Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Search for Simple

No one in their right mind would ever look at my life from the outside and call it "simple".  A blended family, complete with all the difficult and intricate relationships that come with it, and the crazy schedules of who's staying where and for how long, can make life seem pretty complicated.  Throw in some football practices, band rehearsals, and a new job teaching preschool 3 days a week, and it starts to look downright unmanageable!  I've never been good at "doing-it-all".  I'm not a great multi-tasker, don't work well under pressure, and really have an aversion to structure and rigid routines.  My mom would say that is what makes me fun, but honestly these days I'd say it's what makes me nuts!  Navigating these wild days is a learning experience to say the least.

I find myself growing weary, feeling overwhelmed, and battling impatience... Not just with the kids, but with myself! Thinking always that I should be able to handle it all with more grace, that I should be able to cheerfully serve the ones I love without this edge.  That it is too much because I am not enough.  Not strong enough, not organized enough, not disciplined enough... You get the picture.  I have written about this very thing before, and probably will again, because it is my battleground for now.  God is teaching me so much in this, but the lessons are hard, and I'm not always the best student!  My heart's desire is to give my best to my husband and children,  to fill our home with love and grace and peace, and allowing God to smooth out my rough edges is the only way, painful though it may be.

Keeping things simple is a challenge for every mom, regardless of family type.  And just like every other area of life that I desire change, the change must always begin with me.  And God is faithfully revealing areas of my heart and life that need to be simplified.  I wish I could say that I welcome the change, but I always resist.  So comfortable in my chaos that I say, "I'm fine. My way is fine. I'm fine with my crazy circus life."  But I'm not! I am SO not fine.  (Ask my husband! He might be the most long-suffering man alive.  And I am so very thankful for his patience with me.)  The first step to simple:  Coming to the end of myself, and "my way", and consequently, to the end of my proverbial rope! This is the only place that God works.  At the end of ME.

The second step to simple is a big one.  It sounds easy, but has truly been one of the hardest things for me to do.  Step two is to Slow Down.  When I hurry, I fuel the impatient nature of my heart.  One of my favorite quotes is from Ann Voskamp's 1000 Gifts.  She says, "Life is not an emergency. Life is brief and it is fleeting but it is not an emergency."  I repeat this to myself many times a day, when the heart races, and the clock even faster.  To slow down, to be present in this very moment, not racing ahead to the next thing, is the key to calm.  And calm is simple. And this is what I want.  Sometimes I have to say it out loud, "Slow down. Hurry hurts." (Or sometimes sing to myself, "I can go slow, I can go slow" like on the kids' cd we listen to at preschool, though I don't recommend doing this in public unless you are ok with some strange glances...)

And step three is as far as I've gotten on this path to Simple.  It is my favorite, because it has the power to take any moment and transform it immediately.  Step three: to Give Thanks. Hudson, my two year old, is a constant reminder to me to be thankful.  He walks around singing "God our Father, God our Father, we give thanks, we give thanks" all the time.  And this is not the generic "thank you for all my blessings" kind of thanks.  I mean moment by moment, actively looking for gifts to be thankful for, even in the midst of the mess kind of thanks.  Another favorite quote from 1000 Gifts, "Thanksgiving creates abundance; and the miracle of multiplying happens when I give thanks--taking the just one loaf, say it is enough, and give thanks--and He miraculously makes it more than enough."  Being thankful for what He gives each moment is the key to having enough, to being enough.  And isn't that what my heart desires? To have enough?  To be enough?  Isn't all of life simpler when we feel we have adequate resources to fulfill our God-given roles?  Thanksgiving keeps life simple and free from striving for more.

