My church is doing this plan to read through the bible and see the over-arching story of God – it’s His Story, and it’s Our Story. We started at the beginning the first week of January. Now that we’re halfway through February (guys, HOW do the years go by so quickly? HOW), I’m looking back over my notes and desiring to share some of the things that God is showing me in this sweet time reading His Word.
I noticed as I was reading through Genesis 1 that it repeatedly states that God’s creation was good. In verse 4, God sees that light is good. In verse 10, God sees that earth and seas are good. In verse 12, God sees that the vegetation on earth is good. In verse 18, God sees that the separation of day lights and night lights is good. In verse 21, God sees that all the living creatures of the sea and air are good. In verse 25, God sees that the beasts of the ground are good.
Then in verse 31, after God creates man and woman, it says, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” Neat. He says it is good 6 times, and then when he makes humans, everything is very good.
How often do I take the time to note the goodness of God’s creation?
Every face, every life, nature, technology, the vast contrast of different parts of the earth, the sounds surrounding – all of it. With even just my physical senses of touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste, I can see God’s heart a hundred billion ways.
Why does it matter that God took the time to point out the good of his creation? Why did he take the time to say that it was good before he moved on to his next creation?
As an artist, I have to wonder if this is stating that God took the time to analyze, critique, and appreciate his work before moving on. As he completed each part of his purposeful project, he demonstrated satisfaction at each completed step. He wasn’t scattered or floating from thing to thing, but completing each, and completing it well.
Lord, help me to take the time in each day to see what is good. Let me do this especially in my work, where I feel like I’m always falling short. When I create, in a pale imitation to what you create, let me be orderly and purposeful, qualifying each step as critically good before moving on to the next thing. Help my scattered brain be disciplined and focused, as you were when you made all these good things. Complete your work in me so that you can call me “good and faithful servant” when I finally see your face.
It’s crazy how parenting helps you understand the character of God a little better.
Don’t get me wrong – I am not seeing God in myself or anything. I screw up like every 3 seconds, especially in parenting. God doesn’t screw up.
I’ve always struggled with that weird combination of characteristics – the ones that say God loves us exactly as we are and God wants us to become like Christ. I’ve always been like, well, which one is it? Cause I am not like Christ as of right now, so does God want me to be like Christ or does he love me like I am right now? It really can’t be both.
Somehow, it is both. And I never really understood that. That is, until I had kids who exerted independent will.
Then I was like, oh. I get it now.
I see exactly who my kids are. I know them better than anyone. I can predict exactly how they are going to react in almost every situation. I see the extra smart things about them – their biggest strengths. I see how Jared’s little brain can work logic so quickly and come up with a new way to look at any given situation (and he does this so that he gets his way – he’s rather strong-willed)(understatement of the century). I see how Ellie is the kindest, most sensitive, sweetest spirit, who has mercy on everything, living or unliving. I see how much she cares about people, their feelings, and things being right and fair. She’s the kind of child who would bawl her eyes out because someone killed a spider that she was scared of. She’ll be one of those people who thanks her clothing and cries over it when she gives it away.
It makes me wonder – what does God see about me like this? Does God fill up with pride when he thinks about me making music for him or having a greatly successful moment teaching kids? Does he swell up with joy when I recall something later that I had studied in scripture that morning, and it clicks in my head, the way I see letter sounds clicking in Jared’s? Is God happy with the things that I do well for Him? I know he is – I can feel it.
Sometimes, Jared or Ellie will just be snuggling right up to my cheek or my forehead, and I’ll be so filled with crazy love for them that I can barely stand it. They are such wonderful little ones, and it brings me so much joy to know that I am part of them and they are part of me.
Does God do that with me? In my treasured quiet moments with Him, its like our foreheads are touching. When I remember to be grateful that I have a family to dirty up our dishes as I’m washing them, it’s like He’s giving me a butterfly kiss. When I tenderly fold the 1,000,000th tiny onesie and praise God for my third precious baby who is wearing it, it’s like he touches his cheek to mine.
I also see just exactly who Jared and Ellie are, and not in the good ways. I see that strong-will that Jared exhibits getting in the way of potentially meaningful friendships. I see a total disregard in him for the feelings of others – he truly only cares about getting what he wants and being in control in every situation. I see Ellie’s sneaky nature – her crazy curiosity gets the best of her every time, and she is always into mischief, just constantly. She has destroyed so many things and made so much extra work for us constantly cleaning up after her. I see both of their constant, constant, constant disobedience. Like right now, while I’m typing up this post at 8:49pm and they are laughing their heads off playing while they’re supposed to be sleeping.
I want so badly for them to trust me, and to learn to obey me on the first try, no questions asked, for their own good. I ache and wish for Jared to care about others. I harp on him to think about how others feel. We watch SO MUCH Daniel Tiger to try to get in touch with our feelings. I purposely point out how people feel when I’m around him to help him be more aware of it. And when Ellie gets into something, I talk to her with tears in my eyes about how hard it is to clean up something else and how tired I am since I feel like all I ever do is clean. And I make her help me clean it up. I feel a pain in my heart for the things they do wrong, and a deep-seeded wish for them to learn what’s right and change their ways. It doesn’t change my crazy love for them in the slightest.
