You Don’t Have to Have the Answers

It is hard to update and explain because so much is happening, and I feel like I could write about it for days, but the first thing I need to express is just that I’m being stretched. I know the stretching is for my good, and I’m proud of how we are expanding to overcome and coping with all of the changes and challenges of the past month, and we are so grateful for the people who have surrounded us with love and support. I really do trust that we will be fine eventually, but I still would love to know what is next. So I’m stretched. Stretched in not knowing, stretched in learning to receive, stretched in balancing gratitude with healing.

We have now lived in the beautiful treehouse (as Lucy has named it) for a week, and let me tell you, we love this place. It is an apartment in the upstairs of a metal barn on 10 acres in Northwest Houston owned by very generous friends who took us in with love.  It is fully furnished, and although it isn’t a longterm solution for us, it is an incredibly generous short term solution that allows us to live together with privacy. I don’t think I could pick a better place for us to heal and rest and decide what is next. It is a bit of a drive to the girls’ school, but we don’t mind it. The girls are staying in a room right next to us, which has been helpful as nightmares are still a concern (for all of us, really, but for Grace and Lucy most of all). Nearness to the kids is a gift right now.

Along with nightmares, we all continue to be a little jumpy and easily startled, and each of us is processing in our own way. Lucy constantly wants to play hurricane, I’m usually Harvey, she’s Irma. I know this is normal to play through it, but we are watching all of the girls carefully to help them navigate the effects of the storm. It’s hard for me as an adult to process all that’s happened, I can’t imagine Lucy’s little 4 year old mind. So we are working to communicate and give each other grace.

As we have started to look ahead, we have realized how different we all are in the way we view change. Rebekah and I, the adventurers, pretty quickly started dreaming about what is next, maybe moving somewhere, enamored with the freedom of options. Justin and Grace, the cautious ones, immediately clung to every ounce of stability. They needed some things in our lives to be the same and to steady us. I had to realize, as the parent of a special needs child, that I needed to listen to Grace when she expresses concern about the future.

We don’t talk about this publicly very often, but our sweet girl has overcome so much. We moved to Katy on the advice of her psychologist and neurologist, because Katy ISD is one of the best districts in the city for special needs children, and that decision has paid off. Grace is extremely smart and high functioning, and most people wouldn’t even realize she has special challenges, but in her last school environment she did not do as well. Now, my child is thriving in school, not only excelling in academics but socially as she builds precious friendships. Within weeks we saw a marked change in every aspect of her life, affirming our decision. So when we had to move out of our home after it flooded, and we started discussing possibly moving districts or even schools within the district, it was incredibly stressful for her. At first, I did what every parent does, I gave her thoughts the weight of a child’s in adult decisions. But Justin and I quickly read the fear under her words, and we realized we are seeing our daughter succeed in ways we have rarely seen in her life. So continuing to support her is incredibly important to us. After thought and prayer, we decided that getting her back to her classroom and her friends and giving her stability was our top priority. This house was an immediate gift in that direction, as was the response of our school district after Harvey. Twelve thousand Katy ISD students have been immediately affected by the flood, many of those displaced. The district has worked hard to accommodate us even though we now live far away. The state has officially declared our family homeless, which was humbling and super weird to have happen, but it allows our kids some benefits like school stability and extra support that are necessary to us right now. Wherever we live, Grace has a place in that classroom, and for that we are really grateful.

We are working hard to find a permanent place to live close to, but on higher ground than, our damaged home. Because of the number of homes flooded in Katy, the rental market is insane. After really discouraging web searches, Justin looked at 4 homes in one evening, all were immediately spoken for, unsuitable, or quickly raised prices to a point where we could not afford them. When you have so many damaged homes, everything gets snatched up really quickly, and then there are the people who use the natural disaster to turn an unreasonable profit, and we won’t be a part of that. Our amazing real estate agent is helping us with options either to buy or to rent, but that market is suddenly very challenging. If you are the praying type, we could use it.

But despite the challenges, we are persisting in every attempt to take our girls back home to Katy as quickly as possible. As soon as we have updates on that front, I will write again. But for now, we are healing and growing in this beautiful peaceful treehouse. God is good to us. I feel His peace and provision in ways I didn’t imagine possible. People have been remarkably kind and generous, I can’t tell you how loved and supported we feel. The Church is doing what the church does best, loving on hurting people. It makes me proud and teary and humbled, at a time when I needed to see it, honestly.

