The Winding Up Tight

While the threads of my story do begin at birth just like every one else’s, the threads of this particular story do not begin at the very beginning at all. The threads of this story begin several years later with a girl in the front passenger seat of a Silver Chrysler Town and Country minivan and my father in the driver’s seat behind the steering wheel. We pulled out of our drive on that rainy gray March morning in the Midwest, the kind of morning where you can feel the change of sunshine and blue skies right around the corner, but the grayness of winter is still hanging on. It was raining as the minivan accelerated to twenty-five miles per hour on the short-less-than-a-minute ride down the mostly-straight, slightly-slopping down on the way out to the main road and slightly up on the way home Sycamore Creek Drive, a road though now I only visit once a twice a year I could possibly drive with my eyes closed. I don’t remember where my father and I were driving that day. I know we were sloping down and heading out somewhere. My memory was as cloudy as that overcast day and I can’t recall which way the van turned on that main road. At fourteen on a morning in March I could have been going to the dance studio (my second home), a friend’s house, I could have been late to school or maybe my father was driving me to visit my mother in the intensive care unit in the hospital downtown.

I remember that less than minute drive like it actually lasted a lifetime. Or maybe the memory has been stretched out and hung onto, revisited so many times it now feels like a stretched out knit sweater which was left on a metal hanger to dry in the laundry room. The moment by means of minutes and seconds was short but the memory, the pieces my brain has tucked and filed away feel like they have traveled around the world, through time and back again, stretching and weaving into my story across years, seasons, places and stages.

I am the kind of person who cringes at the notion that someone may reach out and touch my shoulder or give me a friendly hug. Physical intimacy has always been difficult for me. I would gladly and firmly shake your hand and flash you a smile but for as long as I remember that is about as chummy as I can get, left up to my own self. So I imagine this memory, this story defining moment as feeling cold. Two people in a car, I in my personal space on my side and my father respecting my personal space behind the driver’s seat the feeling of so much more space than that between us. That day was incredibly gray both the weather and the words that were about to be birthed out of my father’s mouth. I know he labored over those words. Carefully thinking about how to deliver them to me. The last seven years for our family had been less than Leave it to Beaver with my mom being diagnosed with breast cancer in 1991 and as the oldest child in the family I felt the emotional weight of what was going on. I knew what he was about to tell me. I had felt the weight of what he was about to tell me and carried the anticipation of those words around with me like a heavy cloak.

On the exterior I am a tough girl. It is my nature to pull up bootstraps, march on, hold it all together for everyone else. My deep desire is to appear strong. Appear solid. So with the expectation of my father’s delivery of these words I emotionally prepared myself. I made sure my gaze was fixed opposite of him. I knew if I looked in his eyes I would cry. My firm foundation built upon all the human strength I could muster up was brittle and shallow like a thin sheet of ice on a neighborhood pond. The simple resting of a branch upon its waters could cause the surface to crack, exposing what lies underneath. So I layered invisible walls between us in the front of that Silver Chrysler Town and Country minivan. I turned my gaze out the window on that gray day in March. I focused on the blurring line where the slopping curb meets the grass on Sycamore Creek Drive. The lines which when riding at twenty-five miles per hour it is difficult to tell where the sloped curb becomes grass and vice versa. My inner monologue chanting ugliness, don’t you be weak Rachel, you better not cry. I stared out the window, my father drove, he labored, he delivered.

“Rach, you know- mom is going to die.”

I didn’t have to look at him to know he was choked up behind the steering wheel on the Chrysler Town and Country minivan on Sycamore Creek Drive. I could feel his tears through the invisible walls I had built between us and as I tried to focus on that blurred line where the curb met the grass on that gray day in March. Those lines went from a straight streaking blur to a jumbled up swirl of gray-green as my vision became impaired by the tears I was trying so hard to keep myself from crying. There were hot tears in my eyes that I couldn’t stop from coming. I gritted my teeth as if my jaw was the gatekeeper of those tears. Being broken for me was the very worst possible thing I believed I could do for my father in that moment. The news that he had labored over went in one ear at out the other. I wanted to be numb to it.

“I know,” I grumbled in hard-core teenager-like fashion.

When my gritting teeth helped me choke back those tears, my gaze turned up from where the curb meets the grass on Sycamore Creek Drive and I saw my reflection in the window, then my father’s reflection and finally I felt the weight of disappointment on my chest. I had screwed it all up. Even with all my wall building. If I could see my reflection in the window, my father could see it too. He knew I was crying. He knew I was hurting. In that moment I believed I had failed at accepting what was happening. In my fourteen-year-old brain I had already reasoned that I had no time for anger, or sadness and forget grief counseling. This was my first test and I failed. When I have recalled the long drawn out threads of this moment, stretched over times and seasons, I honestly can’t reconcile which I am more upset about: the news of my mother’s coming death or the fact that I felt deep shame over being sad about it.

So in that seat on Sycamore Creek Drive I committed to winding up my threads a little bit more tightly. I committed to building greater walls. The more I covered up, the less I would be seen. The less I would be found out for a sad girl unaccepting of her future to live her life without the glue of everything she knew. So I committed to hiding beneath a tough exterior at fourteen the best I knew how. I committed to a life of bootstrap pulling and winding up tight. A committed to a life without anyone ever knowing the real me.

