Busyness is not Evidence

Every year about this time, I start a list highlighting my contributions at school- how many times I covered another class, how many letters of recommendation I wrote, how often I attended games or concerts or dances. I account for time; I consider every minute and hour precious; I don’t want to miss any effort I put forth. This same accounting of time happens in conversations with friends: how many hours we spent at our kid’s practices, at work, in the car. And frankly, I’m over it. I’m not wearing busyness as a badge anymore. If, as the aphorism says, Actions speak louder than words, then I would argue, Purpose speaks louder yet. Busyness, in itself, is not evidence: of success, of importance, of value.

grayscale photography of people walking in train station

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Busyness prevents quality. You may be doing all the things, but none are likely flourishing. Your desk may be free of piles, but your family may have eaten peanut butter and jelly all week (that would be quality meals in Anika’s mind, but that’s another argument). Your kids made it to every practice, but you missed numerous opportunities to minister to someone. Busyness is often self-focused, actually. We do all the things for all the accolades. We live to be deemed a great mom, an excellent worker, an active member of any group to which we align. We feel important, needed, fulfilled. But numbers (of time, activities, achievements) do not equal value. They may not reveal our heart or our priorities. This year I have tried to become a curator of purpose. My choices of time spent are museum exhibits of my values, my skills, and my goals rather than checklists of accomplishments.
I don’t engage in comparisons of time to feel important. Tell me your kid went to 7 synchronized swimming practices this week. Boast that she will be ready for the Olympics in no time. Good for you! You have won some invisible battle of whose kid is busier and whose future goals seem more attainable. I’m not in that battle, parents. My kids may do only two practices a week. Why? Because I’ve decided to curate balance in their lives, too. I value strength and skill, but I also value rest, quality time, and curiosity and ingenuity that are built in unscheduled moments. Tell me all the list you accomplish weekly, too. Mine may be shorter, or not, but I have shaved it back, on purpose. I was volunteering for many activities, but when I stopped to fit them into an exhibit of my values, I realized that some of them were simply filling space; they weren’t fulfilling my value of helping others build independence or revealing my love for Jesus. I still volunteer, but my list is shorter and my expectations are higher. I align myself to organizations and efforts that put people first. I focus on moments that I can build relationships, that I can make a future-focused difference in the life of someone else. I take my faith outside the walls of my church. For example, I gave up providing food for events I used to be frequently cooking and baking for and started taking birthday meals to teens living in a group home. I’ll bet you can guess which feels more fulfilling, which reveals my heart for teens in need. I don’t miss the weekly expectation of food preparation for meetings and events, but I love moving my schedule around to sit and sing Happy Birthday to a teen who needs meaningful relationships. I am working very hard to prune my branches. The best fruit comes from a trimmed tree. Overgrowth is a tangled mess; that’s how I would define myself when I take on too much. My fruit is small and meager the more I overfill my schedule and my mind.
You, if you live in our modern American society, might be wearing a badge of busyness too. Your schedule might be teetering on the brink of implosion; you might be weary; your family might be suffering from one too many evenings of minivan meals to and from practices. I get it. I still have busy days. I overcommit, then scramble to fulfill my responsibilities. I’m a work in progress. But I don’t let busyness be my badge of honor. I am taking the reins. My lists are more in response to the big question: How does this show Christ to others? How does this teach my children strength, character, and empathy?
We all have busyness brought on by careers, by babies and children, by family expectations, by hobbies and interests. But when we make busyness our measuring stick of success, we are missing the mark. We are failing to fulfill what makes us useful and purposeful. We are creating a legacy for our kids of stress, of anxiety, of quantity over quality. We are not bearing healthy fruit or making lasting marks. We are exhausting ourselves in futility. If you feel this way, make a list- not a to-do list. Been there, rode that ride. Make a list of values. Then align your activities to your list. If one does not match to a value, cut it. It’s out. You will be surprised how many things we do out of expectation, obligation, or routine rather than out of purpose.  You will also be surprised how much fulfillment comes from a well-pruned schedule, one that allows your life to reflect your heart.

*Read Haggai 1:5-11.  It has me thinking me about purpose in a completely different way. That’s a conversation I’d love to tease out sometime.  

