It’s okay to be happy…

I recently bought a new set of crisp white linens for my bed.  As with most things I buy, I justified the purchase because the price was unbeatable.  Once I got the sheets home, washed, and on the bed, I realized that the fitted sheet was just a tad too small for our rather thick mattress.  I honestly didn’t care much, because the dazzling newness of the bedclothes made the tight fit worth it.  That is, until I woke up at 3 am with fitted sheet all crumpled beneath my upper back, my face smooshed against the bare mattress.

This blog post fits my heart as well as that sheet fits my mattress.

I’ve noticed a trend in our Christian sub-culture, blogs, and books.  In an effort to be authentic to the world and real with the details of our lives, we talk and write with an Eeyore attitude on life.  Understandably, we want the world to know that as followers of Jesus, we don’t have all our crap together, nor does our faith require us to.  We fear the world sees the church as a country club of hypocrites who fictitiously act as if we have polished lives.  To some degree, this is unfortunately how the church has come to present itself.

However, I believe we inadvertently swing to the other side of the spectrum.  I have been prone to this settling: far to one end, only acknowledging to everyone how horrible I am at most things.  I am guilty of blogging Debbie-Downer-post after post.  For the sake of honesty, I try to share genuine struggles and the humorous bad mom moments of my life.  That’s in truth who I am and what my life looks like.  So, I don’t take issue with sharing our problems.

I have, however, grown weary of the lack of hope-filled solutions, the absence of higher calling, and fewer challenges to seek joy in the midst of struggle.

I was recently telling my husband my thoughts on how the Christian sub-culture has taken up valuing the bad day, the “worst-mom-ever” tweets, and the “it is what it is” posts.  We embrace them because we identify with them.  There is a sick comfort in knowing others struggle as we do, and hopefully more.  I am guilty.  I do this.  I am this.  And I apologize to you, reader.

I was telling my husband I felt the need to write about this challenge to the blogger, to Christians: that it’s okay to be happy.  Our aim is not to trump each other with our worst.  We are missing our call when we highlight the bad and dramatic details of life.  We are called to cling to what is good, right?

I was all up on my high horse about this post…until Monday, when the elastic in the new linens popped at the corners.

Monday morning, I crammed all the cranky kids into the packed car along with a rug that needed to be returned.  After dropping the oldest three off, little Judah and I headed to run the errand.  It was early, but we had quite the drive ahead of us, especially in Houston traffic.  (Or, so I thought).

We pulled into the parking lot at 8:15 am.  The store didn’t open until 10:00 am.

In went the movie and out came my phone to check emails.

That’s when I opened it…the kind of email that stops a day.  A delivery that holds expected and unsurprising news, yet when it opens its mouth and announces, the words suck the wind out of your lungs.  A simple email of fact: time called and last breath taken.  I sat, salty tears and all.

Then the A/C stopped working…8:23 am.

I was hot, sticky, snotty, and already done with the Baby Songs video on loop.

We got out and walked from one store front to the next in the strip mall.  Finally, at 9:00 a few stores let us in.  We purchased little unneeded things to distract from the slowness of the clock ticking and the looming speed of life’s inevitable end.

At 9:50 am, I was standing outside the automated glass doors of World Market, shoeless toddler on hip, eye liner smudged under my right eye, and my bangs pasted to my drenched forehead.  Open. Open. Open.  For the love, let me in.

The rug was carried in and I handed over my receipt.

“Now I just need the card you used to pay for this…”

I knew I didn’t have it.  I had asked for it early that morning, and in the chaos of backpacks and breakfasts on-the-go, it never made the switch from his wallet to mine.

I asked for any possible bend of the rules, a loophole in the fine print, mercy from the manager…

NADA.

After a trip across town to pick up the card, a ditching of my oven of a car, an AWOL child at the school pick up line, and another trek to World Market (this time in the traffic I had earlier feared and will all four kids), I was finally headed home.

After a late dinner with Daddy still at work and a rushed bedtime, I contemplated my previous goals for the day.  What was even left of it?

I thought about this challenge to wear joy as proudly as we wear our hot-mess.

I had been so on fire to write.  Now, the sheet didn’t fit.  The post had popped.  It was an altogether uncomfortable ripple in my spine to derive joy from that day.  My face had been smooshed between the raw naked facts of death and my idealized happy sheets.

