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Back to Simplicity

Note: I wrote this a month ago while we were homeless. I have no idea how I missed posting it, but I still stand behind what it says, so here it is:

Just over three weeks ago, my husband, son, and I sold our house, five weeks before we could close on another one. In October my oldest son bought a house, and he invited us to stay with him. We said yes.

At this moment, 95% of what we own is in a storage unit across town. For the first few days we visited often as we added to it and tried to find the most important things to bring to my son’s house. But for the last two weeks, we’ve not visited our things at all.

I had been writing about decluttering and living a simpler life. I think this qualifies. My husband, son, two dogs and I are sharing a bedroom. My wardrobe is in a box, and for the sake of simplicity I haven’t dug down too far, so I keep wearing the same two or three items over and over again. We have nothing personal around–photos, art, decorations. Everything is my son’s. All of my hobbies are buried in the storage shed, so I do a lot of wandering and wash a lot of dishes to keep busy.

I don’t miss most of my things. I wish I hadn’t buried my planner or my son’s gradebook. I hope I find the grade book again, because his entire fall semester of grades is in there. Our cats were farmed out to family, and I really miss them. I want my dresser so I can lay out clothes so I can see them. But for the most part, my stuff is extra.

Granted, my son has kitchenware and dishes, so it’s not like we cook over a fire pit with sticks. He has towels and toilet paper. We’re living in a fully furnished house, only very little of it belongs to us. And I don’t really miss the stuff that does belong to us.

I’m excited about moving back to my own place. Not sharing a bedroom with a teenage boy. Room to spread out a little bit. A new yard that’s a wide open blank slate. But the time here with my son has been educational. It’s nice to know I’m not hopelessly attached to my stuff. We’re moving to the country, but my son lives in an urban neighborhood, and I’ve enjoyed that, especially the variety of races and ethnic groups we meet when we go shopping nearby. It’s good to know we can thrive where we didn’t plan to be and enjoy life when it doesn’t exactly follow the plan.

God blessed us with a place in the country, but I’m glad we had this little respite to hang out with my son and live a different kind of life.

Waiting

Birth Jesus silhouette of the crib in Bethlehem and candlesI’ve barely given a nod to Christmas this year. We’re house hunting, thinking about packing, trying to make plans for the future, and Christmas has fallen to the wayside.

In my denomination we celebrate Advent, the month leading to Christmas. It’s a time of waiting. And yet I bet for Mary, that last month before the first Christmas was more than just waiting. She had things to do. Baby clothes to make. Packing for the census travel that took her to Bethlehem. Talking to friends about pregnancy, birth, newborns. Getting ready for parenthood is work.

But then the baby came. Also in our denomination we talk about the Christmas season. Twelve days of it. I suspect once baby Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph slowed down for a few days. Mary rested. I’m sure God’s promises took new meaning when that baby was finally in her arms. She learned to feed him. She watched him sleep. Joseph listened for him to breathe at night, thinking about their little one’s future. They figured out his feeding and sleeping schedule. For a few precious days, they could simply watch and reflect and delight that he was here.

I’m glad to take a few days off house hunting and packing to celebrate Christmas. Whether I’m prepared or not, it’s here. It hasn’t been a normal holiday season, but that’s okay. I can still slow down and focus on the baby sleeping in the hay. The boy growing up in Nazareth. The man preaching in Jerusalem. The savior sitting on a throne. I didn’t do a great job of Advent this year, but God never said I had to. Advent and Christmas are based on biblical events, but God never said we had to celebrate them. It benefits us, but it’s not mandatory. This year I’m especially glad of that.

Next year I’ll celebrate from another place. I have no idea where that will be. But I hope by then life will slow down, and I can take time to focus on the truths of Advent and Christmas. Until then, I want to wish all of my readers and friends a time of peace this year. Whether it’s a month or a day or an hour, I hope you can find time to reflect, like Mary and Joseph did, that the promised child truly came, and he did more than his parents ever expected of him. I don’t think anyone knew, on that very first night, just what had come to the world, and what kind of victories God had planned through him. It’s amazing to think about.

Merry Christmas.

When God has to Sweep Up

moving-2This fall and winter I made a bit of a mess in my life. It wasn’t sinful, just unwise. For reasons I still can’t entirely pinpoint, I decided it would be a great time to put our house on the market and try to move to a more rural setting. My husband agreed, mostly because sometimes it’s hard to tell me no. My son, a junior in high school, sort of agreed for the same reason.

