Would You Like Fries with That?

{this post is part of Five-Minute Friday at Lisa-Jo Baker}

How it works: Write on one word for five minutes. No editing. {All the details for how to play along are here.}

Today’s word: Choose…

{Go}

The other night as I was driving home, I stopped at a fast-food restaurant. Because I really wanted to get home, I chose to go through the drive-thru rather than park and go inside. I usually choose to go inside.

It has been a long time since I’d been to this franchise and I wasn’t familiar with the choices available to me. And the thing about the drive-thru? Even if there’s no one behind me, I feel like I need to choose quickly.

photo courtesy of lily5555 on Flickr

photo courtesy of lily5555 on Flickr

But the thing is, I couldn’t quite take in all of the choices available to me. I knew what I wanted, you know? But I couldn’t scan the menu fast enough to find what I wanted. So, when my eyes fell on something that looked like what I wanted, I told the disembodied voice my choice.

As it turns out, it wasn’t what I wanted.

It wasn’t awful. But it wasn’t what I really wanted. It was mediocre and felt like money poorly spent.

And it occurred to me, how often do I do this in life? How often do I feel too harried, too rushed, or faced with too many choices? So I just choose something. Anything.

It’s not that I make a terrible choice. But it’s not what I wanted. Not what I would have chosen if I’d taken time to consider my choices.

Today, I will take the time to slow down. Today, I will take the time to look at the options, the choices I have. Today, I will choose what I matters, not just what is available.

Today, I will choose excellent, not mediocre. I will choose the sacred.

Because the choice is there. The choice is always there.

My Life is Perfect.

No, really. It is.

Life with littles is crazy. But I think that’s normal, right?

As long as you are willing to give up the idea of perfection. The idea of being the perfect mama. The idea of being the perfect wife. The idea of having a perfect home.

Because you know what? I am perfect.

Perfect for the little girls that God has given to me to love and to nurture and to walk alongside on their path to becoming who God is calling them to be.

reading together. unexpected learning.

reading together. unexpected learning.

Perfect for the amazing, creative, flawed husband that God has blessed me with and with whom I have the opportunity to encourage, edify, pray for, pray with and sharpen and be sharpened by as stone sharpens stone.

And perfect home? Absolutely. Perfect in that it fits the chaos that is us. All four of us. The toys, the music composition papers, the computers, the books, the paintings, the drawings, the journals. It fits who we are right now.

What, that’s not how you picture perfection?

Me neither. At least not until now. I’ve had to learn to redefine what perfect looks like. And when you do that you notice all the little things. The gifts. The blessings. The perfection that is the world you inhabit. The perfection that is yours, not anyone else’s.

And that is okay. In fact, it’s perfect.

Because in this personalized idea of perfection, there are squeals of delight and long, hard belly laughs. There are sisters who sometimes bicker but are slowly learning how to make amends and extend forgiveness. There are toys scattered around that sometimes get picked up and put back in their place. There is joy in reading a new book or an old favorite.

There is unplanned learning. 

There is delight. Small joys. Incredible challenges. Overflowing love.

There are dirty dishes (constantly) and another meal, another snack, another need. There is messiness.

There is God.

There is what seems like chaos, but it’s life. Pure and simple. Life lived together. Life lived with God. Life lived with joy that outshines the frustrations and the dirty dishes and the unfolded laundry and the clutter and the mess.

sometimes creativity is messy

sometimes creativity is messy

It’s life with littles. And I wouldn’t trade it for the everything in its place perfection. Not right now. Not yet. That time time will come. Maybe.

Right now, it’s chaos and creativity and love and relationship. It’s celebration and blessing. It’s mess and clutter. It’s amazing and frustrating and filled with unknowns. It’s the sacred in the ordinary and it’s delight in the din.

Because it’s life. My life. My crazy, chaotic, joy-filled, one-of-a-kind, Jesus-freak, sometimes-freaking-out, perfect life.

And I love it. All of it.

It’s life with littles. Littles who won’t be little for much longer. So, pardon me as I go and embrace my littles and my life with them. We have life to share today.

Our perfect life.

The Message of Daffodils

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but my family rents a house here in North Carolina. It’s a house that in spite the beautiful weather we’ve had the past few days, has remained pretty chilly inside. Today, with the cooler temperatures, it feels even chillier to me. So, it’s a day for a fire. Something we haven’t had for almost two weeks now.

