The Tyranny of Choice

I was frozen in the Barbie aisle with no relief in sight.

Did she say she wanted the one with the red dress or the blue dress?

A perky woman passed by and without a care in the world she reached for the winter-dress Barbie, double-checked her list, and threw the doll in her cart.

Darn it. Why didn’t I write it down when she said it?

I agonized for another few minutes, holding the blue in one hand and the red in the other.

Red. Blue. Red. Blue.

Nothing.

Granted, it had been a long day, but I have never been reduced to crying in the doll section before. There’s a first time for everything.

Merry Christmas.

The day after Todd and I came back from our honeymoon, we made our inaugural trip to the grocery store as a married couple. I would love to say we reached for the same loaf of bread and giggled at the way we were made for each other.

There was a sweet moment as I was walking through the hair section, trying to choose a shampoo and conditioner. I popped open a bottle and sniffed it. Todd smiled.

“I’m going to run and get some yogurt. I’ll be right back.” He said.

I closed the cap and reached for the next bottle.

“Okay.” I kissed him on the cheek and smiled back. I don’t know why I smiled. Nothing was cute about the situation, but looking back it may have been the fact that I weighed as much as your average fourth grader. That’s a reason to smile all in itself.

He walked out of sight and I continued my quest. A few minutes later I saw him at the end of the aisle, grinning from ear to ear at his precious bride.

“You ready?” He called down.

“Almost. Let me just look for a few more minutes.” I waved and he disappeared again. Adorable.

This continued for about six more passes.

“Ang?”

This time he looked afraid.

And I’m not saying there is anything wrong with that.

“Hmm? What? Hey-does this have a good vanilla smell or a bad vanilla smell?” I replied, oblivious to the look of man-panic that had overtaken him.

He hovered over the bottle and avoided eye contact, considering the fact that not only did he need to come up with the correct answer about $4 shampoo undertones, but also that he was looking at another 50 plus years of wandering around the store while crazy-pants sniffed for three hours.

It was, to say the least, a rude awakening.

Because quite frankly, you are ill-prepared for life when your biggest concerns involve 12A at all. I can’t imagine he was thinking about what a great mom I was going to be or all the ways I was going to live up to his expectations in everyday life. I mean, we were T minus 8 days into this sucker and I was already having a mental breakdown at Kroger. Fantastic.

As children filled our house, I got less particular about hair products. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t struggle through decisions. I have had this issue for as long as I can remember, and I see it every single day.

I can’t choose.

Because that means that something is right and something is wrong. And all of a sudden I’m a third grader standing there with my lunchtray in my hands and the lady with the net in her hair is asking if I want grilled cheese or a burger. The line is piling up behind me and my hands are holding a sweaty pile of coins.

Choose, Angela. Choose.

I stutter my answer and then sat at the table, eyeing my lunch and realizing I wanted the grilled cheese instead.

It’s not just lunches and dolls, is it?

Simply stated, we are inundated with the tyranny of choice. 

How can a trip to the store turn out okay when you are faced with 57 grape jelly options? In what world is that necessary?

What if you get the reduced-sugar and it tastes horrible?

What if you married the wrong man?

It sounds like a drastic jump, but I don’t think it is. I’ve been convicted and overwhelmed by this holiday season and the Lord has been speaking to me clearly about the nature of my humanity and the fickleness that is bred by entitlement. I’m not going to speak for you, because I don’t know you. But I am going to tell you a little about my heart and if any of it resonates with you, I am praying the Lord will use this post to speak to you.

It started a long, long time ago, in a garden where what God planned wasn’t good enough for what they wanted. Even the first man and woman felt entitled to a choice. And as soon as they saw one presented, they jumped.

What they needed in that moment, they already had access to.

God. Only God.

I admit that standing in the middle of Target clutching two Barbie dolls and screaming, “I only need Jesus!!!!!!” might not have the desired impact. But, still. The sentiment exists.

The ugly truth is that the color of that stupid dress matters to Kate. At least I thought it did. She probably doesn’t remember. But it made me ask myself if I was fostering a sense of entitlement in my children, not necessarily by giving them too much, but instead, too many.

Choices, that is.

I have a degree in developmental psychology. I won’t bore you with my GPA or my thesis topic, but I will say that I did pretty well and I think I’m a fairly smart cookie. I’ve read almost every parenting book that exists on planet Earth, and I do know that choices are important to help our children form opinions and feel autonomy.

Kate is not an easy child. She is strong-willed to the degree that water is damp.

