Battling Enough

IMG_7677 (1024x683)

This view was pretty 5 months ago. Now it’s just cold.

This week, writing has been like piecing together a busted skeleton. I keep typing, searching out the bones of my experiences but never finding the joints. Nothing comes together. Meanwhile, it snowed. Again.

And here it is. Friday. The four days behind me look like some sort of bipolar episode – incredibly bad rebounding to deliciously good. The computer screen can’t make sense of it, and for the record, either can I.

I wanted to write about Lent, and how even though last year I had an epiphany about giving up ANGER instead of sugar, this year I haven’t managed to do more than remember to pray every morning before I slog my way out of bed. The post I started got deleted (guess who) before I had a chance to publish it, and I was too tired to attempt a rewrite.

IMG_7697 (1024x683)

Duck face. It’s still a thing.

I wanted to point you towards my writing group compatriot Addie Zierman’s blogging trip to Armenia for World Vision, and how she’s quietly, perfectly capturing what need looks like.

I wanted you to see the beautiful, laughing pile of girls that gathered in my house to make wantons and nachos and talk about the best and worst parts of their days. How they filled the room with life and grace and ideas, and how, even though my co-leader Brittany and I are supposed to be guiding them, they are the ones showing me a deeper understanding of heart. 

I wanted you to commiserate with me about spring cleaning when it looks nothing like spring, and how clean is a relative term when three little bodies are doing their best to destroy any sense of order I’m attempting to create.

I wanted to do everything I could to stay away from what I’ve really been afraid of, because it’s not clean, or trendy, and it doesn’t look good on Instagram.

But if I take a deep breath and really get down inside everything I wrote this week, the underlying story line is that my feelings of inadequacy come dangerously close to ruining me, over and over. 

Everything I did this week was tainted with insecurity – spiritual failure to find a Lenten practice, parental inability to keep calm, writer’s frustration and envy that others seem to do so much with their words while I struggle to write a six hundred word blog post every week or two.

In short, not enough.

I thought, by now, in my 30’s, I’d be done with this. But it is work. It is constant, demanding work to refocus my thoughts and beat back the voices that tell me I’m not good enough at this, great enough at that, pretty enough for this, thin enough for that, smart enough for this, capable enough for that.

More often, I fail. And yell. And berate myself. And binge on homemade brownies. I start wanting to quit.

And yet somehow, God has the patience to put His finger under my chin, tilting my head up toward the mountains I can’t see, the help I don’t feel.

He’s there. Maker. Creator. Author. Perfector.

Finisher.

He’s not done yet. Either am I.

——————

Friends, what are you best tactics for fighting insecurity? Can we make a running list and encourage one another?

Advertisements

Easter is over – now what?

IMG_5142I always imagine the day after all of Jesus’ friends discovered that he was alive to be a little, well, weird.

I mean really, what do you do with that?

One of your best friends, a person you’ve admired and followed and tried really hard to be like, dies a horrible death. You’re shocked. Numb. Scared something similar might happen to you, given the political climate.

And then, a few days later, he’s standing in front of you.

Your mouth goes dry, agape. You hug, but you still don’t know how to believe the truth of what you’re holding. And then you’re sitting down on a mountainside, having supper and saying things like, hey Jesus, will you pass the cheese?

***

Lent is over. Easter is finished. I’ve been reminded. I’ve remembered. I’ve worked really hard at giving up my anger to be more like Jesus. And meanwhile, my candy jar is full of leftover jelly beans and I need to stain treat and wash the little white dresses all my girls wore on Sunday.

I spent yesterday unpacking from our trip home to South Dakota. (By unpacking, I mean I managed to put the suitcases and bags in the rooms they were supposed to go, and then took the girls outside.) We played on the hill in our front yard, my daughter running up and down, laughing and singing her bright voice into the sun-drenched morning.

But I had this nagging thought. I couldn’t remember what actually happened next in Jesus’ story. Death. Resurrection. But then what?

So this morning I pulled down my Greek comparison Bible, and I paged through to the end of the books where Jesus’ friends recounted what had happened.