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All Things New

The soil is kicked up by the weather-weary chickens, its darkness covering the garden and spilling out over the walkway and the drive.  Frustrated, I brush it back with a shop broom, for what feels like the millionth time this late-arriving spring. As I cover the garden in black soil, I see the beginnings of hostas, the evidence of lilies; their shoots are small, but they are there.  The greenness declares itself, unfurling a sliver of hope on a dark Michigan April afternoon. The life is always there, actually. Reverberating beneath the snow with the hum of hope, a promise of fruition.

white petaled flowers

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It was dark, I imagine, and rainy, in the sense of an angsty melodrama, that day the Christ was buried in the tomb.  The stone was gray and foreboding, the dirt dark around the feet of the followers. There was sadness, surely; the deep loss of a friend, but also a trusted and revered leader; there was something else, too; the anger and frustration of hope crushed, dreams destroyed.  Questions without answers swarmed in the heads of those who followed. How could this darkness be redeemed? What was gained in the loss? The shortsighted nature of humanity was left to piece together a plan that didn’t include their irreplaceable Guide. Three days of wonder, of question, of desperation, felt like eternity.

And then: resurrection.  God’s promise was revealed in an empty tomb.  The desperation fell off like the grave shroud of the Savior.  Hope was renewed. A sense of purpose and promise was restored; imagine the rejoicing!

The short span of three days held the grief, the disbelief, the joy all in one story- the ultimate Story.  Yet people live so often in the brevity of darkness between Christ’s death and His resurrection. We brush back the dirt of daily struggle and ignore the sprouts of hope pushing through.  We feel lost without a plan, without expectation or anticipation. We are paralyzed by what feels like emptiness. But we are the fortunate ones who can see the story from start to finish.  We are not the followers who, in that moment, may have vacillated between trust and fear. We see the triumphant nature of the resurrection in the shadow of the cross, not the face of it.

So why do we despair?  To me, the resurrection means all things are made new.  His resurrection means my suffering is always temporary.  No matter what I face today, or tomorrow, or years from now, God willing, those tribulations are already redeemed.  My life is already redeemed. The promise is already fulfilled. I am not waiting in doubt, but in anticipation. He is risen!

To Be Known

    The small room was almost full, but it could have been an amphitheater of thousands, I felt so unseen, so insignificant. The meeting began, and I listened to the volley of ideas. It was like a game of Double Dutch, and the voices slapped the floor while I watched for an entrance. Then, the uncomfortable moment when we split into breakout groups; not one woman asked my name, no one moved a purse or bag as an invitation to sit together. I left the evening an hour later unseen, and more sadly, unknown.

    Haven’t we all been there? Back in the gym lineup waiting to be picked. Hoping to be called on in a group. Praying to be invited to the table at lunch. Wanting to be known. I have known it, and in my darkest hours, desired it most. It is the heart of us all: to be known.

   I am comforted to feel known and loved by God.  “But you, O Lord, know me; you see me, and test my heart toward you” (Jeremiah 12:3). He promises, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27) and Luke writes, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” I have felt God’s deep love for me and understanding of me. In some dark moments, I felt only His love and understanding carrying me through.

    But we are relational people. We crave understanding. We engage in dialogue, write blogs and op-eds hoping to share our deepest thoughts, to be heard and understood, meet for dinner or coffee just to chat. And when we feel alone, misunderstood, ignored, we wonder how to connect. I have been there at points in my journey,  and I have made it a mission to know others. In knowing others, I become known. In investing in relationships, I gain understanding and empathy, compassion and care. I believe that knowing others is how I show God’s love and devotion, how I become His hands and feet. I don’t want to be part of any group that does not aim to know people in an authentic way, to meet needs and carry burdens, to love through understanding, not ignorance.

    It is also why I question groups or events or ideas that forget about people. If God has made His priority to love me by knowing me intimately and wholly, I can only know to reflect Him in that same endeavor. Knowing people, and allowing ourselves to be known, is messy, time-consuming, and sometimes disappointing. It requires risk, on both sides. To be known, I have to be honest; I have to tell my story unflinchingly; I have to trust broadly, with hope rather than fear. To know others, I have to be willing to take late-night phone calls, to reserve judgment, to bear burdens that are not my own. It is of little surprise that we are so averse to the reality of it, in spite of the beauty of the thought of it.

