Day 6: Sweats

Yes, sweats…not sweat.  Sweat would imply that I did something.  Rather, I added (or just didn’t change out of) my sweats…

all…day…long.

Sunday’s sermon encouraged slowing down this Lenten season.  So I took it real slow–in my sweats.

Refreshingly, there’s not a whole lot to report when you’re doing nothing in your pajamas.  I even allowed my mind to rest and do absolutely no thinking or trying somehow parable-ize my use of 100% thick grey cotton.

I rested.

Too bad tomorrow is Day 7, because that would really make the use of this bible verse awesome… oh, well.  The principle still applies. 🙂

“So the people rested on the seventh day.”

Exodus 16:30


Day 7: ukelele

Today I added a ukelele.  I spent some good quality time with the instrument.  Just her and I…(I don’t know, seems like an effeminate member of the string family).  I feel like she should have an Austin-y hipster name as well, but I’m still working on that. We spoke gently to each other and solved some of the world’s problems.  Creativity and music go hand in hand for me, as well as communion with God.  Time spent lost in strange chords and augmented 7th’s creates intimate space with the Father.  Letting the Spirit speak through my attempts to lilt odd melodies over dissonant chords is freeing for my mind and my soul.  I am thankful that God and I speak this unique, yet common, language. I am grateful that my heart can connect with Him with the use of a ‘uke’.

“I will incline my ear to a proverb; I will solve my riddle to the music of the lyre.”

Psalm 49:4

I should be cleaning my bedroom closet right now.  My suitcase is still sitting outside the door, packed with dirty clothes from two weekends ago.  There are piles of clean folded clothes that have toppled three or four times just this morning.  My shoes, which are normally stored towards the back of the large walk-in closet are piled atop the suitcase.  I should me in there right now, putting life back in all its proper places.  It’s been a slow and deceptive process.  One shirt left out of place once is a small thing.  But repeat over time, and you end up with a closet like mine.

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Instead of sorting and putting away, I have chosen to lay in bed, with my minimally charged computer.  I’d like to say my intention was to sit down and process life by writing a blog post.  But, I’d be lying.  My goal was to watch last Thursday night’s line-up of tv show dramas that I missed.  It’s only because the site has insisted on making me wait a full week to watch any of the latest full episodes that I have resigned to this…writing about life.

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I think I hesitate to write due to shame.  Yes, my closet is a mess right now, and usually my closet is a reflection of my life.  The feelings I have as I look at that mountain of neglect recall to mind the state of our life almost two years ago as we contemplated entering “Family Rehab.”  While the circumstances were very different, we were having very similar conversations.   “I am just so tired.”  “I haven’t seen or played with the kids all week.”  “Crap, I forgot to buy more lunchmeat…we have to stop by the store for Lunchables on the way to school.”  “I don’t think we can keep up this pace.”  “Something has got to change.”  “How can I do all of what life is asking of me when I can’t even unpack my bags?”  Back when we first found ourselves in this discussion, we ended up making very drastic changes to our circumstances, taking our children out of school for the year and slowing down the rat-race.

However, this go-around, I am less concerned with the possible solutions and more concerned with how we ended up feeling just as fatigued and just as overtasked.  We have been in Life After Rehab for less than a year, and ALREADY it seems as though we are questioning everything again.  We have relapsed.

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15).

I have over-committed, over-worried, over-feared, over-worked, over-stretched, and over-looked.  God has put us in a place where the tendency to do these things is all too dangerous.  Maybe we are too weak for all this.  Maybe we are not fit for the challenges that lie ahead.

“So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.  For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,  but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.  Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?,”  (Romans 7:21-24).

I want to have all my crap together.  I want to be able to love and serve those around me…not at the expense of my marriage or my children.   I want to unpack my bags without guilt or shame.  I want to trust Jesus…with this place, with this season, with this family, with me.

