Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Good Mom

This article was originally posted in Do South Magazine. 

I am a good mom.
Ten years ago, in the middle of the night on a Wednesday in November, my first son was born. I was nineteen years old. The next day, I changed a dirty diaper for the first time and prayed that there wouldn’t be some sort of baby test in order for me to take him home. Because I just knew I would have failed it.
This spring, I gave birth to my fifth son. I can now change a diaper one-handed in the dark without waking the baby. The contrast
between my capabilities now and then are as stark as day and night. But it has taken the last ten years of trial and error for me to be able to say that I am a good mom.
When Eve was cursed in Genesis, she was told that her pain in bringing forth children would be greatly multiplied. I’ve given birth without pain medication. I’ll be the first person to tell you it hurts. Badly. But I’ve kind of always felt like Eve’s curse went further than the labor and delivery room. Physical pain is a breeze compared to the hurt of failing our kids. The crushing weight of mom guilt is known by all mothers. Feeling like we aren’t enough is, hands down, one of the universal struggles all moms deal with. It’s suffocating sometimes. It never fully goes away. And it is ingrained in us all.
So what do we do? We carry around this insecurity like a stone. We worry constantly and then turn to our magic mirror, the Internet. Here we can post the moments we are proud of, pleading to be told that we are doing well. We can smooth over and romanticize our lives. We are all guilty. But at the end of the day, if we cannot say “I am a good mom,” and believe it, it isn’t enough. I want you to be able to say it. But first you absolutely have to believe it.
How? Well, this is what has worked for me:
Stop Comparing
Comparison is the thief of joy. You cannot take your reality and compare it to someone else’s highlight reel. It is unrealistic and destructive.
Understand that the lives you see on your favorite blog or on
Instagram of that girl you went to high school with have the ugly omitted. You know what I’m talking about. They aren’t snapping a picture while their toddler has a meltdown at the grocery store. They don’t post about how much they love their hubby even though he chose to go fishing on their anniversary, or how their fat jeans won’t button anymore. Even when people share everything from their dinner to the book they’re reading, they aren’t generally as forthcoming with their ugliness.
This rule goes both ways though. Do you catch yourself noticing other mothers and thinking, Well at least I’m doing better than her? Do you find yourself bolstered when you DO catch a glimpse of someone’s weakness? Stop. You cannot find your affirmation in the shortcomings of others. It may feel good for the moment, but in the end, it will only damage your confidence. Build other mothers up. If you see a shortcoming, offer to help. And pray.
Get Real
Last year I challenged myself to a photo project where I took photos of my kids every day. It was so rewarding and really made me realize how guilty I was of only posting the things online that made me look good. I decided I didn’t want to be that mom anymore. So I started sharing photos that would have otherwise been unworthy. I posted photos with dirty floors, food-caked faces and the kitchen table littered with convenience food packages. I started to share my real life. And people were moved by it. They found my life beautiful, and I felt so encouraged by the compliments I received because they were genuine. They were based on the truth, not just some pretty picture I’d composed to hide the real mess.
Watch Your Words
What you say matters. The things you say to your kids and about your kids have long reaching fingers. Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” Obviously, this means we should be lifting up and encouraging our kids. But it also means we should be saying positive things about them even when they can’t hear. How we feel and choose to act is greatly affected by what we choose to speak. Praise your kids at every chance you get.
Kids’ Faults are an Overflow of Their Strengths
For years I prayed for patience. Every single day. I’d beg God to give me the patience to love my boys better, to not lose my temper with them. I’d end the day feeling defeated and then I’d pray some more and just hope the day would come when it would stick.
My oldest son, Jackson, is obsessive about details. I am your typical right-brained creative person. I’m unorganized, unscheduled and ok with that. But Jackson likes everything in order, everything planned. For the longest time, his need to have things a certain way completely wore me out. I’d get frustrated with him. He’d get frustrated at me. Then one day, God showed me something life changing. I realized that I can always count on Jackson to do a job well. He follows directions. I trust him to do what I ask of him.
Generally, a person’s weaknesses are an overflow of their best traits. A passionate person can move mountains but can be painfully bullheaded once he has his mind set on something. Creative people can make incredible art, but are often completely incapable of order. A thorough and dependable worker often struggles with being a perfectionist.
Somehow, realizing this about each of my sons has helped me cope with their faults. It has given me patience that I never had before. Because when I start to get frustrated, I just think, If he didn’t have this struggle, he wouldn’t be the amazing boy he is.
Be Yielding When it Matters
A few nights ago, I was lying in bed reading and I heard what promised to be a Nerf gun war of epic proportions being plotted in the basement. It was bedtime. I got up and started to go call for lights out and send them to their bedrooms. But I didn’t. I lay back down and listened to their laughter. The mess was huge. Bedtime was late. And it was worth it. They will remember that night. They will remember enjoying each other and their dad. Sometimes memories are worth bending the rules.
Invest in the Eternal
Psalms 127: 4 – 5 says, “Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.”
Right now, I cannot know who my sons will be. I don’t know where they will go or what they will do or even what they will choose to stand for. But if they are truly arrows in my quiver, I know what kind of archer I have been. I know that I have trained my eye on the target of eternity.
Last summer, we couldn’t afford to go on a big vacation. We spent a lot of time together at home, doing fun things locally, but as friends posted photos of white, sandy beaches and Mickey Mouse, I started to get that creeping feeling of letting the boys down.
My second son, Asher, accepted Christ a couple of months before and had been begging to declare it by baptism. At the end of the summer, we obliged.
The moment he came up out of the water, his face lifted up in a beaming smile, his little fists triumphantly aloft, nothing else mattered. It was payment for our investment. And though I don’t have a lot of money and they will miss out on some things, they’ll have Jesus. It’s more than enough.
Forgive Yourself
Please do not mistake my advice for something that it isn’t. This isn’t a declaration of being perfect. I still mess up more than I like to admit. I had a hormonal breakdown less than forty-eight hours ago in which I actually said to my husband, “I hate everything. Everything sucks and I am the world’s worst.” Dramatic, I know. I can laugh about it now, but the truth is no one is perfect. Be assured that you will fail. If we strive for perfection, we might as well hang up our hats now. The standard of motherhood cannot be perfection. It has to be love.
Love gives grace for mistakes. Love embraces faults because they go hand in hand with strengths. Love recognizes that memories are more important than rules. Love wants what is best, even when it isn’t easy. Love doesn’t care about material things. Love is fierce, forgiving. Love is always, always enough.
Remember, while we love our kids immeasurably, they love us too. Even when you do not feel like you are a good mom, I bet if you asked your babies, they would say that you are not only good, I bet they would say that you are the best mom in the world.
And I am sure of one thing. They believe it.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Cute Jeans- One Year Later.

