When The House Is Still

I just put my youngest child on the bus. She is almost four and attending a four-day-a-week, half-day preschool for the year. I know her teacher and trust her fully, she has a friend in her classroom, she rides the bus with her two older brothers, and her bus driver has been driving my children to school since before my youngest daughter could even walk.

For all four of my children, this year, I know all of four of teachers and feel confident that each of them will be loved, nurtured, and academically challenged in their classrooms. This is the first year my mind is not clouded with worry nor occupied with fear. This is the first year I feel complete peace, joy and thankfulness about sending four of my most precious possessions on the school bus and into the hallways of the world.

With my mind not occupied with worries, what ifs, and if onlys, I find, I am sitting in a quiet house. Windows open and nothing but the sound of the wind rattling the leaves on the oak tree outside my office window.

For a moment I let the memories of the last eight and a half years come to mind amidst the rattling leaves. The noise of newborn cries, toddler tantrums, the sound of the pantry door constantly opening and closing. The messes of spit up, baby food crusted in the highchair, arms and legs covered in Crayola marker, legos and matchbox cars all over the stairs. The fierce battles on the bottom step as I discipline each of them and fight to get to their hearts. The moments I hold them, rock them, pray with them. The moments I open a book to read to them and find four kids, all piled up right in my lap, craving snuggles, connection, and the need to find themselves caught up in a story. The moments when their four personalities captivate me and I find myself caught up in their little life stories.

I have dreamed of this day over the last eight and a half years like many mothers behind me and before me. This moment. The moment when my house would not feel turned inside out and upside down. The moment when the house would be still. The moment when I felt my children would be secure and confident enough to embrace the world without me by their side. The moment when I could entrust their little hearts and lives into the hands of others who are reliable and able to nurture them and teach them alongside me.

And oh how quickly this day has come. Everyone tells you the house will be still soon enough but amidst the chaos you never believe the day of a still house will truly come. But somehow, the day is here. Today, right now, my house is still for a few hours.

And I have a choice. Transitions always seem to lead me to a place of nostalgia and wishing back what I once had before. When the house is still I can hold on to a ghost of the past or I can choose to look back at these last eight and a half years, with contentment, knowing God was writing a story for us amidst the messes, the noise, and chaos to get to this place. I can embrace a new season, with thankfulness because I am confident that God grows us and gives good things to be nostalgic about in every new season. When the house is quiet I can reminisce of the years gone by or dream big about the things which are to come.

When the house is still there are so many possibilities and so many opportunities to wish and wait on a Good God who has been faithfully writing a story in each season for all of us. I am thankful and changed by the memories I have from an inside out and upside down house, but as I still here in a still and quiet house, I look forward, with eager expectation to see what God will do in a new chapter of our family story. God is always working and He is always able.

What Are you Afraid Of?

My blonde haired boy with the gapped-tooth grin stands on the edge of the diving board. This is the hundredth or so time he has climbed the ladder, walked his Barney Rubble like feet down the textured white board and stood with his toes dangling off the edge ready to jump into the deep refreshing waters beneath him.

Each time he reaches the edge of the diving board he considers this act of faith. As he reaches the edge he wonders if the unknown waters below will consume him and he wonders if he can trust in his previous swim training. A hundred or so times over, my blonde haired boy has done an about face after weighing his options, letting the fear of the unknown consume him instead.

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Fear clouds the truth about the waters below and whether or not they will consume him.

Fear prevents him from remembering the strong swimmer he has become.

Fear skews the lens through which he views his world.

I go to him. In my flesh I am frustrated for him. I know he can in fact swim. I know he is letting fear overcome him. In my flesh I want to fix it for him. I want to accelerate the process. I want him to overcome this fear in my timing.

I ask him, “What are you afraid of?”

He replies to me he is afraid of “the drowning”. My blonde-haired boy with the gapped tooth grin has given his big fear a big definite article.

My flesh overcomes me and in this parenting moment on the side of the pool I list how my blonde haired boy should feel instead of entering into the dark with him. In my flesh I see his fear with a definite article too.

Beside the pool I remind my son of truth. I remind him of the hundred or so times his has jumped off the edge of the pool into deep waters and how he swam in them well. I want for him to overcome this so badly, I miss the opportunity to be vulnerable and speak my fears to him. I see the problem and I fail to see my son as a person standing before me. I forget we are both human and a fail to remember the times when I too have stood on the edge of fear, uncertain whether the waters below would consume me.

Times when I stood on the edge of uncertainty and failed to trust in a God who promises he is with me and faith in the truth that because God holds me, the waves will not consume me.

When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. (Isaiah 43:2)

Times when fear of the unknown provided a skewed lens to see The Blessed Controller cleary.