For months, I have been learning about daily bread. Each day, I get what I need. I’m trying to learn to not worry about tomorrow or next week or next year, but to be grateful for today’s provision. This entire experience has been the culmination of that lesson. What do you do when you can’t do anything but trust? You trust.

Nichole Nordeman, one of my favorite artists, put out an album right before Harvey came through and upended our world, and I have clung to it these past few weeks. Right now the anthem of this part of the journey is Hush Hush, and every word of it rings true for where we are.

 

“One cup of water at a time, ’til you remember you are mine. I’ll love you back together.”

I don’t need to have the answers, but I know they will come in time. In the meantime, I feel loved and safe, and I recognize how miraculous it is even to feel this way. I’m grateful. Thank you for reading our story, and for loving us through it. YOU are a big part of why this isn’t a negative experience for us, and we are thankful for you.

 

Plenty

So to briefly catch you up… we don’t exactly have a home right now. Last Monday, after three days of an exhausting but effective “shelter in place” hurricane strategy during Harvey, we woke up to flooding in the park behind our house and an evacuation order because the Army Corps of Engineers was flooding our neighborhood to protect an overwhelmed Levee nearby. We were told the water would rise rapidly, and would remain flooded for weeks. We quickly prepped what we could in our one-story home and loaded our three kids and our dog into our car while a Coast Guard helicopter flew over our house at about 400 feet. I’m not sure I’ll ever forget that moment, or the shock of it.

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The girls in their seats, holding their lifejackets.

Justin and I were tense with one another as we loaded the car, both dealing with the stress and panic in different ways. I kept losing my phone, Justin his wallet. I wanted to leave immediately, Justin thought we may have more time. I gave each child a life jacket to put on in their carseat, in case we needed to abandon the car in route. In Houston, over and over the news tells you the roads are the most dangerous place to be in a hurricane and a flood. But now they were telling us to get into our car and leave, but not telling us where to go. We drove out of our neighborhood through the only exit that was passable, the other one was already flooding and will be under water for weeks more they are saying.

As we drove north, toward higher ground, I started to feel better. This was a good plan, we would now be safe. There were very few cars on the ground, everyone looking as worried as we did. We had plans to try to make it out of Houston, and if that didn’t work, we had three friends waiting to receive us. Whichever house we got to first was the winner. But my heart began to fall as every road we went down was flooded. We turned back time and time again, growing more afraid and frustrated. We drove backwards up a highway that was flooded. Finally, all routes out were exhausted. We weren’t even sure if we could get back home at that point. My heart was racing, I couldn’t feel my hands, my face and skin felt like they were burning. I called my sister, a nurse, because I thought I was having a panic attack but I needed to make sure it wasn’t something more serious. She reassured me, it’s a panic attack, it will stop when you are safe.

We finally saw a couple of police officers in front of a grocery store. We pulled in and I got out to ask them what to do, bursting into tears as I approached them. “We were told to evacuate – but where should we go? The road to the shelter is flooded.” They didn’t know either, they empathized with our question. They said the parking lot was full of families in our situation, told to leave but trapped in by water. They suggested a parking garage close by, stay on the 5th or higher floor, wait out the storm, in a few days the roads will open. My mind went blank. Days in my van with my kids and our dog, no restroom, no bed, in a hurricane. I went back to Justin and the girls in the car, wiping my tears, trying to control my fear. We started driving again. We saw a hotel, maybe they’d take us in. I joined the line in the lobby, making reservations at other hotels on my phone just in case. It was full. So was the second. And the third. Justin called booking.com and found us a hotel close by, I booked it on my phone while we drove. Thank you God. We checked into the 6th floor, the top floor. We snuck our dog in. We started to figure out meals. My panic attack calmed a little, but wouldn’t stop. We were still south of another failing levee, flooding on all sides, helicopters surrounded us day and night. My body wasn’t fooled – we weren’t really safe. Two more nights passed and I was unable to sleep. I tried crying and meditating, praying and walking up and down the halls – nothing worked. We hugged and talked to other evacuees as the hotel filled with people as wet and desperate as we were. So many difficult stories, so much loss.