    But I am not one to flinch from a challenge or shrink from a command. I am confident in this: I have felt unknown, and it felt much like being unloved. Had I not known the love and acceptance of Christ,  I would have felt fully the despair of being alone in my struggle. As part of the Church collective, I cannot fail to reveal this love through my efforts to know and love others. God commands us to, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). He reminds us to “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). I am early on in my true endeavor to do this actively and purposefully, but I am confident that it is a step toward knowing and being known, and that in doing it, I am closer to finding the heart of God, who promised to know each of us so fully that we would understand the depth of His love for us.

people sitting in front of wooden table

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Sneak Attack

I can go back to the wood slat pews of Sunday School and repeat a song all about putting on the armor of God. At middle school church camp, we sang a revamped version that ended in, “I’m ready for the battle” and because we were rad 90s preteens, we played up an echo…”ready for the battle…ready for the battle”. It seemed as easy as throwing on your clothes in the morning, and I thought I WAS ready…until I wasn’t!

We spend our fair share of time planning the battles we will enter in our own lives. We create a little model battlefield in our head and strategize. We pray for strength, and wisdom, and bravery. But we also make many prideful assumptions. We ignore chinks in our own armor, or evidence of the enemy, or we pretend to know what battles God may allow us to endure. And suddenly, we are ambushed by a sneak attack- an unexpected disease or death, a personal affront or unbearable relational pain. And instantly, we are bereft. Our well-laid plans are scattered. Our faith is shaken. Our enemy gains ground in our mind and in our heart. We are overtaken with Whys?

I was talking to a friend about marriage and this thought came to me. We write our “for better or for worse” and then are shocked when our marriage goes off-script. Not only do we dream about what For Better will look like, but we define what For Worse we will face. I could handle A, B, C, but I could never survive: an addiction, infidelity, loss of a child. So when one of those never-could-imagine evils shakes us, we are overcome.

I have watched plenty of these scenarios play out in my life and those around me, and I feel helpless to answer the well-worn question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” All I can come to in my limited understanding is that our world is full of pain, but our God is full of healing. And because I can’t answer why He doesn’t protect us from all pain, and I avoid most theological debates, I will focus on the healing. I will consider what the Worse moments in my marriage have taught me, and I will be happy that “I’m not there anymore”, waiting for my husband to get home safely from the bar, for example. I will allow myself to feel pain, and to question its allowance in my life, but I will turn that pain to God’s  glory. I will focus on redemption not only as a one-time salvation from sin, but a constant redeeming of situations beyond my control or imagination. I will chant in good times and whisper in bad, that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).  I will tell the Enemy, like Joseph told his conniving brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done” (Genesis 50:20).

I have been walking alongside many friends and family carrying unbearable burdens lately, and I feel so lost in it all. I flounder in questions, I withhold advice, and my unflappable optimism feels, well, flapped. I go back to my own moments of pain, and I try to think what I needed in those moments, and I try to just be THAT…empathy in action.  And I lay at the feet of Jesus and fight the urge to question and force myself to believe that God intends it all for good, and I just stay there, soaking in the love and promises until I am ready to face it all again. And I suppose that over all that spiritual armor is a cloak of God’s redeeming love that takes us through all those battles and ambushes and attacks. For now, I’ll cling to that.

 

New Year, New Me?

I am spending my final hours of 2018 disinfecting surfaces and purging leftovers, outgrown clothing, and unnecessary expectations.  Those all need to go. And as they go, I’m reflecting on the year. It was a good one; by far not my most exciting, but certainly not my most tragic.  And amidst all of the crazy and the mundane, one truth stands out: I was more relaxed and less stressed than I have been in the past. I’ve been more able to shed stressors, ignore negativity, and experience fulfillment.  On a practical level, I’m sitting in my pile of stuff today, bagging it, trashing it, or setting it away, hypothesizing why.

I’ve spent a long span of my lifeline caring an awful lot about tangibles and intangibles that, if I’m honest, don’t matter.  I have cared what people thought about me way too much. I have thought about financial competition far too often. I have worried about success measured by weight loss, number of volunteer hours, fleeting happiness, and other gauges that are at best, unreliable, and at worst, a distraction from what matters.  

