Sometimes life doesn’t make sense.  In a world and culture that loves rhythms and systems, order and reason, sometimes life runs against the current.  Chaos abounds, and it’s enough to drive us all mad.

So what do we do when the chaos hits the fan?  What do we do when the world’s run amuck and we don’t know up from down?Here’s my laptop confession:  I eat chocolate and TV binge-watch.

We are not promised order, as we define it.  We are not guaranteed to always understand.  However, we are ensured that we don’t have to know the ins and outs of all that lay before us.  That truth is a really hard pill to swallow…chocolate is much easier.

As a parent, much of my “order” is defined by good behavior, and the procedures to get there involve discipline and consequences.  I am learning, however, that grace is chaos compared to behavior charts and house rules.  Grace, as it rubs against the grain of our daily structure, order, and expectations, usually asks us to forgive uncomfortably.  Grace requires understanding, not strict obedience nor lax leniency.  It demands time and action that unquestionably directs others toward Jesus.  This doesn’t always follow the steps and procedures that I have deemed responsible.  Grace-filled parenting erroneously appears irresponsible and “soft.”

How do I reconcile that in my heart?  If we are to live under grace, and extend grace to others, and to live in Gospel-centered community, we must train ourselves to think outside common sense, order, and definitions.

Forcing ourselves outside of common sense is quality practice.  Jesus and His “upside-down” kingdom runs counter to all cultural common sense.  The first shall be last.  Debt is freely cancelled.  Those are not lessons from Kindergarten.  From early on, we are groomed to follow the line leader and to take responsibility for our actions.  We are taught how to fill our sticker-chart of good deeds.

Having a plan, asking questions about the plan, and having a back-up plan feels responsible, and there are times when this is required of us.  So when we are occasionally asked (or forced) to not have a plan, we can feel lazy, dull, and even immoral.  To practice frivolity, at least to some degree, stretches us outside our common sense limits and our desire to control the chaos.  Grace often resides beyond these personal boundaries and the limits we’ve drawn.  Perhaps we should push ourselves outside these cultural guidelines so often, that functioning against the cultural current begins to feel normal–less uncomfortable.

Today the kids have their Valentine’s parties, and so we’ve been getting our “creative” on.  We decided to order cards from the store, so the other night we had a photo shoot.  In an effort to practice frivolity, we threw out common sense.  It seemed more like Halloween than Valentine’s, and I believe we successfully thought outside of the box.  (Pinterest makes it really hard to be truly unique.)   We stepped beyond order and reason, and with a little bit of crazy and a whole lot of laughter, we came up with a plan–a plan of non-sense.

Ava’s favorite candy is Three Musketeers.  I’m sure there is someone smarter than me who could have drawn a connection between the sword-toting trio and Valentine’s Day love, but I had nothing. We bought the candy, a fake mustache, and inverted Gideon’s pirate costume.  Ava, who has an amazing ability to defy inhibitions, slapped on the facial hair and hat, and began hamming it up for the camera.

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I love this girl.

This musketeer embraced the utter non-sense of it all…and we laughed.

The lack of meaning and connection became the thrust of our message.

You see, when we cling to reason and order, to practicality and systems, we miss musing in the senseless things of life, or at least the things that seem senseless to us.  I mentally draft connections from one event to another, or apply meaning to a situation that just simply doesn’t exist.  It’s my meager attempt to make sense of life, to organize the chaos.  Meanwhile, I miss the freedom in the chaos, notably that I don’t have to figure it out.  When I don’t know what to do with my kids and their behavior, I find myself holding fast to proper procedures and guidelines.  In turn, I miss the beauty of extending true grace…that which is undeserved.  My rules are all about what is earned and deserved.  Grace doesn’t fit in that box.

The clear message of Scripture is that God has His plan and we are in it…somewhere.  From the first meal in the Garden, mankind has been tempted by “knowing.”

“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” Genesis 3: 6-7

….and since the first instruction in the Garden, it hasn’t been humanity’s place to know.  

“And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden,  but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Genesis 2: 16-17

I desire what isn’t for me (namely, knowing the plan and controlling the situation).  Not much has changed since the Garden.  Eve and I have much in common.  One would think I could learn from her story.  For when her eyes were opened, it didn’t go well.