But thankfully I see this moment as the beginning of the story. The beginning is the winding up tight and the rest of the story in the chapters that follow is the loosening of those threads. The unraveling of them. Where overtime, season by season threads are loosed from what I believed was true about strength and brokenness and walking in what God says is true about strength and brokenness.

“It would be nice and fairly nearly true, to say that ‘from that time forth, Eustace was a different boy.’ To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There were still many days when he could be very tiresome. But most of those I shall not notice. The cure had begun.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

when there isn’t much to say

Last night we sat in a booth adjacent to the high-topped bar table in the restaurant where we sat eleven years ago on the night when we were engaged.

Then we were both getting to know each other and there were words, abundant words. Words about my job working with at-risk children in the public schools, words about your job in graphic design, words about our future, our dreams, our future children, our current ministries, our future ministry. Abundant words.

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But last night, eleven years and what feels like a lifetime from a season of dreams, getting to know yous and abundant words– I feared I wouldn’t have much to say to you sitting in the vinyl booth across the table from you on our date.

As I scrambled around the house picking up stray socks and then as I bathed our four children, scrubbed their heads and toweled them off I tried to think of interesting things to tell you.

We had just been out a few nights before so my well of what-to-says seemed dry.

All I could think of was how today as I reached behind the toilet to shut off the water in hopes of keeping the guest bathroom toilet from overflowing, my hair dipped into the toilet water but other than that it was another day of making breakfast, bus stops, volunteering at school then making and cleaning up another meal. All I could think of was the mundane. The wiping of crumbs and the tips of my freshly highlighted hair in toilet water.

And in my fear I worried that you would think I was much less interesting as I had little to say to you from across that booth in that same restaurant where we sat on the night we were engaged over a decade ago.

I thought about how I have little to report, how my mid-section is so much softer (and my rear end section too).

My past reminds me of the times when I have no longer been interesting, I became disposable to people. Replaceable. Leaveable. Forgettable. My demons don’t ever forget this and remind me of the times when there isn’t much to say it’s easier for people to toss me away. In fear, my demons are loud. The foundation of fear is fragile. It’s built on past hurts and tender places. And as I walked around my house in fear yesterday the demons grew and they grew and they grew.

My fear is a breeding ground for my demons to remind me I am not enough.

I fear these dates when there isn’t much to say. When I don’t have inspiring words. When I didn’t do anything to change the world. When the season is mundane. When I’m just a girl in front of you with a softer mid-section and my well of abundant words is dry.

We know marriage is work. We have been through that season.

We know our marriage has been in the convection oven of seminary, ministry, four kids in four years and a senior pastorate. We know it is important to date one another. To not talk about kids or work. To laugh, be light, put down our phones and be present. We have been through that season too–of fighting and wading through time to see one another.

But last night as we sat there in that booth I felt a new unchartered season. A season where I feel uninteresting and mundane. A season where there is not much to say. A season where I am just doing the same thing every day, over and over again. A season of mundane.

But today, as I prepared for a lesson on marriage with my small group– how God designs two people in marriage to be committed to one another, even in the mundane, when there isn’t much to say.

God says, we are loved not because of what we do but because of who we are. And marriage is the same. In marriage you vowed to love me in the mundane because you don’t just see me, a girl in a hard, uninteresting season. You see me, a girl who God is not finished with yet. You see me not because of the things I have to say or what tasks I have conquered that day. You see me and you love me because you committed to do that. In the mundane, until death do us part.

You see me as enough because Christ is more than enough. For you, for me, for us.

I remembered how you sat there with me in the mundane last night. Across from me. The same way you did eleven years ago.

Eleven years ago I would have never told you my fears. But last night I told you I was afraid I didn’t have much to say tonight when you asked me about my day. And you still sat with me. You still loved me in the fears and the mundane and you filled the spaces with conversation when you could and when I couldn’t really do my share I filled my softening mid-section with pasta.

And it was lovely. It was lovely to sit there and not have much to say. To speak fears, to be somewhat silent and lacking words and softening in the mid-section by more mouthfuls of pasta and still be loved.

To be fully known, even on the boring days when there isn’t much to stay and have someone to love you for just being ordinary. This is marriage. This is life. This is choosing to love when it’s nothing but toilet water hair.

When I gazed past you towards the other side of the restaurant I could see that high-topped table. I can remember eleven years ago and picture us there. I can remember having too much wine that night and talking a mile a minute, arms likely flailing, a heart bubbling over with excitement. You laughing at my every word.

And I am thankful for the seasons of dating. The seasons of plenty and want. I am thankful for us then, and thankful for the mundane now. I am thankful you will still chose I do when there isn’t much to say.

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passionate. not terrible. passionate.

She sits there in her room, tiny plastic pieces of treasures, books, pink feather pens surround her, a crooked tiara on her head and streaks of orange marker are drawn on her leg from her kneecap to her hot pink painted toenails.

She is forty pounds and forty some inches tall. She is three and she is the fiercest tiny human I have ever known.

I can’t remember whether we were discussing which pajamas she should wear for the night or who should put them on her. But I remember her being assertive with me. She was fierce when she looked up at me with her big brown eyes and said, No mommy. I will do it myself. Humpf.

