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.

God Can Get Your Dog Out of a Tree

skye-watchingOne night this week my small cattledog Skye began to bark like crazy from the back of my yard. It was dark. It was raining. I called for her, but she wouldn’t come inside. No, whatever had captured her attention back there was much more interesting than I was.

I grabbed a flashlight and headed back. The back of our yard is filled with trees and scrub, so I had push through. I heard her, and I swung the flashlight all over but couldn’t see her. Then I saw motion overhead, so I flashed the light and found something black and white in the tree. Ah. A neighbor cat. Explained the barking. She loves to tree cats. Again I flashed the light under the neighbor cat, but still no dog, although I could hear her.

At this point I flashed up at the neighbor cat again. It was on a large, wide, broken trunk of tree, seven feet off the ground. Only it wasn’t the neighbor cat. It was my dog, over my head, in a tree, barking and whining like the world was coming to an end.

I thought she was stuck. I climbed over the back fence to the other side of the tree and began to coax her down. If she got close enough, I could grab her and pull her from the tree. She was still barking like the apocalypse was near. Then I happened to glance to my left, and I almost dropped the flashlight, because I was staring at a possum, six inches from my face at eye level, tucked into the crook of the tree.

I had no idea what to do next. Possums aren’t generally dangerous, but when you’re flashing a light in its face and your dog is above it barking like a wild monster–well, I would bite, too. So now I’m trying to coax my dog to the side while attempting not to get bitten by a terrified possum.

In the dark.

In the rain.

I yelled at the dog. I guess eventually I sounded angry enough to catch Skye’s attention, because she turned around, walked along the broken trunk (it was arched over the fence like a bridge, something I hadn’t realized until this very dark, very wet moment), and headed back down into my yard. I climbed the fence, grabbed the dog, and stomped into the house, both of us wet and tired.

The whole time I wished my husband had been there. I kept thinking if he hadn’t been at work, if he’d been here, he’d have known exactly what to do. I have known my husband more than half his life. I know for a fact he has no experience coaxing dogs out of trees while trying to avoid possums. In the rain. In the dark. But I also know for a fact he would have helped me. I always believe he can do anything. He’d have been out there in the rain with me because he loves me. Together we’d have figured it out.

As I was thinking about this, I came to a sad realization. It’s a truth I’ve posted about more than once this year, and I think it’s time to deal with this little problem. My husband loves me with an imperfect love. He doesn’t always have the skills to help, even though I tell myself he can do anything. And yet I trust he will always come and always help.

God loves me with perfect love. He always has the skills I need. And yet, I don’t always trust Him to come and help.

It’s a big deal right now for Christians to try to know their identity in Christ, to know what they mean to God. I realize I need to back up a step. Once again I am faced with the truth that I still don’t know God. Not very well. I’m pretty sure if I knew His character, understood His love, knew His real compassion and power and knowledge, I wouldn’t hesitate to call him to get my dog out of trees. I’d be able to trust Him with the souls of my children without fear. I could face ageing with a chronic illness without worry. I could line up my days with joy and not doubt.

So. This year I crashed and burned with my Bible reading. And I  think I know why. I need to simplify. Someone once told me I need to read a Bible passage and ask “What does this say about God? What does it say about me? How can I apply this?” Well, I need remedial Bible reading. For now, the question needs to be “What does this say about God?” And then I need to stop there.  Until I can answer that with some wisdom, until I can be consistent and stop falling back to the idea of God as angry or distant or unloving, I can’t possibly know myself or how to behave. (Okay, within reason. I’m not going to throw obedience to the wind. But the focus needs to be HIM.)

I have no idea how to keep our dog in the yard now that she knows she might find possums in trees. Now that she realizes she can climb trees. But at least now I know where to look if she goes crazy again. And I know who to call. Part of this is knowing God. Part of it is putting that knowledge to the test and calling on God all the time, for all things. He loves me. He’ll come. I never have to slog through the dark rain alone.

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.

A Job Well Done

file0001984548061My husband, youngest son, and I are putting our house on the market. This means all those repairs we’d neglected–we are working on those. All the clutter we stopped seeing ages ago–it’s time to open our eyes and deal with it. It’s taken an insane amount of time, which is one reason this blog has been sitting in silence for a while.

When we moved into this house we were a family of five. Our kids were ages 4-9. Within a year another one arrived. Most of my kids’ childhoods happened in this house.

Now, this post is not a walk down memory lane. Truth is I’m not all that sentimental about houses. But I remember what it was like to have little kids and a house, and I wanted to spend more time dealing with the kids than the house. The house was background, and the family within was foreground.

So now, nearly two decades of semi-neglect later, I’m trying to get my house ready, and I want it ready fast. I’m not very patient. My first instinct is to cut corners. Make it look nice, even if problems are hiding under the surface. So what if the whole place falls apart in a year? As long as it looks good enough to sell…

Right. I’m trying hard to think about the family that will move into this house. It means I might spend a little more than I want for things I’m about to leave, like the new kitchen faucet, which should last forever without dripping. Some young mama living in this house doesn’t need dripping faucets. Or the floor I’m putting in the laundry room because I didn’t bother a year ago when the water heater blew out–it’s true I got cheap flooring, since that’s all I could manage, but I’m doing everything I can to make sure it’s put down well so it won’t be a problem for a long, long time.

The fight between my impatient self and my kind self has been rough. I fear that I’ll finally get this place ready to go and all the houses I’ve been watching will be gone, and I’ll be homeless. But I know I need to do my best. No, my work isn’t the same as a professional, but I do my best within the budget I’ve been given. And I won’t fix everything, but I’ll be honest about what works and what doesn’t. The problems won’t be huge, like hidden mold in the basement or a colony of bats in the attic. Whoever moves in should be able to focus more on the people within these walls than the walls themselves.

God has talked to me in the silence while I lay tile or paint walls. And more than once He’s had to say Do that again. That’s the sloppiest trim painting job I’ve ever seen. What’s wrong with you? or Don’t you think they deserve a laundry room floor that isn’t peeling in the corners? And I laugh and sigh and put on another coat or lay another tile. I work for Him. And that means a job well done, even when the last thing I want to do is put up yet another coat of trim paint.