Monday, November 10, 2014

School rules, Prodigals and Pharisees

This Fall I have a new appreciation for “secondary” holidays. As soon as the school calendar came in the mail in August I flipped through it and put all the school holidays in my calendar with little smiley faces next to them knowing that it meant that Hayleigh would be home and we would have sporadic days of our old normal. I am so much more grateful for Christopher Columbus, our Veterans, and Martin Luther King now. I know it sounds totally shallow to say I am appreciative of these incredible people merely because it means my daughter gets a day off from school to cuddle and craft with me, but call me shallow then, because it is true. I love having all my kids home with me. I love not having to change out of our pajamas. And I love just devoting a day to devoting myself to them, even if nothing else gets done (besides sleeping in and a late breakfast). So, call me lazy too I guess. Hayleigh is off school today and tomorrow. Lazy, shallow days like this make me feel guilty for ever taking it for-granted all those years when I had my hands on her all day long. It makes me try to make the most of those precious hours and moments I have with her now.

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All that being said, I feel I should also say that school is going really well. Hayleigh loves school. Early on she struggled a bit socially to find her niche, which I am not going to lie was pretty near heart-breaking for me. When she came home many days crying with stories of mean girls that sent me spiraling back and re-living my elementary years drama/trauma, it was all I could do not to swoop in and decide we really were going to move to that cabin in the woods and be hermits. But I stuck with it, and so did she.
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I knew having a child in school would be an adjustment for all of us. We braced ourselves to adjust, because despite reading books and blogs or talking to other parents, you never know exactly how your family will need to flex until you are living it. I have had to be a bit more structured with my time. I have had to become more organized. No more scrambling the morning of. I want Hayleigh to leave for school with a full bucket, not just a full belly. I would hate to have her leave without a feeling of peace and be gone for 7 hours. This has been a tough one for us at times because we had become so accustomed to leisurely mornings since Peter begins work around 9:30-10 am and Hayleigh was in afternoon preschool last year.  I have had to say “no” to more things so I can say “yes” to other things-like being very present and available from 3 o-clock until bedtime. I am not saying this is how it has to be. It is just what works best for our family, and I am thankful every single day that I get to be home with Braxton and Royce all day and there to pick be the one to see Hayleigh’s face light up as we pick her up every afternoon in the school cafeteria. I love being the first one to hear her stories, even if I often have to remind myself this is not an interrogation and the poor girl needs some breathing room.

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The first few weeks Peter and I were ready for a personality shift. We had heard stories of sweet 5 years olds becoming almost unrecognizable for the first month or so until they adjusted to being “on” all day. We were ready to give grace, ready to coach her (and ourselves) through the emotional tornado we had been told about. But it didn’t come, at least not in the way we expected. She held up really well to the physical toll. She was fairly engaged and energetic when she came home. She obviously missed Braxton and Royce and would jump right in to pretend play with them. We would hear stories from school, learn kids names and hear about her “specials”. What I was not ready for is her neediness and how it would manifest in unfamiliar ways. The past month or so has actually been harder than the first month. Hayleigh’s teacher is tough at times. I remember it from when she was my teacher. I have witnessed it first hand this year and heard some stories from Hayleigh. We know her job is not to nurture; it is to teach. And Hayleigh IS learning. It is so cool to see her learning the beginning stages of reading and math! Hayleigh is very much a “words of encouragement” love language girl. Her teacher does not give much positive reinforcement or really any warm, fuzzy feelings what-so-ever. Again, it is not her job to hug, nurture or praise my girl. And this is not how God has made her. We trusted that God would give Hayleigh the exact teacher he wanted her to have in order to mold her into the person He wants her to be. We are confident that the teacher Hayleigh has is that teacher. But many days Hayleigh comes home with her bucket leaking and nearly empty. She is craving all the attention and affection I can give, sometimes even more than I think I have to offer. When she isn’t getting what she craves some new behavior has arisen. Our once rule-following daughter, who is obsessed with the rules/ adult approval at school,  is testing the limits at home when she rarely ever has before.

