Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘faith & spirituality’ Category

On the days I remember and make myself sit down to read the Bible, I use the Book of  Common Prayer as my guide, typically reading a Psalm, an Old Testament passage and a Gospel passage. For the past couple of weeks, the Old Testament reading was from Job.

I’m guessing that even if you don’t read the Old Testament and don’t believe a word of the Bible you might still know Job–the guy who had it all and then lost it all in what seems like a cruel wager between God and the devil. It’s a dramatic story. I think we forget sometimes how dramatic. This guy was living not just the good life but the best life. He had everything he ever wanted and more. And then God let it all be taken away so Job could discover the true source of his security and faith.

I love the book of Job because it is full of colorful characters and deep questions and proclamations of faith. But whenever I read it, I wonder if I could do what Job did. Could I lose it all and still praise God?

How would I respond to the kind of deep tragedy Job experiences? Loss of children, home, vocation, health, reputation. About the only things he has left are a bitter wife and unhelpful friends. (Those people I can relate to, unfortunately.)

I read Job with interest but also with a silent plea to never, ever be in that position. I don’t think I could handle it.

People amaze me, especially the ones whose lives have been altered by tragedy. I don’t know if I would even get out of bed if I faced what they’ve faced. And sometimes I find myself staring, not because I want to make them uncomfortable but because I want to sear on my mind a picture of survival. This, I tell myself, this is what strength looks like. Some days, I’m brave enough to say it out loud. Other days, I just sit back and watch.

There’s this quote by Ernest Hemingway I wasn’t aware of until recently. (Although I’m a book lover, my retention of classic works of literature is embarrassing.)

The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.

The context of the paragraph is not particularly hopeful, but I’m drawn to this idea that the places where we break, where we’re broken, can be strong.

And have you seen the pictures and descriptions of the Japanese art form of fixing broken pottery with gold? If you look it up on Pinterest, you’ll find these words attached to the photos of this art: “understanding the piece is more beautiful for having been broken.”

I confess: I seldom think something broken is beautiful nor do I see my own brokenness as beautiful. I’m more like, “Ew, Lisa. That’s ugly.”

But thanks be to God who sees beauty in the broken and who is even now making all things new.

There’s a killer on the loose in the Pocono Mountains, a man who waited in the bushes for a shift change at a state police barracks and shot two troopers, killing one of them. His picture gives me that creepy feeling and two nights ago, I couldn’t sleep because I was thinking: What would I do? What if he somehow made his way here, to our town? Would I be aware enough to notice? And would I be able to do the courageous thing and make a call?

I’m living in a state of fear these days, imagining all sorts of horrible things happening to our family. I’m overwhelmed and stressed and I think some past experiences are finally catching up with me emotionally. It’s hard to see good when you’re thinking like this. Everything becomes scary or a potential disaster and the words I speak have little encouragement. And a scan through my Facebook “news” feed doesn’t help. There’s fear multiplied. Bad news all around.

And I wonder if it’s only a matter of time before some kind of tragedy touches a little closer to home.

For the past year, I’ve called life “good.” Surely it’s time for that to end, right? Surely there’s a limit to the good times, the feelings of security and fullness.

Everything has a season. We’re rushing on toward fall, the season when the visible signs of life begin their descent and decay. When green turns brilliant red and orange and yellow before ending on brown. When the harvest is brought in and the fields are barren once again.

There is life on the other side, we know. Fall, winter, they don’t last forever, just their allotted time. Still, the shift from long days of light to long nights of darkness takes some getting used to.

Most transitions do.

“How did those get there?” flower surprise closeup

We noticed the flowers growing in front of our house from under our porch. We didn’t plant flowers this year. We didn’t plant anything this year. Still getting used to our new surroundings, we focused more on pruning and cleaning the land we’d been given as part of our rental property.

These flowers were a surprise. They’re still a mystery.

They make me think of the adage “you reap what you sow.” We did not sow flowers this year and yet we are reaping their beauty.

These tiny yellow blooms are a delight in a season when few things are blooming. This is why I love spring, everything pops with color, though I’m learning that it doesn’t have to end with spring.

Still, I look at these flowers and I see a message of hope.

Beauty shows up in the unlikeliest places, sometimes, at the unlikeliest times. There is no time limit, no boundary on joy or beauty or love or hope, no matter what the circumstances might try to tell us.

