Start With Love

Start with love.

The feeling of it. The warmth in your chest. The coolness on your forehead. This is the truest truth of all.

This new day… erased of all the chaos of yesterday… it is fresh and full of promise. We know what’s coming. We know. It never fails. It will have collisions and hurdles and anger. Disappointing people. Disappointing selves. Diapers and dishes. Destruction and mess. Too much. And not enough. Pouring out from an empty jug. Maybe aching hearts for the world. Or aching heads from horrors that don’t seem too difficult to fix… but aren’t. Maybe the chaos in the kitchen is enough. You can’t think about anything beyond that. This new day. It will not be perfect. But for a moment here at the beginning it is new… and the newness is an invitation. A little glimpse into the hope that lies ahead of us.

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Start with Love.

For this little moment… claim a little space. As much as you need. And hear the soft voice. The gentle hand. The persistent never leaving presence. Love’s open eyes looking at you.

This is the soil of the soul. The sun of every timid growth we dare to extend in a turbulent environment. This is the space and the substance of life. Good life. Healthy life. Strong life. Courage and kindness and truth. Not knowledge. Not labor. Not anger or indignation. Not hustle. Not heartbreak. Not chatter. Not silence. They are fruits. The root is Love.

Start with love. Early in the morning. Start here.

Our creator took down every barrier to receiving it. Every law, every distance. Every mountain that stood immovably in the way has been moved. Split right down the middle from top to bottom. Except one. He left one wall in our hands, because he is tender with us. Our minds. The gateway between heaven and earth. So start here in this fresh moment before everything has gone sideways (or should I say, normal)… crack open a small window at the top of your dusty attic and see what light spills in.

Love. Waiting for the invitation to wash you in a gentle something you have needed badly. A wash of stability in a string of infinite universes of crazy. Peace. Harbor. The ‘No Matter What’ of all the everythings everywhere.

Those who find the attic window and learn to fumble with its stubborn locks and lean into its creaky hinges and feel even the briefest moment of Love’s fresh breeze on their faces… they are imperishable. Come what may.

Reach out for a sliver of time, no matter what you’re feeling… brush up against the foundation of all hope. Start with love. And stay with love. This is the safe place you can come back to no matter what the day brings. It has always been here. It will never leave. Sink roots. Grow in strength. Start with love.

“I pray that out of the riches of His glory, He may strength you with power through His Spirit in your inner being. So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and grounded in Love, may have power, together with all the saints, to comprehend the length and width and height and depth of His love, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. That you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” – Ephesians 3:16-19

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He Gave Me This Valley

This morning I looked deeply into the eyes of the office manager at Integrity Auto Repair and said, “I really hate parenting.” He was clearly uncomfortable.

I mean, ok, that’s too strong, right. But… you know… there are moments!

Beside the front desk there was this wonderful little hospitality table.
Here, Clients! Enjoy yourself while you wait on your car!
It made my hour a three ring circus.
My 2 year old spent the entire oil change trying to swipe flavored creamers, snort Sweet-N-Low packets, steal drinks from the mini fridge, shred the magazines, and juggle the coffee cups. And it’s fine. It’s fine. Fine. All fine. But I’m tired. I just want this wee tornado of chaos to play with the train table like the children in the advertisements.
Oh, Pampers-Box-Boy, I bet you never get into this kind of trouble!

Gloria Furman has a bunch of books about how to be a mother in a holy way… “Treasuring Christ When Your Hands are Full”, “Glimpses of Grace”, “Missional Motherhood.”

Bless. Bless her heart. Just… freaking… Bless it right to death.

I want to serve the Lord joyfully in this holy calling of raising up the next generation. I do. But I’m bored.

I don’t want to slouch through each day, trying to survive the insanity of what feels like one million meal times. But if I have to scrape congealed oatmeal out of one more bowl… so help me.

I want to move through the hours with a spirit of blessing and grace because of Jesus’ holy quest to redeem the world. These days that are a gift. These children are a treasure. Oh they are! Precious gifts. And these are sacred moments never to be wasted.

But also, I’m over it.

Still? Yes STILL!
I’m still over it. I’ve been complaining about it for 4 years. Blah blah blah, we get it! I’m sorry! I don’t have that much more to talk about. My life is boring.

The truth is, I have grown. I know I have. In wisdom, in love, in patience, in hope. I’ve grown in every area of my life, and I am so thankful… but OH those steps of growth have been tiny and difficult. And I’m still over it.