I am feeling a bit drained from it all, but trying to remember what a wonderful opportunity this presents to remind Hayleigh of the Gospel. She and I are so alike. We are rule-following, people pleasers. Sometimes it is easy to kind of let Hayleigh “slip through the cracks” in my parenting because she is “easy” and “good”. Braxton and Royce are younger and have different personalities that demand more of my energy (and often force me to my knees in prayer). I am reading “Give them Grace” by Elise Fitzpatrick (Mommy friends, read it. Read it. Read it.) She talks about two types of children: Little Prodigals and Little Pharisees. It is easy for me to discipline my prodigals. Okay, not so much easy to discipline, as easy to see the need for discipline. I have ample opportunities to remind them of their need for Jesus’ forgiveness, to encourage them that Jesus has the power to help them do what is right even if their hearts still need Him, and to tell them how wonderful it is that God rescued us from our sins. It really seems like good news to the prodigals. Prodigals know they need help. Us Pharisees though, we are the ones to whom the good news doesn’t always seem as good. We are the ones who often receive praise based on our behavior or performance. We start to think we have got this figured out. Exhaustion and overwhelming guilt and anxiety often follow pretty closely, but when we are clicking along following the rules, getting the nods of approval, pats on the back and stars on our papers, we feel like “we got this.” We thrive on rules. Positive reinforcement is our friend. “Go ahead, tell me how good I am. Did you notice how I not only followed that rule, but I also made a newer rule to follow just so I wouldn’t even come close to breaking that rule??…just so you would think I am awesome?” Ummm….hello modern day Pharisee. Yuck.

School (and all the rules that come with it) and new behavior at home have presented me with fresh ways to share the grace of God with Hayleigh. Rules are never enough to make us “good”. We are good because of Jesus. Hayleigh has been very relieved to hear that while obeying the rules is important it doesn’t make God look at her and see goodness. The reason God sees her as good is because He looks at her and sees His Son. She will often pray “Thank you God for putting the Holy Spirit in my heart so I can never be alone, so I can make good choices and so you see Jesus.” Oh, what a sweet reminder that is for me, a Pharisee. The Prodigals obviously need Him. The Prodigals were Jesus’ friends. Us Pharisees have farther to go, even though we think we are just steps away. I want so desperately to raise children who know they need Jesus, not children who know how to keep all the rules. I want kids who know that their value lies not in what they do, but in what has been done for them-on the cross. I want to raise kids who know God could never love them less or more than He already does. And I want to know that myself.
 
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Lately I have been having such amazing and beautiful heart changes when it comes to understanding God, His love, His grace. I could go on and on, and maybe I will someday (lucky you!). But for now, I will leave it at this. I wasn’t prepared for this rule following-Prodigal-Pharisee-stuff to be the way God grew us as we entered the school stage. I was expecting for it to be in conflict resolution, peer pressure, curriculum issues, learned behaviors that needed to be unlearned etc. But once again, God has surprised me. Once again God is using Mommyhood to teach me things about myself, and more importantly, about Him.

"Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Matthew 9:12-13
 
I want my kids to know they need a Doctor, just like I do. I want to introduce them to the Great Physician. I think that is the best possible way I can love them.
 
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Friday, November 7, 2014

striving to be marginal




Along with his many lines from “Anchorman” (“Don’t act like you’re not impressed.”), and his “hat trick” where he puts a baseball hat on and looks like he is in his 20’s and then takes it off and looks at least 45 (poor bald guy), Peter has another “go-to” that always makes me chuckle. He will say he “strives to be marginal”. I don’t know why, but for some reason jokes about laziness and mediocrity just tickle my funny bone. I mean why not set the bar low, right? Especially when it comes to the things in life that don’t matter much, like marriage, parenting, ministry, personal hygiene. And it is a good thing that those categories are things that aren’t at all important because I feel like I have been blowing it lately in every one of them (and also a few more important categories, like matching socks).

No but really, lately I have been feeling pretty marginal in almost every thing I get my hands on. Instead of everything I touch turning to gold, it seems to just kind of turn to an ugly grey-ish color with a little bit of mildew forming on the corners. (Ugh. That reminds me I need to clean the bathroom.) I feel like all my striving and striving leads me to one place:marginal. Whenever I get like this,  I tend to react in what, for the sake of continuing the sarcasm, we will call “the best possible way”. I wallow. I bemoan, and actually audibly moan, about how awful I am and how everything around me is grey-ish and mildew-y. I have found that this makes things none percent better. So in an attempt to kinda, sorta stop wallowing, but not really get too far out of my mud pit, I look for something to latch on to. Then the twig I have lassoed myself to snaps and I slump back into the pit and wallow some more. It is really pretty and incredibly mature. You should never try it.

