An Abundance of What?

I often slip into the life of warp-speed where everything we do has to be done fast because we have got a LOT to do, people! I’m never sure of when it was that I crossed the line from a schedule that is “full” to one that seems to be demanding my very life from me.  Life with children is a certain kind of busy, but there are times when I find ourselves (over)committed to too many “good” things that demand too much of our precious time.

When I cross the line from busy to insanity, I become irritable (some people might use a harsher term to describe the mood and I would not disagree).  It is no exaggeration to say that the whole family suffers from a too-busy schedule. When I realize that we are in “insane schedule territory,” I desperately try to think of ways to slam on the brakes. I am very rarely a person who backs out of commitments, so of course for awhile, I fantasize excusable reasons to run away from my obligations. These fantasies include crazy things like wishing a heart attack on myself (not a bad one…just one where I obviously need to recoup a little), having another baby (thinking that this excuse is less stressful than my schedule goes to show you how stressful I find my schedule), or wishing my hubby found a great job opportunity in Latin America, or preferably, across an ocean. Of course I really don’t think any of these are a great option, so eventually I move on to find alternative escapes from my frenzied life.

Like anything, I turn to Google. I find a blogpost like this, a beautiful post, and realize that reading a list of tips for “slow living” feels like another checklist that I can’t live up to. I begin to wonder if my problem is mindset. The blogger writes encouragingly about lovely things like “going back in time” and doing things like hanging your laundry outside and baking your own bread. I think how hanging my laundry outdoors is another CHORE on a long list of to-dos (but I did it, gosh darn it!) but baking bread just isn’t going to make the list. Then I start to beat myself up. Why aren’t I baking my bread? Isn’t that what good mothers and wives do?! Sure, I just hung my laundry out to dry today, but I get an “F” in the baking fresh bread department.

Eventually, a hectic schedule also becomes a source of failures. I’m running around like a crazy woman and I forgot something on my grocery list. Fail. While trying to multitask, I break a dish or forget to pick up a kid at dance. Fail. I’m trying to make crafts for my girls to replicate (and thus score some fun memories in which I am the heroine crafty mom) but really all I want to do is swear at the ugly failures I’m producing. We should read more? try more sports? listen to more live music? interact inter-generationally? minister? spend more time with family and friends? More, more, more! And at every corner, there is more to do and more ways to feel not-enough. Like a failure.

This isn’t what Jesus was telling us about when he promised us life to the full. Not a life full of activities, obligations, should’ve/could’ve regrets, and millions of missed opportunities. John 10:10 quotes Jesus: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” In a very busy schedule, beautiful little moments with my oh-so-quickly-growing children are being stolen. My joy is being killed in the constant pressure of doing it all and doing it well. I see the sweetness of my marriage being destroyed as I become tense, business-like, and probably definitely unbearable.

I’m not an innocent victim in my family’s unraveling sanity. I am the chief culprit. I can blame culture, others’ expectations, the church, my children’s needs, or blame my weaknesses instead of my choices. So here I am. In the midst of the wrong kind of abundance, what do I do? I’m past the point of doing the “little” things like eating more slowly to enjoy my food, taking a walk in nature, driving slower….(eyeroll)…friends, I’m romanticizing life-threatening health conditions so I can get a little rest…I need a slightly more dramatic approach to deal with my hectic schedule.

I realize that two big factors in the choices that get me to this point (“choices” such as: sign the kids up for that! come on over to our house! we should totally go to that! I can help plan that! how can I drum up more business? I should really be helping so and so…) are 1. insecurity and 2. a desire to be enough for everyone. I compare myself to others and only see the multitude of ways that I do not measure up. Eager to not disappoint or hurt, I try to find any way possible to be what someone else needs me to be. Whether this is my child, my husband, my family, a friend, or my church, I don’t want them to think I don’t value them and so I must find whatever way possible to be who they need me to be or do what they need me to do. (Unfortunately, I think my husband is the least demanding of me and probably ends up with what very little is left at the end.) One of my Google searches led me to an article that encouraged me to quit trying so hard. Easy to say, harder to do–or not do–whatever.

