Unadorned

Unadorned

Today is a big day. Today is my long-awaited first day to breathe deeply again. Unfortunately I’m having trouble stilling my thoughts.

 

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In mid-February I finished a ten-month writing project (yay!) after balancing it with two others since last fall (phew!). For nearly a year I’ve been governed by meticulous time management, holding my breath lest a big interruption derail my efforts, juggling all the balls without dropping any on my children’s heads or lobbing one at my husband’s. Don’t get me wrong, I love to write. The creation and refining. How a phrase sprouts from a single thought and blossoms into a chapter. But it is a process that taps my energy deep inside my gut and yanks it all the way up and out through my head. Over and over until the end. It’s exhausting.

 

When everything seemed on course at the beginning of 2014, I saw the light at the end of the tunnel and finally allowed myself to dream of the upcoming post-project break. I envisioned taking time for any old thing my heart longed to do: relax, read, bike, window shop, play. However, as life would have it, my R&R was delayed several more weeks by caring for a houseful with the flu and strep and lack of sleep and more snow days (a plethora). Granted, the abundance of time with the family offered a lot of sweetness, but eventually sickness and snow need to go (amen?).

 

So today, instead of recollecting myself, I’m feeling more scattered than ever. It’s no wonder that this morning–when both kids are back in school, no one is sick at the moment, and no winter storm lurks in the forecast–I’m struggling to find my next purpose, the next first-things-first thing.

 

I’m pretty sure some of my scattered thoughts are still gasping for breath back in November or January, so this recovery phase may take a while. I think back over just this past weekend and sigh. Sure it held laughs and precious memories, but my thoughts zero in on whether I’ve been enough for my family. I have to work hard at patience. I wouldn’t characterize myself as a yeller, but my tone can get testy when it should sound more upbeat. And this morning I sent two not-so-happy children off to school. My son’s tears were brief amidst complaints about having to go back. My daughter’s were more lasting and haunting to my heart. Did I comfort enough before sending them off to do what they need to do? Sure I’d had enough of the whining, the griping, the wishes for more, more, MORE of me; but mama-guilt visits anyway and it’s a demanding guest. And to top it off (BIG SIGH), I’ve been eating too much sugar as a coping mechanism and feeling the effects. Irritation, indignation, inflammation! And I wonder why I see the best and worst from my children?

 

So much for my determination to maintain patience and a good attitude–at least a better one than I expect from my kids. So much for my 2014 word of the year: delight. Delight isn’t the beat of my heart right now. If only I could still my spirit. If only I could reduce the inner frenzy, enjoy the here and now. If only.

 

I picked up Henri Nouwen’s In the Name of Jesus on a recent morning similar to this one. No coincidence. A slim book, easy to read, it has been sitting on my shelf for years, but I hadn’t read it. Well, it hooked me with the first couple of paragraphs. Nouwen speaks of how he was forced “to let go of my relevant self–the self that can do things, show things, prove things, build things–and forced . . . to reclaim that unadorned self in which I am completely vulnerable, open to receive and give love regardless of any accomplishments” (chapter one).

 

I’ve noticed something peculiar about my temperament. Back a decade or so ago when I worked in an office full-time, when I had coworkers to relate to, people who weren’t committed to me for a lifetime, I rolled with stress better than I do now. More effectively than I do in my own home with my cherished family.

 

At home we’re supposed to be allowed to let things fall. To be released from the pressure to be on, to do, to perfect, to achieve, to surpass. We need this down time to feel life’s highs and lows in security. To connect with who we are and who God wants to be in our lives, freed from pressures that eventually dull us.

 

When I give in to demands to keep the schedule filled with opportunities, to push my kids to achieve now so they don’t lag behind later, when I don’t embrace the glory time of refreshment, I’m giving in and believing a lie that says we’re on this earth to prove ourselves. It tells us we must be bigger, better, stronger, smarter, always moving fast to be fully alive.

 

But we miss something greater when we are too busy to recognize the lie for what it is.