After having three boys in three years when I discovered I was pregnant for the fourth time I was certain it would be another boy. Boys were what I knew. Surely God was not going to challenge me with the newness of raising a daughter. 

Oh but God has a funny way about things and He did in fact turn my world upside-down and gave us that daughter. We have loved more than we thought we could love and I personally have been challenged more than I thought I would be raising something supposedly filled with sugar and spice and everything nice.

We are so grateful. I am so grateful for her. Our little girl, the last of four children in four years and the only girl, she is precious to all of us.

But she is so fierce. Frustratingly fierce. Passionate. Wanting to go about things her own way. Princess dresses, painted-toes, Batman masks and Boba Fett blasters.

She regularly will grab her brothers and scratch them so close to their eyeballs, leaving Harry Potter-like scratch marks on their foreheads.

She pushes smaller children at play dates. Moments worthy of making me want to crawl into the playhouse and hide or maybe cry.

She was the first of my four children to try out a passion-filled shut up to my face while I was correcting her.

And a few weeks ago while we were visiting my grandmother and grandfather in New York my grandmother had asked one of her kind friends if she would watch our four kids for us while my husband and I attended a grown-ups only event. When we returned there was my girl asleep on the floor. She had protested with my grandmother’s friend all night long. My grandmother’s friend reported to me that the boys were great and she couldn’t understand much of what my girl said all night except when she looked her in her eyes and clear as day said to her, “YOU are NOT welcome here.” 

She just straight-up tells selfless, helpful friends of her great-grandmother they are not welcome. sigh.

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My sweet forty pound daughter. The girl with the big bows in her whispy brown hair and bangles all the way up her arm can be quite challenging. And yesterday as she was being assertive with me I felt the words creeping into my head. Terrible Twos. Even though she is not two anymore. Those words terrible and twos were lurking in the back of my head.

I had to remind myself.

Challenging, yes. 

Terrible, no. 

Fierce, tenacious, passionate. Yes.

Terrible, no.

Assertive, opinionated, strong-willed. Yes.

Terrible. No.

In the moments when the anger starts to bubble beneath the surface and my vat of patience is running low I find myself grabbing on the posh words of parenting which often flash in my face on the Facebook Newsfeed. Terrible Twos, threenager. This is how the world sees her.

And honestly. I have written about this before and finding myself needing to write about this again. These posh sayings are not helpful to me as a parent at all. Parenting is difficult enough. And when you are drowning the last thing you need is the world chanting bitter snarky sayings to you from the top deck. Oh you’re drowning, yeah that’s terrible. It will be a year of terrible, terrible drowning. And then the next year of it will be even worse, but good luck with that.

What I need when I feel the hard prongs of raising up children is someone to throw me a life preserver and hop in the water with me.

And when I breathe deeply, I remember God is with me in the difficult waters. Not shouting unhelpful sayings from the boat but right in the difficult waters.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown.

Isaiah 43:2

I can chose to breathe deeply, step out of my frustration, my impatience and on Sundays the crazy eyes produced by my aching pride when she is tenacious in front of a crowd in the front row at church.

I can pray for more peace. More patience. More self-control.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled.

John 14:27

I can breathe deeply and see the child standing in front of me, in the middle of the tiny plastic pieces treasures, books, and feather pens; with the crooked tiara and the orange marker drawn on her leg.

I can breathe and I can see her as God sees her. Precious. Uniquely knit together. Wonderfully made. A passionate girl in a crooked tiara trying to sort out this thing called life the same way I am.

And then I can be moved to compassion for her. I can remember that sometimes feeling great passion for things produces great emotion. And while I am a grown up and do not experience great passion about pajamas, my sweet girl has only been picking out and putting on her own clothes for a few months now and she does indeed experience great passion about pajamas.

And in my compassion I can correct her outside of my anger and impatience. I can help teach her proper words and tones for communicating independence because while I can be gracious and identify with big emotions and tenacity I will not tolerate sass or disrespect. Girl may be fierce but girl must be respectful to her momma.

And I can remember she is in the waters too. That God is with her. The rivers of passion and difficulty will not consume her either.

That in these challenging passionate days in the middle of tiny plastic pieces of treasures, books, pink feather pens, crooked tiaras and streaks of orange marker down her legs, the Lord is near and He is working on both of our hearts.

We are on a journey. It feels terrible but we will get through it. And God promises the waves of difficulty will not overcome either of us.

Changing from the Inside Out

This past year has taught me so much. So much more than I wanted when I asked God to change me from the inside out the last time it was time to resolve to walk better in the new year. My plan was to train for a marathon. Push myself and discover how my body after four pregnancies and four c-sections can do so much more than I once thought it could.

I wanted to read and I wanted to write. I wanted to connect with my husband and make sure I read with each of my four kids, prayed with them, instructed and corrected them faithfully and asked them about their days-each and every day.

And I was able to accomplish some of the above: read pinch more, connect with my husband a tablespoon more and be maybe an ounce more faithful in this role I have called motherhood. I ran a whole lot and actually wrote very little.

