When “Some” Becomes “Enough”

A couple of weekends back, my brother and sister in law’s family of six came rumbling up our sun-dappled driveway, camper in tow. Almost as soon as the diesel truck engine killed, three eager bodies bounded out of the back seat, excited to join their cousins in play. Hugs were given, backs were slapped, baby cheeks kissed. And with the first slam of the screen door, the weekend began.

There were giggles and arguments. There were summer suntanned legs jumping circles around the trampoline. There were endless pushes on the swings underneath the maple tree, bodies sailing through the humid August air. There were acts of generosity scattered about like the water cups we left everywhere.

The adults rested best we knew how – simple meals, paper plates, life unscheduled. A beach day. A farm day. A meal out. Ice cream so blue it matched Ellis’s eyes. Late at night after the children were in bed, we sunk into the cushions of my worn-in sectional and had uninterrupted conversation, and it felt like luxury.IMG_20160813_173743967 (1280x720)

I love gatherings. I love the connection that flows through the compilation of people and shared experience. Somehow the hours that pass in the presence of others are like in-season blueberries – they taste sweeter, fuller than than the hours alone.

I also want to be honest. Planning, hosting, or attending gatherings with my four children is work. Capital W. O. R. K. work. Our house is in a constant state of flux. Entering it means the likely chance of sitting on rogue My Little Ponies or stepping on hidden legos that blend in with my rug. The sink is usually full of dishes, the fridge is half empty, and the bathroom never has toilet paper.

On the other hand, leaving home requires half a day’s packing and the Spanish Armada to carry all the bags, clothes, and supplies each child needs (or thinks they need) at this stage of life. Case in point: Sunday, we brought no less than two stuffed horses, one stuffed pig, four My Little Ponies, three miniature backpacks, two packages of kinetic sand, one ziplock bag of wikistix, one car seat carrying one infant, a diaper bag, a purse, and a jumbo pack of gum to a one hour church service.

You see what I’m saying.

Gathering with people in any fashion is suddenly like doing the limbo; it requires lots of “just do it” attitude and a fair amount of back-bending in order to get to the cheering on the other side.

That bugs me. I’m already paranoid that people won’t want to hang out with us because big families of small children are overwhelming. I wonder if my constantly distracted (hey stop eating that) demeanor is making me a bad friend. I worry that even when I try to connect with people, my imperfect efforts are not enough.

The other day, we were driving in the van and listening to an audio book of bible stories. Most of the time, I move all the sound to the back of the van (brilliant feature, Toyota) when the kids are watching a movie or listening to audio books, because let’s be honest. Even if it’s not silence, it’s at least a little bit more quiet, or a chance to catch up on a few phone calls, and every parent needs more of that.

But that day I forgot, and ended up listening along to the tale where Jesus feeds five thousand people. In the story, a huge crowd met up on a hillside to hear Jesus teach, but apparently no one had brought lunch. Clearly not in the days of McDonalds, and nowhere near their own homes, the people were starting to get hungry. So Jesus asked his friends to go find whatever food they could.

Just then, up walks a little boy. He has five loaves of bread and two fish in his lunch. I’m sure he knew it wasn’t enough to feed everyone. He probably questioned if it would be enough to feed himself for the whole day. Here the CD narrator pauses for a moment, and then the little boy’s voice pipes up.

“I have some.”

I’m still driving, but sudden tears blur the edges of my vision. Somehow I’ve stepped into the little boy’s sandals up on that hillside. I look down into his woven basket, taking in the meager amount. I look behind me and see crowd and their need. And then I lock eyes with Jesus, who reminds me of a simple truth.

Even if it doesn’t seem like enough, I always have some.

nature-sunset-person-woman_0

image via pexels.com

Some means under-abundance. Some might require me to offer a messy, lived in home in lieu of a sparkling, well-managed house. Some means I usually leave the house with mismatched clothes and one wet wipe left in the diaper bag. Some means that right now, as mama of four, I work hard to do things most people don’t have to think twice about.

But Jesus says none of that matters. He wants my five small loaves and two stinky fish not because they’re enough, but because I’m willing to trust Him to work with the little I have.

