My Name is Bess

My sisters, it’s time to come clean about this terrible thing I’ve been doing to so many of you for years now. It’s not just a terrible thing, it’s a dangerous thing. In fact, it is perhaps the single most dangerous thing I can do to you in our friendship because when I do it, I actually think I’m helping you.

Only here’s the thing: I’m not helping. I’m most likely missing your heart by a Texas mile, and I think it’s safe to say we’ve all had enough of it. We’ve had enough of saying it, and we’ve absolutely had enough of hearing it. Yet somehow we keep saying it, keep having it said to us. I’d hazard a guess that not one of us would have to think beyond last month’s conversations with each other to recall that dreadful moment when these words came tumbling out of someone’s mouth:

“I think you need to…”

I know for a fact I’ve said these words (or a cleverly subtle variation of them) to at least three of the women in my life over the last week, and if we’re really being honest, each poor soul has gotten more than an earful of what I think she needs to do/think/say/pray. So I make my confession in earnest: I’m guilty of doing this. I’m talking to me. But I’m also talking to you as my sisters and friends, as the women sitting across the table from each other.

Not long ago, one of my precious friends had been hurt, and she asked me to pray for her. To this day, I’m not sure of the exact nature of the hurt, and I am glad of it. I don’t need to know. However, not having that information caused me to stumble upon this revelation: I love digging into your problem and telling you how I think it should be fixed. But it’s impossible to solve an equation with multiple unknown variables, so there I was, just itching to tell her what I think she should do next, and I flat could not do it because I didn’t have all the facts. I shot out some generic input that I thought might relate to her situation, and I sent along a couple verses that I thought might encourage (read: instruct) her.

I know that I prayed for her, but I can’t really recall what I said.

Fast forward to a couple weeks later, when my friend and I were discussing this issue again, and I actually told her how terribly tempted I was to try and fix this situation for her. What I didn’t mention was that I wanted to fix it by telling her what I thought she should do – even though I didn’t have the foggiest idea what she should do. Her response was to ask me to pray, and she even told me specifically how to pray.

How much energy had I spent wracking my brain for a solution when I could have been relentlessly bringing her needs to the Father in prayer? So I spent some time intently praying for her, thinking of her, and offering her no other input aside from my love and support. Days later, when she found freedom and joy in being able to move beyond the pain she had suffered, I had the privilege of witnessing her joy and rejoicing with her. And I was free to do all of those things because I wasn’t trying to fix her.

That’s right. At the heart of it all, that’s really what we’re doing. I’m not trying to fix your problem.

I’m trying to fix you.

And you’re trying to fix me. Because you love me. Because I love you. And because we all love a good redemption story, especially if we get to play a leading role. It’s that last bit that gets us into trouble. I can’t redeem you. You can’t redeem me. That’s not our job as women in community. Our job is to lift each other up, to support each other, to walk with each other.

To listen to each other.

I’m not suggesting that we should refrain from speaking Truth into each other’s lives. Not at all. In fact, one of my most favorite things about being in community with women is having the opportunity to share Truth with them from the Scripture that I think will encourage or comfort them. By all means, let’s keep doing that. I’m also not suggesting that we should ignore the Spirit’s prompting if we truly discern that we’ve been given a specific word for a sister. Some of the most encouraging things ever spoken to me have been prefaced with, “I believe the word God has for you here is…” Still, discernment is critical in this, and we ought to tremble at the thought of telling someone we’ve been given a word for them unless we truly have. (Likewise, we should be discerning on the receiving end of this.)

So, no. I’m not suggesting a gag order. What I am suggesting is that we should fight the urge that rises up in our chests and has us convinced that we have just the thing for whatever is ailing our sisters. I am the great physician of no one’s heart. Just look at how I’ve managed to butcher my own over the years. Lord have mercy if I try to perform surgery on yours.

Recently another sweet sister reminded me of the power of praying with someone in the middle of their pain. So many times we offer to pray for each other. And that’s great – we should keep doing that. But to pray with someone, right there in that moment? It’s a way of saying: “I’m in this with you. I will help you carry this hard and heavy and bewildering burden. I will speak for you when you feel strangled. When your confidence is shot and the throne of grace is miles away, I’ll approach both for you and with you. You are not alone and I believe there is a cure and I can’t give it to you but I will be here with you while you wait for it.”

So late last night when one of my dearest and oldest friends told me about this cavernous, deep grief that has her gasping for air in the middle of the Most Wonderful Time of the Year and my heart ached for her and for my own inability to make it all okay, I remembered…pray with her. So I did. It didn’t fix her. Her grief is still there today. It will likely be around for a long while. But she at least knows that she’s not alone. She knows that someone else sees her pain and cares and is for her. She knows someone is in her corner.

And isn’t that what we’re all really looking for from each other, what we’re silently begging each other to affirm? Tell me I’m okay. Tell me my need is not repulsive. Tell me I’m worth fighting for, fighting alongside, fighting on behalf of…tell me I’m not alone.

Because when you tell me I’m not alone, oh, how you remind me that He is near.

 

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Missing The Forest

IMG_3970-4.JPGI accidentally snapped this shot of my house as I was documenting the ant revolution in my mailbox yesterday. That’s right. Hundreds of ants had a rager in my mailbox. On my mail. Hundreds. Of ants.

I went inside and fretted over the ants. Then I fretted over the wasp nests all over my house. Then I fretted over the clogged bathtub drain and leaky toilet and the places where squirrels have eaten bits (read: chunks) of the cypress wood off of my house.

