Tuesday, December 24, 2013

All is worship and all is holy

When I got the group text that morning from the husband, I wondered.

I opened and played.

And there was the eldest and she was vacuuming and the white noise filled the audio.

But then I heard it. Under the muffle of the vacuum's voice I recognized the melody before I remembered the words.

Her clear little voice rose strong out of that labor and she was singing of the Christ child.

All is worship and all is holy

As she pushed that vacuum back and forth, she was oblivious to the daddy proud standing at the top of the stairs who was capturing it sacred.

She sang crystal loud. Proclaiming joy and Jesus for the angels.

I smiled and my heart smiled and I choked back gentle mama tears for the girl singing her little lungs out to Jesus. Does she have any idea how much joy that brings her Father? Could she know that her little voice rings louder than a choir as it rises to the heavens? Does she realize that she's worshipping true and precious?

And I wonder tonight if Mary knew that bearing the Christ child was worship true and precious. If she really understood the magnitude of her choice, of her sacrifice, of her 'yes.' Could she have known that when she took shelter in that meager barn, the angels gathered close, watching, waiting.

All is worship and all is holy.

And as her time drew near, all of heaven drew in a deep breath of expectation. Waiting. Holding. The entire universe paused, breath caught all up, waiting for that first wee cry, that first wee breath. All creation waiting for the Christ child to be born.

And then the exhale. The fulfillment. Our Redeemer.

And I'm guessing there was a wild babble of angelic voices and the angel choir may have been caught off guard a little with all this excitement. And then maybe a tiny, weary voice rose to the heavens out of all that labor and she was singing to the Christ child, the words of a lullaby drifting among the stars, and the angels caught it and joined their voices to hers in strength and worship and volume and breadth until the whole universe exploded bright and bold and joyous with their song proclaiming Jesus. Worship. True and Precious.

Our waiting is fulfilled. The season of Advent is over and the event of Christmas has arrived.

Our Savior is here, birthed into our waiting, birthed into our distractions, birthed into our worries and burdens and toils, birthed into our broken and weary, birthed into our broken. So that He may redeem us, perhaps not out of all our mud and mire, but through it, so our worship may ring bright and true and precious because Jesus loves our messy, our befuddled, our cracked and fractured places.

All is worship and all is holy.

Today may our words and our actions be worship. May we capture it sacred and true and may our worship rise to the heavens proclaiming the Savior's birth. Because He's here. Right. Here. And I don't want to miss Him.

Grace always Rises,

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

What to do when life rains all over

You know that saying:
When it rains it pours.

Yep, I'm totally there this week.
It's raining and it's pouring and I'm waiting for the old man to snore.
Fat chance.
I'm pushing hard into Jesus this week. Because it matters more than my rain.
It started Saturday night when I felt that nose thing and the skin thing and the overall feeling of malaise take over.
And then it was Sunday and the husband was working on the roof (yes, still!) which left me to tote the three little people to church.
And then I was scheduled to work in the nursery and I had 8 kids by myself and it seemed they were all having issues. Of the screaming kind. Including me. (me not so much screaming though--just to clarify). And I pushed hard into Jesus, trusting, leaning. Because it matters more than my rain.
And then it was Monday. My alarm went off and I cringed a little because the skin was hurting and the nose and the body. And it's finals week so it's not like I can call in sick this week. It's not like I can throw my hands up and call it good. It's the end and I have to finish well. And on this morning, it seemed like a lot. I may have even told my last class of seniors that I felt horrible and that I didn't really care about their grade problems or drama problems because I felt that badly. Who does that?
Sick people. That's who.
But I finished. It wasn't pretty, mind you, but I finished.
I pressed hard into Strength even though it was pouring.
So this morning I wake up and the nose is a little better and the skin not so sensitive, but I have a cough and it hurts to talk and I'm a teacher and that's what I do for a living and may I just say ugh.
So off I go to contaminate the world with my germs. Sorry world.
But still pushing hard, leaning hard into Jesus. Because it matters more than my pouring rain. He matters more.
And I do pretty well. Not contaminating, but holding my pieces together, trusting Jesus for enough to get through the day, being semi-productive, slowly but steadily forging my way through the stack of essays on my desk. I even apologize to my last class of the day for my heartless, unmerciful statement the day before and that today, I might care about their problems just a smidge. They sometimes think I've lost my mind, so they grant me grace.
My phone rings. It's the preschool where the twins go.
"Kadence just threw up."
Her timing...impeccable. Truly comedic in all its brilliance.
And I felt like crying. And laughing.
But what can you do but keep going. Take one more step. Trust for one more breath. For one more moment when the body is weak and frail and the soul is bone deep weary.
So I leaned hard. Muttered "Jesus is in control. Jesus is in control," like a mantra under my breath.
Pressing into the heart of Jesus, into the healing grace of Jesus even as the rain pours and it seems like too much in a season already full of too much and too many one more things that seem to make the straw that broke the camel's back look small by comparison.
In my eyes anyway.

And so we go home, the sick little girl and I, to wallow in our sickness together.
We take naps and go to pick up the other two from school.
Kadence is a jabber-jaw...words flying every which way. Feeling better??
So, I venture a quick trip to Target.

More rain.
Apparently, she was not feeling better and emphatically threw up in the car,
literally as we pull into the Target parking lot.
And for the second time today, I felt like crying. And laughing. Because really it's like watching a comedy/tragedy play out in real life.

