Surrounded by Grace

Like the wind, Grace finds us wherever we are and won’t leave us however we were found. ~ Ann Voskamp

I woke up late. On days like this it is hard not to begin to rush immediately. As a hurrier, I feel the lost time, but I’m discovering that for me, hurry is fueled by worry. And I’m a worrier …

I worry about time lost and goals not met; about messes and cleaning up, about appearance and reality, I think about inability and dreams not realized and then I worry and when I worry, I hurry.

Our internal worlds can feel chaotic and scary and we put on a brave face, pushing aside our concerns, but without the help of Someone greater than our deepest fears and insecurities, the worry turns into hurry and we suffer at every turn. Relationships feel rushed, conversations become merely functional, eyes are blind to the wonder of the world around us, meals become a mad mangle of food, and instead of mindfully giving thanks and taking time to discuss the day and hear from the hearts we love, we just eat.

This morning I woke up late and began to scurry around the house … picking up legos, gathering laundry, making lists and plunging the kids’ breakfast dishes into a sink full of sudsy water, doing hair, packing snacks and filling water bottles, signing papers …  and as I moved on to yet another task, I found myself mentally asking “What is your hurry?”

I’m asking myself that question a lot lately, and when I notice hurry consuming me, I try to take a deep breath in and when I breathe out, I try to release my worries, and when I do I slow down and accept peace. I can’t contrive peace on my own. I can pray for it and I can receive it. I can even be a peace maker, but I have to accept peace in order to live in peace.

“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give peace to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”

(John 14:27, NLV)

I love how the Amplified Bible expounds on this

“Let My perfect peace calm you in every circumstance and give you courage and strength for every challenge.”

With all the kids in school this morning I am resting in this peace. I’m slowing down on training wheels, because when noon hits I will go from sitting at a bakery reading and praying and writing, to a car and then a house filled with loud, energetic kids with needs (and if I know my kids, there will be at least one of them that is demanding or cranky). As I sit here, I am readying my heart and my attitude to meet each request and need with grace. I can’t do it on my own. I just can’t — none of us can — so I am grateful for this:

But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

(2 Cor. 12:9, NIV)

And isn’t that so encouraging? It is easy to get caught up in feeling ill equipped for the tasks or the life we’re given, and yet we were never meant to go it alone.

***

It was much easier to slow down and drink in the goodness of the life I’ve been given this summer when I had only two of my kids to care for, when school wasn’t part of our days, when the rush of the fall wasn’t upon us.

This morning it is easy to take things slowly when I only have myself to take care of, and when I pick up the kids this afternoon, my tendency will be to look at all that needs to be done and to hurry, but when the inclination to hurry rises up, I’m going to breathe out my worry and breathe in peace, because when we slow down we see clearly, and beautiful things happen in the slow moments.

Every once in a while when I am trying to remind myself that life isn’t a race, I make French Onion Soup. Taking the time to caramelize five pounds of onions, forces you to slow down. You’d think something as simple as onion soup would be quick to make, but as simple as French food is, the recipes are often time-consuming — not difficult, as long as you take the time.

Low and slow … that’s the only way to caramelize onions. If you try to speed up the process you will end up with brown, burnt, and bitter onions that aren’t good for anything. When you turn the temperature down and you let the onions almost sweat …

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they will slowly turn golden …

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they will begin to release their hidden sweetness …

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and their color will deepen …

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They will decrease in volume …

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and exponentially increase in flavor.

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And when you splash white wine into the pan …

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Ooh la la!

When I make French Onion soup, it is always for a special occasion, like an in-house date night or when my little sister visits from Canada and we send the guys out and have a girls’ night. As I stir the onions and wait, I am reminded that the best things in life take time.

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I was twenty before I even met Matt. My friends were in and out of relationships through high school and college, but when Matt walked into my life fifteen years ago, I knew. From the time he picked me up for our first date, I knew he had been worth the wait — all the lonely times, the hours I spent wondering what was wrong with me — why no one ever chose me, all disappeared …

A good thing is worth the wait.

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My sisters and I weren’t close growing up. We got along and we supported each other when we needed to, but we weren’t really friends. Now I consider them my best friends. Often the gifts we’re given don’t seem like gifts until some time has passed, we mature and we value our differences, and we recognize what we’ve had all along.

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I am in a season of parenting that is often painful. There are these four little hearts and huge wills, and I want them to just trust what I say — to obey because it is what is best for them. The thing is, they have their own ideas. So often we are not in calm and quiet conversation, but rather in boot camp. It takes more time and patience than I thought it would and the results are years away. There are times (it may even happen this afternoon), when I want to throw my hands up in frustration and shout “Because I said to!”

