Thursday, October 23, 2014

Blossom from Adversity

Adam lost two sons in one day.

Noah built an ark to save himself and his family from global deluge.

Abraham left familiar country for a foreign land.

Sarah had to wait until she was 90 to have her only child.

Moses fled hostile Egypt and had to return again to free his people.

David was hunted for years by King Saul.

And on and on it goes.

It seems as if most of the great men and women of faith in scripture were forced to walk through brambles at some point in their lives, and sometimes it never let up.  Maybe it's precisely this walk that engages faith and causes it to flourish.  Who needs God when life is nothing but smooth sailing?  It's the trials and difficulties of life that we walk through that pose the opportunity before us: Will you lean on the Lord through this, or will you depend on yourself?  Will you give glory to the One who walked you through it, or will you be embittered for having to endure it?  Only one of those dichotomies landed these individuals in the hall of faith, and it wasn't self-reliance.  Faith calls us to lean on the Lord when the situations of life are at their worst.  Yes, we should lean on Him always, but faith is especially cultivated and germinated when the seed is buried deep in the soil of suffering.  Without that soil what faith can develop?  Faith in self?  When life is easy, unfettered by pain, God seems unnecessary.  Faith is pointless.  It's turned weakly inward, centered on self.

But it is also groundless.

There is no foundation produced when that seed sits on the topsoil and is never forced to crack.  No beautiful tree results from a seed that is never buried.

And what is a life without foundation?  It is one tossed by the smallest tremor.  It cannot withstand the winds of persecution.  It is a life without the Comforter.

But in the soil of adversity, our endurance takes root, character sprouts, and hope blossoms.    

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 
~Romans 5:3-4

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Quite Enough

So I'm blessed with a hard-working husband, three adorable monkeys, a modest but comfortable home, and the ability to pay our bills, but yet I still want to complain.

Why is this?

Truthfully, it's part of my old nature, the sinful one, that isn't comfortable with only giving praise.  I say, "I had a pretty good day, babe, but..."  There's always a but. 

Staying thankful is a struggle.  Our house is tight, our closets stuffed.  Our three growing kids (9 and under) share one bedroom.  The baseboards have never been painted, and our small garage, after many, many years of labor, the place I wrestle laundry every day and our guest bed sleeps, is a half-finished project, no flooring and two-thirds of a paint job.  The white cabinets my mother-in-law so painstakingly painted are now chipping, a walnut-hued acne, after ten years of love and abuse.  Our walls are pocked with scrapes and almost-on-color touch-ups, curtain-rod holes, and streak marks from the once-leaky roof.  Our guest bathroom reeks, the smell of a men's locker room and a Port A Potty, all in one.  I have no idea why, except that it earns its keep with toothpaste-and-soap-smearing contests, sticky fingers, and five behinds. That could be why.  And then there's the accumulation of matter -- toys, dolls, doll accessories, clothes, jackets, shoes, games, movies, books, homeschool materials, backpacks, lunch bags (we have eight), sippy cups, multiplied by five (except, of course, for the sippy cups).  Did I mention shoes?  Three females under one roof has bought us a lot of shoes. 

As their bodies grow, the sizes of everything grows, but their drawers and (one) closet stay the same.
Every fall and spring I go through their clothes and pull out the too-small ones, wash and shift hand-me-downs into already-full drawers.  And every December, before Christmas, I pull out the most boring or broken toys, and smuggle them by slight of hand and dark bags to cousins, the church nursery, or trash (shhhh).  Every night I try to coax bits of our life back into a home somewhere in the house, jackets in closets, shoes in baskets or shoe holders, dolls into whatever bin will hold them, clothing on hangers, keys on the holder, receipts and bills in files, and on the list goes.  It fills my days like dishes and dirty laundry, round and round like an old dance I know like the back of my hand but not nearly as thrilling.

I awake to a predictable day, and I heave a sigh.  I forget to give thanks for it.  I ignore the blessing.  I see the dust and the clutter.  I begin to undo grace.  I don't return it to its Giver.