I’m the first to admit it. And the last one to fall asleep crying because I am simply worn out. She is a walking litmus test for patience. And I fail regularly.

But I see something in her that breaks me because she can’t help herself any more than I can get that Tuesday burger special back.

I want her to know that she hasn’t failed me because she made a wrong choice.

She has inherited more than my dark brown eyes.

She is paralyzed by the choices of the world, and one stop at the dollar spot will put her in a tailspin for hours.

Yes, I’m talking about “stuff” here, but really, deep down underneath it all, it’s not just “stuff.”

It’s the voice inside us that longs for the other tree. 

Not just in marriage, but in our jobs, our schedules, our finances, our homes, our cars, our parenting style.

We are so tempted to believe that we are one step away from the thing that makes everything else go away. And if we can smell every single bottle of cheap shampoo we can get our hands on, we might find the one that makes him love us more.

I’m humbling myself here, friends. Not because I like the way it feels, but because I don’t.

I don’t want to spend my entire life worrying about the nit-picky stuff, because the more I do, the more I am convinced that I have a right to have a say in everything.

We live in a drive-thru, speed-dial, three different Walgreens in a half-mile radius kind of world. It doesn’t have to be bad. But it could be terrible.

Last week, after an afternoon of coat-shopping that could make Mother Theresa lose her mind, I realized that it should make her lose her mind. It’s stupid to let nine-year-olds chose their coats. I’m paying for it, and they are, you know, NINE.

Don’t think I’m saying you can’t give them choices, but rather, when they expect a choice in every situation, you need to reassess. I don’t know about you, but I’m hot and bothered when I don’t have options.

And today, God told me something that I want you to hear.

If you need to, go shout it from the ends of every aisle in town, and don’t stop until everyone is staring at you like your head is on fire.

He is enough. You have the ear of the One who created the heavens and spun stars into their places.

And when I came home with three coats that I chose for my daughters, I smiled when they tried them on and danced around the living room, thanking me and saying they loved them.

I don’t remember which Barbie she wants.

I also don’t remember the reason I thought it mattered all that much.

I don’t need a thousand choices in this life. I need Him.

I’m desperate for Him, actually.

And this season, when you are tempted to feel overwhelmed by what I am assuming are first-world problems, whisper that word under your breath until you feel your bones ache with truth. Him. Him. Him.

And you know what?

No matter how hard it is to imagine with all of the bazillions of people to walk this globe, He chose you.

You.

He just walked in the door and handed you the gift you didn’t know you needed and now you can’t imagine life without it. There’s no time to wonder about what else He could have given you. It’s irrelevant. And because it’s irrelevant, it is also spectacular.

He gave Himself.

Live a life that loves Him back.

Merry Christmas to every single one of you….

Choose well.

All my love~

Angie

If any of this post resonated with you, I hasten to say you need to order this new book (7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess) by my friend Jen Hatmaker. No, she doesn’t know I’m writing this and it isn’t a sales pitch :) I believe in her message and I think you will be blessed by it…in fact, you don’t have a choice. Just click over and buy it :)

 

The Story (Atlanta!)

I cannot wait until Thursday, when I will be driving with my in-laws, Kelsey and the girls to Atlanta to finally see The Story Tour. I have been hearing so much about it (as I’m sure you have as well), and really think it’s going to be one of the highlights of this Christmas season. After hearing Todd talk about it I have a feeling I’m going to be in a grateful puddle by the end of the night.

I asked them if I could post a special on my blog for this particular show and they approved it…SO…

If you live anywhere near Atlanta, please come join us at Philips Arena. By clicking on this link, you will be able to get tickets for HALF price. This is a phenomenal deal….you have no excuse to miss it!!!!

Prices are as follows:

$74 VIP floor seats discounted to $37
$44 100 level seats discounted to $22
$25 200 level seats discounted to $12.50

Make sure and say hey if you make it!!! I’ll be the one crying.

:)

xoxo,

a

 

Sketched

One of my favorite games growing up was playing mommy with my dollies. I remember one car my dad had in particular, and the way my favorite doll, Abby, could fit right beside me in the tiny seat. It was perfect. I would buckle her in, smile, and dream about the day that she would be a real daughter.

Later I would pull out all the dishes I could get my hands on, set up place settings for my 5 or 6 favorites, and invite them all to kindly come to dinner. I would change their outfits because I felt like dinner should be more fancy than their playtime outfits. I would giggle and move them in and out of their seats, help them pick up empty milk cartons, and excuse them when they had finished their supper.

I spent a lot of time dreaming then.

