AVAILABLE

God has taken me into a season of deep fellowship with Him. I have written only a little, and been listening a whole lot more. I have been studying His word with some amazing women and I’ve been falling more and more in love with Him along the way. You see, He’s been wanting me to love Him first so I can love others best.

 

For this reason, I’ve kept my formal volunteering to somewhat of a minimum, heeding God’s persistence with me: I need you only to be available. Not scheduled, not overcommitted. Available. So, that’s what I’ve been being. Available. And that is somewhat hard for a busybody to be….

 

Last weekend, I traveled with my mom to the great hot state of Texas to attend the wedding of a dear friend. We traveled by plane. And I did what everyone does at the departure gate. I looked around at my potential seatmates, and I saw immediately the person I hoped to avoid. It was the woman with 4 children. Listen, I have children, and they were having the time of their life with their dad, while my mom and I had a girls’ weekend all by ourselves, which never ever ever gets to happen. So, I was perfectly fine to not see children the entire weekend!

 

So you can probably guess what happened.

 

The very last people to book their flights get the very last seat on the plane. And you know how I like to procrastinate. As we walked all the way to the end of the plane, I saw her. She was talking to the flight attendant and she looked a bit frantic, and I immediately realized the problem. Her two toddlers were buckled in on one side, and my mom and I were to have the other two seats on the other side. She was going to have to sit half way up the plane, at least 10 rows away from her children.

 

Anticipating her request, I said, “Do you need one of us to trade so you can sit back here with your girls?”

 

“Oh, really? Could you?” she nearly teared up.

 

“Of course. No problem.”

 

So I directed my mom back up the aisle to a window seat, and took my seat next to the woman. She thanked me repeatedly and I sensed immediately that she was not quite herself…

 

You need only to be available…

 

So, I asked, “Are you okay?”

 

She wasn’t. She was on her way to a remote location in the mountains of Canada to a hospital where her father lay critically injured from a plane crash that had tragically killed her brother. And she was sitting next to me, taking the first breath she had taken since finding out the news less than 24 hours before. So, I kept my reading materials tucked away and I spent the next 2.5 hours giving her space to breathe and think and sleep and talk. And keeping one little girl from waking the other one when she discovered “THE SNACK CART IS HEEEERE!!! WE GET TO HAVE A SNAAAAAAACK!!!!” And I asked about her dad, and her mom, and her brother, and her sister. And then I prayed with her and for her precious grieving family.

 

And I thanked God for letting me sit next to her on the plane.

 

And I wondered how many similar opportunities I had missed by being too busy to avail myself to someone who only needed space to cry. How often have I not wanted to be bothered? How often have I tried to avoid a conversation that would be hard or uncomfortable or simply inconvenient?

 

Too many times.

 

Too many times I have ducked my head, turned my shoulder, looked the other way, kept my appointment, busied myself, not asked “are you really ok?”, not opened my doors, and not set my table for someone in need. In the moments I have had to reflect, God continues to whisper… I only need you to be available.

 

Lord,

Make me available. Make me approachable. Make my heart an open table, that others may find some comfort in You through me.

 

Take my life and let it be

Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.

Take my moments and my days,

Let them flow in endless praise.

Take my hands and let them move

At the impulse of Thy love.

Take my feet and let them be

Swift and beautiful for Thee.

Take my voice and let me sing,

Always, only for my King.

Take my lips and let them be

Filled with messages from Thee.

Take my silver and my gold,

Not a mite would I withhold.

Take my intellect and use

Every pow’r as Thou shalt choose.

Take my will and make it Thine,

It shall be no longer mine.

Take my heart, it is Thine own,

It shall be Thy royal throne.

Take my love, my Lord, I pour

At Thy feet its treasure store.

Take myself and I will be

Ever, only, all for Thee.

– Frances R. Havergal

Amen.

#witchinghour

There is a period in the day, which happens after school and before dinner/husband arrival, when otherwise cheerful and attentive mothers present with a twitch and the crazy eye and when children walk about like little monsters on a mission to terrorize tranquility.

It’s called the witching hour.

The witching hour occurs after the children have expended all their calm, sweet energy, eaten all the meals that they will eat before dinner (!*@), played everything they know to play, and have only tired, frustrated energy left to finish their homework, for which they need your undivided enthusiastic attention. However, you are trying to spiralize zucchini or julienne green onions for the new Thai Chicken Curry Internet recipe, because WE WILL HAVE HEALTH! AND VARIETY! AND CULTURE!

