acceptance and trust

After reading and re-reading my own post, I feel I need to offer a bit of a precursory statement. I’m over here on the blog talking about “slowing down” like it’s some grandiose thing, like it’s a choice that everyone should make. I want to be the first to say that I know full well, from the changing seasons of my own life, that this is not always even an option. Many people are in situations where their livelihood picks up during this time of the year. Work isn’t an option. Diapers and teething and sick kids don’t usually get the memo “Hey, I’d like a more peaceful holiday season, okay?”. Some folks are in a stage of grief or pain, where slowing down would only serve to intensify the struggle; they actually NEED to keep busy and distracted.

Please know, and let me acknowledge the validity of all those things. I’m writing from a perspective that I am currently in, from one I am going to guess might connect with others who might be experiencing similar things. But to the family, friends and other readers who might read and want to smack me, because they’d love to slow down, and just can’t… I get it. I have been there too. There is no ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ when it comes to life…just sharing where we are at, and what we are thinking, to help whomever it may.

That being said…

Slowing down is no easy thing for me. I’m a do-er, a ‘git ‘er done‘ kind of gal. Except it doesn’t always work out to live this way all the time. After an extended period of this, it often ends with an ‘ouch’.

A very easy and vivid example of what I mean is the fact that I’m actually typing this post while lying flat on my back. The reason for this isn’t because the creativity of writing flows better while horizontal, it’s because I spent about four weeks straight living like a mad-woman on a mission. We had decided we were going to roll the dice on the real estate market and list our house for sale. However, after nearly a decade of raising 4 small children into highly active teenagers, our little rancher has seen a lot of wear and tear. The kind that needs to be ‘touched up’ to impress prospective buyers. So I dove in full force, and took the bull by the horns. I was painting, sanding, tearing out carpet, and hanging out second-story windows to clean those suckers (a job that had been neglected for longer than I’ll ever admit because of the absolute insane level of difficulty of doing so.)

The combination of jobs, topped off with my body-twisting aerial stunts resulted in a stretched nerve in my back causing me all sorts of pain, numbness, tingling and immobility. For the past 4 ½ weeks. We’re talking doctors, pain killers, muscle relaxers, chiropractors, massage and physical therapy. And I’m still on my back.

The hard lesson in this is that I’m in this spot, at least in part, because I just couldn’t slow down and do things at a reasonable pace. Instead of shooting out ahead, I’m further behind, and the house won’t be listed minimally for another few months.

While I could languish and bemoan that fact, I’m instead learning a valuable lesson and looking for opportunities.

Going into the holiday season with limited physical functionality has actually been a perfectly timed wake-up call for me. Sometimes God needs to get firm with us when He’s trying to get a message through to our heads. If I wasn’t forced to be so still so much of the time these days, I’m pretty sure I’d be missing it again.

I looked back to my blog posts from last year and initially found it a bit discouraging that I seem to have been talking about the very same thing around this time last year… “Too much! Overload! Must.slow.down.”  And at the end of all that rushing and racing, there was an ‘ouch’ also. This past week, two members of my family said they felt like they missed Christmas entirely last year, and felt disappointment that we had rushed through it and then ‘boom’, it was gone.

Apparently this is a cyclical (or simply ongoing?) struggle. But this year seems to have brought us some newly opened time.

Ironically, it was through some unexpected changes and disappointments that this blessing in disguise has been delivered. Had these tougher things not come, I’m thinking this December would have been a repeat of last year.

In the past several months, we as a family we were bummed out by not getting certain things we thought we wanted. Things like not getting into certain things auditioned for, for not being able to list our house for sale when I thought we should, and for the out-of-the-blue shutdown of a theater that one was involved with a Christmas production. As parents, we questioned our own ‘laxness’ for not pushing another one to involvement with a club or instrument, and ended up missing sign-up deadlines. And of course, the added frustration of my current injury.

missed blessings

But because of these “no’s” that were given to us, more than chosen, I’m sighing with a bit of relief when I look at the calendar right now. We don’t have every single evening filled from start to finish. We are having time to think, and even talk as a family, about what we want these weeks of holiday time to look and feel like. There is excitement and anticipation for simple things like listening to Christmas music, cozy evenings at home with the glow of the lights, and for the first time ever doing a ‘Jesse Tree‘ devotional as a family. It’s actually rather exciting.

