Miracles in the Mundane

When we first got home from our family trip, I was determined to take my sweet Texas time … to really learn, as Dallas Willard said, to “ruthlessly eliminate hurry” in Los Angeles. I am finding that is easier said than done.

There is an internal rush within me even when I close the doors and should be secluded from the hurry. Truly slowing down is more than just a decision and maybe for me, the only reason I accomplish this in Texas is because I have nothing that I really have to do.

Now that I’m home I’m realizing that hurry isn’t a switch. I can’t turn it off or on to suit the occasion. Taking my sweet Texas time at home in California is a decision I am trying to make moment by moment.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to our pastor before church about how much slower life is in Texas, and being a native Californian, he asked “Do you think it’s Texas, or vacation?” Like Matt and me, he and his wife talk about what is different on vacation — what do we give up when we get home and why do we give it up? And how do we hold onto it?

And what is it?

For me, it is placing relationship over accomplishment; relishing the quiet moments of ordinary, understanding that miracles happen in the mundane everyday; it is laughing at myself when I make mistakes instead of grumbling over the time I wasted when I didn’t get it right the first time.

So I have to ruthlessly eliminate hurry from my life.

This weekend I was confronted with hurry several times. When you have four kids it is bound to happen, and if I don’t seize it, hurry will control my life.

I’m learning that to remove this rush from my days, I have to remain true to the things that give rhythm to my life — to our home and our family. We live completely isolated from all our relatives. My kids don’t have things like a weekly meal at their grandparents’ house that they look forward to; they don’t play with cousins regularly. They don’t even have a home that has been theirs for the whole of their lives, but they do have traditions.

When Matt was first starting out in vocational ministry, I was a full time teacher and mother, and we were blessed to live on the high school campus where I taught. Wednesday evenings, Matt was at work and I was at home with a tiny Lucas. Those were special times. I would make home-made mac and cheese and we would read extra books and sing extra songs and cuddle a little longer before bed.

When I was pregnant with Bethany, I would pick Lucas up from the babysitter, and we would drive through Jack ‘n the Box and get a milkshake to split, head over to the church and eat with Daddy and the student ministry volunteers, and then enjoy worship before going up to Matt’s office to rock and sing until Luke fell asleep.

As we had more children and Matt’s position changed and changed again at the church, our traditions have evolved. When Matt worked Sunday evenings, snack night replaced dinner as we watched a movie before bed. As the kids got older and hungrier Sunday became pizza and salad night, and to this day on Sunday afternoon you will find me making pizza dough and preparing toppings, toasting home made croutons and whisking up my favorite salad dressing.

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We now have Mexican food on Tuesdays, slow cooker meals on Wednesdays, Kids’ Choice (and take out for the parents for in-house date night) on Thursdays, Pasta Bowl Fridays, Homemade muffins on Saturday mornings, and Pizza and Salad Night on Sundays, not to mention the meals and special events that signal the beginning of holiday season for the kids.

Routine helps me plan.

Rhythms help us slow down.

I grew up watching Hockey Night in Canada, eating fried rice, and drinking a “brown cow” every Saturday night, but until a couple years ago we never did anything like that with our family. So I decided that during college football season, we would watch the Texas A & M game, enjoy a fun meal , and we would whoop and gig ’em every Saturday afternoon.

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This weekend, I took a vote and the kids decided on calzones to go with our Aggie festivities. Now if you’ve ever been with young kids and invited them to help in your kitchen, this is a recipe for slowing down.

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I spent a lot of time on Saturday getting all the fillings ready, and as the game was winding (disappointingly) down, I called the kids into the dining room and we made our own calzones.

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The Aggies lost the game, but something about joining together in cheering on a common cause … about the jumping and dancing at the high points, and the “you’ve got to be kidding me” at the low points, brings us together. There is something so valuable about getting all the have to’s done early in the day, so that we can just be in the afternoon. It refreshes and satisfies and builds community right within our home.

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Then Sunday came and we rushed to get ready for the morning. We got back from church and I made and served lunch. I got the dishes done and made coffee and tried slowing down, but there were kids demanding things and being impatient and there was an exhausted pastor willing himself to nap on the sofa, and there was a mama in her room, trying to pretend none of it was happening.

As the afternoon was blowing up, I was so tempted to just make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches … to take a break, thinking it would be better to just get something in the kids’ stomachs and get them in bed, than to take time for tradition. But as Matt took the kids out to play, I felt a gentle nudge — if peace was going to re-enter this home, it needed to begin in me.

