Heaven Come Down

{I wrote this after returning from the IF:Gathering a few weeks ago and am just now getting around to posting it:)}

My head is still spinning from the last few days, and I’m not sure I have enough perspective to articulate it well. I’m sure I’ll gain more as I go, but there’s something powerful about sharing from the “in-between,” so that’s what this is an attempt to do.

Let me first say this: I recoil at words like “world-changer” and “visionary.” Not for others, but for myself. I am a practical, deliberate, detail-concerned, often-too-nervous-to-get-in-the-boat-much-less-rock-it” kind of girl. And I’m not saying I’m proud of it; I’m just setting the stage for what I got to experience.

By nature, I’m a questioner. A doubter. A skeptic, if you will.

I’m sure I’m painting a picture that makes you dream of being my friend-what with all my positive traits and such.

But I think that’s why this weekend meant so much to me; because I didn’t see it coming the way others did.

In case you haven’t heard much about the IF:Gathering, the heart of it was a group of women coming together regardless of denomination and background and asking Jesus to bless our time as a collective whole. Through worship, teaching, prayer, and earnest desire to know Him and serve Him well, we just let it unfold.

As I hope was the case for everyone there and everyone who watched online, I heard from the Lord in specific ways throughout our time together. It wasn’t show, and it wasn’t perfectly coordinated or planned. In fact, as a part of the leadership team, I’ll give you this little glimpse behind the scenes.

We spent a whole lot more time as a team on our knees than we did micro-managing.

And whenever the Spirit lead Jennie to change something, no matter how absurd it may have appeared, she did it. She continually backed away from any plan she could have concocted and simply said she trusted the Lord and she trusted us. She didn’t flinch when there were challenges; she nodded. And I was moved by that trust many times this weekend, wondering if I would have done the same.

I won’t blubber on about the team that pulled this off, although I certainly could. These women are sisters to me in a unique and powerful way-a path that was carved from the purest motives and the most willing hearts I’ve ever encountered. There were hard conversations over the months, and many text messages asking for prayer and wisdom. But I hesitate to say more, and I’ll tell you why:

I don’t want you to feel like you aren’t a part of it.

That was our intention from the very beginning. How can we make it accessible? How can we frame it so it doesn’t look or feel like a clique or a cliché? How can we tell these women that we are for them, with them, and family to them?

If you were there, or if you watched, I hope you felt that. Because the heart of IF is the unity of women, and I think we have just scratched the surface of what’s possible.

On the way home yesterday, I cried on both of my flights. And for the record, this was not turbulence-induced, which goes straight into the noteworthy category. I listened to one song over and over (it’s called Spirit Break Out by Kim Walker-Smith…good stuff), and in the lyrics she talks about heaven touching earth. Staring out the window, miles above the streets, I had a thought I had never had before.

Do we really want that?

We hear the phrase often: heaven come down.

But in our heart of hearts, would we really want it?

If heaven came down, and all the people in it, we would have to acknowledge a few things I think might challenge us. Like the fact that we’re shoulder to shoulder with the guy we argued with on Twitter about what a Scripture passage meant.

We’d be looking in the eyes of people we had ignored our entire lives.

If heaven came down, we’d have to admit that maybe (just maybe) our humility should have trumped our pride a little more often.

But the issues, you say…all the issues…

And I hear you. But I need you to understand that the issues are secondary compared to loving like Jesus loved. They don’t go away, and we don’t have to turn in our conviction-cards in order to live in community.

Without question, I would be considered one of the more conservative members of IF, but listen. We never lined up according to our stances; we circled up because of Him. We didn’t wear badges to identify our opinions about women in ministry or how old the earth is.

It’s pretty hard to look people in the eye when you’re standing in that sort of line, isn’t it?

Ultimately, this is what made me cry on the way back to Nashville; the sense that I’ve lined up more than I’ve linked arms out of my own fear of being misunderstood. And at some point, I have to acknowledge that heaven looks more like a circle than I have cared to admit. At a very basic level, I’m saying there is at least a chance that I’ve been wrong about some of the convictions that kept my sisters at arm’s length. And for some reason I just don’t imagine I’ll be sharing eternity with them while continuing to hash out our differences.

Am I saying you should loosen the grip on your beliefs? Absolutely not.

I’m saying you should simply make sure you are embracing people with the same fervor.

So that’s my challenge for you today: live like heaven came down.

In your neighborhood, in your friendships, and even in the places you wander online. I saw a glimpse of it in a crowded music hall in Austin, and I’m convinced it’s beautiful, and maybe even more surprisingly-that it’s possible.

 

 

 

 

 

Of Linen and Grace

Sewing is one of my escapes.

I lock myself in my little room, turn on the machine, and wait for the machine foot to lurch to the side, indicating that it’s ready to go.

I start a lot of projects, and anyone who knows me will tell you that I finish about 1/10th of them. I don’t know. I guess they’re just better when they stay in my mind and the needle hasn’t pierced them poorly yet.

So they pile up and stare at me, taunting me with my own inadequacy.

Scraps lie all around the floor-some from an old baby dress I got halfway through and others from a quilt I have determined to finish before Christmas. They blend together in a hazy stack of discarded odds and ends, and I realize it’s been far too long since I cleaned the floor.

Ellie walks in and sees my hands grabbing anxiously at the colors and she looks concerned.

You aren’t throwing those away, are you? She asks.

Yeah, babe. They’re just the leftovers. She winces at my response.

Well, can I just keep them then? She asks. I nod, feeling a familiar sense of guilt run through my body.

It’s just been one of those days where my failures are shouting louder than my successes, and I’m convinced I’ve let them down. I don’t pray over them every night the way I should. I get distracted when I should be focused on conversation. I anger easily and form my own opinions before letting them speak their minds. I am quick to hush them and slow to spill grace.