What to do???
I know, you are all probably saying...ummm...go home.
Ok, so here's the thing...I live 20 minutes from Target. I needed pull-ups like tonight. And I'm still feeling pretty crummy so I'm not going back later.
And she's sitting with a blanket of throw up in her lap. I have to stop anyway.

Sweet Kadence says, "Mama, we can still go to Target right?"
Decision made.
10 minutes--in and out.
She takes another blanket in case she needs to throw up again.
We all wash our hands in the bathroom.
New shirt for the throw up girl.
Pull ups.
And a sense of relief that we made it through the store without incident.

It's pouring today. And that's okay. Because there's still grace, always grace. A whole lotta grace. And it has my name on it. And I'm pressing, leaning, crawling hard into the lap of Grace to sit in it. To soak in Him, to be in His presence, to let Him love me because I know that's more important than the rain. He can control the rain. What He wants is my attention. My heart. My broken. This week, I need Him more than I need air. I. need. Him. And He's got me. And the rain can fall and the storm can wail, and I'll just sit here curled up under His wing and trust Him to battle the storm for me. And tomorrow is a new day. Maybe it will still be raining. Maybe not. It doesn't matter. I've got Grace.

Grace always Rises,

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

When My Traditions Lose Heart

I love traditions. I love the expectancy, the waiting, the excitement, the expectation, the build up.

 All this waiting and excitement mirrors the expectation for the Christ-child.

Christmas brings the advent of many traditions in my family.

I long and wait and plan for that Saturday after Thanksgiving when we make the trek to the mountains to cut down our Christmas tree.

For years and years we have made this pilgrimage and I love it no less today than I did when I was 8.

I love that it's my family--all of them--the whole wild passel spilling through the trees, tumbling down hills, filling the air with smiles and shouts and giggles as we search for the perfect tree.

I love that we are together--all of us. Family.

My dad is the root digger in my family. He's walked hard and long and painful to learn family, to live family.

Family is sticking hard and true when cancer ravages a grandma's heart and soul. Family is staying close through long nights and longer waits and doctors and bad news and the long haul.

Family is hurting with a sister when a husband lies between here and the after for months with hoses and tubes and bandages and sickness spilling out. Family is loving out compassion and living out empathy and loving through and loving while and loving after.

Family is knowing that a frail father's Alzheimer's mind needs a different love. Family is deep and runs faithful giving back to the roots what time and sickness has stolen fierce.

Family is taking those who have no family and loving them and grafting them into yours. Family is not blood but choice, commitment, grace.

My dad lives family in a quiet, gentle, graceful way. He has taught me deep down where things get etched in truth, because he's not afraid of hard, of grief, of joy, of pain, of sorrow, of gladness.

It's family who offers grace when others throw judgment. It's family who sticks when others fall away fast. It's family who doesn't give up but commits to the long and the hard and the painful. And whether it's family that you are born into or family that you make...family is family. Family is eternal.

And when we are stripped of our leaves and laid bare, it's the roots that matter, that keep us, that ground us. 

I adore every messy, dysfunctional, crazy, chaotic, heart-wrenching bit of family--because they are my family, they are my roots. And roots run deep into grace. And grace runs deeper still.

So Christmas trees and the Christmas traditions we carry over from year to year remind me of family, the ones we're born into, the ones we make, the ones we're adopted into.

But I need to keep revisiting the "whys" of my traditions because what happens when my traditions get old and trite and worn and one-more-thing to do on my never-ending list? What happens when I cling to what I've always done because I've always done it and I don't remember the why to justify the doing?

What happens when I lose the heart behind the tradition?

What happens when I lose it?

In a season jam packed to bursting with way too much of just about everything--too much candy, too much food, too much spending, too much on my calendar, too much on my list, too much of too much--I struggle with losing my mind.

I can't catch my breath and I gasp for something elusive and just out of my reach. I get lost in all the stuff and I can't see the forest for the trees--I can't remember the "why" for any of it--and frankly, in the moment of too much, I probably don't want to think about the "why" for any of it.

Sad, right?

Traditions can become like habits. The things I do without even thinking about them--like brushing my teeth or folding the laundry--a mind-numbing task to check off my to do list.

Instead of coloring the tapestry of life with brightness and joyfulness, reminding my of my blessings unmeasured, my eyes shift and I lament and my heart mumbles under its breath because one more person wants one more piece of me that I don't have to give. And I can't catch my breath.

When my traditions lose heart, I have to take heart and slow down.

I confess saying yes is my Achilles Heel. If it sounds good, then it must be good. And if it must be good, it must be God working and I should say Yes. And then my plate is crowded to overflowing with so many passionless yeses and there's no room and I can't breath, suffocated by all this stuff that isn't the stuff of grace and the things I need to say yes to have no spot to sit.

And then there's this downhill slide to a small, but very potent, emotional breakdown and it's just not pretty. I have to grant myself permission to say no, to let go of what I think I'm supposed to do, and to be.

It's hard to focus on what really matters when I am moving too fast, doing too much, and not taking care with myself and my time and my people because what really suffers in all my yes-ing is my family.

I am learning that not all good things are the good things I am called to do. And just because something is good doesn't mean that I have to say yes to it. When I can be still, breathe grace deep, then I will hear the small, quiet voice of the Lord and then I know.

Grace. In a season where we wait earnestly for the Christ-child, I seem to forget grace made manifest, love made tangible, redemption made mortal.

We worn and tired wives and mamas and sisters and daughters know the demands of juggling babies and in-laws and presents and dinners and where-are-we-going and what-are-we-doing and being pulled in a thousand directions at once and it's hard and it hurts and we end our days wondering what's so great about Christmas.