Last year I was writing about barely keeping up and letting go of the unnecessaries. This year is a different ‘season’…figuratively speaking. Our family is in a different place (and I’m quite sure next year will be altogether different again!). And in reading last year’s posts, and writing what I am now, I also am reminded how there is NO ‘one-size-fits-all’, this is the ‘right’ way to do things. Priorities aren’t necessarily ‘fixed’ things. Different times in life call for adjustment of what is “good” and what is “best” and what is “necessary”.

I guess what I’m trying to get at is this. I am hoping to encourage you to tune in to the time and the place and the people that God has you in and among right now. For me, it is the opportunity to slow down. It’s choosing to see blessing in what we could focus on as some losses (and lest it sounds all ‘pie in the sky’, it’s often not an easy thing to not dwell on the frustration or disappointments!). But I am trying to be conscious to push back against the things that make me feel ‘driven’…not just from the outside, but even from within myself. I am trying allow myself to enjoy the blessings that are to be found in the things I thought I didn’t want. Without tuning in and allowing God to reveal the joy amidst the pain, I would be totally focused and consumed with all that is going on around me, and miss what the Holy Spirit is doing within me.

One of my acts of ‘pushing back’ against being driven in these weeks is fairly simple (not easy, but simple). Acceptance and trust. Acceptance of some struggle, some disappointment, some changed plans. Trust that God is good all the time, and that He has good plans and intentions for me and mine….even if they don’t always look like what I think they should. I can have peace, no matter the circumstance, if I choose to allow Christ to bring it to me, and not try to scramble or grasp after my version of it.

 

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.  ~Colossians 3:15

 

overdrive

Isn’t it amazing how ‘driven‘ life can feel sometimes? I have been thinking about this…and trying to formulate a battle plan…quite a lot lately. Such an endeavor is no easy thing.

We live in a society…at least in America (apparently, based on this post I read, it’s not this way in the Netherlands!)…that feels like it is in OVERDRIVE all the time. (Caps for emphasis, because that is what my insides feel like most days!!)

We seem to be career driven, education driven, money driven, success driven…and we go, go, go and do, do, do.

Except…*deep sigh*… I really rather want to veer off the rat-race course. And I know I’m not the only one; I’ve certainly read enough blog posts about simplicity, minimalism and the like to recognize that. However, the reality is, apparently we are still in the vast minority, because the world around me continues to race on at a mind-dizzying (and soul-numbing) pace. And I become increasingly aware that, sadly, in all of this, God’s interaction with us…the wisdom and guidance from His Word and His Spirit …grow more and more faint, drowned out by all the other noise.

Even though I know this, I still battle.  Can I be totally honest with you? The problem is, the thing that holds me back from taking the leap into the world of slow-paced simple-living, is that – honestly – I’m afraid. Not so much for myself, but for my kids. I’ve already beat myself up in the past over choices I’ve made for them (and to be honest, still do fret) that I’ve disadvantaged them by being too lax.  I don’t want to make the wrong decision, leaving them ‘behind’ in some way. It’s a constant internal struggle to know when to push them, when to accept the competitive drive of the world around me and teach them to ‘keep up’, and alternately when to help them learn to pull back. It’s SO HARD to strike a balance between wanting to see them succeed, and yet just allowing them to be who they are and enjoy life without forcing them to be driven by all the messages the world around them is clamoring about. 

But I also realize, if I want them to learn balance, I know I must first figure out some semblance of it myself.

I will confess right now – I don’t have a magic answer. So if you were skimming to find some grand revelation, I’m very sorry to disappoint. You can bail on reading this now if you like. All I have to offer is to share with you what I’m learning and doing to slowly sort out how to take control of my own internal turmoil, and thus, trying to find ways to help my children navigate the same. It’s all a work-in-process.

I will say this…I’m finding it rarely comes from an attempt at some one-fell-swoop, major life-overhaul. Which can be a bit of a relief. It’s not a mountain to be scaled, but rather, a path to be chosen. Daily.

path

It seems to be more about being in tune with myself, and staying connected and sensitive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in all the little, day-to-day situations. It seems to be about learning to acknowledge and trust my gut on the little things. Sorting out, one-by-one, when to give a “yes” or a “no”. And accepting that “no” is not only acceptable…but even beneficial.

Not that knowing this makes it any easier. (No one claims ‘simple’ means ‘easy’, right?) Saying no to the smallest things can sometimes still cause me to be wracked with guilt. Papers come home from school daily about every club, event, ‘special day’, sport and other activity known to humankind. I can barely keep up. I don’t even want to. I’ve pretty much gotten okay with accepting that this doesn’t make me a ‘bad’ parent (though occasionally I still battle that June Cleaver-ish, ‘perfect mom’ voice in my head). I am, however, realizing, the more I can be at peace with not putting every expectation in the world on my OWN shoulders, the more I can help my kids learn to navigate the barrage as well, in a way that equips them to make healthy choices for themselves.