Last night I was escaping my family. It was, as my dad often said/says, “so loud I couldn’t hear myself think”. Since I am not quite so far below marginal to completely desert my family, (for more than maybe a couple hours), I just zipped over to Joann’s to buy some crafty things for myself and let my head compartmentalize some things without people singing “Let it go” at about 10,000 decibels above “enjoyable” and for the 10,000th time past “oh, that’s sweet”, or fighting over who was fighting over the sting from the bow and arrow toy, and someone being almost two, and someone losing their poop because there was a bruise on one bit of banana and they really wanted apples slices annnnnyyywwwaaaayyyy. As I was driving and my head was sorting things as they fell  Tetris style, a song came on the radio, just faintly enough for me to hear it over my own thoughts. It was one of my favorites, so I turned it up and temporally turned my brain volume down.

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly trust in Jesus name
Christ alone; cornerstone
Weak made strong; in the Savior's love
Through the storm, He is Lord
Lord of all
When Darkness seems to hide His face
I rest on His unchanging grace
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil
My anchor holds within the veil

I have sung this song countless times. I have whispered it to myself in the noise. I have shouted it with buckled knees as I thought about my trials and my sin and my suffering. But for some reason I have never applied it to being a Mommy, ya know, the thing I spend my days (and nights) doing. I guess maybe because other things although they don’t necessarily seem more important to me, they may seem bigger. Does that make sense? “The darkness” in the song has always seemed to me to be speaking of extreme pain and suffering, or big tests and trials, not something as mundane as the dark moments of  motherhood.  But there are dark moments here. Moments where it all seems to be unraveling and the one who is supposed to be winding it back up into a nice, neat spool that makes sense and has a smiley face sticker smacked on top ,and is wrapped in a Biblical principle, is unraveling just as fast as everything else.  It is when you screw up again, yell at the kids again, model the same sinful behavior you are trying to discipline them for and don’t feel like you have a leg to stand on (or the leg you want to stand on just stepped on another Lego). Yeah, there are dark moments here in Mommy-land. Lately I have really been wallowing in that darkness. And it seems to hide His face a bit in this arena of my life.

Last night as I drove, the line “I dare not trust the sweetest frame” cut to the core of me (Baxter…that’s for you, Peter). What am I trusting in when it comes to my parenting? I try to parent with scripture. I try to shepherd their hearts.  I pray for and over them. I try to remember this is a marathon, not a sprint. It is not like I am doing this thing apart from Christ. But in my exhaustion and heaviness I realized that since Jesus says His burden is light, clearly I am not carrying His burden. I am trusting in some other frame. Am I relying more on my parenting books and blogs than on Christ…alone? Am I putting more weight into the heartfelt advice from beautiful friends that Christ…alone? Am I expecting a formula to “save” my kids? Even the “formula” that “no formula will save them”? Is the “sweetest frame” that I am relying on myself? (Now normally I would never call my frame “sweet”, but for the case of this example, and because as you can see clearly from this post both my self-esteem and personal hygiene are lacking, just humor me on that one.)

I had another thought this morning as I was vacuuming the down stairs in an attempt to drown out the noise. Yeah, I was vacuuming so it would seem quiet…or at least so it would be uniform droning. And I would rather deal with the kids waging war against the vacuum cleaner as it “attacked their house” than waging war on each other. Anyway, so I was vacuuming in the quiet. As I fend off arrows and swords and one screaming toddler with more than her fair share of snot, I was mulling over a verse that came up in my “quiet time” (ha!) this morning, a verse that our pastor spoke about a little while back: Philippians 2:12-13.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,  for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
 
The balance here seems so hard for me to grasp. I am the person who wants to be told exactly what to do and I will do it. Tell me how to achieve success. Tell me how to make you happy, God. Give me instructions on how to obey you, a formula even, and I will follow it. I am trying to get away from that tendency as I “grow up” but all to often I find myself falling back there. So, these verses about working out my salvation and God working in me, seem to contradict. Am I supposed to be working my butt off for God or am I supposed to be resting in Him allowing Him to work in me??? Tell me what to doooo!!! Our pastor explained it really well. I am going to butcher it as I try to summarize. What I took away from the explanation he gave was: God works in us to make us want to want what He wants. Then when we want what He wants, we go for it. Makes total sense, right?
 
Okay, here is a link to the first sermon in the series if my totally clear summary was somehow murky to you.
 