 

You see, when I review the past weeks and even just this morning, I see my children’s struggles with emotions and attitudes and my own battle to relax. I understand that they are adjusting to being back to school after a full weekend, a time change, and a chopped-up school schedule this winter season. We’re off-kilter around here and for good reason. For my daughter, as much as she loves to get out and go and learn and grow, she loves time to be cozy at home. She insisted on quitting dance last month because she was done. She needed a break to breathe too. And my son . . . as tenderhearted as he is, he is a growing boy with testosterone flowing, who is learning to manage his aggression and coming to terms with what it means to feel frustrated but not to let those rule his behavior. A lesson his mother still struggles to learn. Is that best learned filling up his agenda without giving him space in his day to let him be him? He’s seven, and he does a superb job staying on task for seven solid hours a day five days a week. If he doesn’t have time to breathe slowly, that aggression’s going to pop, and who could blame him.

 

So what am I trying to say? I quit.

 

I quit the hamster wheel that pushes me to push. I want to be here and now. I want to slow the pace, purposefully, so that I can be my best for the primary ones in my life, so that I stand a stronger chance of nurturing the best in them. I want to actually delight, not just think about the concept in a wistful way. I want to free my children from the trap that says they have to be involved in such and such so that they can compete well in later years. I will not, WILL NOT, give in to the lie that says they must be on the track of star athlete or musical prodigy or future Nobel-prize winner. I want to protect their need to just be, and their time to play, at home, no agenda. I want them to be them because they are worthy of delighting in. I want my husband to feel respected and supported because he is who he is. I want to put away the computer keyboard and not feel as though I have to jump to the next project. When we overload the minutes, we often lose the slow grace of the moment.

 

When we overload the minutes, we often lose the slow and steady grace of the moment.

 

When we lose the grace of the moment we weaken our connections with other hearts–and with our own. Too much chronic busyness is a joy stealer, and I choose joy first. I want to focus on filling hearts, not minutes. I will not steal the joy from our lives, or the gift of giving my family a mother who is at peace, or a wife with energy enough to support and laugh. I will not contribute to life’s challenges by setting up my family to be daily drained of living whole. I believe that living whole means giving up too much busyness and a misinformed “need” to accomplish more in order to matter more.

 

I quit the craziness and choose to live unadorned by a lie. I will live whole and will set an atmosphere for my family to rest in that cocoon as well.

 

If I don’t take the time to breathe without immediately looking ahead to my next goal, I cheat life and joy. I cheat my family and myself. And I cheat the next project from a refreshed perspective. This is a heart thing for me more than a scheduling thing. I want a next project. But I want whole hearts more, for my family and myself. So I must take time to refresh and set the example in front of my kids. Am I disillusioned enough to think that I’ll never again battle this tendency toward busyness? Not at all. I know for a fact I’ll find myself pulling out of this trap again, because life will always push us to stay more busy than wise. As seasons ebb and flow, so does our energy. But I will strive to return myself and my family to unadorned living as frequently as possible. More and more I’m coming to believe that kind of unadornment is key to raising truly well-rounded people.

 

So there are my scattered thoughts. They really are all over the place, but I’m putting them out there anyway. They’ve led me to discover that my next first thing is to live unencumbered by a need to tackle any other next thing until my rested spirit allows slows grace to do its steadying thing.

 

I wish a delightfully unadorned day on you.

 

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Where Mercy and Truth Need to Meet

A hot-button social issue close to my heart showed up on Facebook today. Here’s the link to a well-written article that calls it what it is. Abortion claims far, far too many victims–and the victims are not only the innocent children murdered.

 

The victims also include the hurting women and men who have fallen for a convoluted argument of convenience, the siblings who won’t meet or grow up with their little brothers or sisters, the grandparents who won’t see the beauty of an ongoing generation in their family, the children who were almost aborted who live with questions of how such a decision was almost made about them, the misled medical practitioners who give in to cultural pressure . . . an entire world that groans under the burden of brokenness, chaos, and confusion.

