Sitting with it

I literally have to sit here with it.

I would rather run from it, but I don’t have that option any more. I have to sit with it.

In my soldiering years, I was continually in motion. Dawn ’til dark.  I was picking up, dropping off, buying, cooking, cleaning, planning, teaching, grading, and when I could squeeze it in, I was literally running.  Though I was acutely aware that I had four other humans living in the house with me (who else was I picking up, dropping off, buying, cooking, and cleaning for?), I rarely sat still very long to actually look at them, listen to them, watch them, hear them.

I have to sit with that now.  I’d much rather be running.

When one got migraines, went off to school, and then developed an eating disorder, I didn’t stop what I was doing.  No.  I drove to emergency rooms, packed boxes, drove miles, dropped off, made appointments, picked up, and kept moving.

When another joined the military and started jumping out of planes, I didn’t sit down and think about what that meant.  No.  I bought supplies, cooked farewell dinners, drove to a bus, dropped off, and kept moving. I can’t even remember if I wrote letters.

When another was brutally assaulted, I was so busy moving I didn’t even realize it had happened. For almost two years. And when I finally found out, still, I didn’t stop what I was doing, sit down, and grieve.  No. I grabbed broken pieces, dropped them in the passenger seat of the car, and drove them to someone who I thought could put them back together again.  And I kept on moving.

I have to sit with that now.

I didn’t choose this.

No.  Even when disease started crawling into my joints, I tried to keep moving.  I trudged through long days trying to manage responsibilities and ended up collapsing at home at the end of each day.  All my good hours were spent in hot pursuit while my hours at home, with the ones who needed me most, were spent in a daze of pain and fatigue.

It’s been over three years since I admitted the need for change. In those three years I have tried again and again to return to my former ways, but I can not. This disease is literally slowing me, sitting me down, and forcing me to face the things that I have not wanted to face.  It’s forcing me to learn new ways.  And, still, I resist.

I try, futilely, to keep busy.  I have crocheted a hundred scarves, hats, afghans.  I have put together probably a million puzzle pieces. I have read thousands of pages of print.

But, without fail, fatigue comes, and I must stop the busy-ness and turn to stillness. And even when I am exhausted, as I am right now, it’s as though I fight against rest.

The past several nights I have limped to my room lugging heated packs that I drape on my neck, hips, back after I’ve awkwardly lowered myself into bed.  Then begins the battle of shifting and moaning and repositioning that sometimes lasts several minutes but tonight lasted so long that all the images kept playing out over and over on the HD screen that is my imagination. Finally I groaned myself out of bed.

Come on, Kristin. Sit with it.  Admit that you missed so much. Acknowledge that the ones you love have hurts that you haven’t wanted to see. Grieve that. Cry.

Acknowledge that you couldn’t do it all.  You couldn’t soothe all the hurts.  You sometimes didn’t even try. You can’t undo what was done.

And the hurts keep coming.  The car needs servicing. The dog is aging and ill. A laptop isn’t working. Can’t a girl get relief from some of this pain?

And then comes the realization that the physical pain is a symbol. A tool.  A gift.

Man, I hate to admit that it’s a gift.  But without it, I would still be running. I would still be accumulating regret.

The illness hasn’t solved my problems, but it has revealed some.

And as I see them, I am finally taking the time to sit with them and cry. And lately my tears seem to have no end. They keep coming as though they just have been waiting for the opportunity.

I’m trying, really trying, to sit with that.  I believe the healing will come in the grieving. So, I’m going to take some time to grieve.  Soldiering me wants to schedule the grieving for Mondays at 10am for the next three weeks and be done with it.  Sitting still me isn’t in a rush.

I’m trying to sit with that, too.

There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul.

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Controlling and Carrying

Since we are on the topic….let’s talk a little bit more about control.  I mean, if I’m gonna scratch the surface, I might as well pry off the scab and take a look at the festering sore underneath, right?

I began trying to control my life at a very early age. At the risk of making this a confessional, let me just say that I routinely lied, falsely (and sometimes accurately) implicated my brothers, and physically overpowered my friends to get what I wanted. And that was all by the time I was in elementary school!  As I grew older and learned what was socially acceptable, I found other methods such as emotional outbursts, dramatic power plays, and sly slips of the hand to orchestrate my life.  My college years brought more maturity.  I learned that I could not control my environment, my peers, or my family, so I controlled myself down to a mere shadow of a human through anorexia.