“But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. And when they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful.”  Matthew 28:16

“And He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have. And while they still could not believe it for joy and were marveling, He said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” And they gave Him a piece of broiled fish.”  Luke 24:38-42

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the father and Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and surely, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:16-20

“After the Lord Jesus has spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.” Mark 16:19 & 20

Words from my high school confirmation-type class came flooding back. Ascension. Great Commission. Words that probably didn’t mean much to the people left standing on the mountain.

I imagine someone digging a front toe into the dirt. Another brushing off lunch crumbs. All of them wondering what to do next.

Somehow, the ordinary act of living didn’t feel like enough.

Jesus had said to go and make disciples, but Jesus was gone. How was that going to work? I can hear them questioning one another, ears still processing the phrase “teach them to observe all that I commanded you.”

***

Two thousand years later, I’m still processing it too. What do I do when the hype of a religious holiday is over? Has it changed me at all? What do I do next?

For me, it’s continuing on my journey of giving up anger. There is still work to be done. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to fully uproot my anger, or if it will continue to be a part of my character that needs constant pruning.

I do know that eventually, Jesus’ friends figured out that the best way to do what He asked them to do was to tell His story. And like any memory, it became more real, more full, more brimming with truth and meaning at every telling.

It wasn’t a once a year sermon preached from a pulpit or a stage. It was God and man. A meal shared with friends. The thread of a story piecing together every day’s living.

Love.

 

Redeeming this common life

Our wood burning ceramic stove stopped working last week. 24/7 constant burning since November caused a good buildup in the chimney, and one morning, after building a fire, I found my eyes burning with back-drafted smoke.

We have an alternate heat source, so it’s not like we’re walking around in parkas. But it’s been cooler in our normally semi-tropic home. I tell myself this is good for my anger – that cool air has long been a refuge for finding calm, like a smoker retreating to the deck while a family argument overheats the house.

But really, the broken stove is just life. Like so many things overused or late, tired or worn, eventually we all have a moment where we choke.

Confession: I have been angry this week.

I have muttered under my breath about my daughter’s unwillingness to potty train. I bit my lip twice in one meal, ala Jim in The Office Season 9, and allowed it to strangle my morning. I have stomped, yelled, sighed in frustration. Snow has yet again covered our hopes for life outside, and it all feels so sloppy.

Heavy.

I have pray/begged for help, only halfheartedly remembering to think about Jesus carrying the weight of my wrongs up Golgotha.

***

Yesterday, Ellis decided it would be a good day to snap all my chalk sticks in half during art time. So I made it a chance to update my chalkboard, two inch chalk sticks notwithstanding.

IMG_20140320_165351_511It wasn’t hard to pick something – this quote had been cornering me all week.

“By honoring this common life, nurturing it, carrying it steadily in mind, we might renew our households and neighborhoods and cities, and in so doing, might redeem ourselves from the bleakness of private lives spent in frenzied pursuit of sensation and wealth.”

It’s a beautiful quote by Scott Russell Sanders, but strangely enough, what struck me most was how common can mean different things.

I know what Sanders was getting at was common, as in what we share. But I couldn’t help thinking about it the other way. Common as in ordinary.

Life at home with little ones is fraught with ordinary. It’s about repetition and routine. It’s cheerios for breakfast twice a week, and copious amounts of yogurt.

This Lent season, it’s me praying while I nurse in the blue black dawn of the morning. It’s pushing down anger with something heavy enough to sit in its place. But I’m still having a hard time finding an elephant big enough for every job.

My anger is common. But I want to take it out of the ordinary equation.

I want to carry its battle steadily in mind in order to find spiritual renewal. Renewal for those within my house, and those outside of it.  Renewal for my actions, renewal for my mind.

Attacking my common, ordinary anger will redeem my ability to live a common, shared life. And suddenly, it’s clear. This too is a version of the cross – dying to self, living in community with a great cloud of witnesses.

This is Jesus making a way.

Lent Log – Week 1

calendarIf ever I had a chance to get angry, this past weekend would have been it. Husband gone, babies teething, a toddler who found my secret stash of scissors – a perfectly brewed storm.

And yet, when my daughter went into stealth mode while I was nursing, and I found her a few minutes later with a pair of kitchen shears in hand, I took a really deep breath. I didn’t yell. I listened to her explain, in the animated half speech of two-and-a-half-year-olds, how she needed to cut the threads hanging from the shoulders of her dress-up Cinderella gown because they tickled her.