Does God do this with me? I imagine his heart aching when I believe lies – when I believe that I’m not worth anyone’s friendship, and that I’ll never do anything well, and that no one even cares about anything I have to offer – things I think and believe much more consistently than I’d like to admit. I can see God’s heart breaking for me when I make that same wrong choice, again and again – when I’m filled with selfishness and such an ache to matter that I draw attention away from him and onto myself. I can feel God’s desire for me to trust him, obey him on the first try, and know it’s for my own good because he knows better than me, while I continually do what I want instead.
He loves me so.
He both loves me exactly the way I am and changes my heart to be more like Christ. I get it a little bit better now.
It conjures in me some kind of fake mask of perfection. I find this repelling. (insert puke emoji)
I just can’t stand that fakeness – that pretending like everything is hunky dory when it definitely isn’t. That need to have it together or be doing super well at everything – my image, how people see me. Ugh.
It’s probably because I can’t ever seem to live up to what I want to be. Maybe it’s because I’ve had negative experiences with others pretending like everything is fine when it really isn’t, and therefore avoiding coming to a peaceful conclusion, sitting forever in discontent. If you don’t acknowledge it, maybe it’ll go away! Or, it’ll fester and spread like cancer.
These negative feelings related to this dirty word poisoned me toward people at a young age. I distinctly remember blissful happiness in childhood, and then total disregard for me or anything I had to offer starting around age 12. Fine, I thought, if you don’t think I’m worth your time, then you aren’t worth mine either.
For years (YEARS!), I lived with this feeling. I don’t like humans. People are rude and annoying and hurtful and self-centered and I’d rather just NOT with all of them.
Then this one time in college, my friend Jill, who was (is) very beautiful and very loved and very wonderful, said, “I just love people.” I was like, WHAT? There are people who LOVE people? What is this? How can you love people? They are the worst. And I also thought, well, you love people, and people sure like you, so maybe there’s something to this whole loving people thing?
I started thinking about it a lot. I was torn between my desire to be real and my desire to actually care about and love people. But loving people is dirty business. It involves overlooking some nasty, irritating, or frustrating traits that nearly all of them have. But I was determined.
Now, I’m summing up here, but this was a very long process for me. It’s hard business to come to terms with seeing something beautiful in every human you encounter. In case this is a struggle for you – you know, to love, say:
that guy that can’t stop talking about himself…
that woman who says something awkward every time she speaks and totally halts all further conversation…
the kid who is screaming bloody murder in the grocery store when you were hoping for peace and quiet
that person who won’t apologize for the way they hurt you…
the person who hurt your feelings and has no idea…
the one who won’t stop complaining 24/7…
the driver who just cut you off…
your teenage child who won’t look you in your eye because PHONES SOCIAL MEDIA MILLENIALS (insert other 2018 swear words)…
Again, in case this is a struggle for you, I have some thoughts.
People can be enormously frustrating. Pair that with our own insecurities and our desire to be better than we are, and you have the double whammy of “sinful other people” and “sinful self” that is sure to result in discord.
I was reading this article on Washington Post that was discussing the differences in biometric technology, specificially between fingerprinting and using heartbeat technology. I was floored. I didn’t know that every person has a unique heartbeat rhythm that can be documented. Apparently they do. So in addition to every single finger on every single person in the entire universe being different, every person having unique personalities that are affected and adjusted by their unique experiences (even identical twins who literally come from the very same egg and sperm can look incredibly distinct and have such different qualities), every person’s heartbeat rhythm is also unique. Be still my ever-loving musical heart.
GOD. DON’T. MAKE. NO. JUNK.
In fact, God says that people are created in His image. One of my favorite songs says it best: “I can see your heart 8 billion different ways.” My goodness, do I love that lyric. Why is it so hard to grasp that when we look at people – ANY PERSON – we are looking at the image of God? How holy. How incredible. How unique. How special. Every person you see, EVER, is the only one of that person that will ever exist.
We tend to value people for accomplistments, talents, skill sets, brains, conventional beauty, or because they click with and are similar to us in some way. But what if we start taking a different approach? Any person’s simple existence is a chance to see God’s heart. God made that person with unique gifts, a perfectly strange combination that isn’t like anyone else. Don’t you see the value? Totally one of a kind. This isn’t like the original Blackie beanie baby in 1996 – there aren’t like 10,000 originals so you have to get your hands on it. Every person is only ONE. ONE of ONE. It is crazy!
You, friend, have inherent value JUST BECAUSE YOU EXIST. The God of all creation, who made such beautiful, amazing things as sunsets and bees and oceans and galaxies and ants and those freaky weird fish that light up in the bottom of the ocean thought it was important to make a YOU. You were made by God with a purpose in mind.
And oh. How he loves you. I’m moved just thinking about it. He sees all the best in you, and he sees that sinful nature, too. He sees your aches to be different and your pride for that thing you do so well. He sees your tendency to scream at your kids and then feel utter shame. He sees your voice raised to him in joyful song. He sees your doubts and your fears and your wishes and your dreams and your scars and your pinky toes and your gray hair strands, and he loves every bit of you. So desperately.