I started dreaming of escape, of a place that isn’t so enticing to critters of all shapes and sizes, of a place with no plumbing woes ever, of a place that doesn’t make me feel so outmatched and incapable. I can gut a fish alright, but when it comes to plumbing and landscaping and pest control, forget about it.

I texted my sweet friend Bill for advice: should I stay or should I go now….and as I was texting him, I remembered that crazy, shoot-the-moon prayer I was praying six years ago this month: God, please, can we have a house? I know it makes NO sense, but I also know that’s kinda Your gig…

Two months later, I had the keys to this brand new house with a wraparound porch and all these trees and green and quiet and I knew His crazy grace and Father-love on a whole new level. I had tangible evidence to literally abide in every single day:

He is good. And He loves me. 

I remembered how many times I’ve shared this story with someone who needed to hear that He is so, so good and His Word is true and He is beyond able to meet our needs.

I’m not ready to stop telling that story.

So I killed the ants I could see. I fixed the plumbing I could fix and called in reinforcements for the rest. I shooed squirrel #356 away with a warning for the rest of his tribe and I checked on my tomato plants, thrilled to see baby green fruit growing strong on the vine.

I stopped dreaming of escape and started dreaming instead about when those tiny green tomatoes are big and red and juicy and we’re still here even if the ants and the wasps and the squirrels are, too.

When I found this woppy-jawed picture of my house this morning I saw it clearly, how He was right there in my fretting, reminding me of His goodness all along.

“Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story— those he redeemed from the hand of the foe, those he gathered from the lands, from east and west, from north and south. Some wandered in desert wastelands, finding no way to a city where they could settle. They were hungry and thirsty, and their lives ebbed away. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He led them by a straight way to a city where they could settle. Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.” (Psalm‬ ‭107‬:‭2-9‬ NIV)

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Sing, Barren Woman

I saw an article over the weekend with a link to a video of young Christian men talking about what they’re looking for in a future wife. I didn’t have to watch the video to know its purpose or what the young men said. Essentially, it was meant to encourage young women to pursue holiness and purity in their lives because, well, husbands.

When I was growing up, we may not have had links to online videos, but we were handed the same checklist of virtues every Christian girl should possess in order to attract a good, godly husband. The checklist was chock full of great characteristics for any person – male or female – to possess. The checklist wasn’t the problem.

See, it’s not the suggestion that a woman should pursue virtuousness that troubles me. What I find so disturbing is the suggestion that this list of virtues is the gold standard for winning a good husband, and if you fall short, you’re flat out of luck.

Twenty minutes before I saw that article and the video that I didn’t need to watch to have already seen, I’d yelled swear words and laid on the car horn in a spectacular episode of Valentine’s Day traffic road rage. All with my 7 year-old in the car.

Yeah. Those guys on that video and that I grew up hearing about? That sort of behavior is not on their list.

In fact, I’ve spent more years living the antithesis than I’ve spent living their ideal. Which means I also spent more than a few years believing I’d lost my chance at having a good husband, at deserving a godly man and a blessed marriage. I used to believe that my singleness was proof-positive that my love life was utterly beyond redemption.

I don’t believe that anymore.

What I’ve come to believe and know is this: I am worthy of a good man (because Jesus), and if I never end up with said good man, I can still live life whole. Complete. Fulfilled. Joyful. (Also because Jesus.)

So it breaks my heart and raises my ire that we continue to teach our daughters that they have to become the kind of girl a godly man will want to marry. Sure, there’s a heap of well-meaning behind that message, but here’s the translation:

Only the best girls get the best men. Oh, and by the way, being the best girl is impossible but you’re sure gonna try and maybe by some miracle you’ll end up with a good man anyway and you’ll learn to live with the fact that you’ll never quite measure up for him. And if you don’t end up with a good man, well, you know why. Sinner.

It seems ridiculous, but when you really break it down, it’s the message we’re sending.

But the message I wish I’d grown up with? The truth I’m desperate for my daughter to hear?

You are loved. You have value. You are counted worthy in Christ, whose blood speaks a better word than the blood of the very first sacrifice and that is the Word that counts. No word of any mortal man – and no checklist for that matter – can define your worth. You are pursued by the Creator of the universe and He loves you with a fiery everlasting love and any man who steps in line to capture your heart is laying foot on ground where angels fear to tread.

You have a calling. You have a destiny. It may include a husband, it may not. Your calling is dependent upon the power of the Holy Spirit at work in you and not on any external set of circumstances, 2-carat bridal sets included.

You are beautiful. You will become even more beautiful as your story unfolds. Some of this beauty you’ll earn the hard way – by passing through fire and handing over what’s left of your dreams, your hope and your dignity in unrecognizable piles of ashes and somehow having your soot-covered hands cleansed and your head anointed and your face uplifted and finding yourself and your story more beautiful than it ever was before you chose wrongly or someone wounded you or life just happened.

But most of all…very, very, very utmost-most of all, there is Someone who’s already said what He’s looking for in a woman – in every single one of us.

He wants the women who are captives. He wants the women who are broken-hearted. He wants the women who have been stripped of their dignity. He wants the women seeking, the women wandering, the women serving, the women struggling. He wants to free us, to heal us, to comfort us, to restore our dignity, to lead us and show Himself to us.

Yes, He wants us all – and He wants all of us.

And this is where we see just how intensely He cares about our character and the state of our hearts. This is when we have the joyful privilege of beginning to see the women He created us to be. He wants us to seek Him and know His Word and as He refines us He wants our faces to reflect His glory for His glory.

And that is your purpose, daughter. That is why you were made in His image, the most beautiful image of all images: for His glory.

