Life is hard. Marriage is hard. Parenting is hard. Work is hard.  I’m not the first blogger to write this.  I’m actually one of many, many “mommy bloggers” to add her own twist on the hardships of daily living.

I’d like to say that I’ve got a unique perspective, but honestly, I am still trying to figure out what the heck to do with the days, hours, minutes, and seconds I’ve been dealt.  Aren’t we all?  In my searching, there is one place I seem to always land, one little treasure I always find at the end of my daily hunts.

And here it is:

Beauty…good…purpose (whatever you want to call it) usually is unearthed with some digging.  When life gives you lemons, you don’t just get lemonade.  There is an important squeezing process necessary to get to that final glass of goodness.  A caterpillar doesn’t just become a butterfly, it goes through months of isolation and slow transformation.  A tulip doesn’t just appear from the ground, its bulb requires a 2-inch depth hole to be dug.

I am not saying that beauty is only obtained by work, or that good is created by our own efforts.  Nor can you expect good things to just sprout from an untilled ground.  Within the lemon exists the tartness, the acidity, the edge of sweet to produce quality lemonade.  The caterpillar contains all the necessary DNA, food storage, and stamina to make the journey from chrysalis to transformation.  The gardener is provided earth, sun, and seasons by which the tulip blooms from the ground.  God provides all and does all when it comes to good in this world.  Psalm 16:2 says, “I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.'”  But what makes one glass of lemonade stand out from the rest?  One species of butterfly outlast its competitors?  One garden flourish, while it’s neighbor bears sparse buds?  How do we thrive, not merely survive?

Here are two ingredients when it comes to finding beauty and goodness in the mundane.  I know them in theory, but in them I don’t have a whole lot of experience.

Practice and Joy.

What makes one life seem full of sweetness and beauty?  What makes one marriage seem to outlast even the hardest seasons?  What makes a family flourish and bear enviable fruit?

Practice and Joy.

Happily thriving in life is not acquired by simply hard work.  At face value, it may appear that commitment and determination are the key.  However, one can strive, labor, and (in principal) take all the right action at all the right times and still not experience beauty or see God’s goodness in the hard things of life.  It has to be practiced.  It has to be done in joy.

My 5-year-old son likes to practice things that for most would be begrudging work.  He likes to get a shovel and perfect digging a hole.  He likes to practice manual labor by rearranging landscaping stones.  About a month ago, he even practiced squeezing lemons.  He went through about 5 of them. Using a handheld metal lemon squeezer, he extracted every last drop of juice from the small fruits until the muscles of his hands and forearms were sore.  As he practices, he enjoys it.  His fatigue only made him feel strong.  Had I asked him to dig a trench, remove large rocks, or squeeze half a dozen lemons for me, as an act of obedience, he would have thrown a strike for unfair labor requirements.  But, with a heart of discovery, a desire to grow, and a spirit of joy, these tasks became beautiful experiences.

When’s the last time you played in the dirt?  When’s the last time you did hard manual labor, just for fun?  When’s the last time you happily reviewed 3rd grade multiplication tables or allowed yourself to excitedly play an extra 5 minutes with your little one before bed?  When’s the last time you looked at the full kitchen sink and were excited to play with the bubbles?  When’s the last time you entered a difficult conversation with your spouse or co-worker with a spirit of joy, a desire to grow, and a heart of discovery?

Life is hard. Marriage is hard. Parenthood is hard. Work is hard.  It is hard to find reasons to be thankful or to have joy.  Sleuthing for beauty in difficult terrain is complicated and can be ominous.  But it takes practice and joy.  The best lemonade is usually mixed by the hands that have squeezed the lemons time and time again, out of excitement to uncover the perfected secret ratio of sugar to juice.  The hardiest butterfly species has successfully adapted over a long period of time for the chance to fly free from its captive cocoon.  The fullest garden has most likely been planted and tended by the oldest and wisest gardener who has years of experience with a hoe and pruning sheers, who enjoys the outdoors and studying weather patterns.

Practice only becomes another task, another chore, another hole to dig, if it were not for joy.  In our task-driven society, even the art of conversation, the peacefulness of a nap, and the sweetness of story-time is lost in the ticking of the clock.  Children grow up only blooming partial and undeveloped emotional fruits.  Marriages lack luster and vibrancy.  The daily dance of life is experienced as merely the daily grind.

I hunt for beauty everyday…because I have realized that I can’t survive without it.  While I am currently confident of it’s existence, I am still learning to allow joy to be a part of the pursuit.  I’m not good at this.  I take life and all its bits way too seriously.  I am beginning to understand that it’s taking me years of practice just to smile while on the hunt.  Uncovering God’s goodness amidst the brokenness of this world is only half of the experience.  The trekking of sandy shore with shovel in hand and metal detector in the other is the fun I’ve been missing!  I will risk miserably failing at times to have the chance of uncovering such priceless treasure.  Finding beauty from the ashes, the living among the dead, the lemonade in the lemons…there is joy to be had in the searching.  It’s hard, sweaty work–no doubt.  But, I don’t ever want the application of Romans 8:28 (“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”) to continue to be something I have to do.  It is a privileged opportunity to walk alongside God seeing life through the eyes of the One who crafted each and every treasure.  I get to squeeze the lemons…all of them…with joy.

