Early Abstinence and Dragons

Early Abstinence: can be the toughest stage to cope with because of many factors, including continued withdrawal symptoms, physical cravings, psychological dependence and a host of triggers that can tempt you into a relapse.

I think we have finally made it through stage 2 of our Family Rehab:  “Early Abstinence.”  We have struggled with the occasional “fall off the wagon” ending up in the high-pace race to worldly success.  Whether educational success, “spiritual” success, or behavioral success, anytime we ended up frantically reaching for goals that were deceptively laced in fear, we knew we had slipped into old habits and addictions.  Now, here we are, I believe, exiting “Early Abstinence” and getting ready for what lies ahead.

Over the past 2 1/2 months, I have found myself on the floor in withdrawal feeling overwhelmed by the dooming presence of my failure to succeed and craving my old schedule with kids in school and daily quiet time.  I have found myself physically wanting to keep our day busy with meaningless activities to merely pass the time, rather than engage with the hearts of my children.  I have heard the voices in my head telling me that if I don’t have something to show by Christmas or by the end of the year for all our (my) hard work, then this was all for naught.  I have lost my temper.  I have declared school holidays for the sole purpose of feeding my laziness.  I have forced school with a short fuse for the sole purpose of breaking God’s commandment to rest.  There have been days I have gotten it all wrong–days when my priorities were all out of whack, my heart inward focused, and my strength was being sucked up from an empty well of self-ambition.  Stage 2 of Family Rehab has been really, really, hard.

We live in a world–in an American society, rather–that so heavily speaks against all that Jesus desires us to hear.  We “hear” that Jesus wants us to have abundant life and as Americans we try harder for a life we think we deserve.  We “hear” Jesus say observe the Sabbath, and we rush the kids to bed so we can flip on the TV for a dramatic escape to rest.  We “hear” Jesus say children are a blessing, and we find a way to manage them rather than love them.  All these words from Jesus get drowned out by the words of the world.  There are temptations to “relapse” everywhere.  Especially, when as Americans we have most likely grown up in a fast-paced success-driven world, retraining the heart and the mind to break free from that mold is an overwhelming task.  It is so much easier to just conform to the rest of the world around us.  It’s so much easier to worry about money, success, schedule, education– ALL of it, instead of trusting Jesus with it.  I often think, if I could just see Jesus sitting at our dinner table, if I could just audibly hear Jesus saying, “I’ve got this!”, then  I think it would be so much easier to trust Him.  But that’s not faith…

As Stage 2 of Family Rehab is rounding out, I am certain that the same struggles to trust His voice will be there tomorrow.  Once an addict, always an addict, right?  Maybe the worldly voices, the temptations, and the desire to take the easy “faithless” way out will always be there.  But I don’t believe I am destined to live a life addicted to the ways of the world.  Jesus lives in me.  The old addict, who was always “jones-ing” to “keep up with the Jones” has been buried with Christ, and a new person has been raised with Him.  Jesus tells me that I am a new creation.

Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  I could think of no better way to sum up “Early Abstinence.”  Family Rehab isn’t about stopping an addiction to drugs or alcohol.  Our Family Rehab is about pulling away from the ways of the world for a year to renew our minds.  It has been a process, through an abstinence of worldy things, of understanding and identifying where and how we even do conform to the ways of this world.  We have been too engrained and trained by this world that we don’t even know or realize how much we have conformed to it.

Today the girls were working with clay.  They were very determined to handcraft some dragon pets.  Unlike them, I don’t know much about dragons.  Apparently, there are books about different kinds of dragons.  Helen’s dragon, for instance had huge ears, which made it a “listening dragon.”  It was all very cute.  They spent nearly 5 hours, from lunch to dinner, at the table crafting their dragons with such purpose and patience.  When the clay wasn’t too dry, or too wet, it did a descent job of keeping it’s shape.  When the clay was too dry, it was brittle and would easily break.  It couldn’t be worked with at all.  But when the clay was too wet, leaving the dragons untouched for an extended amount of time resulted in droopy dragons.  The clay started to melt into the surface of the table–flat and shapeless.  The dragons needed to be reshaped, remolded into the thing their creators wanted them to be.  In order for those dragons to remain dragons and eventually dry into bone-hard dragons, they had to go under continual tweaking and pushing and pinching.