I have to cling tighter and harder and fiercer to the One who offers freely the gift of grace.

I have to remember that at the end of the day, the only things that really matter aren't even things--they are people, my people, my roots.

Our roots, our legacy, begins with Adam, with Jesse, with David, with Mary, with Jesus--Immanuel: God with us, God in us.

When I can get rid of all the weeds that choke tight and threaten sanity and blind my eyes and really grab onto my roots, cling desperately to my legacy, my Grace roots, I remember Immanuel and the earth shifts slight, the ground shakes quiet, and world gently rights itself.

Oh blessed breath of Heaven, breathe in me and through me and around me and within me. Breathe grace. breathe. deep.

Traditions are meant to remind us of our legacy, our roots--where we come from, who we are, to bring us together, to draw us in, to bind us tighter. Without that I only have empty, meaningless, graceless habits.

Advent is a season of waiting, of grabbing hold of our roots in expectancy, looking forward to the Christ-child's birth. Traditions are part of the expectancy, the waiting, because they remind us of what's coming:

Immanuel. God with us. Grace with us. Truth with us. Love with us.

Grace Always Rises,

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

What it means to worship Immanuel--God with us

Immanuel--In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Immanuel--The Word became flesh.
Immanuel--God with us.
Immanuel--God. With. Me.
I have to catch my breath.
I have to stop and let my heart, my being, soak in this Truth. Soak in The Truth.
I sing songs with these words every Christmas. But it is today, right now, that my soul demands I stop, slow down, and feel what this means. My soul begs of me that I be still and know Immanuel.

Who am I that God would make Himself like me--that He would put on skin and clank around in bones, that He would opt for a heart that pumps blood through thin-walled veins and wounds that can bleed red and deep and scar deeper.
That He would choose to dwell among us.
That He would choose to dwell within us.
What would that be like?
How would that feel for the God of ALL CREATION to humble Himself and be like us:
to walk on dirt, to hunger and thirst, to be tempted, to go without?

What would it be like for the God who placed each single star into all the galaxies and all the universes and named them all to bring Himself low and become a Servant to the very ones He created?
What would it be like for the Ruler of the Heavens to suffer from fatigue and boredom and worry and sadness and sorrow?
My mind, my heart cannot fathom the love that all this requires.
I. am. simply. humbled.
I am brought up short.
I am caught in all this wonder and caught up in all this awe of such a God.
A God who didn't have to do any of it.
A God who was worthy of all our praise and all our worship without any of this.
But who chose to do all of it.
Who chose to walk the hardest road so that we might have One to follow.
Who chose to pay the ultimate sacrifice so that we wouldn't have to.
To do this...God became a BABY.
A. Baby.
I remember my babies.
Helpless. Vulnerable. Beautiful. Weak. Dependent. Colicky. Cranky. Hard. Wonderful.
Yep. He became one of those babies.

God, the All Powerful, was a Baby. Born to a single, teenage mom.
I'm baffled. I'm humbled.
He put on flesh. He made Himself NEED. The God who made all things, Creator of heaven and Earth, in one moment became needy. He needed care and nurturing and love. He made Himself vulnerable and helpless and weak.
I have to sit in all this love for a minute. I need to let the Truth seep into my pores and deep into the cracks and crevices of a heart jaded by the jingling of Christmas bells and the bustle of the mall and the wrapping of presents and the busyness of this season.
I need to hold this Baby, God incarnate, Holiness with skin on, tight.
I need to rest a minute because this is IT:  A wee babe who was born in a barn far from home and wrapped in strips of cloth and laid in a re-purposed feeding trough, this is my Savior. 
Stop and wallow in this Truth--doesn't it bring you to your knees, doesn't it make your heart LONG to know the heart of this God who would become so low because He loves us so much?
Advent is all about waiting for the Savior.
Shouldn't the expectant birth of a baby take on new expectancy in light of all this wondrous love?
Because how can this NOT change me?
How can I not be moved and shattered and speechless when I grasp what it means for God to choose this kind of entrance into a harsh, unforgiving, dark world?

He chose to be like us because He chose us to love.
He chose us to redeem.
He chooses us. Still.
And despite my lack and my ugly and my unremarkable-ness in light of His magnificence--
He chooses to love me. 
He chose to have a heart that could be broken.
He chose to clothe himself with fragility that could be wounded.
He chose to be weak, so that in Him we could be made strong.
He chose to be made humble, so we might understand His sacrifice.
He chose to live a human, mortal life so that we could live an eternal life.
He chose to be all that we are, and yet still be wholly divine, worthy of our adoration.
He chose to be a baby.
Into the stillness, a baby will be born.
Into the darkness, a light will shine.
Into the waiting, salvation comes.
And we wait in awe and wonder and expectation for Jesus--
for Immanuel--
God. With. Us.
grace always rises,

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

How to be Simply Grateful

They brought home turkeys. Thankful turkeys. Two of them.

And Mommy and Daddy made it onto the thankful feathers of these thankful turkeys. And so did Titan and Addison. And I confess my heart melted a bit for thankful hearts and thankful feathers on thankful turkeys.

It's nice to be thanked isn't it? To know someone is glad for you and told you she was glad for you?

And if we're honest, we're probably not thanked enough. But even more than that, do we set the example by being grateful in all things at all times?

I don't.

It's hard to be grateful when there's ten loads of laundry that need washing and folding and putting away.

It's hard to be thankful when my house is filled with dust and banging hammers from a roof still broken.

