaps even more apparent in our growing - for it ought to be growing - awareness that our whole being by its very nature is one vast need; incomplete, preparatory, empty yet cluttered, crying out for him who can untie things that are now knotted together and tie up things that are still dangling loose. (emphasis added)”

~C.S.Lewis, The Four Loves
"Him who can untie things that are now knotted together." 
Proverbs 3:8. [Trust] will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bonesOf course.  We are holistic beings, all connected within ourselves, and something knotting up my heart will of course knot up my body as well.  
My knotted stomach starts to uncurl. 

It’s okay to be needy.  It’s okay for me to need from God. 

It’s okay to not be perfect, because that is the reality of my real relationship with God: imperfection meets endless grace.  

I take slow, deep breaths.  I work this out.  

I am incomplete.  Preparatory.  Empty, yet cluttered.  
My neediness is where God can show His glory.  (Of course - it’s all over Scripture - but now it’s becoming Real in my daily-ness.) 
I hate being needy.  I reject it and fight it.  It bruises my pride.  It feels messy and incomplete.  I don’t like receiving, or needing to receive, or admitting I need to receive.  
But... God gets most glory by meeting my need.  I am one vast need, and my craving is Him, Himself.  And isn’t my greatest joy found in His glory?  Isn’t that why I exist, in the first place?  
Let’s get down to brass tacks, here: Isn’t this really all about Him anyway?  
In the moment of failure, I am utterly miserable, because I have become the center of my own universe, and I hate feeling like a failure - that is my idol.  As I read Lewis’ words, it hits me: that moment of my abject, miserable need is not only permitted and even validated, but planned, and should be given thanks for because it is a chance for God to show His glory through me!  

And in my snapping at the boys, in my puddles of tears and panicky flailings against things I can’t control, I have a choice: will I deny my need, clench my fists, and stay utterly miserable in my failure, or will I let go and be willingly needy and let God be big and glorious in me?
Each moment is another chance to choose trust.  

Two Trust-Level Checks
(I’m so glad God is practical.)
Here are two helpful tests the Holy Spirit gave me for checking my trust-level (maybe they'll help you too?:

1) How stressed am I feeling right now, on a scale of 1 to 10?If I’m above a 3 or 4, I’m hanging on to something too tightly.  {Since I can only feel one feeling at a time, I cannot feel stress and trust at the same timeWhere trust is present, stress cannot survive.} 

2) Check my tone of voice:
If my tone of voice is causing someone (including me) to wince, I’m clinging to an idol (usually control, or an expectation) in my heart and loving it more than Jesus, and more than the person I’m speaking to.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

shadow sounds of true soul

One day it’s all going to coalesce.
All the pieces will fall into place, and I will finally be free to create the art I’ve always dreamed of making.
That’s how the thoughts come these days, these days holding only snippets of me-time when I get to choose dishes, laundry, email, nap OR… art.  
My pieces lie scattered: A recording system I purchased last summer but don’t know how to use.  An electric piano I rarely touch.  Journals filled with scribblings of poems, set to solfeggio melodies with chords.  Musical connections all over the world.  Thoughts and images floating through my head, scraps and shards, needing some magnetic force to draw them all together. 

I say, I’ll just sit down to the piano for a minute… And seconds later, little hands are clamoring for a turn at the keys, and how can I resist the sweetness of little bodies wanting to fight for my lap to have their turn at music-making, and the wealth of small fingers under mine?  Isn’t this art of a different kind?  Yes, of course, I think, but there is the other waiting in the wings, and part of me aches for grown-up things.  

I listen to CDs of lullabies bequeathed by a friend who’s left the country, and I listen to art made by singers become mommies, and I think, I could do that.  Why don’t I?  It’s all the pieces on the floor, and I just don’t know how to pick them up and put them together.
Wait, says that Quiet Voice.  Just wait.  We’re getting there, you and I.  I do have a plan, you know.  
I sigh.  I do know.  I just find waiting and holding my artistic breath difficult, when there is so much beauty to be created.
I thumb through emails, and come across this in blue, penned thoughtfully by one of my sweetest friends, (a breath-taking singer and a sensitive, brave mommy):
We are writing poems, memories, and songs within the hearts of our children each day, and it is there that perhaps we are the truest recording artists we ever will be, perhaps all the rest is the shadow sounds of true soul we try to capture with our instruments.
And I find my breath returning.  I am suddenly at peace.  It is there, within the hearts of my children each day, that perhaps I am the truest recording artist I will ever be.  And perhaps all the rest is the shadow sounds of true soul.  