Mind you, I don’t mind having a fire. I like the popping and crackling of the wood as a backdrop to my day, as I play with my girls. I like the cozy feeling it fills me with and the way the flames dance beneath and between the logs. I like a glass of red wine at the end of the day and staring into the hypnotic, changing colors.

But I’ve been spoiled by warm temperatures recently. We’ve spent good amounts of time outside, soaking up the sun and the teasing of spring in the air. The girls have run and jumped and played. Spring changes things as it shoos away the stuffiness of days too long inside. Spring welcomes and renews.

However, it is not spring yet. And the chilly air reminds me of that today. So, a fire it will be.

Of course, in order to get a fire going, I need to collect some kindling. Given that our rental house backs up to some woods, finding sticks and broken branches to serve as kindling is not too much of a challenge. So, box in hand, I head out the front door to collect some wood, and oh, the irony that greets me.

It’s cold. That kind of cold that causes your muscles to tense up and your arms to creep inside your sleeves.

It’s damp. That kind of dampness that seeps into your bones and causes you to shiver from the inside.

It’s gray. That kind of gray that inspires a yearning for sun and warm days and spring.

But there it is. The familiar sign that spring is coming: the first cluster of daffodils with blooms bursting forth as yellow as the summer sun.

first sign of spring

first sign of spring

It may not be here, but here is its reminder, its promise, that it is coming. A promise that winter doesn’t last forever even if it seems like it will. A promise of colors and sunshine and time outdoors. A promise of change.

A promise of all things being made new.

I can see it in the small sprouts of grass pushing through the otherwise brown lawn and in the tiny buds forming on the shrubs outside the door. Buds so small that if you don’t look for them, you don’t see them. But there they are.

Spring is coming.

Change is coming.

Sometimes I have doubts about what God is doing in my life. And then, he gives me the gift of spring in my life. He gives me renewal. He gives me the opportunity to change. To grow.

That’s what those daffodils tell me today.

God is still the creator. He still paints the canvas of this world with his goodness and his beauty and his love. But sometimes, his message is like the tiny buds on the shrubs just outside our doors. If we don’t look for it, we won’t see it.

Maybe that’s why he also provides the daffodils. So we won’t miss his message. Because he knows we might. He knows that we are always doing and planning and rushing. He knows us.

So he puts a splash of color in the midst of the overcast grayness of the day and says, I Am still here. I AM. I Am here in the winter and I Am here to usher in the spring.

He is here to usher in the change we need just when we need it. Just when we think we’ve had as much as we can bear. Just when we think things will never change. God whispers. He ushers in the color and the sun and the beauty.

He ushers in hope.

Spring is a season of hope, isn’t it?

God is a God of hope, isn’t he?

Just when we need it, it’s there. He’s there. Just outside our door.

Won’t you join me as I walk out the door and embrace the hope that awaits us there?

The Spiritual Discipline of Parenting

Last week I wrote a post declaring that parenting is difficult and challenging and spiritual. And, to me, because parenting is spiritual, I suggested that it was therefore dangerous.

But, what, exactly do I mean when I say that parenting is spiritual? It may not be what you’re thinking, so let me explain.

Before my husband and I got married, we talked about whether or not we were going to have children. Because we met when I was 33 (he was 31), and we didn’t marry until I was 34 (and 5 months from 35), we initially agreed that we weren’t going to have children. After all, we wanted to spend at least a year together before starting a family, and by that point I would be pushing 37. The danger zone of pregnancies (otherwise knows as high risk) according to OB-GYNs.

And besides all that, I believed I was too selfish to be a mama.

Turns out, I was right.

And that is why I stand by the idea that parenting is a spiritual discipline.

Jumping ahead in my story, our first baby girl was born one day before my 41st birthday. Despite my years on the planet, nothing in my life prepared me for the demands of being a mama. Of being selfless. Of serving someone without expectation. Of loving someone without condition.

Not even my marriage. At least not to that point (but that is another story).

But now, here I was, facing my brokenness and my worldliness day after day, hour after hour. I craved sleep. I longed for time alone. I wished I could go back to the time when life was about me.

Every day I had to submit my will to God’s. More than I’d ever really done before. And usually untold times a day, I had to stop and submit again and again and again. And as God worked on me and with me and through me, I began to grow in small bursts. Microscopic bursts is probably the better term.

And yet it wasn’t enough to prepare me for the birth of our second baby girl two years later (just a month after turning 43). I was older, but not necessarily wiser. I still struggled with my human nature that wants to take more than to give, that wants to be served rather than to serve, that wanted to focus on me rather than on others.