It’s more than just not trying so hard. It’s more than self-talking myself into believing I’m good enough and I’m smart enough. It’s refocusing my vision for my life. Jesus has called me his–not because of anything I’ve done or because of who I am, but wholly because of what he has done on my behalf because of Who God is. Isaiah 30:15: This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” He has shown me what is good (Micah 6:8 is what I consider to be one of my life verses) and yet I continually try desperately to do what is good in man’s eyes. I forget that character is what I do when no one is watching and instead I try to put on a publicly cheerful mask as I seek my worth in deeds and activities.

Change begins with identifying myself with God alone, in Christ alone. Repenting from a life lived for others. I’m praying that with peace will come an easy way to lighten my own load and escape the obligations I never should have tied myself to in the first place. Feeling hopeful instead of trapped….

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John Denver and the Holy Spirit

We went to a John Denver Tribute concert last night with some friends.  We obviously have awesome friends who would attend this show with us–as it turns out, besides one or two other couples, we were by FAR a generation younger than all the other attendees!  It was an enjoyable concert, as you would expect (no sarcasm, I’m serious….a dude looking and sounding like John Denver singing the man’s greatest hits….it was amazing).  One song began that I wasn’t familiar with and as I listened to the words, I was stabbed with that deep conviction that you know comes from the Holy Spirit.  The song, “Matthew,” includes this line in the chorus: “Joy was just a thing that he was raised on…”

Am I raising my kids on joy?  Of course we have our moments of fun, laughter, pure joy, but so often I default to things like stress, frustration, impatience, or just a whole lot of blah.  Is joy a way of life for us?  Does the joy of the Lord bubble up from within me?

I was truly convicted–I’m still not sure how I can make room for more joy in my heart and in my home, but I know that whenever I seek something godly with all my heart, the Lord doesn’t deny me.  Change can hurt and be difficult, but I trust Him to begin the change in me.  I began with reading about joy in the Bible….I know there are so many verses with the word “joy” in them, but I wasn’t sure what the Word says about living in joy.  Wondering how to “make” more joy in my life (because I’m a real do-it-yourselfer), the doxology in Jude reminded me that it is GOD who is able to bring this about in me.

A few of the verses that spoke most to me:

(All emphasis and italics mine.)

Psalm 126:2 “Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.  Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.””

Jesus said in John 17:13, “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.”

1 Thessalonians 1:6, “You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.”

Doxology from Jude:24, “To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy–to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.”

Renewal

What does it mean to be renewed?  To be made new?  To renew something….  Is it simply a fresh start?  To start again?  To begin where one left off?  Whatever it is, it’s time for me to begin this blog again.  To start up where I left off or at least to just simply start fresh.  Here we go.

So, about that quiet

My last blog post, from June, was about quiet.  And something about how I was needing it.  Anyone that ventures on to this little old blog got a whole lot of quiet from me, but that doesn’t mean that life was quiet for me.  Much has happened in these many months, probably more than I am ready to dig into now.  So today I’m starting by breaking my blogging silence.

Prayer has been on my mind a lot lately.  Partly because our small group is reading Philip Yancey’s book called (simply), “Prayer.”  But also because prayer is such a big part of my life and yet it is such a confusing and sometimes frustrating thing.  There are days and weeks and months and seasons where prayer feels like I’m simply making a wish upon a star.  Praying feels no more powerful than hoping.

Don’t get me wrong–God has answered, in mighty ways, some of my prayers.  I have been blown away at the blessed details that God puts into His answers.  He has proven Himself to be Provider, Protector, and Lover of my Soul.  I’ve been thankful that many of the prayers I’ve lifted up have been answered with a “no.”  There have been times when prayer has been life-changing and earth-shattering to me.