You would think that therapy and recovery would’ve exposed the truth that I am not in charge of my own life either, but I am either a slow learner or a control savant. I have devised many ways to create an illusion of control.  In fact, once I had children of my own, I was sure to create a rigid daily schedule to ensure that their lives were under control. I was going to make sure that they were safe and secure. No harm would come to them under my watch. We prayed together.  We memorized scripture verses. I only let them watch PBS.  We ate dinner together every evening. They went to church every Sunday and often several times during the week. I was going to do this parenting thing right. My kids would be perfect, you know?

I couldn’t control everything, though, as I’m sure you can imagine. They didn’t stay safe and secure.  Harm did come to them.  Heart-breaking harm.

Many sleepless nights I have cried over my failed attempts at controlling my life, many more I have cried over my realization that I could not prevent my children from being hurt. And where has it led me?  Literally to my knees.

For many years now, when I have found myself facing the stark realization of my own powerlessness in the lives of my children, I call to mind an image that gives me great peace.  I picture a cupped hand with my child nestled safely inside.  I imagine that cupped hand held close to an all-powerful chest much like I might hold a newborn chick or kitten.  The hand is strong and able to lift my child out of harm’s way, and sometimes, when harm determinedly finds its way inside of that hand, two compassionate eyes are bearing witness — they are seeing and knowing and caring in ways that I am unable to see, to know, to care.  This image of the One who does have control gives me peace in those moments when I am able to acknowledge that I have none.

But there are many moments when I am not able to acknowledge that.  Most of the moments, actually.  Most of my moments I am filling with doing — I know, I know, if you have followed this blog from the beginning, you may be face-palming about right now. Doing, as I implied yesterday, gives me an illusion of control.  It calms my anxiety.  It makes me feel like everything is going to be ok if I just get my house clean, if I just meet one more student, if I complete one more task.

But that is a lie. Everything is not going to be ok.

Last night, when I finally admitted that I had done enough for the day and I finally lay down in my bed, I picked up Ann Voskamp’s The Broken Way. As usual, God spoke directly to me through it; I think reading is the only time I slow down long enough to truly listen.  This is what I heard:

Suffering asks us to bear under that which is ultimately not under our control, which proves to us we have no control.  And maybe that’s too much for us in our autonomous, do-it-yourself culture to bear.  Maybe more than we can’t stand physical suffering, we can’t stand not feeling in control (171). 

It’s silly when she puts it like that, isn’t it? And if I admit that trying to be in control is silly, then I have to admit that much of my life has been one big silly futile exercise. That’s embarrassing. And humiliating. And heartbreaking.

But it’s true.

However, it is also true that regardless of my foolish attempts, I, too, have been sitting in that all-powerful hand.  I have been kept out of harm’s way many, many times.  And, when harm has found me, One has born witness with compassion, forgiveness, and love. I am His child, after all.  He has ordered my world.  He has hemmed me in on all sides. And He will continue to carry me.

Psalm 139:5

You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.

Making Up for Lost Time

During all my years of soldiering — of butt-kicking and name-taking — I was in constant motion, often simultaneously cooking, doing laundry, answering email, talking on the phone, and granting or denying permission to one of my children.  I got a lot done.  It seems that I was able to keep a clean house, feed a family, teach hundreds of students, and arrive most places fully-clothed for quite a few years. The down side? Very little time to reflect — very little time to examine options, consider outcomes, or feel.

I’m making up for lost time. Obviously.

In days of yore (Why, sonny, when I was your age…), I looked at the myriad obligations of the members of my family, the limited functions of two vehicles, and the tight schedules my husband and I kept, and I quickly formulated and executed a plan that accommodated everyone.  I planned my work and worked my plan.  “Here’s what’s happening today,” I would say, “You two will come with me to school.  After school, while you are at practice, I will get groceries. I’ll be back to pick you up.  When we get home, you’ll unload and put away groceries while I cook dinner.  Meanwhile, Dad will take you (other child)  to your different school.  He’ll go to work then pick you up after your practice, stop by Walgreens to fill your prescription, then meet us back here.  We will eat at exactly 5:30 because then, Dad has a meeting, I have parent-teacher conferences, two of you have homework to do, and the third one has to be at a study session on the other side of town.”  I would hit the start button and the plan would be executed.