I have a friend who has these incredible, mostly grown up kids, and I used to wonder how she lucked out. Do you ever feel like you got a bad apple? On my most desperate of parenting days, I do, but my friend is always quick to remind me that her kids are the way they are because of a lot of prayer and grace, and the faithfulness of a Father who is also loving us into what he created us to be.

***

In a way, I’m like an onion. Cut into me, and I may bring you to tears. Rush me, and I’ll become bitter. Turn up the heat and I’ll burn-out. When I think of my heart and who I am in my raw state, I can easily become discouraged, but there’s this:

“The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger and rich in faithful love.”

Psalm 103:8, HCSB

And like the onions need time and care, so I need shepherding — to be led.

The Lord is my shepherd;
there is nothing I lack.
He lets me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He renews my life;
He leads me along the right paths …

Psalm 23:1-3, HCSB

There is nothing rushed in his leading; He does not demand change. He surrounds us with grace; He invites us to follow and to rest;  and as we do, he transforms and renews. He restores our broken parts, and brings wholeness.

In just a few minutes I will pick up my kids, my little onions. And as I am confronted with every minute of peace, love, chaos or confusion this afternoon, I pray that I will remember that the Lord is compassionate with me, He is slow to anger and abounding in love.  And in the moments where things don’t go as planned, attitudes explode, words are harsh, or hearts are hurt, we will hold onto grace. May I respond to them in gentleness, allowing them to grow, knowing that the best things take time.

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Brokenness Aside, All Sons and Daughters
© 2011 Integrity’s Alleluia! Music


 

New Seasons

“There is an occasion for everything,
and a time for every activity under heaven …”

Eccelsiastes 3:1

My Tuesday mornings look a lot different than they have in the past. For so long, I worked full time and then part time and then more than full time as a stay-at-home mom. All of my days include laundry and cooking and cleaning and bathing kids and doing homework and reading stories and discipline and a whole lot of prayer and for patience. On a typical day when you walk into my house you will find this at some point:

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Suddenly this fall though there is more time for reading and running errands and finding out what I choose to do when I have the option. Now my Tuesday mornings look more like this:

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I have been a little sad that the season of life that I’ve been in for the past ten years has come to an end. There is no longer a baby or a toddler scampering through the house, no diapers to change, no baby blue or pale pink laundry to do. The sweet baby smell has long since left my home, the crib is disassembled, the high chair stored, the stroller is put away. Being a mom has given definition to my life in a way that nothing else ever has, and it will continue to but in different ways.

I am unusual in that the middle of the night wakings and feedings and the blur of the early months of mothering a new baby never bothered me. Exhaustion was a normal part of each day, but it was good because it was earned by investing in the lives of my own children. I’ve mourned that what I know to do as a mom is no longer a need. I have to learn how to be and how to love and nurture in this season of parenting school aged kids. As I threw away the training toilets a few months ago, I had my first glimpse into how this newness could be a good thing.

***

So in order to mark this new season, I am doing things big today. I am splurging on a muffin instead of fruit or oatmeal, and I am not even making the low calorie version of what I want. I’m talking about all the buttery goodness and crumble topping crunch of a bakery muffin. I may even eat the whole thing.

This day has been a long time coming, and I’m really not sure what to do with it, except write — I must write.

I used to hate that life is always described in seasons. It frustrated me when I was stuck in a challenging season, that it wouldn’t just end because I had decided I was over it. And when I’m in a good one, I find myself holding onto it tightly, willing that it should never end. And when the end is inevitable, I search for something to fill its void — something big or exciting or life changing, in hopes that it will be bigger and better and more satisfying than what I am losing.

So this summer I was set to go back to school, but like I’ve mentioned a few times I’ve felt prompted to slow down; that my idea of finishing a master’s in nursing before I turn 40 was my idea, but not necessarily the right or best idea.

For years Matt has been telling me that he’d like for me to have at least six months to take things slowly (as much as is possible while caring for four kids) — to not do anything extra, but to just be me and to discover what excites and energizes me in this season of life, because if I really stop and ask myself what it is, I find I talk around the question without landing on an answer. So this July when I told Matt that I thought I should hold off at least a semester before going back to school, he was fully supportive.

We had already registered Mary Elena for preschool two mornings a week to make some space for me to take classes, and so here I am on a Tuesday morning, all four kids in school, and I’m alone for the first time in a long time, and I’m celebrating.