It's hard to be thankful when an aunt goes early to the hospital two days before Thanksgiving because her heart is broken.

I travel the roller coaster of frustration and ungratefulness every day. That battle that befalls and my day falls apart and I go with it. And my children jump on that roller coaster with me and we ride it together.

There's little gratitude at the end of that ride.

But there could be.

It's simple really--a conundrum though because what's simple is almost always what's hardest to do because simple is not the same as easy. This is where I get hung up.

I like easy. I like how simple sounds. And because simple sounds easy, I think it must be. Until I'm knee deep in my own mire and don't quite remember how I got there. Whoopsies.

Simple is a choice. To unclutter the heart and look at what really matters is simple. To be grateful for all things at all times is simple, not easy.

It's simple to be glad for the little things, the small victories, the infinitesimal blessings in the middle of whatever muddy road I'm traveling.

It's a matter of perspective isn't it? Where my eyes go, my heart follows?

When I sit in the quiet and really think, I could fill volumes with all I am grateful for. With all that I have to be grateful for.

But in the middle of the fourth temper tantrum of the day and my house looks like a bomb of  Legoes and Barbies and coloring crayons has gone off in every room and wherever the children go a trail of shrapnel follows--it's hard to see, to remember, what exactly I was so grateful for in the quiet.

I need to make the simple choice.

It's easy to be frustrated with the mess I've already cleaned up three times.

It's easy to say words in anger because they are playing ice hockey in their socks on the hardwood floor again, complete with the Zamboni.

It's easy to worry and look elsewhere when my aunt lies sick in a hospital.

Those are the easy choices. Not the simple ones.

Gratitude is a spiritual discipline and like anything with the word 'discipline' in it, it's probably simple, but never easy. We have to plant and tend and grow gratitude. If we don't feed and water it, it ceases to exist. If it ceases to exist, to whom are we directing our eyes? Our heart? Where are we looking?

All gratitude is an act of worship. When we worship God, we are changed. Because how can I acknowledge with my gratitude the work of God in my life and not be changed?

And even in the hard and the dark and the storms that swirl scary around us and the seasons that we want so badly to run out of, those places hold grace and gratitude and worship too.

It's in those storms and in the dark where we are really tested...it's harder to choose gratitude when your world is crumbling to pieces and your heart is cracked into a thousand shards and the enemy presses hard against you...gratitude then takes courage to believe that God is who He says He is and He will do what He has promised in spite of where your feet are walking.

Offering our gratitude in the dark and scary spaces is defiance of an enemy that robs us of our joy, that robs us of our faith.

Offering our gratitude when we feel hopeless is an act of worship believing that God is more and that God is all.

Even the smallest small spark holds the power of a wildfire. So it is with our gratitude.

Gratitude begins with just a wisp, a whisper, a heart plea and the more we are grateful, the more we will find to be grateful for.

The more I look for God in the hard, in the normal, in the in-between, the more I will find Him.

It's where we're looking that matters.

Today I choose simply.
Today I choose to be grateful:

a family who rallies
a pile of pumpkins
princess bandaids
a kiss blown and caught
a full night's sleep
a hand held. or two. or three
a fish kiss
tears that turn to giggles
dirt covered little people
long walks
unexpected friends

And those thankful turkeys...they sit proudly on my kitchen table to remind me of all I have to be grateful for.

Grace Always Rises,

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Beautiful Day: Autumn Mug Swap

My good friend Jessica over at Dreaming of Dimples hosted a mug swap a few weeks ago. We shared our information with her and she graciously paired us up with a new friend.
It's a little like Christmas in November! I love Christmas in November!
I'm pretty sure that the Lord had His hand on Jessica when she paired us up.
It's not often that you feel a kindred spirit in a heart you've never met, in a place you've never been. Ashley at Expecting Miracles is a kindred spirit. I don't often feel like I have met and made a heart-friend when I've never actually met her...in fact I'm pretty sure that has happened--never.
But I deeply admire Ashley's walk with God, her story of adoption, her spirit of encouragement,
and her bold honesty. And I really love that I have a new friend.
I believe that God creates divine appointments with people, in places, at times that
you just can't get around. And they are the kind of spots and spaces that
become sacred and hallowed and blessed. And you can't get around that either.
And it doesn't matter if she lives in Arkansas and I live in California because the One God
who made us, who found us, who leads us, intertwined my road with hers
as we walk on our twisty, turny little paths to be more like Him.
People like Ashley, moments like these make my soul thankful for turny, twisty little paths,
because so often the twists and turns are hard and long and lonely.
It's about community and friendship and a friend on the journey.
It's about encouragement and blessing and the Cross.
It's about so much more than the mug.

Although, Ashley's mug is awesome.
 It's perfect.
And she may have read my mind because there was chocolate...the dark kind...in my box.
My tastebuds are singing!
 Take a peek-
(forgive my pictures...it's not my forte and my kids were dancing around and singing and trying to grab everything and I was trying to make dinner and answer no fewer than a bazillion questions
and you mamas know how that goes...so this was my best shot!)

 Thanks for making my day beautiful Ashley!

Grace Always Rises,

Friday, November 15, 2013

What it takes to build a heart, to build a home

Construction is a loaded word, isn't it? There is so much weight and uncertainty carried in those letters--as though the word itself carries the meaning implied--a little like onomatopoeia--but with loud, clanging, burdensome emotions added to the loud, clanging, cacophony of sounds. It's often a one-two punch. Straight to the heart.