Nowhere was there time for contemplation, negotiation, or revision.  We were in “go” mode.  In some ways, it was necessary for the season of life we were in with three kids in high school all at the same time, however, I think it could’ve been handled differently.  I think I could’ve let some stuff go.  I could’ve slowed down, allowed the kids to eat cereal for dinner more often, and let my laundry pile up.  I could’ve valued processing over producing. Contemplating over completing.

So, yeah, I’m making up for lost time.

I’m currently reading three books.  One is a book I am reading with my Bible study gals, Ann Voskamp’s The Broken Way.  Another was given to me by my physical therapist/counselor/friend, Doing Well at Being Sick by Wendy Wallace.  I also picked up Shauna Niequist’s Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes.  Why am I telling you this?  Well, it’s interesting to me that I have time to read three books, for one thing.  Also, I notice that I am interacting with these books, writing notes in the margins, going back to my notes, and thinking about what the books are saying to me. And, third, I am intrigued by the fact that these three books are speaking to each other.  It’s like they are three friends that said to one another, “Hey, guys, Kristin’s been still for quite a while now.  She might finally be able to hear us.”

And what are they saying?  Well, it’s not really shocking, because they are saying the same things that I have been discovering, thinking, speaking, and writing about for the past three and a half years.  However, I think what’s interesting is that I am noticing.  I am processing. I am digesting. I am not more interested in completing these books than I am in connecting with them.  I am not compelled to finish them; I am drawn to understand the meaning they have for me.

And really, the meaning is this — my soldiering is done. Even though I’m tempted almost every day to go back to that life, I am no longer capable.  God, in His mercy, has chosen a better way for me.  He has allowed limitations in my life — real physical limitations — that stop me from soldiering so that I can live a life that reflects, that feels, and that makes space for others. Because on my own, I wouldn’t have stopped soldiering, guys.  I would’ve keep right on kicking butts and taking names.  God had something better for me. Yes, you heard me right.  My “broken” life, my life with the limitations of chronic illness, is a higher quality life than my “un-broken” life.  In fact, my “broken” life is more whole than the “unbroken” one was.

It’s a paradox, to be sure. God is often paradoxical, isn’t He?  His brokenness makes us whole.  By His wounds we are healed. He turns our mourning into dancing. He doesn’t always make sense, but today I’m not going to question Him. I’ll just thank Him.

I Peter 2:24

“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”

You can learn a lot from a toddler

You can learn a lot from a toddler.

We spent last weekend with our sweet grand daughter.  As many grandparents will attest, there is nothing quite like the love one feels for a grandchild.  People had been telling me this for years, but it took gazing upon our own grandchild to give me the full picture.  In the fifteen or so months since she was born, I have spent a lot of time just observing her. I’m starting to compile a list of lessons that this wee one is teaching me.