Three mornings later the sun came out and we left Houston, the moment the first road opened. In the time since we have rested at my mom’s house in Dallas, trying to figure out what is next. I have slept quite a bit, and used anti-anxiety medications to right my body. Justin stayed for a day and then headed home. He has worked with countless kind people to gut our house, getting out everything we can salvage. So many people have given to us, gifts and money and gift cards. Every show I had through the entire month of September cancelled, my sweet parents are processing their own version of grief and fear.

So while it is still happening, and while what is next is still unsure, I needed to write about it. Because it occurs to me that there are about a dozen ways to look at this.

Yes, in one sense, we are homeless. But in another sense we have had so many offers of places to stay. We went from one home to many. We have options, which is grace to us.

We have been through a trauma, yes, but we are strong and safe. We know now what we can handle. Our marriage was stretched, yes, but it is strong. We have held each other. I took care of things at the house when Justin was in shock and couldn’t prepare, Justin took care of me after we left when I was so weak I couldn’t function.

In one sense, my girls have lost a great deal. They may have trauma effects for decades. But they have gained perspective and wisdom. They know stuff is just stuff, they know we don’t walk alone, they know people are good. They may have lost some of their clothes, but they are wearing beautiful clothes given to them by people who love them. They will know empathy and kindness, service and gratitude, because of this event. They will watch us overcome.

My shows are canceling faster than I could ever book them, but I will know by the end of this My provider. He knew all of this and none of it worries Him. We will be fine. We will have plenty. He will open some door to provide for us, He already is. People we don’t even know are giving to our family. It is humbling but unbelievably precious.

We don’t know what is next, really. We feel stuck on the big things like where we will live and where our kids will go to school. But we have options. We are free to choose the life we want.

When we moved to Houston from Dallas, we were leaving home. We knew nobody, we had no family. Three years later, we have two homes. We didn’t lose one, we gained another. We genuinely love Houston, we love our city, we love our people there, we love our home. Our family in both places are holding us up right now, we are so grateful.

My mind wants to turn to scarcity in this, it really does. It wants to obsess over every loss, every unknown detail. Justin and I have joked in recent months that we are cursed, because there are times where it seems our family just can’t catch a break. But that isn’t truth, it isn’t the whole story. We are blessed. We are strong. We have enough. We are safe. We will overcome.

We have plenty, even after Harvey. And for that, we are grateful.

Teach Me to Number My Days

In Psalm 90, in the middle of a chapter about the passage of time, the inconsequence of our lives, and the judgment of God there is a plea; “So teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.” When I read it today, it stood out. I’ve read it before and heard it in sermons, but today it felt like a message for me. Sometimes I am tempted to look things up, searching commentaries to find out what something means to the “professional” theologians. But today I felt like I should just sit with it a bit, give it time to process in my heart and in my spirit.

Teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.

There are two things I notice – first is the emphasis on measurementNumber our days. I don’t think I am good at this. In fact, let me amend that – I know I am not. Not only am I forgetful, but I am forward-facing. I am goal-oriented, a striver; a first-born with a massive bent toward people-pleasing, an Enneagram 9 peacemaker who bears the weight of the world. Injustice weighs on me, a lack of truth weighs on me, a lack of harmony in any relationship of which I am aware will keep me up at night. I not only know what is lacking in this fallen world, I feel it.

whack-a-mole

Whack-a-mole

And I’m pretty convinced I can do something about it. I am a problem-solver, smart and efficient, good at seeing all sides of any problem. So when I do my thing and harmony is achieved, I feel accomplished and I move on to my next superwoman mission of peacemaking. I live in a perpetual state of whack-a-mole; squash a problem, move on, squash a problem, move on.

But this verse tells me to number my days, that I may get a heart of wisdom. I know in my heart as I read the verse that this is a spiritual discipline, a way to get the knot in my chest to loosen, to get the tears pressing behind my eyes to recede.