Times when fear skewed my own lens for how I viewed my world, when I too gave my fear a definite article.

Pema Chodron defines compassion as “knowing your darkness well enough that we can sit in the darkness with others. It is never a relationship between the wounded and the healed. It is a relationship between equals.”

So I wonder, as a parent, do I understand my own darkness well enough to sit in the darkness with my children? Am I able to access my big fears, the big fears with the definite articles and remember what it feels like to have my toes dangling over the edge, uncertain whether or not what lies beneath me or before me will consume me? Can I remember when I too have failed to trust in my own training and the times God has shown up for me along the way?

As a parent can I extend compassion and patience in the same way God extends his abundant grace and mercy to me? How many times I have faced uncertainty with unbelief and fear even though God in his word says fear not more than a hundred times over. God is a God of compassion who sits with us and pursues us even when our hearts are pulled towards fear and unbelief.

Oh how I want to parent with patience, compassion, unending mercy and grace. Oh how I want to see my blonde haired boy with toes dangling off the edge and instead of being quick to see his problem, I want to see his heart. Oh how I desire to parent with this kind of compassion.

Eventually my blonde haired boy will jump into the waters beneath him once his faith and his trust become the faith and the trust and when the faith and the trust make the fear seem like a small shadow in comparison to them. Until then, I desire to sit in the darkness with him. I desire to be human alongside him. I desire to pray alongside my blonde haired boy with the gapped tooth grin that we both would overcome unknowns and uncertainties together because God promises He is with both of us.

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

When X Marks the Spot

I have a child who enjoys drawing check marks on all of his drawings. To him, a check mark is his mark of approval on his drawing. If he feels good about a drawing, it gets a check mark at the top right next to his five letter name written in chunky crayola marker and all caps.

You can imagine my hurting heart when I walked down our staircase one afternoon to notice a brown X on my kneecap in our 16 X 20 family canvas that hangs on the wall right in our entry way at the end of our staircase. Like Tonya Harding had been there, planning her next hit.

I had recently corrected my child for drawing on the walls in my house and sent him to the bottom step of that staircase, where all four of my children have to sit and wait for me to come and sit with them, discipline them, hold them, talk to them about their hearts, pray with them and reconcile with them. A place that is worn from the never-ending merry go round of training up kids.

My child literally X-out his mother in our family picture. The very opposite of the marks I see him draw on his favorite drawings. He clearly was marking his disapproval of me. In permanent marker. The ultimate and forever mark of disapproval.

The child who in this picture I am holding close to my very own heart. The child who smooches with me with pursed out lips. The child who states I am the one he loves the most in the whole world. He put an X on me in our family photo that hangs in our entryway.

My initial reaction was fury. This is my baby. I carried him in my body, nursed him, held him and I make sure his animal blanket is smoothed down perfectly every night at his request.

I was both angry and heartbroken.

I’m not the kind of mother one would X-out. I sing the songs, make the freezer meals, play the games, read the books, volunteer in the classrooms. I should have a thousand green check marks of approval for heaven sakes.

As I continued in fury, and woe as mes, I had to think. Was this X marking the spot of something deeper? Was I hurt because I want to be liked by my kids? Am I the kind of parent who desires to be liked more than I care about the trenches and the hard, ugly places of correcting my children when they are wrong on that step? Am I willing to be ready for the long road of all the X-marks-the-spot moments of the future?

Where do I look to find my green check marks? What is my identity really rooted in? How much my kids approve of me? Or that Christ approves of me not because of my X to check mark ratio but because of what He has done?

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

This one X on our family picture in permanent ink, marking the spot of my own pride. Revealing the deep desire I have within to be a perfect mother, a well-liked mother, a green check-marked ten-times over mother.

I know some of you out there are with me too on the step. With your babes upset with you over correction and discipline.

I just think motherhood there are no guarantees of a long scroll of green check marks. Maybe in forty years, but in the trenches, there will be Xs. But in Christ we get it all. We get his robe of righteousness, we get all His green check marks.

If we are faithful mothers who sit on the steps of life with our kids the Xs will come. There will be times when our correction will stir up the desire in their childish hearts to mark us in Xs either in their minds or right on the family picture in the entryway. We can only be faithful to teach our children about their hearts (and vandalism). We have to faithfully walked with our kids whether in the moment the approve or disapprove of our correction.

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11)

The family picture in the entryway was marked with an X one year ago and it still sits there at the bottom of our entryway. As a reminder for me. That if I am a faithful mother, committed to raising up kids I will keep on sitting on that step even when the Xs come. Because my identity in in something greater than what kind of mother I am. I belong to Jesus. And that sisters, is more than enough.