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” Romans 5:6

I am ungodly: NOT like God.  I am unlike Him, in that I cannot do it all.  I cannot clean the closet, bake the birthday cake, fix the brokenhearted, and foster spiritual maturity in 4 young children, all while maintaining the energy of a Super Bowl cheerleader.  It is for this reason that He came for me, died for me.  My circumstances, even if they dramatically change, don’t change me.  I will always be weak.  I will always be unfit for the challenges that lie ahead.  I will always need Him…His death in my place…His right timing.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (Corinthians 12:9-10).

I want to be content.  I want to feel the sufficiency of His grace in the midst of fatigue, doubts, and the big-life-questions about purpose, plans, and calling.  I want to “want to”.  My entitlement and human interpretation of “justice” fools me into believing my discontent is somehow right and holy, that my circumstances are unfair.  So I want to “want to” be content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.  That list resounds with “unfairness”, yet Paul is content.  And this I long for.

A few quotes ring in my ears…because I’ve recently recited them to others.  Now they boomerang back and ricochet truth in the echoes of my doubt-filled heart.

“Bloom where you are planted.”

“Distrust of God is a horrible blotch. Discontent exceedingly injures mental and spiritual loveliness.”- Charles Spurgeon

“Don’t dig up in doubt what you planted in faith.” – Elisabeth Elliot

“Idolatry is a slow and deceptive process…I’ll say it again:  Idolatry is a slow and deceptive process.”

I have slowly been deceived into discontent.  I have been worshipping idols of personal comfort, tidy closets, and somehow believing in a god who has forgotten my desires.  That god does not exist.

Here is what is said of my God:

Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

Psalm 86:5 says, “For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.”

Psalm 33:13-17 says:

“13 The Lord looks down from heaven;
he sees all the children of man;
14 from where he sits enthroned he looks out
on all the inhabitants of the earth,
15 he who fashions the hearts of them all
and observes all their deeds.
16 The king is not saved by his great army;
a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
17 The war horse is a false hope for salvation,
and by its great might it cannot rescue.”

He sees me.  He knows my desires.  He fashioned my own heart.  I need not trust in warhorses…my little idols…they know nothing of me.  It’s a slow and deceptive process.

I pray that recovery from this relapse, as well as the cleaning of my closet, is not as slow.

I knew He would come through, yet I still clinched doubt behind my back.  I kind of had to believe the truth of His promises.  It is after all what I tell my preacher-boy husband every week: “Don’t worry, He’s gonna show up and do His thing…despite you, even.”

Jesus came and delivered this past weekend, despite me…and, of course He would.  The Spirit of the Lord hovered over every facet of the R&R Retreat of 2015.  Multiple times I found myself in tears over the worship and the people.  God is so good…and so BIG.  Such simple words, but yet so incredibly hard to comprehend.

He led His daughters through beautiful imagery found throughout Genesis, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and the Psalms.  He reminded us that we are “fearfully and wonderfully…mud.”  He breathed life into our dust, then planted a garden for us out of love.  We witnessed His raging rivers full of provision.

We sat among the cinders, repenting in ashes of our depravity: our idolatry.  We abused all that He meant for our good.  We mourned our losses.  We asked Him to search our hearts, for only the Gardener can tend His crop and prune at the appropriate time.

He heard us.  He listened.

He promised to replant, to rebuild, to restore.  “I will do it,” declares the Lord.

Then, He did a miraculous thing.  He took a tender sprig from a tall cedar and named this planting: Jesus–the strong tree that holds all of creation under it’s umbrella of safety.  His blood outpoured for us all–He redeemed the world on yet another tree.  The epitome of God’s glory revealed in His dying and His rising.  Not for our sake, but for the sake of His Holy Name.

He beautifully exchanged all that we long to loose, with all that we long to hold.  Our loss is nothing and our gain is everything.  He replaced cinders with splendors, a cross with a crown, thorns with a throne, and misery with majesty.  The poor received good news.  Broken hearts were bound.  Captives were set free.  Prison chains were unleashed.  The mourning were comforted and became glad.  Their ashes replaced with beauty.  Faint spirits began to worship and praise!  Our fertile mud, packed tight with potential energy, sprang forth a shoot.  He called us “Oaks of Righteousness”.  We became the sought-after ones of God.