You know what I mean. It’s the time when you open your mouth to speak, but what comes out is a voice in a different octave that is hurling commands at the trolls who have overtaken your children’s bodies. It is when all things converge: homework, supper, QUESTIONS, and the limit of your patience. Parenting patience is rationed. For example, you say to your husband,

 

YOU: (in cheerful, supportive, doting wife voice) Hey babe, what time will you be home?

HUSBAND: 6 o’clock

YOU: Ok! Awesome, see you then!

 

But let’s say you get a text later on that reads: “ETA 6:30”

Then ALL PERDITION BREAKS LOOSE, because you had allotted patience for your people until 6 and now you have to have THIRTY MORE MINUTES of parenting, julienning, answering, cooking, sweeping, delegating, and mediating all by yourself. Your ration is gone. And parenting without patience during witching hour is the most dangerous thing.

 

THEM: “HE PEELED MY SKIN!!”

“HE KNOCKED ME OVER WHEN I WAS SLEEPING-BAG-DANCING!!”

“HE LICKED MY LIBRARY BOOK! THE LIBRARY ONE! WE’LL HAVE TO PAY FOR WATER DAMAGE NOW!”

“WHAT’S 7 TIMES 8 AGAIN?? AND HOW MANY CENTIMETERS ARE IN A METER??”

“WHAT ARE BOOGERS MADE OF????”

 

ME: <rocking on the closet floor listening to The Carpenters (Mondays only) or Snoop Dog (if it’s nearing Friday)>

If something is going to break in the house, it is going to happen during witching hour. As you are sweeping up the broken glass bowl full of oatmeal (wondering who even ate oatmeal at 4pm while dinner was ALREADY COOKING) a child approaches you with your phone, which he dug out of the bag of rice in which it had been drying due to having accidently dropped it in an unflushed toilet after your husband sent word that he would be arriving home 30 minutes late.

Your child extends his hand, “it’s for you”.

 

The TELEMARKETER on the other end begins with, “is this a bad time?”

 

You want to respond by calling him all the bad cursewords you know, but then you remember that you love Jesus and cannot say the those things to a perfect stranger who is trying to sell you a vacuum cleaner. Plus also you kind of need a vacuum cleaner since yours is now full of glass and oatmeal. So, you try to sanctify your response, but because it is witching hour your voice is shrill and infinitely sarcastic:

 

“A demonstration where you clean my floors? Sure!!! Come right over! Right now there’s broken glass smeared with oatmeal and also rice. Do you babysit? Because this vacuum will need to work with children jumping around it with scissors and super glue and also a barking, nervous dog.”

 

Upon being interrupted for the fourth time, you finally scream at a child, “PUT DOWN THE MATCHES AND SUPERGLUE!!!”

 

The salesman claims to be going through a tunnel and the call is dropped, which is perfect timing because husband is calling again. You switch over and the trepidation with which he approaches this next question is almost comical, except it’s witching hour, so you aren’t laughing: “How’s it going?” (Husbands know witching hour is a thing. They just never know the severity from day to day. And they need to prepare. Mine likes to survey the war zone before arriving, to be equipped with proper armor. Like chocolate.)

But then, somehow, when you gather round the table, with a full plate of food, your voice returns to its normal octave and your kids shed their troll personas. You sweep your hair behind your ear and pull out the last bit of hardened oatmeal. All is back to normal, whatever in the world that is, as witching hour draws to a close.

Mamas – you can make it. You’re almost there. Just a few hours til bedtime and then you can relax. In the meantime, how do you survive your witching hour??

 

 

BUSY

A year ago, I rushed into a place of business after school one day, four children underfoot, to complete an errand on my never-ending list of errands to complete. The owner of the business was sitting in his chair, leaned back, with his arms resting easy in his lap. When we barreled in, as we do, he didn’t jump up. He didn’t seem alarmed. He just asked how he could help. He seemed content.

After I completed my errand my thoughts returned to the owner’s posture upon entering his business. Was he doing anything? What was he doing? He wasn’t hunched over a computer. Or a phone. Was he thinking? Was he just sitting there thinking??