She wasn’t quite as forthright about why she had to cut her hair as well, but what can you do.

Meanwhile, one of the twins decided to get really cranked about her teeth coming in, and daddy being gone, and not understanding why MPR just wouldn’t ever come out and say what was really happening in the Ukraine.

On Sunday we were late to church. Monday we were even later to Play and Learn. Normally, being late primes my internal rage, pumping harder every hot minute that ticks past my desired leaving time.

And yet, somehow, the anger only circled, a dark shadow trolling the bay.

***

If you’ve ever baked bread, you know that there are a few key ingredients. Flour, yeast, water, salt. When those ingredients meld together in the right environment, they react. The yeast creates gas, which causes the flour and water to bubble and lift. Eventually, the whole mass rises.

When you control the ingredients, you determine the type of bread you’ll make. But the rise is always a mystery (at least to me). It is the least controllable part of the process, and the one that takes the most patience.

I started to think more about controlling my anger some more this past weekend when I was, vigorously punching, ahem, kneading bread dough.

What’s funny about anger is that sometimes I can control the situation surrounding it, and sometimes I can’t.

If I want to control the situations surrounding my anger, I simply need to plan well enough to keep the mishaps to a minimum. (Easier said than done, but in theory…?) For example, if I don’t want to be late, all I have to do is get us moving towards the door half an hour earlier than I normally would have started. Or if I don’t want my toddler giving herself a mullet, I should put all scissors under lock and key.

And in the situations when I have no control over the outcome? When I mixed everything right, used the right ingredients, and yet something still went horribly, awfully wrong?

I still have command over my response.

Slow driver in front of me? Busy restaurant server? Feverish baby screaming in my face?

Breathe. Practice quiet love the way Jesus did when thousands of voices screamed for his death.

***

I appreciate the practicality of finding ways to avoid being angry with a little time management and planning. But those situations don’t always cause me to think with my spirit.

Where I’m really seeing my Lenten practice start to sweat is when I control what feels like the uncontrollable rise of my anger. I need to understand the triggers that normally set me off and see them as just that – triggers. When I face the situation, I have to find that detached calmness (the one I wouldn’t normally be able to muster if I were to just blaze right into fixing whatever went wrong.)

I see Jesus in this. Jesus who, in his work with people, didn’t immediately triage and treat. Jesus who listened. When those around him were flustered and begging, he answered back with patience. When 5,000 people needed to be fed, he got creative with what he had. He used every opportunity as a moment to teach. To love.

After a week, it’s encouraging to see glimmers of change. I feel less defeated when I go to bed, no guilt-monkey twirling his tail around my arm. I don’t raise my voice as often, and have felt, generally, more pleasant. Kind. Less likely to snap.

It’s not been easy, and I’m learning which of my own rules I can bend, and which ones I can’t. The whole void thing? I’ve only used it once. But deep breathing? I use this every single time. Going to bed early is a tough one – I’m still fudging around, trying to figure out the optimal time. (I broke the rule altogether on Tuesday night, and paid for it all morning yesterday.) But for the most part, I think I have a solid set of ways to work with my emotions.

Next step is to find some good, easily accessible reading to drive my focus on the Cross. Any suggestions? Or anything that’s helping your Lent practice stay strong this week? I’d be glad to hear them!

Why I won’t give up sugar for Lent

Picture4It starts with the slide of the door along carpet. The little footsteps. My glance at the clock proves right – it’s too early to be up.

Anger rolls over beside me, rubbing its eyes.

We eat breakfast, and the yogurt is the wrong color. The wind is sending ghostly whips of snow across the yard. The twins wake up in the middle of my first cup of coffee, owlish and out of sorts. The laundry pile has reached epic proportions. There’s enough milk for one more bowl of cereal.

Anger simmers, waiting.

And then it happens. My toddler and I square off against something meaningless – not wanting to wear pants, giving up her nook, taking something from her baby sisters.

Anger EXPLODES.

I fear this ever-present emotion that overtakes me most days. Honestly, it makes me want to give up. Until today. Because today, I’m deciding to give IT up instead.