While I was vacuuming I was still wrestling with making sense of those verses, along with other verses about doing verses abiding etc. Those thoughts, coupled with how mediocre I have been at life lately and a desire to stop being so marginal, left me crying out for answers. Do I do? Or do I wait? Do I press on? Or do I allow God to bring about my fruit? Then where these verses have often left me feeling agitated, now I suddenly saw them as encouraging. It is a comforting thing that it is God works in me. I can’t work in myself. I wallow, remember? I am thankful that He is the frame I should cling to; He is the name I should trust in. He is the anchor that holds, even amidst the strongest, loudest (or the most mundane) storm. He compels me. He equips me. He makes me want to want what He wants. From another passage I have been reading/memorizing “He redeems my life from the pit and crowns me with love and compassion”. (Psalm 103:4). Sahweet. Because I want that. I need that. Isn’t love and compassion what I was backwardly trying to find in my mud pit anyway?
 
And since He is all those things I chose to work out my salvation with fear and trembling. No more wallowing in my pit. I have been given a crown. And even if the trembling is from feeble limbs not used to striving and working out their salvation, I will step forward. I will stagger and limp along the path He has for me, until He raises me up to walk or even jog (with a soft “j”…again for you, Peter). I am not sure of the balance quite yet. But God is working on me…and in me. And instead of feeling bogged down and confused by those passages, I will chose to rejoice that it is God who prunes me back, God who tends my fruit. It is God who planted the seeds to begin with. And it is for God’s glory that I have any fruit to offer at all. So, because of Him , I am lifting this “sweet frame” out of the pit and working it out. (Don’t act like you’re not impressed.) And yes, there is fear and trembling. But “my hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.”

Apple picking 2014

I figured since we went apple-picking close to 2 months ago that maaaayyybee it was time to put the pictures on the blog. Apple picking is one of my favorite traditions. I love to look back and see our family grow from year to year. It is amazing how much God has done in and for us over the past year. Traditions are a wonderful reminder of His faithfulness. So, here is a recap of our apple picking adventures over the years
2008-2011: here
2012: here
2013: here

And this year.
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I picked only one apple this year (one more than last year) but somehow we ended up with 62 pounds of apples!

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

moments without a camera

The giggles intertwined with the hot, moist “under the blankets” air and danced around me. Like fairies covered in pixie dust, they flittered through the air, which grew denser with happiness, and tickled my face at the corners of my mouth where the smile lines are. I felt them reach down and tickle my heart too, as this girl and her squinty-eyed, scrunched-face giggles have many times before. Her scraggly hair covered one eye. Her chubby hand clumsily swatted it back. Then suddenly she gasped and turned her ear toward the door. “Ah, what dat? You hide wid me, Mommy?!” She dove into me and burrowed herself into me. “Ssssss, Mommy. Dey comin!” One hand stroked her disheveled scraggles- just twisting and bouncing into curls at the nape of her neck. The other hand gave her naked thigh a squeeze or two, just enough to make her pop up, her head raising the ceiling of our fort, and giggle some more. It’s like a drug to me-those giggles. She whipped the blankets off of us to inspect. The late afternoon light shines in golden though the windows of our bedroom. As it glowed behind her her wisps of hair made a halo. I was so glad she didn’t cooperate when I wanted to brush it back this morning. Then under the blankets we dove again. More giggles. More squinty, winky smiles, which pudge her cheeks out as if they are literally, audibly calling for a kiss. Her bee-bo peeks out of her shirt, the one her big sissy wore for Christmas when she was a full year younger, the one this girl has insisted on wearing even though it barely covered her round little belly bulge, the one with Snoopy on it- holding mistletoe.  She throws herself into me again. “I yah you, Mommy”. I echo her. Then she responds “I yah you. I too, Mommy. I too.” I smell the cinnamon oatmeal from breakfast in her hair, and the air has a lingering smell of macaroni.   Our comforter casts a grey hue on us. It is as if I am watching this whole scene unfold in black and white. I close my eyes, hoping a slow shutter will capture this moment and file it away. I feel her excited breath on my face, she squirms up, scrunches her face up and back,-cheesing for my “camera”. Then collapses in giggles. And we lay there together, under the comforter, in the grey-golden light, completely lost in this moment. Completely found.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

I understand Brittany Maynard.