It’s been a year since the world turned upside down. 

It’s funny how little details become concrete on days like that day.
I remember standing in the church lobby on the morning of April 27, 2014 talking to someone about something that seemed important at the time. My eyes landed on April. She was across the room, signing animatedly in conversation with someone. And I remember the fleeting thought, Cute jeans.

That night, when Jeremiah called me and told me her boys were gone and that he wasn’t sure if she and Daniel would live to the morning, that flippant thought about jeans kept popping in my mind. 

The next day, I heard she might never walk again, and that mental image of her standing, ministering, began to set into concrete. It became permanent in my memory. When I visited her in the hospital, she began to recount the storm. “My jeans got sucked off of me,” she said. She wasn’t even horrified by it. And that image came back. Cute jeans.

365 days ago I woke up with a temporary view on things. Loss was unimaginable. Serving God was the side dish to the main course of regular life. 364 days ago, I woke up and the whole world was flipped, as destroyed as the houses on Cody Lane.
When life comes crashing down, everything changes. Normal always reemerges, but she looks different. She has scars on her face and a ferocity for God that she didn’t have before.

One year ago today, my focus got reset from now to eternity. In the days that followed, I became intimately acquainted with the goodness of God. I was so mad at Him that night. I was like a child, throwing a kicking fit in the arms of my Father, holding my breath until I became light headed. But He held me through it. And He held April too. He’s still holding us.

April walked again. Sooner than they thought she would. Daniel was dead on arrival to the hospital but today he is alive, cracking jokes through a heaviness, pushing through. Learning the new normal, sitting in a pew with a proud and pained smile, pulling his phone out to record April as she shares their story.