So, we worked to clean and repair our house. We put it on the market thinking we had plenty of time to look for another house and move. On the first day we got one offer. The second day, two more. So, forty-eight hours into the listing, at the end of November, our house sold.

We started looking, and this was where I realized I had made a grand mistake. Our house is unique. Big house in a neighborhood where houses don’t cost much. Big yard for a city house. Treed lot because seventeen years I planted a heap of bushes and trees.

Rural houses we can afford aren’t ideal. Too far for any kind of internet, which would cut off my home school son from the world. Winding roads that aren’t great for my husband, who works second shift and drives home in the dark. So far off the path that my husband would spend his life in the car. Or, so far that I, a type one diabetic, would be so cut off that if I had a scary medical event, medical personnel could never come help me in time. (I’ve never had a diabetic event that bad, but it happens.)

We put an offer on a house, and it didn’t pass inspection, but it wasn’t an ideal house, either. Now we are house hunting again, only it’s too late to move straight from one house to another, so we’ll have to find interim provisions. My son, husband, and I can stay with my oldest son, along with our dogs. But my son’s pending roommate is allergic to cats, so they will need temporary homes, as will our belongings.

See? Mess. If I could step back in time, I think I’d not put our house on the market.

If you follow my blog, you know I tend to see God wrong. Too often I see an angry God. I like to get through life without rocking the boat, and I do the same with God–I want to be a good child who stays out of trouble. This time, I have a big mess on my hands, solely my own fault, and God has to fix it.

But I think He will. I don’t think He’s out there plotting ways to make me pay for my wrong turn. I know once that would have been my first thought–I made a mess, and God was delighted to make it a painful learning experience.

This time, I expect it will all work out. I don’t know if we’ll find a dream house, but we’ll survive the changes without scars. He won’t let us be homeless. He’ll put all the pieces together and bind us closer together and closer to Him. I imagine him rolling His eyes and then laughing as He sweeps my mess into a giant dustpan and turns it into something beautiful.

It’s okay that God has to take time for me. I haven’t always felt that way. And I don’t know why I feel it now. I don’t really know what’s changed, but I’m glad for it. He loves me. Even when I make a mess, He still loves me. I fix my kids’ messes all the time. Even my adult children sometimes need Mom to bail them out or help them along. So why do I think God is any different? Except He is–His bailing out is amazing, because His love is amazing, even deeper than my love for my kids.

I haven’t posted much during this time because it’s been wild here. And after Christmas we start to pack, so it will get worse. But I’ll try to keep everyone apprised of what God does with my mess. No, I’m not looking forward to packing and interim moves and the costs of all of it, but I know the end will be good. Whether distant or far in the future, the end for the children of God is always good.

Never Quite Enough

never-quite-enoughI suspect everyone has days like this. Or weeks or months or even years. Those days when Satan sits at your ear and says, over and over and over, You’re not quite enough.

Not smart enough. Not pretty enough. Not good enough. Not outgoing enough. Not quiet enough. Not creative enough. Whatever it is, the message is that the best you have to offer the world doesn’t quite measure up. And that voice can get loud and harsh and so, so easy to believe.

I recently had one of those weeks. Honestly, I haven’t quite worked through it yet. In my writing business, I spent a week insanely busy working on promotions with very little return for my time. I’m putting my house on the market, and no matter how hard I work, the to-do list doesn’t seem to get smaller, and it seems everything I loved about my house–all of that has to go. My tastes apparently will not appeal to another soul on this planet, so I’m leaching the personality from my house, and it hurts. A ministry I’m involved in had a rough month, and it seemed that if I just changed everything about the way I do this, then people will catch the fire and help me.

All I can do is my best. And with God at my side, or with God in the lead, the expectation is that my best will be enough. But how often that isn’t the case.

I hope it’s enough for God. I hope the Spirit, who chooses not to let my best always be enough for the world, has a purpose. I could be Midas, where with God’s help everything I touch turns to gold, but that isn’t how He planned it. We believers fail. We stumble. The world tears us up and breaks us down. Other believers tear us up and break us down.

The Bible warns us the world will hate us and we will suffer and life here, while a gift, is a bittersweet gift at best. And in the midst of it, spiritual battle begins. One of Satan’s favorite lines is You Are Not Enough. You Have Failed and That Means He Doesn’t Want/Love/Need You.