Because this world is messed up. Blatant injustice, economic and racial inequality, a Church (at large) who seems at times to be asleep to it all, famine and war. Just today images fill my timeline of children sleeping who are not sleeping, but who apparently are the tiny innocent targets of a chemical attack in their own country from the air. And that is just today’s horror. Yesterday there was another, tomorrow there will be more. Jesus help us. There is so much to fix in this world.

And those are just the macro issues. Our family is facing some hard realities in our everyday life; needs that press in and things outside of my control that I want so badly to fix, wounds I want to forgive that persistently intrude on my days. And we have friends who face challenging kids and big life decisions and personal battles and I just want to help ease the pain they bear. There is much to do in this dark world of ours.

Teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.

So today, I am trying the spiritual discipline of measuring God’s faithfulness, numbering my days. I am remembering and listing the passages of Scripture God has given me as promises, over decades; revisiting hard times and remembering the faithfulness of God, re-reading prayer requests in old journals to note the answered prayers and the fulfilled promises. I am not looking ahead, I am looking back, writing it down, a monument to God’s faithfulness and to problems solved just as the Israelites stacked stones to remember.

Second is the emphasis on time. Numbering my days. I am also determined in the spiritual practice of only focusing on today. Not on our long term needs, the long term problems, the challenges I know we will face next month or in a future season. Today. I am thanking God for the daily bread for today. The friends who are faithful, the financial provision, the strives my daughters have made, the jobs Justin and I have that provide, the health of our family. I am taking this life that feels so long to me, but that is but a breathe to the Lord (back to Psalm 90), and I am handing every part of it over to the God who made me, focusing my grateful heart on today.

I was talking to a couple of friends yesterday, women full of grace and truth. I was asking for prayer for persistent needs and struggles that weigh on me. And they reminded me, as faithful friends do, of the truth of my situation, and the truth of theirs. We can become overwhelmed with the one next thing we need, we can take on that weight (because we are get-it-done women), and that weight can crush us. Whether it is our children or our home or our companies or our finances, the weight of what God has given us can be too much to bear. Because we weren’t meant to carry the weight of any of it on our own. We have to remind each other that it isn’t ours to carry. Yesterday all day I repeated that as a mantra to remind my frazzled sole. One friend kept repeating “You are safe. Your Father loves you.” Another constantly reminds me of gifts that are “daily bread.” We have to help each other remember these things. I really think God is teaching me we are part of each other’s “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrew 12), encouraging each other on to righteousness.

Daily bread. Teach us to number our days.

Part of the solution to that control-freak nature so many of us share, that tendency we have to forget the ways God has come through for us in the past, is to learn to count our days.

One last thing I noticed. I love that it is a prayer. Even this isn’t on us. Again, tears behind my eyes. God knows us so well, He knows even this we can’t do well on our own. Here’s the verse in context:

“So teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

Jesus teach us.

The Reconcilers

Part of why I blog is to remember little lessons the Lord teaches me, so I can go back and see them later. This will be a short one, because it was inspired by the most mundane of daily tasks and I need to return to them, but I wanted to remember. Lucy, my three year old, loves to borrow her sisters’ stuff while they are at school. Please don’t tell them about this little arrangement I have with the stay-at-home child. Today, she wanted to play with some markers, and before I realized it, she had colored with permanent marker on the little handheld dry erase board Rebekah’s teacher gave her for Christmas last year. This board is a treasure. And right now it is destroyed. This will, if not corrected, cause a level-3 meltdown when Rebekah gets off the bus.

IMG_0916So during lunch today, I sat next to Lucy doing a little coloring myself. I am painstakingly coloring over the permanent marker with a dry-erase marker, trying to erase away the evidence of Lucy’s violation of Rebekah’s property and privacy. It is an agonizingly slow process, if I’m being honest.

And in case you’re wondering about justice (I do love me some justice), I did talk to Lucy about not coloring on sissy’s board with markers . But I’m working hard to make it right for her. As I was coloring, a thought bubbled to the surface. “This is the ministry of reconciliation.” This. Erasing the error of another. Hiding something, taking on a project that is not really mine to fix, but fixing it to show grace. That didn’t feel intuitive, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea.