This has been the most ugly and beautiful year I’ve ever lived. It has been a year of feverish prayers, of bravely standing in front of crowds and sharing a story that breaks their hearts and shows the faithfulness of God and a woman who leans on Him. It has been a year of worshipping Him with abandon. Of throwing ourselves headlong into His plan. 

People ask me all the time, “How’s she doing?”
It’s hard to answer in a few words. I usually settle for something simple, something people can wrap their head around. “She’s better than you could imagine”, “She’s inspiring”, “She’s still the cheerleader.”

The truth is she’s a mom that wakes up every morning without her kids. And just like every mother who has buried a child, who has buried TWO children, ALL of her children, she probably doesn’t even want to get out of bed a lot of mornings. 

But she does. Because the 50 years she has left on this earth seem short when focused on the eternity she will have with Jesus and with Cameron and Tyler. So she runs the race with the intention of winning it. 

When she sits in the nail salon and they ask how her feet got so scarred, she tells them about that concrete day one year ago and about how her boys went home to God. When women approach her with their own heartbreak and loss, she prays with them and imparts her peace and her heart genuinely hurts for them as if it doesn’t already hurt enough for her own sons. Every single day, April wakes up and hangs her flesh on the cross with Jesus. She gives up the desire to give up because it wouldn’t serve anyone, it wouldn’t honor the lives of her sons. She puts on the armor of God, and she says “What do you have for me today, Lord?” 

I would never have chosen this. The pain that bubbles out of my boys when they remember their best friends, the memories that sneak up on Jeremiah from the horrors he saw that night, and my own guilt of having all of these living sons while she has none are things that have come with the new normal. But I just look at April. I always tell her she is my perspective on what matters. And what matters is…nothing really, except for God, telling people about His love and goodness. Loving people like He said to, giving generously, following fearlessly. Sharing the gospel. Sharing hope. Submitting to a plan you don’t understand because you trust that He is sovereign. 

I hate the cost of it. I hate what it took to set us running. To make us fierce. 
I hate that normal hurts so much, especially for them. 
If I’m being honest, given the chance I’d go back in a heartbeat. Call her, invite them over for hot dogs and Mario Kart. And we could have just held their hand through rebuilding a house and there wouldn’t have been a funeral. 

But I can’t. So we run. We burn. We spread fire. 
And when I hear her talk about her pants getting sucked off my 200 mph winds, it doesn’t jar me anymore. I wistfully remember the thought, Cute jeans. And I thank God for the purpose we have now. I thank Him for the beauty He has traded for those ashes.

And I wake up on April 27 and push forward. 

Whatever is next, God. I’m in. I’m following you. I’m holding on to nothing. 
Where ever you lead, I know that You are good. 

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Day

This piece originally appeared in Do South Magazine. Follow the link for more of my musings and to subscribe to this beautiful publication. 

Years ago, when my two oldest sons were toddlers, we stumbled upon a park. It was spring, and I wish they had been older when we found it. As it was, they were one and two respectively, and so I am alone in my memories of the place. 
We’d gone to visit their dad at the jobsite he was working on, a federal prison being built in Wartburg, Tennessee. It was an armpit of a town lodged in the middle of the great Smoky Mountains, with two small diners and an Arby’s, broken down roads and a population that knew each other by name. We’d arrived too early or too late, I don’t remember which, and as a result we ended up with time to kill. So I drove off from the half-built prison with my boys in the backseat, the windows down, set to explore. 
It was the kind of day and the sort of scenery that makes for lovely postcards. My white Pontiac weaved through winding roads, passing lush pastures. I stopped for a turtle to finish crossing to safety. Everything was blooming, and my soul drank it up, thirsty after years of apartment living. 