But lately prayer, though still something I do in faith and in obedience, feels empty.  I feel like I am shouting, whispering, pleading, into space….into nothing.  My faith journey has included times, like now, where God seems quiet.  Distant.  I pray for what I consider to be some pretty big things: a friend’s addiction, friends and family members battling cancer, another friend waiting on pins and needles to bring home her adopted child.  I pray to what seems to be this quiet void and I secretly wonder if all these things will fall through and be unanswered because I’m praying under a glass ceiling.  Are my prayers just bouncing back and falling down all around me?

I don’t fear this silence particularly, but I do wish I could crack it.  Deep down, I don’t really doubt God or the fact that He is hearing my prayers.  I just don’t know how it all works.  I feel uncomfortable that prayer isn’t some equation that I just have to do correctly in order to get the right answer.  I know how very, very small I am compared to a magnificent God.  I think of God asking Job, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” Who am I to question when God chooses to be silent? Who am I to ask why He is silent for a time?

I continue to seek quiet in my soul and in my life–perhaps all that is buzzing around me is drowning out that still, small voice that I am longing to hear.

Going Private

I’m considering switching my blog to a private setting where a person has to be “invited” in order to read the posts.  I’d certainly invite anyone that requests an invite……  does anyone have any initial thoughts on private blogs?  I know that I check private blogs a little less frequently than public blogs (because those can be added to my google reader), but are there any other downfalls to private settings?  Because I live in a small town and because I want to be honest and transparent, I do worry a bit that anyone could potentially find this blog and read my honesty and feel hurt.  I’d be interested in hearing any experience–good or bad–that could help me make this decision!  Thanks!

Quinoa!

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A friend recently confessed to not loving quinoa (you know who you are!).  WHAT?! It is my new favorite and versatile food.  Here it is dished up as pilaf with green and red peppers and carrots (all sauteed in olive oil).  YUM.  My sister-in-law made a delish quinoa and spinach salad (I love that I can eat it cold or hot and LOVE it!!!!).  And I even bought Quinoa Flakes and have put them in peanut butter cookies.  Also DELISH.  The glutenfreegoddess has a list of some yummy quinoa recipes.  {Carla, if you put your recipe for that salad on your blog the next time you make it, I’ll be sure to link to it!  It was SO good!}

Pictures, pictures!

I am SO, SO excited about my new camera!  I didn’t get a chance to use it until late last night when it was already dark and rainy.  But all the more proof of its power!  I posted some indoor comparison shots on my photo blog, but here is an outdoor one, taken late in the evening on the 7D.  I think the ISO was about 4000, which is incomprehensible to me.  My Canon 10D could only go up to 1600 and it looked junky around 400.  So far, I’m impressed with the Canon 7D!  I’ve got some photo shoots coming up that hopefully prove the value of this baby!

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Kind Words

There is always a way to be honest without being brutal. Arthur Dobrin

There are times that I am brutally honest with those closest to me.  I don’t always mean to be; I just think they must know my heart well enough to know how I intend my honesty.  Sometimes I am just a snot because I know I can get away with it—particularly with my husband and children. 

Ultimately, though, I know that the words that I may honestly and brutally throw around can really hurt.  They can sting.  They can tear down confidence.  They can manipulate or break trust. 

I don’t want to be that person.  In particular, I am guilty of this in my marriage and I am praying that God softens my heart and softens my words and gives me gentle ways to encourage and uplift my husband. 

With friends and family, I constantly have “foot in mouth” syndrome…late at night lying in bed wishing I hadn’t said something or wishing I hadn’t said it a certain way. 

My husband used to have a phrase he’d tell himself, “Keep your mouth shut!”  We were laughing the other night and wondering if we should try to take up this motto again.  So often we interject words or stories or opinions that are pointless or degrading or negative.  Scripture tells us in Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”  When I am not building others up according to their needs, if I am not offering Godly encouragement or exhortation or correction, then let me invoke the motto, “Sarah, keep your mouth SHUT!”

Remember me?

It’s okay if you don’t.  I might have gone a few days without thinking about you, too. 

