Category: Struggle

Christmas Blues

 

welovelogo

My daughter was playing with the felt heart on our advent calendar. She held it up, closing one eye to inspect it in the ray of sun filtering through the window.

“Look mommy, this heart means love.”

“Yes, because love came down at Christmas time.”

“Where is love Mom?”

“In Jesus”

“But how can I see love?”

“Hmmm…I see love in the Christmas tree we put up together. I see love in the pictures of us on the wall. I see love when I look at you. Can you find love in this room?”

“I see love in the water in that cup on the table.”

“Why is that?”

“Because we need to drink water to live…right mom?”

“Absolutely.”

The conversation I had with my three year old reminds me that I’ve been going through the motions of Christmas, but I’ve been forgetting the most important part, the love. 

As a busy mom, I can go half the morning without downing anything but black coffee. My body eventually reminds me it is desperate for water, with a foggy brain and pulsing pain at my temples.

I’m terrible at drinking quickly. If I was ever challenged to a chugging contest, I would forfeit, because, my body doesn’t even know how.  Chugging hurts my throat and makes me feel suffocated. So, when it comes to water, I’m forced to drink it slowly, sip by sip. 

Love slows me down too. When I live in love, I sip up each moment with relish. I don’t realize how desperately I needed it until I start to take it in.

Its easy to go through the motions of Christmas without the feelings. Sometimes we hope that the feelings will catch up somehow. We can feel dried up and numb of emotion, or flooded with unexpected melancholy and sadness. Its not always easy to teach our heart to feel the right emotions- it can misbehave like an unruly child. But love is patient with us. It sits there and waits like a glass of water on a table, ready to be picked up and sipped in.

Jesus didn’t wait for ready hearts to come onto the scene. He certainly didn’t wait for a room twinkling with candles and strung up with garland and lights. The stars and stable were enough. Announcements didn’t go out, Bethlehem was busy and bustling with a census. No, shepherds and livestock would do as an adoring audience. He surrendered himself to the care of a scared new mom who cried out in pain and felt the sharp sting of love mixed with uncertainty and fear, pure awe and wonder. Jesus came down as love that first learned to breathe, and suckle, to eat, and toddle, walk and talk and live as our flesh.

So easily, I simplify love as the warm fuzzy feelings. I want to wrap Christmas in tinsel and tradition, and happy thoughts, but the truth is Christmas is about a Savior who patiently endured pain and struggle to be among us. True love is enduring the good and bad, and the tedious to be with someone. Love is waiting and walking alongside someone. 

I can find love in decorating a Christmas tree, or the happy snapshots of memories as a family. But my daughter reminds me that its in everything. Its in shedding tears as you say goodbye to your brother, or dad, and hold out the hope that one day you will share a table with them again. Its in watching those you love grow older, its in forgiving, and washing dishes, in sitting with the pain of loss and still getting up to make breakfast for the family. Love is quenching our thirst, our need for more than what this world can offer. Love waits for us patiently. It puts on our flesh and learns to walk with us. Yes, love comes down in an infant, is lifted up on a cross and buried in the earth. Love rises again, to draw us home. Love sustains, it fills us up, it overflows and it quenches our thirsty souls. Love makes everything complete.

 

 

I’m More Like Jonah than I thought…

jonah

Her quilt swallows her tiny body. A large pink gingham mouth envelops her head to reveal her three year old face.

“Mommy I’m afraid.”
“What are you afraid of?” I bend down and kiss her brow, creased with a comma.
“I’m afraid because Jonah keeps getting swallowed again and again, because he doesn’t listen to God. He keeps ending up in the whale’s belly.”

My trained words respond “No.” “No honey, the whale spit up Jonah,” but in my head I’m shouting “Yes.” Exactly yes. That is the truest thing I’ve heard all day.

As my body sits there with her, my mind is deep, deep underwater, in the warm, dark, damp insides of a giant fish.