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God in His mercy and love also created us out of clay.  Why?  Because to Him we are as fascinating and enjoyable as dragons are to my daughters.  Dragons are not of this world.  They are fanciful and fantastic.  They breath fire.  They are big beasts that fly and glide through the air.  They bring joy to little girls and little boys alike.  They are just plain cool.  Today, those dragons were created to not just provide fun for my girls, they were a display of Ava and Helen’s artistic creativity and talent.  Similarly, God designed us to model His glory.  We were created out of love with the purpose to glorify Him.  But sometimes the clay is too hard.  Sometimes we don’t see a need to be anything but clay.  We have hardened hearts that refuse to let anyone, let alone God, shape and mold us into something other than what we think we should be.

And then there are those of us who are wet clay.  We want to be molded.  We want to be shaped, so much so, that we dive into so much that we are wet with how-to books, 12-steps to happier lives, and all the influential stuff of the world.  We can’t seem to separate the molding hands of the Father from the shaping hands of the world.  We can’t decipher the Truth from the facts of life and worldly success.  We are so interested in becoming what we “think” we are supposed to be, that we are not patient with the Father and His timing.  A potter adds water to soften clay and make it pliable, but that is the Potter’s job.  Outside of His timing, we have drenched ourselves in our own plans and our own desires that we can’t keep shape on our own. We start to melt and conform to the flat and shapeless goals and ideals of the world around us.  He desires us to be dragons!  He wants us to be fantastic and fanciful!  He has a vision for us that includes breathing FIRE!

Thank goodness He keeps coming back to our droopy dragon tails.  When the temptations of the world encourage us to “relapse” into our previous clay bondage, He comes to us in a very intimate and loving way to push and pinch.  Sometimes, it’s not comfortable.  But He sees in His mind’s eye the finished product.  He sees soaring wings taking powerful and dramatic flight.  He keeps tweaking and touching until we are able to stand firm in His truth, in our identity as His creation, and in our purpose to glorify Him.

We have been wet, slouching dragons during “Early Abstinence.”  We were eager and excited to learn and be transformed.  We took on a lot of change under our own power and vision.  As we sit and dry out, getting pinched and pushed, we are learning that the Potter is to be trusted.  He has a vision to mold us beyond our eager set-aside Family Rehabilitation.  I am learning that to set aside the voices of this world and listen to His voice is key.  During this time of rehab, abstaining from what the world tells us is important, good, and meaningful allows us to be able to even recognize and hear the Truth coming from Jesus.   Putting aside my ambition to let Jesus do with me whatever He wills is what sobriety looks like.  We are in process.  We are learning.  We are seeing more and more everyday that our role in all this is to just sit on the shelf with trust and humility.  I am learning to see ourselves next to our children on the shelf instead of trying to shape and mold them myself.  Jesus knows whether they are to be “listening dragons” or something else.  I can only show them through my obedience what it looks like to sit on the shelf and be okay there.

We will be tempted and tested.  But through that testing, I pray that we “discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  I pray that over time, we struggle less and less to hear the voice of Jesus amidst the voices of this world.  I pray that over time, with much pinching and pushing, I give up my wet clay and look more and more like a strong, powerful, fanciful and free-flying dragon.  I pray that I surrender all trust to Jesus letting Him define my future and direct my steps.

headphones and the artist’s angst

Monday at lunch, the raccoon was up to his normal mischief.  When Paul rhetorically asked, “What are you going to be like when you are a teenager?  Are you going to drive too fast and always see what kind of trouble you can get in?”,  Ava didn’t miss a beat: “Or date too early!”  We laughed.  She said, “You know, he’ll be one of those teenage boys who dates too early and wears headphones for no reason…”  What a little social commentator we have!  Thank goodness, she’s got some wits about her!