I am the mom who leaves scraps instead of what should have been, and it’s eating me alive.

I see her scrambling and tears come to my eyes. I don’t even know how to verbalize it to her, because it is so profound a realization that all I can do is watch, my arms clinging to my elbows as I blink away my sadness.

What have I done?

That’s from a dress I started for you, Ellie. I manage.

She looks up at me and sees that I’m red-faced and broken hearted, and she comes to me with the fabric in her hand.

Mommy, I don’t need to take them… She starts. But I shake my head side-to-side. No, I assure her. They are yours. But you should be wearing it and not scraping from the carpet, I mumble. I explain that I’m just thinking and it satisfies her enough to go back to the gathering.

We do this, you know. We have great plans, grand ideas of mothering and care-taking and preparing a child for life, and at the end of many days we just feel like we’ve left it in pieces. What’s here for them to take is not near enough, we say. And we cry because we wish we had done it better.

We wish our fingers always zipped and buttoned the completed gown instead of staring at the remainders of our dreams for them.

It stays with me, this image. And in the middle of the night, for many nights to come, I will awake with her in my thoughts. She is kneeling, desperate, hungry for more than my gift to her. And I cry more than I remember crying in years.

It will be better, I tell her.

But she doesn’t know what I mean by that. She nods so I will wipe my eyes and make her feel like I’m okay, but she doesn’t understand my brokenness or my choppy words as I try to make right what she doesn’t realize is wrong.

I’m gone this weekend, I tell her. But I will be home.

I will always come home to you, Ellie.

It’s just that I have to do my job and it’s what the Lord has for me, and I want to be obedient and good and…does she hear me?

She is nodding and smiling and happy and I don’t know why because it’s all a mess, but I have no choice but to leave it be for now. I pack, I pray, and I drive away from the house and family I love so much, and I leave them the pieces again.

I feel the Lord’s peace as I go, though. And it doesn’t make sense to me but in a way I know He is saying, “Leave it to Me, love.” And so I do.

Two days pass and I come home to a clean house and a candle burning and I realize all the gaps that have been filled in my absence. The kids are joyful, eager to see me but not destroyed by the distance.

I give hugs and little airport gifts and we laugh and tickle and hope together for a few minutes and then I go to take a hot shower and wash the fear away again.

I stop cold in front of my sewing room.

The door is cracked and the light is on, so I push it open and I see a child-sized chair piled high with scraps.

They’ve been organized by color and size, and I realize there is more than I knew there was.

It’s enough to make something, I think.

And the tears come again, because I realize that in all the things I thought were failures, my love gave them something to take with them even if I never got it exactly right.

She tells me her plans for them, and I know it will be a more spectacular piece than anything I could have hemmed and ironed.

I’m giving her the pieces she needs-exactly the pieces she needs-to make her life an offering to the Lord.

She didn’t need the dress.

She needed the mother who gave her enough to sew something beautiful of her own.

What I thought was trash-what I thought was the remnant of my own mistakes-has become the fiber of her creation, and I stand in awe already of the way she has begun to join them together.

And so my prayer has changed.

I don’t spend more time worrying about what I don’t give them than I do praising Him for what He allows me to give them.

I am not their God, I am their mother. 

And they don’t need homemade clothes as much as they need to know how to sew life.

We give them more than we realize we do, and every time we step in obedience, we hand them more and more to string together in His name. They know I’m afraid of flying, afraid of speaking in public, and afraid of failing those around me. But they see the doorknob turn and they know that I’m stitching as well.

It’s more than we realize, this obedience.

It’s more than we realize, these slivers of linen and grace.

And God-willing, they will grow to love the needle as I do, and they will smile one day as their own children gather what’s left at their feet.

It is exquisite, this pieced-together faith.

And thanks be to the God of grace, I am finding it is more than enough.

 

IF: Gathering


It’s been a few years since I first sat face-to-face with Jennie Allen, listening to her pour out her heart for ministry. Our Mexican food got cold while we were caught up in processing important things like our calling, the meaning of grace, the nearness of a God who makes Himself small on our behalf, and where in the world she got that fabulous necklace.

I’m going to be incredibly (and very vulnerably) honest with you. For those of you who have read here for awhile it won’t be any great surprise to know that I have always struggled with the feeling of “fitting in.”

As an elementary school student, I blamed it on a combination of anxiety and the lack of a velour Jordache shirt (I got one eventually. It was maroon, and every bit as fabulous as you would imagine it was. It did nothing for my social status but it was as soft as…well, fake velvet. So there was that.).

In high school, I finally made the cheerleading squad. Fully expecting this to be a social pinnacle, I was disappointed the first day I wore my uniform to school and everyone still treated me like I was still a mere mortal. Did NOT see that coming.

I also didn’t anticipate the middle of the night prank calls, when they called me names and told me how much I was hated.

What stung the most was hearing my dad’s labored breathing, having picked up the phone at the same moment I had, pulling him out of sleep and into my shadowed world. I won’t forget that sound. Not ever. Because I knew he was more hurt than I was, and long after the dial tone stopped I was still crying and he was still listening.

The truth is, I have always played the part very well.

But inside, I’m restless and doubtful. I tend to feel like I don’t actually have much to offer and I’m just painting enough of the image to make it look like it might one day be a masterpiece. Just show enough, but not too much.

I spend a lot of my time doing exactly that, and it’s no coincidence that the word “sketch” has shown up here many times. It feels like an appropriate metaphor for me, and maybe for you as well.

When I show the basic outline, there’s room for it to become something beautiful and profound. But the moment I reach for the bold red for the flames that night or the deep blue of my childhood swimming pond, I’m giving away the truth that might paint me instead.

Before the beginning of time, God stretched out life like a canvas, rounding the edges of our days and setting us on display for Himself. But even here, in the room where I’m supposed to feel comforted and connected and understood, I don’t.