On Saturday this woman, Brittany Maynard,  is going to take her life in order to end her horrible suffering. And while as much as I would like to condemn her decision, I have to admit that I understand her. I have never had to face something as terrible as terminal cancer. I have never had to contemplate the indescribable pain that she is experiencing-the physical and the emotional. I never had to look into the eyes of my sweet husband and know with certainty that he will have an entire life without me after I am gone. But before I rush to judge her, I have to admit that despite not having to endure the same suffering she has, that I can understand so much of her. I sympathize with the desire to control the uncontrollable, to have some sort of a say over your “own” life. I know all too well what it feels like to watch the darkness closing in and feel like there is no way out. Or to feel that the only way out is to curl up in a ball and die as the the suffering washes over me and dies too. I know some of what she is experiencing because I too have felt so deeply wounded that I don’t think I can survive it. I have felt so desperately exhausted that I know I cannot even muster another step or another breath on my own. I have felt overwhelmed by fear, by worry, by the unknown. I have felt broken by suffering. I have feebly looked ahead and seen only a a thicket of more of the same suffering. And then beyond that- a deep, dark woods of worse, unimaginable, but very real, very promised suffering. If this thicket is ensnaring me, how can I even make it through that woods? Wouldn’t it be better if I just laid down here in this thicket and let it all just end?

 

While in many ways I cannot even begin to fathom (or speak about) this woman’s experience, in other ways her story has struck a cord with me, and resonated through me. In many ways I feel that I can relate to bits and pieces of her story and what she must be feeling. I don’t want to pretend to compare my suffering to hers. And I most definitely do not want to start some sort of political discussion. But I can’t shake her story. I can’t shake the twisting feeling in my stomach made by words unsaid, thoughts unarticulated. I can’t shake the powerful, life-altering things I have been learning through my own (and my family’s) suffering the past year or so. And I can’t shake the thought that although it breaks my heart to to think that this woman has had to suffer, and that she chooses to end it this way,- it breaks my heart even more to think of how so many of us (myself included!) often view suffering.

 

Since my dad’s formal diagnosis on January 15th of this year, and since his Doctor and my mom had the “between you and me conversation” last November, I have become acquainted with a new kind of suffering that I was not previously familiar with, and one no one wants to meet, but at some point most of us will. Just over this past year or two I have seen several dear friends and family members experience the kind of suffering that rends a person -the kind of suffering that twists you up like a wet rag to wring out every last drop of liquid, and twists harder, and again, and once more, and then just when you think the rag can’t twist any more, by some force it twists around just once more until it is so tight and so empty that you are afraid it might snap. Alzheimer’s has brought my family and I pain I had never experienced, and only the promise of a deep, dark woods of worse pain. Whatever the tool of the suffering my loved ones have experienced, this kind of suffering begs a response, I feel. My heart couldn’t steer into it without some sort of guttural reorganization. I needed answers of behalf of myself and those friends and family I love. I needed direction. I needed to plot a course so I could press on through it.  And in that reorganization, that “cleaning of my heart’s closet”, I have come to realize a few things. Not things that make me any sort of expert. Maybe not even things that offer much of any kind of insight. I am just beginning this long walk through this kind of suffering.

 

But I have learned there is a dignity to it, not the type of dignity Brittany Maynard is grasping for as she peacefully passes away in the arms of her loved ones. There is a dignity in suffering well. I am not entirely sure how to suffer and grieve well, so don’t look to me for an example of this dignity. But I am sure if we think each of us can come up with people who have suffered with this dignity. I am not speaking of pride or not accepting help. I also am not talking about denial or blindly pressing on. I see great dignity when someone allows themselves to be weak, allows themselves to be vulnerable, allows themselves to acknowledge the depth and ugliness of their feelings in their suffering, but still chooses joy. When someone chooses to not run from suffering, or to expect pity, or to label it something exclusive of God I believe they are an example of that dignity that can only come from some supernatural grace that God has given them in their suffering.

 

At first glance it may not seem that God is in those moments of deep suffering, but I have come to learn that He is. I know His love more now, in the past year, than I ever have before. It is not because He has withheld suffering from me, but rather because He has allowed it, and walked with me though it. Where the presence of God is in suffering, there is great beauty. And great holiness. Christ suffered. He promised we would suffer too. So when I suffer here on earth, I recognize that I am not alone. I am experiencing God in ways I never would have without these horrible circumstances. The holiness in suffering does not take away the pain. It doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t still love to escape it, to duck from under it, or to cave inside myself and shut it all out. No, the suffering is still suffering. It is still awful and at times unbearable. I wish so much that my dad would live with his “right” mind until he is at least 80. I desperately long to pause time and let us live together in this moment before something more slips away. While I am here on this earth nothing will ever alleviate the pain in enduring all that Younger Onset (Early Onset) Alzheimer’s brought to my family. But if I am able to share in Christ’s suffering (as in: connect to my Savior in a way I never would have been able to otherwise!), if I am able to be part of God redeeming something awful for His glory, if I am able to experience His holiness in suffering-then I choose not to run from it.