Yesterday, we celebrated Columbus Day by searching for materials to use for our Texas Explorers unit.  The girls will be making their own Native American costumes.  They both have chosen to do their best to emulate the Karankawa Native Americans who lived on the coast of Texas along the Gulf of Mexico.  They also have both chosen the explorer, Cabeza de Vaca, to research.  (I think their decision to pick the same explorer is solely because Helen is trying to ride on the coat tails of Ava’s research.)  Their costumes will double as their Halloween costumes.  We are combining several areas of study: how to research, historical narratives, map making, art, and Texas History.  They will research Cabeza de Vaca and make a map of his journey to and in Texas.  They will gather some facts about his discoveries and his relationship with the Native Americans he met along the way.  They will then write a historical narrative that includes facts they have gathered, but is written from the perspective of their personal characterization of the Native Americans.  On Halloween, they will have a green button and a red button taped to their arm.  When someone presses the green button, they will start to recite their historical narrative.  When the red button is pushed, they stop, mid-sentence even.  (We are trying to make it as fun and silly as possible.)

We found imitation suede, leather, and feathers for the costumes, and we bought some dowel rods for spears.  We also bought some raffia to weave some baskets.  On our field trip last month to the Bob Bullock Museum, the girls had noticed all of the baskets in the Karankawa exhibit.  They thought it would be neat to weave their own and then have it to collect all their Halloween candy.  Yesterday, when we came home from the store, we went to work weaving their baskets.

Now let me tell you, raffia is thin and it has the tendency to split.  Making a basket that is woven tight enough to hold candy was dang near impossible.  We spent all day on this project.  Raffia was all over the floor and we spent the majority of the time wrestling it away from the raccoon and the cat.  We didn’t really have a plan, and so we created as we went.

This is usually how I function.  I cook this way.  I clean this way.  I paint this way.  I mold clay this way.  I sew this way.  For those who always use a cookbook, a system, a template, a model, or a pattern–I’m sorry.  I know that people like me make people like you uncomfortable.  When people with a plan see people like me pull out the paints without drawing an outline in pencil first, they wince.  When people with a plan see people like me add more salt and then scan the contents of the refrigerator for something else to add to the pot, they usually speed dial the nearest pizza delivery.  When people with a plan see people like me whip out the scissors to a yard of freshly bought fabric just laying on the table, they usually say a prayer.  When the shape of the painted bird wing is too long, when the sauce is too thin, and the armhole too large, I improvise.  I get creative.

So yesterday, when the raffia was too thin, the weave of the basket too loose, and the circumference of the bottom too small, we got creative.   As I watched Ava and Helen chuckle at the baskets as they appeared more and more haphazard, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Just wait.  We’re not done yet.  You’ll see.  It’s gonna be something.  I don’t know what, but something!”  And as we mutually twisted and tucked, pushed and pulled, the baskets began to take on more shape, more form, and more strength.  After we finished our attempt to just miraculously weave Native American baskets without guidance or directions, we happened to find ourselves with some pretty realistic and authentic woven goods despite our lack of premeditation.

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What was intended to hold candy, will now hold spears for Helen.  For Ava, she will just have to also carry an extra bag for when the contents of her candy basket overflows.  At least my seemingly foolish unplanned projects result in something.  At least there is more purpose to them than wearing headphones that aren’t plugged into anything.

I like to think of my lack of directions, recipes, and preparation as a necessity for an artist.  I rarely find joy in following a pattern.  But when I can hold up a dress that I made from scratch, knowing all the pain that it took to get there, all the dresses that ended up in the scrap bin along the way, there is such an overwhelming satisfaction.  I’ve been told that if I just followed a pattern I could avoid so much of the frustration, so much of the waste.  If I just started with a pencil, I could avoid all the crumpled up paper in the basket…I’m killing trees after all!  But to me, it’s not waste or trash, rather it’s all valuable trial and error that holds irreplaceable lessons. The angst of solving the problem is like completing a puzzle without looking at the picture on the box: I believe there is no other way to live life!