I desperately want to see the big picture, the plan that lies ahead…at least how the next few weeks will pan out.  I want to make sure my children respect authority and obey the rules, often at the expense of grace. But it isn’t for me to know and it isn’t for me to withhold that which is so freely given to me.  And if all that I seek to see was indeed revealed to me, I can only assume that the irresistible knowledge I crave now wouldn’t satisfy in the end.  I can only assume that without grace, my children would grow up to be wonderful, respectful citizens, but who sit in constant judgment and have ongoing relationship inadequacies, including relationship with their heavenly Father.

SO…I practice.  While cute on a Valentine’s card, I currently struggle to experience non-sensical joy in the midst of chaos and unknowing.  I’d like to say I could, because after all, that’s what a Proverbs 31 woman would do: “laugh at the days to come.”  But let’s get real…when the chaos hits the fan, trusting God’s plan worry-free is a set of skills most of us lack.

So I practice the skill, even in silly photo shoots, which honestly, takes no risk.  But even that little taste of embracing the self-adhesive mustache makes the crazy around me slightly more palatable. Can you imagine if I practiced this skill with grace? That takes guts!  I can only imagine that the effects on myself and those around me would be astounding.

As I fumble and muddle through all this, here is my hope…it’s for you, too:

“For the sake of my servant Jacob,
and Israel my chosen,
I call you by your name,
I name you, though you do not know me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other,
besides me there is no God;
I equip you, though you do not know me,
that people may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is none besides me;
I am the Lord, and there is no other.”

Isaiah 45: 4-6

When we are not trusting, when we do not know or acknowledge Him, He is still faithful.  He still equips us–with peace and with grace.  When we are in the wilderness, He continues to guide, though we whine and complain with every step.  He continues to know us and our cravings to understand and make sense of the desert.  He calls us by name…even when we resist to call on His.  He promises to make at least one thing known to us…Him.

He will supply us with frivolous grace, and even more opportunities to shower others with the same.  He will sustain us in the chaos, when we don’t see a way.

Romans 9:15-17 says,

“For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’  So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.'”

It is because of His faithfulness that I am compelled to respond with trust.  I trust not because I can make sense of the situation, or predict the future.  I can trust that when grace is given, Jesus takes care of the consequences and conviction that my guidelines and sense of justice want to establish.  I will not walk forward in hope because I have a glimpse of what He is doing.  I know it depends on nothing of me, no will or exertion, not even an optimistic outlook, and therefore, I am free to not have one.

(gasp…)

I press on with wishy-washy hope and just try to trust.  I will start with baby steps and simply try to trust Him with the plan, and with the aftermath of His grace.  (Accompanied of course by chocolate and tv drama).

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

Proverbs 3:5-6

Here’s the final Valentine: (completely non-sensical)

IMG_0501 “Roses are red, violets are blue.  All for one…and 5 for 2?”

The rain dances off the shingled roof while shouts of laughter and giggles of delight bounce back and forth.  I sit in the coziness of my kitchen with my smoked berry and incense candle setting the mood.  What a calm Columbus Day home from school.  With the showers and dark clouds comes the dawning of Fall.  (Or at least I hope cooler weather is on the horizon.)

Autumn is my favorite season, with all it’s tastes and scents.  Whether it’s walking into the grocery store and smelling the cinnamon pine cones, or sitting in a Starbucks with a spiced pumpkin latte, once October hits, the aroma and palette of fall is hard to escape.

This morning I thought, I really should write a blog post today.  We are coming off a full and long weekend and though I should write, all I want to do today is sit with my coffee in front of the panes of glass and watch my children soak up the drops of joy falling from the sky…that, or take a nap.  I had to run a quick trip to the store earlier this morning for some basics as I was praying, “What do I even write about today? I got nothin’, Lord.”  Then I realized I completely drove past HEB, as if headed to school on a non-holiday Monday.  I was already sitting at the next stop light.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit I’ve done this before.  I’ve been deep in thought, distracted by squabbling kids in the back seat, or simply so exhausted that I miss my turn, pass my exit, or even drive past my own house, especially if it is a non-routine stop.  I hope some of you can identify with this…

As I sat at the red left-turn-only light, waiting to make my u-turn back to the store, I prayed again, “What do I even write about today?  I’m too tired to think, too tired to process, too tired to listen.”

Yep, there it is.  A clear word from the Lord.  Here we go:

How many times have I been too tired, too fatigued, too apathetic to listen to God?  (More times than I can count or realize, I suppose.) Our pace of American life lulls us into such monotony of routine that we drive right past the urgings of God.  When His Spirit speaks something that is outside the set boundaries of our schedules or beyond the lists of to-dos, we can sleep-walk ourselves past doors of opportunity.