 

Mercy and truth must meet at the crux of this lie that seeks to distract us from what abortion truly is: the violent murder of innocent children, children who are not happenstance or mistakes. We must discern truth and live for it, convenient or not. And mercy is as necessary as standing up for truth. May we not employ one without the other. May we not disregard either.

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Did They Wonder?

Did They Wonder?

Imagine the wise men who journeyed so far

after seeing the brilliance of one special star.

They had heard that a King had been born to the Jews

who had waited so long for such wonderful news.

 

Imagine their thoughts as they traveled each mile.

Did they talk the whole way? Were they silent awhile?

Did they wonder at all if this new King would be

full of kindness toward others and rule tenderly?

 

 

Did they search for a palace with guards at each gate?

Did they hurry to find him? Could they hardly wait?

Gazing up at the sky full of sparkle so bright

did they know they were looking at salvation’s light?

 

 

After long weeks of waiting and wond’ring had passed

were they speechless with awe when they met him at last?

What they saw in his eyes, did it fill them with joy?

Did they know they were looking at God as a boy?

 

 

It’s a fact that most others had not understood

that the child they called Jesus was more than just good.

And although many saw him as loving and wise,

to get to the truth we must have deeper eyes.

 

 

Much more than mere human was Jesus, God’s Son.

On the day of his birth a great victory’d begun.

His life meant our healing from death would be sure.

But our life meant his death. There was no other cure.

 

 

Will you be like a wise man and wonder anew

of the infinite impact his birth means for you?

At the end of this time here on earth you’ll recall

that the ones who kept searching were wisest of all.

 

 

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Copyright © 2004 Erin Keeley Marshall. All rights reserved.

No portion of this shall be reprinted without written permission from the author.

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Focus for the Holidays 2013

I have the joy of guest blogging on my church women’s ministry website. This one posted about a year ago, as I anticipated Thanksgiving and Christmas and wondered about all the precious ones who don’t know provision or hope. Focus for the holidays season . . . revisit one of my favorites originally posted here.

 

Bless you!

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What Happened to Holy?

What Happened to Holy?

 

 

 

 

 

“Mama, I want to sit on a cloud.”

 

YES! I thought. She’s mine! Never had I heard anyone voice this same dream of mine until my young daughter spoke that phrase a few weeks ago. In fact, I’ve gotten dubious looks from others when I’ve shared that desire. I was happy to assure her that her imagination is welcomed here.

 

Calianne’s statement bonded us for life, as if we needed another verification that we’re two peas in a pod. It also got me thinking about why I love to gaze at clouds, and not just gaze, but envision how they got there and what’s beyond them. Did you know there’s a whole world beyond the level of commercial jets? May seem like a dumb question, but really, we can see glimpses of what’s out there, but is it bigger and smarter and better than us?

 

Lacking hope in what may be beyond (and better than) the limits of this life is a confining way to spend a few decades; in fact, some may call it closed minded. Studying the skies anchors me to hope and reminds me to focus on the holy. If we’re unwilling to be awed by something beyond ourselves, if we humans are convinced that we’ve got it all in hand and we’re the collective best there is, who are we to know whether we’re missing out on something huge, something necessary, even vital?

 

Even scientists admit that we use a very small part of our brains, which I think is interesting, considering many of those scientists are quite influential critics of God. Assume for a moment that the Genesis account of sin’s entry into the world is true; could it be that a world starved of holiness has crippled our very brains? Without the effects of unholiness, would we always be aware, in awe, and possibly even appreciative of all that still is holy? Because, let’s be honest, for all our best efforts and kindest motivations, we humans haven’t touched holy on our own.

 

Let’s just say for kicks that God does exist and he is everything he claims to be. Imagine him as holy.

 

For a moment, focus on what holiness is. In layman’s terms, holiness is everything perfect–in a more profound way of being perfect than we can fathom. It is wholly beyond us. Holiness is awe-inspiring and far from us, yet part of its intrigue is that it chooses to hold us. We cannot begin to access it ourselves, but it is so beyond good that it seeks us out despite our rejection of it. I love this quote from Brennan Manning that describes transcendence and immanence, two characteristics of God’s holiness that may seem opposite, but that sum up the essence of who he is:

 

“Transcendence means that God cannot be confined to the world. . . . Immanence, on the other hand, means that God is wholly involved with us, . . . that he is here in his mysterious nearness. . . . Disregard of God’s immanence deprives us of any sense of intimate belonging, while inattention to his transcendence robs God of his godliness.”