I attend a church that sings few traditional hymns, and lately I’ve been reading old hymn lyrics. Recently a hymn was printed on our song sheets at worship, and I compared the old hymn lyrics to the newer worship song lyrics, and I noticed something interesting, something that might help explain my fatigue and frustration and feelings of failure. (No, the songs themselves aren’t at fault, but maybe it points to a bigger problem.) Old songs seem to focus more on who God is. Immortal, invisible, God only Wise. Man of Sorrows, what a name. Praise to the Lord, The Almighty, the King of Creation. On and on. And the newer lyrics? An extraordinary use of the words I, my, me… More about who I am because of God and less about who God is just because of Who God Is. Different focus. And I think I let that focus follow me into all of life.

I understand the desire to make God personal and intimate. Make Him a little closer and easier to deal with. But sometimes that makes me feel a little bigger, maybe too big, like my failures can ruin things. But a big God, an immortal, invisible, mighty bulwark, the one who comes on the clouds with a mighty roar to rescue his bride… Suddenly my focus turns off of me and onto this mighty, amazing God who is infinitely bigger and more complex and more unpredictable and wild than I can imagine. This is the God David sang about in his songs. This is the God who can overlook my failures because they are so very small compared to His greatness.

That God is big enough to shut up the voices in my ears.

I haven’t quite puzzled all this out in my head yet. I’m still not enough. But that huge, wild God doesn’t ask me to be enough. He knows I’m frail, and he puts me in his hand and covers me with protection and simply asks me to hang on for the ride. I’m a child, small and limited, and He loves me enough that my failures mean nothing. My trust means much, much more.

In the world, my failures mean everything, because often the story is about me. They are a litmus of how God and I doing as a team, of how much growth I’m experiencing. But they’re not. The Old Testament, especially, is filled with men and women who were not enough, who crashed and burned all over the place. But God wove the tapestry of life around them, pulling them in and protecting them and making beauty of even the worst messes. He is the central player around whom the entire story unfolds. It has nothing to do with me or any of the rest of us.

I told someone this week I was tired of trying to be perfect. I am called to be holy through the Spirit. But in this world, I will fail more than succeed, and that’s okay, because I can simply sit in God’s hand and not jump out, simply trust that this amazing, giant God has it all figured out. My successes and failures don’t change one iota of the tapestry.

The world does not hinge on me or anything I do. And today, I’d love to sit and sing hymns about God. Today, I don’t want to matter in a personal way at all. I just want to focus on Him and leave myself out of it, just sit in the hand and peek through the fingers and be safe and loved and precious, and know my abilities don’t mean a thing to anyone. And I know it sounds crazy,  but it doesn’t feel crazy. It simply feels freeing. And there’s plenty of room in here, so feel free to sit with me for a spell and watch Him work His wonders in spite of us.

On Being Raw

On being rawTell me I’m not the only one who has those days. Those days where you’re a giant exposed nerve, and every little thing hurts and burns. I’m having one of those raw days, when I want to find a soft cocoon and curl up and feel like I’m enough. Like my opinions are good, my choices are sound, and while the world around me may be broken, I’m enough just the way I am.

I was reading notes and posts from friends this week, and that exposed nerve was jangling. I read harsh posts about politics, which are meant to change my mind but simply sear my heart. I’m not a fool for thinking what I think, for valuing what I value, for drawing my own lines in the sand. I hope I’m not a fool. But sometimes the world says otherwise, and it’s hard not to doubt.

This week a few home school moms I know chose another path, and that’s fine, but right now my world, which revolves around me schooling my children, is so devoid of people who understand that lifestyle that each mom who walks away pulls some of my heart with her. I need new support systems. People in my life who can discuss what I value, who understand where I am. I’ve let that go and surrounded myself with people I love who, unfortunately, aren’t people with whom I can share some of those particular burdens. And normally that’s okay–sometimes the world is too big. Sometimes it’s too small.  But right now Mama Bear needs a day of Just Right.

It always comes down to support.  I’m a mom. A teaching mom. A teaching mom with a nearly-grown family who is heading into a new stage of life. I don’t always take time to look for support of my own, and too often I think I’ve found it only to have it walk away. People move away, move on, find new niches. In a fluid society in a fluid world, where are the rocks? Why does the foundation that looks so beautiful one day shift and sink the next?

And the nerves jangle. The cocoon calls, and I can’t find it. Everything hits my skin and rubs that raw, red wound. Where is the balm?

I know the answer. The Sunday school answer, but it’s true. Jesus is the balm. God draws near. Paul wrote about feeling abandoned. David wrote about it more than once, pouring out his raw nerve days and asking for help. So today, that is my quest. Reading the Psalms where David shares his fears and concerns. Where he asks God for some concrete sign of his love, for victories and blessings. He lets that raw nerve have its say, because God cares about him–and me–on the good days, the victorious days, and the days of defeat. And God wants us to share with him on all those days, even the raw ones.