But last year was not at all the easy, comfortable, peaceful year I had resolved for myself of loving better, writing more and reading cozy by the fire last time the New Years Ball dropped. It was a year of learning to harness my grief and redefine relationships. And as I’ve poured out my heart in this piece I have decided to only share half of what I learned this past year and follow up in a another piece with the rest.

Grief and relationships. These are my tender places and Brene says,

“When we don’t acknowledge how and where we are tender, we’re more at risk of being hurt.”

Brene Brown, Daring Greatly

Last year the changing from the inside out I asked for actually happened- and not from the comforts of a cozy fire. At times it felt like my very own heart was being ripped out. It’s been an unraveling of what I thought I knew. An unlearning of old patterns. And hopefully so many opportunities to weave new healthier patterns, rooted in who God is and embracing the characteristics of being His daughter instead of patterns rooted in what I thought I should do or what others say I am.

Just when I think I have these tender places all figured out, I feel God calling me back to them, to put off the old and put on the new. To continuously undress and redress.

Then the lion said — but I don’t know if it spoke — ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.

C.S Lewis, Voyage of the Dawn Treader

This year I discovered, if you don’t get to know your grief, look at it in the face, become angry with it, cry about it, ask God why about it, you most likely will never be fully healed.

At the beginning of last year I thought my marathon journey was going to be all about me. All about my fitness goals, all about being a bad-ass. But all those miles around town, on the trail and in my neighborhood were actually opportunities to stare my grief in the face. To wrestle, to find closure, to feel broken and human and to find the peace of God which transcends understanding. Looking like a bad-ass this year was not about medals and PRs but instead finding bad-assery in hurts, tears and anger.

As I ran some, walked some, turned off my headphones in the quietness of the trail I got angry thinking about my mom, why she had cancer for most of my childhood and I became angry about her being gone. I hated cancer as I ran. I cried about how the last time I remember speaking to her was probably over some kind of fight we were having about whether or not I should be allowed to spend the night at someone’s house as a teenager or her last memories of me were finding my cigarettes in my room at thirteen or driving the family minivan through the garage and into the dining room while my dad was at work and my mom was receiving chemo at University of Cincinnati Hospital. I hated myself for being such a difficult raging teenager as my mother was breathing her last breaths.

I asked God why I have had to live through having four kids in four years without a parent to call, without someone to listen, without extra hands and without an unconditional-people-who-you-call-about-things-you-can’t-tell-anyone-else- village. I cried about my kids not having Grandma Shelley. I cried because she missed knowing them, she missed knowing my husband. And I know she would have loved my husband and my kids.

All those miles on the trail, I looked my grief in the face. You can walk with God for a decade, have lost someone two decades ago, read good books on grief and still not look grief in the face.

I never had looked my own grief in the face before. I had never taken the time to be mad and sad, frustrated, disappointed. Those are all nasty feelings and for so long I just wanted to push them down rather than feel them. Picking up my boot straps and burying my hurts was so much easier than learning about this tender place. I put band aids on gunshot wounds and for so long I let myself walk in a false sense of peace, not rooted in anything accept what I thought it looked like to be strong and carry on.

My false sense of peace was a breeding ground for insecurity, false hope, cynicism and a whole lot of feeling sorry for myself.

But in taking hold of my grief, learning how and where I am tender, unraveling my yucky strings, I found the comfort of a God who knows suffering.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

Psalm 147:3

I have found thankfulness. To see past the hurts and see how much God has provided for me along the way. Even when I didn’t deserve it with the cars I put in the dining room and cigarettes my parents found in my bedroom only to name two safe stories with you.

How I was an outsider who was brought in. How I have the right and privilege to not just to resolve to be better once a year, but the access of a child of God to His new mercies every single morning.

After a long year of training and running in memory of my mother my plan was to culminate the journey with a Race for the Cure 5K. Something I had never done before because I feared I would be a hot mess of tears for 3.2 miles.

But as I walked that race with my husband and my four kids I was not at all the hot mess of tears I had imagined. I felt whole. I felt shalom-peace for a moment.

Shalom: peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, tranquility

Shalom-peace. On the other side of the hard journey of looking grief in the face I was thankful. That the road has not been cozy or comfortable but as I look around me I can see big hurts, feel sorry for myself, make the emptiness big or I can see a big God, who knows big hurts, who is walking with me in sorrow and be thankful for the places where he has me now.

Asking God to change you from the inside out is a scary thing. But when you lay back and let God do the work in your heart, when He begins pulling the skins off, it can hurt worse than anything you’ve ever felt. But I promise what comes after the hurt is the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. It is freedom. It is peace. It is shalom.

 

 

Parenting: Encouraging Uncool

In the early nineties I remember Saved By The Bell, Full House, New Kids on the Block, turtlenecks and the first desire of my heart to be cool. I was in early elementary school and this desire to be cool and fit in was as big as the boom box stereo my mother let me take on the bus to Jonathan Wright Elementary School.

The white turtlenecks, the Kmart matching sweatpant and sweatshirt sets, my clumsiness and natural given goofiness somehow, no matter how persistent I was to follow the boom box sized desire, in my early elementary years I never found myself being in with the in group.