Perhaps this is exactly the circumstance to address our glamorization of ‘blah’.  The facts that my laundry is piled in the corner, my child still struggles to know his letters, and my diet consists of leftover opened packages of fruit snacks washed down with lukewarm coffee shrink in comparison to the certainty of death.  It comes for all of us.  There is no system to beat it, no folder to organize it, no app on which to schedule it.  It is this thought that strings together my emotional rant about “I suck” blogs and binds them to an in-your-face raccoon eyes in World Market brand of reality:

While we are breathing…while we have breath…shouldn’t we long for more?

Are you really satisfied with reading another blog about a mom that failed to turn in a permission slip?  Are you finding ultimate joy seeing yet another post about the shortcomings of discipline tactics, albeit humorous?  If all I do is write about how much of a struggle life is, then I have failed you.

Because here’s the thing:  I have a solution to all of my many daily problems and shortcomings…Jesus.  He gives me value and worth when I feel like a worthless invalid who can’t keep up with society’s expectations.

If all I air is my dirty laundry and imply that living among the muck is good enough, then again, I have failed you.  Jesus conquered death and now lives in me, and this causes me to look more like Him…like a conquerer of sin and despair.

Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

When life tests us–with its ridiculous refund regulations, its sin, its filth, even its death…we are to be transformed, changed, and renewed.  We are to better see and understand what is good, acceptable, and perfect (Jesus). If I read an entertaining blog that recounts a child’s fit due to the tag in their shirt, I want to be left with more than a few laughs.  I want to learn how to discern the will of God in and through that experience.  If I take in an article about depression, I want to it to put out the face of joy.  If we, as the church, want to be honest and authentic with the world we live in, then we have to offer them more than just the daily crap.

We have to offer them the genuine and real Jesus, who has the ability to redeem our every situation, heal our broken hearts, and actually call us forward to better.

Do we need to be honest that right now our fridge is packed with only ketchup and coffee creamer?  Sure.  Do I need to know that Jesus loves me even when I don’t have a monthly meal plan or clean toilets?  Absolutely.  But I also need to know that Jesus desires better for me and empowers me to do the things I feel I can’t.

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

He wants me to know it’s okay to be happy.  He wants you to know.  It’s okay to write a blog post that’s about the hope I have, the good I see, and the joy I’ve been given.  It’s okay, even in the face of sin, cancer, and death to have joy and lightness of heart.

After all, it is the ability to possess joy and peace in the midst of even the worst day, that makes our message stand out.  The fact that we struggle only joins us with the rest of humanity.  We all struggle.  We all sin.  We all don’t have our crap together.  We all face the same end.  But the message of Jesus provides the ultimate solution for all the problems we face: beauty in the mud…fertility out of the barren…life out of the dead.

I’m keeping the sheets.  Tonight, when I climb in, I will tug at the elastic, pulling each corner to its limits, covering all.  As I wrestle in the wee-hours of dark to find peaceful rest, if a corner pops, let it be a reminder to me.  My weak heart is prone to shorten the length of His love and mercy and grace, especially as I toss and turn through this difficult life.  However, His sovereign solutions never fall short for my plethora of problems.  He came so I could have life abundant (John 10:10). He lives so that I may live (John 11:25).  I am more than a conquerer through Him (Romans 8:37).  It’s okay to be happy (Psalm 63:5).

Dedicated to the Realists

I attended a retreat this weekend and saw lots of friends that I just haven’t seen in either a year or more.  These sweet ladies of all ages are such a refreshment to my soul.  Their love of Jesus and the sacrifices that they have all made for the sake of the Gospel is inspiring.  Every year I look forward to spending a weekend with this “sisterhood” of women.

I sat with a very good friend who has four children of her own and is walking through the struggles that most moms of four children have–with the added component of homeschool.  She was tired, frustrated, and overwhelmed.  She commented on these blog posts of late and gently confessed that it was really hard to read most of my posts.  She found herself comparing her experiences with mine and leaving the computer screen discouraged because what I wrote about that day seemed to be on the other end of the homeschool experience spectrum from hers.  I love her so much for being honest and vulnerable with me.  I know she is reading this now, so thank you, my sweet friend.  I love you.  I told her the next post would provide a correct view of our family rehab experience so far.  Let’s be real… It has been hard.  It has been tiring.  It has been frustrating.  It has been very overwhelming.