It’s not just one room. It’s a long turquoise-colored carpet in a Baptist church where I watched my feet go one in front of the other, praying they wouldn’t follow me out. I pretended to be on my phone because I knew I was going to cry if I heard their voices together. My third week there in Bible class and they never invited me to lunch. It’s a small thing, I know. But the small things add up.

Some of it is laughable now; all the times as a new believer (at the ripe age of 24) when I mistakenly believed that the land of the Christians was somehow different than all the other places. Should it be? Yes. But you and I know that’s not always the case.

Why ruin a beautiful work of art with details like my personal theology or doubts about faith? Because if I can just manage the outlines, I won’t have to bleed truth at the risk of being shut out.

There have been many conversations over the past several years where food has grown cold while words lingered and stirred my heart. And they have, in their entirety, convinced me of one very simple fact.

I am often much more consumed with the brushstrokes I’m making than the image He is  displaying of Himself through me.

He is the artist, not I.

My job is to tremble at the thought of being a part of it, pointing there and not here.

While it’s good and necessary to have convictions, we’re missing the point when we allow them to completely alienate us from those we could learn from. And when we avoid the conversation because we’re concerned with how it affects our presentation, we have put God behind a lens that makes Him blurry to a watching world.

When Jennie asked me to be part of a leadership team several months ago, I was surprised. I saw the list of other names and I couldn’t figure out why mine was there. It isn’t false humility; it’s truly how I respond. I don’t have a degree. I don’t feel capable. I had to google post-millennialism once on my pink-striped IPhone during a conversation so I would know why I was nodding my head.

I am one sweater away, people. One sweater.

And I wonder if you would say the same.

You can’t find your niche, your tribe, your cause, or your voice. Or maybe you have given up on finding those things because right now you just need to find silence in a house where kids scream and make art with your mascara (ON THE MIRROR, ON HER FACE, AND ALL OVER THE TOILET SEAT. Hypothetically speaking, of course.) and the word “purpose” feels loaded.

So instead of figuring out where we fit, we decide to draw boundaries instead. We use language and terms and issues to define ourselves by what we aren’t.

And quite frankly, this little crew that’s come together doesn’t tend to be in agreement about a lot of it. Don’t get me wrong; when it comes down to a Jesus-loving, gospel-saturated, God-seeking bunch, we’re there together.

Some of the words I’ve avoided for years have come up in conversation. As I feel myself bristle at that thought of being associated with that particular theology, I realize how outrageously egotistical it is to presume I honor God with that line of thinking. No, I likely wouldn’t have chosen these conversations, but that’s the wonder of it all. On paper it looks a little like a chaotic mess of belief systems and convictions.

But in person it feels like home.

Over and over what I feel like He’s saying to me (and to a lot of us) is this:

Have the conversations. Listen to the wisdom that’s been given to you. Realize that your time is short and the kingdom is close. What are you doing with your hours and your breath?

There is a tension that exists in our day, and I have done a magnificent job of teetering between pretending it isn’t there and feeling strangled by it.

But what if we didn’t?

That’s what she asked me over tacos and diet coke. And it’s been years, but the question still burns in my soul.

What if we had some conversations and let God be God, directing and equipping women to live in ways that magnify Him? What if we set aside our preconceived notions and just gathered to listen and obey Him?

What if?

And so, we are.

I want you to be with us if you can, because we want your voice, your opinion, and your heart. This is the beginning of something that will prayerfully honor the Lord and speak forward into generations to come, and we’re excited to be a part of it. I hope you will be as well:)

There are no pre-qualifications, no hoops to jump through, and no google prohibitions should the need for clarification arise. You’re welcome here, regardless of your views on   pressing issues or your inability to commit to velour this season.

Jennie explains the vision behind the gathering a bit HERE and also talks about how you can be involved on a local level or come to Austin and join us. Feel free to come to the IF: website as well if you just want to look around and make yourself at home.

If you choose to come to Austin on Feb. 7th-8th (and I so hope you do!), grab your tickets fast, because they are limited in quantity (not many) and price (whatever you feel led to give).  We will gather together and link our arms and talk about God’s work in and among us, and will gratefully accept the gift of togetherness for the sake of the gospel. And also we will laugh and eat a lot.

Tickets go up for grabs at 11:00 am TODAY for those on the email list. So exciting!!!!

Please pray that He would be glorified despite our meager offerings, and that we would continue to seek His face, His will, and His kingdom above all else.

With love,                          

Angie

Portion

The Lord has such a beautiful way of reminding us of simple truth, and after a week of questioning some hard places in my life, He did that for me.

She doesn’t know she was a part of it, but I’ll tell her one day when I think she’s old enough to really understand how much it meant to me.

The kitchen was full of noise and kids, and as a few neighbors trickled in I realized we weren’t going to have enough food to go around. Todd and the girls had stopped for sub sandwiches on the way home and that was what looked the most appealing to our guests.

“I’ll share half of mine with you.” Kate said. She started tearing her sandwich in half and handed it to her friend, a huge grin across her face.

I mouthed the words, “I’m proud of you” to her, because Kate giving away food is right up there with resurrection as far as miracles.

She smiled.

Apparently the sweet little guy who works at the sandwich shop had informed the kids that if they would allow him to put a jalepeno in their sandwiches, they would get free cookies. That made me laugh because my girls love spicy food, and a teensy little pepper wasn’t going to get in the way of their sugar fix.

So now we had four cookies and five kids.

Again, Kate assured her friend that she would share hers, and I watched her fingers, dirty from a day’s adventures, carefully separate her cookie into two parts.

I could tell that one was smaller than the other, and I watched her glance from one half to the other, obviously having a mental debate about what she should do. I was subtly watching, curious about how she would handle it.

