We’ve been invited…

Two days ago, I went to HEB with the little man.  We were in need of diapers.  After finding the best deal on a mega-pack, we headed back to the car.  The sun was shining bright and we were both looking forward to the day.  I had been invited to meet friends at Starbucks and catch up over coffee.  Judah was excited about the prospect of sweet treats while the mommies talked.  We wasted no time and loaded the diapers, returned the shopping cart to its metal corral, and began the buckling-in process.

Any parent or grandparent knows that this daily chore can indeed be a lengthy process.  Straps can get twisted, bottoms have to scoot back, and a small battle of “put your goldfish in the other hand” has to ensue just to get arms through the appropriate belts.  This day, however, an unforeseen turn of events was underway.  Our buckling-in routine was about to be altered.

Just as I clicked the second-to-last buckle in his 5-point harness, the car door behind me closed on my legs.  This left passenger door has a tendency to shut on its own, so at first, I really thought nothing of it, and simply without looking pushed against the window with my left hand.  I had intentionally parked next to a vacant spot to make the bucking-in process easier, so I wasn’t concerned about swinging the door into a nearby car.

But, despite my attempt, the door didn’t budge.  I quickly turned, confused as to what was happening.  Through the window I saw a black car slowly pulling in to the spot next to me.  Only 8 inches or so from the side of our car it crept in, pushing firmly against the car door at my back.  The pressure on my calves was increasing.  I thought, “What is this moron doing?  Don’t they see that there is someone in here?”  I twisted my upper body, lower legs pinned between the car door and the running board.  While pushing on the door window with my left forearm, I pounded the tinted window of the black car with my right fist.  I heard the bodies of the two cars crackle, and for a second, questioned if the sound was that of fracturing bone.  It soon became evident that there was no driver to hear my determined and desperate knocking.  “What in the world???….”

More confusion set in…

“Where did this back phantom car come from?”  

Then panic…

“How am I going to get out of here?”

“I’m all alone…”

Scenes flashed though my thoughts:  Aron Ralston, who cut off his own arm with a dull knife to escape his entrapment by a boulder, a long-ago tragedy of a high school friend who, while sitting on the hood of a parked car was hit head-on by another car, severing both legs, and a fearful glimpse of myself–life dramatically altered by the loss of limbs.

I sent out a few desperate one-handed texts to my husband and the friends I was to meet asking them to pray.  I see now that my texts were altogether confusing and painted a much more frightening picture.  Sorry, y’all. 🙂

I struggled to push against the child car-seat and the door that unrelentingly pressed in.  Even with my best resistance, the gap between the door and the car grew smaller.  I thought, “I don’t know how long I can keep pushing.”

I spotted a woman putting away her groceries in her trunk across the lot.  I yelled, “Help!” through the crack in the door.  She turned and looked.  I screamed again and she came running.  I quickly tried to explain what little I understood, “this car came out of nowhere and there is no one in there, and my legs are getting squashed, and I don’t know what to do, but I need out, and the door is still trying to shut…”  I could hear the trembling and panic in my voice, which only gave affirmation to my fear.  She, too, was trying to wrap her mind around what was happening.  “I don’t know what to do!”, she said.  She ran to the back of the car to read the license plate number.  She apologized profusely for having to find a paper and pen, because she wouldn’t be able to remember the number on her own.  Then she was gone to find the owner.

It felt like an eternity.  I felt alone.  I felt trapped.

Then I heard her voice return and that of a man.  Then I spotted him, a 76-year-old hispanic man.  He slid in sideways between the two vehicles and asked if I was okay.  “Yes, I think so”, I said, “but that car is still pressing in on the door and my legs are pinned.  I can’t move.”  He slid back out and I heard him call on others to push the car in reverse.  One man came, but instead of helping to move the car, opened up my SUV’s door on the opposite side and asked, “why don’t you just climb out this side?”

“I can’t…I’m stu…”

And just like that, he slammed the door shut and was gone.  (WHAT?!?!?)

The benevolent army veteran returned and squeezed in again and positioned one shoulder between the door and the frame.  He helped me fight the door for a few more centimeters.  I heard the black car door pop and crackle as we strained.  I wiggled my left leg free and stepped into the car, my right leg still pressure packed, as it was closer to the smaller angle of the hinge side of the door.  We hustled and as soon as I felt the ability, I slid my leg towards the crack.  My shoe fell to the ground and I pulled my leg into the car just as my rescuer backed away from door.  It slammed shut in my face and I watched through the window as the grimacing man held his breath as the car continued to roll.

As soon as my door was clear of the car, I opened it and recovered my flip-flop.  The ebony Mazda kept cruising until it met the cart stall across the way.  At that point, the car owner and the store manager appeared.  The police were on their way and I reassured everyone that I didn’t need an ambulance.  The tear-filled owner explained that she put her standard transmission car in neutral and forgot to put the emergency break on.  If I was talented enough to drive a standard, I am sure that I would have made the same oversight many times.