In Job, I read that God who began the world is keeping it together, that our very lives are a gift and we don’t have to fear loss. In other books of the Old Testament I read that God makes living water flow where only deserts persist. He feeds and fills and pursues and protects, all in the name of love.

And when I can’t see what He’s up to, He gives me just a hint.

See that, there. I’m breaking through. Don’t give up. Don’t despair.

So, I look for it, the glimpses of God breaking through. The beauty in the broken. The hope hanging on when fear is all around.

Are you looking for it, too?

Read Full Post »

We went home again this weekend, to the home where Phil and I were born and raised, not the place we now call home, which is always confusing, even to me. I don’t know at what point Pennsylvania becomes our home. We’ve lived here six years, which is all the home our kids have ever known, the majority of our married lives. And yet, the people we are here are just a fraction of our whole selves. We have decades of life behind us in Illinois and so, it seems, that will always be home.

I still refer to them both as “home,” which can get confusing. I was talking to a woman from church about the nursery schedule a few weeks ago, and our Christmas plans, and I’m pretty sure in the same sentence I said something like, “We won’t be leaving for home until (this date) but we’ll already be home by (that date).” I think I eventually explained myself, but it’s just as muddled in my mind.

Because home, though small, is a complicated word.

Home is this city, our address, the place the post office sends our mail. It’s this state, the one on our driver’s licenses and license plates. It’s where we live, and yet I still find myself telling people that though we live here we aren’t from here. And it’s not that I think it’s bad if you’re from here, but I just have to make the distinction known. I will always and forever be “from Illinois.” It might seem like a trivial distinction, but it’s not. Not to me.

Last year at this time, I was attending my first MOPS meeting. My son was upstairs in a church not far from the house we had recently moved into, and I was downstairs getting to know people, which is like, an introvert’s worst nightmare. There was this getting-to-know you exercise where if you like one thing you go to one side of the room and if you like another thing you go to the other side of the room–a way to show a little about yourself and find others with similar tastes.

I clearly remember one of the “preferences” was between beach weekend or city weekend. At the time, I didn’t know how much I would love hanging out at the beach, so I chose city weekend. And then we were asked which city we would go to. And because I get awkward and a little obnoxious when I’m insecure and nervous, when it was my turn I blurted out: “Chicago–the greatest city in the world.” It was an attempt at humor a la Saturday Night Live’s Superfans (Think: Da Bears. And if you have no idea what I’m talking about, then I’m pretty sure it’s your loss. Oops. There I go again.)

I’m sure no one else remembers it the way I do, but when I look back on it, I think, geez, Lisa, were you trying to not make any friends? Because sometimes that’s how I feel when I talk about my Illinois home. Like I’m trying to separate or distance myself from people.

In a way, I am. Because connecting with people and then later leaving them is hard.

I’m not a part of that MOPS group this year because my son is in preschool and there’s a women’s group associated with that. And though my introduction there this morning was less awkward and obnoxious, I still feel like an outsider at times.

For us, home seems to be nowhere and everywhere, and I don’t know if that’s good, bad or neutral.

I tend to think of “home” as a place. The place you’re born or raised or spend your life. The house you raise your kids in, or the city where you finally “settle down” to raise a family. We have some of each of those in our life.

For me, home is a little blue house on Fargo Avenue with a creek in the backyard where I grew up and had space to dream and imagine and be by myself.

And it’s a turn-of-the-century home on the corner of Morgan and Jefferson where my grandparents raised their family and hosted us all for holidays. And even though it’s gone now, the fire that destroyed it can’t take away the memories.

Home is my first apartment and the roommates who came and went. It’s the college apartment that gave me my first taste of independent living.

There are dozens of addresses that I called “home” at one time and all of them left their mark.

There’s a one-bedroom apartment in a college town in central Illinois where two people learned to live as one and brought a baby girl into the world.

And there’s a little house in Amish country where that family grew from three to four and stayed for five years. The place where our family was broken. The place where we started over and began being made whole again.

And there’s the farmhouse where we live now, where we’re finding ourselves again and starting new chapters and leaning in to who we are: the good, the bad and the ugly.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

All of these places will pass away. They will deteriorate, or be destroyed, or we’ll move on from them. And it’s no so much the structures that made it “home” but what happened inside the walls (and sometimes outside them.)

But there’s more to “home,” I think.