The nature that became frustrated too easily, irritated too often, angry to quickly. Without submitting to Jesus, I was a messy, mediocre mama and not the mama I saw in my heart. The picture of a mama that Jesus pinned to my heart by the power of his Spirit. The picture I can see only when I look first to Jesus, then to others.

I expected that parenting would involve many things, but never did I realize how much spiritual growth it would involve. There really needed to be less of me and more of Jesus.

There really needs to be less of me and more of Jesus. Every day. Every moment.

seeing my reflection in my daughter

seeing my reflection in my daughter

And every moment my girls are the mirror that Jesus uses to reflect the broken areas of my heart or my attitude. And when people say they see me in one of my daughters they have no idea how incredibly deep that resemblance actually goes.

My hope is that as I continue to work with Jesus in the process of becoming who he created me and calls me to be, that I will reflect that to my girls. And that eventually people will see Jesus in them more than me.

I hope, too, that I will see Jesus in myself more and more when I look into the mirror that are these two precious, amazing girls that God has given me to love, to nurture, to walk along beside.

That is what makes parenting so dangerous to me. Because it requires way more than taking care of my girls. It requires me to see the dark places inside me. And it requires me to invite Jesus inside them.

No matter how much that scares me.

Anger: Give In or Overcome?

{this post is part of Five-Minute Friday at Lisa-Jo Baker}

How it works: Write on one word for five minutes. No editing. {All the details for how to play along are here.}

Today’s word: Small…

{Go}

Anger.

It starts small. I can feel it though I cannot quite describe the feeling.

It is part physical, a tension in my muscles, in my jaw, as I clench my teeth, in my breath, as it comes in shortened bursts.

And it builds.

If I am not careful. If I do not pause. If I do not take a moment. If I do not turn away from what would likely be deemed the trigger for my anger, it will grow. It will grow beyond my control.

Or will it?

Is anger ever really out of my control?

I used to think so. But I think that was my way of rationalizing an otherwise irrational emotion. I think that was my way of justifying my out of control behavior. But I had the choice. I made the choice.

I chose to give in to the anger.

I chose to give the devil his foothold. The one he creeps around looking to take. Like the lion looking to devour and destroy.

photo by Sias van Schalkwyk

photo by Sias van Schalkwyk

Nothing has taught me more about this emotion, about this response in me, like parenting.

And I cannot deny that I have been guilty too often of letting my anger loose in big moments and small ones. And I cannot deny that I have been guilty of thinking myself justified or that I have given myself an out: anger is how my depression manifests itself or anger is a symptom of something bigger.

Something beyond me.

But it’s not. Not really.

And I cannot deny that I have been forgiven.

Every time. By God. By my children. By my husband.

But it’s taken a long time and no small effort for me to forgive myself.

Anger.

It starts out small.

And it is in that moment that I must choose.

It is in that moment that I must pause.

It is in that moment that I must close the gap that creates the foothold. That I must turn and flee. From the anger. From the devil. From the rote response.

It is in that moment that I must run — into the arms of my heavenly Father and seek his face.

And give myself permission to choose. Differently.

To overcome.

The Danger of Parenting

If you’ve read any of my posts recently, you know that this year I have decided to focus on the word, the idea, of delight. I have been looking for the sacred in the mundane, routine, ordinary moments of my days.

It’s been a worthwhile and even successful exercise most days. In fact, it has helped me develop a better discipline in trying to seek God throughout the day.

Until today.

Today there was nothing holy in my daily tasks. There was nothing sacred in my attitude or my demeanor. Today, I did not see anything to delight in. Not the cooking. Not the washing of the dishes. Not the tidying of toys. Not the clearing of clutter.

Today everything reeked of drudgery.

Until.

Until I listened. To my girls.

Until I watched. My girls.

Until I disciplined. My-self.

That’s when I realized it. Again.

Parenting is difficult. Parenting is challenging. Parenting is spiritual.

And, because of that, parenting is dangerous.

Because in being a parent I have to deal with some things I would rather not. Mainly, my-self.

Because in being a parent to the two girls God gave to me to care for, to nurture, to love, God has placed in my constant consciousness a burning bush spotlight on where I am weakest. On where I fall short. On where I need growth.

Sometimes this is in the form of what I see in my girls. The strong streaks of character traits, my character traits, that cause me to shudder and cringe. Like my six-year-old daughter’s need to be in control. Or her need to win all the time, whether it is eating her breakfast or going outside to play. Or the way she sulks when she doesn’t get her own way or thinks someone has hurt her feelings.