I don’t have to DO IT ALL.

They don’t have to do it all.

Instead of looking at life’s ‘demands’, I’m trying to shift to seeing life’s ‘options’.

It’s like learning to approach life similarly to how I approach a buffet. I don’t have to eat every single food put out. Ironically, such an array of options never causes me stress. I am never wracked with guilt about passing on mushrooms or brussel sprouts or stewed tomatoes, because…eww. I don’t need to weigh and debate about their ‘goodness’ or nutritional value, or that they do in fact contain something beneficial to my health, so maybe I should, out of obligation, say yes. I simply don’t like them, therefore, I’ll choose to get my nutrients elsewhere.

Many life choices, really, are much the same. I don’t need to feel guilty (and neither do you!) over saying no to joining the PTA, not being a homeroom mom, or booster club member. Last year I felt great about saying yes to helping administer weekly spelling tests in my son’s classroom. This year, it’s a different season for our family, and I’m not making the same level of commitments there that I did in the past. And I’m confident that is the best choice for our family for right now. Maybe next year will be a different story entirely.

Yes, I’ve definitely made progress is the area of ‘slacking’. (Said tongue-in-cheek of course. Saying no does NOT mean slacking!! Don’t you believe it for a minute!!) And especially when it comes to sifting through stuff on the elementary school level. Goodness, people…I seriously used to stress over every book fair, pajama day and holiday party. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve managed to parent one child successfully through graduation that has helped me to realize…and can I please share this nugget of truth with you…in the long run, some things JUST. DON’T. MATTER.

Seriously. Not in the least. Zero long-term effect, I promise.

This kid likes to do crazy-hair day? Great! Pink hair it is! That one doesn’t feel at all comfortable with wearing his Mario Bros. PJ’s for all to see? That’s cool, buddy. You don’t have to! (And to be honest with you, I don’t see the point either.) Really, I’ve becoming much more aware that’s it far more important to tune-in to each of my kids…their personalities, their needs, their talents…and just go with it. We don’t all, always, for every occasion have to be a ‘joiner’.  Sometimes, it’s just fine to say “no thanks”.

No pressure. No driving. Sometimes saying yes; sometimes no.

I think this is called living. I’m still familiarizing myself, so I’m not entirely sure.

I hope to, in the next days (weeks?) share some of the ways I’m learning to filter all the going, doing, choices and options. It seems that especially during the holidays all this craziness can go into hyper-mode. I’m on a mission to push back. And I thought I’d share with you some of the little ways that we are doing that, in our quest to thrive and not just survive this holiday season.

Hopefully you’ll also share with me some of the ways that you navigate the driven culture that we live in….or maybe (if you’re my friends from the Netherlands!!) how you manage to avoid it altogether! Goodness knows I need all the help with this I can get!!

photo credit

together

Last week I heard a speaker talk about the difference between the following scenarios:

Scenario 1:  You are having company over for dinner in just a few short hours. You need to bake some cookies to serve for dessert.

Scenario 2:  You have a relaxed Saturday at home with your children (or friend or spouse), and you think it would be a nice idea to bake some cookies together.

In both instances, you end up with cookies. However, the scenes play out in vastly different ways, don’t they?

In scenario one, the focus is on the end goal…cookies. You need a ‘thing’ to serve a ‘purpose’. Efficiency is of the utmost importance. The less distractions the better. Time is of the essence. It is likely if there is a child in the picture, that they will be shuffled off to do something ‘out of the way’ of where the real work is getting done.

But in scenario two, the focus isn’t so much about the product at the end, but rather the process in and of itself. Sure, the fact that there will be nice, warm cookies as a result is definitely a perk! But the interaction…the helping to measure, the accidental flour on the counter or egg on the floor, the licking the batter off of the spoon, the peeking in the oven to see if they are done yet…the doing-it-together…all of that IS the end goal. It’s about relationship. Spending time. Working together.

There’s something to be learned about God in these pictures, and it’s that God is totally and completely committed to us and to the process. From the beginning of time, up to and including the present, God has been about wanting to do everything WITH us. Not just for us; not in spite of us. He wants to do it together.

God isn’t making dessert for company. He’s not in a hurry. Time isn’t a pressure for Him. He’s got all the time in the world. (Literally. As in, “eternity”.)