 

The temptation is always there. Our culture always tells us pain in bad. Suffering is bad. Sickness is bad. And they are. But not exclusively. I have learned that wrapped up in suffering is something awfully, ruggedly, heart-rendingly beautiful. I will never approach my God the same way now that I know, really know, the comfort that comes from knowing that He  “collect(s) my tears in His bottle and record(s) each one in His book” (Psalm 56:8).  I feel a new closeness to Jesus as I read that he wept as Lazarus lay in his tomb. Despite knowing that later He would raise him from the dead, despite knowing the hope that lay on the horizon, Jesus: the God-man, still shook and sobbed in His holy-human grief. The verse about “God’s grace being sufficient” and “His power being made perfect in weakness” ? (2 Corinthians 12:9). It is not a trite cliché hanging on my wall. It is a verse that I grab ahold of as my legs buckle underneath me. As the voice in my head berates me for not being able, I quiet it with this truth as I revel in the reality that it is in my very weakest moments that God is most glorified. Because when I am weak and unable, any good is not of my own doing, but His. Any victories can only be credited to His grace and strength. When I am empty, without even an ounce left to give, I know that it is He who works in me, who fills me up to over-flowing with joy and peace. And without suffering here, Heaven would seem much poorer. If the arms of my loved ones were always open wide to me, and I had the promise of lifetimes full of their embrace, the tender and powerful arms of my God would not so easily draw me away.

 

The truth is that suffering sucks. As much as it is a universal part of life, it sucks. And because we hate “hard” and we hate “pain” and we want to be in control, we try to manipulate it and escape it. Because we are weak. I used to bemoan my weakness. Now I am thankful to be weak. I am thankful that I have to battle against caving in underneath the weight of suffering. I am thankful that in many ways I can relate to Brittany. It is in my weakness that Christ is glorified. If bringing Christ glory is the goal of my life, than what better way to do it than to be weak. And what better way to be weak than to suffer. It may sound backwards or even unloving of my God to use my weakness to bring himself fame. But honestly, there is nothing more right in all the world. I AM weak. God doesn’t make me weak. He uses suffering to make me see my pre-existing weakness. I have been praying for years for God to let me see myself as He sees me. I order to see myself the way He sees me, I needed to see myself weak. I needed to see Him as He is-compassionate, gracious, wise, powerful, full of loving-kindness. When I see how weak I am, and see how much he loves me still, I see things as they really are. I am weak. He is strong. I am loved by the one who IS love.

 

I have rambled on and this post has gone to places I didn’t see when I first began typing. I am not even sure my thoughts are cohesive. I guess what I am saying is that I still have so very, very much to learn in my life, and in this area of suffering in particular. But if I have learned anything this past year or so, it is this: suffering without Christ is pointless and endless. There is no end game. There is no hope. And I actually believe the suffering will never end for those apart from Christ. Jesus is like the missing piece to the puzzle-the piece poor Brittany is looking for, the part we are all looking for. He makes suffering make sense. He makes it mean something. He makes it achieve something greater. His grace makes is easier to endure. His peace surpasses understanding. His hope gives us the light we long for now and “at the end of our tunnel”. And His love, oh His love, is carries us. It sustains us. It directs us. It spurs us on. It chides us. It corrects us. It comforts us. It strengthens us. It defines us. It saves us.

 

So when I want to run from suffering, I will run to Jesus. When I want to cover myself with blankets and hide, I will hide my heart in His Truth. When I am crippled by weakness and cannot stand, I will kneel prostrate at the foot of His cross-where His blood and love poured out of suffering, where His screams of anguish in the darkness communicated He feels my pain, where suffering had eternal purpose so that my suffering now could achieve an eternal glory. And it I do all because when I cannot even stand, His strength carries me there.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Instead of briers a myrtle will grow…my feeble attempts at understanding biblical gardening

 
I was talking to a friend briefly the other day about some of the biggest struggles I am facing lately. The thing about Alzheimer’s (or rather one of the things about it, or any other terminal disease, I could imagine) is that it takes a person away slowly. It isn’t methodical, but it is persistent in its progression to conquer a person’s brain, bit by little bit. I don’t know about you, but I am not sure how to deal with that, I mean like really deal with it. I know I should be mourning in a sense. I know that each piece of my dad that is lost (or that will be lost) is something to grieve, as it passes. Because the ugly truth is that by the time my dad dies and the “real” mourning starts my dad will have in many ways been long gone.