I am a big fan of dragging things into the light so we can be reconciled to each other. Let’s get it all out – air our stuff, confess our sins one to another. And I’m not alone. Doesn’t it feel like, these days, we are a little nutty about pointing out the flaws in others? In almost every social media post and online interaction, it’s interesting to watch and see how quickly the post or idea gets the “well actually” treatment. People shame others for errors, or perceived errors, even errors that have been clarified and corrected, just in case they actually meant what we’re pretty sure they meant. I do it, I’ve seen it done to others, and it has been done to me.

And yet, in our job as salt and light, is this another opportunity to be different, to shine bright in a dark world? The ministry of reconciliation can be about erasing something, forgiving it, covering it with grace instead of shining a light on it and exposing it to the world. What is a more graceful response – holding the board in Lucy’s face, meeting Rebekah at the door so she can get in on the chorus, and us showing Lucy the error of her ways? Or erasing the marks made by little hands more likely in ignorance than in spite, and promoting peace.

Peacemaking is such a theme for me these days. As a peacemaker, I really believe in all truth being God’s truth, and holding all things up to it. I can get overzealous in that and I can point out your error with the best of them, particularly in an area where I am passionate or sure of my rightness. But we are to be people of grace and truth. Jesus’ blood is said to have washed away our sins, not just magnified them so we can feel shame (1 John 1:7).

The ministry of reconciliation comes out of 2 Corinthians 5, where Paul says,

 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

It describes this two way transaction; Christ reconciles us to Himself, and he gives us the power to reconcile others. I read a commentary today that said, “The reconciled become the reconcilers,” which I loved. And it describes the action as “not counting their trespasses against them.” Doesn’t it feel like, all too often, we Christians are the worst at counting “their” trespasses against them? As if we are so innocent. Why do we feel that weight and that pressure to ensure the righteousness of another, instead of trusting them to God as we trust God for our own right standing? Is it because of our fear of a vindictive God, or because we have the ministry of reconciliation all wrong?

I’m wrestling through it as I erase, but I like the idea that we function as erasers in the world, minimizing the shame and guilt and fear of others. And I like the idea of God, as a parent, erasing the sins of a beloved child. It’s such a sweet picture of God, when I default sometimes to imagining Him infinitely more harsh.

So today, on a normal Friday, I’m happy to join him in the ministry of reconciliation. And I hope you have opportunities to do the same. God knows we all need it.

Grace Grace Grace

I have realized something about myself lately, a thread that the Lord is connecting. I love getting to talk to women during the fun or scary transitions of life; it always feels like a weighty encounter, and I have realized that I tell them all, basically, variations on the exact same message. I feel called to it. I run to the opportunity, sometimes texting someone I haven’t talked to in ages, just so I can share this one little encouraging word from God – my spirit reminding her spirit. Getting married? I have one piece of advice I’d love to give. Having a baby? Please let me tell you the one secret that kept me sane. Lost a job? I’d love to tell you how I got through our job losses without losing it. Lost a sweet baby? Oh I love you so much, and can I share with you the one thing that enabled me to breathe?

I truly think it is my mission in life to remind the people I love of this one thing, because for some reason we so quickly forget.

Give yourself grace. It is normal and okay to feel what you feel. 

I was texting a beautiful friend, recently engaged, just tonight. She’s one of the most incredible people I have the privilege to know, but I know her and know she has always been hard on herself. I loved giving her my advice; So many things are about to change, sweet girl. Give yourself grace when you feel overwhelmed by it. When you feel doubt, when you feel fear, it is normal. Give yourself grace. God is bigger than your momentary doubts in yourself.

I love to tell new moms, or moms of special needs kids, or moms on the 4th snow day in a row; Give yourself grace when this feels hard, because it is. Whatever you feel, whether it is fear or doubt or panic or anger toward this child that you love, it is normal and we all feel it at times. Don’t live in shame. Give yourself grace. Run to God with those feelings; don’t hide them. He will help you get through this.

When friends are facing financial burdens or sudden job losses, I just want to cry out; Sweet friends, give yourself grace. It is okay to feel panic and fear, completely normal. Let me pray with you. I’m praying you can breathe out that fear, that panic, and breathe in the grace that is yours. God sees you, He knows your situation. He loves you and is mighty to save. He alone is able to change this situation you cannot change and at His feet you will find rest. 

