Finding the Miracle in the Mess

img_0916It’s Christmas week and we have two little girls. Needless to say the anticipation and chaos are both at full throttle.

There are also life circumstances that threaten to choke off our joy, our delight, our hope in the God who wrapped himself in flesh, in our humanity, and came down into our brokenness to abide in our flawed messiness.

Life circumstances too often swell like storming seas whose waves crash and jeopardize our attempts to remain afloat.

Even so, these words from Psalm 91 are my lifeline: “He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust Him.”

Because God came down.

Because God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Because God cares for us.

Because God is with us.

So, we trust in Him.

We hold fast to His grace as much as His promises.

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We turn toward Bethlehem and remember the miracle of a God who was laid in a manger.

We quiet our hearts and still our thoughts and listen.

We listen to the whisper of that first Christmas that draws us in. Invites us near.

We listen to the cry of a baby who was God and who was welcomed by lowly shepherds.

We listen to the angels who spoke of good news and great joy.

We listen to the heart of God.

And we embrace this place where we are with its mess and its chaos and its clutter and its unknowns.

Because no matter our circumstances, even so, God is with us.

Oh come, oh come Emmanuel, my refuge, my strength, my joy.

Prayer’s Unexpected Answers

I don’t know about you, but as a Christian, I’ve heard that God doesn’t always answer our prayers in the way we expect. Maybe that feels ambiguous at best to you. If so, I’d like to share a concrete glimpse of what that can look like from a moment in my life just last week.

Ocean

As many of you know, we have an eight year old who is on the spectrum. For those of you not sure what that means, it means that she was diagnosed with high-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder, or Asperger’s; and that translates into a level of anxiety and rigidity that most of us are unfamiliar with in our day-to-day lives.

For my daughter, right now, it translates into compulsive behaviors and meltdowns resulting from an elusive search for perfect that does not exist on this side of heaven: lining her chair up just so at the dinner table, wearing only one pair of shorts because none of the others feel right to her, wiping her face and hands repeatedly to avoid being dirty.

She knows perfect is not possible, even so, she seeks it with a fierceness that is too often heartbreaking. Like last Wednesday.

Because a trip to the indoor play space on Monday had not gone as planned or hoped, we left shortly after we arrived. This also led to my sweet girl wanting to go back and try again, and, because that in itself was an incredible victory (because she didn’t write off the play place due to one bad experience), we decided to return on Wednesday.

As I got ready Wednesday morning, I prayed; I poured my heart out to God, as I’ve done so often, lifting my daughter up and asking God to go before us and make a way for us, especially for my daughter. I prayed for peace, I prayed for His presence, I prayed for calm and for a lessening of the anxious compulsive need for perfect.

DSC04430Even so, she sat on the floor amidst seven or eight inside out socks cast aside because they didn’t feel right and her eyes welled with tears, her face betraying her anxious doubts as guttural sobs filled the space between us, piercing my heart.

Really? I thought. This is how God is choosing to answer my prayers. Really?

Anger that bordered on rage coursed through me, in an effort to beat back my tears, and the pain of my mama heart. Just one day, I begged Him. Just one day without all of this.

But in spite of my best efforts to remain calm and to guide her and to coax her and to sort through socks with her, the perfect her brain demanded eluded us both.

And so, my youngest daughter and I set forth for the indoor play space, leaving my oldest at home with her father and her favorite video. It was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and we’d been pretty certain that the most people would be traveling or otherwise preparing for the Thursday holiday.

We couldn’t have been more wrong.

There were more people – kids and parents and grandparents and babies (a real challenge for my eight year old because of their unpredictability and crying) – than I’d ever seen before in that small space. Standing there, just inside the doors, Truth rushed over me and through me along with the deafening crush of noise: God had answered my prayers.

God had answered my prayers. But not in the way I was planning, expecting or hoping.

He’d made a way for us. He’d made a way for my daughter to avoid the very things that would have caused increased anxiety and deep disappointment. Instead, she was at home, enjoying a favorite video, loved on by her daddy and her sister got some much-needed time away from her sister and some one-on-one time with me.

It can be tempting to want to step into the place that God has and to answer our prayers our way. I was working diligently to manipulate the circumstances, and God, to get my eight year old out the door for a fun day at the play place. But God knew better.

And this time, He showed me with amazing clarity exactly what that looked like.

Just one day, I’d begged Him. Just one day without all of this.

That is exactly what He gave us. That, and the reminder that my life is always better when it’s in His hands.

One of Those Days

Yesterday was “one of those days.” One of those days in a series of those days that doesn’t make sense as I make food and feed my girls.