In my freedom, as people asked if I was okay or needed medical attention, the release of adrenaline and emotion came.  I teared up.  “I was just scared.” It was all I could muster to say.

In the days since, I’ve been processing how to write about this.  As I’ve retold the details of the event to others, the comment was made that this would be good material for the blog.  As I’ve pondered the experience and the feeling of being trapped, I couldn’t escape this reoccurring thought…the Holy Spirit.

He has definitely been on my radar lately, and today as I write, it’s no different.  My new relationship with the Holy Spirit has given me a better understanding of how I have lived in His presence, yet inattentive to His voice.  Like that black driverless car, I have been a vessel filled with all the wirings to drive the course, but have more often than not been aimlessly rolling down a decline on neutral.  In my pilotless walk, I’ve been trapping others, pinning them, and bruising them along the way.  Walking without an attentive ear to the Holy Spirit has cascaded me into others, without care or concern for their well-being.  Without the Spirit in the driver’s seat, my own joy has been sacrificed and I have ended up in places that I don’t belong, in steel and lifeless shopping cart corrals.  My own frame has been nicked and dented resulting in years of my own unnecessary damage.

I have a feeling I’m not alone.

I am learning to listen to His voice, to let Him comfort and guide.  I sat on the bumper of our Sequoia as the police report was being filed and I clearly heard His urging.  He told me to go and pray for the owner of the black ghost car.  As I approached her sitting in the driver’s seat, head in her hands, I asked her if she was okay.  She explained that she had already had a rough week with work and in her marriage.  She was beginning to think it couldn’t get any worse.  I said, “This may sound weird, but can I pray for you?”

“YES!”, she exclaimed.  And before I could even open my mouth, we were hand in hand, me down on my throbbing knee, her seated with head bowed, and she began…She prayed for me.  Sometimes listening to the Holy Spirit causes us to take a risk to love someone else in the name of Jesus, and sometimes He guides us for the sake of our own souls.  I was reminded in her prayer that He never left me, even when I felt alone, trapped, and helpless.  I prayed for her, her marriage, and the stressfulness of her week, that Jesus would redeem even those details.

There we found ourselves, in the HEB parking lot, having just been the aimless and wandering, the trapped and confused, receiving the love of the Father, the grace of Jesus, and the peace of the Holy Spirit.  Wow.  Speechless.

The cops (one of which had given me my speeding ticket earlier last month, see the post: What’s the Big Idea?? ) wrapped things up and headed on their way.  The manager went back into his store.  The good Samaritan got in his white pick-up and drove off.  The lady and her dark dented car rode off to work.  There I was, standing the the parking lot, as if none of it had happened.

At that moment Paul accompanied by a good friend and the two girls I stood up for our coffee date pulled in.  I felt a little odd at first.  There was no sign that anything had happened.  Because they all love me, of course, they didn’t doubt me, but only showed care and concern.

But, isn’t that also like the Holy Spirit?  He does these random, out of nowhere, unbelievable things, then seems to vanish into thin air as soon as others show up.  I believe it’s because we have a personal God.  In Acts, we see the Spirit move in big and powerful ways in front of thousands for the sake of thousands.  He still does this, no doubt.  However, for me right now, my lack of faith–lack of trust–exists in the Spirit’s desire for personal relationship with me, not the big fantastical stuff that brings millions to know Jesus.  That actually makes sense to me.  It’s very economical.  But, that He would also orchestrate a phantom car and 76-year-old Super Man so that I could encounter Him and His clear voice–not for the goal of “winning one for the kingdom”, but just for shepherding my heart–is a challenging consideration.

He loves me when I don’t listen and coast without a driver.  He loves me when I am trapped in fear.  He loves me and continues to pursue me, even after I am His.  He desires friendship with me.  He gives me personal events that, while I can share them in writing, are yet experienced only by me.  I am reminded again of the old hymn that I sing for Judah each night:

I am Jesus’ little lamb.

Ever glad at heart I am.

For my shepherd gently guides me,

Knows my needs and well provides me.

Loves me everyday the same.

Even calls me by my name.

His Spirit is there ready to give unending joy, gentle guidance, ample provision, and personal relationship.  I came across a Facebook post promoting the movie Holy Ghost, which is a documentary I have referenced before.  It speaks for itself and is eerily applicable:

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We’ve been invited to have faith in Him.  We’ve been invited to trust Him.  We’ve been invited to be His friend.  Will we accept His invitation of friendship?  Will we allow Him to sit at the steering wheel?  Will we risk the possibilities of what partnering with the Spirit of God might actually do?  It could change people…whole cities…nations!  And even more risky and terrifying–it could change us in very foundational and personal ways.  Are we willing to take His hand and jump in to new territory?

Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63).  I want to have life and have it to the full.  My flesh and my attempts to gain this on my own are “no help at all.”  I have got to surrender all my efforts–the controls of my car–in order to let the Spirit drive.  It’s scary, but can we do it?  We’ve been invited.

risk…

Last night I sat with a cup of spiced tea in my hands next to my son reading a book.  The pages were lit by only the fading sunlight of dusk and a warm-scented candle.  The soft soundtrack of Pride and Prejudice played over the stereo as we read his library book about…StarWars droids.  Even still it was a lovely setting.  It sounds picture perfect…

Until I tell the rest of the story.

Upstairs a storm was brewing.  Emotions were high and were being unleashed all over the floor.  Literally.  The pads of the feet were not being used to travel the carpet.  An all out rolling and kicking temper-tantrum was underway.

Creating a calm setting amidst the chaos is our new approach.  Giving more credence and attention to the peaceful and quiet rather than turning over the entire state of the house to fits is our current training in Life After Rehab.   We are trying to practically retain sober-mindedness when everything around us seems out of control.  It’s not an effort to just ignore, but to speak calm truth in short increments.  I think it might be working.  The issue is a strong-willed child who will stop just short of every extreme measure imaginable to be in control.  (I don’t know who passed that gene down!)  It’s hard to remain light-hearted and tranquil when your name is repeatedly yelled across the house.  It’s difficult to stay upbeat and truth-filled when someone is telling you over and over that you are wrong and unfair.

All this practice and training in my parenting is forming something else in me as well.  I am learning more about the Holy Spirit in this process.  I am learning that while candle-lit space travel on the pages of a borrowed book takes extreme focus during a spinning child-tornado, it is still possible.  It’s exactly the kind of challenging work the Holy Spirit does.  It’s the precise task the Holy Spirit has been doing since the beginning of time…order in the midst of chaos.

If we truly believe that God is triune–three persons in One–then the Holy Spirit was there at the beginning of creation with God, the Father and Jesus, the Word.  He was the Holy Spirit that traveled across the expanse of the waters, stirring motion into the wind, creating a pattern of currents in otherwise haphazard air.  He was the very breath of God that was blown into the lifeless clay lungs of Adam, triggering inhalation and exhalation, contraction and constriction–a whole organized system of life.  The Spirit is a powerful force.  His movement has not once ceased since that first day of the world’s birth.  If I say I have relationship with Jesus, and acknowledge God as my Father, then what of this Holy Spirit?  If He is an equal part of the Triune, then should not my relationship be equally yoked with Him?  Should I not be conversing with the Spirit just as I commune with Jesus or the Father?

In my weary and parched land of parenting, the Holy Spirit hovers the dusty sand, ready to spill itself over my desert.  He has power to turn my weak, my tired, my poor into churning oceans of bounty and blessing.  There is an oasis to be had, even in the midst of the hot dry sand storm.

I am learning…slowly…but nevertheless, learning how practically to live in the presence of the Spirit even when circumstances seem far from Him.  When I find myself overcome with Him, I am content.  I am peaceful.  I am tranquil.  I am trusting.  And I am entirely without control.  It’s not by my own power or will that I find myself with my cup of tea smiling.  It’s not a vision board or positive thinking ritual that seduces me to happiness.  It truly is the joy of the Lord.  It is His kindness, mercy, and goodness that compels me.  It can seem so trivial…”okay, yeah, yeah, the ‘Holy Spirit’ makes you happy even when kids are throwing fits.”  But until you experience the true satisfaction that comes with calling on the Holy Spirit to overwhelm you with peace, and then you actually sense it, it won’t ever sound legit.

How do I learn this?  What’s my homework?  I take risks.  I am learning to take risks on the Holy Spirit.  I ask and wait…then just hope that He shows up.  I listen and wait…and do whatever I think I might be hearing.  It could merely be a voice in my head…it could.  And I am sure that sometimes it is my own consciousness self-talking myself to do little good deeds.  But there are times I hear a faint urging to do something that would normally be uncomfortable and outside my comfort zone.  So instead of ignoring it, my spiritual science experiment is to take the risk of actually doing it, without hypothesizing.  I do it, then wait and watch for any sign of change.  Little by little the Spirit is revealing to me genuine fruit.  There is a field of little outcroppings springing up as I take these risks.  I am looking into this land and seeing a future harvest rising.  My risks are fruitful, even if I don’t see everyone of them flowering into something.  The more I venture into trusting, the more I am learning to discern His voice from my own.   I am learning what seeds to plant and where.  And I am learning how to sit and quietly watch the grass grow.

His voice tells me, “have some spiced-tea”, even though it’s still a hot and humid September in Houston.  His voice tells me, “light the fall scented candle…in fact, light two of them so that you can’t escape their fragrance, and mine.”  He urges me to sit and breathe deep and marvel at the face of the sweet child by my side, to fluff his hair and tell him he’s dashingly handsome.  His voice tells me to pray for my upstairs child who has gone wild.  He whispers in the quiet of my heart reminders of His truth and His love and His sovereignty.  He hums a sweet melody in my ear that paints a picture of a future adult with a strong-willed passion for Him.  He breathes power into my being…restrained power to be calm, peaceful, and orderly.

