Thursday, June 29, 2017

if you're tired of letting anger lead the way


Everything was perfectly prepared.

The chocolate croissant had been proofed overnight and then baked to golden goodness after I returned from my morning workout.

The tea was hot and steamy in my favorite mug.

My books and journal were piled up and ready for me to dive into them.

I even found the most awesome pen in the world {I promise} without having to dig through every drawer and bag in the house.

I stepped outside into the unusually cool summer morning, holding everything I needed for a perfect quiet time and then, it happened.

I'm not completely sure what set off the sequence of awkward events.  All I know is the ceramic plate went down, shattering into dozens of pieces on the patio, as my precious croissant flew into a pile of dirt and leaves.  Tea splattered all over my books and I was left standing there in the middle of the mess.

UGGGGGHHHHH!  I grunted.  I wanted to say more.  The poison was gurgling up inside of me.  But before I could even bend down to closely survey the damage Lucy was bursting through the door and out to assist me.  Bless her.

What happened, Mommy?!  Oh no.  Your croissant!  I'm so sad for you.  I can clean it up.  Do you want me to fix you one of those English muffins?

That sweet girl knows I love a good chocolate croissant - and my morning quiet time.  With her standing right there to witness it I almost succumbed to the anger and frustration.  I could have hauled off and kicked that dirty piece of pastry across the yard and then stomped on it for good measure.  I could have jumped right on that train of thought taunting me with half-truths - You got up early, packed lunches, prepared breakfasts, set out clothes, wiped down counters...all you wanted was a nice breakfast and a little time to read on your own.  Oh well - that's not gonna happen.  So. not. fair.  Day ruined!

I was so close to pulling myself up onto that car and riding it all the way down the rails of resentment, but first - I breathed.  One long, deep drink of oxygen.  That was it.  I took it in slowly and then I looked up at Lucy and forced a smile.  {believe me when I say I forced it!}  I chose, instead, the words I knew.  Not the ones I felt, but the ones I knew.

Good thing it's just a piece of bread, huh?  Oh man.  Sure would have been tasty, but I don't really need it.  And I guess we've got a dozen more plates in there.  This will be one less to wash.  Can you believe such a little plate could break into so many pieces!

Lucy laughed and suddenly the words felt true, no longer forced.  And with every step I took back from the Anger Express I felt my blood pressure lower and a sense of calm return.  By the time we had finished the clean up I felt something else too - something good and deep.  I couldn't identify it in the moment, but once I settled into my spot at the round table under the turquoise umbrella with the birds singing a song of redemption over me, I found the words.

Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up. You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It’s the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won’t last forever. 

I promise I am not trying to compare my silly little mishap to the persecution of the early church {which Peter was referring to in that passage}.  But I do believe serious damage can be done to ourselves and those around us if we don't stay alert to the internal war waged on us in seemingly benign everyday struggles.

Just three days ago I stood on a stage and spoke through a microphone about the importance of being rooted in the love of Christ if we are going to endure the storms of life.  I warned against not only the really big catastrophic ones, but also the pop-up thundershowers that can happen on any old given day.  I had just weathered a pop-up.

I don't know about you, but these days I tend to keep my cool relatively well when something really big and life-altering comes along.  However, I am much more susceptible to the enemy's attacks when a quick, anger-inducing situation pops up.  This is where I am learning to 'stay alert'.

That feeling I had after I weathered the storm of a perfect morning quiet time derailed?  That feeling was this - victory.  It was the sweet taste of victory over an enemy who sneaks into my daily inconveniences and frustrations with half-truths and a misplaced sense of entitlement.  It tasted ten times better than that croissant ever would.

Joey wandered outside and I shared that passage with him.  I was honest about my struggles and how that bit of truth helped increase my awareness of attack and provided an armor of protection.  I had no idea we would both need it hours later.

As we sat together reviewing plans and projects for our publishing company the thunder began to rumble in the distance.  I felt the atmospheric pressure change.  Anger Express came barreling by and the enemy reached out his hand to pull me on board.  I almost let him.  I took a step in his direction and then I remembered -
Stay alert!
I turned and saw the signs of where that train was headed.  I didn't want to go there.  It was a dead end.  Instead I turned towards Joey.  I saw that foundation of a wall being erected between us and with all the strength I could muster I kicked it down.  We would stand firm together.  We would not be devoured.

Breathe.  Deep and long.

I reminded Joey of that passage we read earlier and committed to fighting our common enemy alongside him.  In that place and time it meant listening to each other, making compromises, speaking the truth in love, and desiring a working towards a resolution that was best for both of us.  It wasn't easy but we got there.  The feeling returned.  Good and deep.  Victory.