Think about how, time and again, God has been, and continues to be, committed to partnership and process with us.

When He created a beautiful garden, and put the man and woman in charge of it all, He was interested in “together”.

When He sent Moses to Pharoah to say “Let my people go…”, He was interested in “together”.

When He chose to send the Messiah through a young girl named Mary, He was interested in “together”.

When Jesus multiplied the fish and the bread to feed the crowd, Jesus had the disciples bring the food to him, He blessed it, and told the disciples to distribute it among the people…because He was interested in “together”.

When God sent the Holy Spirit to enable his people…us… to go into the world to be ministers of healing, bringers of justice, tellers of Good News…He was interested in “together”.

God could just supernaturally have done any of these things, all by himself. He could be all about providing miracles with lots of “wow” factor that didn’t include anyone else at all…but He’s not so much interested in that. He’s interested in relationship. He’s interested in bringing us alongside of Him, in everything He does. That’s why Jesus told His disciples to come follow Him, learn His ways, do what He did.

There are so many lessons I can learn from this. Enjoy the process. Stop being consumed with efficiency and productivity, and take the time to bring someone along. Look for what God is doing, and try to discern where He is inviting me to partner with Him.

child-walking-with-fatherBut here’s the bottom line…when it comes to God, and others, slow down and be aware of “together”. After all, we were made for it.

 

photo credit

Creativity my fickle friend

Creativity is a fickle creature. Somedays I feel like I wake up and it springs upon me out of nowhere…similar to a Tigger-pounce onto pool ‘ol Winnie the Pooh.

Creativity says…“C’mon! Let’s go create! Let’s write, sing, paint…let’s do it all!! Ooh, did you think of this? Why don’t you make that?? So many ideas to be thunk up!!

Of course, those are usually the mornings when the To-Do list is a mile long, crowded with things that my brain tells me simply cannot be put off. There is that mountain of laundry that sprung up over the weekend, and bare cupboards that have been pillaged, and children that will want to eat again in just a few hours. (It doesn’t even matter what time it is…it’s a guarantee that in a matter of a few hours, they’ll be hungry again.) Groceries to be bought, rooms to be tidied, dog-hair laden floors to be swept, homework to be helped-with, practices to be takn-to-and-picked-up-from, budgets to be dealt with…and the list goes on and on.

And Creativity sort of hangs its head, and says “It’s okay. I understand.” And it quietly goes away.

SadTigger

I’m sad about seeing it drift off…but alas, my world is comprised of realities that simply must be attended to.  I mean, I’m a responsible adult.  I don’t have time to just always fit in playfulness, or non-necessities.  Those are “me-time” sorts of things, frivoloties, and are only allowable after all the important things are done.

Right?

The problem is…while the “realities” are tended to, and Creativity is never allowed in, my soul starts to become so very parched. I begin to feel like a long-distance runner on a scorching hot day, never stopping to guzzle a nice, long drink of refreshingly cool water.

And then, when a random, undemanding day does roll around, and I want to beckon Creativity to come back…it is seemingly nowhere to be found. I think, “Oh, I have a bit of time today! I should write something. Or maybe paint something. I could do a bit of redecorating, or maybe a Pinterest craft.” But somehow, there’s just no heart behind the idea. My mind grants permission…but the feelings needed to release Creativity’s passion just aren’t there. Where did Creativity go? Why can’t I muster it up? Maybe I offended it by never making it a priority. Do you think?

Like a child with a story from their day that they are excitedly wanting to tell at the most inopportune time, I think maybe I’ve responded “Just a minute…maybe later…” one too many times. After being put-off for so long, I think Creativity just responds “Nevermind.” Like when I disappoint my child and don’t grant that listening ear, I need to go back and apologize for not making space. I need to take a breath, sit down, and open my heart, mind and soul…and, in this case, beckon Creativity back. I need to affirm that I should…nay, that I must…not only embrace, but give priority to, that part of me that needs to be nourished and nurtured.

Still, Creativity cannot be forced. I can’t sit at a desk and decide to conjure it up. I can’t make a 5 step action plan of how I’m going to force it to come about. It must be wooed. It must be reassured that it is welcome, and wanted. It must be allowed to return in it’s own time, on it’s own terms. I need to make space for it, and when it comes, celebrate it.  I have found that when it’s welcomed, like a dear friend, it tends to return more often.