Wake UP!  God is telling us, “WAKE UP!”  I have let my new-found awareness and ear (albeit still being fine-tuned) go…to…sleep.  Are you awake??

I know what it is to be so exhausted that eyelids succumb to the laws of gravity, even in the midst of conversation. I get it. I know it. I am in that very state right now. But I am called to WAKE UP! I either need to make the necessary changes to not be so dang tired or I have to get over the sleepiness and force myself to be aware in the midst of fatigue. Perhaps the solution requires a little of both.

There are values in our culture that oppose rest, that break the 4th commandment.  It’s admirable to work overtime.  We boast of our busyness.  Think about that for a minute.  Our sins are all equal in the sight of God.  Every sin, whether “big” or “small” (as deemed by our society) leads to death.  So are we willing to take murder with the same degree of self-righteous excuse as we do working on the Sabbath?  What if we murdered for the sake of an extra days worth of salary?   What if we murdered for the sake of ministry? Yeah, I went there…  How unsettling if we boasted of our killing?  If we boasted for killing innocent people for the “sake of the Gospel?”

Our disregard for the Sabbath, using the excuse of “ministry” as justification, is no less a sin than the genocide of populations during the crusades.

Jesus healed on the Sabbath, yes.  But Jesus also withdrew from the crowds and rested.  We have to rest.  We have to take rest seriously.  We have to regard the commandment to honor the Sabbath with the same conviction as we do the other 9 on the list.  What good is a half-eyed “christian” zombie who is too tired to hear the Spirit?  It sure doesn’t make the truth of “Jesus in me” very convincing to others, when I am too tired to listen to Him and to bear His fruits of joy, peace, and patience.  Why would anyone want what I have?  It looks and feels miserable.

Jesus, forgive me for not taking rest seriously.  Forgive me for not taking care of the body you have given me.  Forgive me for letting my lack of rest inhibit me from following You.  Forgive me for selfishly pursuing works instead of pursuing You.  Forgive me for misrepresenting the new life and joy you offer in the presence of others who have yet to taste it.

Jesus, thank you for covering me in grace and giving me new life regardless of my performance.  I am made new, daily.

Adequate rest is only half of my issue.  When I am fatigued (and it’s bound to happen regardless of good Sabbath habits, because I’m only human), I am still called to wake up.  In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asked his disciples to stay alert and pray…and they couldn’t keep their eyelids peeled.  Twice He pleaded for their attention and twice they fell victim to slumber.   “And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour?  Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:40-41).  The Spirit is right there, willing to reveal to me all manner of amazing gifts and revelations, but my flesh has been entirely weak.

Jesus pleads for our attention.  He desires our alertness to His words, to His Spirit.  If we are walking through life on auto-pilot, we miss His very voice and all that He has to offer us.  He sings songs over us.  He speaks truth to us.  He reminds us of our beauty, our inheritance, our value, and our worth.  These are reminders I need daily.  I’m so ashamed that I don’t pay attention to these messages that I desperately need.  I can’t believe that I own lies of value and worth that are contrary to what He says about me, yet His sweet words are ever-present for me.  The Spirit’s fragrance and taste is all around me, just like Fall and it’s hard to escape.  Yet, I have found a way to bypass it all.

Jesus, forgive me for falling asleep to Your voice.  Forgive me for coasting through the day to day, unaware of the destinations to which I’ve been blind and the reminders of your truth.

I receive the clean slate you give me and honed-in ears to start afresh.

2 Timothy 2:13 says, “if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.”  For that, I am truly thankful.  My list may not be totally completed at today’s end, but at least I heard Him say, “I will be faithful to you.”

Today I am tired, but not alone.  My list of to-dos fills an entire 8 1/2 x 11 page of lined notebook paper.  About half-way down the list is: write blog post.  Listening to God doesn’t mean I’m irresponsible with my daily duties.  When I listen to Him, He walks alongside me and makes the stuff happen, infusing each task with His fragrance of joy and lightness of heart.  It’s the cinnamon and cardamon added to the everyday cup of joe.  The ordinary becomes enraptured with His presence.  With Him living in me, I can be tired, joyful, productive, and attentive all at the same time.

I have tried in the few hours of sitting in front of the screen to listen to God, even through my fatigue, even through trying to complete my writing task, and even with the other 15 things on my list looming in the back of my mind.  This morning, I went on a journey to write a blog post.  But I listened and stopped along the way, guided to pitstops and destinations that were not in my plan.  Here’s what happened:

– I watched the rain fall.

