Peace and the Single Girl

This isn’t a topic that I’m given to just generally broadcasting about, but I’ve been fielding a fair amount of questions about my single status lately (at what age do people stop trying to set you up with their relatives and friends – or maybe even your own relatives (I love you, Aunt Susie, but a step-cousin is still a cousin!) – and can I hurry up and get there?), so I thought perhaps an explanation was in order.

Dating.

Most of my friends and family know that I was in a serious relationship that ended early last year. And while it was a necessary ending, it was a particularly painful ending, and one that could have threatened to send me reeling into all manner of craziness. There, but for the grace of God, went I. Several amazing people stepped in and spoke grace and strength and truth and peace and comfort during those days, and I emerged stronger and more whole than I’ve ever been.

One of the more common reactions to a painful breakup is to go right back out and start dating again – preferably finding someone more handsome who has loads of money this go ‘round, right? (wink wink)  Seriously, though, it happens. Folks get their hearts broken, and they think a new person can help it hurt less, so they hop right back on the crazy train. I’ve done it myself scads of times. This time, I just happened to have one very serious advantage. The thought of dating again made me physically ill. Problem solved.

But then the autumn came. And I started to wonder – am I ready? I mean, maybe I am…funny how all it takes is a little wondering and then POOF! in walks Mr. Opportunity. Or, in my case, he called and asked me to lunch.

It was, hands down, one of the very worst dates I have ever been on.

I should clarify that this man seemed perfectly nice and normal and what have you. We just did. not. click. I mean, in that painfully obvious we-aren’t-clicking-and-our-food-hasn’t-even-gotten-to-our-table-yet kind of way. I’m so glad I can laugh about it now but my mercy me. It was awful. The whole thing was a nightmare – from the getting ready to the awkward silences to the walk up the porch steps and the clumsy sideways hug and him saying, “I’ll call you soon!” and me thinking, “Really? Why would you?” and him not calling and me thinking, “How dare you not call me!” and oh. Listen.

I hate dating.

I enjoy being in a healthy relationship. I just hate that first bit where it’s all awkward and nervous and clumsy. Still, all of the awkwardness and nervousness aside, this verse from Song of Solomon just kept running through my head during the days after that date: “Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you: do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.” (Song of Solomon 8:4) I just couldn’t shake it. I began to think beyond this one date and onto the broader landscape of my life. And honestly, it just didn’t make any sense to add dating to the mix right that second. So I decided that it was no longer a question of readiness, it was a question of availability, and, for the next few months, I was not available for dating. I felt like there were already so many areas of my life where I’d been called to serve the people I love, and I needed to be singular in focus. Which meant I was choosing to be single on purpose.

It should come as no surprise that within one month, our lives were changed drastically and unforeseeably. It has absolutely nothing to do with my marital status, but it does have a very real impact on how my daughter’s life will be shaped from here forward. It’s a private matter, so give me grace for the withholding of details, but rest assured that all is well, and this can be a very good thing for her. Still, change is change, and we have needed grand amounts of space for the adjusting. I am so grateful now that I decided, back in December, to lean into my singleness and embrace it as a gift from the Lord during this period in my life. I’d always heard people say that if you are single right now, you should thank God because that is His provision for You in this moment, and His provision is always a gift. I’m not gonna lie to you, I thought that was a load of hooey. But I was younger then, and I had very different ideas about who God was and how He operated. But now…well, now I see. It was a gift. That horrible date and the ensuing charge from Solomon’s Song…a gift. A gift that freed me so I could be ready to turn on a dime when our lives changed and my daughter’s future needed my full attention. A gift that meant I wasn’t simultaneously trying to nurture a new relationship and navigate this massive new and permanent reality for me and my daughter. It was all a gift.

Someone asked me recently if I really believed, to my core, that God has a plan and is interceding on my behalf, and that it’s okay to be alone for a while until the person He provides comes along. How I loved answering that question. A thousand times yes, was my reply. My, do I ever believe that. I love answering that because I spent so long knowing that I should believe that but not quite being able to fully get there. And my choices reflected just that. But now, I’m there. And I can tell you all day long how wonderful it is to be here, and how much peace there is, but I bet you’d receive it in just about the same way as I did all those years: Yeah, yeah. Whatever. Keep talkin’, lady. There any cute single guys here?