I’m afraid. I’m unsure, and my mind is lonely, but my body is flooded with touch and affection from two little bodies. My mind feels overwhelmed and bored. My heart feels lost and found, and achingly empty and spilling over full, all in the journey of a day.

My body puts away laundry, washes dishes, and cleans sticky hands and faces. While my thoughts float, and dip, and sink into the noiseless depths of obscurity, weighed down by fear and questions.

Do I love my children enough? Am I going to be enough of a mom to form them into good people? Am I the wife my husband needs— the sister, the daughter? What if my people weren’t mine anymore? Or worse, what if I blinked and they disappeared?

These questions flood my mind and steal my identity. I become a hungry whale that swallows and fills myself up with people, and approval, and validation. So full, and sick, and empty again.

I turn out the lights in my daughter’s bedroom and find my way to the living room in the darkness. I fold my body into the corner of the couch. A lamp seems too bright for my mood. The wind whips the branches of the trees and rain beats a dramatic tempo overhead. I wake up my sleeping computer and pull up the story of Jonah and the whale. I read these words from the Bible. Funny, I never noticed them before.

“Notice all through this story that, although Jonah was God’s servant, he was always thinking about himself. God protected Jonah and saved him, not because he was such a good man, but because he wanted to teach him a great lesson.”

A heart turned in on itself is rendered useless. I think of my fifteen month old, how she wobbles from foot to foot, eyes affixed on her bloated belly as she walks into whatever is right in front of her. Sometimes I am so unsure in my own skin that I clumsily stumble through the world, oblivious to the needs of others, rendered useless by my own fears and insecurities.

As I read these words about Jonah, they resonate with my soul. Maybe I keep entering into the same dark places so that God can teach me a lesson too. A lesson about how to resurface. How to look up.

But maybe a fish’s belly is where I need to be sometimes too. In the depth of uncertainty, to be alone with my creator; letting Him form and reshape me.

I think about how God himself entered a woman’s belly to reshape the world- and I crack a smile like the moon. My daughter is smarter than she knows.

Growing in Grace

 

growingingraceI was tired of looking at our ugly, dying grass. Like an overused carpet, it showed only patches of the green it once was. In its vibrant place was a dull and lifeless yellow and brown. I tried to lift the edge, and to my surprise, it ripped up in a long strip. As I pulled, it snapped out with a pop like cracking knuckles. As I stacked the thick layers of dead sod along the sidewalk, I sighed with cathartic relief. Before I knew it, my yard was a clean patch of dirt.

I left it forgotten. But after a quick week, my front yard had erupted in a thick garden of weeds.

Its easy to tear down, to criticize, to walk away- yes to tear out what has been planted. But even if we walk away or turn our back, the empty soil is still there.

Its impossible to leave that space empty. We have a choice. When we face a hurt, or challenge, a loss, frustration, or broken heart- a space that feels lifeless- we have a choice to leave it empty and let it erupt into painful weeds that choke out life, or we can water the soil with gratitude, with hope, forgiveness and love, and see what God can grow there. We can bury the hurt and shame, the hopelessness and anger, we can put a stake in the middle of it in the shape of a cross, and see what God resurrects.

I realized how easily ugly weeds can take over when I’m not looking. I have a choice to fill those empty places with flowers, or let them get ravaged by weeds.  Weeds grow deep gnarled roots that leave me breathless and hurting. Weeds that leave thorns that tear hidden wounds that scar me.

But I don’t have to leave hurt places empty. My weed patch in the front yard  reminds me that I can’t ignore the raw and empty places of my heart, but need to take the time to sit with God in them. To let Him  fill them up with His truth and a beauty only He can create..

God blows seeds into my life every day.. With love, patience, and forgiveness, over time, I can allow Him to grow gardens, even in the raw, empty spaces.