He gives me just the right thing to say as I walk up the stairs into the danger zone.

His might overwhelms me.  Emotions dissipate.  I envision Jesus on the rocky sea boat telling the waves and the thunder to stop, and all stood still.  That same other-worldly presence stands on the bow of my stairs, hushing the fury.  The air softens, the dust settles, and I pray over my troubled child.  And then, my sweet confused one asks for forgiveness.

Had I tried to control the situation, the Spirit would have been snuffed out or, at the least, pushed over to the corner.  I am learning.   I am learning Life After Rehab lessons that I thought I knew, but that are gaining depth and circumference.  And these new understandings involve risk and patience.

How do you take risks on the Holy Spirit?  Teach me.  I am eager to learn and am all ears.  I believe the Spirit is at work in all of us.  I believe that in community we gain a richer and more realistic view of the trust seeds the Spirit is sowing.  In taking the risk to share, I believe we encourage each other to invest future risks on the Holy Spirit.  Let’s learn from each other these spiritual fundamentals.

And it truly is risky business.   There is spiritual opposition to the Holy Spirit.  None can overcome the Spirit, but darkness sure tries.  It’s scary to think that stepping out in faith might make us spiritual targets, but isn’t it worth it?  Shouldn’t it be worth it?  I’m in…at least right at this moment I’m in.  I’m learning the value of this risk also.  The fear is not as great when walking with a powerful Spirit.  And He’s there for the taking.

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:13

I will ask for more of Him, the “Him” who is the neglected person of the Trinity…the Him who dares me to trust…I will dare Him to come…and take a risk on what happens.

 

what’s the big idea??

I’ve been particularly absent from the blog lately.  I could say I’ve been busy with the book and general life stuff, which I have, but actually it’s been a matter of pride.  My blogging is usually a time of solitude with Jesus, and there is no good excuse for short-changing time with Him and time to process life through His Word.  See, things have been rough.  Some of my children have not been adapting very well to our new school routine and my embarrassment at the fact has kept me from publicly writing about it.  My shame has inhibited me from processing it through Jesus, which doesn’t alleviate the humiliation, but only perpetuates it.  So, here I am, a little apprehensive about fingering the keyboard and revealing a deep heart issue.  I genuinely don’t know what truth or big idea Jesus will conclude this post with but I know I will need to hear it.  Thanks for joining me in this humbling process.

The worst day was a Monday a few weeks ago.  We had already been in school for half a week (which went wonderfully, by the way) but it was the starting day for public school.  One of my children (I’m not going to mention names…because it gets ugly) was throwing a massive fit about having to go to school.  Everything was wrong.  Clothes were wrong, socks were wrong, shoes were wrong, breakfast was wrong.  I tried to help, but the anthem was, “You won’t even help me…You won’t even listen to me.”  I broke.  My temper flared and I was undone.  After the socks and shoes I had graciously put on, and I had patiently tied, had been kicked off for the second time, my self-restraint was gone.  Once everyone else was ready and it was time to go, the shoeless child was forced into the car, disheveled hair and all.  After kicking and screaming the entire drive, when we arrived at school, the walk into the building was dramatic, laboring, and exhausting.  When we made it to the office, I struggled to pry one child off while keeping another from escaping and running back into the parking lot.  I was mortified.  The walk down the hallway to the classrooms was coupled with mini-body slams against the wall in an effort to stop any progress towards the room.  I smiled the whole time, as if to say, “No one else look, all is fine here! heh…heh…”  Finally a school staff member removed the child suction-cupped to my leg and I made a run for it.

On the way home, I called Paul, tears rolling down my face.  I was sad for my child, hurt by the words of my child, ashamed of my behavior, and embarrassed that my child was reflecting poorly of my parenting.  I was questioning every decision I’ve ever made on behalf of my children.  I was a mess.  But even then, I did not appear nearly as melodramatic as after the next event.  A cop stepped out in front of my car and waved me over.  Ugh…a school zone.  “Seriously, what’s the big idea?  What is up with this day?” With 12 minutes left in the designated time slot for the reduced speed, I was caught going the full speed…and on the phone.  I chunked my cell to the opposite side of the car and veered over.  I got a ticket from a very unfriendly sheriff.  This day was not getting any better.

I cried myself the rest of the way home.  Poor Judah sat in his carseat, wondering what in the world was going on.  After gaining composure, I thought, I can redeem this day.  I will bake cookies.  I will let my children know that I am sorry for the morning by having warm chocolate chip goodness for them when they arrive in the afternoon.  So I set to finding a recipe and checking the pantry for all the supplies as Judah took his nap.  I had everything except the baking powder.  So I googled substitutions online and found something that might work.  I was now racing against the clock to be done by the time Judah woke and we had to head back into the car for pick up.  I mixed and pre-heated and dropped rounded spoonfuls.  When I came back to check my act of goodwill, the oven-light revealed yet another failing of the day.