So I will just tell you not to lose heart and not to lose hope. It truly is okay to be alone for a spell – you never know what He has in the works. At the end of the day, I remember this: my Father knows my heart, and I know that He is unfalteringly good. And He loves me. And that is enough.

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Why I Love Being a Mother

Thank You for making me a mother.

I know it isn’t quite how You’d planned. And yet, You keep blowing ashes into beauty, grace upon heaping grace, our falling all piled up into this one magnificent mound You’re molding into glory.

I love this mothering job You’ve given me.

You knew how alone I felt. How lost in this wide world of connections. How some days I wondered when someone would arrive whose business it was to be my person. 

And so You took my ashes, my pain, my wandering, and You made something stunning. I’m still not sure how that works, that miracle of redemption. But I’ve got proof that it does. Ten fingers, ten toes, my hands, my smile and two big blue eyes to stare into mine.

And You settled me.

I found myself thinking, the other day, What if…

And I know there are some mothers out there who can’t see through to tomorrow’s new mercies, and the What If’s are their only grasp at dreams, and they may like the idea of how their lives could have turned out, but let me tell you.

Not me.

You saved me when You gave me this daughter. I was having such a hard time finding Your love. I had no idea what Your heart really looked like. But then this one day in September, my own heart began to shift. And there I was with a mother heart. There I was the parent who dotes on her child, who would give anything, do anything, cross any distance, brave any terror, sacrifice any comfort…for the beloved child.

As You have shown me how to be a mother, You have shown me how to be the Beloved.

You showed me Your heart by giving me a bit of it for my own child, and I haven’t been able to help but believe You. So I don’t want to imagine my life without her. Because when You gave me her, You gave me more of You. 

Thank You for making me a mother.

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You’re the Same

She had a bad day today. And I am re-learning how to count gifts and number graces in the middle of chaos and her teacher texts me to tell me she’s sending home a note. It’s the first note in months, the first note since before the landscape began to change. And I’m tempted to explain it away and point at this or that, when really, there’s nothing to blame but sin. And no one to blame but every single one of us.

I sit through a meeting and send little droplets of venom sailing south, annoyance at a project not complete months past its due date. It’s not until I’m driving to get her that I realize I’m annoyed with myself for not seeing the project finished. And I’m tempted to point at someone else, to put it on a less tenured set of shoulders, relieve myself of the responsibility, when really, there’s no relief in that. And we’re all to blame anyway.

I walk into her classroom and her first question aches.  “Mommy? Are you mad at me?” She knew her teacher had called me, knew I’d gotten a note. I had driven across the river asking for wisdom in responding to her, especially in this season, and there she was dreading my drive, too. I’d had a thought, crossing that river, that sin is sickness. And if sin is sickness, shouldn’t we be reaching in with healing hands? I tell her I’m not mad. I tell her that we’re going to be okay.

We drive, but not in silence. I play whatever music I can find to soothe the moment, to guide my heart. David Crowder croons, reminds me, He never lets go. It seems like an odd choice for the moment, but this song has always comforted me, always reminded me of God’s great, great faithfulness. I say thanks out loud, almost verbatim the thanks from Ann’s toast story, and we drive to the grocery store, and I look for every opportunity to speak kindness. I normally crank and mutter my way through these aisles (somehow I’m always fighting the throngs for the perfect head of lettuce), but tonight I slow, deliberately, and try to move on in gentleness.

We get home, and I have a plan. Dinner, bath time, a story, and bed. And we’ll talk. We’ll talk about the day and what went wrong and how it can go right tomorrow. So we talk over chicken and carrots and cucumbers and she tells me a little bit about why she did the things she did, and how she thinks she might do better tomorrow. Later, I’m tucking her into bed and she says it.

“Mommy, you know that song you played? The Never Let Go song? Well, I was thinking, that tomorrow…tomorrow I won’t let go. I’ll just hold on and be good and not let go. So I can be nice to my friends. Because today, I was holding on but then I let go and I fell. Here, let me show you…” 

…and she takes my arm and holds on real tight. And I take her hand off of my arm and put it in my hand and explain to her what the song really means, that even when we can’t hold on, He holds on for us, and that we can all stop trying so ever-loving hard to hold on to a Father who’s got the whole world in His hands. And she smiles.

“I’m really glad you told me that, Mommy. I really like that song.” 

So I tuck her in and ask her if she wants me to sing, and she does. And she takes my hand and holds it up, in front of her night light where stars glow bright on our skin, and we sing it together, how He never lets go.