So I feel as if I must grieve now, in pieces, just as the pieces of him kind of flicker and dim and go out in front of me. When we first found out a remember feeling jipped. Pieces were lost that we didn’t even know about. I didn’t have time to process and grieve them as they went. I felt like someone stole something from me without permission. (I am sure there is a better way to say that. Do people usually ask permission to steal from you? Anyway…) Well now, less than a year later, I still feel like pieces are being taken from me. This time though I know the thief is coming, and I am helpless to stop it. I clench my fists around the pieces but they evaporate out of my fingers, like a mist. I guess life really is like a vapor.

So I grieve. I fumble at it, because I really don’t know how to do it right. I am also pretty sure there isn’t a “right” way, like some sort of formula for how to grieve. I also fumble at it because while I feel so appropriate grieving, I feel just as inappropriate. My dad is still here. Actually, he is 2 minutes up the road. He plays with my kids every Tuesday night while Peter and I go to Community Group. Their laughs and squeals echo in the air, lingering, hours after he has gone home for the night. Sometimes I sit in the quiet, when the air feels dense, and I can sort of hear them yelling and playing together. I can almost hear the kids saying “Oooh Pooooopppp.” Even Royce says it to him, because even Royce knows Pop is full of silly. So I feel wrong in grieving. I don’t want to waste time with it. I want to spend our time, budgeting it carefully for enjoying the life and time we have.

I am always torn back and forth between grieving what has been lost and enjoying what is still here. That is a hard balance, which somehow I will have to live with now. I am not saying that to sound like a martyr. I am just saying it. Because it is.

So I am trying to find a balance. Between the two. And this search for a balance leaves me exhausted and raw. It makes me want to turn inward, when I desperately don’t want- to coil up like a self-protecting potato bug, in my grief balance. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life thinking only about my suffering (or my family’s), my thoughts and feelings, my life. The temptation is there to build a cocoon around myself and my my family and to fold inward on each other, shutting everyone else out. Maybe that temptation exists because I often feel like this new life we have because of Alzheimer’s is magnetic. I can’t help but look at it, be drawn to it. The temptation to shut others out comes because turning away from the magnet seems like a daunting task. But I fight that temptation. Sometimes extremely unsuccessfully. The sin magnet in my heart can also be quite strong.

I have been thinking about these things for months now, trying to sort it all out. I guess I hoped it would get easier, even though I knew it wouldn’t (won’t). And even writing that sounds ridiculous.

But then I was reading in Isaiah the other day.

Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
 Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.
 Give ear and come to me;
listen, that you may live.
 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn bush will grow the juniper,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
that will endure forever.”
Isaiah 55:1-3a, 8-13

These verses are lovely. I have been coming back to them for weeks now. They are so life-giving. I would read them over, pray them out loud. But when I got to the end I would kind of gloss over verse 13, because it didn’t really speak to me. Then for some reason, last week, verse 13 seemed to “jump off the page” as people say.

Instead of the thorn bush will grow the juniper,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
that will endure forever
 
I began to picture each plant mentioned in the first part of the verse. I even jotted down words to describe each one. Thorn bush-prickly, unapproachable, painful. Juniper- evergreen. I am such an agriculturalist that I had to look up Brier and Myrtle online to see what they even are. But here is where I felt the scripture came alive, I had an “aha” moment and (insert other cliché here).  It turns out Briers are thorned plants that grow together to form thickets. They become twisted together on themselves and mangled. Myrtles on the other hand  are a flowering plant that is an evergreen. It has a central vein which nourishes the flowers. Myrtles also produce an essential oil that people have used as an antiseptic and tonic. In Jewish liturgy is a sacred plant used to symbolize good deeds apart from the Torah (or the law).
 
myrtleillustration
 
 
Hello symbolism! My English teachers from High School would have been all over this stuff…ya know if it wasn’t from the Bible. I honestly almost started crying at the beautiful meaning here, the verse I had all but skipped over, now became my favorite one in the passage as it related to my struggles against grief turning me inward, mangling together my heart and emotions and good intentions and desires into a thicket of briers. I can’t make sense of the thicket myself. I can't untangle myself from it, no matter how hard I try. But then I don’t have to, do I?
 
Instead of the briers a myrtle will grow…a flowering plant, fragrant, beautiful, evergreen, nourished from a central vein. From the “fruit” comes an oil that cures and cleanses others, not by keeping the law (which I am helpless to keep) but rather apart from the law…by grace.
 