My heart aches with truth.  I listen to Jewel’s mesmerizing voice, thankful that a mommy somewhere had all her pieces linked just right to capture these delicious shadow-sounds for my true soul.  

And I catch glimpses of my boys’ hearts growing up with memories and songs recorded on their hearts… making music of their own one day.

{Ben, trying to walk in my shoes}

Monday, February 6, 2012

counting the hard eucharisteo

Counting the hard eucharisteo.  This is not easy.  At. All.  It’s hard.
In fact, naming frustrations as blessings is completely upside-down and counter-intuitive.  Did I mention, really hard to do?
I wrote this list down in sheer, dogged obedience to the hard eucharisteo, believing Ann’s insistence that ALL is grace, not just the nice poetic moments:
“Thank you, God, for…

1041. Criticism
1042. Being faced with my sin 
1043. Being humbled 
1044. Failing 
1045. That He promises His strength will be made perfect in weakness 
1046. That I’m not perfect (ugh!) 
1047. That life’s not perfect (ugh!)  
And it wasn’t until I got that far, and wearily read back over my list with a sigh, that I saw it.  How all is grace.  It stopped me in my tracks.  
I heard Jesus finish each sentence in my mind with a new ending.
So, I obediently wrote them down.  And with each addition, my joy-spring welled higher.

1041. Criticism - because it forces me to grow 
1042. Being faced with my sin - because IT forces me to grow 
1043. Being humbled - because it’s healthy and Christlike 
1044. Failing - because it forces me to depend on God 
1045. That He promises His strength will be made perfect in weakness 
1046. That I’m not perfect (ugh!) - because Christ can be glorified in me 
1047. That life’s not perfect (ugh!) - because God’s glory can be displayed all the more brightly 
1048. That God is determined to grow me in spite of myself 
1049. Grace 
1050. More grace 
1051. A husband who is usually right, and when he’s wrong, admits it
The FACT is: even my most hateful, nauseating sins and the ugly, frustrating fact of imperfection belong on my gratitude list - because ALL is grace.  Each ugliness can be transformed by grace into beauty.  
And, I get to number this daily miracle.  A front-row seat to glory.  
AND, it's proof that I am not just dreaming about growing; I am actually being made more into His image moment by moment, thanks by thanks, “gift” by grace-filled gift.  
Even the moments that don’t look like gifts at first actually are.  

{pictures of a spectacular frost last month}

Thursday, February 2, 2012

cultivating trust: the triumph of letting go

If the antidote to perfectionism is letting goand the way to let go is to trust, then the Year of Letting Go needs to be about cultivating trust.  

And the best way to cultivate trust I know of is to chew on trust-filled words of Scripture, and then put those words into action.
I open my Bible and start digging.  I make another list in my journal.  Twelve trust-passages, one for each month of this new year.  
January’s passage?  The first one to spring to mind:
Proverbs 3 
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and lean not on your own understanding.
6 In all your ways, acknowledge Him,
and he will make straight your paths.
7 Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
8 It will be healing to your flesh,
and refreshment to your bones.
The first eleven days of January, I mull over these words from the third chapter of Proverbs.  Every morning, as part of my morning routine, I read them out loud to myself.  I make a playlist on my iPod of songs with “trust” or “heart” in them, and treat myself to one new song every morning.  Sixpence None the Richer’s “Trust” rolls around in my heart, soothing, settling.  I immerse myself in truth.  I practice trusting.
I practice trusting in the small moments, and then one day, it happens.  
My first real test.