Let yourself be wooed by the Father. Hear and believe that the King is enthralled by your beauty. Seek His face. Run to Him for shelter. Walk with Him because He is oh, so worthy, and you need Him oh, so much. Delight yourself in Him. And yes, He will give you the desires of your heart, but daughter, you haven’t even begun to imagine what those desires will become once He has become your delight.

Can we teach our daughters these truths? Can we live them ourselves? It’s not too late for them, for our daughters. And hear me when I say this, married friends and single, hear me pleadingly say this:

It’s not too late for us.

Hear and believe that the King – the King eternal, the Lord, mighty in power – He is enthralled by your beauty. You come to Him in rags and He clothes you in salvation. You come to Him barren and rejected and He covers you with a robe of righteousness as resplendent as any bride’s jewels and when He looks upon you He is not just mildly impressed, He is enthralled.

Hear, sisters. Hear and believe, and in our believing let us show our daughters just how much they are worth.

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With Miles To Go Before I Sleep

I was standing at the Robert Is Here farm and fruit stand in Florida City after a lovely visit to the Everglades National Park when I pulled my phone out of my purse and noticed I had a missed call. From a 1-800 number. And they left a voicemail. If you’re just three hours from boarding a plane, a voicemail from a 1-800 number is a pretty bad omen. Sure enough, an automated voice ever so casually told me that my flight home had been cancelled, but – hey, good news, traveler! – they had taken the liberty of re-booking me on a flight tomorrow morning.

My daughter would be waking up tomorrow morning, 1200 miles from here, and I had promised her I would be there when she woke up. I’m pretty serious about keeping my promises to her.

Five minutes before, I was picking out a banana and wondering how in the world one would even begin to make key lime honey and thinking about how odd it was that I was looking at palm trees while most everyone else I know was freezing their rears. Blame it on the low blood sugar or my tired brain, but after getting that voicemail I knew only one thing: a flight home tomorrow morning is unacceptable. I have to get home tonight. Only I didn’t have the foggiest idea where to start in somehow getting myself home on schedule.

I was in Miami for work, and a group of us had ventured out to the Everglades National Park after the meetings ended. There were gators and great blue herons and anhingas and the aforementioned fruit stand. But I was tired. This meeting had taken it out of me.

I sit on the Board of Directors of the Association of Real Estate License Law Officials (ARELLO). The Miami meeting was our annual Leadership Symposium, when we meet to talk about where we are, where we’re headed, what we need to do, etc. In the space of 48 hours, we go from big picture, vision-casting conversation to updates on the day-to-day workings of the organization and planning next steps for our projects. It’s a bit of a whirlwind, actually.

Back up to about 90 minutes before the ominous flight cancellation voicemail, when we’re in the Everglades. As we were walking along the water’s edge – you know, where the gators live – I was thinking about how badly I wanted to get home. How much I missed Olivia, and how weary I was. Then I realized: I’m in the Everglades. Seeing alligators. And not freezing my rear like everyone else back home. How about maybe I enjoy these last few moments in Florida instead of wishing my time away while I’m in this really neat place?

I resolved to do as much. And I think I did alright. Right up until that fruit stand voicemail.

All I could do was stand there, staring at my friends, trying to figure out what to do next. This is when it’s a good time to be traveling with regulators. Jeanne ordered everyone to the car. I called American Airlines. MiChell patted my arm and told me it was going to be okay. Kevin and Richard helped navigate our way back to the hotel. And Jeanne drove like a bat outta.

“This is what you’re going to do,” Jeanne said. “We’re going to the hotel. You’re going to fly upstairs and grab your bags. Then I’m taking you to the airport, and you’re going to talk to a ticket agent, and you’re going to cry, and they’re going to find a way to get you home tonight.”

If you’ve ever been to Miami and tried to get from any point A to any point B, you know that their traffic can be absolutely horrendous. We didn’t hit a stitch of it the whole way back to the hotel. I did as Jeanne said – flew upstairs, grabbed my bags, and we loaded up for the airport. I thought about the scene in Home Alone when Kevin’s mom is trading her first class tickets, money and jewelry for an elderly couple’s seat on the next flight home, and I took a mental inventory of anything I had on me just in case it might come to that. It was not an impressive list.

As soon as I saw the American Airlines ticket counter, my heart sank. The line was incredibly long and it was not moving quickly. I tried to tell myself that these people weren’t all other passengers trying to renegotiate cancelled flights, but that I’d just arrived at a peak check-in time. Then I heard two women talking to each other about their cancelled flights. Then a woman yelling at a ticket agent in Spanish. Then a woman just past her, sobbing at another ticket agent, mascara streaking down her face. And the rest of the people – the ones who didn’t look angry or frustrated – they just looked tired.

I didn’t want to be angry. I didn’t want to be frustrated. And I was tired, but I didn’t want to look it.

I had this crazy idea: what if, instead of standing here worrying about what’s going to happen when I get to the ticket counter and absorbing the frustration all around me, I made a gratitude list instead? After all, today had been pretty spectacular in some spots. So I got out my journal, right there in the ticket counter line, and I wrote, to name a few…

-Jeanne and MiChell hustling me to the airport
-no traffic all day
-grace that is greater
-comfy jeans
-karaoke in the Uber! JOURNEY!
(you’d have had to be there…)
-“I ate shrimp pancreas for you.” (see above)
­-all these people hopeful to get home or fly away

It was easy to be grateful in the Everglades surrounded by beautiful birds and mysterious reptiles and tall green grass swaying in the breeze. It’s not as easy to be grateful in the middle of a dingy, stale-air airport full of harassed and helpless travelers and even more harassed employees. But the thing I just keep finding about gratitude is that once you start thinking of gifts, it’s actually hard to stop. The list above isn’t all I wrote, and I absolutely could have written more.