We spoke of thanksgiving and magnified His holy name.  Our leaves absorbed His light and produced sticky joy that will sustain us through all seasons.  Our foliage, of varying seasons and colors, display His glory and we are made beautiful.  Our roots stretched into His word (and His track record) and we learned to bloom where we are planted.  Our past fruitless branches with wilted leaves, have been pressed beneath the mud to produce fuel that fans into flame His splendor.  We bear fruit…lots of it…NOW.

Our dry bones have become an army, released with violent energy, to do a great work for Him.  His changing agent: His breath, His touch, His planting… fill our lungs.

I was planted this weekend…amidst a whole forest of Righteous Oaks.

I had nervously questioned His provision.  But He said, “I will do it.”

And He has done it.

In barren and desolate ground,

A fistful of mud’s all I’ve found.

But you make it beautiful…

You make it beautiful.

I take of the fruit and enjoy,

Abuse all that you have employed.

Can you make it beautiful?

Please make it beautiful.

When all the debris

Settles on me,

You are all I have.

When I can’t maintain

My own plan to gain,

Will you redeem me?

Beautiful.  My broken heart you bind.

Beautiful.  Your spirit anoints this head of mine.

A holy unmatchable breath

Is wildly engulfing my chest.

You’re making me beautiful.

You’re making me beautiful.

A new heart in me,

You cause it to be.

Oh, fall afresh on me.

For love of your name,

All mine is gain.

For You breathe new life in me.

Yes, You breathe new life in me.

Beautiful.  My broken heart you bind.

Beautiful.  Your Spirit anoints this head of mine.

Beauty from ashes,

You make me beautiful, I am beautiful.

A garment of praise,

For You are holy, You are worthy!

A few weeks ago, we celebrated the release of A Girl and Her Warhorse here in Katy, and this past Sunday we celebrated in Austin.  I feel like all I’ve been doing lately is talking about the book and the impending parties.  So in the interest of throughly discussing the topic yet again, here is another post on the subject…well kind of.

It has been all-consuming and exhausting–the dates, the details, the describing of how this all developed.  Being the center of attention is also not my idea of a fun evening.  I think I enjoy writing because it doesn’t involve talking. 🙂  Writing gives me a chance to consider my words and process my thoughts without awkward conversational lulls…which terrify me about as much as sky-high overpasses.  Needless to say, I was fatigued and nervous on the day of the first release party.

The event happened on the first official day of Christmas Break.  The kids had half a day of school that morning, full of their own parties and celebrations.  Any parent knows the craziness of the last week of school before the holidays.  There are cookies to bake, teacher presents to buy and wrap, and some manner of party food to send to school.  This year was my first experience juggling three dozen-filled cookie trays, three teachers’ favorite snacks, and three different party foods.  I was frazzled and confused most of the week.

Because of my social-phobia regarding the book party, I knew that I needed to have some self-care leading up to the event in order to give myself the greatest chance of successfully being “on.”  I had big plans to spend birthday money on a pedicure (because it could possibly be the most relaxing thing on earth, in my opinion), a manicure (because I didn’t want to be worrying about people staring at my “mom-hands” while signing books), and a fresh haircut (because it had been entirely too long.)  Amidst all the craziness of the week, I found time at the last minute to do all three.

As I was getting my hair cut, I watched the stylist comb through the tangled mess that sits upon my head.  As she lifted from the top a section of hair to cut, she stretched up, and up, and up so that my hair was fully extended towards the ceiling above me.  I was a circus performer hanging from a yard of hair.  It’s not everyday that I see my hair from this viewpoint.  The length of my tresses, measured from the tip of my crown to my split-ends, was longer than my arms.  When I saw my hair extended in this way, I noticed the dramatic shift in color after the first 3 or 4 inches protruding from my head.  I never look at the top of my head so I had been unaware that my highlights had grown out to such an extent.  It donned on me that while signing books, I would be showing EVERYONE the top of my head and my dark circle of roots.