Or I get to see myself in my four-year-old daughter’s constant correction of things that I say. Or in her epic meltdowns because the world is not performing the way she wants it to, expects it to, demands it to. Or in her strong will that will prevent her from adhering to the boundaries that have been set.

Actually, both of my girls are strong-willed free spirits. And that is wonderful, unless you have to harness that power for good and not for evil when you are still trying to figure that out in your own life.

And sometimes God uses these sweet, strong-willed, fierce warriors to show me who I am. He lets me see my-self as in a mirror. Reflecting my triggers, my weaknesses, my brokenness.

Who wants to look directly at their brokenness?

photo by Katherine Evans

photo by Katherine Evans

But, that is what God allows me to do. Every day.

I may not like it. But I am still astute enough to realize that this daily challenge is an opportunity. I am still astute enough to see that God is giving me a gift. And what I do with that gift matters. I can take it for granted and merely consider it just another typical, routine part of a mundane daily existence. Or–

Or, I can accept it for the glimpse of the sacred it provides me.

Tomorrow, I will share more about how facing the reflection of my triggers, my weaknesses and my brokenness in my daughters creates unexpected moments of the holy in the every day.

For today, I will pause and recant the idea that everything in my day has reeked of drudgery. Rather, it has provided me a hint of delight because for a moment, a brief and sacred moment, God has shown me that finding delight does not come without a cost.

And he is assuring me that it is a cost worth everything it will demand of me.

Musings on Faith and Fires

We live in North Carolina where we rent a house. The house has some flaws (poor insulation, windows that need to be updated, things like that), but it’s a rental, so we make due.

But, interestingly, one of the bigger assets has turned out to be the working fireplace.

Having grown up in the Northeast, it is not just a little ironic that it took moving south for me to live in a place with a fireplace. Nevertheless, in the 17 months that we’ve lived here, I’ve pretty much mastered the ability to start and maintain a cozy fire.

musings by the fire

musings by the fire

Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way about fires:

  • despite the idyllic nature fires have in movies, they require far more effort in real life;
  • even when you think you’ve gotten it down to a science, starting a fire can still cause me fits of frustration;
  • without enough kindling, starting a fire becomes a major challenge;
  • even after you’ve got a roaring fire going, the flames can dwindle and smolder without enough attention;
  • rarely does a single log provide warmth or burn for long;
  • if you get caught up in other things and don’t keep a check on it, the fire will burn out;
  • reigniting a burned out fire takes as much effort as starting the original fire required;
  • too much poking around on a fire can actually cause it to burn out.

As you read those, do you see the relationship parallels I did as I was writing them?

To me, the marriage relationship was pretty obvious. Especially given the recent journey David and I have taken in our marriage.

But beyond that more obvious connection, I have found myself musing about the metaphor as a flame or a fire as an illustration for faith.

The idea that we want to burn with a fire for Jesus.

The idea that we want to set the world on fire.

The idea that we don’t want to be a flame, but a raging fire.

The idea that too often we seem lukewarm in our faith.

As if the fire has gone out.

And I cannot help but think, as I consider my own faith and as I tend fires in my fireplace, that faith is work. It requires something of me.

I believe faith is a gift.

But I also believe that faith, once claimed, requires my participation. It demands my effort if I am to hold fast to it. It needs my tending if I am to grow in it.

I believe even more that faith cannot exist in a vacuum, as a single log. It burns hotter when it is shared, when the logs are stacked together.

I believe that faith, like fire, requires attention or it will dwindle. It will fade.

I also believe that a raging fire is not the only option. In fact, it is only when a fire has burned consistently through the day that it burns hotter, that heat radiates and really warms. So it is with faith. So it is that we draw others to Jesus. With our warmth. With our kindness. With our consistent reflection of Jesus in the world by our actions. By our choices. By our words.

But be warned. Faith is not just about the warm and fuzzy. It is not just about the cozy feelings.

Because more than anything else I believe that faith, like fire, is dangerous. Sparks can fly when faith burns hot. We will sometimes need to make difficult choices. We will likely get burned because of some of our choices. We may offend because of our choices. Even when we are kind. Even when we are gentle. Even when we speak the truth in love.

Because, faith, like fire, is not necessarily safe. Nor is it idyllic. It is not without risk.

But it is worth it. It is always worth it.