Then, without warning, there was a park. 
Of course, I pulled in. I didn’t know the extraordinary nature of what I’d found, taking it as just a welcome distraction. A park is, after all, exactly what a mother of two small children with time to waste needs. It wasn’t until I started to unbuckle the car seats that I felt the chill in my spine. As soon as we stepped off the blacktop, some unexplained awareness crawled under my skin. The place was alive. 
The playground itself was tucked at the foot of a steep embankment on one side and a very tall, sloping, wooded mountainside on the other. The light, being filtered down through many leaves, had a greenish quality. It held no eeriness though, only an opulent ripeness. You could almost bite it, chew it, feel it tickle your throat like juice of a green pear or the freshness of a just-picked cucumber. 
Butterflies swarmed up from a low creek that ran through the bottom of a deep trench. We crossed over a creaking, wooden bridge that spanned it and my sense of wonder grew. I distinctly recall the smell of rotten leaves, like compost and earthworms, and the faint sweetness of honeysuckle. It was the kind of smell quite different from any food, but that somehow possesses the power to deceive a mouth into watering. 
My children, oblivious to the feeling reverberating inside me, made a beeline to the slide, a yellow plastic thing with mold and moss in every crevice. More butterflies, maybe a hundred, fluttered in the air above the equipment while ladybugs creeped along the surface and brightly colored lizards scattered to the underside. 
The sound of birds echoed back and forth between embankment and hillside, the sort of sound that is so solid and subtly powerful it lulls the deepest, soul-bound places of a person into submission. A place we forget we have, jarred by traffic noises and alarm clocks. A place hungry for the sound of a life-filled mountain park in the spring. 
I’m not sure how long we stayed. Until the knees and seats of jeans were stained with green life and the underneaths of nails were dirt caked. Until the demands for snacks became louder than the birds. And we left. We loaded into the car, changed diapers and opened juice boxes and as abruptly as we’d stumbled upon the place, we were driving away from it, headed to a prison and an apartment and clean, regular life. 
I never went back. 
What if someone power washed the life off of the slide, and what if the butterflies had moved on? What if I returned, hungry to taste spring, and found only just a park? It was too risky. 
I did think about it often, though. When the concrete became overwhelming, I’d visit the park in my mind. When winter felt endless, I’d remember the greenness, the sounds and the smells of that living place. I didn’t talk about it much, because I couldn’t impress upon my audience what it had done to me, to just be in a place so fully alive. 
My world has changed so much since then. 
Our homestead, according to Google, is 499 miles from Wartburg, Tennessee. It is as far as the moon from apartment living, from being starved of growth and fresh life. And while I remember the day I came across the mountain park and the way it quenched my soul, it has been a very long time since I craved it. 
It took me a long time to pinpoint it, but what I felt that day was more than just a thankfulness for spring. It was reverence for the creation of God. I remember when my life was so immersed in the man-made, it took a deliberate plan to escape it. 
Creation requires no seeking on an Arkansas homestead. I see it everywhere now, stumbling upon it in everyday places, always stopping to note the wonder. I don’t ever want to take it for granted, lest it lose its capacity to move my heart. 
Yesterday I found it in a box of peeping chicks that I picked up from the post office. I plunged my hand into the heap of wiggling, downy bodies, felt the tiny resonance of their chirps against my fingers. Their frailty is intimidating, but their intricacy is divine. 
I’ve found it in the soil of the garden, and in the way it feels beneath my feet. I’ve felt it in the thrill that comes with sprouting seedlings, watching their tender leaves unfurl to feast from the sun. I’ve felt it in the weight of tomatoes, under the skin of tart berries, and in the tight heads of asparagus shoots.
I have found it on my back porch in the morning. I listen to the birds in the trees, the geese in the pond across the street, the brassy donkey’s bray in the field next door, the rooster’s crow. I sit, with my Bible in my lap, while my coffee gets cool and my children fuss over cereal on the other side of the screen door, and I let the sound of nature and the Word work together to unbar my deep places, the demand-rattled pieces of my heart. 

I have found the feeling in the soft places behind the ears and under the chins of my infant sons. As our family has grown, one boy after the next, I’ve learned to savor the smell of them, the transparency of their skin and bow of their upper lips. And a few weeks ago, I carried home the brand new boy that would be my last. I laid him on the bed as the sun shone across it and imagined him a seed being planted in the fertile soil of our home. I prayed he would grow with the ferocity of that which I saw growing so many years ago in the mountain park. 

I thank God for the gift He has given me. He gave me a thirst for life, and opened my eyes to the beauty of it. He has given me a home to cultivate, to garden, to grow. And I leave the door open, always inviting people in. My hope, in truth, is that those who stumble through might find some inspiration here. I pray they might find what I found one spring day, years ago, in a mountain park. Wonder. Enchantment. Life. 
I pray it lodges in their soul a bit, quenches a thirst they didn’t realize they had. I pray it quells the churning in their spirit and that they feel the peace and the unmistakable mark of being in the presence of something fully living.
Maybe the walk of a wonderer is unique to me, but I don’t think so. I believe it is within the spirit of every man to be soothed by nature and to crave creation. I hope you find it this spring, either on your back porch or in an evening walk or at a lonely, unkempt playground. And when you stumble upon it, I hope you stop and let it make you feel small. That it might have a chance to quiet your soul before you move on to the next noisy, worldly thing. 
I hope you find your mountain park. 
And I hope you are never the same.