Life has been heavy lately.  It hasn’t been all bad—I remember that God is good and faithful.  I remember that His ways are not my ways and His thoughts are not my thoughts (Isaiah 55:8). 

To be perfectly honest, the last 11 months have felt heavy.  It began when a good friend of ours, who was married with four very young children, drowned in an accident on an area lake.  It was tragic and it shook us to the core.  We were overcome with grief and the inability to be all that we wanted to be for our friend who had become a 27-year-old widow. 

God has been faithful through that tragedy.  Through the grief and the wondering, I’ve often just had to accept that I cannot see the full picture and I cannot understand God’s ways.  I had to read the Word over and over again and remind my heart that GOD IS GOOD

Through this last year I have struggled to balance the desire to be there for my friend and her four young children.  (Praise the Lord that her church family operated as the body of Christ in ways I have never seen….mowing her yard, providing meals twice a week for this whole time, babysitting on occasion.  They have selflessly been there as a body and as a family in ways that I truly admire.)  In these last couple of months, I have felt stretched beyond my limit—not by her, but by all of the other demands and expectations and relationships in my life in addition to my commitment to her and her children.  It all became too much.  And again I struggled, wondering how I was to do all of this and had to wonder if God knew that I wasn’t, well, God.  I had to trust that He had a plan.  And that HE is GOD and He is GOOD

God has been faithful once again.  He has brought someone new into her life.  A great guy that my husband and I have known and appreciated for several years.  Suddenly she feels joy again (Hallelujah!  No one could have imagined seeing joy on her face again when she lost her husband.  God IS good!).  Suddenly she has a helpmate again.  Suddenly I have to go weeks without a chance to even talk to her because her time is filled….okay, as much as I don’t love going weeks without spending quality time with her, I love that she has something good to fill her time. 

And through all the other tough things that we’ve watched in our community and family in the last couple of weeks, I have to remember that I will not always understand God’s ways.  I will not understand why He allows the things that He allows.  I will not understand why godly men are tragically taken from beautiful families, why strong and healthy men and women are attacked by cancer, why so, so many people hurt. 

In Isaiah 55, the Lord says that as the rain and snow come down from heaven and do not return to it without watering the earth, “so is my word that goes out from my mouth; It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

I often cannot understand for God’s ways are higher than my own.  But He has promised that His will shall be accomplished. And so I trust. 

Surprised by Joy

I love those words that make up the title of one of C.S. Lewis’ books.  I’ve been thinking of that lately and I think those words very accurately explain how my life is today versus what I always imagined it would be.

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There are times when I feel like I get a tiny glimpse of my life from the outside.  Like when I pull back the shower curtain and find that my husband is drying out my girls’ new mermaid dolls by hanging them upside in my shower.  I am a bit taken back and I giggle to myself.  There are just little things in my life, such as this, that I never could have imagined.  They surprise me and they make me smile.

I have always been a planner.  As a young teen, I had my life planned out until about age 40.  It included things like joining the Air Force (if you know me at all, it is so weird that I ever had this plan), becoming an architect, marrying young and popping out four kids by the time I was 30.  I even had floor plans picked out for the home I’d live in (I still have them, just in case…).

As a 13 year old, even as a 20 year old (when some of those dreams had already evaporated), I would have been appalled to hear that I’d be a stay at home wife and mother.  I’d have been disappointed that I’d barely eeked out two kids by the time I was 30.  I would have cringed at my mini-van, I would have raised an eyebrow at the early apartment that my husband and I lived in, and I would have certainly had something to say about the fact that I never survived more than a year in a pre-architecture program. 

To sum it up, to my young self, my current life would have looked disappointing.  But instead, I find myself surprised at every corner.  Surprised at the ways that God changes me and molds me as I surrender myself to His will.  Surprised at the ways that the desires of my heart change.  Surprised at the sheer joy I feel living this life. 

Psalm 37:4,

“Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

Delight yourself in God, seek His will and His heart, ask Him to mold the desires in your heart and He will grant them.  And you will be surprised by JOY.