Our house--our roof to be exact--is currently under construction. And with any project at our house, what begins as a simple update turns into a very complicated, very major repair.

The battens under our roof tiles are old, crumbly, decrepit and need to be replaced. It's a necessary maintenance but in the untiling and peeling back and illuminating, we inevitably discovered other pressing issues.

I really hate when that happens.

I'm, admittedly, a bit of a control freak and the husband has what I fondly like to call anal retentive tendencies and so you can imagine the pair we make. If ever one wondered if God had a sense of humor, one only has to look at us: a man with serious compulsions who believes everything should be done to perfection marries a control freak who, as long as she has the control, is all about expediency and calls the clutter good. Oh, and we have three little girls with very large personalities and they all come with their own even larger messes. That's funny stuff. I laugh about it all the time.

But I digress.

Pressing issues are those things that would rather stay hidden and buried and undiscovered...like little weeds that take up residence in the garden of my life and no one worries until the day they choke out the good plants and my garden suddenly goes beserk--I suddenly go beserk.

Pressing issues are those troubles and struggles that can't be dealt with unless they are DEALT with. Unpacked. Unloaded. Unavoidable.

We can't go back and cover up our roof issues and pretend like they aren't there. We can't undo the unpacking. The only option is to deal hard. And sometimes long. Hoping that all this untidiness, all this mess and displacement and dust and destruction, will be worth it. And it always is.

We are all construction sites. In various stages of taking apart and putting together. Always growing and learning and dealing and there are those things we'd rather have stay undiscovered. We build detours and bridges and cities right around those things to divert attention away, to distract and discourage visitors, because who wants those things straight out in the open for all our people to witness. God is persistent and presses those tender soul places and holds the pressure until the energy to maintain the facade costs too much of our soul. And we cave. But our caving allows room for God to move in. Our caving is our surrender. He knows that despite our best diversions, those places are the real construction sites because what good is painting walls and renovating floors and fixing lights if your roof is gonna leak wet all over? What good is building new rooms if your current walls, your heart, can't handle the pressure? What good is maintaining a facade if your soul is bleeding right through?

We are constantly being built and rebuilt. There is always the tearing down to be remade as we press deeper into Jesus.

Construction sites are messy places. It's the demolition of the old to make way for the new. I have never seen a tidy construction site. Even at my house with the husband who organizes his messes.

People are messy. Thus construction of our souls is messy and loving people is messy and serving people is messy. Messy, sticky, untidy stuff. To think otherwise is counterproductive. Loving people in the midst of and in spite of and all the way through their own deconstruction and reconstruction is the calling of all Christ-followers, and it's not for the faint of heart. Seeing a renovation through to the finish is heart-rending work. But walking together, knowing that we are all in varying states of deconstruction or reconstruction, is the crux of true community.

I'm convinced that God loves our messiness. That He likes the untidiness in us all because the good stuff is underneath. Under all that untidy is the beauty in the ashes and the pearl of great price--like ripping out old carpet in an older house and discovering beautiful hardwood floors underneath. There can't be a renovation without a demolition. There can't be new construction without the removal of the old and broken. We can't have the tidy, the shiny, the bright without some serious examination of the dull and decrepit and defunct. And that part hurts a bit. Well, a lot.

As God reaches into all our untidy, He unveils what really matters in our souls. He sanctifies and redeems the messes we have wallowed long in and He renovates it all and makes it new. Again and again...

Grace always Rises,

Friday, November 8, 2013

How to redeem one of those days...

Do you ever have those days where you wonder if all the world has gone deaf? Or if you lost your voice and really are only hearing yourself in your head? Where your words seem to have lost all power and contain zero incentive for any of your people--little or otherwise?

Yeah. It was one of those days.

Every direction, every request, every task vaporized like so much mist into the atmosphere. My words: POOF! The very letters dismantled and singularly tossed into the air one at a time. The decibel level rises with the blood pressure and still no one listens. Until even I don't want to listen to me.

Yeah. One of those days.

How many times is too many before I crack and explode all over? My frustration and helplessness spills ugly. It's always hard when a mama needs a time out and there's simply nowhere to go.

It's sometimes astounding to me that children make it out of toddler-hood. Specifically three year olds. I'm convinced that's why God makes sure they are so sweet and lovable when they are having good moments so right when you want nothing more than to throw your hands up in the air and give up hard, one says soft, "Mama, can you hold me?"

And her silky is in one arm, draped, and that thumb rises to her mouth and those big chocolate pools in her sweet round face sparkle up at me.

Isn't it true that soft words soothe a fractured soul--that loving purely melts away the angst? Isn't it true that a kind word carries far more soul power than an angry word? The kind of power that ends the angst before it takes root. Angry words keep fracturing away, chipping and splintering the soul. Gentle words heal and mend and knit together what anger tears apart.

And what can I do but hold her tight? What is there to do but love her now, love her hard--because she won't always be three and she won't always want to be held tight and close, heart to heart. And isn't this the most important part of parenting--showing that loving her right now is more important than my agenda. Love trumps my frustration. Love will lead to the other.

As I got ready for bed, it came to me:

We are like three year olds...well at least I am. How many times does God lead us and we play dumb? We close our ears to Him to hear something else. We don't obey the first, or the second, or the third time and we know better. We go round and round and justify and make excuses and offer paltry reasons why we cannot do the thing we ought. The thing He asks. And still God loves.

And what a wonder and a security that I know--I KNOW--that God will not throw His hands up in the air and be done with me. Ever. That His love is measureless and deep and bottomless and eventually He will catch me up in all that fathomless grace. And the deeper I know His love the easier it is to hear. The more I know His heart, the more my ears wait upon His voice.