Monday, February 16, 2015

To Be Brokenhearted.

We are called to live in reflection of Christ.

He, who was completely broken. 
He, who went to great lengths to SAVE. 
From Heaven to Earth. From life to death. Back again. 
He, who held nothing back. 

He, who became COMPLETELY broken. 
Completely poured out. 

I tried to hold on to wholeness before. But God showed me that I could not be whole and still be wholly used by Him. There are only two sorts of hearts. 
Hard hearts or broken ones. 
Unusable or Pliable. 

And serving God always holds a promise of A BROKEN HEART. 
But allowing our hearts to harden holds a promise of straying. 

I laid in bed and wept last night for the brokenness and pain in the marriages around me. 
This pain that comes from hearts hardened to those whom vows have been said to. I see infidelity, insecurity, wandering in the wilderness looking for...what?
And lying in my own marriage bed, which has been redeemed from sexual sin, restored to covenant intimacy,  I wept. 


This is new to me. This compassion and hurt comes from a new obedience. To reflect Him that I might be empowered by Him. 

I wonder how a person can go so astray from righteousness. How can a marriage bed become so defiled? How can any man experience the power of God then choose sin instead?

The answer: a hard heart. 

The Israelites witnessed the plagues. The Passover. The parting of the Red Sea. 
They have been promised a land but were BLINDED, AFRAID and ultimately HARDENED by the giants occupying it. 

A hard heart leads to rebellion. 
A hard heart leads to life wasted in the wilderness. 
A hard heart landed Jonah in a whale's belly and ended his story on a bitter hillside. 
A hard heart blinded the Pharisee to the Messiah, standing flesh and blood in front of them. 
Hard hearts prevail in the proclaimed church today. 
Hard hearts boldly condemn homosexuals in the name of our broken, loving Savior then turn around and proclaim racist hate about presidents and protestors. 
A hard heart is a virus. 
A plague. 
It is the stronghold of pride. 
Of self righteousness. 
of selfishness. 

It is the opposite of Jesus. 

Hebrews 3:8 "Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion."
Hebrews 2:1 "Therefore, WE MUST PAY MUCH CLOSER ATTENTION to what we have HEARD, lest we drift away from it."

This is not a once on fix. 
This is a daily death. Our very nature is to be hard-hearted. 

Ephesians 4:18
Proverbs 28: 13-14
Matthew 13:14-15
Exodus 9:12
Mark 8:17

Hardened hearts! Hardened hearts! Hardened hearts!

We, even in a life-well of a church, are also in danger of complacency. Even if we can see sin and demons coming from a mile away, we are still in danger of a creeping, spreading virus of
 a hardened heart. 

If we desire the greatest of the gifts:
to prophesy, to lay hands, witness healing, perform signs and wonders- we must first seek Him to examine our hearts. We must cry out, moan and groan in our spirits for revival, REPENT. 
And daily partake in the brokenness of Jesus, allowing our own hearts to BREAK at the state of mankind. 

And in our own restored places, in our marriage beds and healed bodies, in our fertility and in our broken addictions, we must realize that the only wholeness God ever gives us is for the purpose of a stable ALTER to cry out from. To cry out in pain for the lost and shattered world we minister too. 

He gives us His wholeness so that we can have the stability to be broken. 
He gave us His son to show us that sacrificial brokenness is His design. 

There are two choices.
Hard hearts or broken ones. 
But there is only one that leads to repentance and revival. 
And the other leads to calamity, destruction, death and 
the neglect of salvation. 

He pours His gifts and power through His spirit unto us in such great measure only when we allow ourselves to be broken so that it might seep from our cracks and seams onto our thirsty world. 

Christianity is a corpse. Hardened by the rigor mortis of pride, of doctrine, of tradition. 
Of Pharisaical RELIGION. 
Bound in the chains they themselves hold with the unrelenting death grip of dead men who refuse to be made live again. 