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There was no part of this day that I had any control over…ahhh…and I think I just stumbled on the clear message of the day.

Control.  I’ve got none of it.

So what do I do with my lack of control?  The lack of control over my temper that morning?  The lack of control over my children’s behavior? My lack of control over what other’s are thinking about me?  My lack of control to pay attention to the flashing school zone lights?  My lack of control when expressing my frustration and emotions over the phone?  My lack of control over the chemical properties of baking soda and the reaction it has (or doesn’t have) when combined with lemon juice?  Apparently, my instinct is to turn to shame and embarrassment, which all stems from pride.  I assume I have the ability to be in control.  Or maybe even, I assume that I have the right to be in control of these things.  If I didn’t assume that control was mine to be had, than why would I feel a sense of failure that I was unable to achieve it?

Nothing is mine to control.  Control is not mine to achieve.  So when the wheels are spinning off and heads seems to be devilishly rotating while spewing green words of hurt at me, I don’t have to turn to shame.  It’s life.  I can’t control any of this, especially the redeeming part.  I can’t muster up the best plan to redeem my day and somehow make it all better.    Jesus is doing something in these moments.  He’s still good and He is working all things out for my good and for the good of those around me.  So, when I am having to let another adult rip my child off my body, its a necessary step in the process to overcome their separation anxiety.  It’s good for them to not cling to me, and this season, while hard, is developing them into the young adults I long for them to be.  That police officer probably got kudos for the number of tickets he wrote that day, I don’t know.  But, somehow I have to believe that it was good for him, and probably good for me to become more aware of my oversight of school zones.  The cookies…well, Jesus did redeem the cookies.  My attempt to redeem the day resulted in imperfection, but He turned that into something worthwhile.  They were flat, but chewy and good.  My taste-tester, Judah, approved.  And when I handed each of my kids a baggie of sweetness as they entered the car at pick-up, they were all smiles.

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Jesus redeems more than just my failures.  He redeems the little things in the little moments of my little day.  The only purpose in Him having my cookies turn out okay was to love me.  How often do we believe that He cares that much?  How often do we experience His goodness on a day that seems like a waste?

Life After Rehab was not guaranteed to be easy.  It was not promised to me that after rehabbing, we would receive an awarded ability to control.  No, if anything we were promised to face challenges and learning experiences that would leave our lack of self-control laid bare and our depravity raw.  I need Jesus.  Even when I make cookies.  I need Him and His presence to satisfy me and to assure me.  This is rehab 101: God is bigger than me and I am powerless on my own.  I thought I had learned that lesson last year, but it’s daily implications still impact me.

We have continued to struggle in the mornings.  I have continued to try and control.  Jesus is softening me, breaking me down so that my inability to control is fully revealed to me, and if needed for my sanctification, revealed to everyone around me.  (I really hope I don’t require that.)  Growth is labor-intensive.  Figuring out how to walk a rehabilitated life while thrown into the mix requires the same intensity and intentionality as figuring out how to do it in a season of removal and distance.  It requires a dependency on the Holy Spirit to listen and look at life in a different way.  We are learning.  If only I had spent the time processing this lesson earlier, I’d probably saved some shame, disappointment, and feelings of failure.  But there is grace in this too.

I am thankful of His reminders.  “You’re not in control.”  “It doesn’t matter what they say, I know your heart.”  “Stop trying to assume what others are thinking about you, and think on what I am teaching you.”  “Slow down.”  “Take deep breaths and rest in me.”  “Enjoy me and my presence, and have a cookie to tangibly taste how good my plan of redemption is.”  “Don’t forget to talk to me.”

You know, those cookies…those paper-thin cookies were my moment of communion with Him.  Through that sugary manna-like treat, He reminded me of His presence, His goodness, His redemption.  He gave me something physical to put in my mouth so I could remember the sweetness of His faithfulness.  I think I’m on to my next big idea…chocolate chip communion wafers. 🙂

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And the yeast rises…

Yesterday was the first day of school.  The official introductory step over the threshold into Life After Rehab.  We’ve been building up anticipation for this event, buying school uniforms, backpacks, and those coveted new box of crayons.  The night before was full of anxiety and fierce emotion for the kids.  (Some children more contained than others.)  We recognized old patterns return.  We caught sober-mindedness fleeing the building.  We saw lots of kicking…

But somehow, through the insanity, as parents, we remained calm and level-headed.  That’s not to imply that we have mastered anything at all, but it did show some return from our rehab year.  More pointedly, it was the fruit of the Spirit that we witnessed.  Our stretch of Rehab has trained us, if even a little, in allowing the Spirit to assert His temperament over our own.  