As I have sifted through all of the variables to get to some scientific reason for my greater contentment this year, my focus has continued to return to one element: my conscious decision to live authentically FOR ME.  My prayer has been constantly to know what God wants FROM ME and FOR ME, and to lean into that expectation. That has happened in many ways, from how I’ve given of my time and finances, to how I’ve let go of expectations of time and effort that, while good, were taking away from His plans for me.  

I see this tug in all of us in some way.  We feel inhibited by expectations. Our boss wants one thing from us, our spouse another, our friends want something else.  We become overwhelmed in the balancing act of all of it. Sometimes we feel empty, and we fill that longing with tasks, hobbies, items,and ideas that grow beyond our control of them.  Maybe we simply feel lost. I’ve been there, too. I didn’t know at all what I needed at turning points in my life, and I became frustrated, sad, and lonely. I blamed circumstances, I blamed others, I blamed God.  

As I write it out this way, I realize that the part of me that has most changed in recent years is that I have learned how to recognize what I need and balance it with contentment for what I have.  Knowing yourself is a lengthy and sometimes scary endeavor, but it is a journey that is well worth the trouble. There is vulnerability in being honest with yourself, but there is also strength. I choose daily to love my life and the choices that got me here.  Dwelling on mistakes I’ve made or what I don’t have does not make me who I want to be.

I can see that this sounds like a real “rah-rah” know yourself hug fest.  It’s why I sometimes avoid this topic, like I avoid vapid self-help books.   I am all about it: personal strength, contentment, self-love, but I can’t let this moment flit by without emphasizing what truly makes this work for me.  God has made this work for me. Sounds trite, I know. I could quote a bevy of Bible verses here, but instead, I’ll just say that my belief in a Creator has allowed me to accept the way I was created and also to know that I am part of a plan.  There is nothing trite about that. I know for me, that learning about myself, instead of breeding selfishness and self-love, has turned me outward more and more. I don’t have to worry about myself. I can set personal goals, have hobbies and interests, and be fun, silly, serious, as the situation requires.  But I also have much more time and energy to be something for someone else. I have more time to listen, more time to help, more wisdom and love to share. New Year’s is often a selfish time- our resolutions are wrapped up in our wants and needs, our well-laid plans, our meaningful attempts at change. But in all of this climbing toward contentment, I have found myself most able to shed selfishness and live a life reflective of Christ.  I’m certainly not there yet, but I’m proud to see progress. Tracing God’s promises fulfilled over the years, His provision during emptiness, His wisdom in my trouble, I am confident in His plan, and I’m thankful for contentment. It has taken me a long time to find it.

I’m not a real proponent of New Year’s resolutions, but I pray for all of you, as well as for me this year, these things: opportunities to grow, an ability to know yourself, an abiding faith in positive outcomes, a deep understanding of God’s plan for you, and contentment that breeds joy rather than competition that breeds anxiety.

God Knew

I imagine the night as cold and bustling, noisy and confused.  It might feel like the stereotypical family vacation: tired children, stressed mamas, frustrated fathers.  It probably didn’t sound like silence, look like glittering candlelight, feel like a fireside.  Welcome to our world, Jesus.

For the many, many years that prophets had told of Him, you would think the world would have been better prepared.  Glistening garlands, choruses of carols, abundant presents, and above all, lives scrubbed clean for the arrival of a Messiah.  But just like the last-minute shoppers, the impatient workers, the frustrated families, the people weren’t ready.  God knew; there was no facade of preparation and perfection that could trick His omniscient eye.  He knew, and He sent Jesus anyway.

God knew that Jesus was coming to a stable, not a palace.  He knew that His first bed would be a manger, not a crib.  He knew that Jesus would be denied, hated, discounted, and betrayed.  He knew, and He sent Jesus anyway. As Chris Rice sings, He “wraps our injured flesh around Him”, “Breathes our air and walks our sod”.  He is with us, among us, one of us, but Holy. Oh, so Holy.

Today, not much has changed.  He knows our world is broken, violent, ambivalent.  He knows my heart is selfish and self-righteous.  He sees my unpreparedness, and He gives me Jesus anyway.  Like the neighbor with no pretense, He invites himself into our mess, if we are willing.  And, whether ignored or rejected, He keeps offering to walk among us, with us, beside us.