Finally, it was my turn to talk to a ticket agent. Her name was Raquel, and she was kind. At first, she told me there simply weren’t any options. The problem was the weather in Chicago, and I would have to wait until tomorrow morning to leave. I started to walk away, then I stopped. I told her I had promised my daughter I would be home tonight. I had to get home tonight. Was there any way she could get me home tonight? She looked at me, thinking, and then she said, “Let me try one more thing.” That thing didn’t work, but it did lead us to a new solution: Memphis. She could put me on a nonstop flight to Memphis. And I could rent a car from there.

Four hours later, I was flying (read: obeying the speed limit) down I-40, headed to my daughter. Headed home. My NPR podcasts were keeping me awake, and – again – in a place where you just expect terrible traffic, there wasn’t a stitch of it. No wrecks, no construction backups. I pulled into the driveway at 11:00 pm last night, on the nose. Forty minutes sooner than I was scheduled to arrive at the Little Rock airport on my original flight home. I was tired, but I was grateful. The day had gone just as it was supposed to go, and it had really been beautiful.

But then this morning, I woke up and started thinking of everything I had to do – the unpacking, the grocery shopping, the facing of a house I was certain I’d left a bit of a mess – and I bid my serenity adieu. I’ve been cranky all day (I may or may not have been a total horse’s rear when I was dropping off the rental car in Little Rock over something that was not nearly as big a deal as I made it out to be), and earlier I found myself wondering: how did I go from yesterday and all that grace to today and all this barking?

I think it’s all in the lists we make. I wrote about this about a week ago, after reading what Ann Voskamp wrote about lists. Yesterday, I’d made gratitude lists. This morning, I’d made my to-do list. A tired, travel-worn, brain-fried me made an impossible to-do list, knew it was impossible, and attempted it anyway. And I was mad at everybody because of it.

When we are hard on ourselves, we are just that: hard.

Right now, I’m sitting on my bed, hair still wet from the shower, with clothes piled all about and dinner waiting to be made, and I’m putting that list down. I’ll get what’s necessary done tonight. There’s a weekend ahead of me to do the rest. And what’s necessary?

Dinner.
Snuggling.
Resting.

And maybe calling that rental car place and apologizing for being such an intolerable pill this morning…

 

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I’ll Take a Cup of Kindness Yet

As this year has drawn to a close, I’ve had a hard time thinking back over 2014 with anything besides regret and disappointment. Regret over decisions I’d made and disappointment that I haven’t finally gotten this life thing down. I mean, wasn’t this the year I was supposed to finally do that?

It’s no wonder that as soon as we cleared Christmas, I started gearing up for 2015 (read: getting ready to make 2014 eat. my. dust). So when the email from Ann Voskamp where she wrote about going into the New Year without fear hit my inbox, my first thought was: I am sooo one step ahead of you, sister. I don’t even need to read this.

Except I wasn’t. And I did.

Ann wrote about her daughter’s piano recital and the adjudicator’s words that I’ve had taped to my computer monitor for a while now, the grace-filled echo of something my mother told me when I first started playing piano these 30 years ago. Ann wrote about the lists we play in our heads at year-end, how the list of our failures is the wrong list to be playing, that we ought to instead be playing our gratitude lists.

It sounds so simple – this gratitude list – and sometimes I think we regard gratitude as such, and ourselves so ever-loving above it. Lord, save us from our ignorant pride that keeps us from Your joy.

I thought about the list I’ve been playing, largely in the minor key, this sad, broken refrain, and I thought: wouldn’t it be nice to head into the new year with a list of 2014’s gifts instead? So instead of telling you how much I failed at life this year, could I maybe tell you how much grace filled these days? Some of them will be big heaping piles of obvious grace. Some of them will be seemingly insignificant smatterings here and there. But the more I’ve made my list, the more I’ve realized: this year has been a year of grace. Not mine, of course. But His. And so I begin.

January 2014 – The (Almost Entirely) Free Remodel. House flood and homeowner’s insurance means new floors and bathroom cabinetry that I love and got to pick out myself. And now I also know I can survive a major home renovation.

2014-02-15 22.04.15 February 2014 – It’s a Girl! My baby niece was born, safe and sound,
making 9 lovely nieces and nephews – 10 grandkids in all from these four
girls.

 March 2014 – #bostonbaby. Olivia and I got to spend a week in Boston
seeing my sister and her brood – including the baby niece. Upon arrival, I
plopped down in the living room comfy chair. Sharla handed me Baby P
and we snuggled and snoozed as the afternoon sun warmed the room and children wandered in and out, cousins playing together so naturally after almost three years of not seeing each other. Baby P and I, we stayed right there until dark. Never have I been able to be in Boston so soon after one of Sharla’s babies was born to hold and know them in their newness. It was easily the sweetest moment of our trip.

April 2014 – WOO. I spent four days away from it all and I got to know these seven women who have made my life rich in a way I didn’t even know it was poor. You know, in the church, we call each other ‘sisters’ in the sense that if we’re both believers, we’re sisters. But these women – these women are my sisters. As in, I’ll fight a bear for any one of them. A real freaking bear. It’s eight months now we’ve been on this journey together, and I still marvel at this gift, this grace.

May 2014 – The Anchor. There was this thing that I kind of had a feeling was happening, and it was an unpleasant thing. So I asked myself, what would I do if this thing actually happened? Would it destroy me? The answer was no. It would hurt, but it wouldn’t destroy me. In fact, I have watched far worse become my good. But as I was thinking this through, the Spirit said to my heart: In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil. And I knew I’d be okay, no matter what.