So much anticipation…

This past weekend, I made monkey bread in preparation for Sunday morning.  The kids usually request doughnuts, because they know I’m a softy for fried sweetened gluten and special Sunday morning outings, especially when we are running late.  But in an effort to break the habit, I thought that I’d let sugared monkey bread dough rise over night in the oven so that I could quickly bake it in the morning.  I have a poor habit of never reading a recipe more than once.  If I’ve gotten the general idea of the dish from the first go around, I figure I will remember enough for the next time.  This usually works out well for me, except when baking.  You have to be precise and accurate with measurements of flour and yeast.  There’s a good deal of behind-the-scenes science and chemical reactions going on in that kitchen kiln, that I seriously should have learned by now not to leave any of that finite math to estimations. 

I’m a slow learner…

Sunday sunup, Ava had generously volunteered to surface early and turn on the oven to bake the monkey bread.  But when she opened the door to take the swelling dough out and let the oven pre-heat, this is what she discovered…

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Thank you, Daddy for thinking to take a picture. 🙂

The softened butter and crystalized brown sugar slid off off the rounded clouds of dough and sat on the floor of my embarrassingly dirty oven.  All that salty sweet bliss…sigh

Ava and I pulled the mess out and sat it on the counter.  We gently tugged at the gooey-ness and discarded the extra dough into another pan…no way we were wasting all that goodness!  As we nipped and tucked, no matter how gentle our efforts, air escaped from the bottled dough bulges.  

So much anticipation…

for that monkey bread.  Those 8 nighttime hours it sat in wait–rising, multiplying, gaining grandeur and fluff.  We all were looking forward to its butter-soaked delight at dawn.  What we found was not at all what we expected.  It was shocking.  It was profound.  It was super-sized.

Yesterday morning when we woke for school, I fully imagined the worst.  I don’t know if that designates me a horrible mom, or a prepared mom.  But what I observed was not at all what I anticipated.  The kids were all fed, dressed (including socks and shoes, which usually equates minor surgery), and smiling…early.  Yes, early.  We appeared at school and had to actually wait in the hallway because we were too early.  (“Early” happens even less than wearing socks and tennis shoes.)

 

Yeast is a peculiar thing.  This cooking agent that is so small, when given exactly the right ingredients (in the right proportions) develops into the amazing goodness that gives sustenance and satisfies the rawest of needs…hunger.  We had been craving for something in our family.  We had been hankering to taste that which satisfies, that surpasses the expectations of mere bread, that which bounds over the limits of American success.  Rehab taught us that only Jesus satisfies the appetite to live life to the fullest.  And like yeast, He comes in ways that we don’t expect and ways that we can’t prepare for.  He comes in forms that do not simply fill us, but overwhelm our tins with exciting and fantastic satisfaction.  Though we don’t set the menu, we still anticipate the meal He is preparing.  As we wait to encounter what He does for our children and for our family this next year, and the years beyond, we have no idea what He will do, or how He will do it.  But, we get to wait in suspense.  We get to watch the dough rise and fluff.  We get to smell the artisan bread waft through the house.  We don’t know yet what’s to come from this season, but it brings joy to watch the yeast double and swell.  It builds our enthusiasm and anticipation.

It’s difficult to see life’s dough topple over out of our plans and not tug and pull at it’s unexpected bobbles.  We like to control.  We prefer to help out with the plan God has already put into motion.  We love to amend the dimensions of the pan/plan and how long things should have to bake in the uncomfortable fire.  When we get pushy with the strategy of God we can puncture the thin skin on those delicate bubbles of dough.  He desires for us to marvel at the size and magnitude of our anticipation.  He wants us to experience the full goodness of those light and flaky layers once they are perfected in the baking.  When we implement our own program into His sovereign unknown providence, we steal our own glorious anticipation…the anticipation He desires us to marvel in.  We deny ourselves the fine and intricate pastry he’s prepared, and end up with chewy and dense life moments that ferment bitterness at where we’ve been and how we’ve lived…what hardships have been dealt our way.

Oh, I pray that we don’t get anxious for His blessings–that we don’t preemptively pop His bubble–that we don’t steal His thunder–that we don’t scheme to discover the plans for our own surprise party.  Until He serves up the monkey bread on his precise time table, I pray that we hold no expectations, but only hold our breath in joyous anticipation.  

Let the yeast rise…

Life After Rehab: Step 4…

Just a little recap…

I’ve been writing about some helpful steps I found from a drug rehab facility for recovering addicts who are entering back into society after their recovery program.  I have found that these steps are helpful when thinking about my life after rehab–our Family Rehab.  If you have no idea what I’m talking about…there’s about 9 months worth of blog posts for you to catch up on. 🙂  In short, our family has spent the past school year taking an intentional break from the rushed nature of our American lives.  We pulled our kids out of public school and taught them from home.  We were intentional about getting to know our kids, teaching them in a relaxed and deliberate way about Jesus, and spending time together as a family.  During this time, my husband, a church planter in Buda, TX, was offered a position at a church 2 1/2+ hours away from family and friends.  This proved to be just the kind of situation that required our family to come together even more and learn how to trust Jesus both as a unit and individually.  We have wrapped up our school year and this time of Family Rehab, and are now focusing on Life After Rehab in this new environment with it’s new challenges.