Because home is also watching your cousin (whom you used to babysit) marry a man who loves her deeply. And it’s watching that cousin dance with her daddy, who almost wasn’t here to see it happen. lew and ashley

And it’s watching your other cousin dance with your kids and wrestle and giggle with them when in years past she couldn’t because of her health.

abby

It’s hugging a groomsman from your wedding and listening to him talk about his grown-up job.

It’s long and meaningful talks with the brother you don’t see often enough.

It’s celebrating with the people you love, the people who’ve known you since you were a baby or who haven’t seen you since you were a flower girl 31 years ago.

It’s laughter and tears and the best never-ending hugs.

It’s lunch with your grandparents where dessert isn’t even a question (at least not one you can answer “no” to) and lunch with your in-laws at your favorite local restaurant (and watching your kids devour the soups and sandwiches you crave from 800 miles away).

And it’s a 4:30 a.m. phone call from a woman from church while you’re driving the 800 miles overnight, just to check in.

It’s the invitations to play dates, the Facebook messages that check in to see how you’re doing with life. It’s the offers of shared childcare and coffees out and companionship.

The more I write, the more I’m believing that home is not a small word at all.

It might be the biggest word.

And maybe it’s okay that I have more than one place to call “home.”

Maybe home is wherever we are, wherever memories are made and lives are shared and love is plentiful.

What makes a place “home” for you?

Read Full Post »

“No waiting on lane 7! No waiting on lane 7!”

The Target employee at the end of the checkout lanes called out like a carnival barker, enticing shoppers to leave their lines for the lanes, soon to open.

“Ma’am, do you want to move to this lane?”

The customer behind me had to repeat himself because I didn’t realize he was talking to me. I’d been standing in our line for literally less than a minute. I hadn’t had time to even be frustrated by the waiting and here was an offer of immediate relief from having to wait in line.

I appreciated the gesture but declined his offer and let him head to the newly open lane. I wasn’t in a hurry, but even if I was, I hadn’t been waiting that long.

And it wasn’t that long before it was my turn in my lane.

I wondered as I waited: When did waiting become a crime against humanity? When did not waiting become the expectation?

Not that I’m always so chill about the waiting.

Most of the time I’m more like:

hate waiting

And even when I resign myself to a long line, I’m still hopeful for another lane to open soon.

When I’m waiting, I’m on the lookout for an end to the waiting.

“Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.”

We’d been standing in line for the Sky Ride at Dutch Wonderland, a family amusement park where we live, and I was having second thoughts, even though I was the one who suggested it. The Sky Ride, in case it isn’t obvious, is a ski-lift style ride that takes you across the park, high above the treetops. The last time we went to Dutch Wonderland, I thought it seemed fun but we had limited time and couldn’t do it. So, this time, it was first on our list.

My husband and our daughter were ahead of us and as they settled into their seats and were carried away, I nearly threw up. I clutched our 4-year-old son’s hand as our turn came. It was now or never.

I was sure that once we were on the ride, my fears would dissipate and I would enjoy myself.

NOT TRUE.

The Sky Ride is a slow journey of panic and torture. I gripped the bar with my free hand while holding my son’s hand with my other hand and prayed that it would be over soon. I don’t know how long the ride actually is but it felt like forever and the higher our contraption rose, the more panicked I became. I was as close as I’ll probably ever be to having a full-blown panic attack that makes me pass out. I could feel my blood pressure rising. (Probably I should not have been on the ride.)

I looked around at the other people riding and none of them seemed as concerned as I was. My husband even turned a bit in his seat and waved at us. I wanted to yell at him to HOLD ON WITH BOTH HANDS but didn’t want to draw attention

I was never happier to be with two feet on the ground than when we reached the other side.

I’ve been in and on higher places without the same feelings, so I was a little confused by my reaction. Turns out I’d prefer my feet be on something than just dangling in mid-air, and I think I wanted it to be over more quickly. (I’ve told myself that I probably could have handled a zip line because it would have been over faster. I think I’m actually delusional.)

The journey across the park on the Sky Ride was slow and scary and totally out of my control. Had we fallen, there would have been nothing–not one thing–I could have done to prevent it or make it hurt less. And once we were strapped in, there was no turning back.

Sometimes waiting feels the same way, and even though I signed up for the journey, I start to doubt and fear.

The chug-chug of the motors and the smell of whatever was powering them blasted our senses as we wound our way through the barriers of the Sunoco Turnpike ride, also at Dutch Wonderland. Again in pairs, we were waiting our turn for two cars to drive around the new island exhibit at the park. While we were waiting, one of the cars broke down and held up the line while the two ride operators waited for help. Then when the path was clear, we waited some more while those ahead of us got their chances to ride.