What I wish I knew then is everyone is just trying to fit in. Everyone is working so hard to be liked. Everyone on the playground wants someone to know them and see them and after seasons of eventually finding myself at the cool table, I know the cool table is not all it is cracked up to be. I know a seat at the cool table is in fact an empty and unsatisfying goal when you find yourself there; especially when maybe you were never meant to be there in the first place.

What I know now is the people who I still have friendships with, friendships I find deeper than how are you doing, what are you doing and what kind of house do you live in are the friendships founded in seasons of uncool. The friendships which have permeated bad perms, braces and going out with the wrong guy are all friendships I initially formed when I was quite uncool. When my trying to be cool mask was off and I was my true nerdy, awkward and clumsy self. My truest friendships have been formed when I was not trying to work so hard to impress others but bare-boned, unashamed and free.

What I know now is I still struggle with the desire to fit in, be cool, to be well liked. I still carry this desire as big as boom box around with me in adulthood, the desire for someone to reach out and say, you are precious in my sight. The desire someone to say,  I see you as you are and you are loved as you are.

I have carried this desire around for so long it is easy for me to recognize it in others, similar to seeing a reflection of myself in a mirror.

So as I walk in this season with my own early elementary aged child, I see the desire of his heart to fit in. My heart breaks for him but at the same time, because this is my very own achilles heel I know how to sit with him in this season. I know how to identify with this very distorted desire to run with the self-proclaimed cool kids. I know how to talk with him about how friends are people who we can be our bare-boned and unashamed selves with. And I know how to kneel by his bedside with compassion and encourage him to be himself even at his uncoolest.

The true friends are the people who see us and love us even when we are in fact very uncool. True friends are the people who know we may still snort when we laugh and true friends are the ones who permeate bad perms and tough seasons.

I personally have become quite a fan of not fitting in. I have tried to squeeze myself into the mold but the mold of what is currently cool is not really my size.

I know God uniquely knits all of us together for his purpose and his glory. I want to raise children who embrace their white turtlenecked-God-given molds. He sees us and loves us completely, bare-boned and unashamed. And I want to encourage my children to  seek friends who see them as God sees them: precious in his sight, uniquely knit together, wonderfully made, even in the seasons of uncool.

To raise uncool kids who know they are deeply loved as they are, bare-boned, unashamed and free. This is how I use my boom-box sized desire to fit in, my story of drinking from the muddy, stagant and unsatisfying waters of acceptance and fitting in (Jeremiah 2:13) and seek to raise a new heritage of children secure in the Lord.

We are in fact precious in his sight. Bare-boned, unashamed and free. I want this truth to permeate the desire to be cool. I want to encourage true selves in stark contrast to what may currently and fleetingly be cool.

The Gospel Unravels Strength

“If we say, ‘I believe in Jesus,’ but it doesn’t affect the way we live, the answer is not that now we need to add hard work to our faith so much as that we haven’t truly understood or believed in Jesus at all.” Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith

I had the opportunity a few years ago to experience what my denomination calls church planting assessment center. Imagine Hollywood Week on American Idol. Long hours of learning the ways God has woven together the unique patchwork of your heart, opportunities to share your testimony in front of your peers and moments of walking down a long aisle where three assessors sit at a table and tell you whether or not you are wired and ready to go and engage as a couple in the kingdom building work of planting new churches.

I walked into the week performing, prepared and properly attired. Church planting is simply starting new churches under the authority of a larger church in our denomination and church planting is statistically proven to be an effective way to share the hope of Jesus with the unchurched. My heart yearns for everyone to know and experience the hope I have in Jesus. I wanted church planting. I deeply desired for God to use me in a place where I felt comfortable enough to swim strongly, I wanted to reach people who were just like me.

Michael Craddock and I sat up front. Michael Craddock loves front row living. There were nine or so other couples in the room with us. Each of the couples is randomly assigned throughout the weekend a time to share both their testimonies and the husband preaches a brief sermon. My desire was to go first. I personally knew I could not sit there and marinate on what I had to say and wrestle with my “I am not enough” demons. Walking into the week I had such an impressive and well prepared speech, I am from total darkness so I believed my story was the kind of story that would certainly be a home run.

But in God’s good plan and perfect timing even with our front row living, Michael Craddock and I did not get the opportunity to stand up in front of the room first, Michael Craddock and I did not even get the chance to share the first night. In God’s good plan, I had to sit and I had to wait. I had to marinate. I had to listen the stories of others and wrestle with the self-pity threads of not being good enough I have woven around my heart. Wrestle with the fact that maybe my story was not that impressive at all. Wrestle with the fact that maybe God wasn’t calling me to what I believed to be was my filet mignon on the buffet line of ministry opportunities.

By the second day around lunch time I still had not had any opportunities to impress anyone. But I found myself sitting next to a pastor I had never met before at lunch, he was an assessor so I had my performance face on. He began to engage my heart and I very safely stayed at the surface. After fifteen years of discussing anything that had to do with the loss of my mother as a child I was very good at rotely responding to questions about my childhood. Beneath all my winding up tight and bootstrap pulling up this was what I had learned to do. But this man wouldn’t let me stay at the surface and I felt the threads from all my winding up tight begin to fray. I could feel hot tears in my eyes. Tears that were supposed to be hidden beneath my tough exterior.