He can grow wildflowers, forget-me-nots, and fiery red tulips shaped like love notes. He can raise up white elegant lilies, and sweet pink gerber daisies like my baby’s pink petal lips. He can grow bushes that burst with big ripe strawberries, and grape vines that stretch out with a sigh of fullness and life. When we’re desperate its easy to think life looks desolate– but He can use our tears to grow dandelions. He can paint that cross white like a picket fence, and scroll across it the word grace.

Our Life is a Beautiful Mess

dandelion

dear b

I see the trash bag sitting on our flagstone patio and I’m filled with the dull ache of dread. I hate the small trek from my back door to the side yard where the trash cans are kept. Releasing a sigh, I step outside and sling the heavy white bag over my shoulder as I plot through the mounds of dirt and rock. My chest tightens with anxiety as I take in our yard in all its desolate glory. Holes and capsized trees litter the landscape, their stalky roots jutting out like the masts of sailboats.

I hate messes. From a small pile of coffee grounds on my kitchen counter to the chaotic scene of strewn toys and crumbs left behind from one of your playdates, messes make my skin crawl and trigger an immediate impulse to obsessively clean.

But I especially hate in-between messes– the untidiness that comes with an unfinished project. Your dad has the logical thought that there’s no point in cleaning up when a project is “in progress.” We should save the overhaul cleaning for when the job is completed. Part of me agrees, but then there’s the compulsive-anxiety-ridden-super-clean me that can’t stand leaving it. We’ll just say “under construction” is not something I do well with.

Since the birth of your little sister, it feels a bit like our life is under construction. Everyone says, “just survive the first six weeks and things will get better.” As I cocoon her in our home, I anticipate the days we can go in public, the nights when I can sleep, and the morning I can fit into my pre-pregnancy jeans.

You’re struggling with sharing mommy and daddy and making your feelings known in the only way a two year old knows how. With temper tantrums and visits to our bed at night, you ask again and again, “Do you still love me?”  And as we give you love and reassurance, people tell us, “just give it time, when the baby can interact more they’ll get along great.”

So we wait away the days for a moment that our lives will fit the happy family snapshot in our heads or on our Facebook page.

But if I’m honest, isn’t all of life kind of an in-between mess? If I took a snapshot of this moment it would show me, tired and unshowered, you in your underwear and a face smeared with food, and your sister in a spit up crusted onesie, and in desperate need of a bath.

There will always be manic Mondays, grocery lists, and smaller size pants to fit into. And as you and Elyse grow there will always be another milestone to check off, from rolling over, to giggling, to starting kindergarten, going to sleepovers, driving a car, kissing a boy, and graduating high school. But the reality is that life is really the sum of those moments in between. Too often I fix my eyes on the next big thing instead of pulling up a lawn chair and settling down right in the moment I’m living in now.

We’re ripping out the bushes and trees to lay sod in our yard. I dream of the day when the two of you can have a tea party in the grass, or lay on your backs and look at animal shaped clouds. But as I walk from the trash cans to the back door, looking down to carefully avoid tripping in a hole, I see a single dandelion standing proudly in a  mound of dirt and pebbles.

The summer after we were married, your dad and I went to visit his family home in Michigan. As we went through boxes of his old memorabilia, I found a square of crumpled paper that he had thrown discreetly into the “throw away” pile. I smoothed out the angular folds and read the small, boyish writing. It was a poem about finding a person who could look past his imperfections to love him for who he is:

“I’m just a dandelion.                                                                                                     But one day in the distant future,                                                                                    I will sit across the table from the one,                                                                  She will see a flower, when others saw a weed.”

Precious moments are hidden beneath the dirt and pebbles of a life that is under construction. They’re under piles of laundry, and dirty dishes, and unpaid bills if only we have eyes to recognize them. As I sit here in the quiet dawn of morning, I leave an unmade bed and a pile of dishes in the sink. I run my fingers through your hair and watch your sister’s chest rise and fall, her warm little body tucked snugly in the crook of my arm– and I thank God for my garden of dandelions.