At one point, a grandparent couple squished into one of the cars to follow their family members around the track. A woman ahead of us made a sound of disgust as she questioned why two adults should be allowed to ride when they can drive real cars. (As if adults aren’t allowed to have fun.)

On the next ride, a woman with two children was bumped to the front of the line because they had a special-needs pass that allowed them front-of-the-line access to the rides. The family ahead of us looked less than pleased, even though we all were guaranteed a spot on the next boat.

I’m so tempted to judge and condemn those who less-than-patiently wait their turn.

Then, I remember.

I’m guilty too.

Our family is still waiting to find our place. In the world. In God’s plans. And it is ever so hard to watch others pursue their dreams and live their passions before us, especially when we feel like we’ve been waiting longer, and we’re still wondering what our dreams and passions are.

In the waiting, I am jealous and selfish for my turn to come.

So maybe I hate waiting but maybe I need waiting. I need to be reminded that I’m not as good as I think I am, not as patient as I’d like to be, not as content or secure. In a world where I can have anything I want rightnowthisinstant with just a click, maybe it’s good to step back and pause before buying or pursuing or setting my heart on something I think I want.

I do hate waiting.

I want it all figured out right now. All of it. Life, people, relationships, calling. There are days I want to skip to the end, whatever that means, so I can find out how it all turns out. Did my marriage thrive for the duration? Did I raise my kids well enough to make good decisions? What did they decide to do with their lives? What will this tiny seed of an idea grow into? Was all the struggle, the hard times, the waiting worth it?

The end is my favorite part of most stories. But it wouldn’t mean anything without the middle part, the part where I’m not sure how it’s all going to work out, the part where the characters aren’t sure how it’s going to work out.

The middle–where there’s doubt and fear and misunderstanding and conflict and trial.

That’s where we’re all at right now, one way or another. We’re smack dab in the middle. And we’re waiting. For something. For one thing. Or a person or lots of things.

And even when it’s hard to see and believe, this is what I know is true: the waiting is worth it.

In the waiting, I learn to deny myself, to put others’ needs ahead of mine, to give myself space to be still and not keep rushing past my surroundings.

In the waiting, I take notice of people: the girl having a rough start to her work day, and I offer a smile, a word of encouragement. In the waiting, I remember the feel of my son’s hand as I gripped it for dear life and his tiny-voiced question: “Momma, are we in the trees?” In the waiting, I remember how precious life is and how I don’t want it to end.

In the waiting, I don’t just look; I see.

In the waiting, I don’t just hear; I listen.

In the waiting, I don’t just assume and judge; I seek to understand.

Yes, the waiting is worth it.

And I’ll tell myself that again and again.

Until I believe it or the waiting ends.

What are you waiting for? And what happens to you when you wait?

Read Full Post »

I swept the porch this week.

I know: stop the presses. Alert the local media. Breaking news, right here.

But my son wanted to play outside and I was tired of the clutter and feeling like I was just sitting around recovering from stressful days or waiting for stressful days to happen, so I took charge of the day and my attitude and decided it was past time to clean.

For a few months, our porch has been accumulating the toys we want to give away. Getting them out of the house was a first step. But they couldn’t live on the porch forever. So, I moved them to the yard, took some pictures, posted to Facebook and hoped I’d have a some takers before needing to haul the treasures to a thrift store.

In the meantime, I moved everything on the porch away from the house and I took a broom to the dirt that had also piled up. And I swept away the grime. I rearranged the furniture. I rounded up the toys we were keeping and tried to contain them in a bin. I trashed the garbage and set a boundary: no more stick piles on the porch.

As I cleaned, our son reminded me of the springtime cleaning we did, wiping the grit off the windows so we could throw them open and feel the breeze after a stuffy winter.

These are not earth-shattering activities by any means, but they represent a shift in my thinking.

See, we don’t own this home. We’re just renting it. And even though my continues to wander to the houses for sale in our neighborhood, my husband reminds me that we need to settle in to this house. For real. We’ve been here a year and we still have piles of things that need to be trashed or sorted or dealt with. Stuff that has followed us through three moves in two states and seven years of marriage.

And though we’ve never owned a home, this space is the first one we’ve wanted to take care of like it is ours. I’ve told you how my husband likes to take care of the yard. He doesn’t have to. We don’t have to. But we want to. (And if we live here long enough, I might actually get around to planting flowers or gardening.)