I can’t help but notice that God is a celebratory God. “Celebrate a festival in My honor three times a year” (Exodus 23:14, HCSB).  Right from the beginning, He has his children work festivals into their calendar.

Jesus’ first miracle was turning the water into wine at a wedding …

During His last supper He likens Himself to bread and wine …

Our food, our celebrations, our traditions, they aren’t just what they seem. Food doesn’t just nourish our bodies. A call to celebrate isn’t happenstance. Our traditions are not accidental. When we slow down and we recognize His provision and when we notice His creativity in the variety of food He made, we recognize His very presence and love in what we are eating.

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When we celebrate, whether a holiday or a birthday or for the sole purpose of getting together with friends, we see that we were made for community by a God that didn’t want us to be alone (Genesis 2:18). When we take the time to practice traditions, to create dependable rhythms, we become a little more like a Maker who did and made all things good, and then He rested (Genesis 2:3).

What if the very food we make and eat is a call to slow down … to ruthlessly eliminate hurry in something so vital to living?

So I vacuumed a little and I prayed and asked God to help me slow down — to realize that eating dinner late as a family and upholding our little pizza/movie night tradition would be more valuable because of relationship than just finishing the task of eating and getting kids in bed.

I lit a candle and turned on some worship music and began making pizza dough, knowing it would take an hour to rise, but asked God to speak to me in that hour. And God — the God who made the universe and made me and made you — He knows me.

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He knows that when I slice tomatoes as thinly as I can, chiffonade basil, mince garlic or grate mozzarella cheese (and taste a few shreds here and there), when I toss bread crumbs with olive oil and salt and pepper and let the heat of the oven create croutons, that I will meet Him there. As I slow down in the kitchen and take in all the aromas, the magic of a sauté pan, as I emulsify salad dressing with a whisk, He speaks to me.

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As a mom, I very often have moments of exhaustion. I can live in a state of “I have to get this done!” But I can also choose to slow down; to make sitting with my kids while watching a cartoon during Sunday night dinner more important than getting the dishes done.

When I choose tradition over obligation, when I choose relationship over accomplishment, not only do I slow down, but we win and I think our relational God is honored.

The kids reentered the home much calmer than they left and exclaimed “It smells great in here!”

And then I talked to my kids who thought I was in too much of a tizzy to make pizza, and I explained what God had been whispering to my heart for the last hour … through His Word and His Spirit and the lyrics of the music I was listening to. Sometimes we just need to slow down.

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What I thought was too much work on this particular Sunday night was just the thing we needed to bring our life and home and spirits back into order. As the pizza was baking, we bathed the kids and got them ready for bed. I chose a movie and spread out a blanket for them to sit on and we settled in and down.

Traditions look different in every home and family, but it is no accident that God called his people to slow down, to celebrate, to hold festivals that would bring rhythm to our lives.

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Take a deep breath in and ask God where He might be calling you to slow down. In my experience, it is often in the areas that cause us to feel rushed that God is trying to speak.

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

Matthew 11:28-30, The Message

 

The Voice of God, 4HIM, Benson Music Group, Inc. 1992

Sunshine, Brown Sugar and Chili Peppers

Before we became parents, I had a dream that I had a baby girl with her Daddy’s olive complexion, dark brown eyes and full, deep pink lips, and her name was Bethany. Matt really was convinced that we’d never have a girl because he comes from a family of three boys and his mom comes from a family of six boys and one girl, but when we had our second baby, I knew that she was my Bethany.

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She was round and cuddly, and loved for me to keep her with me at all times in a sling. She was pretty content, especially when she had her pacifier. I was in mommy-heaven. When Lucas was born, I loved him immediately, but our lives were different then, and not working wasn’t an option. Bethany arrived and I loved her, but I also fell in love with being a mom. That is what I told the head of my school, when I asked if it would be possible to continue teaching, but part time. “Teaching is great, and I need to work, but I love being a mom and I love my kids and I need to be with them more often.”

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And so I began working part time. Once Lucas got used to the idea that Bethany wasn’t going anywhere, they were best buddies. I don’t know what it is like to have a child who is content to sit and play quietly, because  my kids have been active from the time they could crawl. Every last one of them is a climber, and so they kept me busy. Every night I was exhausted from working (just one class shy of full time) and from spending my afternoons and evenings with my kiddos, but it was the best kind of exhaustion.