I contemplated asking the stylist if she had time to address the issue right then and there.  But I was out of birthday money, and I really didn’t want to give up my pedicure.  The only other option was an at-home remedy in a box.  On the way home, I stopped at Walgreen’s and picked up a kit that included a base color and separate highlights.

Any woman knows that this process of at-home color takes a little bit of planning.  It’s illegal to slap the goo on if your hair has been freshly washed, (which the hairstylist had just done) and you can’t wash your hair for sometime afterwards.  Like a woman trying to plan the conception and birth of her first child, I counted days on the calendar.  I mapped out the best time for dirty hair amidst Christmas parties and programs…hoping to have decent hair by the book release.

The only time that seemed to work was to color my hair the morning of the release…very risky, but not outside the realm of possibility.  However, when that morning arrived, I hadn’t seen my husband in forever, and he asked for my help to do some Christmas clothes shopping.  I am a sucker for clothes shopping, even if it’s not for me.  We spent the morning out and ended up scrambling to wrap teacher gifts in the car as we headed back to school to pick up the kids at noon.  (Head still bearing an oily dirty ring of lifeless dark.)

As soon as we got home, I opened the box and set to work.  The last time I colored my hair, it was a lot shorter.  I soon realized that the one bottle of stinky gunk provided was spitting and sputtering far too early on in the process.  I still had half of my hair to “generously apply” the product and loosely pile on my head.  OH…NO…  I couldn’t go to the corner store for more, I looked like I had dipped my head in an oil spill!  To add further anxiety to the visions of horror swirling in my head, my daughter sat on the edge of the tub watching and commenting on my every move.

“I don’t know mom, I don’t think you have enough.”

“Mom, what happens if you only do half your hair, will it look mis-match?”

“Mom, will your hair be that color when you’re done?  It looks kind of purple.”

AGHHHHHH!

After I sent her out of the room, I squeezed every last bit of “purple” onto my head and somehow manipulated most of my hair into the slimy mound on my head.  (I have considered in hindsight that God in his mercy might have performed a 5 loaves/2 fishes kind of miracle with that mixture of chemicals.)  Needless to say, it was covered.  Then I had to wait.

I set the timer and waited for the least amount of time suggested in the directions.  “Resistant gray” had nothing to fear.  I had no time for that battle.

As I waited, my youthful onlooker returned.  She watched as I rinsed over the tub with plastic gloves on.  She commented again on the indigo hue of the water until it finally ran clear.  I wrapped my hair in an old towel and returned to the directions.  “Blow hair dry.  THEN apply highlights.  Rinse AGAIN.  THEN style” (emphasis added).  “Holy crud, I’m going to be here forever?!?!”

I started frantically drying as my husband entered the bathroom to get ready.  If he’s getting ready, it’s almost time to leave.  He looked at my hair as it flew back and forth over my face like It from The Adam’s Family, yelling over the hairdryer, “Looks good.”  Sweet man…it was kind of purple.

I finished and quickly brushed through all the tangles and worked to get all the strands in their appropriate spot.  He asked, “So, are you almost done?”

“NO!”

New set of gloves.  New mixture–a light blue paste.  Believe me, I heard from the mini-commentator many questions as I strategically placed ice-blue streaks over my purple hair.  But what could I do?  I was committed now.  It was time to go and I still had to shower, rinse the blue, apply make-up, and feel like I was in confident control of my social phobia.  There was no time for a Plan B.

Again, I waited the minimum amount of time suggested on the paper directions and 30 minutes later, ran out of the house, make-up bag in one hand trying to insert earrings with the other.  I have never ever in all my years applied makeup in the car.  It was another offering of God’s grace that I didn’t poke my eye out.