We pick up with Life After Rehab: Step 4…


 

Step 4:  Focus on Mental Health.

“Returning to an old routine can bring stress and anxiety, especially if people are dealing with an intense craving for alcohol or drugs, and it can be easy to focus on the negativity. Sadness can build and build until a relapse seems not only possible but also certain. Finding a moment in each and every day to do something positive could be vital. A few moments of morning meditation could help the clouds of anxiety to part, for example, and that could bring the person the peace needed for the rest of the day. Exercise might also play a key role. While researchers aren’t quite sure how mental health and physical activity are linked, the Mayo Clinic reports that depression and anxiety levels can lower when a person exercises regularly. Taking a walk with the dog, swimming a few laps in the pool or lifting weights in the basement could all provide a little boost to mood, and these actions could also help a person feel just a little stronger and a lot healthier” (http://www.michaelshouse.com).


 

Life is stressful no matter what season we find ourselves in, but stepping out of a period of intentional rest and restoration and back into the rat-race can be an anxiety-stricken time. It can be overwhelming and turn the most optimistic personality into a scrooge of negativity. Our sobriety is not about resisting the highs of alcohol or drugs but is rather about maintaining a sober-mindedness and resistance to the all-consuming swirling world of tasks and appointments.  Finding ourselves immersed in a culture that holds the value of productivity, speed, and business on a over-extended pedestal can be both depressing and fearful.  Getting caught up in the pursuit to perform well can make the failure to do so detrimental to our outlook on life and our worth.   Taking care of ourselves both mentally and physically is important in standing firm against the temptation to find our value and worth in our worldly successes and long list of to-dos. I think this is something that we have learned over our year of rehab. Again, keeping that appointment with Jesus and spending time meditating on God’s Word can change the entire outlook of the day. (See the last post about Step 3).  Going on walks can take my frustration and fatigue level from a 10 down to a 2. It’s important that we find healthy options for guilt-free exercise, rest, and time with Jesus.

It’s important to supply this to our kids as well. The tension in our house goes down when everyone has had a chance to be physically active and they’ve had a good night’s rest. It requires sacrifice of time and sometimes money, but it is well worth it. It had been easier during Family Rehab to rest together and take walks together, simply because the sacrifice needed to do these things was been part of the designated goal. Now that we aren’t in “rehab” anymore, guilt creeps back in, convincing us that resting together or exercising isn’t the best use of our time. But it’s important to recognize that guilt isn’t a fruit of the Spirit. If we now commit to–and now believe that–rest and exercise are an integral part of continued “sobriety”, than we are more likely to reserve time, space, and money for it.

But if anybody reading this is the slightest bit like me, they will sympathize with me over the fact that exercise, rest, and meditation are areas in which I don’t have the best of luck.  Just a few weeks ago, I was thoroughly excited about starting up a good fitness routine again.  I found a bikram yoga studio here in Katy and was fully prepared to buy a membership after the first class.  The day before, I had been overly ambitious at home and tried to rearrange some furniture on my own, tweaking a few places in my back.  My thinking was that stretching out in a 90 degree room would be just the thing my aching back would need.  It’s been a really, really long time since I have attended a bikram yoga class–so long, in fact, that I forgot just how much lower back and core strength is required.  I was quickly reminded that it “ain’t” just stretching!  But if any of you know yoga law, you know that once you start a class, you don’t quit.  You can’t leave.  So, I stayed and stuck it out. And, of course, with my pride and competitive nature in full throttle, I couldn’t just ‘take it slow’.  I had to prove to myself that I could still do the things I could do pre-babies number 3 and 4.  It was quite a humbling experience.  Needless to say, that was what landed me in bed for a whole solid week.

That exercising experience didn’t result in a lack of depression and anxiety–it fueled it!  I’m sure if done properly, with boundaries, and a healthy approach exercise does exactly what it’s supposed to do.  The same goes for rest.  When we rest with a heart that is trusting God with our time and our motives, rest can be an amazing gift.  But, when we approach rest with anxiety about what we will be “irresponsibly avoiding” while we rest, we aren’t really resting at all.  We aren’t resting fully.  Or, when we use rest as an excuse or an escape it can result in unhealthy rest.  This might look like indulging in a gossip magazine for us women or lustful pictures or videos for men.

