Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Trying So Hard

Life the last few months has been somewhat of a vise.   My default reaction to all the various pressures is to try harder.  It's okay; I can just stay up later, use my daytime hours more wisely, be more on top of everything!

Give me a house that needs remodeling, two small children two and under, church commitments, relationships, and the hamster on the wheel starts racing madly.  Turns out, a million variables that I can't control AT ALL makes me want to do nothing but try to control them all.  And pull my hair out.

I'm a perfectionist, and seasons like the one we're in shine me up to my perfectionist best.  (Or worst.) I've not always been this way; in fact, ask my mom if she ever thought her nine year old would be classified as a perfectionist, and she would laugh.  But somewhere along the way - senior year of high school or junior year of college or somewhere in between - I started wanting to get everything right. Perfect, as it were, and there you go.

The fall-out is slow to come.  At first, I believe my craziness is actually changing things and working for me to achieve my (ridiculous) ends.  But God is gracious, and hallelujah, the light comes.  No, my craziness is not doing anything but boiling up tension in the relationships I value most.  It's teaching my daughter to freak out over tiny circumstances, because that's what she sees her mama doing.  It's creating an atmosphere of stress, where anxiety and discontent fall like raindrops all around.

In my Lenten devotion today, I read the words of George Matheson.

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe
that in thine ocean depths its flow
may richer, fuller be.

That's hope for the heart that tries too hard, isn't it?  Jesus doesn't let me go, even in my grossest, most pitiful state.  He welcomes me, weary and worn, into His rest.  I'm trying so hard to create a life I perceive as perfect, but this life?  It isn't even mine to begin with.  Jesus builds his Kingdom on paradoxes, and here is one I have forgotten: the life surrendered is far, far better than the life held tight.

It's not enough that I try harder.  It's never enough.  The same exhausting routine amped up a few notches only produces more exhaustion.

But there's Jesus, and He's saying, "I am enough."  His words are a freedom I want to receive.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Winter Blues

I've found a way to make the winter blah months speed by.

January and February just drone on, don't they?  Two out of the last three winters, I have been newly pregnant, and believe me, being sick through the darkest, coldest season of the year just helps cheer it up tremendously.  So, this year, since I feel like a normal person and can eat without throwing up, I'm already scores of points ahead.  But that's not my secret.

No, the way to make time fly is to set ambitious house renovation goals that must be done by the end of February because you have friends visiting.  (These friends, as all good friends, could care less if our house projects are finished when they come, but it's been very helpful motivation to pretend as if they care a great deal.)

That is how, on February 15, I find myself wishing that February were, oh, maybe 54 days long instead of 28.  And I have never before said that.

We've been working on our house for what feels like an indeterminably long time, which is a little ironic, considering I just spent three paragraphs convincing you that time was a wisp.  When we have to turn down hanging out with friends because we feel compelled to work on the house, our friends give a knowing nod, "Ohhh, the house."  And we understand; we have been saying we have to work on the house for so long, I'm sure they are convinced by now that what we really do is stay at home and play Candy Crush instead.  (Is Candy Crush still a thing?)

The last two and a half years we've spent remodeling bring forth a few ironclad conclusions:

1.  Aaron is such a hard worker.  He has taught himself all manner of skills and has worked tirelessly and uncomplainingly.
2.  I will always choose form over function, and Aaron will always choose function over form.
3.   This will be our first and last house remodel.  Chip and Joanna Gaines, we are not.

Also, (and this is getting its own paragraph as I'm reluctant to classify it as "ironclad") remodeling brings out the crazy in me.  I find myself saying awful, ridiculous things.  Those doors were supposed to be INSET!  Why is this wall patched like this?  I REALLY WISH we could have made the new floorboards staggered.  (This said multiple times after Aaron had already explained to me there was no possible way to stagger the new boards save ripping up the entire floor.)

Please take this moment to reread #1 and to marvel anew at the patient wonder my husband is.

Needless to say, we're weary and tired.  We're ready to turn in the tools and have a life again.
When next February rolls around, we will not even care if it feels like the longest, dreariest month ever.  We're going to be wearing cozy sweatpants, curled up on the couch with popcorn and a movie. Every single night.

I promise I won't once mention the floorboards.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Where the Sun Is a Memory

It's been a little over two years since my uncle died.  In the days since his death, I have thought of him often.  He cared so deeply for the people he loved.  I think his intention left a deep and long impression on many.  On me, certainly.

The day after Dave died, I stood in front of my kitchen window.  It was late afternoon, and the sun blazed in those west-facing panes, a welcome warmth at the bitter end of January. Beams piled on top of me, ray after ray of heat permeating my cold skin and sinking into my bones.  This song by All Sons and Daughters was playing on the iPod.  I began to cry.  Sob, really.  In a beautiful, other-worldly way, it felt like I was being given a small picture of the light and radiance Uncle Dave was standing in.  He was with Jesus.  He was with the actual, physical reality of Christ, his faith finally replaced by sight.

Revelation says that heaven has no need of the sun, for the Lamb is the lamp (Revelation 21:23). How can we even imagine such a brightness, we who use the sun to measure our days and nights, our seasons, our planting?  The orb that enables life on our planet is the only image we possess to imagine the luminance ahead.  Yet the only light we know is a dim derivative of what's coming.

"Will there be a victory?  Will you sing it over me?"  The iPod sang on, and in that hot square of sunlight I knew all was well with my Uncle.