June 2014 – We Made It. In early June, I spent several days in Omaha with colleagues from across the country finishing a revision project we began three years ago. It was a long, hard work, and there were times when I think we all wanted to burn those 200 pages we were revising. But we finished, and we finished well. Two weeks later, I sat in the movie theater watching How to Train Your Dragon 2 with Olivia, and I thought back to when we saw the first movie three years ago, and how we’ve been watching the TV series ever since, and how amazing it was that we’ve made it safely through all those days in between, with all their twists and turns and crazy. And I cried.

July 2014 – Dream2014-07-24 13.00.25      Car. In mid-July, I paid off my beloved Highlander. And it was totaled exactly 15 minutes later. The accident was very scary. It was on the interstate, and a car that should have collided with Olivia’s side of the car somehow missed us entirely, leaving her completely unharmed. After the accident, I started looking for a new ride. One afternoon, I was half-praying, half-snoozing, and I made a list of everything I wanted our new car to have. And at the top of the list: PAID FOR. I refused to go into debt for another car when I’d just paid mine off. Three days later, my snoozy half-prayer was answered. Her name is Stella, and she’s our pimp ride.

August 2014 – The Anchor Held. That thing I’d had this feeling was happening back in May – I found out I was right, it was happening. Mere minutes after I found out, a sweet friend sent me a text. She said she just felt like she needed to remind me that God’s love is an anchor for our souls. That’s right – she said anchor. And right then, right at that moment, I started to feel like myself again – alive. Free. Whole. Anchored.

September 2014 – Fishing. From fishing off the bridge at my dad’s place to hanging out on Nimrod with my stepdad to the absolutely lovely weekend we spent on Bull Shoals with the Keltons where Olivia learned to fish and I learned what it’s like to burst with pure, unadulterated pride over this crazy natural ability you had no idea your child possessed and to not even care that, in the meantime, she is out-fishing you, it was a great month for fishing.

 October 2014 – These Magic Moments. My sister’s birthday2014-10-18 23.34.15
party firepit, going to the shooting range with my stepdad and almost losing
my shoulder – but not my aim, hot air balloon night at MacArthur park with
Rachel, Robin, Ava and Livi, finally getting a sleepover on the schedule with
Holly’s sweet kiddos, Bekah coming to the State Fair with me and Livi and
making sure we had a ton of fun, and singing John Prine by the Maumelle
River.

November 2014 – NoLa and Thanks. Went to New Orleans for work, wore an evening gown and sparkly earrings, walked the French Quarter, saw the St. Louis Cathedral, ate beignets. Came home and faced something scary and dark and gross, and my sweet Ines walked right up into it with me just so I would know I wasn’t alone.

December 2014 – WOO Take 2. I went back, this time as part of the leading team, and got to experience it all again, only this time with my heart a little more whole than it had been earlier this year, and I saw new things in myself – some good and some that make me wince at my still-brokenness. But over it all, grace. So much grace.

There have been lunches and dinners and sleepovers and lakehouse weekends and text messages and phone calls and that one time that I may or may not have slept out in the freezing cold with my amazing friend who may or may not be from Nicaragua. And in all of those moments, grace. Through all of these twelve months, grace. I have been loved well. By my Father and by the people He has let me love and be loved by.

So I’m done calling 2014 a disaster. I’m done mourning what I failed to do this year. Instead, I’m raising my Ebenezer. I am saying: here by Thy great help I’ve come. With never-ceasing mercy streams, His goodness has once again bound my wandering heart to Him.

And, oh, to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be.

 

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The Hard Left

I wrote this almost exactly two months ago. I didn’t post it at the time – I just had this feeling that it wasn’t the right time. That rarely happens – I usually write knowing full well that I intend to post what I’m writing. If it is possible for these words to be even truer now than they were then, they are. And they are absolutely more necessary. He is so good to go before us.

It would be really easy to tell yourself right now that you’ve failed.

You’d be wrong.

Sure, you may have stumbled along the way, but you kept moving. And when the time came to turn a corner, you were brave. You took the hard left. You didn’t want to at first, and you could’ve at least delayed some of this pain by staying put. But if there’s one thing you’ve learned on this journey, beloved, it’s that there’s a spacious place right around that corner. There’s healing for that hurt. There’s Truth for those lies.

You tried to do this well and honestly, and you tried to believe the best, and yes, now you’ve seen the worst, and it has wounded you. It has threatened to send you staggering with regret and pain and anger, but here you are, still standing and with a measure of peace in your heart. Because He will not suffer your foot to be moved.

He that keeps you does not sleep for watching over you.

Dear one, you turned that scary corner and He is your guard by night and by day and you can believe the best about Him because every last word of it is true.

He is faithful and kind and loving and honest and He is in earnest when He says He adores you. He is near and He is accessible and He is longing for you to come near.

And He can be trusted.

So wrap up safe in those arms that don’t fail and rest in the knowing – He can be trusted.

Rejoice in the fact that your enemy has not been allowed to be victorious. Revel in the knowledge that your Father has been sending steady-stream comfort.

Rest in the knowing – He can be trusted.

Silence the lies and feast on Truth: you are wholly and dearly loved, you are chosen, you are destined for something beautiful, you are safe, you are His.

You are His.

Is there any truth more wonderful? Any pain that dares surpass the soul-deep comfort of uttering those three little words?

You are His.

And He can be trusted.