Real quality rest comes from Jesus.  I’m not saying that healthy rest only looks like a bible, a pen, and a Starbucks.  It can be a family game, a nap, watching some World Cup soccer (so sad to see the US go), gardening, painting, an evening stroll, or even an episode of a favorite TV show.  However, I think it’s necessary for rest to be helpful–not destructive.  Much like my bikram experience, it ended up not being helpful at all, and set my good desire for a healthier routine back a month or so.  It wasn’t worth it!  Neither is “rest” that results in guilt or shame.  It ends up setting us back.  It ends up being destructive.  The time and emotional energy that it takes to recover and repent sucks away rest.  Resting in Jesus looks like enjoying life but with sober-mindedness.  If we approach exercise and rest with sobriety, taking time to consider our choices, then we enter into it with a greater chance of success.  I’m not saying we have to spend hours laboring over what to do every time we have an opportunity to exercise or rest (that’s anxiety), but quickly assessing with 2 easy questions and 1 reminder could help.

Question 1:  Is this what God wants for me and my health right now?

If the answer to the question is ‘no’, then you’re done.  Figure out what He does want and put that first idea to rest.  Hold it captive to Him and move on to another idea.  Don’t try to convince yourself or make something that’s not healthy for others, somehow permissible for you.

If the answer to the question is ‘yes‘, then ask Question 2.

Question 2: Where is my heart in all this?

I hate to be a constant motive-hunter  but these kinds of questions are the ones that in moments of sobriety seem so obvious and easy to consider, but in the moment they escape me.  I wasn’t thinking about my motives at all when I had sweat pouring down my face as I was trying my hardest to contort my body into a yoga pretzel.  If I had been able to think about the unhealthiness of my competitiveness in the moment, I would have just stopped and laid down like a pretzel stick saving myself from a lot of pain.  But I am learning that I’ve got to ask myself these questions before I make plans from which I can’t just walk out of the room.  Making the decision in the moment goes beyond my personal level of self-control.  Maybe some of you are stronger than me in this area, but I’ve got to ask myself these things and search my heart before hand.  If I feel like resting by flipping on the tv or surfing the web, I’ve got to check my motives and know where I could potentially lose my “sobriety”.  I may not struggle with my yoga competitiveness when I watch tv or visit some favorite sites, but I might find myself comparing myself to the beautiful models in the commercials, or the super-moms and their ability to be innovative crafters of recycled goods.  I’ve got to ask the question before I grab the remote or the smart-phone so I know how to avoid squandering my opportunity for rest or exercise.  If I ask the questions, than I am more keenly aware of my weaknesses and can make better decisions.  So often, things go horribly wrong when I mindlessly fall into these activities.  It is impossible to be mindless and sober-minded at the same time.

Most of us also struggle with unique motives to exercise.  The goal of exercise is health, not looks.  The goal of putting on the running tights and shoes is to get your heart pumping, not that of the passerby in the park who watches you run by.  In our society, the struggle to keep ourselves sober-minded in this area is tough.  Women and men alike are encouraged to look better for the purpose of attracting others.  If I see one more Gold’s Gym sign encouraging me to work out so that I “Look Better Naked,”  I just might take them on their word and scare the living daylights out of them, showing up ready to hit the elliptical machine with nothing on.  (Don’t worry, I’d never follow through.)  Whether we struggle with the desire to look better, or we struggle with pridefully thinking we already look better, then we we need to check our motives when working out.  The goal is to feel better both physically and emotionally, not simply to look better.

Then I have to remind myself…

Reminder:  God is in control and I can rest in Him and His plan.  “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21). 

I need help remembering that if this is what God wants for me right now, then He, in His sovereignty, will take care of all the other details of my time and my life.  If I feel guilt about not using that time to get something else done, I need to remember that He loves me and wants the best for me.  He controls the spinning of the earth!  He surely can help me find the time to get that other thing done.  I can remember that in His mercy and deep love for me He wants me to enjoy life to the fullest.

So, if you love hitting the gym, or running, or yoga and have an opportunity to indulge a little time towards it, live in freedom to do it with a joyful heart and carefree spirit.  If you have time to take a little snooze, then remember that it’s a healthy way to spend your time.  God doesn’t want you to squander opportunities for physical activity and rest by questioning yourself if you deserve it or not.  It’s not about what you deserve.  Exercise and rest are a requirement for healthy living and continued “sobriety”.

If you feel like you don’t have time for exercise, rest, or meditation, please seek out the help of friends and advocates who will help you make time for these.  I know I need permission from my husband to rest, exercise, and spend time in the Word because I struggle in feeling guilty about the use of my time in that way.  I don’t literally need his “permission”, but knowing that he supports that use of my time, helps me to also feel good about it.  I need others to remind me about God’s love for me and desire for me to enjoy these things, not feel anxious about them.

This step to rest and exercise is a challenge for all of us.  Let’s take comfort knowing that what is being asked of us is out of the love of the Father and His great care for us and our bodies.

“Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul” (3 John 1:2).


 

Next…Step 5…