Today I looked beyond me and the shouldering I do at every tired step.  I stopped suddenly, in the middle of warming leftovers, my heart caught by the low foothills sloping just beyond the backyard.  Their dusty floors were bathed in the blushing-violet tones of dusk.  Shadows hung at their corners, drowning in fields of sunny creosote bushes, skin-toned sagebrush, and burnt-orange Joshua trees, and they sang in quiet praise to the One I forget to thank.

It's almost as if I could hear their chorus.  I longed to run across their backs.  I began to echo their praise.

"I lift my eyes up, unto the mountains,
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from You,
Maker of Heaven,
Creator of the earth.
Oh how I need You, Lord,
You are my only hope,
You're my only prayer,
So I will wait for You,
To come and rescue me,
Come and give me life..."

I see them still; my heart echoes them still.

Be still, my soul.  Shhhhhhhh.  Return to Him the grace He lavishes on you.  Know that He is God in all of the disquiet of life, and that is quite enough for always

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Worth it all...

It's not easy to write about hard stuff.  I don't like to expose my soul to the world.  People don't want to open up sometimes about what's going on, but I think if we were more willing to do so, others might learn, might be encouraged, and may even begin to heal. 

Here's what's going on: marriage is hard right now.  Almost 13 years in, and yet things can still be incredibly challenging.  So what do you do when marriage is difficult?  Do you avoid each other, hoping that in a day or two, the conflict will dissipate?  Do you make every interaction a point of opposition?  Do you insist that you are right, period?  Do you out-and-out fight wherever you are, even at the dinner table?  Are you a runner?  Take a semi-permanent trip to your parents or cousin's house, in hopes that distance will heal the chasm?  Maybe you just take a 30-minute car ride to find space to breathe.  That's something I've done over the years.  It helps.  Quite a bit, actually.  It's what keeps me from blowing my top (which can be blown rather easily at times -- not proud of that).  Sometimes just a little time out helps me calm down enough to go back and apologize.  It helps me remember how blessed I am and how much more humble I need to be.

There are times, though, when the differences feel more enormous.  Just trying to discuss issues causes us to be immediately defensive.  We both want to be right.  Isn't that human nature?  Yeah, I believe the Bible calls that pride.  Blame gets slashed around like a sword, and we end up more injured than when we started.  Neither one of us wants to give up ground.  We hold it tight-fisted and go to sleep agreeing to disagree.  I have a hard time sleeping afterwards, and then I wake up more disturbed than I went to sleep.  There is something about the biblical precept of not going to bed angry, but I don't always want to be the one who admits wrong.  Especially when it feels like always.

This is where we have been lately, but we've made proactive choices.  We are seeing a counselor.  Having a counselor to talk to that can help iron out differences is a really good thing, and it DOESN'T mean your relationship is close to being over.  Not at all.  In fact, it means you are beating odds by making that choice.  You are saying, "My spouse is THIS worth it, and I know this will help."  Eric and I have had to see counselors a couple times in our marriage to help walk us through conflict and disagreements.  It's amazing how much perspective it gives us. 

This is one of those times.  And things are looking up.  Our marriage vows and the love we share are worth it all.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Bottom of the Drink



Just saying that word sounds so ugly. Have you been forced to undergo humility training lately? I sure have. I think God looks down on me and says, Well, Sara, you asked for this.  You asked for Me to search your heart and know your thoughts; you asked Me to find any way of pain in you and then lead you in My way, the everlasting one.

Yes, I did.  Wow.

I have a chronic imbalance.  It’s actually really embarrasing just to talk about it.  So I try not to.

The last two-and-a-half months have been a humility boot camp, since I prayed David’s prayer in church, months back, from Psalm 139 (my favorite psalm -- well, one of many). Life has been sifting and churning and crushing, and we (I especially) feel ground like fine flour. It's been trial upon trial upon trial on our family, and not just ours, but also on those we love. Eric and I are feeling totally spent.  I feel humbled.  On my knees humbled.  Face buried in His feet humbled.

Ever feel like saying "uncle" or "enough" with God? That's what our prayer has been lately. Truly, Lord, have mercy. Lord save us in this moment, save us now!! We finally want to be at the end of this, to the less-crushing and more fruit-bearing side of the tunnel. Hasn’t endurance done it’s perfect-result thing yet in our lives?  Do we still lack?  Praise You anyway.  Always. Wisdom, increase my faith, so that I learn to trust again. Once again, God, I will praise You in this storm.   