In the waiting I then heard a sermon from 2 Corinthians 12. 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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.

And then the questioning, the unraveling, the wondering if I am defining strength by the ways of the world or by the ways of the gospel. God’s power was made perfect in weakness? God’s grace is enough? I can be content and even boast about my weak places because the power of God rests upon me? Weakness is strength?

As I sat there, tears still so close to the surface from lunch, I thought about these truths From 2 Corinthians. I thought about the gospel. I thought about living a life of pulling up bootstraps and covering up weaknesses and hardships since that graying day in March in the Chrysler Town and Country Minivan on Sycamore Creek Drive. I thought of the years I had spent as a Christian covering up weaknesses with scripture to appear impressive and pulled together. Using scripture as a tool to protect instead of a tool to transform.

In God’s perfect timing, we were called up for our turn almost directly after this sermon from 2 Corinthians 12. Right as I was sitting there in my head planning to rewrite all of the things I wanted to say. Hot tears so close to the surface. All my prepared words written out of a worldly view strength, performing well and impressing others now unraveled in pieces around me. I listened to Michael share and when my turn came some words came out that I knew and had rehearsed and then some other words I wasn’t even planning on saying at all. Something about feeling a deep burden and need for planting churches to bring the hope of Jesus and but then tears.

I began to cry. In front of a room of my peers and a long table of assessors I broke out into a hot mess of embarrassment level tears. The next words I said through sobs went something like, “I want to plant a church but I think maybe I haven’t been a Christian for long enough to be a good church planting wife. I just don’t know all the church songs.”

In all my preparedness and pulling up bootstraps I stood in front of that room and ending up sobbing about not knowing all the church songs. It was like my clenched jaw, the gatekeeper of all of those tears opened wide and every single tear I had bottled up for fifteen years began to flow. The words of my pastor friend and the words from 2 Corinthians were like a branch that just gently touched the surface of my frozen pond and I cracked open completely.

This was the beginning of the gospel unraveling my ideas about strength. My learned behaviors of gate keeping tears and hiding behind walls and verses. This is when I began to see I have so much unraveling to do beneath the surface when it comes to processing what strength looks like in Jesus. I have so many personal requirements for how I believe I should live as a wife, mother and Christian. So many expectations that aren’t grounded in what God requires of me at all. All God requires is that when I am weak, His power is perfectly displayed. As as I bravely walk in vulnerability, owning brokenness and rejoicing over healing tears I am slowly unraveling what I how I used to define strength to how God defines strength.

I am learning that following Jesus isn’t about being good enough, living a moral life or how well we can clean ourselves up on the outside. The gospel turns that all upside down and inside out. Following Jesus is about how broken we are and how willing we are to let Jesus shine through the broken places. There are many instances where I am still the insecure, guarded girl in the front seat of the Chrysler Town and Country Minivan. God isn’t completely finished with me yet, but he is working on me every so slowly. Philippians says, and I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ. (Philippians 1:6).

God never did call us to church planting. In God’s good and perfect plan God has continued to make me wrestle in waters in which I feel uncomfortable and not quite strong enough to swim. Just a year and a half after church planting assessment my husband was called to be the lead pastor in an already established church. A role in which I feel inadequate and unequipped for but now that I have unraveled in the gospel I know I can be content in my weaknesses because I am willing to let Christ shine through my broken places. I am enough because Jesus makes me enough.

“It would be nice and fairly nearly true, to say that ‘from that time forth, Eustace was a different boy.’ To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There were still many days when he could be very tiresome. But most of those I shall not notice. The cure had begun.”

C.S Lewis, The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader

A Mother Who Dwells

The bare soles of my feet are on the hardwood floors in the dining room, my hands are busy folding the third and fourth loads of laundry for the day, my son playing in the family room and my daughter with three rows of dining room chairs lined up in the office. She is driving a minivan full of Disney Princesses to Target in her imagination. I can see her from the dining room as she buckles each one of them into their seats with fingertips still orange from the cheetos she had with her lunch, she tells each doll “I love you so much” and places a bag of extra clothes and pretend kitchen food in the floor of the minivan for the journey.

Easily I see myself playing there in that office. I remember a walk in closet in my parent’s master bedroom from childhood. I would take my dolls into that space and line them up, drive them somewhere with my pretend husband, Davy Jones or Joey McIntyre in the front seat. Easily I am taken back that place and I can see my mom, too. She is full of life and she is fully present. I think of her and I think of how she always showed up. She entered into our games and our lives.

For a moment my grief returns when I think of her, only grief now doesn’t have the sharp painful edges it once had before. The sharp edges of grief have now become smooth with time and heart work. My grief has been loosened from anger and now the weight of the sadness feels smoothed out and clean like a freshly laundered bed sheet on a warm summer day. The sadness brings comfort and wholeness, it is now crisp and clean.

My son comes to me as I fold, he begins to pester around me like a gnat in the summertime. As I fold the tiny shorts and match the socks I am stirred to thinking of the kind of mother I want to be. I am stirred to thinking about what my mother would do in this moment if she had just one more day with us and I thought about what I would want to do if this was my last day here too. I know for me I would not want to be buried in a task list of making the house look just so- I am pretty sure that is not how my mother would want to spend her time either if she was given just one more day to soak up childhood imagination and cheeto-fingered hugs. I believe she would want to dwell in the moments with us, lingering there for as long as she was able.