Some days, I think it’s okay to put on soft PJs and step back. Raw nerve days come and go. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be stronger. Maybe tomorrow I’ll see truths and conquer the world. But perhaps today it’s okay to hide away, spend time with God, and keep the world locked on the other side of the door: the friends, the enemies, the support, the needy, all of them. Today I have my own ledges, and I’m going to tuck myself in the shelter of a Rock, a holy refuge, and simply watch the wind and the sun and wait for another day. When I find solid footing up here, then I can buttress the support systems and decide which directions to go. But not today. Nothing at all today but the steady in and out of each breath, waiting for the abraded nerves to calm.

Waiting under the broom tree with Elijah, eating cake from God’s hand and strengthening from fight to fight. The battles will still be there tomorrow.

Just me and God today, guys. In the wilderness watching the beauty of the Creator. Come back another day.

Unless you’re having a raw nerve day, too. Then come share some rock with me, and we can sit here in silence and watch God lower the sun and show off the moon and call out the stars. Breathe in and out. In and out. And of course I’ll share a little cake with you, until it’s time for us to head back down into it again.

 

When the Bible is too Real

bible is too realAt the beginning of the year I challenged people to join me in daily Bible reading, specifically reading the Bible in a year. I am here, halfway through the year, to admit I’m behind. And it’s for the strangest reason. I’m behind because I’ve been reading the books of Samuel and Kings, and it’s been depressing me.

Part of this is that I’m a writer. I love stories. But I get too involved in my imaginary tales, and I can’t handle writing anything but a happy ending. (Yep, that’s a spoiler for my entire book list. Sorry. Or, if you’re like me, you’re welcome.) I love it when everything works out well. Wounds are healed, love conquers all, and there’s a good deal of joyful walking off into the sunset.

But you know what? The Old Testament has some seriously unhappy endings. David’s prayer over the loss of his dear friend Jonathan. Solomon’s disappointing turn from being a wise man of God to a man who helps his wives build idols. Everyone’s children. Samuel, Eli, David, Solomon–nobody turned out good kids. Depresses me to death. If all these great men of God are parenting failures, what hope do I have?

Years and years of Israel turning away and turning away and turning away. I watch the building of the tabernacle, the building of the temple, all the people promising to follow God, all the celebrations, and then two pages later they’ve forgotten every word and are sacrificing their children to evil gods. The temple is destroyed, cities fall, and people wander into darkness.

It makes me sad. Really, truly sad. I know in my head that it’s over. David is happy now. Same with Jonathan. Jesus was the ultimate goal of  the Bible, and he successfully came to save us. The words are there to help me learn and understand the nature and character of God, but I get so involved with the story and the characters that I can’t quite untangle myself from them.

When we get to heaven, I want to meet King David. I think he is the most fascinating character–non-divine character–in the entire Bible. This is a man who lives big. He dances so big that his wife hates him. He drools on his beard to make someone think he’s insane. When a man dies touching the Ark, he wants the Ark far away. As soon as someone is blessed by the Ark, he wants it close again. He’ll do anything for a blessing from God. But he sins big, too, and he mourns those sins with poetry and song that speak to hearts even now. He lives out emotion in a way I’ve never been able to do.

This guy was real. Sometimes I can’t wrap my head around that. And sometimes I can’t unwrap my head from around that. The history of this planet is real, and God engineered all of it. The sheer size of God and the scope of his plan can be too much to comprehend, so he gives us stories of men and women, stories of real people with much too real good and bad qualities, and through those God makes himself more real to us.

If you’re reading your Bible this year, hooray. I hope you don’t get stuck like I have. I spent a long time today working toward catching up, and I feel good about that. I don’t like to be behind, not when it’s because I’m hiding from the reality that we, humans, are a sinful mess. I’d have to say that’s one of the main themes in the Bible, and it’s really clear in the history of the Israelite nation.

If you’re not reading, it’s not too late to start. Just read it without worrying about how much or how fast. Let it be real to you. It’s history. It’s God calling us to participate in all He did from day one. It’s about broken people, failure, betrayal, anger, tears, joys, birth, life, and ultimately the One Person who takes all that chaos and shines a bright light into it bringing it all into focus.

I need to toughen up a little bit to keep reading the Old Testament. Or the New Testament-we all know hard stuff happens there, too. But maybe it needs to be that real to me. Maybe until I weep with David and fear over Israel and feel the horror of the crucifixion at the end of each gospel, I can’t really understand what this is all about. God chose to give us stories. He chose to unite the past and the present in one long narrative, exposing Himself along the way in the only way we’d truly understand.