Today, there are chores to be done, responsibilities to be handled…the same as every day. But I sense that Creativity is tentatively glancing my way, feeling out whether it is welcome or not. It will take an act of intentionality, but I will choose to encourage it to approach. I will decide that, at least for today, all the other demands can be relegated to other days, other times. Because there’s nothing fickle about grocery lists or laundry piles. They are fixed. If I ignore them now, it’s a sure thing they WILL be there tomorrow. (You can trust me on this one!)

Creativity, on the other hand…maybe, maybe not.

I don’t want to take the chance of driving it away again.

So feel free, my fickle friend to come bounding back in, bombarding my mind, tickling my heart and refreshing my soul. I won’t turn you away. In fact…I’ve missed you so very much. Granted, sometimes you scare me a little bit, but I’m getting braver. So, let’s make up. I promise to be kinder and to pay better attention to you. Let’s see what together we can do.

ebenezer

“Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by thy help I’m come…”

Um…what??

These are words to an old hymn, ‘Come Thou Fount’, that I grew up singing. For most of the time I sang it, I had images of cranky old Ebenezer Scrooge, and wondered why we were singing about him in church. And how am I raising him? What does it have to do with help? (Are we talking about the transformed Scrooge at the end of the story? Because I know he became helpful then…) And what on earth does ‘hither’ mean??

But, as many things in life that we ponder as children, understanding came to me as an adult.

Merriam-Webster defines an ebenezer this way…

a commemoration of divine assistance”.

It comes from the book of Samuel, chapter 7:

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Jeshanah, and named it Ebenezer; for he said, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.”

It is a word created from a combination of two Hebrew words… “eben”, meaning stone and “ezer” meaning help. (Which, as a side note, is a very beautiful word, also used by God in Genesis when He said it wasn’t good for man to be alone, and decided He would create a “help” for him…an “ezer”…the woman. But that will be another post entirely.) ;)

So quite literally, ebenezer is a “stone of help”.

Essentially, it’s a remembrance of God’s faithfulness and goodness. A visual aid to remind us of where we’ve been, and how far we’ve come.

The idea of the ebenezer has become an important one to me. I love having reminders around me of God’s goodness and faithfulness, and in fact, I need them. I am encouraged when I look around and can say…

Oh, yes…God did that! Oh, wasn’t that such a huge blessing? Oh…and that…that was a painful time…I’m just glad God brought us out of that one alive!”

We need reminders, visual and otherwise, because sometimes we can get caught in the undertow of life, and we need a focal point. We need something to fixate on, and choose to center ourselves around.

I don’t know if you have ever been in a birthing class…and if you have you may remember (and if not, well, this is what they tell you)… “Choose a focal point.” They advise that you focus… completely zone-in on…one specific thing, and just. breath.

It’s what gets you through the most intense moments of the delivery process. It’s what helps you to muster the strength you need to push through. It’s what, essentially, keeps you from losing your….uh…marbles.

This, to me, is also the point of an ebenezer. You choose, quite purposefully, where to place your focus. Sure, life is swirling around. Sure, there’s pain. Sure, stuff hurts….a freakin’ lot!!

But I…we…like Samuel, can choose to remember…. “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”

Last summer my husband and I celebrated our 20th anniversary with trip to Florida. (Actually, we went almost a year late, so it was really 21 years; all the more reason to celebrate!) While we were on the beaches there, I collected shells.

Now, while I am a beach lover, I am not normally a shell collector. I’m the mean mom who makes the kids dump the buckets of them before we head home, because I don’t want the sand all over the van. Or, I’ll concede somewhat… “OK, you may keep your TWO favorite….the rest stay!”

But last year was different. It wasn’t just our normal vacation…it was a special, celebratory trip. We were honoring our marriage, the ways our relationship has grown, and the trials God has brought us through.

I wanted an ebenezer.

ebenezer shells

And so, simply, this jar of shells is my ebenezer. I love to look at it, and think of the memories of the time we spent together. I feel grateful for my husband, and for the journey we’ve shared. I am reminded by this visual to give thanks…and to keep on going.

Where do you have an ebenezer…and have you ever thought of it as such? Where could you use one? Is there an area of life…a relationship, a trial, a worry or fear…that you could use some help in being reminded how God has already been faithful…and how He will continue to be?

I would encourage you to go ahead and create some sort of ebenezer today. Give yourself a practical, tangible reminder…a focal point…to help you remember to breath, and just keep on keepin’ on. Put it someplace where you will see it regularly, like your table, dresser, or even the bathroom. (This is where my jar currently resides.) And when you see it, think…

Thus far the Lord has helped us.”