It was not a posture of production, but of rest. What an odd sight.

It’s hard to describe my subsequent feeling after that experience. Was it confusion? Surprise? Jealousy? Why was he able to sit and think? And why did I find it so odd and confusing? And why was I so intrigued and compelled by such a natural thing?

If you ask any red blooded American family how they are doing today, I can almost guarantee their response.

Busy.

It’s kind of the American badge of honor, the rite of passage for any self-respecting, growing, working, productive member of society isn’t it? Busyness. The conversation looks something like this:

“How’ve you been. Been busy?”

“Been so busy. You? You been busy?”

“Us too. It’s non-stop you know?”

“Yeah. I know”

And that’s it. That’s the extent of the conversation, because there is no time to say anything else, lest we miss the next appointment on our all-consuming iCalendar. That calendar is a powerful thing isn’t it? It almost feels like it gives us power – “Let me check my calendar,” we say. “My calendar is so full too,” we chime back. We wouldn’t want to suggest that our calendar has a whole open space. Because that would mean that we aren’t busy. And busy is our way to be. It is the measure of our importance, isn’t it? Eugene Peterson talks about our busyness in The Contemplative Pastor.

“The word busy is the symptom not of commitment but of betrayal. It is not devotion but defection.”

I wonder how the conversation would turn if someone were to fall off the script? I wonder what would happen if we stopped wearing busyness like a badge of honor?

“How’ve you been? Been busy?”

“Not really. Lately I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting. I turned down a few committee positions and devoted more time to prayer. You?”

Try to gather what kind of response you would have to that. I dare say it would put a cog in one’s perpetual motor, would it not?

Though many have tried, we simply cannot be two places at once (I very literally have tried to do this). So, when we commit our time to one committee/place/sport/person/pastime/job, we withdrawal ourselves from another committee/place/sport/person/pastime/job. Yes to one is no to another.

The symptom is pandemic. Organizations, schools, and sports teams all feel the need to appear busy as well. And the church is just as guilty. If we aren’t careful, we could program the Life right out of the church, focusing on the activity of the church rather than the God of church.

The problem, then, is that the only thing filled by a busy schedule is the calendar itself, and those rushing to and fro remain empty and unfulfilled.

The past year has been a time of FOCUS for our family. Michael suggested the word focus in order to streamline our commitments and reduce our overall busyness, so that those things that we say are priority actually take priority in our lives. We spend a lot of time saying no. (Directions: HERE). The freedom from too many commitments has freed me to spend more time in God’s word, develop new friendships, and invest deeply in our children. Since Christmas, we have spent each Sunday evening walking together through our woods. This past weekend on our walk, I sat down and watched as the kids maneuvered the hill they so love to climb. The fallen sticks crunched beneath my feet, the warm air enveloped me, and I breathed deeply the fresh spring air (so sorry for all the pollen sufferers who have a completely different experience with that air..). As I was sitting there, I began thinking of the wonder of God’s creation and my gratitude for it. You know, I was just sitting there thinking….

Our experience with God cannot be a drive-thru experience. Our devotion to him comes at a sacrifice to otherness, to busyness. Abiding in Him must not be rushed, nor an activity, nor a thing to do. It must be a frame of mind, devoid of distraction, that is only possible through Him. The unbusy frame of mind is one I have seen lived out through the life of my Granddaddy, who was unbusy enough to pen these words:

I met with God this morning as I knelt beneath the trees,
And He laid His hand upon me in the coolness of the breeze;
I bowed my head in silence as the world went rushing by,
And we had peaceful moments–The Lord, the trees, and I.

The trees had laid the carpet on which I knelt to pray,
And as we met together it seemed that I should stay
To watch the trees grow stronger with arms raised toward the sky.
We soon became acquainted–The Lord, the trees, and I.

The trees and I were puzzled; we lived at God’s command!
But why should some be missing and others bravely stand?
Some cut down, others fallen–Perhaps you know just why…
We shared our cares together–The Lord, the trees, and I.

Then came I near the valley to hear the singing pines,
They live so close together, the choice of trees to find.
But howling winds came, forcing their weary heads to cry;
Some things we had in common–The Lord, the trees, and I.

When day for me is over and friends are left behind,
I’ll rest in peace forever, and I’d sleep beneath the pines.
Could I speak to those around me, I’d say, “Oh, please don’t cry…
We’ll be satisfied together–The Lord, the trees, and I.