After about 20 seconds of looking back and forth, she began to pull the smaller one to herself and then thrust it out to Sienna instead. I was proud she shared at all, but secretly I was hoping she would act sacrificially and give the bigger one to her friend.

I acted like I wasn’t watching her, but as they scooted out of the kitchen I heard Kate say to Sienna, “That one has more chocolate chips.”

Immediately I realized what I had misunderstood, and a smile spread across my face as I watched her leave the room.

She wasn’t trying to decide which one was better because of it’s size, but rather which one was better because of it’s quality.

And I wonder how many times I shake my head in disappointment because I’m frustrated that the Lord has given me the smaller portion, not realizing He has chosen the best based on a characteristic that I don’t use to assess the options.

She was counting, not debating.

And she gave away what was best in her eyes.

I know He does the same, and today I am thanking Him for that. I may not understand the scale or the process behind the decision, but I am grateful that He is trustworthy and faithful in His care.

It’s a quick story, but I hope it will challenge you today as it has me. Don’t assume He has withheld the best from you because it doesn’t look the way you thought it would. He knows what we need and how we should receive it, and I for one am going to make a point of enjoying my portion more with that in mind.

He doesn’t give us second-best, but He sure might teach us to second-guess what we’re given, daily learning to accept and rejoice that which comes from His hand.

Praying that today is a day where you do the same, and that you are reminded of the way He lovingly enters into our lives and specifically feeds us what is best.

Thank you, sweet Kate, for reminding me that we don’t see our lives through His lens. If we did, we would surely thank Him, following Him like children into the sunshine with full mouths and content hearts.

He is always good, isn’t He?

You’re Not A Prop {subtext series}

I’ll just start this post out by saying I’m going to step on your toes. And if you’re someone who gets the whole way through and doesn’t feel like I did that, please don’t email me to let me know that’s the case because I prefer to believe we are all equally guilty.

There are a million different ways we do this to our kids; some obvious and others really subtle. I think social media is one of the most blatant areas, and let’s face it; it has changed the face of parenting. If we call it anything other than a game-changer, we’re lying to ourselves.

For example.

When I was eight, a birthday party meant a paper crown and some friends with knee-high socks skating at the local rink.

And nobody expected any different. The only people who knew what it looked like were actually there, and trust me, they were too stuffed with store bought cake to care what my mom had hot-glued as part of the decor.

Moms weren’t uploading or applying filters. They were watching us skate. And I know that because remember them pointing and laughing as we rounded the corner for the millionth time.

There are parts of the existing photos that I wish I could change. For example, the fact that my mother was sporting a perm that made Richard Simmons look like a hair underachiever.

But I wouldn’t change the memory.

And it doesn’t get better because other people “like” it.

To be fair, she wasn’t under the same pressure we tend to be under now.

Kids, do you know we couldn’t even see those pictures that day? No. Seriously. We had to push the button and just hope they turned out when we picked them up from the drugstore a few days later.

So we had to rely on (wait for it…) the experience itself to satisfy us.

There’s a lot about social media that’s fantastic, and I for one am super glad I can check my phone to see if I captured an image the way I wanted to, but there’s a real danger that’s underneath it.

I’m not the first to talk about this, I know, but I want to say it in a way that maybe you haven’t fully considered.

Are your children convinced that the following statement is true?

The value of this moment is in experiencing it with you, not in what others will make me feel about it.

We aren’t fooling them. They see us click, click, click, and stare at our cameras.

It used to be that we were staring at them.

Social media doesn’t have to be bad, and it’s an amazing way of sharing glimpses of life. I’m not saying we shut the machine down.

I’m just challenging you to ask yourself this: Am I documenting or directing?

Please don’t fool yourself into thinking your kid doesn’t know the difference in a party thrown for her and a party thrown for Pinterest. Because you can spend all those hours holed up in the garage constructing what you believe will be the pinnacle of party success without stopping to evaluate whether a 2 year old is actually capable of appreciating a full scale recreation of a Parisian cafe.

The cafe is not for her, it’s for you.

Please close the cafe and find a roller skating rink.

I know I’m sounding harsh here, but I’ve had it up the top of my mother’s perm with people acting like this is all for our kids. It’s so ridiculous.

You can actually give your kids a good childhood even if you never put cake-pops in a mason jar or hang homemade bunting from one tree to another. I promise.

I’m not saying you should stop being creative if this is what you love and your passion comes from creating it and then letting your child revel in it. What I’m saying is that if you’re spending more time with your macro lens than you are hugging the birthday kid, you’ve missed the point. And they know it too.

I’ve been to a bunch of kids parties in the last few years that were done up to the NINES, but I watched the mamas laugh and play and enjoy it all. The kids loved it, and everyone was happy. I know it can be done-I just don’t think it’s the norm.

It’s not just birthday parties, we all know that. It’s life in general when you feel like people you don’t know are evaluating your skills as a mother based on a snapshot. And guess what? You now get to twist, crop, edit, and filter that sucker until it looks the way you wish it really had.

It’s a lot of pressure, that’s all I’m saying.

They aren’t props to make our stage look better, and you know when you’re acting like they are.

For those of you who don’t have any “online presence” because you’re “way above that” and would “never subject your kids to that” or “give in to the pressure,” I have bad news. You’re not exempt.

You can make your kid a prop in every area of life. How about your faith? Do you feel like you make them act certain ways in situations because it reflects how good of a Christian you are?

I don’t, but I feel like it might be a possibility for some of you less-holy folk.

Right.

Like the time Kate came running home from playing with a neighbor and I listened to enough of the conversation to decide that the other mom probably thought I was a bad person and decided to march her across the street to apologize.

“Hi Valerie. Kate told me a little about what happened and she really wants to say she’s sorry to Abby.” We both look at Kate anticipating her response. It wasn’t exactly what we were expecting.

“I didn’t say that and I’m not sorry.”

Luckily, Valerie and I got a great laugh out of it, and I got a lesson I will never forget.

When you’re making your kids a prop, your play is going to get rotten reviews.

She wasn’t sorry, and she shouldn’t have been. In fact, she wasn’t wrong. But I wasn’t as concerned about that as I was about looking right. Now that’s an attractive quality, isn’t it?

I’m not proud of it, but I’m owning it because I want you to as well. I don’t do it perfectly, not by a long shot. But I’ve learned areas where I really needed to grow and for the sake of my kids, I’ve been diligent about working on them. For us, that means that as far as social media, I don’t post anything without their permission. Obviously Charlotte is too young for that, but the others have to tell me it’s okay for me to put it online.

I also keep kind of a “running tab” in my head of what I’m presenting. I try to make sure I’m being honest about the mess as well as the beauty of life, and it’s not for completely unselfish reasons. I love when people “like” a picture of my kids holding hands and singing a praise chorus, but it means the world to me when they see the underbelly a little and say “I get that. Because I’m in it too.”

And here’s something really important to understand as far as being props. What makes them work is the feeling that they’re essential and they’re valued outside of what they offer your little production.

I thought about this analogy with regard to the way the Lord loves and sees us, and it fell short of being a perfect reflection. The truth is, we are props in His play. Not useless, unmoving trees or teeth (you would think that a random choice here unless you know that my breakthrough theater performance was as a bicuspid molar in my third grade play. I don’t want to sound egotistical here, but I basically redefined the role of molars in school productions for years to come. It was that good, and you can ask my dad if you don’t believe me.), but it’s His stage.

We dance around and breathe life in and out because we want to make the Director known. And it’s spectacular.

He delights in us.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if I made up a new filter name like “washed by the blood” and tried to make a profound statement about the way He sees us? Yeah, I didn’t think so either, so I won’t.

But it’s true.

He loves us in a way that should inspire us to love our kids-not because of what they offer our image or our status, but just because we like watching them skate.

I’m tempted to go back through this and soften the edges, check the grammar, and make sure I said what I wanted to, but I’m not going to.

So if I missed a comma, please accept my apologies.

And know that they’re missing for a good reason.

Four good reasons, to be exact.

Go love well, and don’t wait for anyone else to tell you you did.

You never know for sure how many times you have left to see them skate around the bend, and I wouldn’t want you to miss it.

:)

Love,

A

 

 

Rushing & Pausing {Subtext Series}

Well I hope your evaluation period has been as eventful as mine was. Or maybe I don’t. I don’t know what the win is on that one:)

I’m not necessarily going to post these in any particular order, but I’m going to start with something that I saw a lot in the comments because it was one of my first realizations as well.

So, category one: Life is not a crisis.

And when I say that’s the category, what I mean is that it’s supposed to be what I’m teaching, but upon further investigation I realized there was a serious disconnect between that idea and what I was conveying.

Let me break down some of my popular phrases.

Hurry up!

Right now!

Come on!

Let’s go!

Now. NOW!!!!!

Like, all the time. All. The. Time.

And my tone is typically closer to, “We are being chased by an escaped convict” than “We are running 5 minutes late to a play date at Chic-fil-a.”

Researchers refer to this as “chronic overreaction mode,” and identify unhealthy patterns we are beginning to see in children who are growing up in a constant “fight or flight” mode. Everything is treated as an emergency.

Not too long ago I walked into my bathroom and saw Charlotte playing with my high heels, holding a purse. She was fumbling with getting the second shoe on and kept saying things like, “Okay, go. Alright. Let’s hurry. Almost done…” while acting like her entire person was on fire.

Apparently panic is the new tea party.

And here’s the part I found the most ironic. A good percentage of the time (at least half, I  would guess), there was actually no time constraint that would lead to comments like this. It’s like I have an internal clock that tells me I need to speed things up even when there’s no external reality demanding it.

The bottom line is that oftentimes I create an atmosphere of stress and perceived need when there is none. I’m really feeling like there’s not a positive outcome by insisting that every moment in life serves to make you feel like you’re late for the next one.

It has gotten to the point where I genuinely have trouble just enjoying the calm because I feel like there must be something pressing that I’m missing somewhere.

And they feel it, no question. They feel shuffled and controlled and, well, like they need to get on board mommy’s crazy train or else they might just get left behind.

All aboard, kids. Don’t mind me driving with the trunk open-we HAVE TO GET TO PUBLIX BEFORE THEY SELL OUT OF APPLES AND CEREAL AS THEY OFTEN DO.

I was curious how many times Jesus told people to hurry; want to take a guess?

Technically, there was one time. He was talking to Zacchaeus and told him to hurry and come down from the tree so He could go have dinner with him, but the original Greek word implies something more than just “speed it up.” Namely, that Jesus wanted him to listen right away and be convicted…not so much that He was worried the grits were burning. It was an urging to move, make haste in pursuing goodness. Not exactly what I mean when I say it.

I don’t want my children to grow up feeling like they were always hurried. Yes, there will be times when we need to, umm, make haste, but that doesn’t need to be the standard protocol.

On the other hand, I’m pretty good about doing the opposite when they are on the asking end. Here are my other frequent “time-related” comments. See if any of them sound familiar.

Not right now, honey.

Maybe in a minute.

Just a sec.

Hang on.

Give me a minute.

Later.

Again, why? Because I really can’t do it right that second? No. Not usually. More likely it’s because it’s my knee-jerk response. I’m not kidding when I say I caught myself using those words in completely illogical situations, simply because they so frequently fall out of my mouth. Telling my children to wait is like breath to me. And it’s a proud moment, let me tell you.

Now, of course there are times when these are appropriate, but “Could you pass the broccoli” is not one of them. Oh, you want to color with me? Maybe later. (2 minutes pass) “Hurry and come here girls! I need to run out real quick…

It’s a tug of war, and nobody wins. And the fact of the matter is, the heart response is the same for them: “I am the priority, and my schedule is boss. Work around me.”

Ouch.

I’m painting a rough picture here, and I don’t want it to feel like we’re signing up our kids for therapy just because we’ve done this, but I do think we need to assess it.

What’s the reason I do that? I guess because at the ugliest level, I want to be in charge of the hours. I get frustrated when it’s not done the way I want it to be. And have I conveyed to them that they are to squeeze themselves into the gaps according to my preferences?

I hope I haven’t, but I could feel the Lord showing me my own sin in this area right away. Don’t misunderstand me-I am in charge of them, and they are to respect me. The issue is that I have put too much emphasis on a non-issue, and have often missed the big picture of teaching them to love and serve one another.

Jesus doesn’t tell them they need to work their way into His demanding schedule. He doesn’t tell them they’re in the way of His more important stuff. He doesn’t keep typing when they wander in, telling them He’ll be out in a minute.

He doesn’t hold up a “shushing finger” while talking on the phone, explaining that He’ll be right there.

I know. We can’t be Jesus.

But the goal is to be as much like Him as we can be.

Parenting has the potential to teach us to die to self more than almost any other relationship, and assessing our failures has beautiful fruit-for us and our children.

So, the challenge for this week is to watch the rushing and the pausing. If they’re legitimate and necessary, sure. But you might be surprised at how often they aren’t.

Or at least it would be nice if you could tell me that was the case.

Assuming that you recognize any of these tendencies in yourself, I’ll tell you what I’ve done to try and combat it.

I sent them to boarding school.

Sorry. Kidding. It’s been a long day.

No, actually what I’ve found is that every time I use an uneccessary “NOW!” phrase, I apologize. I tell them I shouldn’t have acted like it was so dramatic. And we laugh about it.

So much of good parenting is about making life a safe place for grace.

I’ll tell you this too: when I do tell them it’s time to go, they are a whole lot more likely to come running than they were a few months ago. It’s not a perfect science, but I’ve seen a difference. And in retrospect, “running” wasn’t the right word. I meant “meandering in a semi-dressed and quasi-obedient manner.”

On the other end of the continuum, and because it was really something I felt the Lord impressed upon me, I have drastically reduced my usage of the “hang on” type comments. If I’m asked a question, I try my best to respond in a gracious, honest way. If it’s something I can’t physically do, I explain that. But I’ll just go ahead and tell you it’s pretty rare that I’m duct-taped to my chair, incapable of coming to look at the newest member of Kate’s earthworm collection.

I don’t really need a minute.

They, on the other hand? Do.

I’m praying for all of you mommies out there as you evaluate yourself in light of this stuff-and as always, I sure would love to hear any thoughts you want to share.

 

Remember, friends-life is not a crisis :)

 

 

 

 

 

The Subtext

I know, I know.

It shouldn’t really be called a blog when I come over so infrequently.

I gave up guilt for Lent so I’m just not going to make a big thing out of it. Actually I didn’t think ahead enough to give up anything for Lent. And now I kind of feel guilty about that too.

I got a sweet message on Twitter the other day from a gal who wanted me to know she still checked over here every day, and it was the sweetest thing to me. I have had a lot going on in my world these past few months and I think I just kind of checked out of my blog until I could get through it. So, for the few of you still hanging out, thank you! I’m going to write more and try to be interesting and spiritually deep and funny. But it’s entirely possible that I will fail on at least 2 of those at any given point. What can I say? I set the bar high.

I am writing, though. And it’s absolutely wrecking me.

Pretty sure it’s the hardest book I’ve ever worked through, and I can only pray that I still have a publisher when I get to the end of it. If I get to the end of it. Kidding! I totally probably will.

So, there’s that. I’ll go ahead and be selfish for prayer at the front end…because I need it.

{Thank you:)}

I spoke at the dotmom conference recently (the link will take you to details about the next dotmom conference, and it’s going to be AMAZING-I’m trying to go to it myself because I love it so much:)), and my topic was “Evaluating what the sub-text of your parenting is teaching your children about the way God loves them.” Because that sounded easy and non-invasive. Awesome.

I can tell you this with certainty-it was an area the Lord wanted me to work on in my life, and it’s been pretty rough. It’s also been great, which is why I want to spend a little time on here chatting about the process with you, hoping it will bless you as a momma like it did me.

As I prayed through it in the weeks prior, God challenged me to take an active stance in my own home in ways I had been failing to do so. I want to continue to flesh out the places He revealed as weak, and I want to invite you to do the same. I’m going to put a couple of these posts up and I’m going to be honest with you about my shortcomings. It was a lengthy talk and there were a lot of different things that I didn’t even get to because, well, it turns out that understanding you are a representative of the Gospel to your kids is kind of a daunting realization. It’s easy to feel ill-equipped and bury our heads because we’re overwhelmed with the responsibility.

What I noticed as I prepared for the conference was the way I subtly expressed a message (often totally unintentionally) that wasn’t in agreement with my “main message.” Here’s an example: What I tell my kids in words is that I value them as individuals, but I often parent them as if they are a group. I took note of how many times I used the word “Girls,” and it was pitiful.

I started taking notes on myself throughout the day and I was shocked by the frequency of sentences that conveyed a subtext that didn’t line up with my heart for them. Obviously this is a work in progress, but I will say I have made changes and have already seen results.

So, before I get into the details, I want to encourage you to spend the next few days making notes as you parent throughout the day. Write down the words you say the most frequently, the things that surprise you, and anything else you feel like the Holy Spirit leads you to consider. It’s the first step in what will be a long journey, but you have to start somewhere.