My devotional reading today said: “Baby steps of trust are simple. You take them with almost unconscious ease. Giant steps are another matter altogether: leaping across chasms in semidarkness, scaling cliffs of uncertainty, trudging through the valley of the shadow of death. These feats require sheer concentration as well as utter commitment on the Lord.”

This is my Giant Step. This is my valley of the shadow of “I’m Dying Inside.”
Giant leaps of faith rarely look like giant leaps of faith. It is somehow easier to hurl yourself on the mercy of the Father when ALL THE THINGS are on the line or when you’re executing a major feat of trust. It’s so present in those seasons. So immediate. Like being caught in a storm. You CLING to your lifelines with a whole hearted, ferocious hope.

But to tread still waters… To float on the glassy, endless, daily sea of the mundane… To just keep believing that somehow you still matter, that you’re not going to shrivel up and die here, that you’re going somewhere, that you’re not abandoned to the fishes… oh my sweet friends, that is a GIANT DIFFICULT FAITH THING.

Maintaining in the mundane is the most major test of blind faith ever. Ev. Er. Big achievements ain’t no thang. Writing a book, designing a hotel, creating any craft ever… easy peasy. But getting three humans dressed, into the YMCA for a run, and completing a grocery store run… day after day after day after day? Torture.

And does the Lord know this? Oh he absolutely does. If it takes 10,000 jelly sandwiches and 20,000 baths to teach me how sweet it is to lean into the Lord’s love… then that’s exactly what he will give me. In Mundane Mom Land, all I have left to hope in is his definition of my worth, his promise of purposefulness, his hand of blessing on my imperfect head. Without those things I would implode… because I don’t really DO anything worthy. I don’t really have any clear purpose… unless you count cheerios. And I need a hair trim and an eyebrow wax. My face is turning into something only a mother could love. Or my heavenly father. So I taste and see that the Lord is good.

This is my mountain. This is my stretched place.
For me nothing has ever been so mountainy or so stretching.

What is yours? Take a minute to reflect… try to put your finger on it.

In that place, do you know this… Not only is it ok to struggle there, you have been invited into this valley specifically because it is hard. And you are loved. This invitation comes from His tender heart right into your hungriest, weakest places. He enters right into our messy bits, to make them new and beautiful.

Jesus doesn’t say, “I will use all your best parts and strongest stuff and shiny newness. If you can’t offer that to me, come back when you can.” Nope. His master plan IS your mess. His love is so deep that he says, “Look what I can do with cheerios! If I can make beautiful things out of the dust… what will I do with your mighty places in due time?”

Sometimes I hate parenting, but parenting’s desert has taught me to understand my own worth and his deep love.

If sweet water can come up out of this dry season… then we have nothing to fear.
It’s ok to be over it. But it’s good to be here.

Delight yourself in the LORD and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD, trust also in Him and He will do it. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light.
:::Psalm 37:5:::

Tangled In The Cords of Love

My pants are smeared with boogers. My shirt is streaked with tears. Theirs, not mine.

If my tears could flow, it would be better. But they’re stuck. My tear ducts feel rusty like an unused pump. A good hard cry would do them good. But the well is dry. I can’t give any more… not even to myself.

Most recent crisis: The baby spit chewed up carrots on the bed. So the 4 year old bit him.

Of course he did. His teeth left the most horrific purple bruise. Four scraping tracks culminating in a blood-blistered welt. The 4 year old had to be pulled out from under the bed where he hid. He knew he had done wrong. Then both boys sobbing in my lap. One little limp head on each clavicle bone, and two sets of hot tears spilling down my chest, puddling between my saggy breasts in the bottom of my sports bra.

How is it possible to love a moment so fiercely and to wish so hard that there was just, for the love of all that is holy, an OFF RAMP?

O God, I would give anything for a secret hand signal to the universe… An SOS flare. I promise to use it wisely… A red flag on the play… “Aaand, Scene! House lights down! Close curtain! We will be taking a brief intermission. The show will resume when I’m feeling less like murder.”

As I write this, the 2 year old struggles up my leg into my lap. His naked butt on my calf. As smooth as butter. And for no clear reason he is licking my arm. Layers of spit. Drying crusty and rewetting, damp. Moist.

How is it possible to cherish the tenderness so dearly and feel like I might actually explode if I don’t hurl myself through a wall?

Panic is rising.

The 4 year old keeps attacking my mind with meaningless questions and I ask him (with all the tight control of an overwound clock), “Please let mommy have just a few minutes of quiet.” He doesn’t understand that a tiger is crouched behind my patient eyes and kind words, barely restraining a lethal roar. He doesn’t understand that I am not only his kind mother… I am an amazonian warrior princess full of rage. A suppressed princess. A tired princess.