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Coming Out of Hiding

My heart has been slowly petrifying, inch by rocky inch, for quite some time now. At first, it was just numb. Then, right as it started to soften and feel again, chaos entered our lives with an untamed fury. I tried to keep up with the chaos as best as I could, but it was a stage full of whirling dervishes to my one woman pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey show and eventually I got tired of all the spinning. If I couldn’t keep up, I could at least go numb. I could escape. Only my life is such that I can’t physically escape without serious consequence. So I escaped emotionally, mentally. And spiritually, I hid. Because I knew I was, all at once, frighteningly numb and blindly spinning out of control. So I hid. I didn’t just try to wrap myself up in a couple fig leaves. I buried a hole in the ground and spread a truckload full of those babies over the top of it. And then I climbed in.

I stayed in that hole for several months. I told myself I wasn’t there. I told myself I was listening, and if the Lord had anything to say, He’d make it known.

What we tell ourselves is such bull sometimes.

I finally started to climb out into daylight, but it was a slow climb, and there were a few stalls along the way. I emerged last week, squinting and stinking and covered in mud, and no matter how many showers I took, no matter how hard I scrubbed, I just couldn’t feel clean. I couldn’t feel new. I felt old and tired and hard.

Then I read Spurgeon, and he said I could have a heart of flesh, and he described the heart of stone and the heart of flesh, and if I’d had a heart of flesh right at that moment, I might’ve done more than wince at the description of the stone heart and its posture towards its Maker. Instead I prayed, yes, Jesus, give me a heart of flesh. (And by the way, good luck with that.)

Saturday found me weeping and grieving over these lost months and just how far that pit had carried me from my real life. I felt like a failure, like I’d finally begun to walk in my calling, and I’d made this bold declaration that I will spend my life in His service only to let myself be blindsided. I was pretty sure that meant I’d missed my chance to do what I long to do, what I love to do, and to have it really mean something for the Kingdom. But at least a tiny little part of my heart was beating hope, so I asked God for a word – what do I do now?

The next morning, Craig preached about Peter. He started to tell the story of Peter’s denial of Jesus and he said, “The truth is, we all fail. Every single one of us fails.” Clink. The chisel chipped away at my stone heart. He talked about how we can allow our failures to define us and sideline us, or, like Peter, we can accept forgiveness and healing and restoration so we can get on with the lives we’re meant to live. Clink, clink. He talked about the lengths to which Jesus went, not only to let Peter know he was forgiven, but to actually give Peter an opportunity to affirm his love for Jesus. And Jesus in turn affirmed Peter’s calling, not once, but three times – once for every crucifixion day denial. Clink. Clink. Craaaack.

I had asked for a word, and He had given a beautiful one and it was seeping way down deep into my soul and all that stone in my heart was crumbling and turning to ash on mercy’s wind.

But the enemy doesn’t like to lose, so it’s no surprise that today began with a stunning blow to my heart. It was a terrible revelation of betrayal and deception and sadly, it confirmed a truth that I’d spent months hiding from in that pit. I cried. I railed. I prayed. And at the end of the day, I sat exhausted, staring out the window, and it was almost as if someone was standing right beside me, asking, “So. You’re probably gonna want to go hop in that pit again, right? I mean, this is really all too much for you, isn’t it?”

My sweet friend Bill says that the enemy always overplays his hand. He always goes one step too far in attacking us, and it only serves to drive us further and more quickly into the arms of Jesus. I remembered what Bill says, and I thought about how ludicrous it would be to climb back into that filthy pit, and I laughed out loud. I felt joy. I felt peace. I felt freedom from that dark, dank hole in the ground. I felt like myself again. And for the first time in a year, my heart didn’t feel stony and numb. It felt strong and big and full of grace.

It felt like a heart of flesh.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
Ezekiel 36:26

Categories: Hearing His voice, Knowing His love | 4 Comments

Broken Skin

She’s been having a rough time lately. There’s a behavior chart at school, with colors that correspond to her behavior. She has a “fish”, and there are six different “lakes” her fish can land in. The sparkly blue lake means the fish had an exceptionally good day. The blue lake means a good day. The yellow lake means a not-so-good day. The pink lake means a crummy day. The red lake means we won’t even get through the day before Mommy Fish is hearing about the day, and the green lake…well, let’s just say you’d be better off floating belly-up by the time you get there.

I pick her up from school every day and can tell as soon as I see her – and she sees me – what kind of day she’s had.

One Fish, Two Fish, Bad Fish, Blue Fish.

Her head hangs and her eyes avert and instead of running to greet me, she takes small, slow steps, and my heart sags, and I think, will this week/month/semester/year ever be over?

I arrange to meet my dear friends Bill and Nancy for lunch, friends I have been longing to see, and just as I drive up, her teacher sends me a text:

Olivia bit someone at recess. Hard. It did not break the skin.

I’m shocked and sad and beyond bewildered. She’s done so well all week, worked so hard at behaving and keeping that pesky fish in the right lake, and here, right here in the home stretch of the week, the month, the semester, the year – she bites someone?

I don’t understand.

I see my friends long enough to say a quick hello and they send me off with a sandwich and some fresh wisdom, questions to ask, and I call my boss, drive to the school. She’s sitting in the office, waiting for me. Her eyes search mine. I tell her she’s in BIG trouble. She has to know how wrong this is. She has to know she cannot do this again.

Mommy, are you mad at me?
I’m very upset.

Mommy, do you love me?
I do love you. I love you just as much now as I ever have.

We drive home and I ask her if she understands what it means for Mommy to have to leave work, that there are things I was counted on to do today that now cannot get done because I had to come and pick her up because she bit someone. She cowers. We sit on the couch, right where we sat two weeks ago and had a long talk about lying. I ask her the questions Bill suggested, and she tries to answer. She tells me it was H’s idea, that H said they should play a game, and the rules of the game are: you have to fight the people you don’t like. T hugged her and was squeezing her, and she doesn’t like T, so she bit him. This is not the first time she’s done something out of line to impress H. I’m liking this friendship less and less every day.