Slowly, I’m relearning the value of offering myself within the context of getting together with people. Circumstances and surroundings don’t matter nearly as much as how I listen to and love the other person.

I’m finding that even though it’s work, or that it might be easier to hunker down alone with my kids, I’m blessed by the grace I find in others.

Imagine what could happen if we all pulled the real, crinkly some out of our back pockets. Imagine our personal offerings becoming a collective sum, with all of us feeling whole.

That’s a gathering I’d do almost anything to be a part of.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Thing About Weakness

IMG_20160729_191858382_HDR (720x1280)Today my husband went back to work after his time off in July. Like a record needle clicking into place, we found the schedule groove quickly, and without fuss. I packed him a lunch and a thermos of coffee. We traded off baby holding while the eggs were poaching and the smell of toasted bread filled the kitchen. And then he kissed the three of us who were awake before heading out into the cool summer morning.

At Griffin’s first weigh-in, our nurse gave me a side glance and asked a question that’s stuck with me ever since. “So Rach, what are you going to do with four kids?” (Four kids, age five and under.)

Can I be honest?

I don’t know.

I don’t know what our days will look like. I don’t know how I’ll get a cup of milk (no mom, I want the mermaid cup!) for one child and a snack for another while someone else needs help wiping in the bathroom and the baby is hangry and crying in the bouncer.

But today we’ll find out. And I have the feeling it will be a little like this morning’s breakfast – mostly normal, with a few new ingredients to incorporate… and the occasional bio hazard bodily fluid spill to clean up. (Before 10:30 am, I stripped toddler bed sheets, cleaned up one infant pooplosion, and managed an epic three-hurl milk vomit that covered me, the baby, and a two foot splatter radius on the kitchen floor.)

My prayer today sounds a little like this: God, if your strength is made perfect in weakness, I’m all in. I have nothing here but weakness.

But in case you and I are tempted to forget, there’s this thing about weakness. It doesn’t have to be permanent.

Take my stomach muscles. When I’m lying on my back, my stomach is as soft and wobbly as the jello my five year old insists will NEVER set. But then I pull myself to standing. And I do it over and over. I walk. I bend. I lift. And in time, those muscles will knit themselves back together.

Likewise, morning after morning, my family will wake up. And whatever the days starts out with is where we’ll work from. Some days will run smooth as a canoe across an August evening’s lake. Others will chop and blow. Inevitably, there will be outbursts and frustration and noise, noise, noise as we navigate our new normal. That’s okay.

We too are knitting a new, bigger version of our family together. Every day we’ll have to learn to make time for one another, to help one another, to wait for one another. My hope is that each of these moments will build into a practice, one that acknowledges our weakness but aims for strength anyway.

Maybe you’re here too, staring at your weakness in the mirror. Take heart. Start where you are, and ask Grace step in alongside you, task after task, situation after situation.

Strength will inevitably follow.

When Easter Doesn’t Feel All That Holy

easter

Two weeks before Easter, Grandma generously surprises us with a bag of dresses, all butterflies and flutter flowers in aqua and blue. The girls try them on the next morning and refuse to take them off, dancing like fairies to Stevie Wonder while the rain mixes with snow outside our farmhouse windows.

Later I sit down with my bible during the twins’ afternoon nap and think, Easter. I should read about Easter. I end up somewhere in Matthew 5 instead, reading through the beatitudes and trying not to yawn.

A week before Easter, I go through the drawers and bins, hunting for tights and sweaters and shoes. (Yes, that’s Midwestern snow in the background, thank you very much.) Nothing works. The sweaters are stained. The eldest has a bin full of neon tennies and worn out boots. The tights all say 6-9 months.

Somehow, our preparation for Easter keeps running that track. Clothes. Shoes. A nap instead of contemplation. Suitcases. Car repairs. All things irrelevant to the story of a man on a cross, a body gone missing, an angel in a garden.  

We pack the van and drive six hours across Minnesota and down into South Dakota to the farm where I grew up. We are immediately welcomed by family, activity, food. The next morning, the girls follow Grandpa across the yard, bounding like eager puppies. They relive my childhood of feeding livestock, petting cats, begging for tractor rides.

feeding cows

I stand by the kitchen window, coffee in hand, witnessing this ordinary, extraordinary grace.