As the day went on we worked together to film and edit videos for my new study.  We chatted over lunch.  We dreamed about our next steps.  We recognized further attacks for what the were and from whence they came.  We talked honestly, but kindly, about our struggles.

It was one of my most favorite days ever.
And to think it all began with broken dishes and a ruined breakfast.

That's what happens when you refuse to let anger lead you.  I fail miserably at that so often, but I won't stop trying.

Post this at all the intersections, dear friends:
Lead with your ears,
follow up with your tongue,
and let anger straggle along in the rear.

Anger should be your captive, not your captor.  Maybe today when we find ourselves at the intersection of anger and joy we can more readily remember which way to turn.  It's the difference between a day that's ruined and one that's redeemed.

{NOTE:  Lucy had her own pop-up thundershower when unloading the dishwasher yesterday afternoon.  In addition to some helpful passages of scripture we added a song as a reminder when the Anger Express is after us.  It starts off like this -
I've got that joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.  Where?!  Down in my heart.  Where?! Down in my heart.
I've got that joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.  Down in my heart to STAY.
Remember that one?!  It had us both cracking up as we wiped up the giant puddle of coffee and water on the floor.  Joy in suffering.  It's a promise God will make good on if we keep anger straggling along behind and let the listening lead us.}

{UPDATE: My friend, Suzanne reminded me of one of the other verses of that song...
And if the devil doesn't like it he can sit on a tack!  What?  Sit on a tack!  What?  Sit on a tack!
We're definitely adding that to our repertoire!}

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Monday, May 29, 2017

the gift of staying


Most writing days I want to get away – to a coffee shop, the lobby of the local Inn, a well-manicured botanical garden. 

Today I felt like staying. 

We are easing into Joey’s summer schedule of flexible hours so he has taken over with the kids this morning – making sure they are eating, learning, not killing each other or doing any permanent damage to the house.  I hear their footsteps, the opening and closing of doors, and the muffled conversations.  I remove the piles of books and clothes and pictures frames and a dozen other odds and ends from the table beneath the double windows in my bedroom.  I stack them all on top of the white coverlet of my bed.  Maybe I will put everything in its place later, or maybe I will just transfer it all back.  For now it is behind me and the green of our lawn framed by the row of white hydrangea and the towering trees of the woods are in front of me.  

A wide, open space.  
A spacious place.  
God keeps calling me back there.  
There is room to move and breathe and it is quiet enough for listening without distraction. 

More and more I am listening for the things my ears cannot hear and looking for the things my eyes cannot see. 

I am finding them. 

Sometime easily and abundantly. 
Other times the going is slow and the rewards are sparse, but still I persevere because always, always, it is worth it.

I don’t have a perfect work space in my house.  I’ve found I don’t need one.  The weathered aqua blue side table that is just barely tall enough to slide a chair underneath is the only piece of furniture I could fit into the small space of our bedroom.  Our bedroom is the quietest place in the house with a lockable door.  It works fine. 

I have opened up the blinds and cracked the window because it is unseasonable cool this morning.  The camellia bush a few feet beyond the glass has grown too high and has too many wayward branches poking out of its core.  Trimming it is on our to-do list, but not the top of it. 

Despite the obstructed view I can look to the left and see the edge of our vegetable garden peaking out from behind the hedge separating the upper yard from the terraced section.  The runner beans are beginning to stretch up the rows of string woven through stakes meant to provide a path for their growth.  If I squint I can even make out the tiny purple blooms amongst the leaves, promising a harvest. 

To the right of the monstrous camellia the grassy hill leads past the concrete bird bath, along the overgrown garden of spider lilies and Lenten rose up to the play house.  The white curtains I hung on the front are frayed at the bottom but they look lovely billowing slowly in the breeze.  The paneling Joey carefully erected on top of the raised deck foundation he built is painted a creamy white making the simple gray-brown shutters my brother helped me construct out of reclaimed barn board stand out.  The roof panels are brown and rippled and always remind me of Spanish architecture which I was unusually drawn to as a child.  The slide hung from the front is yellow and the wagon parked underneath is red, but otherwise the whole structure blends unobtrusively into its surroundings.  The chalkboard wall is weathered and peeling off the back side.  I can barely see it from where I sit, but I know what bad shape it’s in.  It’s on the list too. 

There are many things in need of our doing out there on the other side of the windows, but I don’t feel the weight of them right now. 