 

May we all be unbusy enough to abide in the One who so wants to dwell in our uncluttered hearts and minds. I’ll end with this beautiful heartcry from Paul in his letter to the church at Ephesus:

When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

Related Posts: STILLREST

GUTTED

There is a scene in the movie Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood with which every mother of young children can identify. It’s the scene where Vivi’s 4 children all have a stomach bug and there is excrement everywhere. It’s right before “she drops her basket”, the phrase used throughout the movie that refers to the time Vivi got in her car, drove to the beach, and slept for 3 days.

I’ve never done that.

But I’d be lying if I said I have never thought a temporary beach escape wouldn’t be nice alternative to All. The. Wiping.

I had one such moment late last summer. It had been an easy week. School had begun and we had spent the weekend enjoying the pool for the final time. It was a Sunday evening, and as we were coming down the lane, I told the kids that they would need to get their belongings together for the next day and then it would be time for bed. However, when we walked through the door, I immediately knew something was terribly wrong. I could smell it. As I descended the staircase, the smell got worse. It was coming from the boys’ bathroom. No. The boys’ bedroom. It was the floor. It wreaked of stale sewer. Apparently, someone had used nearly an entire roll of toilet paper (“ME!!!”, Zachary proudly announced) causing an overflow which seeped through the wall of the bathroom into the bedroom. Their carpet was ruined.

I headed to the laundry room to find some old towels and discovered that my elderly dog had had an upset stomach, as evidenced by more messes in the floor. Just as I let out a deep sigh, my oldest started yelling, “MOM!! My nose is bleeding! There’s blood everywhere!!!!” And it was. All over his rug and bedding.

I nearly dropped my basket.

Michael immediately cut the carpet out of the room, and I cleaned up the dog mess and started on bedspread stain removal. We began to discuss all the options. I saw a pretty simple solution.  Re-carpet the whole basement. I had wanted carpet in our tiled playroom for several years and now was the perfect opportunity to finally do it. We could just put new carpet in the bedroom and it should be easily laid on top of the tiled room. Michael made clear that if we were to lay carpet, all the ceramic tile would have to removed. He further declared that we would need to repair the walls, repaint, and fix all the doors.

“We’ll have to gut the whole thing,” he said.

That wasn’t what I wanted to hear. Typical precision, perfectionist Michael, was making everything more difficult than it needed to be. I was looking for quicker solutions, the most attractive of which required very little elbow grease on my part. But Michael wasn’t willing to start the project until I was willing to do it right. So that’s what we did. And it was hard. We had to hand chisel the solidly glued tile from the cement slab. Hammer and chisel, you guys. We had to scrape away the residual grout and glue. I don’t know if you are aware of the sophistication of the grout industry. This is a product that is meant to last through the ages. By day 3, Michael couldn’t feel his left hand, and mine were full of scrapes and callouses. We had to apply putty to every dent of every wall (please note all the necessary putty marks in picture below). Those areas had to then be sanded (twice) and painted. We worked tirelessly every spare moment for three weeks, and in the end we had a whole new basement.

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There were no hidden cracks or dents left. There was no old, damaged floor left underneath. The lighting was softer, the storage was greater, and the space was just so much better. Everything had been made new.

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And so it is with Christ.

When I came to Christ, I mean really came to Christ, I needed a complete transformation. I needed to be completely gutted, so that Christ himself could rebuild the walls and establish a new foundation. I tried to make it work with just a surface fix – you know churchin’ it up every Sunday morning – but Christ wanted nothing to do with my halfway attempt. I tried to just allow for a partial transformation, but He wanted to do it right. I had to drop my hands from the clay, and allow the Potter Himself to mold his creation.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m no masterpiece yet. He’s still working on me, as evidenced by my reaction to the gallon of pure white high gloss furniture paint which spilled on that new carpet just last weekend. But the difference between the old life and the new life is that now I allow Christ to temper me, to mold me, to renew me. I have to continually drop my hands, my whole entire basket, and allow the Master to pick up the pieces and weave me ever so faithfully back together.