Could it be the same with my little people? Is there a disconnect sometimes between their heart and their ears that just needs a moment of my time, my affection, my gentleness to clear up and clear out the other?

I see it. I do. I see when life and laundry and dishes and bills and the thing that just broke become bigger than my little people. I can almost stand outside myself and watch myself focus on the things and not the little one asking me a question for the 47th time, not the big one who is so excited to show me the new bracelet she made for Clara, not the middle one who just wants to sit in my lap with her silky and be with me while I'm paying bills. Each of them just wants to be with me, to share a piece of themselves with me. And it brings me low and humble, knowing that I put the temporal over the eternal.

I have never thought about this before. That I can wage a war against the helplessness, against the frustration, against the seeds of doubt just by loving. By going deep and loving hard and seeing with His eyes the things I cannot see with mine. Because really, the laundry and the dishes and the bills and the thing that just broke...they will still be there in 10 minutes or tomorrow or next week. My investment now isn't going to change those things. But my little people need me now. And they last forever. And they matter way more than any bill or load of laundry. And my investment now means everything.

My mama told me this the other day. My little people feed off of me. If I feed them grace, then what spills over is graceful. If I feed them frustration and irritation...well then...we all know how that ends. And it's not happy.

They need a mama's heart uncluttered and clear so that I can see their souls more clearly--to see the needs of their hearts instead of my needs in the moment.

Isn't all true obedience a byproduct of love? Sure there's a healthy dose of fear there, but love most of all? The deeper our love, the greater our respect, the healthier our fear, the more we desire to obey because of the love.

And perhaps my obedience to Him who calls my name, who whispers gentleness into my soul when I'm not feeling gentle, who leads me kindly, is the first step. Perhaps the restoration of hearing begins with His restoration of me.

And so tomorrow will be a new day, with new eyes, and a new heart because His mercies are new every morning.

Grace Always Rises,

Sunday, November 3, 2013

holy cannoli!

So I mentioned in an earlier post that my twins are somewhat exciting to have at preschool. I also mentioned that I was guaranteed a story just about every day...thank heavens they only go three days a week or I might lose my mind.

This week was no different.

Apparently Ryleigh is bullying her sister. I know right???? She's three. But she may be a mite possessive and maybe a mite jealous of her free-loving sister. Apparently, Ryleigh doesn't like it if Kadence sits where she's not, if she plays with other kids, if she participates in other activities. To sum it up: If Ryleigh isn't directing, then Ryleigh isn't happy with Kadence. Awesome....

So Ryleigh has spent a great deal of time on time out. We have also spent a great deal of time discussing respect and love and allowing other people to be their own boss. I'm not sure if her three year old mind grasps everything (I highly doubt it), but I am hoping that small kernels are dropping into her heart. Her heart is the place I'm most concerned about.

So imagine my consternation when I arrive at preschool to pick them up on Wednesday and their teacher rushes over to me and says "I just have to tell you what happened today."

Oh for the love...Really???? I admit, my desire to have well-mannered, well-behaved children and NOT seeing that play out is a huge humble pill for me to swallow. And my mortification is magnified by their teacher's amusement over their antics. She thinks they are hysterical. I think I might become hysterical. The Lord is really having to squash that performance, people pleasing part of me. And frankly, it's a bit uncomfortable.

Apparently Ryleigh didn't like what Kadence was doing and after several minutes of negotiating that didn't go anywhere, Ryleigh hauled off and slugged Kadence. An uppercut to her chin. The same chin, mind you, that was cut open when she was rough housing on the steps at church and fell on Sunday.

oh. wow.

Now I'm pretty sure Ryleigh didn't mean to hit Kadence in her gashed open chin. But I am pretty sure she meant to hit Kadence. On the bright side: At least she didn't hit someone else's kid.

I feel like I am sitting in the principal's office. Every day. I've never been to the principal's office but I'm sure this is what it must feel like. A heart shame. A helpless wrecking. A deep dread.

I have to find the humor on days like these. Because I admit having stories every day is hard on my heart. I thought we had covered the 'no hitting' rule when they were two. Perhaps I was wrong. I thought we had also covered 'no hurting people.' I may have been wrong about that too.  Now that I think about it, maybe I just need to operate from the place where "I was wrong" and start over. Fresh day. New beginnings. Review the biggies. No problem.

I have to say that despite all of the drama, it is a blessing that my girls deeply love each other. They fight like boys fight. There's no grudges or hard feelings. There's no punishment that lasts for days on end. No silent treatment or cold shoulder. (On a side note: I'm sure all of this very dignified and refined 'fighting' will end when they are teenagers. That should be great fun.) Ryleigh hit Kadence. Ryleigh had a consequence. She apologized. And often when one of them apologizes the other one does too. Hugs. Kisses. Off they go. They bury it and they never dig it up. Now if only their too-concerned, over-analytical mama could do the same...

So glad there's always grace.


Grace always Rises,

Friday, October 25, 2013

Truths to Live By...and other things

(Disclaimer: If poop-talk is offensive, be forewarned!)

My firstborn is a natural student, much like me. She comes by her studious heart naturally. She helps her friends, her sisters, and anyone else who will let her be the boss. She loves to learn and she comes from a long line of teachers.

In my foolish expectations, I thought my twins would be the same. Ha! Yes, you may laugh at me.

You know. Stellar students. Well-Behaved. Attentive. Polite. Courteous. Need I go on??