In a season of chaos, the search for simple requires some effort... But it is there waiting to be found.  And even this tired mommy can remember 3 things... Come to the end of Me, Slow Down, and Give Thanks. Simplicity isn't the impossible dream.  It isn't some idyllic moment in the past that you wish you could go back to.  It isn't some future reality where all your problems are solved. It is here and now.  We just have to choose it.  It is always a choice isn't it? How we respond to life and what it throws at us... Praying for the Grace to search for and choose the simple, even in the midst of the chaos.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

One Thing

Dishes in my sink, laundry practically everywhere, a trail of train tracks, dinosaurs, and wood blocks all through the house, and here I sit.  Not even sure why, really... Sometimes I have words already in my mind waiting to get out, but not tonight.  The quote keeps coming to mind today, "Sometimes it's hard to be a woman." (Tammy Wynette, I believe?)  And it almost rings true, except for the "sometimes" part!  May be a truer thing to say that every once in a while you have a day that doesn't require the impossible, a day that doesn't drain you dry of all beauty and grace, a day when you go to bed feeling that you accomplished something of lasting value... But in my experience as a mom and a wife, those days are precious and few.  Mostly we just get up with the sun and sometimes we stomp through the day with determination, sometimes we drag our feet in reluctant surrender.  But always, always the exhaustion at the end.

A depressing way to begin a post, I know! This is just me, trying to climb out of the pit tonight.  Felt this way yesterday too, and pulled out my journal and pen, re-read some of Ann Voskamp's "1000 Gifts", because I knew at the root of the hopelessness was a lack of gratitude.... Truly it was worse than that, it was ingratitude, plain and simple.  A refusal to reflect on His gifts, His grace, His provision for the day, ALL this goodness.  What do we do when we are so soul-tired that we become blind to it?

I grew up in church, I know the "rules", the "answers", the check-marks for a life of faith.  Pray more, pray better, memorize more, read more, give more... Always more.  When we are weary and worn, "more" seems more like "too much", doesn't it?  I am in the process of UN-learning all those "rules" and "answers"... But I need something to replace them with.  Something that doesn't depend on my own ability, spirituality, intellect or insight.  Something so simple it almost seems ridiculous.  Get ready to be blown away, here... One Thing.  I can name one thing that I am thankful for.  Some days, like today, I have to really think because my mind is spiraling down, and that is not really conducive to feeling thanks, BUT the hunt for that one thing is the very thing that stops the downward spiral and turns me around, and the one thing leads to remembering the many things, and up, up, up I go.  Genius, right? Well, it isn't exactly a new idea...

Remember the old hymn that we sang (nearly every Sunday of my young life it seems), "Count your blessings, name them one by one, Count your blessings see what God has done"?  I think I have missed the true meaning of those lyrics my whole life.  Hearing in them just another "rule" to follow instead of the simple truth  they tell.... "Name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done!"  Yes.  It will surprise you.  When you name the one thing, you start to remember the many things.  And you are surprised.  Surprised that you didn't see it before, surprised that even when you weren't aware God was still pouring blessing into your life, and maybe a little ashamed that you didn't take time to notice right away.  But always this, with surprise comes JOY.  I needed a little joy tonight, how about you?

Some links to places I go for encouragement everyday:

Monday, July 11, 2011

Learning to Respond

"Are you a reactor or a responder?" I read this question on Facebook a few days ago.  I knew immediately what the honest answer was for me... a recovering reactor trying hard to become a responder...I have so far to go.  This battle is one that I fight all day everyday.  In a home filled with kids and messes and arguments and chores, my patience is not always "on point".  In fact, some days it seems I lack this esteemed virtue altogether.  I don't really want to pray for patience, because I know how God works it into our lives and frankly, I just don't feel up to the challenge! So my prayer sounds more like this, "God, you know I need help in this area.  I know I need your help in this area.  Please help me, but please be gentle?" And He is faithful.  He has (thus far) been gentle.  Reminding me in the tense moment to just breathe, keeping me aware of the effects of my reactions, teaching me the benefits of a Godly response, flooding my life with encouraging friends, and reminding me that there is always grace to try again when I miss the mark.

When the 2 year old is whining, I'm practicing a calm and pleasant (but authoritative) response, instead of whining back at her to "stop that whining!".  When the kool-aid spills all over the table and on the stacks of mail (that I should have put away 3 days ago), I am learning to just hand the embarassed child a towel and say "no big deal, I spill stuff sometimes too." When I read or hear something that makes my old defensive nature kick into high gear, I am working on immediately giving it to God, who is my Defender.  When dear husband is a little tense and speaks in a tone of voice that is harsh, I'm trying hard to take my focus off my own feelings and get to the heart of what's bugging him so I can be his helper.  And when I hear the big kids yelling and fighting (this is a hard one) I am not going to march into the fight with fists clenched screaming at them to "Stop the yelling!!!".