The day before, my youngest ate scrambled eggs with relish. Yesterday, she asked for them again and ate two bites.

Two days ago, my youngest ate spaghetti with sauce and cheese – two helpings, in fact. The next day, she asked for the same thing and ate one bite.

She asks for food she thinks she wants and then refuses it.

It’s enough to make me lose my cool with her; but when I assign positive intent, I see a little girl who genuinely thinks she wants what she asks for and then sees it and does not like something about it: the taste, the texture, the look, the smell? I can’t say because I’m not inside her mind.

When I assign positive intent, I see a little girl who wants to eat and knows she should because we talk about why different foods are important for the brain and the body; but she doesn’t eat.

silly girlsWhen I assign positive intent and I take the time to see her – the unique and amazing child that God gave me five and a half years ago and not what she is or isn’t eating – I realize that living with an older sister who was diagnosed with Asperger’s (or high-functioning autism) only six months ago likely affects my five and a half year old as much as her big sister.

When I pause in the moment, I see a sweet little girl and a younger sister living in the shadow of her sister’s Asperger’s and struggling to discover who she is in her heart, in her sister’s eyes, in our family and in the world.

Autism is not an individual diagnosis but a family diagnosis. It affects all members of a family in a variety of ways and in recent years the effect on siblings has become a focus of autism-related studies. But parents of children who are on the spectrum already experience what these studies are beginning to show: that living in the shadow of autism brings with it its own set of challenges.

For us, that has included increased anxiety that shows up sometimes in aggression and anger and other times in regression and clinginess. Whatever it’s form, it is a longing to be seen, to be known and to be loved, all unconditionally.

imageBecause when I pause in these moments I see in her the essence of each of us – the deep longing to be known and loved for who we are. The way we are loved by the One who created each of us. Loved in our brokenness and with our imperfections. Loved when we are angry or when we are needy. Loved when we are afraid and when we are courageous.

And so yesterday was one of those days when I made food and then made more food an hour later. And at some point she ate.

And in the midst of all the making of food and cleaning up of the kitchen, there were prayers. Sometimes whispered words of need, sometimes desperate pleas for wisdom, sometimes disjointed attempts of praise but always praying as ceaselessly as I was able.

Yes. Yesterday was one of those days: the kind of day that provides an opportunity for me to choose who I will be and how I will respond to the circumstances of this life. I am learning on these days that when I choose to trust God and seek His face, He provides a way through the wilderness I find myself traveling.

Because in all my circumstances, God is always faithful.

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.

A Not-So-Ordinary Day

It’s hard to believe that it’s already January 22nd, isn’t it?

Time passes too quickly sometimes. Which is why I am thankful that because of Jesus, every day is like New Year’s Day. Because when I falter in my sense of where I’m going or what I’m doing, each new day is a new day, a new beginning, a new New Year’s Day.

Today is one of those days.

One of those days when I wonder if this year really will be better than last year.

One of those days when I wonder if I’m hitting the mark.

One of those days when I wonder what I should do to make today matter.

One of those days when I question what I am meant to do and who I am meant to be.

One of those days.

And then God whispers to my heart. He reminds me who I am. He reminds me whose I am.

He reminds me that I am His and that He is in control and that I am where I need to be.

He reminds me when I look at my two little girls that I am doing important work.

He reminds me when I start my day with Him that He is all I need.

He reminds me when I sit and watch the fire in our fireplace that life is already good. That I don’t have to wait until tomorrow or next month or next year for things to get better.

When I rest in Jesus, when I trust Him with my day, my life, my heart’s desires, things are the best they can be on this side of heaven.

When I surrender all of me, peace surrounds me and I can see the blessings that are mine. I can delight in Jesus and when I do that, I discover delight in the ordinary moments of my day.

Emptying the dishwasher reminds me of the plenty I already have.

Sweeping the floor reminds me that we have not only have a house, but a home.

Making another meal reminds me that we have the daily bread we need today.

Playing with my girls reminds me that I have been given the opportunity to leak Jesus into my girls’ lives. Into their hearts.

Seeing my husband pull into the driveway at the end of the day reminds me that I have a partner on the journey. The journey of parenting. The journey of dreaming. The journey of delight we are offered through Jesus.

God makes my ordinary extraordinary.

And when I forget that, God reminds me. He whispers to my heart. And, as long as I’m willing to listen, He will always remind me that He is all I need. Whether it’s January 22nd, April 27th, October 21st or December 27th, He is all I need.

And that, that is more than enough.