We, the remnant, are the only hope for revival. For the life breath of our God and His Spirit to be breathed back into His Bride, we must BURN and BREAK with complete abandon. 

We must not hold onto any wholeness, any reserve. For when we allow even one small place of self-righteousness to remain in us, someone remains chained to that corpse. 

We cannot knowingly allow anything of the world to prevail in our life. There is no room and no time to harbor sin and choose bondage. Because this remnant will move on. 
You will miss your call. 
You will drift away. 
And it may be in a slow drift, but one day you stand the risk of raising your head and finding yourself a bedfellow to death. 
And that life has moved on to those who would receive her. 

Which brings us to the final point. 
This is not a solitary call. 

Hebrews 3:12-13- "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another everyday, as long as it is still today, that none of you may be HARDENED by the deceitfulness of sin. 

If our brothers are falling while we revel in the Holy Spirit, something is wrong. 

If marriages are failing around us while we tout of our own restoration, we don't deserve the wholeness we have been granted. 

There will always be free will. We will never have a perfect record. But we MUST exhort one another every. single. day. 
Without procrastination. 
Because we are running out of time. 

We must fan the flames in each other and in ourselves. 
We must BURN and BREAK and CRY OUT from our restoration for repentance and revival. 

We must pay much closer attention to that which we have heard. 

Then we WILL see a corpse revived. 
We WILL see the church return to her first love. 
We WILL get the revival we cry out for. 
When we cry out with broken hearts. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The View From Here

This post originally appeared in Do South Magazine.  
If life is a series of mountaintops and valleys, January has always been a valley month for me.  It’s bleak, forlorn, and bitter cold.
It is the evictor of December, of Christmas and festivities, of family time and long breaks from school. January starts well enough. It comes with glitter, champagne and kazoos. It makes big promises with midnight kisses and sparkling plans for new resolutions. But too often, all it has to follow up with is runny noses, colorless trees and a produce section full of gourds and out-of-season fruit shipped from somewhere warmer than here.
No, I have never cared much for January.
Last year was a hard year. It was a year of transitions. It was the sort of year you couldn’t pay me to relive, but even despite the struggle of it, I am thankful for it. I was saved in the fourth grade, baptized by water the day before I turned nine. I’m what you could call a lifetime Christian, a generational church-goer. But 2014 will forever go down as the year God got my attention.
It was during last spring, after two decades of walking with, dancing around and even running from my Savior, I met Him face to face. A tornado came crashing through our lives, destroying homes in Mayflower and Vilonia, Arkansas, and a family we loved. I sat on the front row of the saddest funeral I’d ever been to, crying not just at the loss of my sons’ two best friends but at the sound that was coming from their mother, April, who survived them. We were plunged into a valley. A deep and dark one, flooded with sorrow and littered with debris.
God does love a good resurrection story though, doesn’t He? It was out of that valley that my life was repurposed. He showed me direction, told me to scrap the plans I had and follow His plan instead. And I obliged. It was from the depths of that valley that God carried me to the highest mountaintop I’ve ever experienced. He showed His grace and the promise of His hope.
I think, too often, we try to classify the seasons of our life as good or bad by using the wrong scale. Whether a person is living for Christ or not, they will undeniably face trials and tribulations. Pain is not an indicator of a hard time. It is a promise of living in this broken world. The only difference in facing the unthinkable with Jesus is that we can have the hope to look past what is temporarily shattered around us and focus on what is set up in eternity. These are the moments that God takes us to the mountaintop. These are the moments that we get to see the view from where He sits.
But we don’t get to stay there.
Oswald Chambers wrote, “We are not made for the mountains, for sunrises, or for the other beautiful attractions in life — those are simply intended to be moments of inspiration. We are made for the valley and the ordinary things of life, and that is where we have to prove our stamina and strength. Yet our spiritual selfishness always wants repeated moments on the mountain. We feel that we could talk and live like perfect angels, if we could only stay on the mountaintop.”
Which brings us to now. Normally, I would spend this bummer month nursing my post-holiday blues. But this year, I know better. I have learned, at last, to appreciate the lulls in life, the Januarys. It would be easy to live on top of the mountain where faith is a given and the view is clear. But if we stayed there, our faith would become weak like an unused muscle. If we never had to strain our eyes through the fog of the valley, we would lose the ability to trust His path even when we can’t see the end destination. I don’t know about you, but I don’t ever want to lose that.
It’s funny the things that God brings us to, the way He uses our weaknesses to show His glory. This year, I will get the opportunity to speak to thousands of women.  The first time someone told me I should preach, I laughed. When God first started to show this purpose to me, I thought I was going crazy. “Surely not, God,” I thought. I am the girl who threw up before giving speeches in high school Oral Communications class. I am the introvert that takes five minute bathroom breaks during parties just to sit on the floor and feel like I can breathe again. But then another person said it, and another. And deep down I knew I would have to. Then the calls started coming in. Multiple conferences around the South asking to book my friend April and me to share our story from the tornado, our testimonies and our faith.
The thought of being in front of a crowd still makes my hands go clammy, but I can’t teach people that God always provides and then not believe it myself. If He is enough to get April through that storm, through that funeral where we said goodbye to her sons, He is enough to get me through the anxiety of speaking. This is an instance of walking into the fog, knowing God will lead me through. The only part I have to do is be willing to reflect Him.
On top of the exciting speaking engagements, this year our family will grow as we welcome our sixth child. His name will be Benjamin and I am counting down the weeks until we get to kiss his soft hair and smell his baby skin. Our little farm will also be growing. Garden plans and beehives and goat fences will be underway this spring. Chickens will start to lay and I may just wake up in the mornings and cry on the porch as I look out at this little dream of mine coming to fruition. We will continue to homeschool, to worship, to build up what we have been given. I can’t be sure exactly what 2015 will hold, because the view isn’t clear from here, but I am positive of one thing. We will be running the race set out for us. Holding strong in the ordinary every day.
Sometimes it’s hard. And most of the time I’m tired. There are days I feel so dried up and so far away from God. But He’s always there, waiting to be sought by me. Occasionally, I get a peek from the mountain. Occasionally, I am affirmed by people who have been blessed by words God gave me. Occasionally, I see His fingerprints or get glimpses at the intricacies of His plan. But a lot of the time, I’m standing in the fog. And that’s ok.
For the first time, I’m alright with January. Because even though the view from the valley is limited, I know there is so much to look forward to.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Patience and a Birthday Request