Even after all these years of practice I still have to make a conscious effort to shift from doing mode to being mode.  In this place, I can be fully present and fully appreciative of what exists without any help from me. 

There will always be things to do clambering for our attention, but there will also always be a need to be whispered in longing. 

Just as I finished typing that last sentence I heard footsteps and the slow turn of the doorknob.  For some reason I chose not to lock myself in this time.  That is always a risk, but today I wanted to be tucked away yet accessible.  Lucy entered on unusually gentle feet and whispered kindly, “Mommy, can I ask you a question?” 

Of course.

She cracked open the library book in her hand, “I know we are reading a different chapter book right now but I am doing my 20 minutes of quiet reading and wondered if it would be okay if I finished this one instead.”

Sure.  That’s a fine idea, honey.

"Ok," she said with a soft smile.  As she pulled the door closed behind her she turned, “I love you.”

I love you too.

Sometimes I am deeply drawn to having us all under the same roof.  Even if we are each involved in our separate things and there is work to be done, I find comfort in knowing we can whisper our “I love yous” to each other any time we please.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

the discipline of missing out

In my youth, and particularly as a teenager, I worked overtime at one job more than any other.  

No, it wasn't the one in the shoe department at Belk 
or the one as a day camp counselor over the summer 
or the countless babysitting gigs.  

The job I put the most blood, sweat, and tears into was the job of not. missing. out. on. anything.  

As an extrovert with closet insecurities, I felt a burning need to always be ‘in the know’ - to maintain my acceptance by peers, increase my influence over others,  and preserve my privilege of inclusion.  Sometimes it truly felt like a full-time job {and we didn’t even have cell phones or texting back then!}.  I spent a lot of time on my Victorian style phone with creamy coil connecting the vintage-looking receiver to its gold plastic base.  I wanted to be a part of
all the conversations and
all the parties and
all the sleepovers and
all the road trips
and I feared missing anything because maybe I wouldn’t know about the next thing 
or the next thing 
and eventually I wouldn’t just be missing out, I would BE out.  
On my own.  No longer a part of the ‘in’ crowd. 

This morning as I sat alone fully embracing the fact that there were many things I was voluntarily missing out on in order to reap the benefits of solitude, I got a text from one of my college girls.  Anna is working at a camp in Texas over the summer and she has been struggling with spending a month in a new place away from everyone she knows.  She has a heart for God so she knows there is a bigger picture.  I think she was just wishing she could see it.  She wrote to tell me she had been so encouraged by something from one of my books she just read.  I went back to read the section she referred to and I had a lightbulb moment.

The piece Anna was referencing was about Moses and how even {or especially} the unglamorous seasons of his life when he found himself alone, an outsider, far from ‘in the know’, were preparing him for something greater.  I realized there may be some advantage to the discipline of missing out.  

It is solitude on steroids.  

It is voluntarily choosing to remove yourself from the people who know and accept you to do something else, on your own.  When I was in college that prospect might have terrified me.  Anna is much more spiritually mature than I was at her age. 

I can’t be sure, but I’m wondering if there is a slight fear of missing out in her heart.  I’m wondering if she feels lonely and her mind wanders to others who are off on fun vacations with their friends or back home relaxing with their families.  Those thoughts could create a longing, a desire to escape, for anyone.  There is an allure to the easier, bustling, more familiar path all your friends are taking and an aversion to the unknown, quiet one you take alone with fallen tree limbs to step over and hidden rocks that could cause you to trip and face plant.  

When we remove ourselves from what is familiar and comfortable there can be a painful transition period, but on the other side is something worth all the heartache.  On the other side is a clarity of vision for who we are and who God is.  That could never be obtained when so much of our energy and attention is taken up by not missing out.  When we are constantly in the presence of friends and family we begin to adopt an identity defined by them and we lose the essence of our identity defined by God.

All our efforts to not miss out on what is happening in the temporary world around us actually cause us to miss out on what God wants to do with the eternal world within us.  So I’m praying Anna through the transition, knowing God’s reward for her is on the other side - the IN-side {not the IN crowd} will be rich.  I’m proud of her for being brave enough to go to a place where she is unknown by others so that she might be more fully known in the presence of her Creator.


From where I sit I can see the vegetable garden in my back yard.  Just yesterday hard and heavy rains pelted those tender runner beans that had just begun to stretch towards the sky.  It’s not easy to stand there on your own and endure that kind of discomfort, but today they stand taller and their purple blossoms have been revealed.  God knew standing alone in the hard and heavy rains were exactly what they needed in this season of their growth.  Very soon they will produce the harvest they were created to produce - and so will we.