But later, the girls are tired and owlish, and we abandon the idea of going to an evening Good Friday service. My brothers and their families come over instead, and we eat dinner out of a giant skillet, talk, laugh, wrestle children into pajamas.

There’s celebration in this. I know there is. We extend grace to one another when the table never gets set and we eat chips out of the bag. Fellowship is washing the dishes together, snapping towels, telling stories.

It’s not the usual, contemplative celebration of the body and the bread, and maybe that’s okay.

The hard part is this: the holiness of Easter is not where I used to find it, sitting quiet in the pew of a small country church, and I don’t know how to feel it here, lying on the living room floor with a shrieking toddler jumping on my legs and the TV droning in the background.

***

I’ve always craved the holy bits and pieces of things. You know, the proverbial moments when the music swells, the lights dim, and sacred swirls around, unmistakable. The candles at dinner. That split second when everyone is laughing all at the same time and the sun is setting and the world glows in hazy, golden twilight. Moments when everything comes together, holy, unmistakably divine.

You too? Good. Welcome to the fold.

Here’s the problem. I’m also a parent. And as a parent, I find that holiness is not in the vocabulary of my very young children. Quiet times are interrupted by fights over a toy. Church gets skipped when the girls don’t sleep well, or refuse to stay with anyone but mama. Early mornings are cut short; books I’m reading go lost under the couch.

Too often, the moment I’m craving slips by, an unacknowledged guest at the wedding.

I can’t help but think that something’s wrong here.  Maybe you’ve felt it too. Maybe you’ve nursed your way through countless different services instead of listening to the message. Maybe you were relegated to the kids’ table after your toddler spilled her third glass of milk. Maybe you skipped church for months at a time because of traveling soccer. Or maybe church was never part of your vocabulary to begin with, but you still feel this draw, this quiet calling out.

The reality I’m learning, and relearning, is this: we can’t always rely on a church, or a moment, to hand us our portion of desired holiness on a silver platter.

What if having “unchurchy” moments forces us to create our own definition, a definition that says it is not the when, the where, or the artifice of stained glass that allows us to contemplate and celebrate the mystery and miracle of our faith?

What if our new definition gives us the freedom to do it when we can? Where we can? With whomever we can?

What if, instead of manufactured moments, we sought connection with God himself?

***

This is how I ended up celebrating Jesus’ resurrection by myself the Monday after Easter, while the laundry thumped around in the dryer. I finally had a second to breathe. My eldest was in preschool, and the twins were napping. So I dug around in the fridge and pulled out some naan (the closest thing I could find to unleavened bread besides teddy grahams) and filled a little cordial glass with juice.

I leaned on the counter, and I read the story of the Last Supper. This, my body, broken. This, my blood, spilled out. I took makeshift communion. I prayed. I looked out the window at the brown of spring struggling to unfold in the northern climes of Minnesota and breathed a simple, heart-felt thank you that had nothing to do with eggs and candy and hair bows and coordinating shoes.

It wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t choreographed or particularly inspired.

But it was space in the ordinary to recognize the sacred. It was searching out God himself, laying my simple gratitude at his nail-scarred feet.

Midday, barefoot, holy.

 

Friends, do you have ideas for drawing yourself, and/or your kids into unconventional celebrations of holy moments? Leave me a note in the comments. I’d love to hear how you balance the two!

Stories of Dark and Light: Hooking up with Night Driving Synchroblog

night drivingIt was dark the spring of my sophomore year of college, even though daylight savings time had bartered sleep for sun and the streetlights of Christian community artificially lit the campus where I lived all night long.

That year, dark did a strange thing to me.

Time stopped.

I mean this in the truest sense. In my world, time stopped passing normally. My anxiety was one of reverse chronophobia – instead of hours passing too quickly, they became painfully slow. Days seemed to widen and spread like the mold on the last few pieces of cheap bread I had in the kitchen cupboard. Hours that were not spoken for by class became a gaping chasm where I laid in my bed, pretending to read with my face to the wall.