– I closed my eyes and opened my ears to the sounds of my children’s laughter.

– I laughed over the top of the laptop as I witnessed four kids battle one dog to a bath–in the rain.

– I embraced muddy feet.

– I happily scratched off the list…

give the dog a bath

– I stopped typing to take pictures of siblings hugging in the open grass midst a thunderstorm. photo – I savored my creamer-enhanced coffee as I sat waiting for the electricity to come back on.

-I stopped typing again to tickle a half-naked, wet, and muddy toddler boy.

-I pondered my rest and lack thereof…then prayed for forgiveness.

-I meditated on grace.

-I paused to fill a bathtub with soapy warm foam for cold little bodies.

-I tossed soggy clothes into the washing machine, counting the blessings of modern technology.

– I marked off…

do a load of laundry

– I wrapped little boys in fluffy dry towels and kissed their tender noses.

– I happily elongated the chase of a naked bathroom escapee, and marveled at his laughter, picking up random toys on the floor along the way.

– I grabbed the pencil…

bathe kids

pick up clutter

-I returned to the keyboard and gave thanks for fresh ears and propped-open eyes.

– I heated hotdogs for lunch and threw some ingredients into the crockpot.

– I drew a line through:

start dinner

– I snuggled my baby close, singing a lullaby, then laid him sleepy-eyed into his crib for an afternoon respite.

– I sat for a final session at the computer and listened.  I recounted all that Jesus had for my tired soul in one short morning…

write blog-post

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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.

 

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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“IT’S SUMMER?!?!? WHAT? WHO? WHERE? WHEN?!?”

So it hit me the other day that summer is here.  Oh, don’t misunderstand…I know that it is summer!  We have been looking forward to the days when there’s no school and there are more hours to play.  (Although, with our recent relocation, we’ve really been acting like it’s summer since Christmas.)  So it wasn’t really the fact that summer has arrived that caught me off guard.  What was profoundly shocking about my realization was that our year of “Family Rehab” is over.  When we started this crazy adventure, we committed to taking one school year at home to rehabilitate our family and our hearts.  Wow.  The school year is over.  Those 9 months went by incredibly fast.  This surprising conclusion has raised many questions concerning Family Rehab:

“Was it worth it?”

“Did we succeed and change?”

“Did we learn anything?”

“Are we better for it, or worse?”

“If we’ve learned anything during this year, how do we keep from reverting to old habits and behaviors?”

When a person enters a formal drug treatment program, they don’t stay there forever.  They go through months of overpowering therapy and work, learning how to live in a world that entices them back to their addictions.  It’s an intense time created with the purpose of preparing the person to one day leave the facility in better physical, mental, and emotional health.  When a person is leaving a treatment facility for drug or alcohol abuse, there can be a lot of similar questions to my Family Rehab questions:

“Was is worth it?”

“Did I succeed and change?”

“Did I learn anything?”

“Am I better for it, or worse?”

“How am I going to survive out there?”

“How can I keep from falling off the wagon?”

I did a little research and found 7 helpful steps from a rehab website (http://www.michaelshouse.com) for those re-entering life after rehab.  I think these steps are helpful for our family also as we consider life after Family Rehab.  In the posts to come, I will cover these steps and how they relate to all of us in our every day walk.

First of all, it’s wise to note that going to rehab of any kind, whether for substance abuse or for Family Rehab, doesn’t fix a person and take away their struggles.  Rehab is designed to concentrate on the tools needed to face the struggle head-on and to lead a life of sobriety.  1 Peter 1:13 says, “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”  Our struggles with sin, with parenting, with relationships, and with coping in this world rely soley on the saving grace of Jesus.  Our hope lies in Him–not in improving our performance or trying harder.  So these helpful tips for diving back into the real world after a season of intentional learning and healing are not the saving secret codes to life.  They are merely help in maintaining that sober-mindedness.  They are merely a way to keep the mind prepared for the action that life throws our way.  These 7 steps I will share over the next week can help make the transition from a slower pace of intentional living back into regular life a little less stressful.


 

Step 1:  Find Sober Friends

“Addictions often form through the influence of other people. Studies on teens, such one published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, clearly demonstrate that peer pressure is a powerful motivator for drug use, as those teens who spend time with pro-drug friends are more likely to use when compared to teens who spend time with sober friends. The same could be said for adults. Those who have friendships built on drugs may find it hard to go to parties, share meals, or otherwise interact and stay sober, as the temptation to use might grow and spread. Sober friends can be vital, as they may be willing to engage in fun activities that don’t involve substance abuse. Temptation levels might fade when people are surrounded by others who are sober” (http://www.michaelshouse.com).