I may have been wrong.

We mamas work very hard to ensure our children are not THOSE children. Right? I am a teacher. I know all about THOSE children. I teach them every day and I have a new batch every year. We laugh about their antics over lunch and we lament over how difficult it can be to teach them sometimes.

And isn't it appropriate that the Lord would choose to humble me and smooth out some of my perfectionist tendencies through my twins? I feel like that Lord has used them to smooth out so many rough edges that I'm sometimes convinced any more smoothing might cause me to slip right out of my own skin. Which may not necessarily be a bad thing.

Here's how this unfolded:

Kadence is fascinated with what we fondly call bathroom talk. You know, poop and pee stuff. Any conversation should have a random poopy or peepee thrown in for effect. (Why is there not a parent manual somewhere? And why is this tidbit of information not in it??). And the more inappropriate the place, the more likely poop and pee are to make an appearance.

The first week of school she was using the facilities and her teacher heard a shout.

Upon investigation, she discovered Kadence in the bathroom trying to poop.

"Can you help me prease?" Kadence asks with her little three year old lisp.

"Well, no, I'm sorry Kadence, but I can't help you poop."

"Can you stay wif me?"

"If you like."

A pause. Kadence pushes. A mischevious glint and a devlish smile and then..."Wait for it. Wait for it..."  Plop.

Her teacher laughs. I'm mortified.

Who does this?

Sitting in circle time, Kadence is chasing dust motes with her fingers, probably because to her they look just like pixie dust on that Tinkerbell movie.

Carol shows her numbers. Kadence not paying attention at all, guesses. "That's One."

Ryleigh, watching from the other side of the circle, widens her eyes, furrows her eyebrows in thought and says adamantly to her teacher, "Kadence doesn't know anything."


Her teacher thinks. Okay, if you know so much, let's see you do it.  To Ryleigh she says, "Okay Ryleigh, you try." She holds up number 1.

Ryleigh: "That's One."
She holds up number 3.
Ryleigh: "That's free." (her version of three)
She holds up number 7.
Ryleigh: "That's number 7."

Hmmmm. Okay smarty pants.

Meanwhile, Kadence is still chasing dust motes.

Her teacher holds up their names written on strips of paper to teach them how to visually recognize their names.

The teacher holds us K's name. "Kadence look here."

Ryleigh, again, the proverbial older sister by four minutes, sees what's NOT happening and officiously inserts her helpfulness.

"Kadence, that's your name." Then to her teacher, "She's not paying 'tention."

Oh heavens. A scholar, a space cadet, and a smarty pants. Awesome. At least I have alliteration.

So by the end of their first month of school I have some new truths to live by:

1. Kadence has educated her classmates on the wonder and regularity of poop. According to her teacher, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Huh?

2. I am guaranteed a story just about every day.

3. My children, while certainly not perfectly behaved, are not delinquents. More like puppies. In the teething stage.

4. I probably need to lighten up.

5. I need to allow my kids the freedom to explore the world, to figure out what to do and how to do it, to back off and get out of the way. There are no cookie cutter kids. And their gifts and talents will not be identical. The only way for them to discover their gifts is to let them be. I need to practice gratitude for their unique qualities and pray for wisdom as I help grow them in Jesus.

6. Really, everybody needs a little more humor. Even if it's just poop talk.

Update: Saturday Kadence was talking bathroom talk and I called her on it.

"Kadence, we don't say those words. That's bathroom talk."

She looks at me. And with utter sincerity says:
"But I'm in the bafroom."

And so you are.
And so you are.

Grace Always Rises,

Monday, October 14, 2013

Pedestals and Jelly Faces

I had a conversation this week with a mom of twins, a frayed, worn-out, stumped, hard loving mama. She has a boy and girl, about six. 

My oldest went to school with them and now my youngest go to school with them.

This mama has always adored my Eldest. She has made no bones that in her eyes, the sun rises and sets on her--she is perfect. Oh if she only knew...

Pedestals are dangerous things...

Her boy is challenging, being a boy, learning the art of boundaries.

I tell her my Eldest did the same--in fact still does--tests, challenges, manipulates, negotiates.

She tells me of course my Eldest doesn't do these things because she is perfect.

My eyes are saucers in a face of disbelief.

This heart worn mama continues: She has to be perfect. If she's not perfect, I have no hope.

Oh. Wow.

What is it about our mama's hearts that feel we have to compare and compete and calculate? What is it that makes us feel that if we aren't perfect then we aren't good? What is 'perfect' anyway? Because to be honest, what is perfect today probably won't work perfectly tomorrow.

I. am. baffled.

I would like this dear mama to come home and see our messy, our struggling through homework and spelling words and washing hands with soap AND water, our dirty faces and cluttered rooms, our laundry piles and book piles and piles on piles, our words, our playing nice or not playing, our temper tantrums, our lazy humdrum, and our ugly beautiful. There are no pedestals in my house. We'd fall right off.

I have only grace.

But for the grace of God I go, I live, I breathe.

Just Sunday, a woman from church smiled and hugged and said, "I just don't know how you do it."

To be honest, there are days I don't how I do it either.

But for the grace of God I go, I live, I breathe.

I find breathing is very important. When breathing stops, we have a big problem. If I can just breathe, then I can go on. One more breath, one more moment.

My life begins and ends there. It has to. What I have is because of Him and what I need is more of Him and what I want is to want Him more.

My kids are not perfect. They are kids. They are beautiful, laughing, messy, jelly-faced kids. And they are deeply loved, jelly faced and all.