The clock became an obsession. Twenty minutes in the shower. Ten minutes to get ready. Five minutes to eat breakfast. Seven minutes to walk to class. Class. Class. Then Break. A dreaded break. Where would I go? What would I do?  I’d plot where I’d walk, how long it would take me, and how to avoid eye-contact. Each move had to be calculated, or the wheels of my strange anxiety would hit pavement and I’d speed onto a highway of full-blown panic.

No one knew.

It was too hard to explain, and I didn’t really get it either. I didn’t know about triggers, and how easy it was to fall under the dark spell of depression. Meanwhile, the rest of my world was busy moving forward – something my anxiety with the clock prevented me from doing.  Other classmates excelled. Friends made new friends. A boy from another school that I’d had a deep friendship with told me he saw us always, and only, being friends.

I spent hours in my bed, clutching my bible like some sort of holy talisman. Sometimes I read it. Sometimes I just held the green canvas cover to my chest and mumbled intelligible prayers about wanting to wake up three hours later,  feeling normal.

And there, on the bottom bunk, staring at the brown metal springs of my roommate’s bed above, God did something strange. He held me. Quietly. Solidly. He pointed me deep into the Psalms, where I found David, a writer who seemed to understand how I felt in the pit and tangle of my fear.

I read. I read and I slept. My dip into depression was not deep, lasting about three months, though they were literally the longest months of my life.

Alone in my room, I read until I knew enough about God to believe what He told the writer of an Old Testament book called Ecclesiastes – that there was a time for everything and that somehow, time was not the enemy I made him out to be.

That spring, I also took a poetry class. I didn’t know anything about contemporary poetry, but I fell headlong into a world of metaphor and simile that threw me another means of rescue. My professor Judy encouraged me to submit my work to the campus literary journal, and my first published poem buoyed me to keep pushing into my darkness, prying into what it meant, and why it was happening.

I tell you this because I believe everyone has a story about dark and light. These are stories that deserve honor and space in our worlds for what they can reveal, and the ropes they can throw us.

Addie Zierman’s Night Driving is one of those stories. It catches you whole, packing you along with her carefully labeled totes and snacks and two small boys, and drives you down the interstate in a frenzy of giddy, winter escape. It makes you laugh with along with her wit and wisdom about gas station coffee and hotel pools, and think deeply about faith and the places you run from.

Night Driving is a perfect spring read, a realization that even a seasonal escape cannot bypass the reality that faith, like all living things, must endure the necessary dark and barren stretches in order to once again show green signs of life.

ANDDDDDDD… it releases today, which means you can buy it NOW at places like Barnes and Noble or IndieBound or Amazon.

Go ahead. Get one. You can thank me later.

 

 

 

 

The words that changed my life this month

IMG_3776January is my least favorite month. Followed by February. And March.

As a mother of three girls under age four, I’m doing my best to beat back the winter doldrums. We tiredly pull on our boots, zip up our jackets, and pop our hoods over our heads.  We’re trying to function mostly indoors: community play places, the gym, the library, the grocery store.

In winter, everything takes more effort and energy. No lie – even breathing in the cold takes more work, since our bodies have to warm and humidify the air.

I could go on and on. The sky is the same color as the rooftops, which are the same color as the ground, and it’s easy for all of the vibrancy of life to feel drained down to a muted, dirty white.

This starts a spin cycle of questions for me… Just why do I live in Minnesota again? Why did I say yes to X? Why does my baby insist on dunking her stuffed animals in the toilet? Why am I not on vacation? Why does everything have to be so HARD?

My whiny perspective is simple evidence of one thing. It’s easy, far too easy, to lose track of the good plan for my life…and then start looking around with cheating eyes at everyone else’s lives.

But friends, I have a quick encouragement for you today. I didn’t come up with it, but the girl who did is pretty amazing. I recently heard her speak at an online Thrivemoms retreat, and what she said changed my whole perspective over the past few weeks.

“God’s good plan for you doesn’t look like his good plan for someone else. Stop comparing the two.”

Stop for a second. Think it through. God’s good plan for you is not His good plan for me. My life is unique to me, and your life is unique to you. And each of us is promised enough grace and compassion to get through each day in our own situations, difficult or otherwise.