I tell her about Carrie in Mrs. Watkins’ 1st grade class. Carrie was the preacher’s daughter, and she was pretty, and she was popular, and I wanted to be her friend. She had lots of friends, though, and nothing really set me apart, nothing made me special enough for her to want to be my friend. Nothing except for the fact that I was smart. I was smart, and I was really good at finishing my worksheets before all the other kids finished theirs. She told me she’d be my friend if I’d do her worksheets for her. I knew it was wrong. I knew it was cheating. And I knew if we got caught, I’d get in BIG trouble.

But Carrie was pretty and popular, and I wanted to be her friend.

So when she slipped that first worksheet across to my desk, I started writing.

I got two worksheets in, and my conscience was eating me alive. I told Carrie I couldn’t do her worksheets anymore – it was cheating, it was wrong. She needed to do her own worksheets. She put her head in her hands and pretended to cry. I got scared. I was afraid she would stop being my friend. I asked her if she was okay. I asked her if she was mad, if she was still my friend. She didn’t answer. So I told her I’d do her worksheet, but only this one last time, and after that, I wouldn’t do them anymore.

Later that day, Mrs. Watkins brought me a worksheet. She asked me if it was my work. It was my handwriting, and we both knew it was my work, but it had Carrie’s name written at the top, scrawled over the place where mine had been written and (very poorly) erased. I don’t remember if I lied or owned up to it, but either way, the truth was out. We both got in huge trouble – at school and at home.

And that was the end of my friendship with Carrie.

I tell Olivia this story, and her eyes look at me wide. I suggest that she spend less time with H, and that she certainly not go along with any more of H’s games or ideas, especially if they involve breaking the rules and hurting others. She nods.

We discuss the consequences of her actions, one of which is naptime this afternoon. She asks if I’ll tuck her in. As I pull the sheets to her chin, she asks again.

Mommy, are you mad?Photo May 22, 4 29 25 PM (1)

I tell her, again, I’m upset. I’m concerned, and I want to figure out what it is that’s causing my daughter to have such a difficult time behaving at school. She suggests that perhaps I have the wrong daughter. I tell her that she is precisely the daughter I want and am meant to have, and that I love her and we’re going to be okay.

She’s sleeping within minutes, and I cannot abide the sight of her closed bedroom door. I already feel so far from her. I can’t get to what’s going on in her little head and heart, and I’m terrified that this isn’t just a phase, that there’s something really wrong that I can’t diagnose and she can’t explain, and with all those walls, we don’t need another barrier.

So I open her door and kiss her forehead, nuzzle her cheek and whisper that I love her, and I’m not going anywhere, that we’re going to figure this out together, and everything is going to be okay.

While she sleeps, I rack my brain, think of all the things I could be doing to cause this – I’m on my phone too much, I’m tired too often, she’s not getting enough attention, I’m feeding her the wrong foods, I’m neglecting her soul – until finally, I realize.

There are no perfect mothers, and at the end of the day, as lovely and wonderful as they are, our children are still – just like us – flawed little humans, living in broken skin.

But we don’t have to get stuck there. Because all of us together – mothers and daughters and fathers and sons – have a high priest who can empathize with our weaknesses. One who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – but did not sin.

Jesus.

And now He’s sitting at the right hand of the Father, and He’s the way to that deep, deep well of mercy and endless storehouse of grace.

So I’m running break-neck for that throne, and I’m carrying her with me all the way.

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Roasted Poblano and Hominy Chicken Chili

Photo Sep 29, 8 00 48 PM

Fall + soup + roasted poblanos straight from Nana’s garden. Need I say more?

Roasted Poblano and Hominy Chicken Chili

2 Tbsp butter
1 onion, chopped
1 Tbsp garlic, minced
1 can northern beans, drained
1 1/2 cans of hominy, drained
4 poblano peppers, roasted* and chopped
1 can Ro-Tel
1 large roasted chicken, deboned and cut into cubes
3 cans of chicken broth
2 tsp smoked sea salt crystals
1 tsp cumin
1 Tbsp paprika
2 Tbsp chili powder

Melt butter in a large stockpot or Dutch oven. Add onion and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, or until onion softens. Add garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add all remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Bring to a boil; cover and reduce heat to simmer. Let simmer 30-45 minutes until meat and vegetables are tender. Garnish with green onions, and, if you like, cheese and sour cream.

*I used the roasting tutorial from This Gal Cooks for my peppers, and it worked a treat!

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The Hope Chest

“Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth,
do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert…”
Isaiah 43:18-19

When I graduated from high school, my parents gave me a hope chest. It was a tradition they had decided each of us girls would have. Now, for those of you who may not know what a hope chest is, a young girl is typically given a hope chest so she can begin to store things she may need when she marries and sets up house. For example, if a beloved grandmother passes and leaves the granddaughter her silver, it goes in the hope chest. If you get fancy graduation presents like a lovely set of knives or some beautiful dishes, you don’t dare waste those treasures on your college apartment. You put them in the hope chest. On any day before you either become a bride or receive rock-solid confirmation that spinsterhood is your inheritance, you had certainly better resist the temptation to crack that lid and use anything once it’s stored away. Simply put: you fill the hope chest with what you hope to use in the home you hope to have once you’ve found the man you hope to marry. This business of a hope chest has hope written all over it. And at the tender age of 17, I received it in that spirit alone.