Desperately enough, that even though we deserve to be separated from him because we can’t measure up, he left the glory of Heaven to sit among us, teach us, walk with us, heal us, and love us right here. And then he was wrongly blamed by someone who should have been a friend and took on what we deserved to the point of utter humiliation, embarrassment, and death. And then he was raised from the dead, overcoming it all.
So that you don’t have to be without him.
Don’t you see? You were paid for by God. He traded himself for you.
He didn’t trade himself for no junk.
It’s been a slow, slow time for me to start to grasp this, and, of course, I still forget so often. It is a steady practice to look into someone’s face and think to yourself “Image of God. Made and paid. I’m seeing God’s heart 8 billion ways.” But oh, friend, does it change everything when you do!
See yourself this way. See others this way. It changes everything.
(I’ve been writing my prayers in poetic form in a google doc. Episode Two was a little too personal to publish online for all to see, but I think some of the episodes might be more relatable and meaningful to others, so I’ll be publishing them here every once in a while.)
Lord, I am overwhelmed That you’ve given me another year. A full year with you, In the glory of the life you’ve given With such potent and beautiful gifts That I can’t help but notice.
You are with me in the smallest ways In tiny baby smiles In a helpful woman at church when my son throws a fit In a full tank of gas and open road
You are with me in the biggest ways In a supportive husband In kind-hearted, loving family In gracious long-term friendships I inherited through marriage In a wonderful home In jobs that provide much more than what we need In gracious gift-giving family
I look back over this year And I see your hand, Just like I see your hand in every year Guiding, directing, goading, nudging, moving me To do your will. Even in the conundrum of uncertainty I can know that you’ll guide me again and again Like you’ve done before and before
You Hem Me In
Like a tiny doll Snuggled in her blanket
Like a little action figure That clips perfectly into his car
Like Tommee Tippee pacifiers In a certain little 6-month-old mouth
How is it that you are so great a God And can somehow be small enough to see me?
And how is it that in your holy, perfect majesty Way too good to care about little ole’ peasant me You can look with kind eyes and grant me so many wishes?
And how in the world is it That I can miss your gifts and your kind eyes and your care? How truly impressive it is that I can be so easily distracted! How truly impressive it is that you remain staid With love for me
Even as a three-year-old, I talked about my elementary understanding of your greatness “You are so big That I can’t even see you”
Yet your bigness didn’t stop you From becoming small The smallest The meekest The lowliest
Oh Lord, help me to see myself as lowly Meek Small
How funny that the biggest, greatest God had such an easy time making Himself small enough for me But I have such a difficult time making myself think that I’m as small as I actually am!
Last shall be first First shall be last Lowly shall be great Great shall be lowly
Oh God, I praise you for your backwards kingdom. Somehow, you’ve made my life so great. So undeserved. Such favor.
A Hymn for a Parent Who Is Sorting and Assembling a Plethora of Christmas Gifts
It’s 11pm, and we just got home from a whirlwind of holiday festivities, and Lord, you know them Last week, Ryan worked a closing shift on Monday, so I single-parented Tuesday was my Christmas concert Wednesday I taught until 3:45 and then had 2 rehearsals immediately following Thursday I attended the school board meeting since we’ve been negotiating since April with no results and then did all of my Christmas shopping Friday I tried to pack Saturday we had Kneezel family Christmas Sunday I was on team for 3 services conducting the children’s choir and then Back for Kneezel Christmas, cont. Monday was 3 services for Christmas Eve, but I woke at 3:30am with a horribly sore throat. After the three services, I was running fever, but we went to Hamrick family Christmas Tuesday, we returned immediately in the morning for Hamrick family Christmas, not really feeling better Our house, as usual, is a heap of rubbish that stresses me out to look upon Dirty dishes, piles of wrapping, tons of garbage, 2 dirty diapers randomly lying around instead of thrown away This is how I live, Lord Jesus, and I am overcome with shame. I live nearly every moment filled with shame and embarrassment that my family lives like this I am filled to the brim with heart sickness over how I yell at my kids And lose patience with them – their tender little souls that are just learning for the first time And I’m learning for the millionth time and somehow am no better
I told the kids in choir on Sunday that grown-ups need to see them up there singing for Jesus Because it reminds us of when we were children, and we first met the Lord I knew how desperately I needed you then, And I forget, so very often, that I need you just as much now. Probably more For I think that I’m competent But I know that I am not And I set ridiculous, unrealistic, and unfair standards about how I should be Based on the expectations and pressure that I feel from society “You can do it all” doesn’t mean that – it means “you have to do it all” And then when I can’t, I feel pressure and shame and unworthy and not good enough and not enough
And then, Lord Jesus.