Indeed, there is a victory, and Dave knows it now.  All around him, over him, the new song of the redeemed rises to the throne of the King.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


Last night I was upstairs painting our closet doors. Aaron was fitting together plumbing parts in the bathroom, and I was in the corner of the bedroom with a well-worn brush.  Our closet doors cost us absolutely nothing because my dad is the Salvage King.  When the State Farm Insurance office in our town decided to raze its building, Dad asked the owner if he could go by and save some things out of it.  I'm not sure of the exact amount of treasure Dad amassed from that foray, but I do know that our closet doors and a good portion of our bedroom trim were among the spoils.

Salvaging is in Dad's blood.  If there's something free, and that something holds the potential of someday, possibly, remotely proving itself useful, that something is going in Dad's garage.  He loves yard sales, and I remember he used to take me and my brother to dig around in the college dumpsters where hasty students, in their hurry home, threw all manner of perfectly good stuff.  He's never above curbside picking.  Last week, my parents drove to Kansas City to visit my brother, and as my mom later related their trip, she said, "Your dad was looking on the free section of the KC Craigslist before we left, and I'm not sure why." Mom, we know why dad was looking on the free section.

The depths of his garage have also provided us with door hinges, an antique doorknob that matches the rest of our doorknobs, roof tar, a ceiling fan, two Craftsman porch columns...I could go on.  It's amazing.  I'm telling you, if you need a dogsled, or a 1958 Studebaker part, or a Egyptian mummy - go.  Now.  You will find it in Paul's garage.

Dad sees possibility where others see detritus.

And so, last night, easing white paint onto doors that were destined for the landfill, I thought about my Dad.  And I thought about God.

It's a risky comparison to make, because I don't want to sound like a story you'd find in Chicken Soup for the Soul.  But Dad and his salvage heart make me think of God and His salvage heart.

Suspend your disbelief with me and dare to believe the impossible: that God takes the crud and junk and trash of our lives and turns it into good.  No, really.  It's not a slogan for a Christian t-shirt (God Loves Junkin').  It's true.  All the things that feel like too much, the things that have plagued us for too long, the wasted years, the yawning fears, the dying hopes, the regrets, the sullied depths that no one sees but us.

He collects them all. And He wants to redeem every single one.  His is a salvage of the greatest imagining - nothing in this sad, heavy world is beyond his touch of redemption.  

God has transferred those who love Him into the kingdom of His beloved Son (Colossians 1:14).  In His Kingdom, nothing is wasted.  Nothing goes under the blade of the bulldozer.  He's using every bit of it, for our good, for His glory.

In a world where we toss all manner of things - ugly things, old things, worn out things - God is never ready to dispose of us.  He makes beauty from ashes, and it's hard to think of a better salvage than that.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

What These Streets Need

On Sunday morning, we walked out to our car to discover papers and CDs strewn all over the passenger seat.  My first thought was annoyance.  "Aaron left something on my seat again!" Then, remembering we'd been out late the night before and Aaron would have had no time between then and now to rifle through the glovebox, I realized someone had been in our car.  We hadn't locked it, so whoever it was didn't have to enter forcibly, but they took the fortuity of an open door to dig into our glovebox and trunk and to swipe the odd change in the cup holder.  

It's not the first time we've had something stolen from our carport.  The last item was of considerable more worth than my quarter for Aldi.  But this instance rankled me more, so much so that my concentration during church was shot.  As we sang, I thought about how maybe I wanted to build a privacy fence instead of a picket fence.  Getting to know our neighbors be darned.  During the sermon, I worried our house would be ransacked while we sat placidly in rows.

It's hard to love your neighbor when your heart is full of fear.

Two little girls live next door to us.  A vivid assortment of plastic toys dot their front yard, dropped, forgotten, never corralled back into order.  I have seen a portion of the heartache that happens behind that white siding, and yet still, I begrudge the trash that drifts over into our yard.  Nearly every day when the school bus drops off the oldest girl, she runs to our front porch and knocks on the door.  If I tell her that we can't play today, she wallops on the glass until I am afraid it will break.  The days she comes in, she wants every snack in our cupboard and tells my daughter we do not have enough toys.

As the clock inches to three every afternoon, I feel anxiety rise up in my chest.  I know the bang, bang, bang on our door is coming.  I don't want to give up my quiet afternoon to referee toy quarrels. I don't have time to be a vending machine; there is laundry to do!

It's hard to love your neighbor when your heart is full of resentment.  

 If I showed you the unedited script of my mind, you would find a wish that we could move our charming old house to a nice, new neighborhood, where the inhabitants are soundly middle class.  No needy children hanging around.  Alarm systems aplenty.  You would find desires to hide, impulses to insulate, plans to retreat.  You would uncover so many, many things that are not who I want to be, not who Jesus asks me to be.

This is the thing about who Jesus asks us to be - it's simultaneously so simple and so difficult.  It's simple because the complex labyrinth of law is gone.  To please the heart of God we need only concern ourselves with two things.  Love the Lord your God.  Love your neighbor as yourself.

It's hard because love requires denial, sacrifice, surrender.  It's hard because I really, really love myself and the things I want.  When love inevitably asks of me to give someone else that same attention, time, and care, I resist.

We moved into this neighborhood because we got a neat house for a steal.  We had hopes that our renovation would spur on other spiff-ups, that ours would be the first in a series of street updates. "Look here!  Your house has potential too!"  But, instead, God is using our neighborhood to remodel my heart.  Moving a beam here, opening up a room there, showing me the truth of the castles I'm prone to build: plenty of room for me and little for Him.

I want a pretty bungalow and a undisturbed life, and yet Jesus reveals my ambition is not nearly enough.  It's a respectable block of land I have my sight set on, and He's building a Kingdom without end.  I unroll the blueprint, and I find the plans are scribbled top to bottom with one instruction - to love, love, love the people around me straight into His waiting arms.