Sketching what it would be like when those little babydolls came to life, and came to my real house, with my real husband. And we would giggle then, and set them in their beds and dance beside them, all the while wondering what they would be like when they were 5, 10, or 18. What her first date would be, and how they would break our hearts, because little girls always do, you know.

I shouldn’t say I was a dreamer, for truly I never have been. I don’t say that as a criticism of myself, but simply as an alternative reality. Dreaming sounds far away and impossible, so I think I prefer sketching. I have the gist of it-the outline and form. I don’t know the faces because I haven’t seen them yet, but there is room for hope in all the lines. There isn’t color because I’m not in charge of how things will be-just a girl who has lived her life with a nicely sharpened pencil, and while she goes through today, she is always (always) sketching tomorrow. Dreamers dream big, and I love that. But I don’t, really. And it’s okay. I just want to have an outline and an eraser and a few things to feel like inspire me enough to pull the covers off of me on a cold winter morning.

But it isn’t always easy to be a sketcher. Because it’s art and it’s beautiful, and it’s all heart and love and wishing. And sometimes you get to the frame you’ve imagined one way or another and it isn’t right at all. No matter how you try to erase and redraw, you can’t get it to where it feels like joy.

Do you? Do you sketch, friends?

Before we had children we found this lovely farm very near to our house and we fell in love with it. I imagined taking all of my kids there for giant pumpkins and running around all the while laughing and breathing in Fall. There were games to play, a sun to soak in, and the joy of another long awaited Autumn breeze. And it was just as I had always seen it sketched.

The girls in bright orange, pigtails on either side. Nobody knew who was who and we got mixed up ourselves in some of the photos. They were holding pumpkins, loving the smell of cider, and we were mommy and daddy.

Just mommy and daddy.

Another year passed, and then another. A new baby came along, which changed the sketch. But there had always been room for her. We just didn’t know how to draw her eyes and her lips and her sweet, deep, full laugh. And then, there she was. We went back to the farm the following year, and yes, one more pumpkin please. We smiled, set them on a wagon and waited for three sweet smiles. We got them, despite Ellie being sick. I still love this photo because she is trying so hard to look happy and she isn’t. But then again, she’s like her momma that way.

Years drift in and out, and the farm stays the same. We are pregnant, sketching life, and then the Lord tells us this particular drawing will be altered. And it’s because He loves us. I do know that, but it’s sad. It’s sad because I wanted to bring my new baby to this farm that we always go to, every Fall, because that’s what we do. But He says no and eventually we see that she won’t be ours.I grieve her deeply (so deeply).

But Todd hasn’t sketched his grief. He hasn’t, even from the beginning.

It comes in waves and it comes unexpectedly. He holds it until its time to let go, and like a bird it flies to a place he can’t see, and comes on its own will. There is no plan, no pencil. It is a different grieving for this father who wanted to love, wanted to draw a life with a girl named Audrey who loved his voice and moved when she heard him.

Time slipped away after that and we got lost. But we knew there was the farm and all of the right, normal things that make for photo albums and all that and so we went back. Every year we went back. Because they love Jesus at this little (not-so-little) farm and they love the company that floods it in the Fall. It’s such a happy place.

This Fall was sketched for me before I had the chance to realize. As the days passed I became sad. I realized that for the first time I wasn’t going to get to take them to Gentry’s farm. It wasn’t what I planned. I was so sad because it was something that always was, and you know how beautiful those “always-things” are, don’t you?

I cried one night in my bed. My hotel room bed. Because I knew I was supposed to be there but it wasn’t the way I planned it. I always meant to be at the pumpkin patch and here I was. Alone. Longing for the stability of a pencil so I could just draw it and show my girls how much I love them. How much I would choose them over everything else, and how much I needed them to know they are the light that shows me the beauty of who God is. I love them. I love them. Oh, do they know how I love them?

I didn’t get to go this year, and my heart broke. Not for the farm, but for the mommy who had always had a sketch of family being together and that’s what makes it so special, but I was working, and did I fail them? Did I, girls? I asked them and they shook their heads no and I remember it because I made a new sketch called grace, where I knew they knew. And I let that one be, just as it was. Which is always the way grace should be.

And their daddy, they have to know…when he saw the tour schedule, and their Birthday there on the calendar…they have to know that it wasn’t going to be in that city at the beginning and we were going to all be together. That’s how we sketched it and we trusted it would work but it didn’t and so now mommy is with you and daddy is not. There are as many tears from parents as there are from children, and I can’t see straight because everywhere I look there are more mistakes on all these drawings and I’m feeling like I have failed. That we have failed. Do they know the way we love them? Do they? Oh, Lord…I must know.