I begin sorting through our gifts. During that crazy week at school, kids brought me little things “Mrs. Kneezel – you’re a great teacher”…”I love you”…”thank you” On Saturday at Kneezel family Christmas Toys and clothes and gift cards and beautiful books Smiles and hymns and desserts and joy On Tuesday at Hamrick family Christmas Toys and clothes and gift cards and jewelry Laughter and hymns and honey ham and games
Oh, Lord, these precious people that you’ve made mine And the time they took to think of me And Ryan And my kids
I am not enough – not good enough Terribly incompetent Always wishing for time I don’t have Always aching to be somewhere else Always dreaming of life – different
In front of me, Filling my table Is the way-over-the-top provision from You That I readily forget as I strive and strive and strive and strive And strive and strive and strive And try to control And try to do do do do do do do Oh Lord, help my unbelief.
You left Perfect Glory. Perfect union with your Father The Perfect One To come down In the humblest form With basically nothing To be with us. Emmanuel
You left Perfect Light To come down Into the darkness To be with us. Light of the World.
And I Forget That you are still here.
And I Forget That you have given me the most incredible life While I sit dreaming of a different one
You, sweet Jesus, You came to the lowest. Glory to God in the highest And on earth, Peace.
I was just staring at them, sitting together in the rocking chair in the back living room. They were both totally naked, having taken a bath just before and it’s 81 degrees in the house because our air conditioning is out, so I didn’t make them get dressed. They were each eating a peanut granola bar and starting to watch the wretched Paw Patrol that I allow for exactly one total hour each week.
It hit me then: this is their only childhood. This is it. Just like how I look back so fondly on playing shipwrecked in the cul-de-sac on Cottonwood Place, they’ll look fondly back to this house, this neighborhood. This is it. It’s fleeting so quickly.
Will they like it? Will they remember me being silly and funny or stressed and emotionally absent? Will they remember themselves being naked, like, all the time while I fretted over how normal people are probably dressed right now? Will they remember the total chaos that I feel like their life is? Or will it all be blurry, like my childhood is for me – fuzzy flashes of warm safety and laughter and utter joy?
It changed something in me, just now. I hopped up and started dancing to the music like a crazy person. I picked up Ellie and started swinging her around. We laughed so hard together. That sweet giggle is such a musical sound to me.
This is it for my sweet babies. I’m so happy that they are growing up – it’s supposed to happen. And it’s supposed to feel this quick. What a blessing to be a flash of eternity and to get to remember it well. To see it go so quickly is proof that we’re eternal. But it is so quick, and it is so easy to get lost in what doesn’t matter. But this is it for them – their only childhood. I want them to remember it being beautiful.
So I’m going to keep jumping up for random dance parties. I’m going to let them make a giant mess of banana bread. I’m going to splash in their bath water. I’m going to put down my phone and look in their precious deep brown eyes (and maybe blue – we aren’t sure about Grace’s eye color yet). I’m going to turn off the tv and go outside, splashing in puddles and playing in dirt and getting bug bites. We’ll swim and run and walk and bike and play tennis is this blessed, beautiful place. We’ll celebrate this short life in and out of these walls. We’ll gather with believers and unbelievers in this home, showing the love of Jesus in our short time.
This is it. YOLO, if you will. Our only chance, their only childhood. Help us see it, Jesus.
“This day is fleeting. Soon it will end, and once it has vanished, it will not come again. So let us love with a love pure and strong before this day is gone.”
I seriously struggle with guilt. I think it’s one of my biggest areas of needed help in my life, honestly. I feel guilty about absolutely everything, all the time, particularly with parenting.
I never noticed that I felt so guilty and fearful all the time until a few weeks ago, when a friend posted an article about being a mom in “the age of fear,” as it was titled. The article really struck a chord with me. I get really “soapbox-y” about “Good Samaritans” (I always put that in quotes because I don’t think they are actually being good or providing help) who call the police on parents who they think might be neglecting or abusing their kids when they don’t really have enough information to determine that – like people who call the police on someone for leaving their kid in the car for 5 minutes or letting their kids play alone in the backyard. I think these people are cowardly. I don’t think they want to help; I just think they get a kick out of being self-righteous, tattling hall monitors. And this is my great fear as a parent: I fear, fear, fear – every single day – my children being taken away from me and traumatized by someone who was being a self-righteous, tattling hall monitor when my child wasn’t actually in any danger. It’s so out of hand that I fear doing simple tasks for fear of being judged (and even receiving criminal charges). For example, when I get to Aldi every week, I grab my quarter, leave the kids in the car, go the front of the store, get my buggy, and bring it back to my car, where I then lift the two big ones into the double cart (Aldi, I love you), put the wrap on, place the baby inside, and then begin walking into the store. I don’t mind in the slightest taking my kids in to Aldi with me, but that less-than-2-minute interval where they are left in the car so I can get a buggy has me second-guessing my choices as a mom EVERY. SINGLE. WEEK. This also happens at Target, for the record. I should be able to do that without living in great fear that some nosy person will think I’m a terrible mother.
I am an excellent mother. I am imperfect in every way. I mess up every day. But by golly, I am an excellent mother.