I confess, I think that there is a discrepancy between the desperation I feel at different points of the day and the “positive spin” at the end of most of these blog entries.  It might appear that I’m not a realist.  That I’m not being honest about the overwhelming feelings of failure that can cripple me.  There is only one way to explain this–Jesus.  This blog has been the equivalent to an empty church pew for me.  Surrounded by quiet, I enter my time in front of the keyboard, with my bible in hand, the same way every time, much like I would kneel at the altar.  I enter not having any answers, not having any ideas, and only carrying the burden of the day, or the funny moment that stuck in my mind.

This blog has become the designated space and time of the day that I rest in thought at the feet of Jesus.  Often, I just start retelling my day, the high points and the low, and sometimes the mundane.  Somewhere along the way, as I process the day in letters, words, and sentences, the promises and themes of Jesus’ love and faithfulness rise to the surface of my mind.  They sit on my forehead between my wrinkled brows as I ponder and think about the day at a deeper level than if I hadn’t taken my seat in front of the sanctified computer screen.  For me, there is something about having to reflect on my day with such intentionality and persistence, in order to produce a 2 minute read, that seems very appropriate for “family rehab.”

I can’t describe it, but taking the intentional time to think through even the simplest of things or the most frustrating of circumstances, helps me shape my otherwise bland or disappointing day.  My day doesn’t differ from my friends’ day all that much.  The details might be different, but the struggles are still the same.  I am attacked with folly and failure every day.  I am attacked with frustration and fatigue every hour.  I am attacked with fear and fickleness towards this crazy “family rehab” every minute.   It’s the time that I spend in front of a blank, white and intimidating computer screen at the end of the day that helps me gain perspective.

The process of reflecting at the end of the day and intentionally writing down what comes to mind, forces out those truths that creep up from deep within my gut and get stuck in the middle of my brow.  They just sit there until the Spirit draws connections and distributes meaning.  Then things start to make sense… other scripture comes to mind… and the bible gets opened and the healing words of Jesus start to wash over all that angst and frustration that I wore on my shoulders when I sat in my empty-church-pew-repurposed-computer-chair.

Jesus says in John 16:13-14, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.  He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”  When those truths of scripture come to mind–the truths about my value resting in Jesus, the truths about my purpose resting in Jesus, the truths about my trust resting in Jesus–it is the Spirit of God, “the Helper”, Jesus calls him, that is doing exactly what Jesus promised he would do.  He guides me to the truth about my day.  He declares to me the things that are to come.  He gives me whispers that something special is happening in this intentional time of “family rehab.”  He reveals to me the glory of Jesus, reminding me of all that Jesus has done for my sake, His death in my place.  He takes what Jesus says His purpose is for me, His love is for me, His endless, love-filled, pursuit is for me, and declares it to me.

I cannot type the final period without coming to a place of rest in those truths each and every time I sit down at the computer.  I cannot press publish without coming to the end of my means for the day.  It might seem that I have a positive spin on even the most hair-pulling, tear-filled, unproductive day, but what is happening in these blog posts is the work of the Holy Spirit on my heart.  He comes and transforms my mind, heart, and soul.  He pulls me out of my emotions and reminds me of the reality of His love and my identity found in Him.  That’s why I type, I write, I meditate on His word.  That’s why I have a relationship with a God who is living, because He’s the only God that has power that is moving and touching the depths of my gut, heart, and wrinkled brow.

Being a Christian doesn’t mean you write a blog every night to process your thoughts and feelings.  But, it does mean you engage with a living, loving, and limitless God who seeks to bring joy and peace to every facet, every minute of your life.  Loving Him and seeking Him, whether in a church pew, in front of a computer screen, or in the depths of your still and quiet heart, changes things.  It changes everything.  It renews.  It refreshes.  It reveals that there is more to life than what the world offers. Having that kind of God, who sends a Helper into the depths of even the most frustrating or overwhelming of days, and turns it into a deeper, more meaningful exploration of who He is, makes faith a REAL, meaningful part of life.  It makes even me a realist.