It’s no secret that I’ve struggled to be content lately. Even with the summer of fun behind us and a fulfilling first year in our new community, I am still floundering a bit, wondering what’s next, what we’re doing here, and if it’s ever going to change.

In those times, it’s easy to find fault. With our community. With our house. With my family. With me.

So that sweeping of the porch, it became a sort of holy moment. As the dirt swirled at my feet and floated off the porch, it was like my mind was clearing out the cobwebs, too.

Anne Lamott said this and when I read it this week, I knew exactly what she meant:

“My only hope was to plug into something bigger than my pulsing mind, to flail around outside rather than within me. God can’t clean the house of you when you’re still in it.” (Grace, Eventually, 235)

The more I cared for the physical space we occupied, the more I cared about it.

When I keep it clean and tidy, when I seek to improve our living space, leaving it better than we found it, something happens in my heart and I love it more. The faults are less and I am more at peace with the way things are.

And just as my love for our home increases with care, so does my love for people.

It is easy to find fault with people when I am not caring for them. It is easy to convince myself they are not worth my time, that I can find other people better suited to my life.

BUT.

When I care for and love and serve these same people, I find I love them more. (I think our pastor said something similar to this in his sermon last week. I’ll have to re-listen. I was a little preoccupied.)

I could choose to not care about our house because we’re just renting it. But isn’t everything in life temporary? Aren’t we technically just leasing our lives, our relationships, our talents and gifts and time from the God who gave them to us?

If my throwaway attitude transferred to all of those areas, then I’d be wholly unsatisfied with my life all the time.

When I care for my relationships, I care more about the people in my life, even when they aren’t perfect.

When I’m purposeful with my time, I spend it better.

When I exercise my talents and gifts, when I cultivate them and use them in ways that serve others, I’m more satisfied with my place in the world and less concerned with the gifts other people have that I don’t.

All I did was sweep the porch.

But it was so much more than that.

I cleaned out my heart, too.

Read Full Post »

I tend to learn things the hard way.

You know, reluctantly and repeatedly.

Actually maybe that’s not the hard way, just the way. (I’m not sure I could name something I’ve learned easily or on the first try.)

Maybe I should say I tend to learn hard things the hard way.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to attempt things I know I can’t do or do well or do the first time. (I must have been delusional about parenting before I ever had kids.)

I make lists. I check off tasks. I throw a load of laundry in the washer and clean up the dishes and feel satisfied that I’ve done my duty for the day and then I go find a book to read while the rest of my house sits cluttered.

I follow recipes, especially ones without a lot of ingredients or steps.

I write articles I know with about 85 percent certainty will be published. I blog (because I’m the publisher…wahoo!). I go to the same grocery stores and restaurants because they are familiar and easy to navigate and I know what to expect.

Because most days I want my life to be as easy as possible. And if not be easy then certainly look easy.

I don’t want you to know how panicked I am about our budget when I’m breezing through the aisles of the grocery store, avoiding the ones with the food we can’t afford. I don’t want you to hear how I talk to my kids at home when I just want to be left alone and they need everysinglethingrightthisminute. I’d rather you think we have it all together.

I’m not sure why but when I was composing this post in my head, I was thinking about my first job. Not the babysitting one, but the one where I had to dress professionally and work in an office. It was a good-bad job, but I wasn’t thinking about the job itself; rather the days before I got the job. My grandparents had sort of arranged for me to call the guy who would be my boss, and when that day and time came, I huddled under my bed covers and pretended to sleep late. (Hey, Mom. This is a confession here. Go easy on me, okay? It was almost 20 years ago!) Of course I wasn’t fooling my mother who had to literally shake me and nearly drag me out of bed. To make a phone call. For a job. (Confession: I still hate making phone calls. If you hear me on the other end of your phone, consider yourself special.)

It might have been the phone call or it might have been the job. I was 17 and liked being by myself with a book (some things never change), but I also liked money to buy things, so I eventually did the hard thing and made the call and got the job and did the job (which in itself was hard).

Our late bloomer. I can relate.

This rose just bloomed, months after the other ones withered. Better late than never.

I would like to tell you that the older I get, the better I’m able to deal with these things, but it just isn’t true. Long after I graduated college and was working a full-time job in my field, I was avoiding hard things, trying to make my life easier. (I even cried during a staff meeting, way more than once, but once in particular because I got a change in duties that was actually a vote of confidence but it messed with my social life. Clearly, I have issues.)

