Life lessons on frustration and forgiveness from Dishwashers, Taxes and Friggin Gogurts

Do you know what frustration is? It’s the conflict between expectation and reality.

I’ll give it to you in a kitchen metaphor: When I open my dishwasher and pull out the racks, I expect them to slide out and give me access to clean dishes. But they don’t, they always catch on each other.

So every time I have to snake in my hand to figure out what the issue is. Sometimes I skin my cuticles and knuckles doing this.

I expect to be able to open my dishwasher. The reality is that I usually can’t. This is frustrating and I want to take a bat to the dishwasher and then give my lovely landlords a check for a new one that is cool with the simple act of washing normal sized plates.

Right now frustration and I have been spending a lot of time together. Tons really. 

Each morning I make a list, say my prayers and get after my day of finding socks, unloading the dishwasher, packing bags, making breakfast, bundling children against another day of bitter cold Michigan winter.

Each evening I fall asleep frustrated, without an ounce of personal satisfaction for a job well done.

Each night my expectations and my reality are miles apart and I have no idea what needs to move but I feel frustrated to the point of anger.

Yesterday I depleted my resources of “go get em” and my storehouses of patience and kindness which, to be honest were running low to begin with.

mercies

It culminated while I was on the phone, trying to make an appointment with our tax person.

Just before I dialed I gave each of the kids Gogurts and just as the tax office picked up my son started wailing about how he didn’t want the Gogurt I’d given him, he wanted a different one.

I cannot stress this enough: They are all the same. Exactly. The. Same flavor, shape, packaging. The. Same.

So I walked away from him and locked myself in the bathroom to have some serious fun figuring out our taxes at which point he proceeded to kick the door and wail “MOOOOM!!!!” for the entirety of my phone call.

I had to choke back sobs during the entire call (“Thanks, one o’clock it is…whimper…. thank you!”) I was frustrated to tears that my expectation of a 3 minute phone call was going unmet.

This is when my dark side took over and I grabbed his hand while he was in the middle of kicking the door, took him to his bed and administered three swift spanks on his bottom.

Then we both cried and held each other. Because I don’t really spank. I hate it. ANd on top of everything I’d done it out of sheer anger over the collision of our strong wills, taxes and friggin gogurts.

As I held him I uttered one of the most ironic things I’ve ever said: “You can’t treat other people so awfully just because life isn’t going the way you want it buddy.”

No sooner had I uttered those words than my breath caught in my throat and I cried some more because I was preaching to myself.

Wherever the roots of my frustration stem from I don’t have the right to take it out on other people.

And when I do it’s on me to make amends, to admit my ugliness and beg forgiveness. Which is the least fun imaginable in the midst of mountains of frustration and anger.

As I laid my head on my pillow last night I felt like a whimpering puddle deserving the love and mercy of no one. Yet somehow I felt myself getting swept up, quite undeservingly, into the arms of a God who’s mercies are new every morning.

Every. Morning. New Mercies

Another sunrise, another battle with the dishwasher, another moment to crawl into his lap, apologize and try again.

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The Worst Part of “Getting to Know You”

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So there’s something awful about getting to know me, especially if you’re a tender hearted person.  It’s this: At some point I’ll have to tell you my backstory and I’m nearly 100% sure that doing so will hurt more for you than it will for me.

I’m used to telling this story, you’re just not used to hearing it.  My story flies in the face of everything you’ve assumed to be true about me through our interactions.

Online it seems to be a little less dramatic (I’ve rolled out the three major blows of my life here, here and here) but this could very well be because you’re on the other side of the screen and have time to compose and comment, or not.

When people meet me in person, their first impression is usually that I’m a talkative, upbeat, bubbly mother of two who’s good for a laugh.

Then, at some point, the conversation usually has to take a turn, usually not the first time we meet.

It starts with someone asking about my parents, here, I’ll just dialog it for you. Continue reading

Day 4- Bring Back Stuart

Dare to love yourself, right here.  today.

Hi, I Dare you to love yourself, right here. today.

Do you remember Stuart Smalley and how ridiculous we all thought he was back in the day?

If you’re too young or lived under a rock in the 90’s, Stuart Smalley was a character on SNL played by Al Franken who satirically and ridiculously modeled self help via a daily affirmation.  Youtube it.”

The quintessential line was: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough… and doggone it, people like me.”

Psh, ridiculous right? Who needs to look in the mirror every day and pep themselves up before facing the world in a ridiculous cardigan?

Uh, I think I do.

Really.  I think I need to bring back Stuart Smalley because these days my thought life tends to be a bit of a mess.

When I look in the mirror, it’s more of a quick glance where I wrinkle my nose about chin zits, baggy eyes, and an annoying cowlick.  Also I hate on my chin, daily.