PS. I also get the view from the other side. Maybe you’re in a place that feels as far from God as you can get, and if this is His plan for you, forget it. You’re out. Or maybe you felt like you knew God once, but you’re not so sure about Him and his plans anymore. (If this is you, do me a favor? Head over to my friend Addie’s recent post at Off the Page “When you want to believe…and can’t”. It’s poignant, and true, and might help you search out some things.)

I’m no guru. I don’t have an answer to why our lives are lovely sometimes, and crappy in others. But I know that when I fall face-first into my rock bottom, this truth from Jeremiah 29 is always the bedrock gravel I’m picking out of my teeth.

11 For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 In those days when you pray, I will listen. 13 You will find me when you seek me, if you look for me in earnest.

So guess what. It doesn’t matter how many times hardship and comparison step into our days if we’re equipped to sweep them aside. And Truth makes a pretty darn good broom.

Friend, your life has a good plan. It is a plan that is completely your own and no one else’s. Take a second to look around it. Look at the roof over your head, the food you had for breakfast, the people who have your back. Look back through your recent social media feeds and be reminded of all the things you wanted to share with the world.

I don’t know what your plan is. Heck. I don’t know my plan is most days. But I can trust that the foundation is sure, and that it’s working toward a future and a hope.

May that be good enough for all of us today.

Beating back the dark side of Christmas

Winter 2013 022 (1082x1280)

It’s the Friday before the second weekend in December. My approaching day is full of party prep activities, Christmas card pickups, grocery shopping runs with three children. I feel tired before I even peel my face off of the pillow.

Nevertheless, I get up early to sit, breathe, read, pray. For the moment, our house and its inhabitants are quiet, windows still turning a shoulder to darkness.

Each day this dark encroaches further, stealing into our hours of light.

It will continue to do this until the winter solstice, December 21st. On that day, Earth’s northern pole will see twenty-four hours of solid darkness.

It’s strange. We call Christmas the season of light, though in reality, it’s the exact opposite.

Christmas descends into the darkest hours of our year.

Here on the farm, we’ve found the miniature nails and hung the aging, craft-store garland that somehow survives year to year. The tree is brilliant in a new corner of the living room, a wonder after having fallen on the piano and the floor three times so far. Almost every room hosts a new light, sparkle, shine.

But outside, darkness weaves into the fabric of winter blue sky sooner than we’re ready for.

It seems as though there is less time.

Which isn’t true, exactly, but no one quite believes it. The first wave of holiday busyness is in full swing, and we’ve started to feel the pinch. The presents that took too long to find and cost a little too much. The magical cookie making that turned into a three hour flour-and-sugar marathon. The half-empty boxes of decorations waiting to be sifted through, hung, arranged.

And everyone tells us to slow down, pause, be present….and then buy this. Wear that. Hang this. Smell that.

Darkness laughs.

It knows, deep down, we’re afraid. Afraid of missing the season, never quite engaging, spending our time going through the motions, producing cheap shine and scraps of tinsel.

Every December, we set off on a great journey to the 25th. It looks nothing like the journey of the original Christmas story, the one where Joseph and his very pregnant betrothed, Mary, walked/rode on a donkey for 80 miles to follow a government mandate and register for a census.

We see concerts. They saw the backside of the donkey in front of them. We splurge on special foods. They ate travel food – stale bread, hard cheese, watered down wine (hardly the recommended diet for a pregnant mother.) We snuggle down deep in our beds. They slept on the cold, rocky ground.

It was, in fact, only day after day of hardship that finally led them to a dusty, crap-smelling stable in Bethlehem.

It’d be easy to miss that, too.

A baby born in the darkness of a cow barn, supposedly a king.

A baby foretold to make a way for mankind.

A way to find God. To stop going through the motions and know Him.

To hear Him. See Him.

To be illuminated by the Light of the world.

Which has nothing to do with what kind of appetizers I set out for a party… and everything to do with the way I love and bless my guests when they walk into my kitchen.

Nothing to do with presents… and everything to do with the appreciation they convey.

Nothing to do with picture perfect cards… and everything to do with the way they encourage and brighten others.