Honestly, I feel alone in this.  My husband and immediate family where I live know nothing about the torment of my illness.  They watch me from the sidelines, helping as best they know how.  It’s like Paul's thorn in the flesh, which he tried to "pray away" three times. I told God to take it away or take me.  It is that horrific to live out.  It’s also embarrassing and humbling. It forces me to ask for help and to trust the counsel of others He's placed in my life. I try to fool myself into thinking I'm strong enough, even without them. This is where my “wisdom” gets swallowed up in the drain.

My husband and I are walking through this together, hand in hand, as always. Without this chronic issue I have, he wouldn't have had to start holding me in his strong arms at night to make sure I’m asleep in his arms, wrapped up in total peace, watching over me in the morning to make sure the kids don’t wake me.  He has always been an emotional stabilizer for me, so when we as a couple are having any trouble whatsoever, I feel helpless, like I have to stand on my own two feet, alone, in my strength. Totally and completely.

But I'm not.

Even there, in that time of helplessness, God is there. He's at the bottom of the drink, the sea of despair at midnight or midday, waiting to swallow me up in His mercy and incredible grace. He's there to spit me out again, like Jonah, and give words of peace and wisdom in the morning and watch over me and ask me to listen. To Him.  To His Word.

He's there to remind me of the perfectly matched man He gave me and to remind both of us of His love and His faithfulness, upon which we can stand firmly. Trust like no other.

He's there to swallow me with His love, time and again. He's there to show me, as always, the silent humility of His majesty; how He, King of the universe, entered Jerusalem on a donkey's foal, the lowliest of traveling companions, as the people proclaimed, "Hosanna! Lord save!" just like I have, His kingly crown invisible to all because His humility is so apparent.

Humility: the willingness to just say, "I need help. I'm not strong enough on my own."

May my humility be so apparent.  I’m broken and face-planted at Your humble feet, Lord, but listening.  I am listening. Have mercy and please save.

"Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position.... But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business. Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him." James 1:10-12

Monday, February 17, 2014

Fresh start

It's a new day.  It's a fresh start.  Monday is the beginning of the work week, but it's also the day after a weekend of rest, unless you're like our family, exhausted from huge accomplishments of reorganizing our snug little house, completed at a snail's pace, along with the blessing of ministering to and enjoying the company of a church family. 

Each new day, as my friend Christina always reminds me, is a reminder of His new mercies toward us, which are new every morning.  Every.single.morning.  That means, even though yesterday was a bad day, a day for which you desire a "do-over," He pours mercy upon you in His grace and makes today new. 

A blank canvas, a clean chalkboard, a reboot. 

The peace that flows from those mercies is like a gentle zephyr that blows across a wilderness of dried up, wilted sprouts.  It's rejuvenation, the water that pours over my spirit, as unquenchable as the desert floor, filling me to overflowing.  Utter delight.

Great is His faithfulness.

Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do. [Psalm 1:1-3 NLT]

How is your day going so far?  We have today off for President's Day.  *huge exhail of relief*

What brings you delight?


Friday, December 6, 2013

Waking Up on the Shelf

Marriage is all about ME!

This is exactly the way I felt when I got married almost 13 years ago, and it’s exactly the way I feel today, with several major tweaks. 

When I was a kid, I gathered most of my ideals of marriage from watching how in love my parents were (and incredibly still are after 45 years), being totally slain by romantic novels and movies, images portrayed by Hollywood in magazine racks, and just from watching others in love. I was a biased student of it.  Love was good.  It made you feel good.  It made you feel special and giddy; it saved you from all of life's problems, and I couldn’t wait to have it.  Completely. 