 

If we go through our days without pausing to let our minds gaze on the holy, who are we to know what we’re missing?

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Another Childhood Favorite Revisited: Nancy Drew, Is It Time to Grow Up?

Another Childhood Favorite Revisited: Nancy Drew, Is It Time to Grow Up?

I have a secret. Nothing deep or dark, but I’m thinking it’s quirky by many opinions. In the last post when I revisited the Ingalls family, I said that my kids and I have been reading the Little House series together. Well, every summer when that nostalgia bug strikes, I also find myself reaching up on my office shelves to pull down an antique volume of Nancy Drew. Sometimes I still crave a revisit to the world of River Heights, chums Bess and George, and Togo the terrier. Yep, I’m a forty-something who still enjoys a trip back to the past in a sporty blue roadster. Not to read to the kids. Just for me.

 

Laugh as you will. I’m being strong and fessing up, and I’m going to confidently own this quirky summer habit. Report me to Police Chief McGinnis. I have a hunch he’ll understand.

 

That said, I will also say they don’t thrill me quite like when I was eight, which is probably appropriate. Now I compare the original, twenty-five-chapter versions with their updated twenty-chapter revisions for writing style. I still take note of how writing has changed, the POVs that shift within chapters, the omniscient POV that was relied on.

 

But the stories do still tug at my heart. I think my love for them is now more about the emotions I want to experience again. As a kid, one of my favorite ways to enjoy a summer day was to ride my bike down to the library, all independent and free by myself, and soak up the air conditioning while picking out three more volumes I’d take home with me that week. The bike, the freedom, the scents of the sidewalk concrete and the musty library and aged book pages, the hum of the crickets outside as the wind tossed back my own titian-blonde curls as I sped home on my trusty blue Schwinn . . . that’s what it was about.

 

Back when I was eight, an eighteen-year-old girl was a full-grown adult to me. I dreamed of following in her footsteps of adventure and suspense and luncheon dates with girlfriends at roadside inns, crumbling mansions full of mystery, zippy boat rides with boyfriends who showed up to help chase down culprits, and closets full of dresses and dreams and such. I lived for the hope that intrigue was just around the corner of my own young life. And her ever-faithful dad . . . there’s also the dad part of it.

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I inherited my father’s love of reading, and I don’t get to see him very often anymore. But he was the one who bought me my first ND book way back when, and that series without a doubt birthed my passion to write. I was shy; I wasn’t a crowd person; but I could dream and I could write. I loved those Saturdays when Dad stopped at used-book sales and brought home bags full that wafted their wonderful, musty odor through our garage. He’d tell us about some he remembered from his own childhood; others he just thought looked interesting. But Dad got it, that love of books and bindings and worlds to discover and characters that never age no matter how many times you read the same stories over the decades. I love that love of my dad’s, and when I read a book from childhood I remember that safe feeling of growing up in my parents’ house, when I wasn’t an adult who had to find the answers. Old books return us to fond memories even when our childhoods are long gone. And I’m sure books provide escape and hope for some from childhood memories that are not so fond.

 

Taking the occasional trip back through Nancy Drew-land is really about so much more than the words that meet the eye. It soothes my heart and returns me to those simpler times we all long for. So Nancy, if you want to remain eighteen forever, God bless you. I had to grow up, and while life today holds a whole lotta sweetness, I still appreciate the reminders of those carefree days. May my own children–and all you readers as well–recall such joys.

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(And Dad, if you read this, you’d be proud to know that Paxton has just begun tackling his first Hardy Boys book. Thanks for the legacy and Happy Father’s Day! I love you!)

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How about you? When it comes to childhood books, which ones still tug at your heart for deeper reasons? Why?

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