When friends want a baby so much they ache, or they just lost another baby; I love you so much and I ache with you. Please give yourself grace to mourn this, to grieve it however you need to. Grief isn’t linear – you won’t go through stages in any way that makes sense. Give yourself grace. You are not crazy when your emotions are everywhere. This is a crazy-making challenge you are facing; it is normal to feel this way. I’m praying for you and love you and wish I could change it for you. Please just breathe in the grace that is yours in this moment.

grace

Our oldest daughter, Grace.

If I were going to get a tattoo at my *advanced* age, it would say grace. I named my first daughter Grace. I need it and sometimes forget it is mine for the taking despite the fact that I’m swimming in it. And because I forget, I remind others, sometimes to also remind myself. We all are too hard on ourselves, too quick to equate weakness with sin, fear with sin, doubt with sin, failure with sin, our human emotions with sin. So we pile on shame and try to wrangle our emotions in an attempt to somehow prove we are good enough to approach our Father. Meanwhile he is our Father. Not the perpetually disappointed Father, or the impossibly high expectations Father, or the stern unapproachable Father. He’s the one who loves us unconditionally, who wants us to cast all our cares on Him, who created us and knows our every thought, who walked on this earth and died for us, who said in Exodus “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

There are three traps to watch out for when we are going through something hard:

Trying to stop our emotions. We want to wrangle them or manage them or just stop feeling, but they swirl around and interrupt our sleep and steal our joy. What do we do when we feel out of control?  I’m learning to lean into the emotions, to study them like a scientist instead of fleeing from them. To stop fighting, breathe deeply and name them, telling God about each one of them.  For me, speaking them starts to take away their power, and I start to feel that knot in my chest loosen. I feel fear, and I hate it. I feel anger toward this person, because they really hurt me. I feel panic, even though I know I am not alone. Please help me. If we can just speak what we feel to the One who made us, no matter how messy it is, maybe we can rest again in His plans for us.

The shame cycle. Sometimes we are so busy apologizing for what we feel and feeling bad about it that we get stuck in this tornado of shame about our feelings. My therapists through the years have helped me so much with this one by simply giving me permission to have emotions and to feel what I feel. I don’t know where I picked up this idea that my feelings were shameful, maybe church or home or just first-born perfectionist nonsense. But it is pointless to feel shame for what we feel. Our feelings are just signals that there is something we need to work through. Shame and condemnation are not from God, so I think we take those voices to Him too. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, remember? God I don’t feel lovable, but I know you love me. I feel alone, but I know you are with me. I feel weak, but I know you are mighty to save. I don’t believe any of this truth right now, but I trust you to turn my feelings around in Your timing. I feel a lot of shame, even about this, but I trust You to release me from that because I know that is not of You. I’m a mess, but I’m Your mess, and I know You love me. 

The trap of isolation. We cannot brave it alone; we need grace-filled friends who will join us in prayer. I had lunch with a friend a few weeks ago and just speaking some of my thoughts took away their power, and she spoke peace to me as well as truth I needed to hear. Her perspective helped me see things, and myself, in a new way. She didn’t coddle me, but she did remind me to give myself grace. Many people who love me and love Jesus have given me grace in this season. I got a message tonight from someone I haven’t talked to in person in almost a decade, offering grace, community and understanding for the struggles we are facing. So encouraging! She used social media, which we all know is challenging these days, to show me love. What beautiful redemption of that medium, to use it to show solidarity and community to people in our circles. A great reminder that we need each other. We were made to face this big stuff together.

Give yourself grace. I’m going to keep reminding the people I love until the end, because we all need reminders of the grace greater than our sin. Our Father loves us so much, if only we could glimpse a fraction of his love.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30

Learning a New Way of Grace

This season seems to be about un-learning, detangling, undoing what I have done for so long that it no longer seemed optional. I’m questioning everything – relationships, beliefs, career choices, patterns of behavior. I keep being surprised by grace. Asking questions I was afraid to ask, even to God, and finding lightning didn’t strike, and God is still good, on the other side of the questioning.