We were 5 minutes away and I finally settled into my seat, putting the bag away, clasping my necklace underneath my subtly purple hair and releasing a huge sigh.  My husband said a prayer for me and I lowered my head to center and focus and find the calm.

That’s when I noticed the light blue paste on my special-book-party-dress.

In moments of panic, one doesn’t necessarily think through their actions…LICK.

Yes, I licked the toxic bleaching dye off my dress.  When the bitterness and slight burn hit, I thought, “God, You are crazy…and I think I have gone slightly crazy.”

I entered the party late, shaking from adrenaline and perhaps a little from chemical poisoning, lacking confidence with my purple hair, and feeling messy and disheveled in my stained dress.  Oh, how I needed Him in that moment.

He continues to remind me through frantic situations and bitter tastes that I lack control.  And in my flimsy flailing and fast-paced failings, my out-of-control life is covered by His grace and authority.  Even as I function through weak trust in His plan and His concern for me, He loves, provides, and turns me back to Him.

I am thankful that the evening in Katy ended as a successful event.  Those who gathered had a fun night with friends and I was privileged to share a little bit of my story with them.  I didn’t experience any awkward lulls in conversation and my tastebuds recovered enough to enjoy my cheese and wine.  I am also thankful that the Austin release party contained far less drama.

My prayer is that each and everyday it takes less and less to draw me to Him, that it takes less blue highlights to highlight His radiant love for me.  I continue to uncover how I put my trust in things other than Him–like trusting an hour of pampering and vibrant hair to strengthen me in uncomfortable social settings.  Reading that sentence back to myself out loud makes me realize how silly it actually is.  It was His presence and love that got me through the night, because there was no way for me to mistakenly owe it to a frazzled state and purple hair.

My best friend pointed me to Chapter 2 of A Girl and Her Warhorse and in particular to some Psalms that I quoted.  Nothing like hearing your own words come back to teach you something…and what timing.

I share those words again, mainly for my own growth:

“The demolition of idols is a fundamental part of the battle. It’s crucial to being saved and allowing the true Savior to rescue and redeem. When that relationship with Jesus is restored, the closeness, security, and intimacy with Him is overwhelming and rewarding. There is nothing like it. His “steadfast love is better than life” (Psalm 63:3). Better than life! It’s superior to a husband, to children—finer than even life itself. He is enough— more than enough. Your “soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food” (Psalm 63:5). Even without the husband, the children, the warhorses upon which we’ve come to expect and rely, He is truly gratifying. He’s absolute to the point of feeling potbellied with Him—filled to the brim, overflowing. It is worth all the pain of allowing God to trample the horse, potentially getting caught under its slumped body, in order to be held in the arms of an authentic, devoted, and substantial Savior.

Read Psalm 146 found below:

Psalm 146

Praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD, O my soul!

I will praise the LORD as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.

Put not your trust in princes,
in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.

When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God,

who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever;

who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry.

The LORD sets the prisoners free;
the LORD opens the eyes of the blind.

The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous.

The LORD watches over the sojourners;
he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

The LORD will reign forever,
your God, O Zion, to all generations.

Praise the LORD!”

I am thankful that He reigns with authority over me, that He removes idolatry and supplies open eyes to my blindness.  I can trust Him and sing praises to my God while I have my being…and my purple hair.

 

Next Friday is the official release of A Girl and Her Warhorse.  I cannot believe this is what God had in mind many, many years ago when I headed to Starbucks with my journal and Bible.  It has been an enlightening adventure in which I have learned much about myself and the world of writing.  Here is a little bit of the story behind the story:

Psalm 33:16-17: “The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The warhorse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue.”

While walking through a difficult season in my marriage, I found healing by reflecting on Jesus and His Word and writing in my personal journal.  My husband had come to grips and full disclosure with sin struggle in his life, which left me wounded and confounded. It was through seeking healing in Jesus, that I realized my husband had been my “warhorse” and that I had been placing all trust, identity, value, and worth in him. It was through my husband’s struggle that God removed my spouse from his idolatrous throne in my heart. It was a painful process.  As I later shared my thoughts and a few of my journal entries from these little sessions in the Word with both my husband and a counselor, I was encouraged to compile them as part of my own personal healing process.