***

Some people give up sweets for Lent. Others give up coffee, pop, or caffeine in its entirety. Huffington Post suggested fried food, cigars, or devices.

I can’t help this nagging feeling that something about this is all a little off. If I give up something I enjoy in order to remind myself of Jesus, and then I start wanting that thing but can’t have it because I’m remembering Jesus, I’m going to get cranky. And if I’m cranky, I’ll start associating semi-bitter or negative feelings with Easter.

That seems a little, well, backwards.

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m not strong enough to work past the unhappy feelings I think I’d have if I gave up something I really enjoyed. Weak character? Faulty theology? Blatant misunderstanding? All very possible.

But if Lent truly is a season “to rid ourselves of all that prevents us from living a truly Christian life”, I have to wonder how far giving up little luxuries like sugar and meat and cigars is going to go.

This year, I want to try something different. This year, I’m giving up anger for Lent.

No more yelling.

No more face flushing, fast pulsing, blood pressure spikes.

No more disappointments that burrow into a den of resentment.

I live with the flashing of anger every day. I also eat sweets and drink caffeine. None of them are particularly good for me. Here’s where I see the difference though. I know how to tame my cravings for sugar and coffee into moderation. But anger is never moderate. I never feel halfheartedly mad.

When anger comes, it overtakes everything. It is mental and it is physical. It affects my ability to love those around me, and it crowds out my capacity to carry grace.

If I’m going to give something up to better remind myself of the meaning of Easter, shouldn’t it be something that Jesus himself asked of his friends? For example – in the garden on the night of his arrest, Jesus told his disciple Peter, “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52)

Here’s where I’m going with this. I’ve celebrated Easter since before I could eat Cadbury eggs. But this year, I want it to be different. I want more from the story, because soon I’ll be teaching it to my little girls. And in order to be a good story-teller, I need to engage with the story.

I don’t want to just read a few verses, go to a couple of services, and call it good. If I think this story of redemption and grace is important in my life, I need to LIVE in the mystery of the plot. For me, and for this Lent season, that means cutting out something that separates me from living in grace.

Right. So, it’s all fine and good to talk churchy and idealistic, but I also need to have a plan. Here are some tools I’m hoping to employ.

Going to bed earlier. I can’t stop the girls from getting up in the middle of the night. Nor can I convince Ellis to stop getting up earlier and earlier. But mama, it’s light outside! But my ability to rein in negative emotions is severely impaired when I’m tired. So early bedtime it is. Like 9:00 early. Sigh. I’ll clean my house another year.

Void_Space_by_Maandersen Image replacement. This is a little weird, but I want to have an image in my head to replace my feelings of anger when they come. Call it a new focal point – something to keep me steady. My image is going to be a space void. Yep. A big, open, solar void. I’m smart enough to know I won’t be able to replace mad feelings with happy feelings. But mad feelings with nothing? With space? With silence? With void? I don’t know why, but I think it can work.

Deep breathing. This is completely rote, but it also works. If I can remember to close my eyes and take a solid, in-through-the-nose-out-through-the-mouth breath, I will give myself pause enough to assess the situation, think about the void, and slowly back down.

Prayer. Nothing flowery. Straight up “God REALLY please help me out here” will do the trick.

Redirection. Once I’m off the ledge, I want to remember why I’m doing this in the first place. I want to remember the story of Jesus in the season of Easter. Not to be a better person, but to be a stronger believer. A sturdier story-teller.

It’s a tall order, and to be unabashedly honest, I’m not sure how it’s going to go. Anger comes when I’m tired. It rears after the babies having been screaming in tandem for more than five minutes. It’s red hot when Ellis dumps bowls of spaghetti sauce on the floor, or kicks me in the chin when I’m trying to cajole her into pajamas. It stews quietly when the temperature drops and we’re all faced with another day inside the house.

But Lent was meant to be a challenge. A challenge to deny myself for the sake of the cross. So why not deny a character quality I want to prune out? Why not choose something I want to keep giving up after the 40 days of Lent are over?

Why not do something that makes me more like the Jesus I want to remember?

—-

Do you have a great idea of something to give up for Lent? I’d love to hear what it is, and why you picked it.