It feels fitting that the first Christmas was housed in a stable.  Because really, our lives are so much more like stables than palaces.  At best, mundane and simple; at worst, dirty and unkempt.  And at the center of it all, God births Holiness right onto the earth.  He knew how badly we needed Him.  And He knew that no matter how long He waited, the world would not be ready.  How could we be?  Yet here He is.  Emmanuel. God with us. The most timely gifts come at the most unexpected moments, and the most needed presents are often the most surprising.  God doesn’t wait for us to ask for what we need; He knows, just like He knew then.

jesus christ figurine

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Try to Be Good

I read the note on the nightstand in the dark silence of midnight.  The list, punctuated by her open-mouthed snoring, went like this:

Get sweatshirt

Brush teethpaper

Brush hair

Eat breakfast

Try to be good

Listed like a simple to-do: “try to be good”, revealing that she had to work at it, her body’s ego reminding her childish id to sit still, be quiet, don’t hit.  I smirked- “that’s my girl”, the fiery one who won’t ever be taken advantage of, who is too smart not to realize society’s constraints on her, our expectations, her responsibility.  This girl, a test of wills, a match of won’ts, a struggle of if’s, is at the moment my most pressing concern and my most beloved task.

And as so often in parenting, I see the struggle with her as the struggle in me, and in more broad strokes, the struggle in humanity.  We all truly suffer from much the same errors and intentions. We all start our days and years with lists that somehow end with “try to be good”, whether it is not eating that donut or not lying on the job application, not coveting his new car or whispering about her bad behavior.  And we see the remnants left of so many whose checklist goes unmarked; those who simply could not “be good” in that instant or that era, that chose once or daily to skip that step. We are left amidst discarded daily lists, cut into a million tiny pieces by the sharp edges of the errors of others and ourselves.

How do I teach her this step?  By example, certainly, but beyond that.  My high schoolers just heard my talk about living “above reproach”, defined and described in our reading of Oedipus and our discussion of current celebrities and politicians, a Tragic Hall of Shame assignment that hits too close to home with its idea that we all struggle with a tragic flaw, one that threatens to bring us down, looms behind our good intentions with quiet ferocity, ready to devour our good name.  So we talked, a “mom moment” between myself and 28 grown children on the precipice of adulthood, then I went home to that still small 8-year-old and tried to hack it down to one-syllable lists of advice on good behavior. And it felt trite, and uncertain, because really, what does it mean to be good anyway?  Is it to be seen and not heard?  Or to stand up for the bullied kid?  Is it to accept what you are told? Or to question who is telling you?  Is it to follow the crowd? Or to mark your own path? Is it dependent on situation, on person, on context, or is good always the same?

I suppose this is how we all got stuck in this thorny situation, from Oedipus in old greek text to Old Testament sins of the fathers to today’s news stories of the faltering and the fallen. I am not naive enough to see good as relative, but I am honest enough to see it as full of dichotomies that an 8-year-old can realize but not understand, just like the rest of us.  I am also honest enough to know it should be on every day’s list, brought to the forefront of our discipline in every decision, mundane or monumental.  And in an admission to her, and to me, that being good is so often beyond our human grasp, I tell the story of Israel, ending confidently with God’s promise in Isaiah, that your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.” It is when I remember that none of us are doing this alone that I feel more confident that I can guide her, if not through my voice, then through the voice of Almighty, and through her own tender heart that simply wants to be good.

Year 32

Tomorrow is my 32nd first day of school.  Thirty-two nights before of nerves and excitement.  Thirty-two times figuring out my lunch and who will sit by me (yes- this still happens).  Thirty-two times setting out my most impressive outfit (by the way- nothing is impressive by the end of a 90-degree day in a sweaty classroom- just sayin’).  Unlike people in other professions, my life is punctuated yearly by first days- and no two first days are the same. There is sometimes sheer joy at the idea of getting back into novel talks, and other times, there is utter despair at a troublesome educational turn.  But there is one reason I keep coming back for more first days: my kids.

My kids are big.  They aren’t cuddly preschoolers or silly second graders.  I don’t usually get Christmas gifts, or poorly drawn portraits with scribbled “You’re my favorite!”  I do get eye rolls, sarcastic jokes, unwanted hugs (I warn them- I’m not a toucher!), and emails from college freshman telling me about classes- I’ve had 2 in the last week, and both had me laughing out loud and reminiscing happily.   But most importantly,  my students give me HOPE.  I grow weary of Facebook bickering, political posturing, impatient driving, mom-shaming: these are the signs of adults who are cranky, tired, hopeless.  I don’t get tired of dreaming about college, talking about possibilities, listening to fresh ideas.