My house is always a mess. My kids don’t eat healthy even though I consistently try to feed them healthy food. My oldest child will be 5 in two months and isn’t completely potty trained during the day (interestingly, he is completely potty trained at night). I have lost my temper and yelled and slammed doors. I have spanked out of anger rather than out of loving punishment before. I have gone several days without cleaning up their room. I have gone several days with a dirty diaper sitting on top of the dresser, continually forgetting to throw it away. I have cleaned up yogurt handprints from my fabric furniture several times a day because my children WILL NOT stay at the table to eat no matter WHAT we do. My kids have gone over a week without having a bath before; I forget to brush their teeth way more often than I’d like to admit. There are no baseboards in my house and I still haven’t found about half of the newborn-3 month clothes that I had for Ellie after we moved because the basement is a wreck of total destruction.
I worry about every single one of these things. I feel so guilty that I can’t seem to just get it together and be Wonder Woman and tame it all with my lasso. (Actually, I wish I could throw all our crap in the invisible plane, because that would be handy to quickly hide it from people when they are coming over!) I’m feeling nauseated even writing this down – I’m literally scared RIGHT NOW that someone is going to read this and report me to DCFS because they think I neglect my children or can’t properly care for them. But in the spirit of authenticity, I want you to know that we are doing okay in the midst of extreme chaos with 3 kids under 5. I work hard to stop all of these things that I listed above. I am currently working hard to get my house in order and have routines that will stop the messes. I am working very, very hard to enforce routines and rules that will help my kids self-regulate and be neater and cleaner. I am working hard to take a deep breath and discipline in a way that is effective, consistent, and deeply rooted in love and a desire to see the character of God in my children. I’m exhausted and worn and weary. THIS PHASE OF LIFE IS EXTREMELY DIFFICULT.
So judge away. Judge me for those embarrassing things I listed above. Think in your head that I’m a terrible mother. Make that grimace-face at me. Tell me on my walk with all three kids when two of them are acting crazy that “oh, you’ve got your hands full!” Text me that it isn’t okay that my kid spread his poop on the walls when he was three or that my daughter had yogurt in her hair at church on Sunday morning. Judge me at Aldi because I forgot to grab the kids’ shoes on the way out the door so they are barefoot in the cart. I have decided that I welcome your judgment.
I’m fighting the urge as I write this to list all the things I am great at as a mom. I don’t think that matters, though. I have a deep need to validate myself by overbalancing the scale – I do more things well than poorly, so that makes me a good mom. I actually don’t think that’s true right now anyway; I do more things poorly than well. But I’m not going to list them.
Here’s what I am going to say: thank you. Thank you to my friend who came over to deliver us a meal after Grace was born and helped us scrub purple sharpie off our cabinets. Thank you to my friend who came over to bring us food about an hour after my kids spread ashes over the entire house and stayed for over an hour to clean it up with me. Thank you to those people who are willing to step into my ridiculous mess of a zoo and help me.
This is who I want to be. I want to be the person who helps in a mess. And I want to be the person who invites people into the real – even when it is ugly – to live life alongside one another.
Most of all, I pray deeply every single day that my children will see that when life is a hot mess, we help each other. I want them to see that we reach outside of ourselves. I want them to see that spilling food isn’t a problem because it makes a mess; it’s a problem because we’re wasting our privilege. I want them to learn that we take care of our bodies by bathing and brushing our teeth because they are temples of the Holy Spirit, given to us by God to do His work on this earth, so they need to be cared for.
In letting go of my incessant need to have a perfect life, or more specifically, to appear like I have a perfect life, I pray from my inmost core that my children can learn the grace of God. I pray that the LORD will arrest their hearts for His cause, that he will fill them up with love and mercy, and that they will be His beacons, His World Changers, His light. And I pray every day that in spite of my huge list of imperfections, they will seek His kingdom first.
I pray that they’ll see me turning toward my Jesus in every moment of weakness, and that they’ll learn that doing that is the greatest strength they can have.
And if I am perfect, or if I try really hard to look perfect, then they don’t get to see that. They miss that chance to learn humility. They miss that chance to learn grace.
So judge away, friends. I’ve decided that being real is more important than looking perfect.
I can’t believe I’m writing this post! I mean, the work of the Holy Spirit in my life to get me to the point where I can write it is just incredible to me. It’s all internal, so it is hard to take a picture of or pinpoint the pivotal moment, but it has happened:
I am not extremely depressed and filled with dread on August 1.
For the past several years, I’ve hated August. It’s kind of sad, really – I remember as a child, it was my favorite time of year! Going school supply shopping in elementary school, buying a new fall wardrobe in high school, organizing my schedule, auditioning for U Choir in college – it was all so exciting. A new start – a chance to do things again, meet new people – everything felt fresh in August (except the weather – I grew up in Mississippi in 1000% humidity in August every year!).
Then I had a child, and August 1 meant the school year was starting, and I was leaving again. I would drop off the face of the earth during August because there was so much to do to prepare for the school year. In fall 2014, I remember crying every morning as I got ready for school. I would fall into a deep hole of depression every Sunday night that I had to do it all again on Monday. I would hold Jared’s cute little 9-month self, bawling that someone else was raising him because I had to raise everybody else’s children. I ached to be home.
Then in fall of 2015, I LOVED August, because that was the year I was home with the kids. I remember the great joy I felt each morning that I wasn’t in the rush of school beginning. My house was so clean and I cuddled by babies every day. It’s my hope for everyone who wants to that they should get to stay home with their babies for a time, because it was a wonderful year of growth for me.