A dull desperation is pushing up. A limp loneliness. An anger with no where to go.

Then the 4 year old falls off a chair.

Then the 2 year old attacks the window glass with a wooden spoon.

How, in the space of so little time, do they manage to barrage the fortress of my sanity with so many missiles? It is 4:15. My friend Sheila and I call this “Crap O’Clock.” The Hell Hour. The time of day when Satan dances over our broken spirits. At 6am, we pressed “play” on this film reel. Started the crazy. It has ticked on mercilessly since then. And at 4:15… There is always more crazy than patience. Always more laughing life threatening leaps toward immanent death than there are deep breaths to calm my nerves. Always a pool of meaningless squabbles deeper than my reserves of ambassadorial diplomacy.

We all lay on the bed together. Their hot heads on my chest. Their genuine cries have been reduced to pantomimed moanings of self-pity. Much like my own internal howls.

I cherish every moment. And I hate them.

This is the Warp and Weft of motherhood… the strong vertical lines of love holding the wildly varying horizontal lines of tenderness and loathing. This is the fabric we create… an imperfect tapestry. If we judge it by the hour, by the day, by the week, it looks like an utter wreck. Let’s just cut it off the loom! Throw it away! We’ve made a hash of it. We had a chance at a life and we filled it with insanity. We had a chance to create something smooth and clean and beautiful. Worth remembering. Worth framing. But now it’s full of knots and unevenness and dirty underwear and worn out maternity pants and stretch marks and bite marks and tear stains and spaghetti and spare tires and guilt. But as it spools on and on, layer upon layer, thread upon thread, turned toward us on the beam of time… we are building something. It’s not what we expected. But it’s ours. And we must never, never let go of this hope (I really believe it is true)… that when we unspool it, we will be surprised by its beauty. For what we tangle in the cords of love will always be beautiful by and by.

Risk Yourself

“Risk honesty and awareness.”

That was the end of a sentence I read this morning. It was the beginning of a clarity of vision as refreshing as an Autumn breeze after a Savannah summer.

This morning at breakfast I asked my husband what he wanted to do. (We’re struggling with church choices. Feeling split. Tired. Cramped.) In his typical strong passive way he said, “I can go either way.”

Something moved in my heart for him right then.

For once it wasn’t frustration. “Oh would you just decide!”

Or annoyance. “You always dump the choice on me!”

There was no hopelessness. “I married a man who doesn’t give a shit.”

It was tenderness. Real love. No sneaky judgement.

In this moment of silver clarity, I saw the sweep of his story. The baby brother. The youngest twin of a charming sister who bends the world around her story. The little guy. The easy going one. The roll he fulfilled. The safety in letting other louder, pushier, picker people go on with their bad selves. Judging from behind. And I said, “I know you can go either way. Your strength has always been in your adaptability. From the very beginning of your story you were the one who could deal with it. But… don’t just submit to something that works this time. Look deeply. Think honestly. Then choose what grows your soul. Do it for us. Catch as much soul sun as possible and bloom! So that you can be nourished and strong and lead us well. So that you can let me rest in your shade.”

Risk… Risk knowing what you want. Risk understanding what your heart needs to be strong. Risk honesty. Risk awareness. Risk saying, “This. Not that. For me. Because when I am strong, we are stronger.”

This is a powerful call. A dangerous mission. For all of us.

When we know what we need, we risk conflicting with what someone else needs. When we say, “No” we risk collision with someone else’s “Yes.” When we choose, we risk being wrong. It is much safer to say, “Whatever.”

But where does “Whatever” lead us? Really? Calm waters grow dark things. Could it be that when we abandon the work of Risking Honesty and Awareness we consign ourselves to living in a manufactured shell of disingenuousness that doesn’t allow us to grow whole, healthy, straight, strong? The alternative to risking a true knowledge of what Jesus created in our true hearts is to adapt to easy things, like old shoes, that are not a true fit for our souls… because it’s harder to put on a life that fits and supports. Becoming hunched and shriveled from lack of space and light.

Or we could say, “I need… I choose… I feel… I hope… I dream… I pray… I love… I hate… I risk…”

Risk… Risk stretching your arms, your thoughts, your will into even the dark places of your own heart. Open the windows and look inside. There are monsters there. Have no doubt. But there are also treasures. I’m sure. Do it for all of us. When you’re strong, we’re stronger.