I know the comment system on the blog is pretty involved, and we’re looking into ways to make conversation easier. I would love for you to share anything you are noticing in the next couple days, so if you’re willing to, please leave your comments here or shoot me an email. I just know that others are blessed when we’re walking in humility, and it’s good to be reminded that none of us have it all figured out.

I have plenty of stories to share about what my little experiment taught me, don’t worry :)

So, if you’re game, start today. There’s no exact science to it, but I believe God will bless your efforts to live more like Him. Let’s be diligent students of ourselves as mothers, and allow the Lord to speak wisdom into the gaps. It’s important that you write it down in some way that will help you look back and categorize, but don’t worry about organization right this second. We’ll get there:)

I’m looking forward to hearing from you, and I would welcome thoughts from ladies who have already raised their children as well.

Ready? I hope so. I’m really looking forward to digging into it with you :)

Love,
Ang

Music

The music is pounding in my headphones, which makes it feel a little like a dream.

I don’t know what the words are but I see their mouths moving and I imagine.

He’s happy to see her and his hands dance wildly, too wildly, in the air while he talks. His shoulders finally lower and his fingers wrap around the warm cup, eyes never leaving hers. It’s a surrender of sorts, and I bet he’s thinking about what it would be like to enjoy silence with her one day.

He’s in love.

You don’t need sound to know that.

Textbooks spill from tables while they stare at pages, trying to become whatever the studying will make them one day. Their mouths don’t move, but the pencils dance while they furrow their brows and wonder if they’re good enough.

If I had a guess, I would say they are.

And that woman. She comes here often and she always looks like she’s running from something. She settles into a chair, lifts her scarf to loosen it, and wipes the coffee spill from her novel. She’s lost in it, and I imagine it’s because it reads better than whatever waits for her on the other side of the glass. Something in her eyes tells me she’s been made a fool of, and she doesn’t save a chair. Not this time, not ever. I can’t tell if she’s lonely or grateful to be alone. Probably both, I guess.

There are a few brave souls outside, no doubt chilled to the bone. One couple stares, each in a different direction, and never says a word.

They don’t have to. There’s space between them, and the bitterness is palpable. I don’t know why they’re angry-I doubt they know. The motion of life has pushed them under, and they don’t remember how to dream anymore.

I can’t help but wonder if they’re just happy to feel something.

It’s not too late, I almost whisper…

He’s reading a book about Truman in a sport coat today. He’s always in the leather chair, always with non-fiction, never a stranger to anyone.  He strikes up conversation with whomever sits beside him, and as he smiles gingerly, anticipating the words,  I wonder if he’s waiting for someone. Maybe every day he sits, wondering if she’ll come and never leave. One more day drifts to “not today” while his fingers fumble with the pages and another car leaves.

I have never been accused of having a lack of imagination, that’s for sure.

I can’t hear it now, but I know there’s laughter. There are hands on shoulders, children tapping the pastry window, and memories recollected. I need the music louder, louder…until everything moves just so.

And when it does, I see exactly what I need to in order to take another step, and I feel the weight of it deeply. It catches my breath, soothes my soul, flushes my cheeks, and I let it move me the way it wants to.

We are, every one of us, just like them.

We wait, we dream, we chase the warmth of the right words, and we sip slowly, wanting to taste every moment, clinging to the way it burns while it slips down our throats.

And in the event that you should wonder, there is a girl here as well. She doesn’t sit in the same seat when she comes because she would rather let it be new. That’s what she prays, at least.

She pretends she has words when she knows there aren’t any, and she watches. She hides here amidst the chaos because it makes her feel less lonely. Her keyboard is her confidante and her tears taste the cup she has been drinking for hours.

Is it only hours?

It feels like more.

She spends her days watching, writing, waiting…

And more than you will ever know, she is broken.

The soles of stranger’s shoes and the way they tip their heads ignite stories in her, and she remembers the reason she watched in the first place.

Because years ago, more years than she can count, she heard a voice when there was only darkness.

It was, to her, a promise that she would never be fully alone again.

Eyes heavenward, she drank it deep, savored it fully, let it bring her the life-breath she was gasping for.

And even now, she remembers.

And above all else, she chooses to believe it.

“Tell your story, love. And when you do, they will certainly hear theirs…”

 

{May it be, Lord…}

 

 

 

The Letters

Can you do the line below that?

“Yes.”

Silence.

“Okay, go ahead and read it.”

I held the black patch-stick in front of my eye and cleared my throat.

“Umm, X? Could be an M.” I squinted desperately.

“Please don’t squint.”

I bit my lip.

She knew I was on the verge of tears, so she tried to rescue me.

“Let’s just try the line above, hon. It’s okay if you can’t see it.”

No, it’s not okay.

I breathed in slowly and removed the stick.

“I can’t see it. I can’t see any of them.”

Moments of weakness have a way of reminding you that weakness isn’t momentary.

I closed my eyes and let the tears burn through my makeup.

Quite simply, I don’t do well with need.

I didn’t want to need thicker lenses, stronger contacts, more help doing what I feel like I should be able to do on my own.

“I’m sorry.” I mumbled.

“It’s okay, sweetie.” She smiled. “Believe it or not, you’re not the first one I’ve had that didn’t want to admit she couldn’t see.”

I nodded in gratitude for the way she spoke.

Though she was talking to a twenty-something girl, it was the sixth-grader in me that heard her.

For ten minutes I had played with the patch of tape covering a gap in my school bus seat. I peeled it back and forth, trying to come up with the right words. I gave up and went with the obvious.

“Will you sign my yearbook?” The hot bus bumped along, the sound of last day cheers spilling out of the half-open windows.

“Sure, Angela.” She smiled.

She was, without question, the prettiest girl I knew. And the way I saw it, her name in my book meant I was someone important.

She wrote for a few seconds, closed it, and handed it over the green pleather seat to me.

“Thanks so much.” I turned around and slid it into my backpack, smiling from ear to ear.

It was a new day.

When I got home, I ran to my room and ripped it out, eager to see the stamp of approval .

“I hope you find your spektacles.”

I stared at the letters, tried to rearrange them into something that looked like kindness, but I couldn’t. The grammar nerd in me was as offended as the unpopular girl.

“It’s a c.” I muttered out loud.

I had argued with my mother that morning, and in the end, convinced her that I didn’t need them that day. I could make it one day without my stupid glasses.

I had bumped, knocked-into, and squinted my way through 7 periods just to say I wasn’t bound to them. In the cafeteria, several girls asked me where my glasses were and I lied. I said I had lost them.

I knew they were perched on my white-wicker nightstand, alongside an issue of “Teen Bop” and a collection of safety pins I had been beading for kids who wouldn’t give me the time of day.

Need feels like an ugly crutch.

“Angela? Are you ready to try again?” I shook my head, awakening from my thoughts. She was the nicest optometrist I had ever broken down in front of.

“It’s Angie.” I mumbled. “I don’t go by Angela anymore.” I smiled at her, my eyes thanking her while I wiped my cheeks dry.

As expected, my eyesight had gotten considerably worse. She walked me through the options, and I heard a couple words- “featherweight….astigmatism….new line of lenses…”

I thanked her and took my prescription, explaining that I would come back another day to choose them.

Ridiculous, really.

I couldn’t see.

It was in my genes, not my choices.

I had a conversation recently with someone I care about, and I walked away knowing we didn’t see eye to eye about the role of Christ in our lives.

Chalk it up to science, to intellect, to anything that makes it seem like He’s on the periphery, and it’s hard to argue.

Logic and love are so often at odds.

“He’s failed me, Angie. I’ve only prayed for a couple things in the last five years, and every one of them went the wrong way.” He went into detail, and yes, I could see that it felt upside-down.

You should know, I love the Lord.

But I freeze in these situations.

I think the counselor in me wants to agree and affirm and nod and sympathize and wage war against the injustice, but I don’t share the way I should. I don’t tell him that later that night I cried on his behalf. As I prayed for him, I kept seeing the words, “He can’t see…he can’t see…”

Underneath his reasoning and his words I saw myself, feet dangling and heart racing.

Yes, I can read it…

I don’t need this. It’s just another solution in a string of solutions that never make me whole. They just make me different. They make me reliant. They don’t really fix it at all.

Try the one above…

That’s what I really wanted to say, if the words would have come.

Don’t squint, friend. I’m on your side.

The best thing you can do is admit that you can’t see a foot in front of your face without this. It doesn’t make you weak. It makes you brave.

I would have held his hand, smiled at him, and taken away the letters completely.

It isn’t a test.

You aren’t failing.

It’s just that you can’t get well until you see that you aren’t.

It’s in your genes. 

You’ve lived your life stumbling and blind, unaware of the beauty all around you.

And why?

Because the bus bumps along.

The wind is hardly a relief anymore.

It tastes like regret and whips you with lies.

This will make you vulnerable, it says…

I want to be home, in my safe room, where the pen marks don’t scratch their way to my heart.

But we aren’t there yet.

And in the meantime, there is life to be seen. It’s magnificent, actually.

Hush, I would have said.

And he would have slipped them on and wept because what I said was true.

I want you to see it, too.

Whoever you are, and for whatever reason you stumbled here today- know this.

It wasn’t by accident, or by chance.

It was the hand of a watching God, who loves you in all of your blindness.

The leaves are changing just outside my window, and I can’t help but wish you were here with me.

I would hold your hands, wipe your cheeks, and tell you that you haven’t missed the best part. I would celebrate with you as the trees sing gold and glory, and we would wait together.

It’s a new day, after all.

Jesus, help us to see what we are without You, and when we have…

Let us have all of You.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Splendid Things

I need to write.

I have deadlines.

I think of myself as a writer until I have a deadline.

And then I’m just another desperate woman praying for something she doesn’t have. It’s the whole point, and I understand that. It’s not in my own strength anyway. But it’s frustrating to feel so empty.

I do what I often do when I feel like I have nothing to say: I search for quotes from people I consider wise.

Most of them are dead.

And I come across this gem.

Life has loveliness to sell, all beautiful and splendid things, blue waves whitened on a cliff, soaring fire that sways and sings, and children’s faces looking up, holding wonder like a cup.” {Sarah Teasdale}

Tears fill my eyes and I allow them to invade my focus.

I become keenly aware that the deadline is making me miss the words.

Does it do the same for you?

We are all writers, quills in hand, waiting to document what is before us and rewrite those things we left behind.

We are desperate women, aching to make meaning where there is beauty and hope where there is brokenness.

Our hands tremble at the prospect.

We are all writers.

It takes a lot of bravery to craft the book of our lives-to put it in chapter and form, and to know that one day it will close and we will have nothing left to offer but the ink, nearly dry as we craft.

It is, at once, beautiful and devastating to live a life that realizes the power of a moment.

I shake my head.

It’s too much, I think.

Who am I to believe my words matter?

Do you wonder the same?

But He whispers with love and power-

I shape the letters of your life. Look around at the beautiful and splendid things, and write them.

Your job, love, is not to create the story.

It is to turn each page and listen.

Look.

Believe that it is all worth telling.

I know the truth underneath this, after all.

My hands tremble not in my own power, but the knowledge of my own iniquity.

And the privilege overwhelms me, steals my breath.

I am His forever.

Let the wind whip through the chapters and the words drip onto the pages as they will…

I will see Him here.

My fingers outstretched toward the cup-not to gulp-but rather, to hold its wonder as long as time allows.