Recently I’ve come to two realizations. The first is that I’ve spent twenty years expecting my Christianity to cure me of my humanity. The second (and more sobering) is that rather than rid me of my human nature, I believe God’s intent has been to walk me down the steep, dark path straight into the middle of it.
To behold God is to know how very human we are.
To clarify, when I say humanity I am not talking about “sin”. Sin is the plight of humanity, not humanity itself. We were made fully human before we ever tasted of the knowledge of good and evil. To be human is not bad. Rather, it is the wisdom and creativity of God. But for all else it may be, to be human is to need. We need food, water, air, shelter, exercise, love, identity, purpose (the list is much longer) and I find this is where I buck against the saddle.
I wanted Christ to be a magic wand that cured me of need; that made me whole, super-natural, otherly. I have tried to use faith and religion to transcend my normal “pathetic” human state and attain to some more holy place. Most of these desires have some basis in a spiritual truth but I find with striking clarity that my motive was wrong. In the truest case I was wanting all the transformation that the Holy Spirit offers, not so that I could draw further into God but so that, in the most foolish of ironies, I did not need to.
I’m sprinting towards forty and am just now seeing that need is the gift of God. I have hated my needs. In my home we playfully acknowledge that at times my unorthodox design means I have “special needs”. I have so often wasted my days resenting this- fighting this- pleading to be free of this! The enemy of my heart has used it as a constant source of accusation; selling me the lie again and again that I should have it together by now. That I should be more than I am. That if I was truly “saved” I would not need.
Needs are not flaws. They are the places of encounter.
Needs are the path that lead us into the revelation of God’s great sufficiency and even more relevant, His kind intention towards us. As it reads “good will towards men on whom His favor rests.” I cannot experience the fullness of His glory without first realizing the depth of my need. And my goodness does the need run deep. As my husband I mulled over this concept a few days ago I jokingly referenced a scene from Ace Ventura where he laments “It’s in the bone! It’s in the bone!” ( If you need a laugh here’s the clip).
As humans the need is in the very marrow of our bone. To fill the need with anything other than God is where sin enters the picture. It is to place in those God-given voids anything other than actual relationship with Him. So many of the blessings He means for me to enjoy turn to rot in my soul because I try to use them to meet the need. Success tarnishes into perfectionism. Belonging deconstructs into the need for approval. Pleasures balloons into addiction. Discipline calcifies into religion. None of them can withstand the weight of my need… but He can.
In fact not only can He withstand it, He can understand it.
He knows I am created. He knows I need. He never expected me to be autonomous. Not in the sense that I want to be. He understands that I am prone to pride. I’m susceptible to deception. He still says yes and amen! He has a great sense of humor and He’s not threatened by my weaknesses. In fact He is glorified in them by showing the abundance of His mercy. He’s patient, and kind and despite all the challenges that come with being a needy creation living in a fallen world, He’s making me more like Himself every day through the power of His love.
Maybe… just maybe, being human isn’t such a bad thing after all.
The rumors are true. My back porch is full of garbage bags. In the blistering thirty degrees below zero that’s as far as they made it. Between that and the fact my friends are tagging me in all their “Tidying Up” related posts I think it’s safe to say that I’m officially on the bandwagon. And while I loathe bandwagons the truth is I am shamelessly pro Marie Kondo. Here’s why…
Firstly, she’s adorable. I mean seriously. Have you seen her? You can’t look at her and not smile. I mean it. She’s so stinkin cute. I believe much of that cuteness comes from her gentle demeanor. It doesn’t feel like there’s much room for gentleness in a world so fast and fierce. This is all the more true for me when I am looking for change. Mentally I’m suiting up in armor and approach my home/children/budget like I’m about to fight the holy wars. Marie reminds me that gentleness may be a more sustainable approach to change; even drastic change. I find her manner to be a breath of fresh air!
Secondly, she’s actually demonstrating some of the most basic disciplines. Gratitude. Simplicity. Silence. Have you seen everyone get all moppy-eyed up when she “greets the home”? It’s like no one even knows how to hold still long enough to be where they are. Oh, and Joy! She doesn’t have the corner of the market on that either. The fact is these are some of the great spiritual disciplines that the church left behind a century ago and her uproarious success should be a sign to us that the world is hungry. They are hungry for a more honest path.
I’m not saying that everyone who wants a clean closet is willing to give up their rights and follow Jesus. I’m saying that there appears to be room for us to bear witness to the world in the simplicity, joy and tranquility of our life (I have five children so we interpret the word tranquility loosely). It’s the practice of intentional engagement with the daily things of life. It’s refusing to sprint through our days and our homes in mindless exasperation instead of savoring and examining each point.
I will never greet my home or thank my clothing but you better believe there is power in actually considering what we’ve been given, giving thanks for what we have and letting go of all the extra that really just makes our lives more difficult. And regardless of whether Marie Kondo ever finds out who’s actually on the other side of all that gratitude we should be giving, she reminds me to do it and for that I applaud her.
And really… she is adorable.
Tonight I found out that another mother lost her child. I felt everything inside me scream “No!”. The general travesty of losing a child was particularly eclipsed for me by the sense that I felt somehow responsible for this boy; responsible for his fate. From his birth I had a sense about him despite having few personal ties to his life. It made the news real. Inside I raged at the wrongness.
And then I wept.
I lost my neice over a decade ago. We learned a lot about grief as a family when that happened. Like; it comes in waves and the “why” is never good enough. We learned that there can be beauty in how we grieve. We learned to throw eggs at trees. I also learned something else…
Never tell a grieving parent “I’m sorry”.
I’ve tried hard to stick to this rule understanding that wounds go deep. Platitudes are salt to open wounds. But tonight, sitting in my van, sobbing and imagining his mother’s beautiful face all I could think was how very sorry I am. How woefully, deeply, piercingly sorry I feel for the whole thing.
This is going to walk the line of giving grieving people unasked for advice (another thing that I don’t recommend). Really, it’s meant more as an encouragement, because the truth is that if you are grieving you are going to hear “I’m sorry”. You are going to hear it way too many times and it may drive you out of your skin because I’m sorry just doesn’t fill the hole. But maybe this will lessen the blow.
When we say “I’m sorry” we are actually using it in its truest sense. Usually it gets substituted for “excuse me” or closer still “Will you forgive me?” Asking for forgiveness is very vulnerable so we tend to opt for the “I’m sorry” instead which keeps us in the driver seat. But, the truest meaning of “I’m sorry” is not excuse me or forgive me. What we are really saying is this…
I share your sorrow.
I see your sorrow.
I too, am full of sorrow.
I am bearing up this sorrow with you.
At times the words “I’m sorry” are the shortest and clearest path to acknowledging the great pain, perhaps even the wrongness, of loss. It is how we know to come alongside when there is nothing else that can really be said. And yes, the clerk in the grocery store will misuse it when he finds out that the reason you’re all dolled up is to go to a funeral. He will not know what to do with the pain and he will wrongfully use “I’m sorry” to move the conversation along without a shred of real emotion behind it, but many won’t.
For many that “I’m sorry” is frought with true grief and embodies the beauty of us coming together to bear up a loss we were never meant to know. We weren’t created for this. Death wasn’t in the original plan. There can be strength and comfort found in those two words. And when you are grieving strength and comfort can be hard to find.
I hope that anyone grieving tonight has those along side of them who truly are sorry.
He puked directly on the dog’s back.
I had fed the baby, but was unsuccessful in burping him. He’s been a gassy baby from day one, but now he’s got a cold too. An overactive gag reflex means that if he coughs/burps and dislodges a piece of flem, he throws up. He’d been sitting for a few minutes so I thought I was out of the danger zone when he started grunting uncomfortably. I picked him up to try again. He didn’t even make it to my shoulder before the cold-burp-gag reflex phenomenon took effect bringing us back to my first statement. Now, I have a puked on baby, a puked on dog and a one year old who didn’t want to stay out of the mess.
It was straight comedy.
I shut the dog in the basement, stalled the toddler in the high chair with an oreo and set about preparing a bath in the kitchen sink (like my mom always did). My exceptional love for nostalgia means I don’t own a baby bathtub. Not usually a big deal, but the day before we had torn apart the kitchen sink to fix the water pressure. There’s a reason my dad hates plumbing and par for the course there was now a small leak which required me to turn the water on and off from the main pipe under the cabinets. Thus, I had to remove my normal under the sink items which were now taking up all available counter space.
It gets better.
I cleared a spot for a towel, crawled under the sink, stripped down the baby and started in. I was even insightful enough to put the high chair in the center of the kitchen. This way my able bodied one year old, could not get restless, stand up in his chair and start grabbing stuff off the counter. Go me! Not bad on-my-feet thinking for being in the middle of some seriously unsanitary chaos and my normal sleep deprived state.
Funny thing about the center of the kitchen…
The toddler can’t reach the counter, but I can’t reach the toddler. I had just finished washing the baby’s thick head of hair when number one sneezed; two large lines of mucus streaming to his chin. Umm… apparently the baby isn’t the only one fighting a cold. Now the baby is already submerged in the nice warm water and it is hard to keep his chunky, wobbly three month old tushy upright with two hands. I can’t let him go. If I take the time to get him out I know the toddler will have consumed a years recommended allotment of snot in one sitting. Oh, did I mention there was no tissue to be seen?
If there is one thing I’ve learned about mothers it is this: we find a way.
The baby’s pants were less puked on than everything else and within reach. So balancing his head in my left hand I reached out with my right and achieved a stretch most Yoga professors could not duplicate. With furious laughter my toddler swung his head back and forth in an attempt to elude me. But adrenaline was on my side, honing my aim to sniper status and with one violent swipe I restored his face to a mucus-free state.
My days are full of dilemmas, messes and impossibilities. And sometimes it is hard to laugh at it all in the moment. It’s easy to be worn down by the length of the season and the repetition. And sometimes I’m just over it. I mean poop, puke, snot… this isn’t exactly glamorous. It’s hidden, hard, work. But the truth is I am growing. These “impossible” situations aren’t impossible. I can make that stretch. I can solve that problem. I can do so much more than I ever thought possible.
And I am never alone.
God is here with me. He’s laughing too if I can slow down and hear Him. If I can stop myself from just surviving these days and recognize that He’s working something in me that is bigger than what I can see with my two eyes. It’s bigger than the counter, and the leaky pipes and the stinky dog (well, not stinky now because he got a bath too). I am not diminished in this role. Rather, each challenge is a promotion from Him. And I’m not just going to be able to do more. I’m going to actually become more…
like a crazy One-Handed-Yoga-Stretching-Snot-Swiping-Ninja Mom!
The whole thing nearly resulted in divorce. The oldest pooped his pants for first time since starting to potty train and he happened to do so in his pajamas with no underwear on. That made quite and interesting mess to work with. I kept my cool, settled my stomach, stripped him down and put him in the bathtub. Nothing a little water can’t fix right? Ha!
My hubby HATES it when my hair clogs the drain but instead of just dumping some Drano down every couple months he bought a little insert that sits in the drain and acts as a sieve. Well, I HATE that stupid thing because you constantly have to scrape it out which is a revoltingly dirty thing to do when you’re trying to get all clean. So for months now we‘ve played a little game of remove the drain/replace the drain. Well, he got smart put it in upside down last time so it would be harder for me to remove.
The point of all of this being I started to rinse off my soiled child before realizing it was in there. Now the little tidbits that had been stuck to his leg were causing a pool of poop water to form in the bottom of the tub. It was all I could do not to swear as I manically spooned unmentionables out of the bathtub drain and tried every trick in the book to pop that filter out. I can now happily report that with a little help from a bobby pin that drain cover is securely in the local dump.
It was hard not to abort the whole process right then and there. Especially because he’d been pooping in the big potty for months and I didn’t know why he would do that. A few days later he wet himself 3 times in an hour and then I was really confused. The rules say don’t put a diaper on him but I wasn’t sure. The “rules” don’t know my child.
As I stood there scratching my head I felt another voice. This one spoke to my heart instead of my head and I recognized the voice of Wisdom as He gently reminded me “you have a lot going on right now. Why don’t you put a diaper on him and start again tomorrow.” So I did, and do you know what happened? Ten minutes later Cainen came up to me and asked to go potty for the first time since starting to train him.
I think a lot of life is not panicking when we don’t know what we’re doing. Even though most things in life don’t come with manuals there is Emmanuel- God WITH us. When the methods and understanding we possess don’t stretch far enough He, with perfect understanding, is able to lean in and give us a nudge in the right direction. That takes the pressure off us to know it all and also reminds us that God is big and He is good. That’s even better than a manual!
(Originally written 2009)
I blame it on my father who, at times, has seemed to me the last of the old testament prophets. In truth I’ve never seen him do anything remotely close to what I do. That is to say he’s not one to look for signs in the sky. But I see signs everywhere. God seems always to be speaking to me; in the scriptures, in the moon, in license plates. It is as if He is somehow always whispering… and often chuckling. So I tend to do most things with some measure of significance tied to them; for instance, decorating a Christmas tree.
This past holiday season the tree was decorated with great difficulty. Firstly, a kitten had been living with us (I think I have a slightly funny cat video here). No more explaination is needed there. Secondly my children had no interest in helping me. Turns out my decorating O.C.D. has turned me into a fun sponge and despite several requests no one was interested in stringing lights, hanging gold icicles, or the like. Lastly, the type of evergreen I purchased looked lovely in its natural habitat but it was seriously not conducive to decking a tree in ribbon and baubles (because bringing a tree inside for a month isn’t a strange enough tradition for celebrating the birth of Jesus. We need to “deck” it).
After a couple attempts to decorate it all by my lonesome I had resigned the tree to being a socially accepted eyesore and went on with life. However, upon putting my children to bed on Christmas Eve I was swept up in a fleeting glimpse of holiday spirit and with unforeseen fortitude went to decking the tree one more time. At nearly midnight, after wrapping Christmas gifts by himself, my husband joined me in the sitting room to bask in the white-yellow glow of little lights reflecting off shiny ornaments. I smiled at my handiwork as he complimented me and then proceeded to explain the significance of each element on the tree to him.
A ribbon of musical notes: A reminder that worship is warfare.
Homemade Paper Stars: Our family (we made them together). Common material, temporary and easily damaged and yet, beautiful, unique and important. Handle with care.
Gold and Silver Baubles: Promises I am still believing for
Black Feathers: The sorrows of the year
My husband knows me well enough not to be overly surprised by the weird things I do (putting black feathers on a Christmas tree) and this time he went so far as to enjoy my little memorial. It was a moment we savored together and a few days later, as we continued in our Christmas celebration, he brought something to my attention. “Hey look! Most of the feathers have fallen off. Its like God is telling us that the sorrows won’t last.”
And they don’t.
Most trials come inconveniently, and stay too long. Unwanted house guests demanding of us more than we care to give. But in the hands of a loving Father, even the most obscene trial, can turn out otherwise unattainable blessings. Whether in this life or the next, every feather will fall. Every sorrow will succumb to silence and nothingness. And what will remain is what is Good. This is a great hope.
“Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.”