 

Never Let Go
The David Crowder Band

When clouds veil sun and disaster comes
Oh my soul, oh my soul
When waters rise and hope takes flight
Oh my soul, oh my soul, oh my soul

Ever faithful, ever true
You, I know, You never let go
You never let go, You never let go
You never let go
You never let go, You never let go
You never let go

When clouds brought rain and disaster came
Oh my soul, oh my soul
When waters rose and hope had flown
Oh my soul, oh my soul, oh my soul
Ever faithful, ever true
You, I know, You never let go

You never let go, You never let go
You never let go
You never let go, You never let go
You never let go

Oh, my soul overflows
Oh what love, oh what love
Oh, my soul fills with hope
Perfect love that never lets go

In joy and pain, in sun and rain
You’re the same, oh, You never let go

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No Space of Regret

I simply must confess – I love snow. I know that many have had a hard time being without power in this storm, and I do not love that. (Kudos to Entergy and all of the workers from far and near who gave up snow play dates and vacations and the like to help restore power.) But I so love the image of sparkly white blanketing the grass and trees and cars and streets, the excitement of staying up late, waiting for the first few flakes to fall. It’s magic. Pure magic. I kid you not, when fall sets in, I start praying for snow. Olivia joined me in that prayer this year. Clearly, she is hard to resist. I’ve never seen so much glee on her face.

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Last year, Christmas had us running in circles and by the end of it, I was so exhausted that I decided we would start spending Christmas in the Rockies at a ski lodge or maybe hop up to Boston to see the Joneses. Either way, we would be in snow country for Christmas. We wouldn’t spend hours shopping for unnecessary presents, I wouldn’t bake until my apron was worn thin. We would just go somewhere and enjoy being there together, us two.

Well, we didn’t make it to Boston, and Liv’s still too young for the Rockies, but we still had a simple, snowy Christmas. A peaceful one. I didn’t agonize over gifting, and I didn’t cook a single thing I didn’t want to. And because we kept things simple, when it was time to help my sweet sister with something, I was ready. To me, that is one of the greatest gifts – to be called on to help. So, because I didn’t fill my schedule up with one thousand things I thought were expected of me, I had the privilege of being there for someone I love – and being fully there.

Being fully present this Christmas was the gift I received in exchange for years of Christmases past spent aimlessly scurrying about. And you can bet your stockings I’ll remember it every Christmas future.

Come in, — come in! and know me better, man! I am the Ghost of Christmas Present. Look upon me! You have never seen the like of me before!
– Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

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Hands and Feet and Help and Goats

I’ve been quiet over here. A fog descended two weeks ago today and I’ve honestly had a hard time driving all the way through it in search of hopeful words. So I battened down the hatches for a bit. Give me grace for the stillness?

December 20, 2012
My daughter is alive, my home is still standing, there is food on my table and money in my bank account, but my heart. My heart feels empty and sluggish. There’s chaos at home and chaos in Connecticut and I wake up thinking about all those parents who are waking up and realizing that it wasn’t just a bad dream and feeling that reality land hard and heavy on their chests. And I ache. In my ache, I reach for my daughter, and I don’t feel relief, I feel guilt. I feel more sorrow.

I can be such a hideous steward of these gifts of family and provision.

As I think about those twenty, and how young they were, how tender and innocent, and how senseless was their killing, I hear: do you know how many children died of hunger yesterday?

16,000.

How many of us have been left feeling so helpless and wishing that we could have been in Newtown on Friday, wishing that we could have saved at least one child’s life?

I tell Livi that some kids got hurt on Friday, and she says, “I know what we can do. We can help them. We can send them some toys.” And I think that we cannot help them, they’ve flown heavenward, and then I remember the 16,000.

From my home in Arkansas on Friday, I couldn’t have done a thing to help the Newtown children. But I can help the children across the world who woke up hungry this morning. Whose skin stretches tight over ribs aching for something to stick to them. Yes. I can help those children. It may only be a drop in the bucket, but if that one drop lands on one pair of parched lips, it will help.
Christmas morning, Olivia and I will open the catalogs and we will find ways we can help.