I certainly won't win any mother of the year awards. I am broken just like we all are. And like a cracked pot, Jesus still shines through me because of grace. Admittedly, some days He shines brighter than others.

There are no gold stars, extra brownie points, retirement bonuses at the end of our mama-roads (do they really ever end?). There is only grace. There is only satisfaction of having done the best we could at the moment we could with what we had. There is only resting in the knowledge that tomorrow is a new day and His mercies are new every morning. There is only trust that God's forgiveness covers my transgressions, my impatience, my harsh words, my brokenness. That God's grace is made perfect in my weakness.

The last time I checked, I had no superpowers and my sparkly spandex superhero suit had gone missing (what a relief).

We can only be mamas together, bumping and stumbling and bumbling down this mama road together, as sisters. God fashioned us to be better together, in community. We women are peculiar though. What one day is a beautiful display of community and compassion can turn into a hurtful competition of one up-man-ship. Noone wins and we break each other because we don't want to see our own brokenness.

When our brokenness competes in an attempt to be whole, we only end up more broken.

There is no quicker end to genuine community than comparing and competing. We can't be heart true when our hearts aren't grateful. And isn't that the crux of comparing--thinking that the grass is greener, that someone else's road is more than your own, and not living in gratitude for the road you are on. And so we compare ourselves to others and build walls instead of bridges, fearful that we might not be as good or as smart or as patient or as affluent as that other mama with the perfect kids. When really, we are all mamas. And shouldn't that be the thing that binds us as women, as sisters. We all want the best for our children and to be the best for our children. We all want a place where we can be authentic, a soft place to land when we fall short, a gentle hand to grab when we feel like we are drowning in a sea of obligations, a compassionate ear to hear when we are weary-worn and tired, a loving heart to cheer us on when life just seems too hard. And aren't we the best kind of people to offer this to one another because we know...we know.

Perhaps us mamas can stumble humbly towards grace, leaning when we need a boost, holding when we have some extra, crying when our hearts are hurting, laughing when we need to heal. And together we are more than we are apart. And as mamas we know the truth:
                                There are no perfect mamas.
                                There are no perfect  children.
                                There are no perfect roads.
                                There are no perfect solutions.
                                There. is. only. perfect. grace.

Grace always rises,

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Bubbles and Bathtime Prayers

So I had forgotten this. And then I found it written in my journal and I had to share.

May 15

My twins have been having issues with bathtime. Frustrating. Aggravating. Nerve-jarring.

Two year olds have little rationality and a tired, frustrated mama sadly meets them head on in their irrationality. We've all been here.

You'd think I'd learn. One cannot rationalize with a two year old. Or two.

I was a single mama tonight. No daddy to buffer, to break, to conquer and divide.

Plan of attack: Power through.

And maybe ear plugs.

I prayed. Sure, it was under my soul's breath, sort of a "hail mary" on the fly, not even formally - or informally - worded...more like that prayer that begins as a vapor, a wisp, not even fully birthed, and then is thrown heavenward in a rush because the screaming has started and there are little people tearing hair and banging fists. And a mama's heart is pushed hard.

And God hears even those prayers.

I start the bathwater amidst the screaming. In spite of the screaming. Heart weary. Temper hot. Hopes scattered like so many rubber duckies.

Ryleigh's big brown eyes scrunch in sadness.

"How about a bubble bath?" I ask brightly. Subtext: Dear Jesus, pleeeeeeeaaaaaase!!

Brown eyes opened wide, a quick grin.

"Bubbles." The little word becomes a grain of hope. And aren't all good things birthed from some small grain of hope, some small word of gentleness, some small grace given freely?

I scramble for all the bubble bath I can find. There has never been so grand a bubble bath in the history of bubble baths. There are bubbles. Everywhere.

One down, one to go. The one-to-go is M.I.A. I hear her running and screaming. I catch her though. I stand her in the water. Tears stream. Screams build. Mama panics. Enter Big Sister. Who took over. Grace made manifest.

"Kadence, look at the bubbles," she says in her sweet, little-girl-grown-up voice, as she pats hope on a tummy and blows some magic foam off her hand.

Screaming stops.

My ears breathe. Deeply.

I look on in wonder. Could it be that my five year old, my amazing five year old, has done what was impossible for a 35 year old?

She single-handedly re-enamored Kadence (who is not easily re-enamored with anything) with water. In two minutes, I had two happy two-year-olds playing in bubbles.

I forget sometimes that God hears the smallest, most hasty of prayers. And that in His heart, those prayers matter, too. And sometimes the answers are just as seemingly small and unexpected. And the power of those small, unexpected answers astounds me. How often do we miss the small graces because we are too busy looking for the fleece to be made wet, the storm to be stilled, the cancer to be gone?

My answer was a bottle of bubble bath and my five year old's joyous love for her sisters.

What I could not do, God provided. It was not what I expected, probably not even what I wanted when I threw my prayer heavenward. But God provided. And when I see the cross and I am even more humbled. What I could not do, Jesus did. In the cross is all the grace I will ever need.

My life is filled with small graces, small answers to little prayers and sometimes not-so-little prayers. I am guilty of missing HIM. I almost missed Him made manifest in my firstborn, who managed to still my storm. May my eyes be open to see more of His grace because He may not always still my storm, but He will always provide what I need...right when I need it...right when I'm at the end of me. So that His grace might be bigger than my storm. So that His provision might be bigger than my need. So that He will get all the glory.

Grace Always Rises,