If ever there was an artist, none could argue with the magnificent art of God.  From beautiful sunsets to animals that are so colorful and abstract they hardly seem real, He created them all from scratch.  I like to think that God is working His artistry in and through us as well.  He might not sit down at his craft table with a bag of limp raffia and start haphazardly weaving a Native American basket for Halloween candy.  But- I think he sits down with a limp me every morning.  He stretches out my frazzled ends and lays me out next to a bunch of other messed up people and starts to weave us together.  Through out the day he wraps and winds together our seemingly stray and loose ends into something that looks to us rather haphazard and misshapen.  Months and years sometime pass as He continues to work more and more people, experiences, and places into His great masterpiece.  I would argue, that while God knows everything and knows the end result, He is an artist who works in redefining ways with those of us who resist staying in the weave.  He has angst over those of us who have colored outside the lines, not with disappointment, but as an artist, who finds a new, creative way to adjust the painting.

Right now, I have days where I know without a doubt I am acting like that darn piece of raffia.  I come to the craft table too thin, too weak, to wily.  I refuse to follow God’s plan.  I push against the weaving of his giant loom.  I try to control the paintbrush and end up spilling the water over everything.  But, the artist that He is–He blots the dripping water and reshapes the running colors.  He gently tucks and pulls on my stubborn straw-like nature, and I start to take shape, have more form, and have more strength.  He reassures me, “Just wait.”  While things look haphazard and down-right ridiculous in my world right now, He’s not done yet.  One day, I will see.  He’s doing something.  He’s making something.  He’s got a plan.  He may not be using a pattern, or sketching lightly in pencil first.  He is wandering through the pantry and the spice rack looking for something to excite and dazzle the senses.  He’s an artist.  I am so thankful that He is the potter and I am the clay.  I appreciate the angst and the tension He has over me, as He works out the kinks and chuckles at what is becoming of me and my plans.  He delights in me, His creation.  I am excited to see what He does, where some of the crazy paths before me will lead.  I pray I can continue to hand over control.  I pray that I stop trying to draft a pattern for Him, stop suggesting more salt, and stop looking over his shoulder as He works His magic artistry.

I pray that I stop wearing spiritual headphones on my ears that are plugged into silent pockets of nothingness.  I pray that I stop acting as if I’ve got His plan in there, and that I am tuned in, when really I am just ignoring all that is going on around me.  I want to be more aware, more keen to His great tapestry.  I am engulfed in it.  It is all around me.  From where I am, if I keep my eyes up, and not worry about how odd or ridiculous I might look, I might catch a glimpse of the Great Creator overhead smiling and working all things out for my good.  I might realize that my spiritual headphones actually have a purpose when they are plugged into the sounds and movements of the Holy Spirit instead of my static-filled expectations.  I can stop being uncomfortable like those who have observed me going straight to the wall with a hammer and nail without measuring first.

I can trust the ultimate artist.  Who am I kidding?  I don’t find joy in following a pattern.  And while it may take less time to do so, I’d miss the satisfaction at the end.  So, why can I not give that creative freedom to God?   Go on, God!   Put together the puzzle of my life without looking at the picture on the box.  When You put the last piece in, I will be ready to stand back and marvel at what you have put together.  I wouldn’t want to live life any other way!

Something smells…

Sometimes I don’t know what God is doing.  I was talking with Paul the other night and recalled with him that I would have never imagined in a hundred years that I would ever find myself doing what I am doing.  Before we even got married I had told him that I didn’t want to be a stay-at-home mom.  Now, here I am, a mother of FOUR… and I am not only staying at home, but I am attempting to HOMESCHOOL?  What happened!?!?  I had rather lofty goals completely unrelated to my current calling.  Now I find myself walking around the house constantly saying, “Something smells…”

God has done a lot to get me here and has been transforming me in all kinds of ways over all those years.  I am thankful that He continues to work on me, creating this person who at times I don’t even recognize in the mirror… but I am kind of growing to like her. I thank God, too, that what God wants me to look like is different than His plans and desires for everyone else.  He loves us individually and doesn’t want a cookie-cutter people.  He is a God of variety and creativity.  I like that.