I’m celebrating the time to pursue a dream, pushing aside the sadness of the end of the baby season of my life, and I’m embracing this newness — thankful that it is never too late to explore a passion.

“Who would ever have thought I’d write? I mean, if I didn’t have all this free time …”

~ Kathleen Kelly, You’ve Got Mail

So I’m rejoicing and writing — it’s what I went to college for in the first place, but taking the time to put pen to paper and etch out the words that swirl in my mind feels strangely foreign. Dreaming and creating  …

It feels completely odd that I am sitting in cafe on a Tuesday morning with a pen and a moleskin, alone, and yet if I think back fifteen years this is exactly what I thought I’d be doing at this moment in my life.

Someone just asked me what I do for a living, and I told him “I raise my four kids.” So while I once thought writing would be my career, it is not what I spend most of my time doing, but it is life giving and I’m learning that’s enough.

So today I will celebrate — dreams and the gift of time, the privilege of provision for my kids in their amazing schools, a husband who encourages me to rediscover myself, a God who made me just the way I am and knows how I think in narration and pending dialogues. A God who knew I’d be sitting here, on this day before I ever came up with the idea.

You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.

Psalm 139:2-5

I am embracing my 36th year as one of pursuing only what gives life and enables me to serve my family, friends, and community well. Pushing aside the fear that this may all amount to nothing, I am writing and as I write I will celebrate and eat every last morsel of my (full fat) muffin.

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My Hiding Place

Almighty God,
you have made us for yourself,
and our hearts are restless
till they find their rest in you …

St. Augustine

 

I was twelve, a seventh grader which is an awkward time for any girl. It was February and the church that my Dad worked at could no longer afford a music pastor. Looking back I realize that my parents did what they had to do. They had to provide for their four children, and my Dad was offered a job, but it meant moving from San Diego to Denver. Of all the times I moved growing up, this one was the most difficult. In California, I belonged. I had friends that went to my school and my church, and I was really discovering who I was … and then we moved.

When our lives were turned upside down, I always wanted to be helpful (I am a great packer) and to help get settled no matter where we were unpacking (though often the boxes were the recipients of my silent tears), and if there is one thing that I learned at a young age, it is how important family is. So even though we moved hundreds of miles away, we had a home, my parents had jobs, we were in the best school district, but ultimately what mattered is that we were together.

The counselor at my middle school arranged my schedule so that it coordinated exactly with one girl, who became my “buddy.” In theory this is genius. It afforded me a group of friends immediately on my first day of seventh grade at Campus Middle School, but what began so perfectly, went horribly wrong about three weeks after we moved to Denver.

I’ll never know what the cause was, but I do remember showing up for school one day and trying to talk to one of my new friends, and being completely shocked when she just walked away. That wasn’t the end of it though. Class after class, mean girl after mean girl, lunch after lunch, I found myself completely alone. I spent my breaks and lunch in the bathroom or the library from February until the end of the year in the middle of June.

When I thought I could get away with it, I would head to the bus stop early and hide in the snow behind  the big pine trees waiting for the bus to pass, and then go home to announce that I’d missed the bus. On good days, my mom would just let me stay home. On bad days, she’d have time to drop me off at school before heading to work.

Seventh grade was such a painful period in my life.

***

It seemed we were always on the move when I was growing up. Whether by choice or the leading of God or the decisions of others, our family moved between every eighteen months and three years. When I was very young, I didn’t realize the impact this would have on me as I grew and began to make decisions of my own, nor did I understand the unsettledness it created in my little heart.

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I’ve mentioned before that I ended up on anti-depressants by the age of six. My depression worked its way out through anxiety and an overactive imagination, feeling like there was danger lurking around every corner. These days I still fight that anxiety, though through prayer and deep breaths and calming down before responding, I am living more than I’m fearing.

But there are times when Matt is working late and the kids are in bed, my mind wanders and I remember …

Crying myself to sleep in a new room, holding a teddy bear I received when I was just five and had left the only home I’d ever known.

Praying that someone would request to room with me at camp and later on at retreats …

Being left out of parties in high school …

Never being asked to homecoming …

The call I received the summer after my junior year of high school from a group of girls who had always left me out of almost everything, and they called to see if I wanted to hang out, but it turned out to be a joke — and I hid in my room, hurt and angry because they had done this only weeks after I had found out we were moving on, but we didn’t know where we were going and the only certainty was that I would graduate from a school where I’d only go for part of my senior year.