  • Play is important.  And it’s fun!  I’ve spent so many hours of my life being serious; I have sometimes forgotten to play.  Not this little girl!  She makes everything into play — eating blueberries, getting her diaper changed, taking a bath, riding in the car, and waiting in line at a restaurant.  If she has a spare second, she’s playing peek-a-boo, chase-me,  let’s-knock-it-down, splash your Oma, or anything that will make her, and me, laugh.
  • Fun is contagious.  Every time this little one giggles, I giggle.  If she makes a silly face, I make a silly face.  I can’t hep myself.  She draws me in.  She walks right up to me, hands me a book, leans toward me with a smile, and I’ve just gotta smile back.  I don’t think I was serious for a single second all weekend, unless you count that moment when she face-planted at the mall.  At that moment she taught me another lesson.
  • If you’re hurting, you just gotta cry. In my almost fifty years of life, I have stuffed a lot of emotions.  I have concealed fear, subdued laughter, and swallowed pain.  Not my little girl; nope. When she feels something, she shows it.  When she face-planted, she cried loud and hard — the kind of crying that loses its breath and gets silent.  It was legitimate.  She bruised the very fleshy part over her cheek bone.  She hit hard. When she cried, no one tried to silence her; we let her cry.  We had seen the injury.  We felt her pain.  And she taught us another lesson.
  • When you’re really hurting, Dad is the safest place to turn.  Opa swooped her off the floor and rushed her right to her daddy who engulfed her in his extra-strong arms so that she could bury her face in his extra-large shoulder and wail.  He just held her and held her while she cried.  He kept her safe and secure while Mom checked out the injury, Opa found us a place to sit down, and Oma got some ice.  When the pain ebbed a bit, and Dad placed her in a booster seat at a table, her tear-filled eyes watched him as she drank her drink and ate her fries.  When he stood to get some ketchup, her eyes followed him to the restaurant counter and back.  She checked that we were all still sitting near her, but she didn’t smile until he was headed back toward her. It wasn’t long before she regained her composure and reminded us of another lesson.
  • When you fall down, you gotta get back up.  After the spill and the fries, our girl cautiously entered the children’s area, observed what the big kids were doing, and then tried out some of the toys herself.  Mom showed her how to push the buttons that lit up.  She ran from one end of the play area to the other. She looked up at the towering climbing apparatus and then showed us another important lesson.
  • You’ve gotta know your limitations.  She was clearly impressed by the kids who were climbing higher than their parents’ heads, but she recognized that she didn’t have the means, or perhaps the courage, to go where they were going.  She walked under the looming structure, but when she realized that none of her people had gone with her, she turned around and walked back out.  No one had told her she couldn’t go in there, she just knew that if we weren’t going with her, she wasn’t going to do it alone.  In fact, at that point, she’d had enough of the play area and was ready to go walking for a bit.
  • Exploring is interesting.  Our girl was happy to ride in the stroller as long as we were moving and changing her scenery.  We walked through the crowded mall and she had plenty to look at, but when we went into a store and the stroller stopped moving, she voiced her protest.  And there’s our next lesson.
  • Let your concerns be known.  This little girl does not shy away from communicating.  When she is ready to move, she makes some noise.  When she’s hungry, she goes to the kitchen cupboard where her snacks are stored.  When she wants up, she reaches; when she wants down, she leans.  When she’s happy, she talks and laughs. When she’s sad, she cries.  But my favorite of all is her way of communicating when she’s just tuckered out.  She goes to her Daddy, the keeper of all things safe, and gives the signal.
  • Because when you need a recharge, you go to Daddy.  She stands near him.  She rubs her eyes.  She might try to climb up in his lap.  Since he’s her dad, he recognizes the signals.  He lifts her up and holds her close.  She puts her head on his shoulder and just submits to his embrace.  She doesn’t necessarily sleep; often she just soaks up his love for five or ten minutes.   He holds her, enjoying this mutual love fest.  If she falls asleep, he lets her. If a brief charge is all that’s needed, he smiles, kisses her head, and lets her back down to go play and explore some more.

I probably don’t have to spell it out for you.  You’re smarter than that. You can see what I saw, can’t you?  You can learn from a toddler, too.

    and a little child will lead them.

Isaiah 11:6

Guys, He’s God

Have you felt the oppressive weight of hopelessness?  It seems that everywhere I turn I hear the message of doom and gloom.  Just this morning I heard reports of yet another devastating terror attack — this time in Brussels.  For the past several months the political rhetoric has fostered fear and hatred. I myself have been troubled by the uncertainties in my life. It seems that people all over the world are feeling desperate — hopeless.

What kind of hopelessness drives a person to strap a bomb to himself and willingly die while taking out the lives of others?  What kind of fear causes people to lash out at complete strangers?  What kind of desperation keeps me awake at night?

It’s the kind of fear that has forgotten that God is God.  It’s the kind of hopelessness that believes that our future is in our own hands.  It’s the kind of desperation that wonders how life would’ve been different if I would’ve made different decisions along the way.

This kind of fear and hopelessness is not new; “there is nothing new under the sun.” The Israelites, standing at the base of Mount Sinai, while Moses was talking to God, started freaking out because he was taking too long.  They were literally bearing witness to the presence of God and they forgot about Him! So, turning to their own resources, they fashioned a golden calf, yes, that’s right, a baby cow made out of their jewelry.  And, they started to worship the freshly minted calf, saying that it had brought them out of Egypt.

Say what?

Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?  I mean much more ridiculous then strapping a bunch of explosives to one’s body and walking into a crowded subway thinking that that will solve the world’s problems.  Much more ridiculous than thinking that my 401k will give me security.  Much more ridiculous than imagining that I will be happy as soon as I drop twenty pounds. Way more crazy than staying up all night wondering if I made all the right parenting decisions.

Those Israelites, man, they were crazy.

But no crazier than me. They had merely turned their faces away from the mountain and, that quickly, had forgotten that their salvation was right in front of them.  I’ve turned my face, too.  Over and over again.  I have taken my eyes off of God and looked instead to my own strength, or the strength of those around me, to be my salvation.