I spent the next year looking back at previous entries, processing new thoughts and realizations, and seeing thematic connections.  Psalm 33:17 became a theme verse for the lessons I was being taught by God during this time. “The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue” (Psalm 33:17).  I began to ask myself hard questions as God revealed to me that I had a warhorse.  I wrote each question down, so I wouldn’t forget to keep asking them of myself.  This pulling together of journal entries, Scripture, and probing questions allowed me to see more clearly my sin and my Savior.

The finished product of that compilation follows the theme of war recognizing that we are constantly under attack by the enemy and that most of our lives take place on a battlefield.  Our great rescue is not found in the fast, fleeting warhorse, but rather in Jesus who is our only true hope and victor. The warhorse is different for all of us, but ultimately is anything or anyone that we put our hope in other than Jesus.  It is very simply idolatry.

 

horsegirlring

As I shared this rough manuscript with my counselor a year later, she encouraged me to consider also sharing it with other women who might be struggling with some of the same issues.  My initial answer was a resounding “no” in my head as I politely smiled and said, “maybe,” to her face.  I didn’t want share my life with others, especially the weaknesses and vulnerabilities.  However, God was teaching me that each of the unique paths He has guided us down are mere foundations for sturdy cobble-stoned paths that line cities built for glorifying God.  I was learning that trials in life only pound down the dust beneath our feet so that bricks of wisdom and mercy can be laid.  I was slowly seeing God pave a grace-ridden street leading myself and others back to His redeeming love.

I was still scared to share.  I was still nervous about my story.

I did a few edits, removing the extremely raw things we write in only our journals, because no one is ever supposed to read them, and began sharing with a few close friends here and there.  Years passed as I dismissed the idea or the need to expand my circle of sharing.  However, again, I was encouraged to share the manuscript with a broader audience.  Again, I hesitated, but started to work through the book as a bible study with a lovely group of women from The Well in Buda, TX.

As we were going through the study together, I also began a year of editing with an editor.  I learned an amazing (and much needed) amount from her.  (Thank you, Lynn!)  After months of Skype sessions discussing word choice and punctuation, it became time to decide how to publish.  I very quickly became aware that publishing a book in the absence of fame and Twitter followers is near impossible.  Self-publishing became the most plausible route.  That year-long process has also been eye-opening and more work than I thought I’d signed up for.

Therefore, it is with a simultaneous exhale of relief and a nervous inhale of the unknown that A Girl and Her Warhorse will finally be released on the 19th.  I momentarily remember I can trust Jesus, because after all, He’s the one who led me here kicking and screaming.  He solely bares all the weight of this book…lucky for me.

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Out of my confusion, God answered. Out of my hurt, He healed. Out of my feeble and shaking hands, came His grace-filled and restorative words in my journal. Out of those stacks of Moleskin journals came an honest and raw, yet structured guide to identify warhorses and restore Jesus to His rightful throne of authority in my heart. I have spent wonderful hours going through this book with other women in small group bible studies.  I have seen God’s beautiful daughters struggle to let go of their warhorses and I have seen Jesus gently wooing them with His love. It has been amazing. Seeing how the Lord has used my story to draw others to a deeper knowledge and love of Him has been the motivation to finally agree to open the personal pages of my life to more women.

My desire is that we all realize the importance of our stories.  We are woven into the great tapestry of His love story.  All of our different pasts and paths ultimately point to Him, the great Rescuer.  His unwavering pursuit of us, His sacrificial love, and His beautiful exchange of newness of life for our sin and death are only fragmented sentences in His great romance novel written for us.  He has so much for us.  He is penning us into the lines of His masterful writing.   He is the story behind our story.