Traditionally, a hope chest is cedar because it is also meant to store linens – heirloom tablecloths, quilts, doilies, etc. And cedar is the best protection against those pesky hole-eating moths. Well. I’m no traditional girl, and when it came time to pick out my hope chest, cedar just wasn’t going to cut it. No. I had to have a fancy-pants, über-trendy rattan chest from The Bombay Co. It was the first piece of furniture I had ever owned, and I loved it. I was at least smart enough not to cart it up to my dorm room with me, but when the time came for me to have my own apartment, that baby moved in and I doted on it. I didn’t have much to put in it, but I knew why it was there, and it somehow helped me hope for a godly husband, a beautiful home.

In the winter of 2004, I decided it was time to move to Little Rock. Without going into detail, it was a hasty and ill-advised move, but I was stubborn and bent on having my way. And my way was a gorgeous, historic downtown apartment. A handful of faithful friends showed up in the January rain to pack me up and move me across the river. About halfway there, I looked behind me at the truck carrying my hope chest. The tarp in the back was flapping, and I thought about pulling over to ask the driver to secure it. But I had a deadline to meet and we pressed on. My next glance in the rear view revealed the lid of my beloved hope chest lifting up and flying through the air into the stream of I-67’s oncoming traffic. The caravan pulled over and searched, but the lid had flown off too far back for us to see, so I sent everyone else on while my mom and I circled back in my car to search.

I can still see it in my mind – the lid lay splintered in the median, in at least 30 pieces, completely ruined. I was devastated. To make matters worse, as we pulled over to look at the lid, we were rear-ended. In my brand new car. And my mother was injured. I was inconsolable, she was hurting, the lid was destroyed, it was cold and raining and I knew I had done something very unwise by taking this gorgeous downtown Little Rock apartment. Even then, in my spirit I felt the warning, something telling me I was pushing too hard this time, flying too hard against the wind, but I ignored it. After filling out an accident report and deciding to leave the shattered lid where it lay, we joined my friends in Little Rock. I walked into my new apartment and saw my beautiful hope chest sitting in the corner, sad and lidless. My heart literally hurt. It was mine and nice and beautiful and now it was broken, and how could a girl properly fill a hope chest with no lid?

Not long after moving into that apartment, I began to wander. I made destructive choices. Immoral choices. It started slowly – it typically does – and before I knew it, I was years-deep in hopeless, Godless living. I spent my treasure for moth and rust and laid none by for safekeeping. And every time I looked at that busted hope chest, I felt my shame. I felt my brokenness, my poverty, my lost purpose. It held accusation for me at every glance.

You used to be whole. You used to be beautiful. You used to be pure.

It was only after I returned to the Lord that I started to find a way to put the lid back on that chest. I don’t think I was conscious of it at the time – in my mind, I was just trying to salvage a piece of furniture. Years back, just after the accident, my dad had visited The Bombay Co. to inquire after a replacement lid. But thanks to my unique tastes, I had chosen a chest that had been one of a very limited stock and was no longer produced. I spent hours scouring eBay and Craigslist in hopes that I would find a chest like mine. Nothing.

I finally resigned myself to the fact that this thing would never be a hope chest again, and I got creative and decided if I could have the right kind of lid built, I could convert the chest to a window bench that would add some additional seating to my living room and maybe provide some blanket storage. I started talking to my dad about it, and he came and picked the chest up at Christmas two years ago to take it back to his shop and work on it. Then things got busy, life stepped in, and we found ourselves with more important things to worry about than converting hope chests to window benches.

I had all but forgotten about the bench until one Wednesday three weeks ago. I was folding a blanket, and I remembered my hope chest, and my heart sank. Would it never be repaired? I felt so sad. I started to call my dad and tell him to just forget about it, just put the stupid thing on the curb and throw it away. But I knew that wasn’t what I wanted. Deep, deep down, I knew that I still yearned for its restoration. I also knew that restoration was next to impossible. There was just no way this thing would ever even come close to looking like my hope chest again. But I’ve always been one to hope against all odds, and I guess this was no exception. Besides, even if I was willing to give up on the chest, I knew that, for whatever reason, this was important to my dad. And even if he was taking his time getting it done, it would really, really hurt his feelings if I told him to scrap it. So I kept silent. Didn’t mention it. And went on about my business.

At this point, it had been at least one whole year since Dad and I had even discussed the hope chest. Two years since it had gone with him to the shop.

Two days later, Dad called to ask if I was home. I told him I was almost there. He said, “Don’t sit on it.” What an odd thing to say, I thought, but if you know my dad, you know he just says funny things sometimes, so I laughed and went on. A few moments later, I walked in the door of my house, and there it was.

20130811-114001.jpg

I couldn’t believe it. He had finished it. And not how I’d asked him to, either. I’d asked him to make a recessed, cushioned top, something that might even be permanently affixed so it could be a bench instead of a chest. I had asked him to change this thing’s purpose. And he had refused. He made it another lid, and he gave me back my hope chest.

For years, that hope chest has been an empty, hollow reminder of my wandering, my sin and my shame. Of my detour. A detour that I thought couldn’t be righted again. For years, it has whispered regret and failure and loss. And here it is, sitting in my living room, completely and fully restored.

It doesn’t look exactly how it looked when it was given to me sixteen years ago. It is even more beautiful to me now than it was then. Because now, it tells my story. Now, it whispers redemption. It whispers beauty and restoration and wholeness and it sings of His great, great faithfulness. It tells me that He does not leave us broken. He does not leave us empty or hollow. And when we come back to Him and meekly say, well, maybe you could just use me as this kind of woman now instead, since I ruined my chances at getting to be that kind of woman?

He. says. NO.
You are not ruined.
You are restored.
You are whole.
I have set your purpose from the beginning of time, and it stands.
The lid is SHUT.

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