So I fell head over heels for every. single. guy that came across my path – well, almost every guy, the cute ones mainly.  I would make actual lists in my diaries of all my true loves and a separate list of all the ones that were undoubtedly wild about me.  I still have those lists.  I basked in the special, warm, soupy feeling it gave me.  It was intoxicating.  It was all I could think about.  When was I going to find that ONE special guy that would love me for me and I for him?  Perfectly matched, equal, requited love that never ever ends, that someday-my-prince-will-come kind of love.  I dreamt of it.  I rehearsed all of Disney's iconic songs about it.  [I still know "So This is Love" and every song on the Cinderella score in their entirety.  Impressed?  My mom bought us the book on tape, so she gets all the credit.]  I imagined myself dancing in the arms of Prince Charming or being awakened from life's poisoned slumber by true love's first kiss and then dancing in the arms of said prince into the sunset of my life.  I was obsessed, totally consumed with the idea of this magical, all-consuming thing called love. 

Naturally, every relationship fell short of that ideal.  From the Kindergarten peck over the lunch table to my first real kiss in high school, no boy could ever possibly embody my dreams of true love.  They did at first.  Each one was like fireworks.  I just knew he was Mr. Right and tried his last name on for size on every homework paper or diary entry or scrap of paper I could find.  But without fail all the boys I fell madly in love with didn't end up feeling anywhere the same about me, and those I was only sorta crazy about, I dumped.  There was never that equally matched love I envisioned; it was always unrequited.

And somehow every relationship was all about ME and how I felt, whether devastated or dreamy.  It was never about him, really.  I tried to be what I thought was his everything.  But mostly it was about me.  How was this serving ME? my needs? my desires?  How was he at performing Prince Charming roles?  I was the princess in the tower after all, clearly needing to be ransomed.

Then one day he walked into my life. He was the prince of my dreams. It took years of sour relationships and broken hearts.  I didn’t find him until I was 26.  And considering I was looking for him before I could read, that’s a long time in princess years.  He wasn’t perfect, but I had been through enough relationships that I knew there was no such thing, and it didn't matter because I loved him.  I looooooved him.  Or so I thought I loved him.

We married a year and a half after we met. I was on top of the world, particularly in the first few months.  Married life seemed to tick every box I had studiously collected over the years.  It was hard to believe my life had actually become the sequel to "The Sound of Music" [minus the seven children, of course].  In no time at all, reality crashed the party, and I began to see the not-so-shiny armor my knight actually wore.  Never once did I question how perfect I was.  I was real.  I knew I wasn’t perfect, but there was no way I was as defective as he was. [Obviously, I'm a HUGE fan of humble pie.]

And my unhappiness flourished with each page-flip of the calendar.

Then one day, six years and two babies in, I was driving in the car with my dad, and I whimpered, “Dad . . . I’m just not happy in my marriage anymore.”  I winced, waiting for the hammer to fall.  I was clueless how he would respond; I knew that as a pastor, he would likely not be on my side of the mountain on this, but I had already dumped my despairing love story in the lap of a close friend just days before, and she had no idea how to deal the blow.  So I came to him because I knew he would slap me with the truth [as he almost. always. does], and I was sure I was ready for it. 

“You think God had you marry Eric so that you could be HAPPY?!” 

His words hit me like a freight train. 

“God’s sole mission, His main purpose for you in this marriage is for you to become more like HIM, not for you to be happy.” 

Wow.  Thanks, Dad.  Way to put it out there.

Of course. 

Huge. paradigm. shift.

How could this be what marriage was? what love was? It’s not that I didn’t know what God said about love in I Corinthians 13, but that was for plutonic relationships.  It didn’t really apply to romantic love, did it?  This is what love really means? It means my becoming more and more like Him because of the practice of patience, kindness, and many other "me"-less qualities I so plainly lack?  It's not about wild butterflies in my stomach or an I-am-so-amazingly-special feeling or about being swept off my feet by damsel-in-distress rescues? 

I had to stand way back from myself.  In fact, I had to put myself and all of my princess baggage completely on the shelf.  My marriage was not about serving my needs; it wasn’t really even about serving his.  It was about a metamorphosis.  In fact, none of the relationships in my life were about me, not in the way I had pictured.  They were about Him.  They were there as a training ground, a crucible for my character.  An ugly light was turned on, the kind that doesn't flatter curves in dressing rooms.  Truth is not always easy to look at.