But falls of 2016 and 2017, I felt that ache again. That insanely busy time where I had no time to pursue relationships with my own family, much less any other humans. That time when I spent money way out of budget to try to outfit my classroom. That deep dread of what I had to deal with in such needy children. That incredible sadness and jealousy that someone else was getting to raise my kid. That hopelessness that it just wouldn’t ever be different.
In May of this year, those feelings started again. I was very pregnant, and I knew I’d have to go back to school when my Grace was only 8 weeks old. I dreaded it already – that lack of sleep, trying to teach, the great fear because my job is very high pressure and my mind being less than 100% guarantees that I’ll mess up and tick off a lot of people. Missing snuggles with my girl and seeing her be 10X bigger every day when I got home, her baby-hood fleeting away while I try to help middle schoolers be good humans. It ached my heart!
But the Lord has done some amazing work in my heart this year during July and August. He has given me a peace that can only come straight from Him. I feel prepared and hopeful about this year. I feel ready and able to face it. I don’t feel guilty or ashamed or jealous. And these feelings cannot possibly be from me.
I’m okay, and it’s because of Jesus. I am sitting with him each day, and it really, really shows – maybe not necessarily on the outside, but definitely in my heart attitude as I look to each day’s gifts. Oh, that we all should be able to prioritize our relationship with Jesus. Being Christlike makes everything joyful and hopeful and better.
This post isn’t really going anywhere – it’s just a joyful statement. I feel the Lord with me, softening my heart, preparing me for this extremely busy season, and he is giving me the gift of peace in it. I pray the same for you. Seek him, and all else will be added.
As you know, I have three kids now. I have officially entered the “more kids than hands” club. Literally for my entire life, as long as I can even remember thinking about my own family when I was a grown-up, I’ve imagined having four kids. I’m almost there! And it is a lot, folks. It is a lot. Huge blessings, and so much love, but so overwhelming a lot of the time.
The main thing that I’ve found to be challenging in making the adjustment is that I feel like I just can’t get a break.
I feel like I have to be “on” 24/7 – always patient, kind, slow to anger, giving and pouring out to someone all the time with no chance to rejuvenate myself. It gets to be a little much! But then I think a little deeper, and I realize that this is no different than it has always been. Before I was married, I felt this way. Married with no kids, same. One kid, same. Two kids, same. And now three kids.
I think we just all feel this way.
I could go on lots of soapboxes about why we don’t get rest. It’s AMERICAN to get no rest – we have to work work work work work until we’re dead to leave large amounts of treasure for our children that moth and rust can destroy (do you hear the irony in my voice?). It’s because of unfair expectations on WOMEN (but, then again, men feel this, too). It’s because there are too many wonderful things to experience on this earth, so we have to go go go go go in order to see everything and do everything (HEEEEEYYYYY – shoutout to my fellow enneagram 7’s, amirite?) so we don’t miss anything. We feel obligated to say “yes” as often as possible so we don’t miss anything and especially so our kids don’t miss anything.
I would become so stressed and overwhelmed at my incredibly long list of responsibilities. Why is the house ALWAYS a mess? How am I supposed to navigate getting three children through this parking lot without one of them getting hit by a car when they always run from me? How am I supposed to write quality lesson plans when I only get 40 minutes a day to do it and I cannot work at home because there is too much to do at home and if I leave the kids unattended for 0.1 seconds they destroy everything within reach (and some things out of reach!)? Taking time to myself seemed selfish because it left Ryan with my huge responsibility list in addition to his own.
A Sabbath? Impossible. Laughable!
A few years ago, Ryan and I read a few different books about eliminating excess in our lives. We did this in the hope that cutting things – choosing “no’s” – would help us get more rest. I was worried during this time. If I keep quitting things, will I let anyone down? If I’m not part of anything, will anybody care about me anymore? We spent lots of time in prayer, and we ended up quitting, like, everything. Funny enough, we didn’t feel any more rested after quitting all of our activities than we had before. But one thing was for sure: we were humbled to see how God kept working in all of those areas where we had been striving and serving without us.
Unlike what we thought about ourselves, we weren’t actually a necessary piece of the puzzle.
I suppose this could be viewed two ways.
1.Since we aren’t necessary pieces of the puzzle, why should we even bother?
2.What a relief that I’m not a necessary piece of the puzzle! Now I can rest in letting God do the work, and I just get to be part of it.
At first, I really leaned toward the first attitude. But praise God – He has taught me how to lean in to the second attitude instead. And in doing that, I am finding, for the first time in many, many years of serving God, that there is a wonderful freedom in finding rest within my work.
It seems paradoxical; I know. But think about it – when you get a night off and you spend it totally scrolling through Netflix or Facebook, do you feel rested? Maybe you think you do – I thought I did. What I found, though, is that I wasn’t resting – I was numbing. I use those things not to rest, but to zone out. I totally check out of my life during that time and live in escapism. It makes life itself more bearable, but there isn’t any filling of my soul.