As I do my hair and think about how great everyone else is and I tell myself that someday I’ll be okay too.

I’ll be great when I lose 10 more lbs and get back into my pre-baby jeans.
I’ll be acceptable when I’m a legit published author.
Someday so and so will notice me and then I’ll feel so much better about myself
Next year we’ll have as much money as so and so.. then we’ll be happy.

Yes, I know.  My thought life is ridiculous.  It’s not easy going public with that.

The other day I sat on the porch crying for no good reason on earth other than that I needed a good cry.

I sobbed on the phone to Kel about how glum and generally inadequate I’ve been feeling lately.

“So many days I just don’t like myself very much” I told Kel.
“I don’t know why baby, you’re pretty wonderful.  Everyone sees it but you.” He replied.

Because. He’s. Awesome.

So this morning I tried something new.  It felt stupid and totally Stuart Smalley at the time.

When I got up, before I did my hair or makeup or changed out of my paint stained t-shirt I looked in the mirror and said: “Hi, I like you right here, just as you are today.” Continue reading

Apple by Apple

Today I’m blending the pictures and poetry of our trip with to the orchard with the Burden Family into a prayer for autumn.  All photos compliments of my lovely and dear friend Jillian Burden.  

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Like any good Michigander, I can measure my years by trips to the apple orchard.

I can still remember with vivd clarity my kindergarden trip to the pumpkin patch and cider mill.  After wandering the fields of orange and green we were rewarded by a warm donut and fresh pressed cider as we squeezed together on the picnic tables.

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There is nothing in the world like a cake donut with fresh pressed cider, If you love it, you know it’s a comfort food born early.

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Trips to the orchard ring altogether wholesome, holding hands while crunching apples and leaves as you fill heap your wagon full of fruit.

Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 9.47.48 AM Continue reading

Just Drop (Hey, At Least it’s Not Jr High Gym Class)

You know the phrase: “I’m at the end of my rope?

We’ve all used it and we’ve certainly all been there.  For me it conjures up images of Jr. High gym class, my classmates gathered around the bottom of a fat cluster of burlap fiber as I climbed upward with stinging hands.

I hated gym class, for me it was an hour designed to point out all the things I’m bad at, followed by a soul-sucking public shower with girls who didn’t like me with my clothes on thank you very much.

If anything ever sent me to “the end of my rope” it was the misery of that Junior High torture.

When we use this turn of phrase with each other we’re insinuating that there’s more rope than we can climb, or that there’s no more rope and we’re barely hanging on.  We’re out of energy to climb upward or we’re about to let go of the rope because there isn’t anymore.

Either way what we really mean to say is that life’s giving us more than we can handle and the climbing can’t go on much longer.

Sometimes this is because of a central and all consuming heartache.  Other times, there isn’t one central issue but the cumulation of little, constant struggles are what’s got us running out of rope.

Both of these seasons can be formative and completely awful.  We climb and we fight until one day we wake up and realize that the waves are still coming and we’re plumb out of resolve.

This is when we typically use the “end of my rope” phrase.  It’s because the idea of another day of climbing seems beyond us.  It seems as though it would be easier to drop than to spend another day hanging on or trying to add strands to our rapidly fraying lifeline.

Rope Continue reading

Grief is awkward

because grief is awkward.

……  because grief is awkward……

Recently I moved back to my hometown.  Back to the place where my parents are buried and the most painful parts of my life came to pass.

It was easier to hide from and avoid the details when I was 1,000 miles away…  not always driving past the cemetery or over the train tracks where it all went down.

Yet, all of these little moments of remembering haven’t messed with me as much as this one:

I was sitting at my desk, at the office where I work a few days a week right now and someone stopped in who I haven’t seen for years, someone from my parents church.

We chatted about this and that and as he was leaving he said:

“Hey!  Tell your folks I said hi!”  

Inwardly I panicked. Boy was he out of the loop, I thought everyone in town knew our story.

Should I fill him in or just let it go?  He knew them, he deserved to know.

So I did what I have to do sometimes and laid it all out at once, the breakdown of what’s up with my family.

“I have a sister, but she was in a tragic accident and lives in a group home and my Dad died of a massive heart attack and then my mom took her life.  So I have a brother, but he joined the army and lives in Kansas for now.”

Deep breath.

Typically when I have to do this I am absolutely fine and it doesn’t phase me.  After all, nothing about my life changes in that moment.

But in that moment, remembering who we all were way back then and then explaining how it ended, It undid me. And when he left I hid in the storage room and cried.

It was awkward and painful.

Grief is awkward.

Usually the moment I explain my backstory is no big deal and it doesn’t hurt … much.  In fact, usually I end up feeling worse for the person on the other end of my story and find myself trying to make them feel better about it all.

This is always my least favorite moment of “getting to know you.

Grief is awkward.

Sometime this is because you find yourself suddenly hurting, stinging from an unexpected, painful memory…  in public.

 

Maybe a song comes on in church and you crumple to the pew and burry your head in your hands, or you see something while you’re out and about that brings everything crashing down on you.

The people around you see this and don’t know whether to intervene or let you have your moment.  They may wonder what’s going on, they may speculate or they may grab you a tissue… even if it’s tender and sweet… it may feel a little awkward.

This is because you suddenly have to “go there” with someone you may not be ready to “go there” with.

But this is life, and life is awkward.  It’s a big jumble of experiences we weren’t expecting and feelings that arrest and overwhelm us at the most inopportune moments.  

Since it’s bound to get awkward… here is a list (that I’ve developed from years of awkward moments) that may help you.

1) Breathe. If you stop you will pass out and that’s super awkward.
2) Gain perspective, everyone has experienced pain and can likely identify with what’s going on.  You’re not the first person on the planet to hurt.
3) Drop your shame, you have no reason for it, healing takes vulnerability and it’s not always pretty. Shame is just going to lengthen the process.
4) Remember that we were created for relationship and that this forced, accidental group therapy may very well turn into something lovely, if you let it.
5) When you say the wrong thing (like: “your mom” to someone who doesn’t have one or “do you have kids?” to someone who is infertile) apologize but move on in grace.  What you’ve just learned isn’t new information to the person you’re chatting with they’re probably okay… so you can be too.

Overall remember that life is just messy and uncomfortable.  You will fall apart sometimes, and it will usually be in public.  I think this is because God’s trying to teach us to be real…. although it’s not my favorite method of his. 

The more we all admit this messy awkwardness and stop pretending that grief and pain are quick and easy, the less awkward moments we will actually have.

And we will create authenticity…
And community
And generally feel less alone in the pain of it all.

And that my friends is a very, very good thing.

Patient, Joyful, Hopeful (or getting Bslapped by Romans 12)

photo To say that life has been an uphill climb for our family lately would be accurate.

Oh, and also a bit of an understatement.

We’ve described it as swimming through molasses or as putting out endless fires.

We’ve even described it as a losing battle, on our worst days.

It’s not that anything big is wrong really, it’s just that every simple thing blows up in my face.

It’s like this:

I get up to make breakfast, but I can’t because I realize that in my stressed out state, I put the eggs in the freezer and ruined them.  So I go to grab my car keys so that I can go out for oatmeal and do some writing work, but I can’t find them.  Anywhere.  I give up and decide to take the van when I realize that I can’t work at all, because I’ve left my laptop 170 miles away and won’t be getting it back for a week.

Ugh.  Really?

Caedmon has learned a new phrase over the past few months: “I give up on this!”  This morning it was: “I give up on this yogurt!  I give up!”

Establishing ourselves in Michigan has been a blend of beautiful and stressful and living on two part-time incomes is no easy feat.

We’ve said all along that this was going to be a hard, faith-demanding, Abraham and Sarah-ish transition.  And guess what?  It is! It’s pinching and exhausting and mostly uphill.

I knew it would be, yet I act shocked and ooze whininess.

Yesterday I was working in a coffee shop on a borrowed laptop and I decided to give up some of my time to read the bible and pray.

I say this because I’ve developed a bad habit of seeing prayer and the bible time as expendable.  Please feel free to believe that this is the source of a lot of my current stress and issues, because… I know… 

So I’ve been working my way (slowly and erratically) through a study on “prayer in the bible” and yesterday’s reading smacked me with truth.  Hard.

It was beautiful and simple-sweet, I smiled, but it stung.

“Be patient in hope, joyful in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Romans 12:12

That’s it, that was the entire days’d reading.  And guess what? I’ve been doing exactly none of those things… and it’s been killing me and my family. Continue reading

That Thing You Do.

“Oh Lord, our Lord how majestic is your name in all the earth. “

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For my entire life I read this verse and figured it was about mountains, sunsets and jungle flowers so exotically that it’s difficult to believe that they’re real.

But these days I think that mountains paint a weak picture of God’s majesty, compared to the wonders of his children.  And this is a bold statement coming from me because I seriously love the mountains.

Lately I wonder if God’s name is worshipped the fullest and most powerfully when his children discover their passions and are brave enough to go through with them, to pursue them, to embody his creative-splendor with their hours of their lives.

Maybe in this way, worship isn’t so much about a song on Sunday but about faithful hands but about being fully ourselves for our Father throughout the week.

Being brave enough to listen to that whispering voice inside.  The one that says:

“You know that thing you love to do?  Do that.  Do it for Me, with Me. Do it as your life’s work, even when you’re feeling scared and too small.  Those feelings are the enemy, he wants no part of this beauty.  He wants you in hiding, to keep my beauty and love contained.”

Now that I’ve opened my eyes to this concept, I see people’s passionate hearts as beautiful worship, I tear up at all the gifts and wonder God poured into his people.  Slam poetry? Glass blowing? Perfect violin solos?  It’s all too much, it makes me wonder why I bother with Mascara anymore,  life’s too beautiful to stay dry-eyed. Continue reading

A God Light Expert.

It was the end of the evening, after dinner but not quite bedtime, when I heard my four year old Noelle call to me from down the hall.

“Mom!  Come here, I have to show you something! It’s a surprise in your bedroom, you’ll love it so much!”

Outwardly I said: “Alright sweet girl, I’m coming!”

Inwardly I thought: “I wonder what mess she’s made this time.”

She was waiting for me on the khaki carpeted floor at the entrance to our bedroom, just sitting there grinning.

“Look Mom, it’s light.” she said with reverent awe.

And then I saw it, a beam of light that had made it’s way through the faux wood blinds of our bedroom and into the hallway, translucent-gold as the the dust of daily life passed through it.

My breath caught, this was not was I was expecting to be hauled down the hallway to see. Kitty games, forts, book towers… yup, expectable.  This golden stream of light?  It struck me as perfection.

I plopped down next to her and told her that it was light coming through the window, a focused beam of light shining on our floor.

“It reminds me of God.”  I told her, “the way his light streams into our lives and makes things beautiful and bright.”

 “So God is light?  That’s God?”  She asked me.

“Yes, and no” I told her. “That reminds me of God, the way his light always finds the cracks and comes into our lives.”

And that’s when she really popped my heart open: “Yeah, I know mom.  I’m a God-light Expert.”

God-light

I’m not sure what a God-light expert is guys, all I know for certain is that I want to be one.

An expert in seeing God-light in the unexpected places
In believing in it’s transformative power
An expert in being it, bringing it and letting it flow through me in all sorts of unlikely ways.

I’m sick of walking by the God light in all it’s many forms because I’m too occupied with busywork and worry.

I want to be stopped by the God light
I want to bring it where I’m going
I want the mini blinds of my heart to open wide to let in more than just cracks of it.

I want to swim in it, or at least realize that I already am swimming in it… and always have been.

I want see my children as the experts in God-Light and I, the novice as the they daily delight in the little bits of daily light.

I want my grown-up cynicism to crack like a breakfast egg and all the good stuff to run out and nourish another day of life on earth.

I want to be a God-Light expert too.  Don’t you?

How do your kids teach you about God-Light?  Where are you seeing it these days?

Love in The Lean Days.

You just pulled the loaded-down Saturn out of our driveway and pointed it North. North to your first weekend at your new, out of town, pastoring gig.  But it’s not a gig, it’s a call, we both believe this to be true, but right now it’s a tough call which is taking you out of town every weekend.

This is a different side of ministry, where you do it because you love it, because you’re called to it…  but also because you need to buy milk, eggs and bananas.

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You’re camping in a dome tent for the weekend, and likely every weekend for the rest of the summer.  We laugh that it’s because you need to dust off your Eagle Scout skills but we both know it’s because it’s cheapest and allows us to retain a bigger chunk of your housing allowance.

I smiled at you from someplace deep last night as I watched you pack a the car, wash off the camping gear and pack a cooler with hot dogs and eggs.

These are the lean days baby, where we’re running on fumes and thankful for the simplest, smallest pleasures.

photo The sweetness of a on-sale watermelon.
The simplicity of a family walk after dinner
The joy of our kids as they ride the penny horse at the grocery store

It’s not easy, sometimes it’s awful, but there is sweetness to be found in the lean days, they’re fraught with simplicity and I think we needed the return to simple and sweet.

Something beautiful is born when we meet eyes across our sticky old dining-room table, running on just enough sleep to be kind and just enough money to keep our kids in peanut butter and apples.

That look speaks volumes, doesn’t it?

it’s one part “we’re going make it”
one part “this small, simple life is what really matters”
and another small part “I’m a little freaked out right now.”

Through it all I’m amazed at you, the man I get to share my life with, the one sleeping in the little tent up north while I sprawl out alone in our king bed after puttering around the house after the kids fall asleep in a daze because my evening buddy is up north in a tent.

I love that we’re make it work people, I love what we’re learning in the lean days and I love the future I see before us.

When we’ll look back and smile about how intense it was when we moved across the country with two kids and a lot of question marks.

We’ll tell stories to our kids about how you preached on the weekends and got ready in a tent.

We’ll remember how God provided and how deeply we relied on him in this season and then we’ll whisper thankful prayers for all the simple love and gratitude we learned in the lean days.

Have you been through a lean season?  As tough as it was/is, what good gifts did you find there?