I was talking to a friend this week. I’d been afraid to call him, because I was calling to say no to an offer he had made me and I’m a decades long people-pleaser intent on causing no disappointment to people who love me. With a shaky breath, I told him I couldn’t commit, that I didn’t know what was wrong with me, but that I had no energy or excitement for what I knew would require both. With kindness he said “You’re hurt, Jen. I completely understand and love you – we are family anyway.” He told me he had pastored long enough to know that God’s timing was better than our forced timing and that he trusted what God is doing in me now. He offered me grace, and I gratefully and shakily accepted it. Grace. Even now telling the story I have tears in my eyes.

I feel like, for years maybe, I had slipped into a way of living that focused more on performing and pleasing and forgot about grace, and oh how I missed it.

This morning I was reading the book God sent me for this season, Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist. I’ve underlined about 3/4 of the book, which has utterly confused my youngest daughter (“Mommy – you shouldn’t color in your books”).

You don’t have to sacrifice your spirit, your joy, your soul, your family, your marriage on the altar of ministry. Just because you have the capacity to do something doesn’t mean you have to do it… You must ask yourself not only what fruit they bring to the world, but what fruit they yield on the inside of your life and your heart.

I didn’t want to admit it, but I was surprised to find a holdout of that old, terrible doctrine: if it hurts just awful, it must be God’s will for you. And the other side of that same coin: if it produces fruit, it must be God’s will for you.

Later in that same chapter:

7131869-small-stream-running-over-moss-covered-stones-stock-photo“I’m reveling in the smallness of my capacity. This is it. This is who I am. This is all I have to give you. It is not a fire hose, unending gallons of water, knocking you over with force. It’s a stream: tiny, clear, cool. That’s what I have to give, and that small stream is mine to nurture, to tend, to offer first to the people I love most, my first honor and responsibility. 

The twin undercurrents of being a woman and being a Christian is sort of a set-up for getting off track with this stuff – women are raised to give and give and give, to pour themselves out indiscriminately and tirelessly. And Christians, or some anyway, are raised to ignore their own bodies, their own pain, their own screaming souls, on behalf of the other, the kingdom, the church.”

Can I confess something to you? I’m visual and I see things in my mind sometimes that I don’t understand until later. For years I have had this image of myself that I have seen over and over in my head in times of exhaustion. I’ve seen myself step outside my house, seemingly calm but with an upright back and clenched fists, and I will walk outside and scream to the sky, with no sound coming out. I never understood it, I always knew it was bad, but I didn’t understand why I was screaming, why I was silent, why I kept seeing it, why it felt like it was all I could do in those moments. When I read this it didn’t become all clear, but part of it clicked. I’m not sure I ever thought I had the authority over myself, over my circumstances, over my life, to scream or even to stop. What she wrote about “ignoring our own bodies, our own pain, our own screaming souls on behalf of the other, the kingdom, the church” rings so true to my life over the past decade (and in the lives of so many people I’ve served with in that time).

And now I have stopped. People keep asking me what I’m doing next, what is the plan now that I don’t work at a church anymore. I simply don’t know, which as a first-born planning-obsessed person, is a hard answer for me to give. I’m still untangling all of this. But I have found quiet, and stillness, and gratitude, and my family, and God and GRACE in this place of stopping. And I will stay here as long as it takes to heal and find my way again. I am a tiny stream, and I’m learning to even be that well.

Life in the Tension

Good friend, take to heart what I’m telling you;
    collect my counsels and guard them with your life.
Tune your ears to the world of Wisdom;
    set your heart on a life of Understanding.
That’s right—if you make Insight your priority,
    and won’t take no for an answer,
Searching for it like a prospector panning for gold,
    like an adventurer on a treasure hunt,
Believe me, before you know it Fear-of-God will be yours;
    you’ll have come upon the Knowledge of God. Proverbs 2:1-5 MSG

In recent months, Justin and I have made some rather serious life changes. We have both left the church where we have served since 2013, although we love it still. We both came to the end of ourselves there, and realized we could not continue to pour out because we had nothing left to give. So separately, but in rather quick succession, we left, for reasons so complicated I have struggled to communicate them to the people closest to us. And it has been incredibly difficult for me. Even though the Lord was near and spoke clearly, even though our decision was confirmed 100 times in 100 different ways, I am still grieving. Again we are leaving a church we love, again we are losing friendships and leaving people we deeply loved serving with, again something I thought would end up one way ended up another, again our children are affected by the co-mingling of our church home and our ministry life, again our family is facing an uncertain future. We moved here for this church, every friendship I and my children have has this church at the center. So I am at different times sad and angry and relieved and lonely and afraid and feeling free. It is a very complicated time for me.