Lately, God is beginning to teach me to step into His work in freedom and thankfulness. Being a mom is an enormous gift, even when my kids are writing with purple sharpie on my cabinets and spreading fireplace ashes all over the living room. Approaching the opportunity as a gift of praise and a chance to honor the One who gave it to me has completely changed my heart in it. Doing the dishes becomes worship. Thank you, God, for these nice plates and pots and pans. Thank you for the people who loved us enough to give them as gifts for our wedding. Thank you for the little ones who dirtied these dishes. Thank you for the food that we put on these dishes. Thank you for running water and soap to rid of germs.
When I actually think these things while doing the dishes, God renews my heart in my work, and I am filled with a joy that doesn’t come from anything else.
It’s a relief to think of how good God is, and to acknowledge that He is the Guide, the Power, and the Worker.
I’m not trying to devalue a real Sabbath – taking time away from it all to focus on the Lord only. God literally rested from his work on the seventh day, and he commanded us to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. That said, I am in a season where it is completely unrealistic for me to get one day a week totally away from everyone, especially while one particular tiny human needs my body for sustenance. Finding myself praying in desperation for my soul to be filled by the LORD in a way that only He can, my Jesus meets me here in smaller moments: time alone with Him in the morning and within the work I must do during the day. I’m so grateful for a God who is with me.
When I was a little girl, I was running in church trying to do something quickly to help my dad. There was an all-glass door going to an alley that led to the children’s area. In my hurry, I pushed the glass of the door instead of the metal frame, and I ran right through it! I was in total shock, unsure of what had just happened, when I realized that my hand really hurt and was bleeding. I had been cut!
My hand was treated with some antibiotic ointment and a bandaid, and it felt better. But a few days later, I noticed that it wasn’t fully healing. It turned out that a small piece of glass was embedded into my palm, and it couldn’t heal while there was still glass in there. While the antibiotic ointment and the bandaid did some to ease the pain, my wound could never heal as long as there was still glass in there.
God has been doing some hardcore work in my life lately. It’s all related to this one, small, seemingly minuscule area in my life. I have this one particular little hurt – like glass in a wound – my thorn, we’ll call it. It doesn’t matter in the slightest what it specifically is, because I know we all have these little thorns that are quite deeply rooted and are impossible to release. We just can’t heal, even with some antibiotic ointment or a bandaid, until the thorn is removed. I am writing this to help myself process the pain of this thorn and to speak about what God is teaching me through this.
IGNORE (Hint: This doesn’t work.)
For a while, the thorn hurt a lot. I didn’t understand it, so I tried ignoring it. Maybe I was just being a baby, and it just wasn’t as serious as I thought, so I just needed to let it go and move on. I spent a long time pretending like it wasn’t even there. The thing is, though, just like a physical injury that gets infected, ignoring it isn’t always the best route. Even without really noticing it, the thorn kept poking into other areas of my life. It infected my feelings about others, my feelings about God, and especially my feelings about myself. Because of this thorn, I started to believe some things.
I truly started to believe that God doesn’t want me to be blessed in this area. He doesn’t want my thorn gone. I still believe this in some ways, and I fight myself every day about it. Even though the bible commands this particular thing should go a certain way, I find myself believing that, for me, it isn’t supposed to happen, and I’m supposed to have to endure this unfair thorn forever. I honestly am still not sure about this one – it is tricky to determine exactly which pains are ones we’re supposed to endure for the end result of faith and perseverance, and which ones are simply a result of the sin in this world. This is one of those where I can’t tell. Or is it both? I’m at a loss. But here I sit in this thorn, just always slightly uncomfortable because of the pain it causes.
I truly started to believe that this thing is hurting me because I’m not a worthy person. I still believe that I have a very annoying personality, and I need to carefully edit each thing I say and do and how I react. I still believe that I should just avoid others because my ugly personality will eventually turn them off of wanting to know me. This is another tricky one – because of sin, there are definitely things that need to be edited in myself. There are parts of me that are unworthy and sinful and just plain bad. I’m not inherently good, and I think scripture makes that pretty clear. But it is a tough thing to determine if this thorn is based on how I’m sinful or if it’s based on something I need to learn about God. Or maybe it’s also both? I just can’t tell, so here I sit in this thorn, just always slightly uncomfortable because of the pain it causes.
REPLACE (Hint: This is a much better plan.)
When I started to see how this tiny pain was creating much more significant wounds in other areas, I tried to go another route. The medicine route, I call it. I tried to see the truth past the hurt – the definite truth that doesn’t change based on the sin of the world. I tried exchanging my sorrow for the joy of the Lord – focusing on blessings and thankfulness and peace instead. I tried listing all the provision of God in my life and praising him for it. I tried spending time with him everyday, starting and finishing my day with his greatness in my mind. I tried thinking of how worthy and sinless and perfect He is, and how worth it it’ll be to trade everything else for Him. He is the only important thing, so a little thorn just doesn’t matter that much.
I think this is all true. Some real wisdom and maturity has come into my life since I started doing this method instead of the “ignore it” method. The times of joy are certainly outweighing the sorrow now – the despairing moments from the ache of the thorn are much fewer and far between. The discomfort of the thorn reminds me of my Jesus and what he has done for me, so I’m *almost* glad for it.