What was I thinking?  That God was taking too long? Wasn’t I bearing witness to His presence and His power in my life?

Mm-hm.  I was.  And still, I turned.

Over and over I have found that I am not my own salvation.  In fact, when I turn to myself, I unfailingly make my situation even worse than it was to begin with.  Just like the Israelites.

You would think that God would get angry.  You would think He would say, “That’s it.  I am done with you. We’ve been over this.  I’m not giving you another chance.” But He doesn’t. He pulls us close; He says, “I’ve got you. It’s gonna be ok. Remember, I’m God.”

Oh, yeah.  Guys, He’s God.

Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

still learning

Parenting and teaching have changed me.  At one time I was a very black and white thinker.  Through more than two decades of parenting and almost that many years of interacting with students,  my firm, almost rigid beliefs about almost everything have been challenged and shaped. I am not the person I once was, nor do I want to be.

One of the lessons that I have learned is that there is always more to a situation than first meets the eyes.  Let’s say a student walks into my class late, unprepared, and seemingly unengaged.  It would be easy to assume that this student is apathetic about my class specifically, and perhaps education in general.  However, a closer look might reveal that the student was doing everything he could to get to my class on time, but his parents had their own timetable — they made him stay up to take care of a younger sibling all night, they got home from work late in the morning, and then made my student wait while they showered before they brought him to school.  My student wanted to complete the homework, but his sibling was demanding.  He wanted to be on time, but he had no alternate way to get to class.  Or, let’s say one of my children is snarky, disrespectful, and seemingly bent on opposing every direction I give.  I might assume that my role is to demand respect, give firmer demands, and heap on consequences, but a closer look, and some long hours of listening, may uncover some deep pain that the child is afraid, even ashamed, to share with me.  Acting out is not the problem; it’s a symptom.

Another lesson is that there is always a third option. “Mrs. Rathje, should I study education or medicine?”  “Mom, should I run track or play soccer?” “Would it be better if I took this job or if I didn’t work at all?”  My answer to all of the above, “Is there a third option?”   Why not consider a career as a nurse educator?  Is there any other sport or activity that seems interesting to you?  Is there a different job you could consider? more schooling? service learning?

Too often I have found myself trapped in either/or thinking:

  • Do I want to be a vegetarian or eat meat?
  • Am I a night person or a morning person?
  • Do I like contemporary or traditional worship?
  • Am I conservative or liberal?
  • Should I teach or write?
  • Am I a Spartan or a Wolverine.

Don’t be ridiculous, that last one was just to see if you were still paying attention.

In my earlier life, I found it comforting to ‘choose a side’.   I was forming my identity, after all. I wanted to find my place.  It felt too risky to remain fluid.  I wanted the security of saying that I was Lutheran or Republican.  I wanted a box to check.  I was anti-Disney, pro-Life, for the environment, and against dying my hair.

Here’s the thing: putting myself in those boxes positioned me against those who put themselves in other boxes.  If I liked only wheat bread, I might judge someone who only bought white bread.  If I only shopped at Kroger, I might look down on someone who only shopped at Wal-Mart.  I didn’t want to talk about it.  I didn’t want to listen to why they preferred white bread or Wal-Mart.  I knew who I was and that I was right.  No discussion needed.

Yeah, it limited me.  I cut myself off from all kinds of people and experiences.  Enter my children. And my students.  Early on they were willing to listen to whatever I had to say.   They were pliable.  They wanted to please me.  But over time, as they developed minds of their own, they began to question my positions.  They began to challenge my opinions.

How dare they?  I did not like this at all!!  After all, I had been being right for so long.  If I allowed myself to think differently, I was admitting that I had been — gasp — wrong!

But not really. That was some more either/or thinking.  Once upon a time I held certain opinions based on what I knew at the time.  Over the years, I have had many experiences that have taught me.  So, based on what I know now, some of my opinions have changed. That, my friends is called human growth and development.

And here is the most important thing that I have learned.  Life is complex.  Every belief is multi-faceted.  I can, for instance, like the story line of The Lion King and still hate the over commercialization of Disney, or, for that matter, its portrayal of female characters. These opinions can co-exist.  I can understand the health benefits of whole grains and still appreciate a nice loaf of French white bread. I can appreciate Wal-Mart’s low prices and still object to the business practices of the Waltons. I can enjoy both meat and vegetables or choose to be a strict vegetarian, but only on the weekdays.

The amazing human mind is capable of far more complexity than we give it credit for.  We limit its capacity to grow when we compartmentalize ideology into false dichotomies.

And that, my friends, the mother learned from her children; the teacher learned from her students.

 

Job 32:9

It is not only the old[b] who are wise,
    not only the aged who understand what is right.

All the Feelings

The inclement weather has given me another day of virtual stillness and I am noticing something — when I am still, I think about the words that others have said and I have time to consider them fully.

I don’t always like considering the words of others, you know, fully, because then I get, you know, feelings.  And feelings make me, you know, feel things. 

As a child and adolescent I felt a lot of things.  I was an emoter.   Ok, ok, I know I still am, but really, I felt things. How do I know this? I remember being told that I laughed too loud and cried too much.  I can picture my chubby-cheeked, blonde-headed self being told that it was time to leave my grandparents’ house, protesting with angry face, stomping feet, and clenched fists.  I can feel my throat tighten as Frosty the Snow Man melted into a puddle. I remember stomping through the hallways at school or flinging myself onto my bed and wailing into my pillow when I felt wronged by a friend or a boyfriend.

Now, over the years I learned, of course, not to be quite so demonstrative. I mean, it’s not socially acceptable to have all the feelings.  In fact, I remember my cooperating teacher, during my student teaching experience, telling me to ‘not wear my heart on my sleeve’. Well, where else was I going to wear it?

Sadly, my strategy became to shove a lot of my feelings deep, deep down into my subconscious self.  Of course I’m not a pro at this. In fact, my face has often revealed what my guts are feeling, even when my mind hasn’t gotten the memo.  So, even when I haven’t been able to see my face, people around me have seen it and have taken meaning from it.  They have picked up that I am angry, apathetic, shocked, judgmental, or horrified, even when I haven’t realized that I am having those feelings.

I have been too busy to have feelings, after all.  Soldiers don’t have time for feelings.  They are soldiering, you know.  They are kicking butts and taking names.  They don’t feel sad about it.  And, they don’t really care if you feel sad about it.  They have a job to do, doggone it. So, either help or get out of the way.

Yeah, that has been me for a very long time.  I have pushed people aside without considering how they were feeling.  I wasn’t intending to do that.  Really.  I was just on a mission.  I was focused.

Here’s the thing, though.  The people who love you don’t really care if you are on a mission.  They just need you to care. They need you to stop butt-kicking and name-taking for a minute so that you can see that they, too, are having some feelings.  They might also be shoving their feelings into their subconscious, but if you stop moving and look at their faces, you will see that their faces are revealing what they aren’t even aware of.  You might be able to pick up that they are hurt, shocked, angry, lonely, overlooked, or terrified.

And when you see that, you can sit down beside them and be still with them together.   You don’t have to have an answer.  You don’t have to solve the problem.  You just need to sit in the stillness with them, which will give them the time and the permission to feel, really feel. 

And when we feel together, we are joined by bonds that are not soon separated.

Aren’t those bonds far more valuable than all the butt-kicking and name-taking in the world? Yes.  The answer is yes.  Learn from me, grasshopper.  Take time in the stillness to feel all the feelings. 

John 15:13

Greater love has no one than this:

to lay down one’s life for a friend

Immeasurably More

Often in the classroom I have witnessed what I will call ‘reluctant learners’.  If you are a teacher, you might be able to recognize this student.  He grumbles as he shuffles into class, slumps in his chair, complains about every assignment, disputes every grade, and rues the fact that he even ‘has to take this class’.  As a teacher, it is tempting to write this student off — to say, “his loss; I’m doing the best I can here!”  It’s tempting to do that, that is, until you recognize that you have been that ‘reluctant learner’.

This past week I got a full dose of the ‘aha’ moment as I recognized the reluctant learner in me.  It probably started on Friday morning.  I got a phone call from a dear pastor friend (if you’ve been following my blog, this is the man who gave me the book on healing). He wanted to check in, walk down memory lane a bit, and pray for me.  He reminded me, as he often does, of a day way back in 1990 when my husband and I were planning to relocate to Jackson, Michigan — just temporarily — so that my husband could complete his internship in professional counseling.  We spotted a Lutheran church on a hill as we drove into Jackson to sign our six-month lease.  We had a little extra time, so my husband pulled up the long drive, and we decided to see if anyone was inside.  Indeed, this same pastor was inside.  As he tells the story, he had been praying and praying for someone to come partner with him in ministry to work with the broken families in the congregation.  He wanted someone who could walk with these families through times of divorce recovery and other personal issues they were facing.  We walked into his church and said we were moving to town temporarily and were looking for a place to worship while we were there. This pastor, who is now in his 80s, says that at that moment, he knew his prayers were answered.

Now, when I look back on that moment, I think, “Wow, he must have been desperate!”  We were, at that time, two young, selfish, immature individuals who were on a path to something — who knows what! Certainly we could not be the answer to anyone’s prayers.  In fact, the first time we worshipped at that church, I leaned over to my husband and said something like, “I don’t see myself here at all!”

That’s pretty funny when you consider that we ended up staying for twelve years!  Yes, I reluctantly shuffled into the place that would become my classroom. I learned a lot of lessons in that place — many of the lessons that I have written about in this blog!

I learned that God provides — not in ways that I demand that He provide, but in His own breathtaking ways.  Just after we joined the church, before we knew many people at all, I was getting close to delivering our first daughter.  We didn’t have much income at the time and didn’t really know how we were going to meet all the needs of a new baby.  But God knew.  Over forty women who had just met me gathered to throw me the baby shower of all baby showers.  Their gifts barely fit in my car!  They gave us everything we could have ever needed for that baby!  On the day she was born, my husband left me at the hospital with a heavy heart.  He knew what our bank account looked like — empty.  How was he going to put food in the fridge before we got home?  He had no idea.  But God did.  When my husband dropped by the counseling office that day, he found a check for over $500 in his mailbox from insurance payments that had ‘just come through’.  On the day he brought me home, members from our church met us with a footlocker full of groceries and stocked our fridge to bursting.  I could tell story after story of how God used that body to teach us that He would provide.

I also learned that I didn’t know everything.  That lesson involved a very long series of painful mini-lessons.  I learned that I didn’t know everything about parenting when I judged other parents and then watched my own children misbehaving — even biting and hitting other kids!  I learned I didn’t know everything about teaching when my Bible studies flopped and I offended some of my students who just happened to be members of the church!  I learned that I didn’t know everything about event planning when I planned a women’s retreat that lasted too long, didn’t give women enough time to relax, and didn’t honor the people who served.  I learned I didn’t know a lot about forgiveness when I was put in the position time after time after time to need it so desperately.

I learned that God is gracious at this church.  I learned this lesson because despite all of my failures and ugliness, these people continued to lavish love upon us.  I mean– lavish.  Eleven years ago when my husband announced that we would be leaving that church to go to the seminary, that body simultaneously wept and celebrated.  They planned a send-off to top all send-offs! They helped us pack up our house.  One member, a realtor, listed and sold our house, refused to take a commission, and then gave us a monetary gift! Another member came over, took all the items off my walls, wrapped them in paper and packed them in boxes.  Dozens showed up on moving day to load all of our possessions, Tetris-style, into a U-haul truck. Then, they paid my husband to go to the seminary.  Yes, that’s right.  They covered our medical insurance for a long time, and they sent monthly support to help us with living expenses.  When I had unexpected surgery, they paid our share of the cost! They prayed for unceasingly! Dozens trekked to St. Louis to encourage us while we were there. And, when it was time for my husband to be ordained, they threw open the doors and hosted the ceremony and a meal to follow.  I am telling you, these people can lavish the love!

Well, yesterday we went back to that church to worship again. It had been a few years since we had seen many of them, but from the moment I walked in the door I didn’t stop hugging people.  It felt like we had returned home after a long time away.  So many smiles.  So many memories.  As my husband preached a message of God’s ability to do ‘immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine,’ I looked around the sanctuary and was reminded of time after time when He did just that.

That first time I walked into Redeemer, Jackson back in 1990, my imagination was very limited.  I didn’t see how in the world God could bless us in that place.  Maybe it would be ok for six months, I guessed, but stay for twelve years?  Come on, that was not gonna happen.

Thankfully, God is able and willing to take a reluctant learner like me, hold me in the palm of His hand and guide me through lesson after lesson to give to me a life that is immeasurably more than I could ever ask or imagine.

Thanks, Redeemer, for allowing Him to use you to touch this reluctant learner.