My thoughts switch from past to present and I think about the ministry I have to these children in my home, the privilege of being the one to fill their buckets and care for their hearts. In the present I am stirred to think about how Jesus was with those He came to minister to, how He dwelt among them, how He reclined at the table, how He was right there, Jesus loved by being fully present and showing up.

I think about how a lifetime from now I want my kids to remember me as a mother who was with them, a mother who was fully present, a mother that showed up physically, emotionally. Not as a mother who always had empty laundry bins or all the toys picked up off the floor. I fight to lay the ideal of perfectionism down, the old must unravel away before I can embrace that an unfolded pile of laundered clothes is evidence of a life lived alongside my kids. I must be renewed in the spirit of my mind to see the undone housework as the healthy fruit of a life lived showing up and dwelling among the ones God has given to me to care for during these fleeting days of motherhood.

Reminded of what my mother would do if she had just one more day, I walk the half-folded laundry upstairs and I sit with my the son who was pestering around me. I place him in my lap. He has grown so much it is difficult for me to gather him up, but for a time he lets me hold him. I listen to him, we laugh. I then go to my daughter and she lets me hold her too. I hold onto her, I rock her. She melts into me for minutes. I think about my mom and I believe this is what she would do if she had one more day. I think about how Jesus knew the number of His days and how He spent them dwelling among people, the people who He loved so much and would love enough to give His life for.

Oh how connection is so needed. Connection is so much more intergral to the whole-children I want to raise up in the Lord. More important than children who remember how clean the house was or my fussing over neat piles of clean laundry.  We are all thirsting for just a few moments to dwell among those we love and melt into them. How we all just want someone to sit with us and hold us.

I want to walk in a life that produces the fruit of remembering what my mother would tell me to do if she just had one more day. Be fully present and full of life. I want to show up and dwell among the ministry of motherhood I have sitting right in my lap. And one day, I hope to be recovered from perfectionism. I hope my children remember piles of half-folded laundry and a mother who dwelt among the childhood imaginations and cheeto-fingered hugs. I want to be a mother who dwells.

When The Plants Are Thirsty

It’s Sunday afternoon in my nook of the world and my husband is home from his work as lead pastor at the church just around the block from our home. He comes in and I see him, stretched and exhausted. He does all things well but at times reminds me of Bert from Mary Poppins carrying around way too many instruments, hands in so many trades.

We have been in the same space with him, at church, but the kids and I know our time to drink him up is once we are at home. So we all wait for our turn and as soon as he comes through the laundry room door my four kids climb all over him like ants on that sticky apple juice spot on the hardwood floor.

I can see he is worn but I simply say, “Your plants are thirsty, let them drink.”

For eight years I’ve watched this happen, Sunday after Sunday. My husband comes through the door and in the same way a thirsty plant’s roots grow towards a life-giving water source my children gravitate automatically towards my husband. Their little roots move towards him because he is the nourishment their hearts need.

Like thirsty plants, I tell him. They need to drink you in. 

I know it feels like ants marching on his back when he is oh so tired, but when the plants are thirsty they won’t leave the source of what they need the most. You can send them away but they will boomerang back for a drink to quench their thirst.

He sees their thirst so he goes and throws ball in the yard, jumps on the trampoline, reads a Leaning Tower of Pisa like stack of books, beats Bowser and finds the last hidden star in Mario Brothers 3D World. He sees their thirsty roots and he lets them drink up his time.  By Sunday evening all my children feel watered well. Replenished, loved, connected and with full hearts. Ready to walk with well watered roots that will bring them into classrooms, baseball practices and conversations with friends on the bus.

When children are circling you, poking you, piling up in your lap. That’s when they need to drink you up. When the plants are thirsty, don’t make them wait, let them drink. Put down the phone, that email, put off the things that can wait until the morning and see the little plants moving their roots near to you. They need you then. Let them drink so they can walk into their worlds with well watered roots.

Why We Can’t Stand Alone In Our Grief

I have many friends who have known me in my grief and many friends who have loved me in my grief. Friends who loved me when I was so guarded, I completely detached from the roots that make me uniquely Rachel. I have a great community of people who have shared my grief and entered into it and for this reason, when I was ready, I believe I was able to heal and find fullness once again.

Shalom. Wholeness. Fullness. Contentment, completeness, wholeness, well being and harmony.

I believe we can never stand alone in our grief. I have been there. When we stand alone in our grief, grief consumes us. Grief is all enveloping. Grief is like a heavy cloak that is so heavy you cannot remove it on your own.

Before belief in Jesus, The Gospel and The Bible, I believed in grieving behind closed doors. I believed in suffering in silence, giving safe answers to hard questions, holding back tears and flashing “I’m fine” half smiles. Before my understanding of a Jesus who wept and a God who gave His one and only Son to give His life as a ransom for many, I believed in a life of bootstrap pulling and suffering behind closed doors. I believed lies that told me I was alone in my suffering. I believed the lies that I was different and unworthy because of my grief. I believed the lie that it was wrong to be broken in front of a watching world. I felt shame. For a long time I felt there was something wrong with me because of the broken heart of grief I carried silently around within my chest.

