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.

Marriage: From Googly Goggles to Grace Goggles

Eleven years ago I was packing up my first classroom and my first big girl apartment in Lexington, Kentucky walking into a week which had the words my wedding marking the end of the of the week on the desktop calendar in my fifth grade classroom as well as the calendar stuck to the refrigerator in my apartment kitchen.

I didn’t know it then but I was so googly-eyed for Michael Craddock when I think about that week. Googly-goggles blurring my vision and masking all of my soon to be husband’s flaws. It was my infatuation with Michael Craddock and my googly-goggles that carried us from dating to engagement and finally to the altar, from first date to I do for forever in a little over nine months. Blinded to Michael Craddock’s humanity by my googly-goggles.

What I know now is googly-goggles, infatuation and human effort are certainly fleeting. Humanity, flaws, imperfections and missteps are as much apart of Michael Craddock as they are to every human. Humanity and imperfections are so apart of my own self.

There will always be tension between two imperfect humans living seasons and lifetimes alongside one another but when the goggly-goggles no longer mask human imperfection, in Christ-centered marriage, God provides spiritual goggles of grace, the goggles of true righteousness and holiness made after the likeness of Christ. The goggles of grace which enable me to see my spouse as the way God sees him. Human, imperfect and flawed, but at the same time seen and deeply loved.

Goggles of grace which are spiritually blinding to imperfection in contrast fleeting human effort, infatuation and goggly-goggles.

The goggles of grace help me see my spouse not with the worldly magnifying glass which maximizes things the world defines as imperfect. Goggles of grace enable me to see the unseen, to see a transformation happening beneath the surface-inwardly my spouse is being made new day by day and I have the privilege of sitting in the front row to experience this transformative growth and change.

“When your ears hear and your eyes see the sin, weakness, or failure of your husband or wife, it is never an accident; it is always grace. God loves  your spouse, and he is committed to transforming him or her by his grace, and he has chosen you to be one of his regular tools of change.” Paul David Tripp, What Did You Expect?: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage

After I will and I do for eleven years, four thousand and fifteen days and what feels like forty thousand diapers, I desire to be the kind of wife who chooses to put on the goggles of grace. To put off the worldly pattern of loving out of infatuation and loving only off of the high of the feeling of love. To let the worldly and fleeting pattern unravel away. I desire to be renewed in my mind with the ways of God and put on the goggles of grace, made after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22-24) I do not choose goggles of grace in every moment, I have so much unraveling to do, but I know God is not finished with me yet.

Googly-goggles may have gotten us to the altar, but it is only grace goggles which will enable us to walk through the rest of our days here on earth alongside one another.

Marriage needs the constant balming of grace and I am thankful to be on the journey alongside my husband as little by little God is redeeming the both of us in marriage and making us both new not because of what we do but because of who He is.

Yes, outwardly we are wasting away but inwardly we are being renewed day by day. (2 Corinthians 4:16)

photo by Bumblebee Photography

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

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

Am I Focused on the Smudges or the Sunshine?

Last week tucked in between rain and unseasonably cold temperatures we had two very pleasant days of warmth and sunshine in my little nook of the world.

So often on these warm sunny days, I find myself watching my four children playing in the yard from the bay window in our kitchen. As I watch my children playing outside, sun streaking through the windows, feeling it’s warmth and enjoying the extra brightness that sunshine brings inside our home, I feel shalom for a moment. Wholeness, peace and beauty.

On this particular day, I found myself feeling shalom and enjoying beauty one minute and finding faults the next. I took my eyes off the beauty of that sunshine streaming though the bay windows in my kitchen for a moment and I began to see first handprints all over everything; windows, television, fireplace, then computer screen. And next the tiny specks of dust resting on the surfaces of my cherry furniture. My gaze turned from beauty and instantly I saw imperfections and smudges all over the place. Sunshine has quite a way or exposing beauty and smudges.

It is a tough battle for me not to grab my version of a glock 19, the windex bottle, and distract myself from that moment of rest, shalom and beauty by getting caught up in the busyness of shooting down smudges. Doing is the nature of my flesh. Rest has always been counter to who I am. It is the work of the Spirit maturing inside of me to hold still and fight to take my gaze back to the beauty and shalom of that sunshine.

I cannot see beauty when I am bustling about focused on destroying dust and shooting down smudges.

I can only see beauty when I still myself. (Psalm 46:10)

When I lay my arms (that trusty bottle of windex) down and see shalom despite the smudges.

And as I have thought about his moment over the past week I have been convicted that my entire life is lived this way. I am so quick to take my eyes off of bright, warm, all encompassing beauty and focus and fret over tiny imperfections. Once I find one tiny imperfection, I tend to see them all.

I live this way with my kids. My children could have one hundred good days at school and a handful of bad, but that handful of bad tills up every single imperfection I see in them in my heart. When I take my eye off of beauty with my kids, I easily forget whose they are. I see them for how they live, what they do right and where they fall short instead of seeing them as covenant children of the Risen King.

I live this way with my husband. I could come home from being away at a women’s retreat or spending the day subbing at school. Every time I am away he has folded the laundry, taken all four kids swimming or to the amusement park or something else extraordinary, but I find myself taking my gaze off that beauty and finding faults in tiny details of crumbs on the counters and toys strewn across the floor. I fail to see all of the beautiful ways he loved our children while I was away when I focus on the condition of my home.

I live this way with myself. When I turn my gaze from beauty, when I forget to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith (Hebrews 12:2). It is so easy for me to see my imperfections and let those imperfections take hold of my gaze. I so easily focus on the smudges in my own life and fail to see the sunshine. I fail when I focus on seeking the approval of others, what I did right or what I did wrong, drinking from the unsatisfying cisterns (Jeremiah 2:13) of performing the role of parenting well or my reputation in the community and the church.

And as I reflect on standing there in front of that bay window in my kitchen I believe I am feeling God’s nudge to fight to focus on the sunshine.  To lay down my arms of wanting to constantly work on buffing away smudges instead of basking in the beauty of my Savior. When I keep my gaze on Him, the smudges are still there but pale in comparison His beauty.

In my nook of the world I want to automatically focus on the sunshine and forget the smudges. When I start to feel my fretting heart beating a little bit more quickly when it comes to housework, parenting, marriage, ministry, I want to be quick to ask myself: Am I focusing on the smudges or the sunshine?

In my nook of the world I am fighting to remind myself to keep my gaze on Jesus. To focus on sunshine and feel shalom, wholeness, beauty and peace. To dwell in the shelter of the Most High God, feel His all encompassing beauty and rest in His presence. (Psalm 91). To be still, lay down the doing parts of my nature and walk in the path God has called me to. A path of freedom and rest. A path with eyes fixed on Him.