And then struggling and failing to find a place of belonging three months into my senior year of high school, and hiding by only taking the classes I had to take in order to graduate.

When I started over in Texas between my first two years of college, I was determined to reclaim the me that I had been before all the hurt and shame I experienced in seventh grade. What a place of healing that was for me. For the first time in years, I felt complete freedom to be 100% me. And in that time I met and married my husband and I finally found my place.

There are times when I still feel like I don’t have a landing spot or a place of belonging — being on the outside whether real or imagined became part of my inner life somewhere in the middle of attending fifteen schools before graduating high school. My memories are speckled with different images in living color of times when I just didn’t belong. Now I’ve lived in the same area for thirteen years and I’ve gone to the same church for twelve years, and while that is such a gift of grace for this well seasoned mover, staying put doesn’t guarantee immunity from loneliness.

Almost seven years ago, I went through the most isolating time of my life. On March 21, 2009 I began to miscarry our third baby. I was almost nine weeks pregnant and there was absolutely nothing they could do, and I hadn’t done anything wrong. There were no answers to why, only speculation and even when I was surrounded by people, I was always completely alone.

All my fears came rushing to the surface and I plummeted into depression that couldn’t be reversed by another baby, because it wouldn’t be that baby. I felt broken and battered and like the one thing I knew I could do well had been taken away from me. On top of that, it was as though Matt wasn’t grieving. It seemed my loss was just my loss and it began to define me.

Suddenly it was difficult to be with my friends who had just had babies. Two of my friends found out they were pregnant in the days after my miscarriage and didn’t want to tell me. Another friend became pregnant shortly afterward, and my sister delivered her third baby a few months later. The months of my greatest loneliness were filled with parties of the baby shower variety, hospital visits where I’d hold babies drinking in their newness while trying to hold myself together, and making meals for families that were growing, while mine had just gotten smaller.

I would sit on the front row of church and just cry during worship or the message, and I wanted to be present but I was drowning on my own. Though I became pregnant six months after my miscarriage, it did not end my sadness or my loneliness; it increased my fears. I found myself reciting this Psalm over and over again to quiet my spirit and reassure my mind of what my heart was still trying to believe.

The one who lives under the protection of the Most High
dwells in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”

Psalm 91:1,2, HCSB

And in the months and the years that followed losing our third baby, I’ve whispered these words countless times. On flights when fear has overtaken me, during a labor induced panic attack with Nicholas, while receiving the ever feared spinal in an unexpected c-section delivery with Mary Elena, when I count four heads and still feel like one is missing, in the middle of the night when I couldn’t calm my heart, while trying to settle a crying baby, as prayers laced with anxiety as I’ve held fevered kids, croupy babies, or a kid in the middle of a seizure.

What I now realize is that whether I am surrounded by friends or family or in a silent living room alone — when I feel completely known and loved by a friend or when my texts, calls or emails go unanswered — when my kids are loving spending quality time with me or they are disappointed with me — when my husband is fully engaged and present or when he is busy with work or distracted by the news, my belonging is not contingent on my circumstances. I belong because I have been chosen.

Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 1:4-5, The Message

What I know now, I wish I could go back and tell a fearful five year old girl trying to adjust to a new home and a baby sister  —

Do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be afraid, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you; I will help you …

Isaiah 41:10, HCSB

What I know now, I wish I could whisper to the twelve year old hiding in the pine trees trying to miss her bus —

For you are my hiding place;
you protect me from trouble.
You surround me with songs of victory. 

Psalm 32:7

And what I first cried, willing myself to believe, I can now say with confidence; no matter what the storm around or within me may be, I know this to be true:

The one who lives under the protection of the Most High
dwells in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
He Himself will deliver you from the hunter’s net,
from the destructive plague.
 He will cover you with His feathers;
you will take refuge under His wings.
His faithfulness will be a protective shield.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
the arrow that flies by day,
 the plague that stalks in darkness,
or the pestilence that ravages at noon …
Because you have made the Lord—my refuge,
the Most High—your dwelling place,
 no harm will come to you;
no plague will come near your tent.
For He will give His angels orders concerning you,
to protect you in all your ways.

Psalm 91:1-11, HCSB

How thankful I am that in Him, moments of isolation no longer define who we are. I am excited to be writing this year with an amazing and diverse group of women. Please read what my dear friend Allison has to say about belonging and then click through the rest of the blogs.

 

 Hiding Place, The Brooklyn Tabernacle Singers, 1992