Go ahead, friends, drop your basket

SUBMISSION

coatsquotes

The “S” word for Christian women…

Michael and I dated 7 years before getting married.  Statistics say that is waaaay too long.  For the most part, I agree.  There are 3 reasons we waited:

  1. We started dating when we were babies.
  2. He wasn’t ready to commit.
  3. I wasn’t ready to submit.

He was ready to commit before I was ready to submit.  He proposed.  We planned the wedding.  I started freaking out.

I was independent!  I had a college degree!  I bought a house on my own!  Submit???  SUBMIT????

I was really struggling.  I would get all the way through Ephesians chapter 5, and every time I got to verse 22, I would stop.  I knew I needed to understand what it meant to submit before I walked down that aisle.  I did a lot of soul searching in those months before our wedding.  And I sought wise counsel.

“I’m…

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HOMELESS

I had lied to my mother. I had lied to her about where I was going, who was with me, and what I would be doing. Those were the three questions she always asked and I had lied about each one in order to go on a double date…fully two years before I was permitted to do so.

And I regretted it immediately.

I thought it would be dinner and a movie. Like an episode of Saved by the Bell, where we ended the evening laughing at the diner drinking milkshakes. I was fourteen.

We had ended up at someone’s home. No. Someone’s house. But did anyone really live here? I couldn’t figure out what they were doing with the spoon over the fire. I remember feeling invisible. No one seemed to notice me and I tried not to look directly at any of them. Being invisible was the only solace I had. Should anyone have spoken to me, or attempted to engage me in whatever it was they were doing, I fully expected to become a puddle in the floor. It was the Saturday night before Easter.

I wanted to go home. I was 14, but I may as well have been 5. I longed for the scent of my mother, the creak in our wooden floor, and blankets that would envelope my shame. I imagined that she would be preparing our baskets and the morning would come and it would be the most glorious feeling in the whole world. I couldn’t wait. I looked around the room and knew that no one else there had a mother like mine. I was so close to home, but had never felt so far away. My gut had such a wrenching ache.

This was my first true experience of longing for home.

My second longing, however, is much different from the first. The second longing comes with an assurance that the first longing only dreamt of. There is no longer a hollow ache in my gut. My second longing is accompanied with hope. The second longing is accompanied with peace. The second longing is able to experience the kingdom already but not yet the kingdom to its fullest. The kingdom to its fullest is still yet to come. Until then, we sojourn on. Until then we are all foreigners here, strangers in a strange land. Even when the babies are tucked in tight, and there are soft carols playing, and the glow of the twinkling lights provide the only evening light we need, and I am in my home…I’m not home. Permanence here is illusive. Because for every child nestled all snug in his bed, there is a restless one with no earthly ear to hear his cry.

And in despair I bowed my head

“There is no peace on earth,” I said,

“For hate is strong and mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

I’m not home until there are no more homeless refugees, trying to makes sense of their plight. I’m not home until there is nary a need for a gun, nor a fence, nor a password, nor a calendar, nor antidepressants. I’m not home until the fatherless get evening bear hugs with real touchable beards. I’m not home until babies sleep from a full belly, rather than hungered exhaustion. I’m not home until there are no more orphans smoking in crack houses on the Saturday night before Easter. I’m not home until there is no more night. In his book, Longing for Home, Frederick Buechner writes, “be really at home is to be really at peace, and our lives are so intricately interwoven that there can be no real peace for any of us until there is real peace for all of us.”

——-

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The wrong shall fail, the right prevail

With peace on earth, good will to men.”

But there will come a Day!

Until that Day, we wait. We wait as Israel waited. And we wait with the promise that “The Lord watches over sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless…”. Until that Day, we wait not as we wait in line at WalMart, passively biding the moments until we can get on with our day. We wait as we wait for Christmas. We wait in constant preparation and proclamation. We wait, all the while proclaiming to the orphan that she has a Father! We wait, all the while proclaiming to the addict that the void can be filled – filled to overflowing! We wait, all the while proclaiming to the hungry, and the weary, and the worn – hope! And we proclaim to the refugees – all of us longing for a home – there is a home with table prepared, and where everyone has a Father.

And the Father is always, always home (John 14:2-3).

(This post was written for First Alliance Church in Lexington, KY to be included in their daily advent readings.  For a daily advent reflection, visit their website or follow my brother’s blog.)

May the blessed anticipation of the Savior be real in your home and your heart this Christmas season!