And then today, as we celebrated 9 years of life and good friends and of all things, painting. And we talked about what they would paint and why they chose those colors and shapes and I saw in them the same thing I see in myself. This is what I want it to look like…

But I know that it might not turn out that way. I want them to know that the beauty is in the work and the love, and not the perfect lines. The lines, well, they will never be perfect.

I talk to Todd on the phone and he is whispering about the night before. Telling me that he sings “Broken Praise” as Job on the Story tour, and I knew that but I didn’t know he would cry. I didn’t know that when God put him on this tour, He wasn’t stealing our sketch, but he was adding the grief process that Todd needed.

He needed to sing his sadness to God.

And he is. For really, the first time since she left us.

And I am painting with the girls and we are telling stories and all I want them to know is that they are loved and we would always choose them, but do they see the beauty of what God is doing with the brushes we have given over.

They say yes, and they mean it. I’m happy because I see that they really do. But I’m sad because I was a little girl with little dolls and I thought things looked a certain way but now I’m big, and I can see the way we hurt each other. I didn’t see that before, when I was little and she sat beside me. Perfectly, in the seat.

As we gather our things to leave our painting adventure, I am wistful. I’ve been watching their eyes as they paint, and they are so intent. So convinced and purposeful. Just how I am. And I do hope that once those beautiful pieces are put through the fire they will come out how they imagined them. But they probably won’t, and that’s ok too. They always get brighter and shinier anyway I tell them.

The girls have run out of the shop and are speaking to a sweet man when I leave. I hear one of them say, “It’s us,” only I don’t know what is, so I lean over and see the most exquisite sketch. He has been here a few minutes and saw my sweet children and their friends and decided to draw them and give it to me. He has a twinkle in his eye like he’s an angel and all of my kids hug him and I don’t know why but I want to cry. All I manage to get out is to tell him that their father is a musician and he is on the road and it’s the first time he’s missed their birthday and we’re all so sad. I tell him we have been working and we both missed things this year and it was hard and I get quieter. The girls love him so we talk for a bit, and he’s a very, very good artist. He hands me the drawing when it’s done and I see his name, very small, on the bottom of the image. But it’s a last name, so I ask his first.

“Jimmy.” he says with a smile.

I look back down and then I can see the letters come into focus.

Gentry.

He speaks, explaining I might have heard of his farm, and I forget that I can’t really see God with my own eyes because I know in this moment that He Himself has chosen to speak to me.

I am weak with love, knock-kneed and speechless that I am being wooed by the King. Mr. Gentry doesn’t even know that Jesus is speaking with his pencil and his twinkling eyes, but I do. I do.

“Yes sir. I do know your farm. And this is the first year I haven’t been able to come with my children. We love it there.”

He smiles. It’s a very popular place in this area, with thousands of visitors. I couldn’t put all of it into words before I got to my car, but when I did I got choked up and I stilled myself. Stilled the thoughts that had been haunting me about my mothering and all of my sketches, and I just listened. He spoke. I didn’t hear Him, I just felt the words enter my mind and heart and I knew them to be true.

When you are doing what I’ve asked you to do, love, you don’t have to worry about getting them to the farm. I’ll bring you the farmer instead. And when you think you have lost sight of all your sketches, just know that it’s alright. I know where they go, and what is right, and I will never leave you. Not in a hundred tomorrows or a thousand yesterdays.

I stared at the image, with its smeared edges and minimal detail, and in a way I can’t articulate, I felt something in my spirit that shook me so hard I cried.

Let go the grief. The sorrow. Release the anger and the plans set in stone and all the things you whispered, “never” to. Because I hold this in my hand the way he did in his. I watch and I draw, even when you don’t know. And I am concerned with all things that concern you.

My tight grip has loosened, Lord, and I surrender this season to you. You have shown me in such a magnificent way that I don’t want to sketch the way I used to. I saw something much more powerful today, and Lord if it’s your will, would you allow me, every now and then, to see a corner of one of your masterpieces? From your view, looking in?

Because I was so blessed to know I was watched over. And the sketches from an all-knowing, all-consuming, all-loving and mighty God must be rather spectacular.

How much I feel like a little girl again tonight.

Not planning, not drawing. Just sitting and enjoying the drive with my Father.

You make all things beautiful, Lord, and I love you. Thank you for letting me touch your hem this afternoon…

It will never, never, be forgotten.

~Soli Deo Gloria~