Oh God, untangle this thicket within my heart. I don’t want to close others off in my grief like a thorn bush. I don’t want to ensnare others (or myself) by closing off. I want to be life-giving. I often feel like I don’t have much life to give though, God. Nourish me by the central vein of your truth and love. Allow me to bear fruit-fragrant and beautiful, but also practical and a blessing to others in their areas of need. Make the myrtle grow where the briers once were (and still are). I am helpless Jesus. I have tried so many times to do good, for the wrong reasons. I didn’t realize this was tangling me even more in the briers. The law only shows me where my weaknesses are. I can not attain it. May I grow like a myrtle watered by your grace. May my life burst forth from your life, and may it always, ever, only be for your glory, God, for your renown. You are the redeemer, God. Redeem this grief. Redeem this suffering, please God. Make it into something beautiful and enduring. Make it into something that proclaims the joy that can be found through suffering, the non-sensical joy and peace that comes from you. May I love you and love others, because you loved me first, and because your spirit courses through me enabling me to do the good works you prepared in advance for me to do. Redeem me God. Redeem me in this. Turn this thicket, these thorn bushes, these briars, into your beautiful garden God, for your pleasure and fame.

Monday, October 6, 2014

I haven’t written in a while

I haven’t written in a while. It is not from lack of thinking and planning-more a lack of execution. Lately I feel kind of like I am walking through knee deep wet sand. Every step is calculated and labored. It surprised me too, this walking-through-wet-sand-grief. I am finding grief is sneaky, and it steals from you little bits, lotsa bits if you let it.

 

Last September my dad went to work one day, left in the middle of the day after a meeting and didn’t go back. Last September everything changed, even if we didn’t know how much yet, even if it had been changing all along without us knowing at all. In November we found out the probable diagnosis. The Dr. called my mom and told her the feared and unwelcome news “between you and me…Alzheimer’s”. When she told me on the phone that night I felt the vomit coming up in my throat and the silent tears spilling out of my eyes. Everything seemed blurry, the room rushed and spun around me. There was nothing to grasp onto. When Peter came down from putting the kids to bed, he found me collapsed on the dining room floor, clinging to the leg of a chair.

 

Two Novembers ago Peter came home from a family Doctor’s appointment for his dad. He sat with me on the couch. He bristled. He stared. I rubbed his back. Rubbed my swollen stomach as if trying to pacify the kicking baby in my stomach. We sat. Silence and sobs shook us both. “Stage 4” they said. Suddenly life looked much different.

 

Words can pack such more meaning than their syllables convey. One word can change not just the mood, the circumstance, but your life. In a moment, and with two words, spread across the span of four seasons, our lives came to look so much different. Everything changed. Everything was colored, as if even the things that weren't directly changed were somehow touched by the ripples these words left as they dropped themselves right into the center of our lives. Each time the one word news came upon us all I could muster was a whispered one word prayer. The only word I know stronger that “Cancer”, stronger than “Alzheimer’s”. I whispered “Jesus”. And many times since it has been all I have been able to whisper in between the sobs, in between the questions, in between the gulps and gasps for air, the fear, the deep pain that doubles me over at the waist.

 

I whisper only for my ears and His, the name that brings me peace, the name of the anchor of my Hope, the name that intercedes on my behalf giving words to the groanings of my soul. And nothing changes, but suddenly everything is different.

 

Grief is sneaky, but it can’t hide from my Jesus. It is powerful, but nothing is more powerful than my Hope. I don’t have to understand it. I sure as heck don’t like it. But in the grief that suddenly leaves me without air, I know where my comfort comes from.

 

I have so many more thoughts on this-so much more of the ways God has used this grief, these one word diagnosises to draw me closer to Him, to teach me things I would otherwise never have learned, to comfort me and change me in ways I am thankful for beyond words. I can’t type them now. I will try to share some of it soon. God has been changing me. He has been chiseling at me for a while. Turns out chiseling is painful and sometimes I want to run from it, but bit by bit God is revealing something beautiful. He is chiseling away at my pride, my selfishness, my lack of faith, my foolishness, my insecurities. Basically He has been chiseling hard, and with a purposeful, masterful hand at my heart. And I am in many ways raw. But when I get a glimpse I can see slowly it is becoming something a bit more beautiful, because I see more and more of Jesus there. The beauty is not my own. It is His. His work. His beauty. His glory.

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