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During Bethany’s first year, we also discovered that my thyroid had been thrown off by pregnancy, and I spiraled into a deep depression that took months to come out of. In my heart I knew how much I loved my husband and my kids, but my emotions overpowered my mind and I struggled to make it through each day without a meltdown. That year, I had more time outs than my kids did.

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When I look back on that very dark time, I am grateful that it happened when my kids were so young, because they will not remember how I sad I was. I am also grateful for a husband who loved me unconditionally and who always put me and the kids first, as we navigated our way through this dark night of the soul with counseling, scripture, worship, date nights, and my life group. What I regret about those months, is that while I still loved my children, I was incapable of bonding with my sweet girl the way that I have with my other children.

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There are behaviors and attitudes that are deeply ingrained in her, because I wasn’t able to recognize them and address them when she was a toddler.

Matt always tells Bethany that when God was making her he used sunshine, brown sugar and a little bit of chili peppers. At her best, she is strong and determined and gifted and caring and gentle and funny and kind. At her worst, she is strong willed, driven without regard to consequence, loud, controlling and spiteful.

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Beth and I are in a season, where we just do not understand each other. At school, she gives her all socially and academically, and I’ve been surprised to hear her teacher describe her as quiet, but when she gets home, she is demanding and bossy and has difficulty listening and more than a little trouble being kind.

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When she is the best version of herself, I see so much of me in her, but what I’m coming to realize is that when she’s at her worst, she is like a miniature unfiltered me. It is hard to realize that the ugly internal parts of you are on display when your child is throwing a fit.

I’ve been more than a little frustrated with her, and I’ve been loud and demanding and sometimes no matter how hard I try to be loving and kind, I feel myself bite my bottom lip and my teeth clench as I begin telling her what she needs to do and how she needs to change. I am asking her to change what she is doing, by doing exactly what she is doing, and it’s not working.

But this morning I read this:

For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says concerning the houses of this city and the palaces of Judah’s kings, the ones torn down for defense against the siege ramps and the sword: … I have hidden My face from this city because of all their evil.  Yet I will certainly bring health and healing to it and will indeed heal them. I will let them experience the abundance of peace and truth. I will restore the fortunes of Judah and of Israel and will rebuild them as in former times.  I will purify them from all the wrongs they have committed against Me, and I will forgive all the wrongs they have committed against Me, rebelling against Me.  This city will bear on My behalf a name of joy, praise, and glory before all the nations of the earth, who will hear of all the good I will do for them. They will tremble with awe because of all the good and all the peace I will bring about for them.

Jeremiah 33:4-9, HCSB

Although this is about Judah, it sure sounds a lot like hearts and relationships that are broken. What God is showing me, is that this behavior and the way Bethany and I are just missing each other — it’s a heart issue, and as much I’d like to blame it on her, I’ve hardened my heart, first as a defense against the pain that results when anyone is unkind to another person, but over time, it’s become my default, and the spiritual heart is not compartmentalized the way the physical heart is. I cannot have one area of my heart hard … it will spread.

A friend who knows how Bethany and I are struggling suggested that if I look back at old pictures of her, that my heart might become softer toward her; that as I see her for who she is and not what she is doing, I might be drawn toward her in love. So this morning I am praying and I am writing and I am looking at pictures, and I am seeing my Bethany Jordan, made of sunshine and brown sugar and I’m forgetting the sting of the chili peppers and I am noticing all the spice and the zest that they add to our lives.

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Looking at old pictures … I think that must be what God has to do with me sometimes. Maybe he has a big photo album filled with all his favorite memories of me and maybe he has a stack of old home videos of me in all my best moments, and when loving me is hard to do, He pulls out those pictures and videos, and He thinks “oh yeah, that’s my Lindsey. She’s amazing.”

And I want my heart for Bethany to be like the heart of the Father. I am looking at all these precious pictures of my baby girl that I dreamed about years before she was ever even thought of, and I am thanking God for this amazing daughter He gave me … for the gifts of her curiosity, her courage, her faith, for the great big sister she is, her love of math, her desire to excel, the way she researches how to do something until she can do it herself, her heart of worship, her strength, her tenacity, and how much fun she is. All the other stuff, that’s pliable — it will take prayer and it will take patience, but today is not the end of her story.

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I love how that passage in Jeremiah 33 begins,

The Lord who made the earth, the Lord who forms it to establish it, Yahweh is His name, says this:  Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and incomprehensible things you do not know.