The other night I sat outside and waited for a thunderstorm to roll in.  It wasn’t the first time I’ve had the pleasure of sitting still and experiencing the sudden change in weather, yet each time I am always amazed.  Like so many times before, the air was thick and still.  The lightening could be seen across the horizon in the dark and rolling thunderclouds.  With each lightening strike the ominous clouds would glow for a split second, revealing their massive size.  The trees stood still in silence…waiting.  There was an anxiousness in the calm air as the birds seemed to frantically prepare for the rain.  I felt my own heart start to pound a little faster…something was about to happen and all creation seemed to know it.

FIrst I heard the faint rustling of leaves.  The birds started to scatter.  The cat backed up from the edge of the porch.  Then I felt the cool breeze across my face.  The tension of the air was suddenly released and all that pent up energy was dispersed through the street.  Then I saw it.  The clouds filled up the whole sky above me and what was once on the horizon was now towering over me.  The huge thunder heads were swirling while brewing up a firestorm of light within.  Then I could even smell the musk of dirt and rain being mixed together by the beginning drops and twisting wind.

I had the thought:  “Who the heck am I, compared to this storm?”  To think what power was contained in this storm above me-  all the molecules of water collecting up there, all the electricity generated in the atmosphere, to eventually rush down on me, or electrocute me!  To think how small I was, sitting there under the covering of my little porch compared to those huge powerful dark clouds.  To think what that storm looked like from outer-space… like a few fluffy clouds on the dimly lit back-side of the Earth.  Who am I?  More like…”Who do you think you are, Angie?”

I may be small, insignificant, and scared compared to the vastness of the storm, but when I think about who set that storm into motion, I know that my value is not limited to just that.  God, who set the Earth into motion long before I was even a mere thought, is an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving god.  He has the power to strike me down with a lighting bolt on my front porch.  But He doesn’t.  He has deep storehouses of mercy and everlasting love… for little ‘ol me.

It is this same God who I trust with my porch safety, that I can trust with the hearts of my children, my finances, my marriage, my stress, my laundry even.  If He is that big, and I am that small, and He loves me…wow.  I have no reason to question His faithfulness and providence, or His plan.

As the thunder rolled, both Gideon and Helen crawled out of their beds at different times, finding me on the porch.  They both wanted the thunder to stop.  They both wanted me to pray for them, asking God to quiet the storm and cease the rain.  I could understand why.  The whole house shook in fear and with trembling.

But after I walked them back to their perspective rooms and began to tuck them in and pray over them, I thanked God for the rain.  I asked that it continue, not cease.  We desperately need rain, after all.  I prayed that the noise and the fear cease, that His protection and provision remain, and that our trust in Him grow.

It made me think about all the seasons of my life when I have prayed for the thunderstorm to cease, not taking into account the rain that was falling and quenching my thirsty heart and soul.  It made me think of all the times that I have let fear and the noise of this world mask the power and provision of the Lord.

As we learn our rhythms and flow of family rehab, I pray that I be reminded amidst the noise and anxiety-filled thick air, that God has something in store for us that we desperately need.  It will satisfy and quench like nothing else.  The anticipation of what is coming is almost unbearably thick.  What He has in store is roaring in the distance and gaining momentum.

I pray that I can sit still long enough to listen for the signs of it coming.  I pray that I can close my eyes long enough to feel the atmosphere around me change and feel God blow across my heart.  I pray that I can see it in the faces of my children and spouse, in big ways, and seemingly insignificant ways. I pray that I am so in tune with what God is doing that I can even smell it.