It's warm today. Mid-December and 69 degrees but a breeze with a bite is blowing through reminding me that we've got a long way to go until spring.  

This morning an underforecasted storm blew in and I woke up before the sun hearing Jeremiah wrangling boots out of the dark closet and muttering something exasperatedly about the weatherman and something about tools in the trailer and something about the darn rain. I went back to sleep.  

The older boys are at their dad's house along with a backpack full of their homeschool books. The baby boys are napping and Jeremiah has preoccupied himself with one of his projects now that the sky is blue again. The floor is in disarray and the dishes fill the sink, but I think I'll ignore it all and call this time mine. I think I'll sit here at my desk and listen to the wind howl by and feel the warm sun shining through the window and just write a while.   

Tomorrow is my birthday. 29. Still barely an adult by many standards, but somehow in my world as a young mother, these moments of solitude are so rare I don't remember my last one. It's funny how birthdays make us reflective, how warm days make us look ahead in anticipation, how quiet times make the loudness of everyday seem so much less overwhelming.   

I used to read a lot, back when I still had time for things like that.  When my grandmother passed, years ago now, I ended up with boxes of her books. I read all the time. Novels on top of novels. But then the third child came and then the fourth, and I'm happy to get 15 minutes alone with my Bible now. Occasionally, a title will call out to me from the shelf though. And I'll pick it up and forgo my stolen trips to Pinterest and Facebook for a few days and devour a book instead. Sneaking chapters the way mothers have to hide in the pantry if they hope to eat half a cupcake. Silly, the things motherhood brings us to.   

Yesterday I picked up a book I've read before. Animal, Vegetable, Mineral by Barbara Kingsolver.  Its just a story of a family, forerunners in the locavore food movement, that moved across the country to take up the call of homesteading. In hand with this passion, they challenged themselves to an entire year of eating locally. And so the story goes. Barbara (when I get attached to authors we gain first-name-basis status, in my head at least) is an author I love anyway. She's written multiple books that have moved me, back in my reading days that is. But this book....this manifesto towards food and a lifestyle I crave does something different. I'm halfway through it now, hence my cluttered floor and piled up dishes, and I feel this passion welling up.   