Jeremiah 33:2

I’m at a crossroads in my parenting of Bethany and I have to make a choice. I can choose to go down the road of discontent and complacency, accepting that all the hard edges of her define who she is or I can choose to look to the One who made her, who knows exactly how she ticks and why, and I can trust that He sees the bigger picture.

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When I look at Bethany, I can get distracted by her imperfections, but when He looks at her, He sees a world changer. There are days when it is completely incomprehensible to me that my children will ever learn to pick up their socks off the floor, let alone change the world, but today I am determining to make the practice of calling to God in moments of anger or disappointment, and I’m asking him to show me the things that I don’t know; how to love and parent the person she’s becoming — the girl he’s called her to be; How to parent into the joy and peace He’s calling us into.

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The heart of the Father has always been filled with grace … grace for our little mistakes and grace in life altering failures. How can I expect perfection and first time obedience from her, when that’s never been what He’s demanded of me.

The Lord is gracious and full of compassion,
Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.

Psalm 145:8, AMP

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Living on Love and Oatmeal

We moved to Pasadena thirteen years ago in August. Matt was starting graduate school and we had been married just one month. Before we moved, we didn’t know what our new apartment looked like or where it was, but we had a floor plan, and we drew a life size chalk outline of our tiny house on my in-laws’ driveway, and placed all our hand-me-down furniture in the appropriate rooms so that we would not bring too much.

We had visited Fuller Seminary during Spring Break of our senior year of college. Arriving in the middle of the night, in the aftermath of September 11th, Pasadena seemed like a scary place to me, but once the sun came up and we visited campus, sat through classes, toured married student housing, and walked around Old Town, I began to love the city.

The following weekend we visited another school in the rural south, convinced that was where God was leading us, but as we sat in guest housing after we had thoroughly experienced Wilmore, Kentucky, we both wrote on a piece of paper the name of the school we thought we were supposed to go to. Shock of all shocks, we were in agreement. We made our first huge decision as a family.

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We finished our classes, graduated from college, got married, honeymooned in New York City, and less than a month later we loaded our little Corolla, following a Penske truck, and drove from Texas to California … the place we would call home for the next three years, or so we thought.

As we drove away, Matt’s Dad said “He always takes care of the big things! Jesus, be with you.”

We used directions printed from mapquest to find our little apartment on August 21, 2002. When we pulled up to that big brown house on Ford Place, right across the street from the building where Matt would take most of his classes, I was overwhelmed with excitement and gratitude. In fact, I was out of the car as soon as it stopped and was jumping and skipping down the sidewalk in front of our apartment. That moment is such a vivid memory that I recall the smells and how shockingly huge the palm tree in the front yard was, what I was wearing and the tears that pooled in my eyes. When we had visited in the Spring, I had told Matt that if I could live anywhere, that would be the place, but we were told that it was only for single students.

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So surprised that God heard me and provided what I longed for, I walked into that teeny 500 square foot apartment and I swear no house has ever been more beautiful. Sure it only had one closet in the entire place (which could be accessed in the living room or from the kitchen behind the refrigerator), smelled a little musty, had cheap carpet that stained bare feet, and the bathroom and bedroom were on opposite sides of the apartment, but it was just perfect for Matt and I.

We filled that place with furniture and boxes and wedding gifts, and then friends from Texas who had decided to move to Pasadena and Fuller without us knowing, invited us over to their cute little home and we had dinner.

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After dinner we drove onto Ford Place and parked in our tiny little spot (beside the dumpster for our building), and walked through the back door of our home. We were so young and excited that it didn’t matter that we had just driven 1700 miles or unloaded an entire truck of our belongings, we were ready to make this place ours. This day, this home was everything I had dreamed it would be, except it was hot.

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I discovered that when my husband is hot, he is not the happy, laid back person he is normally. When we got into bed that night, I scooted right next to him, and was promptly told to move to my side of the bed, because “It’s hoT!” The next morning, I rolled over and started talking to wake him up, and was told through sign language that he wouldn’t be talking until he got his coffee. I think he showered two or three times that first full day in our house.

And it was hot and we didn’t have air conditioning, and for a guy that was born and raised in Texas, that is just ridiculous. At least in September, I thought, it would cool down, and I would get the man back that I had fallen in love with and married. Little did we know that September is the hottest month in LA county.

September rolled around and we were miserable, and even though I hadn’t found a job, we decided that — to save our marriage — we needed to spend some wedding gift money and get a window air conditioning unit. We were shocked that they were sold out at every store. After weeks, my brother-in-law finally found a co-worker who had a seriously old unit, and he bought it for us for $5. Matt and he installed it, and it blasted cold air. Of all the air conditioners we would buy in the next several years, that one held up the best and cooled significantly better and more quickly than the others.