Kids get a bad rap in society fairly often.  They are tied to the phones; they are disrespectful; they don’t work hard.  I hate to say it, but they often imitate what they see.  I can see this in my 5-year-old; how can I expect it to be different in my 17-year-old?  So I go back every year praying I am worthy to be imitated.  These pictures on my first-day roster are already making me better.  I am thinking about my first impression.  I am setting goals.  I am considering new challenges.  I want to give them something they will find valuable enough to grasp at, even if their best is not exactly what I envisioned.

But it is more than kids just being imitators.  Kids are often inspiring to me.  They have stories that are sometimes overlooked but always important.  How did that girl get to first period every day on time after taking care of younger siblings and getting them all to school?  I can hardly wrestle my kids out the door on time.  How did that kid with the knee injury stick with daily therapy and pain to get back out on the field in unprecedented time?  I will use any excuse to get out of a workout!  Why did that student go out of the way every day to walk that outcast to class?  Most adults would want some sort of recognition, but he did it out of inherent goodness.  For every story you hear of bullying in schools, there are numerous other stories about kids doing the right thing, being stand up citizens, going beyond expectation.

Those are the reasons I go back every September.  The kids keep me on my toes.  The ones who challenge me make me dig deep to be better, to resolve conflict, to grow patience.  The ones who inspire me make me rise up to meet them, to challenge my own faults, to sharpen my own empathy.  And somehow, in the midst of all the negativity surrounding school these days, my classroom feels safe and inspiring.  Fifteen firsts standing in front of a few thousand kids has not lost its shine.  So I will keep going back, and I guarantee that each year I do, I am gleaning as much or more from my kids as I hope they are from me.  chairs.jpg

Without Fear of the Future

The blog has been at the edge of my mind for a long time; I have numerous partial posts saved in my files, but I haven’t focused on finalizing any one of them.  But the tides of change often stir me again, and tonight, in the dark, I am teasing out a thought that keeps coming back to me this summer. I’ll share it with you, as I’m sure many of you can relate:

I’ve written often about my worry (HERE and HERE and a little HERE). I’ve written about experiencing worry and overcoming worry.  But every time a new life change looms, I have to find ways to remind myself that I have given it up.  I don’t need to wear worry like a cloak anymore.  I can walk unhindered without it.  Part of the journey has been growing my faith, and part has been accepting uncertainty, and part has been finding contentment.  And as I do all of those, God prompts me in ways both quiet and deafening.  I often run with a summer group of ladies named LAUGH.  This year, some of their group t-shirts are scripted with Proverbs 31:25- “She is clothed in strength and dignity and she laughs without fear of the future.”  That has become my loud and clear battle cry this summer.

I’ve read Proverbs 31 plenty of times- after all, it is the to-do list for the Christian woman, right?  And sometimes I chafed under that idea of it.  Could I meet all those expectations?  Did I even want to?  And I think in that self-righteous indignation (I don’t much care for being told what to do or who to be) I missed many gems of wisdom that God keeps laying before me as I grow.  This summer God gave me verse 25 because he knew that I would need it.  I went into summer with a goal that was big for me.  I signed up to compete in a triathlon.  If you remember, I quit run camp last year due to health stuff, went back into this winter with a little different plan and goal, and reached the end of it with this big goal of a triathlon.  I joined a training group of ladies, laid out my plan, and determined to do it.  But as so often happens, plans are hindered by life’s twists.  In June, Nick parted ways with his business partners.  It felt a little like jumping without a parachute- the next steps were not fully clear.  There was some waiting and waiting and waiting.  (Because I’m so terrible at waiting, I believe God keeps giving me opportunity to practice.)

As the job plan solidified, I realized two things:  1) my training plan was definitely going to suffer; 2) my financial plan was also on wavering ground.  Some of these realizations came during summer vacation in Traverse City, a time when I wanted to be lounging carefree at the beach and eating ice cream with laissez-faire.  I did not want to fall into a

barefoot beach blur break

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muddy desperation or an exhausting reconfiguring of plans, so in the midst of it all, I kept coming back to the words, “she laughs without fear of the future.”   I love the use of the word “laughs”.  God doesn’t say, she PLANS or she DESIGNS or she RECONFIGURES.  Those all sound tiring, not at all like my beach-lounging hopes.  He says she LAUGHS.  Laughter is not forced; it is not a conscious choice; instead, it bubbles up from moments of joy.  Laughter lessens stress, calms nerves, and positively affects those around us.  And I found many moments in that week and the week that followed to laugh.  It buoyed me out of that desperate place of worry where I used to find myself.