Using this logic from a drug rehabilitation program as a guide, step 1 for Family Rehab is also to find sober friends–that is, sober-minded friends.  1Timothy 3 speaks directly to sober-minded influences or leaders and overseers in the church:

“Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:2-7).

It doesn’t take much thought to see the wisdom in seeking out sober-minded friends.  When surrounded by people who demonstrate the qualities listed above, peer pressure alone makes us better people.  But, in the book of Titus, Paul explains the the relationship with sober-minded people is not just one that consists of merely being surrounded my these people.  They have been called to be teachers and we are to allow ourselves to be taught by them.  He writes to these teachers:

“But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” (Titus 2:1-10).

Wow…I want to be around someone who has been charged with all that and is willing to take on the challenge.  I want to learn from them, study them, and become like them.

In the next phase of our “sobriety”, I think it is important that each member of our family find sober-minded friends.  Not just friends, but mentors–people from whom we can learn.  For Paul and I we have various mentors already in place for different areas of life.  But I think we need to look forward with the goal of really seeking mentorship in the area of parenting specifically.  There are couples God has placed in our lives whose families we admire.  Their children are respectful and follow Jesus with a passion.  Their marriage seems strong and steady.  They speak of their spouses with the upmost grace and care, never slandering or damaging them.  They deal with stressful situations with calm and peaceful ease demonstrating a firm belief and trust in the Lord’s plan.  I want to encourage my children to seek out mentors in older children as well.  (Of course, we have to approve their choice.)  But we want them to start now looking to older and more seasoned believers for guidance and wisdom.  We are naive if we think our children will come to us for advice on all areas of life.  We are also naive if we think we can go through life as parents without mentors.  I want us all to learn how to recognize and make relationships with sober-minded friends.  (Us ladies, find ladies.  The guys, find guys.)  This, however, doesn’t mean that we circle the wagons and cut-off relationships with those who are outside our circles of faith or condone the particular sins others struggle with.  It does mean that those relationship look a little different.  If a women is struggling to respect her husband and is filled with frustration, she probably shouldn’t go vent to her girlfriend who is constantly husband bashing.  That won’t bear any good fruit or set her up to battle her temptation to sin.  Likewise, the man who is struggling with lust probably would not do well to go hang out with a group of guys from work whose relationship is built around frequenting the local strip club.  It also will not bear good fruit, nor set him on a path away from temptation.

Who we spend time with, learn from, and let influence our decisions is important.  In our American culture we tend to think our opinions and convictions are invincible.  But in reality we are so easily impacted by popular trendy beliefs, voices of “intellect” and status, and by merely unconsciously observing the lives of others.  Just like the addict, spending the weekend with a best friend doesn’t seem like a potentially dangerous plan in which safety has to be questioned–and maybe it’s not.  But the purpose of rehab is to train ourselves to at least be willing to ask questions about the people we let speak into our lives…whether the person is as close a relative or spouse, or as distant as Oprah.

Not only do we need to ask questions about current relationships, but we need to seek out sober-minded friends and mentors.  This is a hard process…especially when in a new area like our family currently is.  But, the hard and awkward work of getting to know people and learning about them is all worth the effort if the result is having relationships with people who are courageously marking a path of sobriety before you, and setting up boundaries in relationships that might discourage positive headway on the journey.

My prayer is that God leads us to these good relationships and gives all of us, but especially our children, the discernment and wisdom to identify sober-mindedness and the courage to engage and learn from those who possess it.  I also pray that we cling to those relationships that are already established and have been proven to bear good fruit.  Through all of our life after rehab I pray that we don’t forget our most valuable lesson from the past year—that our greatest friend and influence is Jesus.  His faithfulness is unmatched.  His sobriety amidst trial and temptation is above that of anyone else.  His relationship—a priceless treasure.  His forgiveness—unending.  His love—relentless.

Psalm 25:14 says, “The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant.”   He makes known to us His faithfulness to His great promises.  Whatever “Life After Rehab” will look like, we can trust that in His friendship He will let us know the “what, who, where, and when” of each moment.  He has promised to love us, to never forsake us, and to guide us.  And we can trust that He will open our eyes to see the fulfilling of those promises.


Keep an eye out for Step 2 of Life After Rehab…