That year I struggled to find a job. We had decided not to take out any loans, and were grateful for the work study job Matt had gotten in our first week in Pasadena, but I learned quickly that my GPA didn’t matter when interviewing. School had already started, and California had just decided not to offer the emergency teaching credentials that I had counted on. I worked several retail jobs and odd jobs here and there, and we made it.

We like to say we lived on love and oatmeal that first year. We did. We were constantly provided for in unexpected ways, from the fact that our apartment was the only one in the entire building that had electricity included in the rent (which meant Matt could stay cool), to a check from my grandmother right before Christmas, making it possible to pay rent, buy groceries, and get a couple little gifts for each other, to a twenty-five cent an hour raise at one of my retail jobs, to the fact that we got down to thirty five cents in our bank account once, but we never went completely without.

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We walked everywhere to save money on gas and just when we were almost at the end of ourselves and our resources, I got a temporary teaching job. It was an hour and a half away, but it provided for our needs and I looked forward to leaving the house at 5:30 every morning.

In the first year of our marriage, I learned what it means to live by faith. We could no longer rely on our parents to provide for our needs, and we were no longer a part of their church or their community, but we had each other and we had our faith in God.

When I look back on that time, I am amazed at a God who knows me so well, that he knew the joy that would come from living and making memories in that apartment in the big brown house on Fuller’s campus.

He knew that we would laugh about squeezing between the fridge and the closet door to get our clothes.

He knew that every afternoon there would be a distinct smell that mysteriously filled the space between our living room and our bedroom, and we would jokingly say that our house smelled like old man.

He knew that alone, on the floor beside our bed, I would discover that marriage did not live up to my expectations and I would learn how to give grace to the man made just for me who has always shown me nothing but grace, and that love really does cover a multitude of sins.

He knew that we had fallen in love with the ideal, dating version of each other, but that we would find in each other things to love that we didn’t know existed.

God knew that Matt would break many of our dishes in our old ceramic kitchen sink and that friends would send us a package of plastic dishes, and we’d laugh.

He knew that we’d learn to appreciate the simple things in life in those days. Things like clean sheets or a new toothbrush or pack of gum.

He knew we would pack that little space with other young married couples and that we would support, encourage and do life together.

He knew we would grieve over broken marriages in that group and we would resolve to let love win in ours.

He knew that we would discover one Sunday morning before church that we were going to have our first baby. He knew all the joys and fears and frustrations that would come as my body and mood changed.

He knew that home would be filled with an imperfect love that we couldn’t fashion on our own.

Before we ever met, God knew that we needed to experience what it really means to trust, and He gave us those first couple really hard years of our marriage for that.

We learned that even when we fail, there is a laying down of yourself that is really a necessity in a relationship built on love. And we do. Even now, we let each other down with silly things and big things and misunderstandings and carelessness, and we continue to choose love.

I’ve been thinking about all of this because it has been an incredibly hot summer. In so many ways it has reminded me of our first summer here. Life looks a lot different than it did thirteen years ago, but the truths I learned when we had little more than love and a really hot apartment have lasted.

Last weekend, I woke up to rain. It was glorious. We don’t get rain very often in this area, and it was exactly what we needed; a respite from the heat and nourishment for the grass and plants.

As it rained, I went out on my front porch and just smelled the air, and I remembered that our needs are known by God better than we know them ourselves. We long and we grasp for the things that we think will satisfy, but they don’t.

I never would have chosen to spend the first two years of our marriage, barely having enough to pay our bills and eat, but that was His plan.

Without having to trust that my basic needs would be provided for when there were just two of us, I would never have known I could trust him to take care of the big things.

Every day I am learning what it means to be content, and what I learned back then about myself remains true — I have a wandering heart. I want to chase after the things or the behaviors or the events or the friendships that I think will satisfy me, but they always fall short.

Like rain refreshed us hot Californians last weekend and helped the dead grass grow, like a sweet note and a toothbrush from Texas encouraged me when we sometimes couldn’t buy our own, God knows our soul needs and He satisfies us with His love in a way things never can.

And I remain forever grateful that

… The Lord will continually guide you,
And satisfy your soul in scorched and dry places,
And give strength to your bones;
And you will be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.

Isaiah 58:11 (AMP)

copyright: Laura Hackett, Forerunner Music, 2012