So, the hard things.

I did a hard thing this week. And not because I wanted to. I had to. And it was bigger than I could handle alone.

(Another confession: when it comes to sink-or-swim situations, I’m in the “sink” category. I’d much rather give up and drown than fight my way to firmer ground. Please don’t analyze that. I don’t want to know what that says about me.)

When it was over, people said things like “awesome” and “organized” and “put together” and they called me things like “leader” and “confidant,” and while those things make me feel good for a time, I secretly wanted to tell them all the truth.

What truth? Oh, you know, the one where I wasn’t sleeping for days because of worry and to-do lists and the one where I thought I might actually throw up on the day of this event and how my family nearly disowned me because I was a wretched person who yelled and cried and predicted disaster and hoped no one would show up so they couldn’t see what an utter failure I was. (You think I’m exaggerating, don’t you? I’m not.)

Something happened, though, in the days leading up to this massive undertaking, and I wish I could tell you it was because I have an amazingly fruitful and faithful prayer life and absolute trust in God. (Did you not read the part where I was predicting disaster? Help my unbelief!)

I didn’t pray as much as I should have or could have. I was too worried for all of that. But someone must have been praying. Or maybe sometimes God shows up anyway, even if we haven’t prayed. Maybe He loves us enough to help us out, even if we forget to ask.

Everything happened as it should. There were no great disasters. No epic failures.

And I can’t take a bit of credit for it because I felt like it all happened around me and in spite of me.

It’s like this passage I read (this week … not a coincidence) in Anne Lamott’s Grace (Eventually):

God was most show-offy when things did not go according to my plans, which was approximately ninety percent of the time.

If I limit my life to easy things, the things I know I can do without help from God or anyone, then I really haven’t done much of anything. But if I let myself attempt things that are too big for me, then I learn to ask for help.

From God and from other people.

And then life gets a little more exciting.

Or interesting, at least.

I’m not sure you’ll find me seeking adventure or challenge around every curve, nor do I have any plans to make my life harder.

But I’m slowly being convinced that my life needs to reflect something bigger than me. If I can handle everything that comes my way, then I have no need of God. If my dreams are within reach, maybe they aren’t big enough.

I don’t know what all of this looks like or means, but I know that when I do hard things and God meets me in them and carries me through them, I become more and more convinced that an easy life is not the same as the abundant life He promised.

When’s the last time you tried something too big for you?

What stops you from taking risks?

Where have you seen God be “show-offy” in your life?

 

 

Read Full Post »

A beach vacation is hardly first on my list of destinations, but at the request of friends, we decided to take the plunge, so to speak, and take a joint family vacation with another family.

It was wonderful in ways I’m still trying to understand, myself.

And it was enriching to my spiritual life, even though the only time we set foot in a church was to admire the stained glass in the Catholic church on the square.

Because standing on the shore of the ocean, I can feel God and sense His presence.

Deep calls to deep, the psalmist says, and I don’t understand it but that’s what I feel when I look out on the forever-and-ever stretch of water before me.

It calls to me. And I want to dive in, splash, and be swept away by something bigger than me.

I look at the ocean, and I see God.

I’m blogging at Putting on the New today. Read the rest of this post here.

Read Full Post »

Lights in a rainbow of colors criss-crossed the stage, near-blinding the audience at times, perfectly coordinated to the heart-thrumming rock music blaring from the stage. The congregated faithful raised their hands, swaying, dancing to the beat, overcome to overflowing with joy and adoration.

third day

Fifteen years ago, this is what I thought the Christian experience was all about. The ecstatic worship the pinnacle of spirituality. I drank in every opportunity to attend concerts and festivals and experiences that would remind me of my new nature, my new family, my new take on the world. I wanted to be carried along on the high from one experience to the next and never come down.

Looking around me in the present, I wondered if anyone else was thinking that. I wondered if their faith was strengthened by the gathering of believers or if they were downcast at the appearance of everyone else’s exuberant worship. I was among those singing my heart out but not because my life was full and my joy unending. The opposite was true.

I was spent. Dry. Worn out. And all I could do was sing loud in hopes that my soul would hear.

“You look so relaxed!” 

I had posted this picture from our first day at the beach and the comments echoed this sentiment. Because how could you be at the beach and not be relaxed?