December 28, 2012
Christmas morning, we flipped through Compassion International and World Vision’s pages of goats and chicks and water filtration systems and as I struggled to explain why someone anywhere would need a live goat and what hunger is and what poverty is, and I waited expectantly (and a bit irrationally) for my daughter to choose a profound combination of goats and ducks and a quarter of a cow and say something deep and resonant about the world, we stumbled upon a page that gives you the option of sending toys to these same children to whom the goats and such come. Naturally, sending a goat was immediately and irrevocably out of the question in her little mind. And so this season’s theme of keeping the story simple carries on, even to Christmas morning: some kids are hurting. Toys will make them hurt less. Let’s send them some toys.

And so it is. Toys we will send.

Happy birthday, Jesus.

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Lend Thy Light

The blog is silent tonight, for obvious reasons.

Sleep in heavenly peace,
sleep in heavenly peace.

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A Few of My Favorite Things

So, I took a day off from posting yesterday because Liv and I kept my niece overnight. Rather than scramble for words, I opted to chase some kiddos. It was fun. And now I return.

Something about this Christmas has me remembering holiday memories from way back. Things like…

…Saturday-after-Thanksgiving trips to Schilling’s Christmas Tree Farm. Real trees. Real saws. Real tractors.

…Decorating the tree and listening to Amy Grant’s Christmas album and Tennessee Ernie Ford’s The Story of Christmas. We would unpack the ornaments and I loved looking for my favorites – the ornament from my first Christmas, the white plastic wreaths with our pictures in them, and Mom’s collection of Snoopy ornaments.

…Watching Chip ‘n’ Dale Christmas shorts. That’s the cartoon, folks. The cartoon chipmunks.

…The year that Mom and Dad got me the coat I really wanted. I thought it was so incredibly trendy. I think I screamed when I opened it. Fashion’s always been a thing…

…Family gatherings at Aunt Susie and Uncle Ronnie’s house. I loved seeing her tree…and seeing which of the cousins was brave enough to slide down their fire pole. That’s right. They had a fire pole. Totally awesome.

…Waiting for my turn to open the Advent calendar in December and knowing that Mom would have put something super cool in there.

…My freshman year of college, feeling sad and lonely about being away from home around the holidays. One Sunday, Mom called and told me to meet her in Newport. She drove up with a tiny Christmas tree and music-themed ornaments for my dorm room.

…Spending the night at Nana and Grandpa’s on Christmas Eve and watching Little Women by the fire.

…Monogrammed bath towels from Mimi. She always got me peach or pink. How I wish I still had at least one of them.

There are some newer memories…

…Mom handing the Advent calendar down to me, completely refurbished and fully stocked when Livi was one year old.

20121213-233800.jpg…Friday nights and cheesy Christmas movie marathons on the Hallmark channel with Dad and Kelly.

…The Christmas cookie bake-off. The sisters. The mother. The grandmother. The children and, if they’re brave, the men. We bake. We decorate. We graze. Fun is had by all. This year, my younger sister Holly hosts. She is the first of the sisters to claim that rite of passage. It’s a big deal.

…Christmas Eve in pajamas at Mom and Charlie’s and how, with each passing year, Liv becomes more aware of the excitement that’s coming in the morning.

It’s not always been a ‘picture print by Currier & Ives.’ Every family’s story has some pain in it, some heartbreak, both collective and individual. Every family’s story has some mess. But there is a Redeemer who put on flesh and was born into a lineage with its own share of checkered chapters, in a setting that was least likely to be regal or picturesque. And, to paraphrase Beth Moore, He redeemed the entire line. So I can look back over my history and my family’s history, and I can still find joy hiding out in those unlikely places. Because I can see how He has already healed so many broken things. Given so much beauty for ashes. Poured out the oil of gladness instead of mourning. And I know He’s not done with us yet.

“Is there any God like you, forgiving iniquity, passing over transgressions by the survivors who are your heritage?” Micah 7:18

No. There is absolutely no one like You.

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A Child Shall Lead Them

In keeping with my desire to properly frame Christmas for my daughter, I asked her last night what we should get Jesus for His birthday. I’m trying to teach her that Christmas is not about getting presents. Christmas is about giving, sacrificially, the way that Jesus gave. So I asked her what Jesus might want, and she responded:

“Gold. And Frankenstein. And…um…a tree? Does he need a tree?”

I mean, seriously. What in the world made us laugh before we had children? I loved her response, not just because it was funny, but because it shows me that she’s learning the story. And that’s the thing I’m desperate for – that she’ll learn the story.