Before a changed heart and a changed life in Christ I believed in half-sightedness. I covered that broken heart and the shame with mask, upon mask, upon mask. Masking hurt with pretend strength, worn out boots and a calloused heart that could never fully heal alone behind those closed doors. A heart that could never heal when it was threaded in lies and tangled up in masks.

And I believe, belief in Jesus has changed the way I view my grief. And overtime I see Christ, by His grace and through His church transforming me.

In Mark Chapter 8, Jesus heals the blind Man at Bethsaida. And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.

I believe Jesus does not want us, as his people to be walking around behind masks upon masks on our hearts, living with half-sightedness. In the passage above, Jesus heals the man, but when he looks around all he can see are men that look like trees. The man’s whole sight isn’t restored. So Jesus, lays his hands on the man’s eyes again to restore him to whole-sightedness. Wholeness. Jesus doesn’t desire for us to be healed only half way, Jesus wants us to be whole.

Wholeness. Shalom. Peace, Complete restoration.

Charles Scriven (The Promise of Peace, 2009):

So when the prophet Ezekiel spoke words of hope to the exiled people of Israel, he used the word shalom–“peace.” He did this because in the Hebrew tongue, shalom was about food, safety, and freedom; it was about prosperity, well-being, self-respect for the whole community. All this is what people need and want when they feel anxious or think their lives are hanging by a thread. Ezekiel, therefore, thought of God’s promise-the Great Promise–as a “covenant of peace.” The partnership between God and Israel meant that someday the things that hurt would lose out to the things that heal and restore. Someday, God’s people would flourish and be fully alive. (p. 57)

When I think of the shame I had over my broken heart, the hiding, the half-sightedness. I think of how desperately I wanted to live with whole-sight. With wholeness. Shalom. I wanted to feel the truth that someday the things that hurt would lose out to the things that heal and restore. That someday, Someday, as God’s child I would flourish and be fully alive.

Tim Keller Generous Justice (2010)

It means complete reconciliation, a state of the fullest flourishing in every dimension–physical, emotional, social, and spiritual–because all relationships are right, perfect, and filled with joy. (p. 174)

Shalom. Wholeness. Whole sight.

I often think about the years I sat in my shame and grief alone, hidden behind those masks upon masks. When I first believed, I knew enough scripture to be able to walk in half-sightedness. I knew Jesus wanted me to find comfort in Him. I knew Jesus wanted me to rest in Him. “Come to me all who are burdened and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” I just didn’t know how to find wholeness alone. I needed others to come alongside me and share in my grief, cry tears with me and preach truth to me. Because with half-sightless and masks over my broken heart I could not see truth with full clarity. I could not see truth with half sight.

We need others to share in our grief so others can preach truth to us when we can’t see it for ourselves. Community draws us out of the lies we preach to ourselves in our grief. Community draws us out of the shadows of shame and into the light of Christ. 

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:22) 

We cannot be pushed out of our youthful passions and the shadows of shame unless we are alongside others, calling us out of it and helping us pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace. Shame is too big. Shame is all consuming. And walking along in shame is a breeding ground for lies.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:8-9)

We are drawn out of the darkness and the shadows of shame and into a people. A priesthood. A nation. We are drawn out of the darkness and into a community of others. A community of the marvelous light of Jesus where we can be seen and unashamed because we belong to Christ.

We cannot stand alone in our grief because we cannot bear the burdens of grief alone. 

In a recent sermon I heard in church from the series “A Community That Cares” I learned that God cares for us here on earth by giving us a community of leaders.

Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing that you are doing is not good. “You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. (Exodus 18:17-18)

Heart work is hard work and being alone in your grief is not good. You will surely wear out, the task is much too heavy to bear alone. We cannot be alone in our grief, we need leaders, leaders in our Bible studies, Sunday Schools, churches and community groups. We can’t do the heart work of removing masks from our hearts alone. It is hard work.

When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up–one on one side, one on the other–so that his hands remained steady till sunset.

We need friends at our sides, holding up our hands when we can’t hold them up ourselves. We are human and God provides friends to be alongside to do the heavy lifting when we can’t bear the load.

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)

Jesus is the ultimate burden-bearer. We are called to bear one another’s burden which also means we must step out from behind the masks and the shadows of shame and allow others to bear our burdens as well.

The way I think about grief, my pain and the loss of my mother has changed little by little, thread by thread. It is a process of putting off old patterns and walking in new ones.

put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires,  and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22-24)

And thread by thread as I unravel untruths from truths I feel God restoring me to whole-sightedness. I feel God bringing me out of the shadows of shame and out from behind the masks upon masks upon masks, into His marvelous light.

Little by little and thread by thread as I unravel, I feel shalom-peace: complete reconciliation, a state of the fullest flourishing in every dimension–physical, emotional, social, and spiritual–because all relationships are right, perfect, and filled with joy.

If we say, ‘I believe in Jesus,’ but it doesn’t affect the way we live, the answer is not that now we need to add hard work to our faith so much as that we haven’t truly understood or believed in Jesus at all.” Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith