meant to hold us: when we’re restless to move

We’ve reached the stage where nothing is safe.

There ain’t no counter high enough to keep things away from Finnegan. He pushes stools, chairs, bins, stacks of books, whatever, around to get where he wants to go. And where he wants to go is up.

meant to hold us: when we're restless to move

He climbs on the chairs to stand on the table. Stands on top of the cats’ scratching post to get on the windowseat. He scales up the toilet to stand on the toilet paper roller, his hands inches away from the edge of the bathroom counter, to turn on the faucet. Have mercy.

In the kitchen last night he used an upturned box to reach dirty silverware next to the sink. He didn’t care that he was exceeding the structural capacity of the cardboard, or that one of his feet sank halfway through the slit in the middle while his other chubby foot compensated by gripping the edge with curled toes – he just wanted to see something new.

We scramble to put things out of his reach – scissors, craft projects, dishes, houseplants, elderly cats who don’t defend themselves, anything dangerous or breakable – and, oh, does he protest, wailing the Grievous Lament of a Baby Who Wants to Bash the Counter with a Can Opener. Or something like that.

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But I get it. Don’t you? We could sit down with our coffee and give each other a list of things we’d like to reach for if we only knew how to attain them…because we’re restless to move, too.

I’ve been stalking five different real estate websites to find a house, and Vince says to wait. Apparently God agrees with him (so annoying). I’ve scoured one listing after another, none of them quite what we’re looking for, but close…ish… Okay, not even close, unless you compare them to a four-walled tent on an acre of swampland.

Vin is steadfast and keeps pointing me back to the list of standards and specifics we’ve prayed about. He says we should hold out for the gourmet pizza instead of settling for a hot pocket with allergens in it. But I am so hungry.

What will we do when we feel thwarted, hemmed in, and restless? Will we breakthrough by trusting Him above our fears, doubts, and insecurities, or will we breakthrough by rushing into something in disobedience?

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

– Matthew 5:6, ESV

We looked at a house last weekend – it had plenty of space, acreage, bedrooms, and the right price. But we knew in the first minute that it wasn’t meant to hold us any more than Finn’s cardboard box is meant to hold him.

The baby on the dangerous block configuration, the kid bouncing on the fragile lid of a plastic bin, the false ideas we lean against, the wrong relationships we depend on, the easy answer we rush into because we’re tired of waiting – none of these are meant to hold us. They are the opposite of the fermata, where we hold and are held perfectly. How do we learn to be held when we are restless to move?

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That afternoon, Finnegan and I wandered through the yard collecting dried seed pods while Vince repainted our garage door. Almost all of the flowers in our yard came from Jess, who thinned them out of her own garden years ago when we were still new here, when this house held us with room to spare. And at this rate it looks like we’ll still be here next spring, but if not, I want these flowers to go with me. Whenever we go.

What do you do when you want to go – you are called to go, and the promise is that you will go – and yet, for now, you are told to stay?

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles.

– Romans 1:13

We’re in good company, I guess. Paul, the guy who wrote most of the New Testament, knew what it was to be held back from something he wanted. To just stay. To wait. To do what’s right in front of us.

My child, this world is a new place, and strange, and often terrible: but be not afraid. All will come right at last. Rest will conquer restlessness; faith will conquer fear; order will conquer disorder; health will conquer sickness; joy will conquer sorrow; pleasure will conquer pain; life will conquer death; right will conquer wrong. All will be well at last. Keep your soul and body pure, humble, busy, pious – in one word, be good: and ere you die, or after you die, you may have a glimpse of Me, the Everlasting Why.

– Charles Kingsley, Madam How and Lady Why

What are we hungry for? Pride is a violent thing, lying to us about our abilities and inabilities, stealing credit and dishing blame with liberality. The truth behind “in my weakness I am strong” isn’t that God-loves-us-very-much-and-has-a-miserable-plan-for-our-lives, but that He is more patient than we are, unwilling to settle for less than what He intends for us. And what He intends only comes to fruition after our character is developed in the dark places, ready to be unearthed. That’s when we’ve reached the point where nothing is safe.

We can go anywhere, do anything, and while we whine and protest about wanting to see what’s up there, He is moving dangerous stuff out of the way so we don’t hurt ourselves.

We want up so we can see more, do more, be more, and we’re tempted to prop up things to hold us higher – but blessed are you who hunger and thirst after what He has called you to. You will be fulfilled.

God is not slow, He’s patient: aligning people, events, and circumstances for His glory and our joy. He is meant to hold us.

And sometimes He holds us back, and our restlessness is a sign of momentum. Soon. Just maybe not as soon as we want.

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delivery: what comes after a season of weakness and waiting

It began innocently enough. I was eating a quesadilla and getting some work done, the baby was sitting in my lap while tearing up a paper towel; we were both happy. And then I dipped my quesadilla in sour cream and typed a few sentences, not realizing until the next paragraph that little Finn had dipped his paper towel in the sour cream, too, and was painting the couch with it.

delivery: what comes after a season of weakness and waiting

Shortly after this Vince spent an evening steam cleaning the couches. The next day, while the cushions were propped against a wall to dry, Finn and I sat on a slightly damp and cushionless couch sharing a late lunch — and I’m sorry to admit it, but I was hungry and exhausted and had already been sick for weeks…and I fed him small pieces of chicken that he routinely dropped on the freshly cleaned couch. His greasy little fingers were all over the place and I did what any mama would do who’s been out of commission for weeks: I erased the evidence with a baby wipe and let my husband read the confession while proofreading this blog post.

It was – and still is, sort of – a harder, slower season with different priorities. Two days after the last post, I got sick and found out later that I had pneumonia. The last seven weeks have been a long haul of getting well again and every few days is a new phase of pain or relief. I don’t know why it took us five babies to figure this out, but a pregnant, nursing, or special needs mama takes longer to recharge and recover than normal because her battery is always on and running even when she’s asleep, plugged in and charging.

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This week, the current phase is bruised ribs on one side and a cracked rib on the other. Reaching for things is difficult and moving hurts, and I slept til noon on Vin’s day off and was still exhausted five hours later and completely wiped by bedtime. Our routines are totally off. Homeschooling? I haven’t read aloud to the kids in almost two months. Housework? There’s a load of laundry in the washer from yesterday that wasn’t flipped and probably just needs to be washed again. Writing? I’m squeaking everything in under the wire and barely touching the projects without deadlines that I really want to work on. And gardening…let’s just forget about that.

I wasn’t feeling too sorry for myself until the week I was finally starting to feel better and then caught a cold. My lungs were finally clearing but suddenly I had a stuffy nose, full sinuses, sore throat, the works. Whiskey tango foxtr—I mean, what the heck?!

I cried. I probably said bad things. And I wondered when life would be normal again – when I would have energy to do things, when I could start reading that book to the kids that’s been on the shelf for two months now, when we would find the house that fits the list of priorities we’ve been praying for.

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It feels like it’s been a long season of waiting (but aren’t we always waiting for something?) and I dunno if you’re like me, but I don’t like to wait – I like to figure things out and check them off.  Everything is a riddle made to be answered. Puzzles should be put together, mysteries should be solved; and this is probably why I love Dickens so much because I love them, all of them, except when they describe the season of life you’re in. What are we doing, where are we going, how are we going to do any of it? No idea. Not a clue. Maybe a few vague ideas, but we are waiting for clarity, healing, and answers.

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.

– 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17, ESV

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The season of weakness and waiting reminds me of those early months in pregnancy: not cooking, sleeping whenever possible, living in a grace-saturated survival mode until sometime during the second trimester, when you can see the world in color again. But that, at least, holds the promise of great gain in the birth ahead. And there’s no birth and delivery to look forward to in this labor.

That’s what you think, He says.

May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.

– 2 Thessalonians 3:5, ESV

But I don’t like waiting, don’t like surprises. Just tell me, or let me figure it out. Or at least tell me if I’m getting hot or cold. Give me some pieces that fit together. Tell me what to do.

So last Tuesday morning shook me up a little. The day after the rib cracked, the first day of a long school week with nothing exciting in the works — until I was in the middle of typical morning chaos, in the middle of an unexpected phone call with a dear friend who moved out of state two years ago, and the kids start yelling that someone’s at the door, and it’s my husband and that dear friend who had plotted with him for months to surprise me. And, holy moly: screaming, hollering, crying, the works. And I might’ve said a bad thing or two while throwing my phone on the table, but I don’t remember and you can’t hear it on the video Vince took so I think we’re okay.

Our expectations tend to keep our hand in the monkey trap, holding onto what’s holding us back. But maybe there’s something ahead we never saw coming. Something we never would’ve expected. And what if it’s…good? As in, really, really good?

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.

– 2 Thessalonians 3:16, ESV

Breakthroughs don’t begin with fanfare and fair warnings. I think — I hope, at least, from what we are experiencing now and have seen in the past — that they start with waiting and weakness. Our need beckons the breakthrough.

And we know He often brings answers to His people from His people. But lately He’s been telling us repeatedly, Don’t look to so-and-so for your solution. Don’t depend on such-and-such for your victory. When I bring your breakthrough, you won’t see it coming because you’ll be looking the other way. This will be a special delivery.

I want to surprise you, Love. Let Me.

praying shelter: how we bring safety to our streets

You can’t possibly have missed it, the news is everywhere. Facebook is alight with grief and opinions, the talk shows are full of hype and outrage, and the celebrity news anchors are still speechless but that hasn’t stopped them from sharing clichés and propaganda.

praying shelter: how we bring safety to our streets

And none of this is about race or racism. It’s a problem, but it’s not the root issue: there’s always a Thing behind the thing. And that is what needs to be dealt with, or the other thing will just keep happening.

The Thing behind the thing is multifaceted. We could call it evil, but that’s also cliché – what we have is a culture of fear and pride, people insecure in their identities and their mission. And as a result they are unsafe.

Unsafe. As in, they might not be safe, but also, they might not be safe to others, either. People who have forgotten they are the Beloved are afraid, and afraid people do stupid things.

The enemy seeks to kill, steal, and destroy and his primary weapon is fear. But his other weapon is distraction.

The enemy attacks, distracts, tries to keep us from praying on the offense against his schemes – and sometimes it works. But if we are alert and aware of it, we can use it to divert our focus to something more powerful, like going from simply praying against an attack to praying for the hearts and repentance of the attackers.

We stop hacking at the branches and start attacking the root, because two can play that game and God’s already declared us the winners. We can do more than thwart enemy plans. We can also cause his players to defect to our side.

We can let people know they are safe. We can let them know they are loved. We can remind them they are the Beloved.

I don’t mean this in the vapid, politically-correct kind of way that throws around the word “love” like it’s the latest trendy hashtag and we can’t disagree on anything without calling it hate. We can and should disagree. We can and should hold firm to our deepest beliefs even if it offends people. And we should be safe to do so. We should be loved and loving whether we agree or not.

This is not rocket science. This is maturity.

We can’t make everyone feel safe and loved. But we can pray against fear, pride and insecurity. We can pray for people to have mature identities instead of just impassioned knee-jerk ignorance.

We can pray safety into our streets like there’s no tomorrow. Because for some tonight, there’s no tomorrow.

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We can pray deep and wide: deeply and often for our neighborhoods and our families, and wide and scattered over the intersections and businesses of our cities. In His authority we can cover these places with safety.

We can pray for government buildings, sidewalks, and bus stops. We can pray security into people as we pray over their homes, their workplaces, their driving routes.

Because all of these lives matter. Yours and mine and theirs.

We can pray shelter over each other, flinging it wide, everywhere we go.

totally normal: what these small days are for

“Would you like to hold my baby?” Chamberlain uses an exaggerated, high-pitched English accent whenever she plays this game, and holds a doll out to me. “His naaame is Jeeeesus.”

“Oh, sure – are you Mary?” She nods. Because Mary was British, don’t you know.

Afton looks at the doll. “That’s a pretty small baby. Is it a runt?”

“What is a r-r-r-runt?” Rolling her Rs, quite impressive.

“The smallest animal in a litter. You know, like Knightley.”

“Ooooohhoho, noooo!” She laughs like the Queen of Hearts. “My baby isn’t a r-r-r-runt, he’s a human!”

totally normal: what these small days are for

It was a normal day. You know, the kind that begins with a cat stepping in your coffee cup (with hot coffee in it) and ends with a different cat stepping on a freshly-painted windowsill and leaving oil-based tracks on the kitchen counter. But the rest of it was normal, except for three moose running through our backyard at a gallop, and after that, Cham asked if albino moose poop white nuggets.

So, besides that, totally normal.

Totally normal, like chugging down the highway and the new TobyMac song comes on the radio. We stop at the light and the Stagecoach is bouncing in time to the music. I look in the rearview mirror and Reagan is happy-flapping, grinning like someone in Wallace and Gromit.

Totally normal, like purging a bin of hoarded pajamas in five different sizes for a six-year-old who is in tears because the size 4 pair of mouse jammies can’t be given away because – ready for this? – it would make the mouse sad. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, I convinced her that the mouse is afraid of the cats on her other clothes. Boom — donated those jammies. Hashtag winning.

Totally normal, like walking back to my car from the library and remembering that I have no phone, I left it on the charger at home, and suddenly start imagining all sorts of terrible scenarios involving abduction and the police having to trace my whereabouts by a breadcrumb trail of pages of the books I’ve checked out – a history of folk art, a Nigella Lawson cookbook, a bunch of children’s sewing patterns, the latest Mitford novel. Several years of studying criminal justice in college, and this is all I have to show for it.

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(unedited photo of pre-coffee stupor)

 

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All of our days are normal here. Yours too? Nothing too exciting, and we honestly kind of want to keep it that way because, well, we’ve had too much of the one kind of excitement to last a good long while, thankyouverymuch, and we really don’t want to take the risk of that happening again.

These small days run together in a stream, flowing past us. And I wonder if they bring us closer to…what? The house we’re looking for? The breakthroughs we’re praying for? The goals and deadlines we’ve been working toward for years?

It’s easy to feel hemmed in and restless. We’re antsy for the next chapter, the ocean that’s deep and wide that we hope to eventually drop anchor in. And don’t even talk to me about mom-guilt, enjoying these days because they go so fast – moms already know this. The baby is ten months old and has four teeth already, and I’m pretty sure he’ll be driving tomorrow.

We plug through these oh-so-normal days, sitting in one place watching the river go by, and we maybe have the deep but not the wide – and sometimes we feel small and insignificant, and wonder where we are going…or if we are going anywhere at all.

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.

– Jeremiah 17:7-8, ESV

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We wonder if maybe we haven’t had breakthrough because we’re doing it wrong. Or because we’re not ready. Or because we’re not good enough, not big enough, not important enough for anything more than totally normal.

But maybe it’s none of those things. Because you’re not too small, or insignificant. You’re not a runt, you’re a human.

Maybe we’ve become resigned to our situation. Maybe we’re not desperate to hear from Him anymore because we’ve given up. Maybe we’ve gotten impatient with the process and we’re not trusting Him to finish.

Maybe we see this stream of days as an obstacle we can’t cross, when it was intended to be our provision, our foundation – and eventually, the road that takes us to the ocean faster than our own feet could carry us.

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More on doing what is right in front of you – when you’re limited, stuck, and can’t move – in the newsletter coming in just a few days. Subscribe here.

mea culpa: how we break a cycle that’s getting us nowhere

Well, I’m not proud of it, but it’s done. Finished. Time to move on and get our life back.

Mea culpa: how we break a cycle that’s getting us nowhere

That’s right, folks – I’m talking about how we spent the last three weeks binge-watching seasons four, five, and six of Downton Abbey, months after everyone else wept and waxed eloquent over the series finale.

Now we can weep and wax eloquent, too.

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Now our evenings are normal again. Now we are responsible again. Now we will do things again, like spring cleaning. Like getting ready to sell the house. Like laundry.

Actually, the laundry isn’t really Downton Abbey’s fault. Our dryer stopped working – it would run an unending cycle, but without heat – and when Vince finally had a chance to figure out what was wrong with it (between episodes, of course) we discovered that dryers go on strike once they have accumulated a certain amount of legos, screws, and bobby pins in their bowels. This is hauntingly similar to our discovery that ice-cube makers don’t digest glitter.

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But my appliance-fixing hero husband gave the dryer a bowelectomy or something on Monday, and we are back on track. Which is great, because some of us were dangerously low on clean underwear, favorite socks, and, um, bobby pins. Mea culpa.

Now we can focus on getting ready to move. We have a whole list of tasks: some painting, some trimming, some caulking, little things here and there. It helps that it’s spring. ‘Tis the season for doing the dirty work of cleaning vents and corners and window crevices anyway.

And He’s doing it with us, too. We’re ready for a new season, and the big move isn’t just a physical thing. A laundry list of items that need to be dealt with emerges – heart issues, attitudes, habits, and routines. It’s time to clear the clutter, remove what’s taking up too much space, and make way for breakthrough. We need it. Our kids need it.

This may shock you since your children are probably perfect, but our kids are not perfect and a few of them have had a rough go of it lately. I’ve also had a rough go of it lately. I’ve struggled with irreverent thoughts, like, Hundreds of years ago some mother in Mexico was doing the same kinds of impossible, aggravating things. She was teaching her kids, cleaning her home, cooking food for everyone. She probably couldn’t help her six-year-old understand place value in arithmetic, either, and that’s when she invented Tequila.

I’ve been at a loss for how to pray and intervene sometimes. I’ve wondered if a certain kid’s continued disobedience is because he’s just not ready or because we’re doing something wrong. I’ve wondered if I’ve become resigned to it. I’ve wondered if I’m a good enough mother. We torture ourselves with these kinds of thoughts, the debris that churns round and round, shorting our circuits and blowing our fuses.

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.

– Isaiah 53:4, ESV

I keep praying the same thing over and over, and still see the same choices, the same mistakes, the same hardness, and what I’m praying doesn’t seem to be helping. And I’ve scrubbed the bathroom in desperation and relief, knowing that if I couldn’t make a child speak correctly, couldn’t make him do his business in the toilet every time, couldn’t make him want to be healthy and whole and free, I could at least send him to bed for a while so I could eat breakfast two hours late and clean the bathroom and pray about it.

At least, for crying out loud, I could clean the mirrors.

And that’s all any of us can do. Just take care of what is in the mirror.

And He told me, Look for the same thing in yourself, Love. Find the log in your own eye, even if you only think it’s the tiniest speck. If you don’t think you even have that, ask Me, and I’ll show you what I want you to rout out and redeem. Confess and repent of it to clear the way, and your prayer for this loved one will be powerful and effective.

We tend to accumulate all sorts of emotional clutter and collateral damage. Repentance is our best routine maintenance.

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It’s just a faint reflection of what He did for us – He looked at Himself, stainless, and when there was no log or speck to pluck out, He took the whole tree instead. For us.

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

– Isaiah 53:5-6, ESV

Mea culpa. My fault.

There was a really hard day not too long ago, and I needed immediate words for one of our kiddos – words that pursue truth without pushing away, words that don’t let the behavior slide but also don’t miss what’s going on underneath. They needed to be words that helped him see in the mirror clearly instead of further distorting the image. And He gave me the words, but after I said them I realized they were for me, too.

They’re words we all need to hear on days that we’re not proud of. Here they are:

How you’ve acted this morning (this week, this year) is not who you are. I hope you start acting like yourself real soon.

We pray for those who are falling and those who have fallen and those who are walking wounded from their choices – and it’s their choices that we can do nothing about, though we see so clearly the grief they are causing. But we can look in the mirror and find our own frail humanity and need for grace just as much, and then pray more effectively because compassion has swept the debris out of the way.

It’s the same thing I’ve been telling one of my oldest kids over and over, but I didn’t realize it was for me, too: Until we take responsibility for ourselves and how we affect others, we will run around in circles progressing nowhere. And then we feel and recognize His forgiveness – the gentle joy that revels in victory – and the breakthrough from the battle is for us and our kids and all of our loved ones, and we know He is accomplishing it in those we are interceding for, too, because His kindness leads us to repentance. Instead of the grinding downward spiral, it’s a cycle that always leads to our truest self, and more life. And we need to get our life back.