I used to fear so much of the future; I busily tried to control variables in my relationships, my finances, my health, and even my faith in order to avoid the thought of the unknown.  And in recent years, God has led me from fear into faith.  But I was often still missing the joy that can be present in the unknown.  I was teeth-gritted, focused, determined to not be afraid, but I can’t say that the laughter was rolling forth.  This summer, I can see that laughter is a sign of the next step.  It is not the careless laughter of sweeping problems under the rug (I was a pro at that in my early marriage), but the confident laughter of knowing without a doubt that life will untangle itself without me getting all tied up in the midst of it.

I came home from vacation with a revamped plan.  Nick is traveling for work for a while, and I am doing my best to squeeze in training with a little help from my family and friends, a little creativity, and a little patience from my girls.  I learned long ago, and am continuously reminded, that finances also work themselves out in their own way.  This week it was a well-timed dollar sale at Meijer.  Next week- we’ll see.  But I feel happy.  No gritted teeth here this time.  I am too STRONG to quit, to DIGNIFIED to cry, and I am laughing my way through it- not fake giggling or attention-seeking guffawing, but joyous, trusting, liberating laughter.

Whatever you are facing, wherever you find yourself right now, I hope you can find joy.  Trust the process- mine has been unfolding for years.  It is a bit like watching my girls learn to swim: there is the letting go, the sinking, the reaching for safety, but underneath the water, the constant kicking for the surface and the unwavering hand nearby to hold you above the danger.  And when the pieces begin to fall into place, there is the joy and satisfaction of having succeeded.

Broken Cisterns

“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

Jeremiah 2:13

I’ve been digging for years. The soil is sometimes sandy; it doesn’t hold its shape; the rain passes through it without leaving any moisture.  Or the soil is rocky; my small spade bends; the hole is shallow and uneven.  But I am nothing if not persistent, and I keep digging, intent to complete a well and fill it with sustaining water.  Sometimes I am digging into ministry.  I am volunteering; I am “showing up”; I am hurrying and planning and doing in a flurry of religious fervor.  Other times I am digging into reflection.  I am reading; I am listening; I am choosing this person’s words or that person’s ideas to fill in my philosophy.  But whether I am doing or listening, running or waiting, helping or hoping, the power is often draining out the bottom of me like a sieve, faster than I can replenish it on my own.

I find myself like wandering Israel, wanting fulfillment but returning to broken cisterns.  Sometimes the cisterns are obvious- bad habits, even good habits, that are not building me up in Christ.  More often the cisterns are hidden.  As an avid book lover, I read many words; I am interested in the ideas and philosophies and beliefs of many.  Yet I often turn to books, studies, and sermons before turning to the Book.  I love events: times of fellowship, activities to promote God’s love. But I do not always actively pursue God.  I am digging, and digging, and digging, but the water is shallow;  it is seeping out of cracks in my life that I cannot fill with books or studies or people.  Like the Israelites who, “have forsaken Me, the spring of Living Water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water”, my work is not met with fulfillment, no matter how fervent my attempt.  And in reflection, it seems silly.  The source of Living Water is near, but my independent digging feels useful?  My futility is laughable.

From the outside, finding God in the midst of the desert should have been easy.  There were few distractions.   There were many needs.  But God felt so far away. And the people dug and dug and dug to find water, but their attempt was futile.  And so is mine.  I want God near.  I dig in the dirt to find Him.  It gives me purpose; it makes me feel like an active participant in my faith.  But man-made cisterns are not watertight. The filling is weakened by a constant, slow emptying.  It is the opposite of a spring, a constant steady provision of water.  So how do I set aside my digging to find the Living Water?  It is reading His Word, listening to His voice, waiting on His call.  Why do I insist on complicating my life with dirt and stones and shovels, when He has simply asked me to listen and wait on Him?   

He whispers, You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” -Jeremiah 29:13