In truth, it was our worst day at the beach. Two tired mommas with five rowdy kids were anxiously awaiting the arrival of the dads and the weather–how dare it!–was not what we needed. The wind stirred up the sand, stinging our backs and covering everything. Away from the ocean, our kids cried as the sand mercilessly surrounded us. We were all tired after a day of travel. We were determined to spend a bare minimum of a couple of hours at the beach because of the colossal effort it took us to get there that morning.

When I snapped the picture, it was so I could text it to my husband with the greeting: Wish you were here! (A note with a double meaning, for sure.) I posted it online later in the day because it was a decent picture of me. (I don’t do a lot of selfies.) And I was surprised at the message it conveyed.

If we’re not careful, our whole lives can play out like this. We can wear our masks of comfort and civility when deep inside we are hurting and bitter. We can put our best clothes on when our souls are covered with filthy rags. We can say the right things and do the right things and never let on that our lives feel wrong. We can paint a pretty picture for the world to admire hoping no one will look too closely and see that we’re just trying to cover up a tattered canvas.

I don’t know about you, but it’s really easy for me to judge someone’s surface. I glance and assume and never take the time to scratch away my assumptions. And I walk away distressed because my life as I know it doesn’t measure up to what I perceive is someone else’s reality. And I’m not just talking about Facebook and Pinterest and Instagram. I’m talking in real life with the people walking around beside me.

I not only judge a book by its cover, I judge a life by its snapshot.

Because that’s really all I get in a moment is a snapshot. One picture that represents just a moment, not the whole. Even a scrapbook of snapshots wouldn’t tell the whole story. I know that my snapshots don’t show you what’s really going on. So, why do I assume it’s that way for everyone else?

I have to write a recap of our family’s year for a family reunion on my husband’s side.

I will confess that I dread this task. I hate writing a year-end Christmas letter, too, because all the highlights and cheer are not the sum total of our lives. There was a year not too long ago when I wanted to lay it all out there–all the junk our family was going through because I just couldn’t fake it anymore. I think we managed a letter that addressed the reality without covering it up, but I still didn’t want to write it.

I’m learning that a year is not all highs and not all lows. Nor is a month or a week or a day. It is some of each, and I am one of the first to side with an extreme. (Life sucks! I hate everything! Why are we here?) My husband gently reminds me that this is not the way it is. That even in the hardest weeks, we have bright spots. It is one of the reasons we try, as a family, to share one best thing and one worst thing about our day at dinnertime. No one has to have a worst part but we encourage each other to find one best part.

Some days, we need reminding that there was good in our world.

The windows are down, a breeze filling the car as we zoom the country roads. I am singing at the top of my voice, uncaring about the notes or how I sound. I want to scream and yell and hit things but this day, I sing instead. It is a release, of sorts.

I am curled up on the bed, bawling on a Sunday morning before church because I don’t want to go and be with people. I want to wallow in my own messy life. But I wipe my nose and dry my eyes, all puffy and red, and I go, less because I want to and more because I think I should.

And I find myself in good company, among those with messy lives and heavy burdens and free-flowing tears. There is comfort and joy and love and care.

And there is this song.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, O my soul. Worship his holy name. Sing like never before, O my soul. I’ll worship your holy name.

The sun comes up, there’s a new day dawning, it’s time to sing your song again, whatever may pass and whatever lies before me, let me be singing when the evening comes.

Sing like never before. And I do. Loud and raspy and off-key.

Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me. There are good things and bad things that have happened and will happen. There are weeks of triumph and weeks of trial. This is the sum total of the Christian experience. Not just breathtaking mountaintops. Not just sunless valleys. Some days are deserts. Others are waterfalls. Some draining, others refreshing. And the presence of one does not guarantee the absence of the other. A good week may be followed by a bad one. A bad one may lead to a good one. A season of trial will not last forever, nor will a season of comfort.

Let me be singing when the evening comes. At the end of the day, week, month, year, will I still be singing no matter what happens?

It is a prayer of constancy in an ever-changing world.

This moment, whatever it may be, does not define my life. Or your life. This season is not all there ever is. And what you see now is not how it always was or will be.

Let’s not be afraid to step out from behind the picture. To show our lives for what they are: a messy, beautiful reality. And to look for the scratches beneath the surface of other people’s pictures.

Not so we can judge each other more but so we can love each other more.

Maybe we’ll love ourselves a little more in the process, too.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,509 other followers

%d bloggers like this: