How to Not Drown in Your Crappies

fall-1Samuel is napping while I fluff up our home with festive touches of fall and consider the season of Thanksgiving that’s approaching. I don’t know about you but I often fight gratitude with reasons. With cold hard facts and cruel reality. I have my reasons for being bitter and resentful and unhappy.. Don’t we all? Life can be a real beat down. But I’m learning that truly being grateful for my life isn’t just giving thanks that my “happies” outnumber my “crappies” – it’s often a fight for the right priorities. What things, of all the list of happies and crappies really matters? Long term. Big picture. Eternal perspective. That shift in focusing on priorities helps me so much when I’m struggling to be grateful. It also helps when I remember that I’m not supposed to endure crappies all by myself.

Listen to me – You will drown in your crappies if you’re trying to go it alone.

Here’s what you do to avoid drowning:

1. Get to know God. Study Jesus. – This sounds so “woo woo wacko” if you’re not someone who thinks about or cares much about who God is or isn’t. It also may sound like 2 steps but they’re one in the same. This is a crucial step. Why? Well, if for no other reason than you were made in His image. He put you together so if you have beef with Him or questions about stuff that’s true of you/been done to you/you’ve done to others – start the conversation by pursuing Him. *Spoiler alert – He’s already and always pursuing you. So, you’re about 15…20… FOREVER years behind. It’s OK though, totally worth jumping in and getting to it. I recommend picking up a Bible and reading the book of John – it’s in the New Testament, 4th book down if you’re looking at the Table of Contents.

The more you learn about God, the more you understand about yourself. I do this by reading the Bible on a regular basis, praying, and talking to other people about just about anything from God to parenting to careers to hobbies etc. Which leads me to my second tip to avoid drowning in your own crappies

2. Let yourself be known by other people. – Full disclosre: I’m bad at this. All of my closest friends (spouse included) will tell you I’m bad at this. I have a tendency to hide behind all of my happies, sweep the crappies under the rug until they explode and then it’s like a shitstorm. Pardon my french but it’s a quite accurate metaphor is it not? When you let other people know when you’re hurt, angry, lonely, scared, or confused you may be amazed to discover they still love you any way. EVEN ALL OF YOUR CRAPPIES. Use caution with who you let into your shitstorm though because it ain’t a pretty place and you need the real troopers who will wade in and pull you out without feeling the need to pinch their nose.

fall-2So if you’re like me and you’re so super excited about Fall and PSL and OMG CRUNCHY LEAVES but you’re kind of feeling a little (or a lot) like you’re drowning in crappies, it may behoove you to dive into the aforementioned steps and see what happens. Maybe by the time Thanksgiving rolls around you will be able to lift your glass at the obligatory “thankful toast” and experience in your heart – real and abiding gratitude for the life you’re living right now.
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Farewell, Fanny

John’s grandma died yesterday. She was 95 and managed to live like she never passed 50. I didn’t know her in the way a grandchild knows her grandma. We don’t share many memories together and our conversations, though sweet have always been brief. Yet, her faith and her hands have shaped someone who has become the most important person to me. Apart from his mom, John’s grandma was the most influential woman in his childhood. She lived with him for his first 12 years of life and raised him and his siblings. She disciplined him, loved him, and prayed for him.

I owe a great deal to Fanny Gialdo, a woman from Trinidad who had faith that burned ferociously. The ferocity of her faith did not leave people scathed and wounded however, but rather drew people towards her… towards Christ, with warmth and wisdom. She had her faults, like all of us. I don’t know them in particular so I have the happy job of remembering how her example changed me in profound and beautiful ways.

I met her on our wedding day. She wore a lovely blue dress, comfortable white shoes, and a warm smile. She was the one who made John break down in tears that day. Not his blushing bride, mind you. Looking as radiant as a thousand freaking suns while vowing her undyng devotion to him. (I am totally over it, by the way.)

There was a bet going among the groomsmen concerning when John would cry because (bless him) he’s a crier. I thought for sure he would break down at the vows. He was a little shaky but there were no tears. Enter: grandma. There we were in the recieving line right after being pronounced Mr. & Mrs. –  I saw John stoop down as her tiny, strong arms looped around his shoulders, speaking of her love and affection for him. He straightened up with a shining grin and tears streaming down his face. “Way to go, grandma!” I thought. It is only appropriate that a woman so deeply nestled in the heart of my new husband would open the floodgates. No hard feelings, Fanny. Nothing but love.

A little over a year into marriage, I saw her over Christmas. These are where some of my most favorite moments with her were unwrapped and tucked into my memory.

One day, I saw her sitting on the front porch, hands folded in her lap, looking out at the road. I was a little intimidated by her, I’ll admit. John told me stories of her voice carrying with it a thousand daggers when he would get in trouble as a boy.  She was a sweet woman, but not to be messed with. I approached her and commented on the weather because that’s what you do when you come into the presence of someone you want to be like, but you also want to be cool about it so they like you back. I’m certain she would have laughed if she knew my palms were kind of sweaty. Once we talked about the weather I just jumped right in with, “If you could give me any marriage advice, what would it be?” (I’m so good at transitions.)

She continued to look out at the road and while I can’t remember her exact words, here was the gist: “Forgive. Let it go. Know when to hold your tongue and keep your peace.” It sent all these red-hot flags flying in my brain, “I WILL SPEAK MY MIND SO HELP ME! I hope you tell JOHN to know when to hold his tongue too because he’s not perfect!” Instead I smiled and nodded and (God help me) dismissed her notions as maybe a bit dated or old-fashioned. Full disclosure: As it turns out, her advice comes straight from a heart that actually understands the gospel of Jesus so if you need me I’ll be eating crow until… forever.

The next morning, I walked into the kitchen and saw her at the small breakfast table, hands raised, face lifted, and thanksgiving spilling from her lips like the sun spilling across the kitchen floor. When she instructed me to “hold your tongue and keep your peace” she was most certainly not referring to my prayer life! Fanny did not hold her tongue when she was giving thanks to God. She had a relationship with Jesus that I could almost see emanating from her. She loved Jesus. Unapologetically.

She kept company with her Savior in such a peculiar and compelling way. As if he was there, eating breakfast with her – wrapped in all of the intimacy and familiarity we feel when sitting with a close friend and sharing a cup of coffee. Yet she was worshipping him. He was familiar to her and holy to her. She revered him and she trusted him like a bosom buddy. The two were inseparable. It was awkward for me because I sort of felt like I had stumbled into a moment that was supposed to be just between her and Jesus. But Fanny did not bend to her surroundings or the people around her, she bent her knees and her will only to Jesus. So if her praying out loud made you uncomfortable that certainly wasn’t her intention but she certainly wasn’t about to stop. Political correctness be damned, Christ be exalted.

Gosh I want to be like her.

The final memory I have of Fanny during that visit still makes me cry. We were all gathered, a bunch of family, in one of the large rooms in the house. People were sporadically sharing about what was going on in their lives when someone asked John about seminary. At this point we were about halfway through that journey. John answered honestly – seminary was hard. One of the most exhausting and draining seasons of John’s life. Fanny could sense it in his answer and responded to it with singing. Because, of course.

john at weddingIt started sort of soft and low, then grew stronger and louder. Fanny stopped all surrounding conversation, ushering everybody into a thick silence and we listened as this woman’s love swept over her grandson. Her john-boy. John and I’s tears poured out as our ears opened up all the way down to our hearts and one promise found it’s way in: God will take care of you.

“Be not dismayed whate’er betide,

God will take care of you;

Beneath His wings of love abide,

God will take care of you.

 

God will take care of you,

Through every day, o’er all the way;

He will take care of you,

God will take care of you.

 

All you may need He will provide,

God will take care of you;

Nothing you ask will be denied,

God will take care of you.

 

No matter what may be the test,

God will take care of you;

Lean, weary one, upon His breast,

God will take care of you.”

She ignored the squirming in the seats and the darting eyes that didn’t know what to do with this old woman filling up the room with notes that may not have found the right place but words that certainly did. She was about doing God’s work and she never asked for your permission to do it. Again – never from an aggressive posture but in a surrendered and obedient one.

She finished up and the room exploded in “Amens” and “Thank you Jesus” and I sat, her words covering me like a warm blanket, assured that God will take care of me.

Fanny meets SamuelOur paths would cross a handful of times after that. She “met” our darling Samuel thanks to the wonders of the internet. Oh! How she smiled and laughed as she said his name and told him how beautiful he was. I told him over and over, ‘That’s great-grandma Fanny, buddy! She helped raise your daddy and boy do we love her A LOT!’ He smiled and reached for the computer screen as she leaned in so close to the camera I thought she might fall right on through and land in our laps! (if only!) Many times I have talked with Fanny over the phone. Many times her words, steeped in a rich Trinidadian accent, wouldn’t be fully understood by me (essentially the most un-accented person on the planet. thank you, central Virginia) but her meaning would come ringing loud and clear: “I love you. God bless you. God bless your child. I pray for you, take care.”

FannyI will miss your prayers, Fanny. Your impromptu worship and your frank wisdom have left in it’s wake a legacy of faithfulness, service and joy. You changed this world. You did it gracefully, amidst adversity and trials I know nothing about. You did it imperfectly, with your own baggage and prejudices that tripped you up along your journey. I will never fully know, this side of heaven just how much your prayers changed the course of my life by changing the course of my husband’s. Thank you. Thank you for showing me that following Jesus means loving people even when it’s weird or (especially when) unreciprocated. Thank you for all of the times you approached the God of the universe and laid John, me and Samuel at His feet. Asking for His love, His wisdom and His protection over us. We are left to grieve you, but we look forward to seeing you again.

I picture you now at a breakfast table with Jesus. Talking as friends, learning more about Him than you could have ever imagined. You are happy, whole, vibrant… and home.

The Dark, Cold Waters of Depravity

On the day I should be humble, Lord

Stricken with grief and despair

I find myself looking up at You and

mocking you with my stare.

“If you are the son of God,” I yell

“then get off that cross. Do SOMEthing.

Save yourself. Call the angels. How foolish

that you do nothing!”

I watch you speak to the criminals as your lungs start to collapse,

offering a seat in Paradise? Please. You’re nothing but a man.

Eventually you die and as the sky and ground split in two,

I shrug off the scream of creation, my eyes are fixed only on you.

You are dead, Jesus. That’s what I see.

I feel nothing but disappointed.

What a joke I played on my heart, to think you were somehow anointed.

Now here I am, generations removed from the actual moment that you died

and I am so so angry Lord. I want to do nothing but scream and cry.

At You.

It alarms me because I have always been for you, with you, trusting every move you have made.

Now I find myself retreating from the wings that gave me shade.

Do you see what’s happening around here, God? Do you hear the bombs and screams?

As girls are ripped from their innocence and the heads of children fill the streets?

I’m back at the foot of the Cross and I am yelling at you again to move, to ACT

my voice catches in my throat because it’s actually desperation I feel. Not anger.

I am so tired of holding out nothing but hope. It seems so not enough for that mourning mother.

What of that child who watched themselves become an orphan? WHAT ARE YOU DOING FOR THEM?

For years I have recited the rhetoric. I have looked at the cross with deep sorrow yet JOY.

But this year, God I am struggling SO HARD to believe this isn’t just a big ploy.

I have broken down for the broken down and feel entirely spent.

I know you offer eternal life, but does it matter when this life, for so many, is hell?

Yet, before your eyes close in death on the cross, before you surrender your life,

You look down into my hateful heart and am compelled, for me, to die.

You know that I will doubt you, that I will try and flee from your presence.

You have gone with me every place I am, You will continue into the next one.

God I weep at my unbelief, at the doubt I have nurtured, coddled and kept

But just as you saw me, clear as day on that cross, you saw billions and billions… and wept.

So even though sometimes it’s hard to swallow the truth lodged in my imperfect, wayward spirit,

I will proclaim to the nations, to neighbors, to friends, to anyone who will hear it:

God saw and He moved and He entered into our hate. He suffocated under our darkness.

Today, RIGHT NOW, the Enemy tears through flesh and nations to convince us that our God is absent.

Oh friend, skeptic, critic, and saint – do not be deceived any longer.

The glimpses of terror we have seen in our time, are a fraction of what laid on Christ’s shoulders.

We will not ever fully know the dark, cold waters of our depravity, as Christ has known them.

The Enemy likes to make us think those waters will drown us in despair and pain,

But Jesus’ death gives every soul the chance to come up for air, and remain.

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Walking with Jesus – through my refrigerator

 I’ve been walking with Jesus through this life since the tender age of 7. Twenty years you guys. 20 years of his companionship, guidance, discipline and joy! And yet every year – sometimes every minute – I am learning and surrendering all over again. It’s amazing what happens when you take the truth of God’s word and hold it up against the subtle habits of your life.
May we never ever get it set in our heads that we have arrived. That we have learned all we need to learn or have grown into or deepest intimacy with Him. It’s simply not true. There is always more of Him than there are minutes in our lifetime. The real question is – will you find Him in those minutes?

Food is for the stomach, and the stomach is for food; but God will do away with both… All things are lawful, but not all things EDIFY. – 1 Corinthians 6:13 & 10:23

I wrote this little note this morning and placed it on my kitchen counter because I am re-evaluating my relationship with food. Something so simple and ordinary yet crucial to my life. It’s a relationship in which I have begun to adopt unsavory habits, in which I have begun to place food on some kind of comfort pedestal in my heart. I have not done the hard work of truly examining what I eat and why because I know, at the root, there is a restless mistrust of God’s goodness and an incredible ability to justify my sin into oblivion.

I’m just beginning the work of taking a long, hard and honest look into my pantry and fridge and figuring out what it might be telling me about my heart and my mind. They’re so connected you know? Thankfully, I have not reached a point where I am truly depriving my body intentionally or obsessing over a particluar size or image that causes me to binge. If this is you – please please talk to somebody about it. Oh what a hard spiral you are in – but you CAN be free from it!
For me? I’m addressing my apathy towards what I put in my body – “So what if this has stuff in it that isn’t actually food? So what if I’ve only got one life to live and one body to live in? Whatever. I have a high metabolism so I don’t have to “worry” about that stuff.” Not OK. Not a healthy attitude towards the blessing and nourishment that food is meant to be for me and my family.
So I’m asking myself: What is my relationship with food like? Is it healthy? Do I have auto-pilot habits and reflexes that need to be re-claimed and re-trained? (Answer: YES) — this little picture frame on my kitchen will sit as a reminder that God can use anything and everything to edify (to build up and encourage) His children. That He has given me food for my body but ultimately He has given me Himself to enjoy and find soul-pleasuring sustenance in – for my whole eternity.

I’m figuring out what all of this looks like and while it’s awkward for me to share and it will probably make me feel even more insecure when I let the whole freaking Internet world know about it – I want to be an encouragement to that one other person on the other side of the screen who is thinking about this too.

Momma's motivation <3

Momma’s motivation ❤

All I know is – I want to treat my body with care, raise my kids on food that will nourish and energize, and never ever eliminate the joys of ice cream and peach pie from my life because God gave me 10,000 tastebuds and I ain’t wasting a-one of ’em.

Grace for the ball-droppers and rule-followers

IMG_0622Well, folks. I just got done reading the entire week’s worth of Bible reading this afternoon. That’s right. Monday through Saturday reading turned into an hour on the couch on Saturday. In case you were counting how far along we are into the New Year, we’ve yet to break open the second out of twelve months. So, when it comes to goal-achieving — let’s just say, I’m terrible at it.

Also, I had another goal set up for the New Year — write one blog post a week. Seems reasonable and achievable right? RIGHT! Not that anyone is tracking this but uhh, I didn’t write a post last week. So here I am, hands clammy and mind racing for something to write about when I realize, I need to write about what it’s like to need grace. All those little things that remind you for the umpteenth time: you aren’t perfect.

If I look deeper into why I didn’t meet my two simple goals this week and last, it boils down to one thing: priority. In short, I prioritized watching Friends on Netflix and sleeping in until the last possible second over making time for Bible reading or disciplining myself to sit down and write.

The truth about me is I’m a ball-dropper. I’m a “yes-girl” with good ideas and little follow-through. I’m lazy and I struggle to get motivated. I’m scared to write because I’m never satisfied with the end result. I want accolades without effort and pats on the back without putting my time in. I’m selfish and cruel, I think dark and ugly things about other people, I hurt people who mean the world to me. I choose comfort over service 9 times out of 10. I don’t like sharing all of this because it may give you a more realistic view of who I am and that’s always scary. I don’t like letting people in because I know what’s on the other side of small talk and it’s usually uncomfortable.

I’m married to a rule-follower. A disciplinarian like I have never seen. His demons run in the direction of perfectionism, nagging at him to prove to the world that he is  A-B-C or X-Y-Z. He struggles to hold plans loosely, worry can sometimes keep him up at night and he’s constantly haunted by the past. (His paragraph is shorter than mine, but I’m leaving stuff out ok?!)

Yet we’ve both been changed  by grace. Him in his desperate attempts to have it all figured out and mine in my haphazard attempts to please everybody while parading around in a false confidence that everything will sort itself out in the end. Grace reminds us that our sins are no longer counted under the sacrifice of Jesus, even if we like to keep score with each other (Which is so healthy, right? We should get an award for how petty we can be at times.)

But grace isn’t just a blanket to cover our sins, it’s manifested in a God who gets under our skin. He digs into our unhealthy habits and slowly removes the tar of fear and worry and apathy. He is faithful to acknowledge not only how miserably lost we are without Him, but to move us towards a life that is marked by faith-filled contentment, open hands, and a desire to serve rather than be served.

God brings grace to the ball-droppers and the rule-followers.

I think one of the greatest attributes of grace is that it moves us towards hope. God sees our days, each of them is numbered until we see Him face to face — He sees our beginning and end and in-between. He hears our thoughts and sees our intentions and He enters into it — not carrying a blank check for a “do whatever you want” life but ushering in a lifestyle marked by a desire to “do whatever I can for the good of people around me to the glory of a God who compels me with grace.”

Grace does not condone us to keep on sinning, it compels us into a life of righteous living.

So, next week if  when I find myself sitting at the couch cramming in my Bible reading or snapping at my husband, I will also find grace to get up the next day and walk with a God who never runs out of mercies, delights in having me in His family, and loves me even when I skim through all the lineage chapters of the Old Testament.

 

 

 

 

Breaking All The Rules – Living Like Grandma

This past week was John and I’s first week back from a two week holiday break. The amount of grumbling and whining opportunities we had were tenfold. No more sleeping in ’til we felt like waking up! No more mid-day naps or spontaneous walks on the beach or hours spent reading whatever we wanted whenever we wanted. Now it was back to the daily grind. With all of it’s waking-upness and schedules and deadlines. John didn’t technically go “back to work” this week but there are about a thousand projects to do around the house that had him plenty occupied all week.

I’ll admit that at times I was pretty worn out and pining for some time to relax and unplug. Yet I also admit, the path paved with bitterness and discontentment, though comfortably wide and welcoming, always left me feeling more exhausted than I was before. So I decided to break all the rules of a post-vacation experience and actually enjoy myself. I began almost every day reading the Bible while munching on my Eggo waffles. I kissed my husband goodbye on the days I went into the office and harassed him mercilessly enjoyed his company when I worked from home.

Sometimes I would take a brief break from work just to pet the cat or look out the window and thank God for a beautiful new home. I even tried a new recipe this week and for those of you who know how I am in the kitchen, that’s basically the equivalent of skydiving for me. I am unstoppable.

This week I lived out what millions of other people before me have already discovered — the healing phenomenon of gratitude. Gratitude for your ordinary life takes work, until it stops being work and simply becomes a life you’re thankful for. Contentment isn’t found in the entitlements of the world. In the predictable patterns of comfort, self-centeredness, control, never-ending vacations, and apathy. Contentment is refined in the grind. It turns heads and raises eyebrows when it’s found in an ordinary someone living a life on purpose, with no bells or whistles attached.

Holding me in her arms and prayers for as long as I can remember. :)

Holding me in her arms and prayers for as long as I can remember. 🙂

My grandma has it. She lost her best friend  and life partner over 40 years ago, yet faithfully shows up to play organ at her church, visit friends and have Bible study. She has watched loved ones die year after year and has told me that it doesn’t get easier “just because you’re old.” But my grandma is close to the heart of God. She spends her time in prayer and asleep in front of the 5 o’clock news. 😉 She is ruthless and unwavering in her convictions about the grace of God and I will never fully know how much her prayers have shaped and protected and held me during difficult times.

I talked to grandma on Christmas Day and when asking her for advice about life she told me “be on your knees, Rachel. Every season of life you will always find help from Your Maker.” I cried because she made it seem so simple because for her it IS that simple. That’s exactly what I want. Whatever happens in my life, in whatever season, I know that contentment is most easily found in surrender to a good and perfect God. 

I am not perfect at this and I have had my fair share of grumblings and mumblings. Nobody does this flawlessly but I believe that it’s possible to be content where you are when you stop trying to control all the things you don’t like or understand about your life. This is easier said than done on every level, I get that. But this past week I learned it’s worth it. It’s worth waking up and making the most of the day as you can.

For the Broken Bells

hanging_jingle_bellsI love this time of year! All the feel-good jingles and the festive sleigh bell jangles. Christmas is magical in so many ways! As each year has passed, Christmas is still beautiful and fun but the world around me has sort of lost it’s soft innocence I had enjoyed as a little girl. Back in the day where my biggest concern was getting to the JCPenney gift catalog before my sister did so I could mark all the stuff I wanted before her, I didn’t know about things like loss or grief or pain or sorrow.

There are days where I miss that innocence. Where I wish I could close my eyes and see the world with all of the naiveté of a 6-year-old. Where people didn’t hurt people so badly or where hard decisions weren’t weighing on my mind or relationships weren’t shattering and depression wasn’t suffocating and grief wasn’t so ruthless and final.

This world and every (every) person in it are messed up on so many levels and for all of the Christmas caroling and jingle belling that swirls around us, we just can’t fix it. So I sit in my car and listen to the lyrics of “O Holy Night” and beg the Lord to return, to break visible chains of bondage because sometimes it’s hard to care about the invisible ones. To stop oppression in it’s tracks and display his power by silencing all the violence. I praise Him for thrilling our souls with a hope that stays and for entering a world that was pining in it’s own desperate, depraved chaos. I ask Him for wisdom for His church because while the world certainly needs His law of love and gospel of peace, His church needs it too.

I could probably name a dozen reasons off the top of my head why I should feel bitter, angry, and confused right now. Some of the reasons are personal, some national, and others global. I have my list of “How do you explain this” circumstances that I have wielded in anger as I marched up to the throne of grace, demanding explanations.

I know that believing is hard, friends. I know that if you’re hurting right now then you probably don’t feel like decking the halls and it’s probably hard to dream of a White Christmas when you aren’t sleeping at night. The palpable, frenzied happy feelings that pulse through the air and radio this time of year may be cutting you like a knife and nobody seems to really get it.

I just want to tell you — somebody gets it. In fact, He’s the reason all of this celebrating is happening. Buried beneath the white noise of holly, jolly, ho-ho-ho, 50% off, buy-more-save-more is a baby boy sleeping in a cow trough, his mother exhausted and in pain on the cold barn floor and his father with deep lines of fatigue and wonder tracing his face.

I know it seems so ridiculous that a baby would save the world. Even more ridiculous to believe that God would become a man. Christmas is absurd, really. But God has never done things the way we expect Him to, or even demand Him to. He is not in the business of catering to finite, individual understandings of who He ought to be and how He ought to act.

He is in the glory business. The kind of glory which displays a radiant hope that pierces through thickening hate. Glory that takes deep pain and massages it gently into restored wholeness. Glory that sees lost causes as second chances. Glory that points to a God we just can’t summarize.

Christmas is about a God who saw you hurting and scared and tired and angry and said, “I am coming to heal that. Forever. Once for all.”

The sin that plagues you internally and externally is waging war so ferociously because it has already lost. It is frantic to distract you from Christmas, desperate to keep you from Easter.

In case you thought that Christmas runs only as deep as the warm-fuzzy feelings, I wanted to tell you how wrong you are. It finds the lonely, isolated, angry, heartbroken, and torn and says, “Ahhh yes. This is where I belong. I love you. You matter to me. Will you hear me? Will you believe that I came for you?”

I’m praying that you hear it, this year. The real sound of Christmas ringing through the cold, dark winter of your pain — a thrill of hope, a new and glorious morn.