Justin, in the way men do, is better at compartmentalizing things, better at redirecting his energy. He immediately got another job and another wonderful opportunity, this time outside ministry, and he is absolutely soaring in his newfound role and newfound freedom. And I love watching it, it is so clear to me that he is exactly where he is supposed to be, enjoying the fruit of obedience.

But for me, it is a little more grey, and the fruit has been harder to find. I am still struggling to define what is next for me, and what “success” looks like. Is it a new job – a new position where I feel meaning and where I am contributing to the Kingdom? If it is, then I am falling terribly short finding it. I have never had a hard time finding work, in fact I get job offers with such regularity that sometimes it causes confusion to constantly have options. But the job offers aren’t coming like they normally would, and the few that have crossed my plate I have immediately heard a no from the Lord. It is like He has hedged me in. I remember studying Hosea, the prophet who the Lord demanded marry a prostitute to provide a terribly uncomfortable living example for the people of Israel of God’s love despite their unfaithfulness. There is a verse in Hosea 2 where it talks about Gomer (the prostitute) continually running away to return to her former life, and it talks about God hedging her in with thorns, literally blocking her way as she tried to run. And right now it feels like that a little bit. Like the paths I am trying to take may not be the paths I should take, and I am hedged in, forced to wait. And I keep telling myself that God knows our financial realities, and He is never late in providing, but getting my mind to rest in His timing has been a hard task. I’m awful at waiting.

But in the meantime, forced to wait, the Lord keeps drawing me to the study of wisdom, and I’m spending a lot of time praying and walking alone, and soaking up time with my kids. I realized last week that I had begged the Lord for more time with my girls, and now I have it, and I am begging him for what work is next. How dare I continue to ask, and not spend at least some time overwhelmed in gratitude for Him answering my prayers? So I am trying to sit in gratitude. I’m enjoying the daily explosion of language and personality that Lucy is showing us, enjoying the seriousness of Grace’s questions about faith and life, enjoying the total lack of self-consciousness of Bekah’s personality (of which I am continually in awe as a person forever lacking confidence). I am loving cooking more meals, taking more walks, getting to be a mom and wife first in this season, and I want to acknowledge how grateful I am for that incredible gift.

But right now, I am holding many things in tension. I actually have grown to love the complexity of feeling many things at once and knowing that my heart and my God are big enough to handle the full range of emotions that are appropriate to feel at this time in our lives. I have been in this season many times, most often at times of the loss of either a relationship or a job or a church or even a pregnancy. But because I have walked this path before, I am aware it is isolating. Not many people are comfortable walking with a person who is feeling so much, and working through it. We as humans like absolutes, for us or against us, right or left. But this middle stuff – the complexity of everything at once? Those friends are hard to find, possibly by intention. I’m not sure there are supposed to be many people walking alongside us in times like these, maybe part of the purpose in it is to push us to the Lord as our primary source of support. Because that is the reality. You let a few very trusted people in on part of it, but the bulk of it is just dealt with between you and God. Taking these things that are contradictory and confusing and going to God with them, asking Him to help sort it out. In fact, it may even be the wisdom I am studying and asking God for to be able to hold my fear and my confidence and know that both are valid, my anger and my feeling of peace, my guilt for staying at home and “not contributing” and my joy at only having to worry about my family. Maybe wisdom is finding God in the tension, and taking to Him the things I can’t control or change, while thanking Him for the things I have been given, and asking Him for the things I need.

I read this quote this morning, and it summed it up for me. “If you want to flourish in the life God intends, you must be grounded in wisdom” (Margaret Feinberg). Here is what I know. I want to flourish in the life God has given me to live, as a wife, a mom, and a minister of the Gospel. And I think wisdom is the first step, and time invested in chasing it is time well spent, so I am chasing it as if my life depends on it, because it does.

margaretfeinbergquote