WHAT ABOUT THE TIMES WHEN REPLACING IT DOESN’T WORK?
But then little things happen that stinkin’ thorn really starts to nag, and that makes me come to terms with something more awful now. I’m realizing that I am clinging to my thorn, and I don’t want it to go away. Not sweetly because it reminds me of my Jesus, but like a toddler who doesn’t want to change his bandaid! I don’t want it to go away until there is justice. I don’t know how to lay it at the altar. The ugliest, dirtiest part of my sin comes out as I face this demon:
I think I’m right in this situation. I think there has been injustice here, and the deepest parts of me want to see that justice come to fruition. I want to see others experience this thorn that I’m experiencing. I so badly want other people to feel and understand just how painful my thorn is, even if that means they have to experience the thorn, too. I also deeply, deeply feel that I don’t deserve to have to go through this. Talking as a fool, my soul says, “Haven’t I been through enough, going through suffering in the name of Jesus just by the family I was born into and their service to the Lord? Hasn’t it been enough to be pulled around the country my whole childhood, never making roots, never having deep connections, always dealing with the drama of sinful church-goers, suffering the consequences of other people’s sin and selfishness my whole life even during my more innocent childhood? Hasn’t it been enough to experience great heartache through losses of friends and family members without any shoulders to cry on because we’ve had to be the rock of faith in these times? Hasn’t it been enough to have been shunned and pushed aside constantly by those who claim to be believers or to have true believers put up walls because they’re afraid of what I’ll report to the church hierarchy? Hasn’t it been enough to be in second place in absolutely every area that I show any promise in? Even in my great, undeniable, incredibly privileged life, haven’t I suffered enough that I shouldn’t need this thorn, too?” I’m so embarrassed that I feel this way. I’m ashamed that my soul is so ugly. I see the irony in my words – the ridiculousness that I even consider my life to be hard at all. But I truly, deeply feel these poisonous thoughts – and many more than these listed.
Even deeper than that, I want so incredibly badly for my pain to be healed the way I want it to be healed, but it will not be. That’s the twist of the knife. I’m never going to get what I want in this. It is never going to happen. Never. I will likely live another 50-65 years on this earth without this ending the way I want it to. It is an enormous struggle to figure out whether I’m supposed to keep fervently praying for the result I want or just give up. The bible teaches both sides of this – fervent prayer for our wants and also total surrender. The easy answer is that we’re supposed to fervently pray for what we want but also be totally cool with never getting it. Yeah, that’s the truth, but that is not easy at all. When something is the deepest, aching-est, most inner-circle desire of your heart, it isn’t so easy as just praying the thorn away.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:21-33:
“Whatever anyone else dares to boast about – I am speaking as a fool – I also dare to boast about. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands.”
I think it’s fair to say that Paul went through a bit more than me. But then he goes on at the beginning of chapter 12 to talk about a vision that he saw. He knows that the vision was a great one, and something that he could certainly be very proud about having. And then in the middle of verse 7:
“Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
When I read this, I always get a little annoyed for Paul. I feel like it isn’t right that he had to go through all that stuff mentioned in chapter 11 just to turn around and still get a thorn in his flesh that nagged him, too. I can’t help but notice, though, that he says, “to keep me from becoming conceited.” It does make sense that one might want to brag about all the pain they’ve experienced in Jesus’s name. I certainly feel that pull! Look what I literally just did in the above paragraph, where I listed all the things that I feel are unjust about my life! Even after all that pain, Paul still needed a thorn to put him in his place. I certainly do, too.
God didn’t take away the thorn! God’s answer, after three days of torment, was that his grace was enough. I know this is what God is trying to teach me with my thorn, too. His grace is enough. I should delight in these things I experience because my weaknesses point to Christ’s strength. It’s about Him, anyway. His strength is what matters. His name is what matters.
BUT THAT SUCKS and is very hard to come to terms with because of my sinful pride, and it makes me mad. Again, I’m ashamed that I feel this way. I don’t want to admit it. But I bet you feel this, too, somewhere, and it might help you to see that someone else feels the ache of injustice in all of the mess that is this world. The great humility that it takes to be okay with God’s way when everything seems so messed up is something I haven’t figured out yet, which is why I know I need it.
Oh teach me, dear Teacher, to embrace my thorn. Teach me to thank you for my thorn. Teach me to dwell in the glory of your power instead of mine. Teach me to dismiss my need for justice and take on gratitude that I have your grace. You holy, all-knowing, compassionate, wonderful Father – help me to see your grace in this thorn. Help me figure out how to lay it at your feet. In your incredible joy, allow me to release my grief. In your all-consuming peace, allow me to release my anger. In your unending mercy, allow me to embrace my thorn.
We had to pull that piece of glass out of my hand that was stuck there. I remember that it hurt a whole lot. Now, when I look at my hand, I can’t even see the scar from where it was. There is no residual pain from the wound. It’s just a fond memory of my silly hurriedness. Thank you, Jesus, for heaven, where all of our thorns will be gone, healed perfectly by Jehovah Rapha, as we stand with new bodies in your presence. You are so good.