It’s not an easy read. But it’s worth it. And yeah, sometimes I wish for more happy endings. Until I remember that the happiest ending is still to come, where I can chat with all the heroes of old and laugh and smile and feast, and the hard parts will be forever behind us. Maybe I’ll be a little more outgoing there, and David and I can share a wild dance out of love and excitement for this great big God who made us.

The Bride on Her Own Terms

bride on her own termsI read an article recently about young people turning from church and pursuing God alone. They don’t trust the Bible. They don’t trust the church. They want to find a spirituality that’s strictly individual and doesn’t ask for more than they want to give. They want a spiritual life fully on their terms, and they have no patience with people who get in their way or inconvenience them.

I don’t think young people are alone in this. Spiritual community isn’t easy, because community in general isn’t easy. We don’t live in a culture where community is a thing, so in the church it feels forced and strange and unnatural.

I attend a church with very few programs. If I’m going to live in community with my worship family, I have to do it on my own. I have to search out the pregnant mom and offer her a meal. There is no meal committee to make it happen. If someone needs help moving furniture, someone has to learn it the old fashioned way, through talking and relationship. There is no moving committee.

We do have a couple programs. A simple children’s program, although nothing for older kids. As of a couple days ago, my son is the only high school student in our church, so I tease him about having youth group when he’s hanging out alone. We have teams to get things done, like setting up the worship space (we meet in a building with multiple uses) or praying during worship. But even there, there’s a lot of freedom as to how we interact.

In other words, we have to decide to live in community and then do it. Nobody’s going to make it easier. Programs are fine, as long as they don’t become a substitute for community, but I’ve discovered I kind of like the informality of a non-programmed church. It means when someone in the body shows me love, it’s spontaneous, not scripted. It’s heartfelt. Often it’s creative and out of the blue. No, we don’t always do it well. We still get caught up in the busyness of our individual lives and miss huge needs in our corporate life, but we’re working on it. Community is happening.

I spent some time in Mexico, and a tiny body of believers there met every night in someone’s house. Every night. Can you imagine? Community completely trumped individual, independent spirituality. They were all connected and united. They learned and lived and died as a group. Part of it had to do with this being a small village that already understood community. They lived it daily, working together to survive. But here, community is foreign, so we struggle to live as a body, since our spiritual life is the only place we do it.

A body. Yeah, Jesus used that term, didn’t he? I feel like we use the word without thinking about it. Each us of want to be a whole body. Our (MY!) math is Me+God=Healthy spiritual life.  But God says we each have a role, and without some of us, the whole thing is broken. God’s math is this: God+me+you+you+you+you…=healthy spiritual life. We rely on each other. God didn’t give any of us all the answers (not even the super-rich authors and megachurch pastors who make the news. Yep, they need you and me. We all need each other.). He did that on purpose. For some reason, from the beginning, he wanted us in groups. Families. Churches. Nations. He made us to need groups.

This is coming from an introvert who sometimes has words with God about this whole group thing. Trust me, I’d like to be a whole body. Some days I want nothing to do with community. I want Christianity on my terms, and my terms include words like solitude and peace and convenience. Which are fine sometimes. But his terms include words like body, sacrifice, and unity. It can be rough.

What if Jesus had used our logic on earth? First, he and God had a really good thing going. Morning prayers, sinlessness–it was good. What if Jesus had looked at the Israelites–and everyone else– and said Wow. These sinners are dampening my spiritual fervor. God loves a bunch of irritating people. They bring me down. Plus, I hate all the rituals and commandments. I’m just going to head back to God and forget this whole sacrifice thing. This isn’t about them. It’s just me and God. And we’re good.

The crucifixion wouldn’t have happened, because that’s as far from individual spirituality as possible. But Jesus lived in community. He lived for community. He was here to rescue that community, clean it up, build it up, and then offer it to God. A single bride. A single body.

I hope the young people realize individual spirituality needs to be lived out in a body. I hope all of us realize we aren’t our own, myself included. Jesus loves us each as individuals, sure. But he didn’t mean for us to live our spiritual lives that way. We have to put aside all the frustrations of dealing with people–just like he did–and find community again. On his terms.

It’s not easy. Or at least it isn’t for me. In this culture it’s awkward and takes thought and work. It means  rearranging life to accommodate the needs that arise within the body. Time. Patience. But Jesus says it’s worth it. He wants to present his beautiful bride to God.  One single bride. I look forward to that wedding day, and that means I have to be part of that beautiful bride’s body.