Maybe its just the timing. The birthday, the unseasonal warmth, the hours of unexpected peace today. But I like to believe nothing is wasted. I like to think everything is divine.   

I remember the last time I read this book. It was years ago, in a suburban neighborhood, in a house I was happy to call home. The idea of some level of food-sustainability was romantic at best. I fancied the idea of exclusively shopping at farmers markets and lining the porch with a container garden that would surely flourish. The next year my containers flopped. My tomato plants grew leggy and my squash blossomed and then wilted due to a lack of pollinators.   

Now though, as I write this, I hear a rooster crowing over the sound of the wind and the squeak of the whirlybird on the roof. He's my rooster. His name is Bob, dubbed by the kind stranger who gave him to me. He oversees a flock of laying hens that were my hearts desire for nearly a decade. And now I have them.   Hens may seem a silly thing to dream of. And it may be due to pregnancy hormones, but I wanted them so badly that I have now cried over more eggs than I'd like to admit.   

This summer was a whirlwind. At the start of it I found myself surrounded by boxes, with a flooded basement, in mourning after a tornado in a new-to-me house in the middle of rural nowhere. But at the end of it, I found myself at home, committed to homeschool with my husband alongside me, committed to homestead. It's a slow going process, but the 5-year-plan is so exciting and the 10-year-plan is enough to make my mind reel.   

There are setbacks, sure. There is never enough money and there is debt to be handled. There are unforecasted rainy mornings that breed lazy afternoons. But then there are also crowing roosters. There are glossy heirloom seed catalogs with somewhere to actually plant the seeds. There is rich dirt, freshly planted apple trees, wild blackberries, and surprise pecans. There are persimmons...everywhere. There is a squeaky whirlybird. Even when it's ugly and discouraging, it's what I prayed for.   

One point that Barbara touches on in her book is that the quality experience is worth waiting for. I teach this. I teach it in the form of abstinence to the young people I have worked with. I teach it to my children as they save their money for the toys they want. I repeat it to myself when faced with all the things I want to do RIGHT NOW. But I don't implement it how I should. Like I said, we have debt that came from not waiting. We have baggage that came from not waiting. And we have a pantry full of food that is bad for us that comes from not waiting. It strikes me now, on this reflective afternoon, how much we could benefit from just learning to practice patience. 

And I mean, really practice it.   

1 Corinthians 13 tells us, after all, that the very first defining trait of love is patience. We are bankrupt without love. We accept this as a truth, but then live in this impatient world conforming to it's habits and let its ways bankrupt us. Why is it so hard to just make do with what we have? Why is it so hard to just wait on God to provide, to heal, to implement His plan instead of ours. My name is Jessica. And I am terribly impatient. 

Like really, seriously impatient.   

So how do I get better? I'd like to say I could make some year long commitment to eating only local food or some fabulous plan to serve in a grandiose and sacrificial way. I have ideas and hopes to implement a very strict budget and a crack of dawn schedule that never leaves dishes in the sink at noon.   

But that is all based on what I can do. I've tried these big acts of self-restraint before and fallen short. Given up. Because I've always relied on my power. My strength. And my power is nil, my strength is worse. So I think I'll start with prayer. Which brings me to the point. Will you pray with me? A sweet friend asked me yesterday how to pray, and my first response was for energy and motivation to DO more, BE more efficient. Still about me.  

God has showed me my purpose and I have seen what holds me back: this mildly manic woman's tendency to run headlong into a dream and then fall flat at a lack of progress. Impatience, in short, to let hard work run its course.   

So pray for me to have a new heart. To be content. To be fulfilled by what God has provided NOW. To see His fingerprints even when I can't see the fullness of His plan. Would you pray for me, please, that I might not strive for my idea of perfection, but simply for a life that pleases God? Because I've read the Word. And really, when I read of the imperfect people after God's heart, they are exactly who I want to be; Esther with her boldness, Peter with his passion, Paul with his tunnel vision for Christ, Ruth with her faithfulness and even the unnamed Proverbs 31 woman and her steadfast hand in raising her home.   

And I, for now, am going to go check in on my chickens. And then do the dishes, by which time naptime will be over and it will be time to start practicing patience. And so the story goes...