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Everyday life, Faith, Family, fear

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.

 

Faith

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

Everyday life, Faith, Family, Uncategorized

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?

Everyday life, Faith, Family

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