My marriage, the culmination of relationships in my life, is really about me and what I need to become.  But it is more than that.  Jesus is that idyllic Prince I so long for in my life, the one I hold to impossibly high standards.  He's the only one that meets every single box I thought up and infinitely more.  But He's the servant Prince, not like any other character designed by Disney, and . . . He loves me. Me. ME.  And there is nothing I can do to earn that matchless love.  Incredible.   

So that was the day long ago [okay, almost seven years] I woke up from disillusioned slumber to discover that my paradigm, the box that held this unrealistic standard of love, was completely skewed and that my character was just as flawed (if not more) as the prince with whom I walked down the aisle. 

And I've finally taken off the crown. It’s been almost seven years of going crownless.  I still have very little idea of how to operate without one or what it means to be a servant like Him, but each day is waiting for me to practice.

[[Happiness in marriage is not my focus in this post, nor did I intend it to be. Does that mean marriage shouldn't bring happiness?  No.  I still believe that marriage is the romantic ending to every love story and that you should be -- like I am -- happy and in love with the prince/princess He gives you.  But there have definitely been times that I haven't been happy, times I felt miserable, times I thought not being married at all would just be better for everyone, but mostly myself. There will be times in many marriage relationships where one or the other feels like they want out. They are moments of focusing on self and how "I" feel. But I'm finally learning the hard way that He wants me to take the focus off of me and make everything, including my marriage and every single relationship I have, to be about Him and becoming the servant that He was.  And in slowly moving past the "me" focus in my marriage, when I feel like I'm drowning in tough times -- and there will be tough times! -- I look at Him and hold onto the anchor that He's changing me through those tough times. And happiness -- better yet, pure joy -- comes in this! But my definition of being "in love" has changed into something far different and better than it was before, something more real and tangible, more about what I do and less about what I "feel," the glue that makes me stay "in" it.  But whether or not I'm happy in my marriage is not the focus of my post nor my moment-by-moment pulse check because it's still the wrong focus -- ME.]]

Friday, June 10, 2011

Snapshot of Motherhood

Being held hostage by your seat belt while your two-year-old is madly wailing from the confines of his car seat, with your other kids safely belted into their car seats and shielding their ears for protection, you will do almost anything as a mother to just make it stop. Almost anything. It is like Chinese fingernail torture, only worse because you often can't give in to the demands of your tormentor. It's often because he's dropped some beloved toy out of reach, like between his car seat and door and he can't reach it. And no amount of explanation will help.

"Buddy, I can't reach it right now; you'll just have to wait until I stop the car."

Blank stare, total disbelief, a look that says, You're Supermommy. You can do anything. You've saved my toy from the floor before; why can't you save it now?

And maybe you are on the freeway, and pulling over is just not possible at this exact second. This is where you either make a crazy, reckless decision while driving, carrying the life of your three precious hearts behind you, or you just let him scream.

I have heard a lot of screaming in the last six and a half years.

Lately, I have been convinced that all a girl needs to do to prepare for motherhood [before you have even one child] is to find a youtube recording of a baby, infant, toddler, preschooler, and school-age kid howling his head off and then listen to it for up to 70 percent of your waking day, learn to not let it phase whatever task you're doing or rattle your emotional cage, and you're pretty much prepared to handle the stress of the job. I say pretty much because it won't be your child you are listening to on youtube, and that will make just that extra bit of difference you can't plan for.

There have been times when I have been able to accomplish whatever trick was needed to make the agony stop. I always consider myself to be "safe" in these maneuvers, but sometimes I have to admit they can be on the fringe. Last night, for example, my four-year-old was thirsty and wanted some water. I was on a curve, but I was able to keep my eyes on the road, left hand on the steering wheel, feel for the water bottle beside me, and pass it back to her, all without even a flinch. And this was a nonemergency. My husband would've told her to wait, but I understand the desperate-need-for-it-now-ness of situations, especially thirst, and so I try to oblige whenever I can, as cautiously as needed. I have my limits. When the item is unreachable or I have to contort my body in such a way that I can't keep my eyes on what I'm doing, then I just say no.

But just saying no is not as easy as it sounds.

Pull your heart out of your chest, strap onto it chubby little arms and legs, along with a frustratingly unthwartable will of its own, and you know what it means to have a child.


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