Tonight, she wandered into the living room, AWOL from bedtime, and snuggled up next to me on the couch. I’ve had one of those days on the heels of several more like it where you stay too busy to stop and pray and read and commune, and I was feeling it in my bones. I needed to be still, so that’s what I was doing. She asked me about the book on my lap, and I tried to explain that I was reading and praying and spending time with God. I told her that people can do that alone, or they can do it as a family, the way that we had earlier tonight when we read the Christmas story and talked (some more) about what Jesus might want for His birthday. She asked if we could pray together. Delighted, I began. I prayed for every family member I could think of, thanked Him for our morning, our night and everything in between, and I prayed that we would celebrate Jesus’ birthday in a way that pleases Him. The whole time I was conscious of how I was praying, thinking about the hefty responsibility I have as her mother – the responsibility of teaching her how to pray. Then it was her turn.

“Dear God, I hope you have a good birthday. I hope you get lots of good presents. And that you get everything you want. So. Happy birthday! I love you very much!”

And now, here it is, the answer to this question that I was sure I already knew the answer to. I’ve been quizzing her all week, trying to teach her what it is that Jesus wants for His birthday, and in seven words, she nails it: and that you get everything you want.

He wants what He came here for: the world saved. His kingdom come. I look down and think: that’s a tall order for these two hands. But it’s not for the hands that flung the stars into the heavens. My five year-old knows it’s possible. Her hands are tinier than mine. Still she believes.

Dear God,
Our Father, who art in heaven,
I hope you have a good birthday.
hallowed be Thy name.
I hope you get lots of good presents.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done
And that you get everything you want.
on Earth as it is in heaven.  

 

 

 

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For Unto Us

Needing to stop today, be still, and meditate on this…

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.

You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil.

For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.

For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.

The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
(Isaiah 9:2-7 ESV)

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I’ll Have the Elephant, Please…

Last week I read about being anxious when we perceive that something is lacking in our lives. As I was writing about that, I asked myself what, if anything, I considered to be lacking during this season of my life. The very first thing that came to mind, pitched a tent and stayed there, was this: TIME. I constantly feel like I don’t have enough time to get everything done. I constantly feel like I’m failing because my house isn’t perfect, my car is cluttered, my kid hasn’t bathed in two days, and I haven’t stopped to pray since I can’t remember when.

These things I need to be doing that I can’t quite seem to mark off the list follow me around all the live-long day until I feel absolutely defeated, like I haven’t accomplished a single thing of value. Like I’ve just been treading water until it’s time to go to sleep, wake up and do it all over again.

Is anybody relating to this? Anybody?

In the middle of all of this thinking about my time, I’ve also been thinking about two other things. The first is that Nancy Leigh DeMoss says we have exactly as much time as we need. That God has given us, down to the minute, enough time to do everything that He has for us in a given day. The other thing on my mind is the Sabbath. I know it’s no accident that we have a God-ordained day of rest. I’m pretty sure He wasn’t actually tired from creating the world. But I do think He wanted to rest, for at least two reasons. One: to enjoy what He had just created, to sit back and take a look and say, again: This is good. Two: to let us know that we need to take an ever-loving break sometimes.

So, just to recap, here’s what I’m learning:
1. Don’t be anxious about not having enough time to get things done because
2. You actually have all the time you need to get things done, it’s really just a matter of priorities and
3. Speaking of priorities, you need to schedule yourself some regular rest.

It really does all come down to scheduling and priorities. But for a girl like me, that can be a huge challenge. I walk in the door of my house, and I see every single mess, every single thing that needs attention, and I feel all of it calling my name. Clean the kitchen, straighten the dining room, finish the sewing project, put away the laundry, fold the blanket, wash the sheets, scrub the bathtub, vacuum the floors, sweep the floors, mop the floors…until I’m basically paralyzed. It’s just perfectionism rearing its ugly head, trying to chomp down on that big ol’ elephant because if anyone thinks she can eat a six-ton mammal in a single bite, it’s a girl with a perfectionism problem.

You know what, though? I am sick and tired of being angry with myself for not being able to do something that is literally impossible. So tonight I asked myself: what do I need to do to get the house in basic order before I go to bed? That’s easy. Clean the kitchen, put away the laundry, straighten my bedroom. They’re simple things, and I didn’t do them perfectly, but they’re done. And because they’re done, I will be able to rest.

See what happened there?

I do. I took a bite out of the elephant. And tomorrow, I’ll take a couple more.

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