See, the problem with being a reactor is this... a reactor doesn't usually bring positive change to a negative situation.  Instead, a reactor just reacts to the anxiety or stress of the moment and becomes part of the problem.  As a wife and mom, I don't want to be part of the problem! I want to be part of the solution!  I want to model grace and patience and gentleness so that these little (and not-so-little) ones can learn how to live it out themselves. A "response" requires intentionality... To respond is to form an answer or reply, and to form something we must put some thought into it.  And if we are going to take time to put some thought into it, why not put some prayer into it as well?

This is the verse I am memorizing to help me slow down and respond instead of react...

Proverbs 15:1 "A gentle response defuses anger, but a sharp tongues kindles a temper-fire."

I don't know about you, but in this house I don't need to kindle any temper-fires! They seem to be burning just fine without my help!  And according to this verse, with God's help I can learn to put them out.  Un-learning my reactive ways will take time and effort, no doubt.  But if the reward is a more peaceful and grace-filled home, then I am willing!

A great article on the subject!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Fearless Friday

I started the week with a "Messy Monday".  I am determined to end it on a better note.  My life isn't exactly in a season of peace.  I wake up every morning to a new giant, feeling very ill equipped with a spatula in my hand instead of a sling-shot and a stone.  (Like maybe if I threaten to spank the giant he'll run away? Yeah, that doesn't even work on my 2 yr olds.)  And I have this little faith in this BIG God who I so want to trust but am afraid He just might not be for me... Like he might be on the giant's side...  So I tremble.  And I scramble to figure out what my plan should be for the battle, and I feel alone as I prepare for the worst.   

What amazes me is this... When I am trembling, not trusting, not resting, not believing, He whispers soft, "I am with you.  I won't leave you.  I am for you.  You are mine.  You don't have to be afraid."  And I don't always listen.  So He shouts "Be strong and courageous!  Do not be afraid or terrified because of them. I will go with you! I will never leave or forsake you."  Oh how I want to believe it.  I have such a hard time believing that anyone, much less a holy God, would want to be "for me".  I have always had this deep belief that I am hard to love, hard to be close to, and it affects every relationship, even with my Savior. My default mode is self-protection.  At its worst, this looks like paranoia, anxiety, doubt, and yes, overwhelming fear. 

How do you overcome fear? I've certainly faced some giants before. And God has surely carried me safely through battles in the past.  And I've grown and been stronger and had more faith as a result, that is UNTIL the next giant steps out of the shadows and I forget.  So maybe the key is to learn to REMEMBER.  If my mind is fixed on what God has brought me through, what He has done in my cold-hard heart to make it soft and tender again, then would the giant maybe shrink a little? And if I can fix my thoughts on His words, His promises, would that giant look even smaller?  And what if I sang out loud in praise of Who He Is, would my fear turn to anticipation of what God can do on behalf of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose?  I think I'll try it and see.  In fact, just in writing these words my heart has settled a bit.  God uses this plastic keyboard to open me up and call me out of myself.  The rest of you probably think I'm nuts, and it's probably not far from the truth.  But I don't mind being a fool for One who comes to my rescue when all seems lost.  

What is there, really, to be afraid of?  Simply put, it is a CHOICE to be afraid... Because God's word tells us over and over again that we don't have to be.  I think sometimes we are afraid because we think we should be, like maybe the fear and worry will serve to protect us somehow, and my friends, that is a lie!  This is a day for filling our minds with TRUTH.  I'm choosing today to trust.  And to cast my anxiety on Him because He cares for me.  If I have to face giants, (and we all do), I want to be ready and confident in the One who fights for me.  It seems so silly to think I could come up with a successful strategy of my own apart from Him.  Hmmm... seems like I've tried that before with not-so-stellar results.... I think I'll step down and let Him fight this one for me.