{Can I open my hand and receive whatever God gives?}

It’s 8:00am.  My husband should be leaving for work soon, but he’s still in the office sitting at his computer.  Soon he comes to the kitchen door, where I’m still tidying up from breakfast.  I can feel him hesitating.
“Um… how would you feel…” he’s bracing himself, I can feel it.  “How would you feel about... going into the city today?”  Over four hours in the car.  We had two families of guests yesterday (mountains of dishes), and two more families expected for dinner tonight.  My helper’s coming in an hour.  My to-do list looms.  
He’s waiting for my answer.  And now I know why he braced himself; he’s waiting for my explosion.  My heart saddens.
And I see it clearly.  This is it, the moment of truthTrust in the Lord with all your heart, do not lean on your own understanding rolls through my mind.  I take a deep breath.  I feel myself calm, steady.  I keep my voice light.  “Why do we all need to go today?  Why can’t you just go, and then if we all really need to come in we could go tomorrow?”  (Tomorrow my day is completely free.)  I keep reasoning: “There really isn’t any proof they need us to redo these documents - what if we drag the boys all the way in there for nothing?”  I talk him out of it.  He agrees, goes to get ready for work. 
I go back to wiping the table, but I keep thinking.  If we don’t get these documents sorted out this week, it will infringe on our holiday next week.  And today is the first business day of this week, the sooner the better.  I could tell he really thought we should go in today… 

I give in, surrender in my spirit.

I lean into the door of the study.  “Love, if you think we should all go in today, I will make it happen.  Really.  I just need to be back by 4:00 (inwardly wincing) to start the pizza dough.”  

He looks up, doubtful.  Waiting for the explosion.  Praise be, it doesn’t come.  She’s serious.  Hesitantly: “Well, yes, I do think it would be wiser to all go today…”
“Okay.” I spring into action, mentally rearranging my entire day, flipping through my to-do list to find anything portable I can bring along to make the most of those hours in the car.  Laptop goes in the bag, iPod with speakers for the boys to watch Sesame Street, stuff a ziplock with every snack in the closet… Grab water bottles, cuddlies for naptime, diapers for Ben… Quick, get the boys dressed, quick call my helper and tell her to come tomorrow.  Grab purse, hat, coat, scarf, gloves, bags, boys, carseats, out the door, into the car… 
As soon as we’re all strapped in and driving away, James says quietly to me, “Thank you, love, for being so gracious.”  And in those words are the whole world.  

We had the. best. day.  
Stimulating, encouraging conversation with my husband in the car, listening and discussing audio books; the boys were good as gold; we got all our paperwork turned in, bought the boys hamburgers for lunch, and headed home again.  We were home by 3:00.  A whole hour earlier than I asked for.
I took a deep breath, stretched my aching back, and went straight into the kitchen.  I finished the dishes I’d left behind, hung up the load of laundry that stayed in the washer all day, and sat down at the kitchen table for a quick cup of tea to gather myself, before starting to prepare dinner for six adults and six kids, arriving in an hour and a half.

The door opens.  “Hello? Aunty?”  It’s two local teenage girls, a neighbor girl and her friend, here to practice English.  

I must admit, I almost didn’t pass this second test, coming so close on the heels of the first. 

Twice in one day, Lord?  I panicked.  I can’t have them here right now!  I have so much to do!  I couldn’t think straight.  

I had literally just sat down with my tea, so I put on a fake smile, poured them each a cup as well, and we sat there awkwardly at the kitchen table while I fought with myself to be gracious.  “We just got home from the city, and we have guests coming soon,” I said in a rush, hoping they’ll get the hint, “so I really don’t have much time.”  
“Oh, can we help you?” in their sweet, stilted English.  I couldn’t even think what task I had to do first, I was so rattled.
“Oh, no, that’s ok,” I mumbled, hopping up and fiddling with things in the fridge.  Just leave, please just leave… I can’t think with you here… 
And then the Lord whispered, “Just. Trust. Me.”

So - I did.  I just trusted.  

I got out the stuff to chop for my salad, saying, “Well, actually, you could help me make the salad, if you want to…”  These girls were expert salad makers.  Their cubes of cucumber and tomato were exquisite.  They had six flower-like plates of labor-intensive malibu salat (little piles of cubed kielbasa, cheese, cucumber, tomato, canned corn and croutons with mayonaise in the middle) ready in a fraction of the time it would have taken me alone.  

Meanwhile, I concentrated on my pizza dough and my heart… as the dough rose, so did my heart.  
By the time our guests arrived, I was all ready to welcome them, and I could never have done it if I had been on my own.  The girls sweetly said goodbye and got ready to leave, and as they were putting their coats on, I looked them both in the eyes and said, “I know God sent you two today, to help me get ready for these guests.  I never could have done this without your help!  You are my helpers from God!”  

See? said that still, small, gentle Voice in my heart.  I told you so.  

* * * 

Do you have a story about letting go and reaping the rewards of trust?
Share it here!