To purpose to see every small celebration of the season as a pinprick of light, a joyful response.

 

Amateur Farm Hour: The Mug Brownie Moral

mug brownie

Picture courtesy theworstchef.com

It started with a mug brownie.

You know. One of those fad cooking things that sprouted, bloomed, and faded after a few months in the fickle soil of the interwebs.

Take a few things. Chocolate, mostly. Mix them in a coffee mug. Microwave. Bada bing, bada boom. Single serving mug brownie.

Somehow, I missed this craze. (Or just I always wanted more than one brownie.) Either way, I’d never tried the mug method before, until last week.

The opportunity arose. I had a little extra pumpkin bar batter. And since it was a new recipe that I was sending out the door with my husband for a community event, I wanted to make sure the product was edible. So I poured the leftover batter in the mug, put it in the microwave, and closed the door.

At this juncture, a reasonable person would have googled an actual mug brownie recipe to get an idea of how long you’re supposed to microwave this magic.

Apparently, I’m not reasonable. And I also lack a little common sense. Somehow, in the mess and muddle of my day, my pointer finger beeped out FOUR MINUTES, and hit start. I realized this was a little long, but I figured I’d check it after a minute or two and see what was happening.

And then.

And then.

Somehow, one thing led to another and I left sight of the microwave because my two year old announced she had to go potty, and this announcement/action chain goes much better when supervised.

Which means I forgot about the mug.

***

This is how it goes, right? We find ourselves with what seems like a really good idea, and we even manage the wherewithal to start acting on it.

And then.

And then.

Somehow, we get sidetracked. The great blog series we planned/exercise regiment we started/DIY project we bought supplies for/committee we volunteered on gets swallowed by this thing called NEED – which usually belongs to someone else – and all the good things we hoped to accomplish start to smolder and gather coats of ash.

We are left with two choices. We can blow on the coals of those ideas and intentions and watch the flames come back to life, or we can do nothing and watch the ash slowly turn grayish white as the heat dissipates.

For the last month, I’ve been a little out of breath.  Maybe you have too. Maybe the kids are still in the after-shock of daylight savings time. Maybe work is going all crazytown before the end of the year. Maybe the looming HOLIDAY season sends you less into hot cocoa land and more into snarl zone.

Whatever it may be that’s taking your breath away, please don’t let go without a fight. You NEED to foster the things that give you life. They are what make you unique, joyful, and fulfilled.

Which is why today I’m blowing on my coals, sitting at my desk, watching words fall off my fingertips and onto the screen.

I didn’t have an epiphany. I didn’t get a day all to myself to rest and recharge. I simply remembered something. Writing gives me energy.

Doing the things I love to do wakes me up, shakes me out, and resettles me a little more happily into my life. 

Meanwhile, in case you’re wondering, four minutes is WAYYYYY too long to microwave a mug brownie, or a pumpkin bar, or really much of anything.

I finished helping my daughter in the bathroom only to return to the kitchen and find noxious clouds of billowing green smoke emanating from my microwave. The timer dinged before I could race over and open the door, but it didn’t matter.

The stench. The smoke. I gagged and coughed as I opened the door and waves of burnt cake smog assaulted my eyeballs. What remained in the bottom of the mug resembled charcoal and smelled like acrid darth vader death breath.

The next hour would have made a comical video. My daughters and I waved vinegar-spritzed rags like helicopters all around the kitchen. We concocted vinegar and lemon oil “soup” to boil on the stove top and the wood stove. We opened the doors, turned on the fans, turned up the music and shiver-danced to move the air around.

The stench didn’t completely leave, but we at least found a way to get our breath back. And so I leave you with this.

Moral of the story: Don’t cook a mug brownie/pumpkin bar for four minutes.

Other moral of the story: Don’t let what has sidetracked you permanently* keep you there, on the sidelines. Take a deep breath. Find the thing you love that’s been set aside, and fan it back to life.

I’m rooting for you.

 

Comment below and tell me about the things you love that always take a back burner (or a four minute death ride in the microwave).

*My house feels like it’s permanently going to be clinging to this reek, so if anyone has any good smell-busting ideas, I’m all ears!