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,