Ephesian 3:19-20

 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Details, details, details

Today is a detail day — schedule the oil change, get the groceries,  call the university, fold the laundry, etc.  I have lots to do…actually lots to do all week long. 

These details were a bit overwhelming last night when we had just returned from dropping off the baby at college eight hours away.  And, I’m a little irritated at the moment that I can’t just lie around and mope.  Already I am laughing at myself. 

It’s all by God’s design isn’t it?  He knew in advance that I would be a little torn up today — worrying, grieving, overthinking — so he made sure my plate was full for a bit.  It’s all good stuff — family visiting tonight through Friday, an appointment with a specialist, some cooking, some cleaning, and definitely some writing.  

I will find some time in the midst of the details to grieve a little, to wallow a little, to mope a little.  But, I will have to wipe the tears and drag myself out of bed to get a few things done.  

After all, one daughter is still here!  In fact, she greeted us last night when we returned from our trip with a warm dinner and lots of energy!  I couldn’t bring myself to write a grocery list, but she could.  I was overwhelmed at the thought of laundry, but she had it started!  God’s design.  He knew that if they were all gone at once, I would be overcome by loneliness.  He’s easing me into the empty nest.  

My niece is coming to visit tonight, bringing more energy into our home.  Two twenty-one year olds full of possibility and promise — they will take a road trip tomorrow!  What fun! They will leave me here to write, think, rest, and grieve for a couple of days, then they will bring their energy back.  

Do you see that detail?  God was setting up the details ahead of time, taking care of me, knowing exactly what I needed.  He knew I needed to do for a little while and then be for a little while.  He knew I needed people in my house for a while.  He knew what I needed before I even asked.  He’s got August taken care of, so that I can face September.  He’s always looking out for me, and for you. 

The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer;  

my god is my rock, in whom I take refuge,

my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. 

Psalm 18:2

 

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

On December 21, 1989, when my husband proposed to me, he said, “Things are going to get busy for a while.”  He wasn’t kidding.  

In the last 25 years we have lived in eleven different homes, parented four children (giving birth to three within three years!), earned three Master’s degrees, taught hundreds of students, driven thousands of miles, attended dozens of churches, …phew…I’m exhausted! 

We have experienced lots of change.  As individuals, and as a family.  At first, I braced myself for change and tried to ‘get through’ it.  It didn’t take me long to realize that change is our constant.  We are continually changing.  In fact, early in our marriage, my husband really enjoyed changing around all the furniture in the house.  He would get an idea to switch all the bedrooms — all in one day!  The master bedroom would become the kids’ dorm.  The girls’ room would become the den.  It would be an all-day project. I know it sounds like lots of work, but we always liked the outcome — a fresh start, a new perspective. 

When the kids were in elementary school, we spent many hours investigating and discussing before we decided to move them from a parochial to a public school.  One school was not better than the other, but they were very different.  It was a huge change.  My husband and I felt it was the right decision, so we acted.  It was a huge transition for the kids, and you would have to interview them separately to see if they think now that it was a good decision. Each of them would probably answer differently, especially since the very next year, we not only switched their schools again, we moved them to an entirely different state! A different time zone!  A different, sweatier, climate. 

That move meant not only a change in school, but a change from the only church they had ever known — where they were all born, rocked, sung to, cuddled. We all looked shell-shocked for a couple of years.  No kidding.  It was a lot of change.  

While there, in Missouri, we made so many deep friendships.  I would not trade that time for anything.  But, at times, it was like living through a deployment.  And I would even say that we endured a few injuries, none life-threatening, but some life-changing. 

Change changes us.  

I am not the person I was on December 21, 1989.  Thank goodness!!  Neither is my husband.  Thank goodness!!  (Little joke there, kids.) All of this busy-ness, all of these changes, have grown us up.  

When we were at one of our first congregations, with all our babies, a dear friend said, “I see you guys as a diamond in the rough–the outside is being chiseled away to reveal that beautiful inside.”  I may have been a little offended at the moment, but I now treasure the fact that she saw some potential under the rough exterior that we wore back in our twenties.  

I’d like to think that the changes we have endured have chiseled away some stubbornness, some judgmental attitudes, some close-mindedness.  But we aren’t done yet.  Change is our constant.  I embrace the change, because I know that I will come out of it a different person, hopefully closer to God’s design. 

And in this change, “I will keep my eyes always on the Lord.  With Him at my right hand, I will not be shaken”  Psalm 16:8.