Oh, to be this:

“Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
‘Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.’
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the gate”

Proverbs 31:25-31

So Family Rehab has concluded and summer reflection time begins.  Earlier this week, I posted about Step 1 of Life After Rehab, drawing from seven steps I found on a drug rehab site.  The steps are written to help addicts as they transition from a time of intentional learning back to real life.  If you didn’t happen to read about Step 1, please take the time to check it out, as the thoughts after each of the seven steps support all of them.

Before diving into Step 2, I have to take a moment to mention how thankful I am for this thinking and processing time.  God has been overwhelming me this summer with His provision of time and space to think and write.  I feel like I would be “hiding it under a bushel-oh, no!” not to mention the way God has been caring for my heart in a very personal way during this time.  From anonymous donors who have made babysitting possible, to my mom who has given up her week to come and help me while I work from bed with a thrown out back, I have been inundated with blessing.  I hesitate to even write publicly about His provision, because I don’t want others to compare and feel bad about their current situation.  (I say this, because that’s exactly what I have done and would do…)  But the amazing thing is that the same God who has been so generous with me is the same God of everyone who is reading this.  His love for everyone else is just as deep as it is for me.  His generosity and provision no less for anyone else.  I know that at another time, in another season, I will read someone else’s blog and feel jealousy well up within me because their life seems so blessed.  I can hear my own, “Well aren’t you lucky…” sassiness in my head.  I’ve been there before and done that.  Maybe the next time I will remember writing this and will eat my own words.  Hopefully, I will just thank their God for being my God and for taking care of all of His children.

Okay…on with Life After Rehab…


Step 2:  Evaluate the Neighborhood, and Move if Needed.

“For some people, the old neighborhood contains a plethora of reminders about substance use and abuse. They may be walking by their drug dealers on a daily basis, and the street corners, local bar fronts, and green parks might remind them of the times they spent getting drunk or getting high. These memories can be powerful triggers for addiction cravings, and they could be too much for people to resist. Other people may find that their homes are, similarly, unsafe. For example, a study in the journal Substance Use and Misuse found that female heroin users often lived with a current user or a former user. When rehab is over, these people might return to homes filled with drugs, and a relapse might quickly follow. Moving to a new neighborhood can push the reset button on cravings, providing the person with new vistas and new opportunities to explore. The neighborhood might be safer, with fewer available drugs, or it might just be different enough to push the old memories away. If the old neighborhood is unsafe or it’s too hard to live under the burden of memory, moving might be an apt choice” (http://www.michaelshouse.com).


HA! I laughed out loud when I read this step. This is NOT why we moved away from Buda! Nevertheless, I get the point and see how our move to Katy is further evidence that God was at work in our Family Rehab year.  While we weren’t fleeing from unsafe people or places, we did find ourselves in “new vistas” and with “new opportunities to explore.”  Honestly, we haven’t really done a lot of this work, so this step is still very applicable for our family.  We don’t want to get swept up in the chaos of American dream setting and fast-paced living that we neglect the hearts of our children yet again.  And the struggle to end up there again is even greater in a new place with the pressure to fit in to our surroundings.  Before Family Rehab, the majority of our time was committed to people and places outside of our home (for us, as adults, as well as for the children). These commitments were all with good people and were for healthy reasons.  But with every “yes” to other people we were saying “no” to focused time with our children.  Having them home for school has dramatically changed the amount of hours we have alone with them.  For this I am grateful and see the benefits of spending my days with them.  Our conversations are not limited to the dinner table or at bedtime.  This is one area where we dramatically changed our surroundings during Family Rehab.  For life after Rehab, this might be a change in lifestyle that we choose again next year.

The fact that I don’t really know anyone yet here in Katy has helped me in not spreading my schedule too thin. But, I know the time will come when the temptation to over-commit will call.  More concerning than over-committing time away from home, is the temptation to misuse the time I do have with the kids.  Am I looking past them to the calendar for my next mommy-break?  Am I easily frustrated that they just won’t go to bed because I am more concerned about sitting down and doing nothing than I am about discovering the state of their little hearts?  Once our new house becomes our home, I am certain that these temptations will become a part of our new norm…honestly, they already have.  But, it’s because of my weakness in giving in to these areas that we started our year of rehab in the first place.  Moving to another house or city will not be an option when these selfish cravings pursue.  I’m not sure what the right step will be, but I do know that likely God will ask me to do something that causes change and shakes things up a bit.  I need to be open to that.  I need to prepare myself now because that time will likely come and sacrifice will likely be asked of me.  A life of faith-risks and ultimate trust is what is asked of me.

Perhaps what is worth noting from this step is exactly that–being willing to do the “crazy” thing for the purpose of sobriety—sober-mindedness (see previous post).  Think for a minute how huge of a deal it would be to just pack up and pick up and move to another part of town, all for the purpose of getting away from temptation.  That’s a pretty extreme step for the sake of healthy living.  Especially if what you are tempted to do is widely accepted, joked about, and encouraged in our culture.  But, if you consider doing it for your kids, that might become a different story.

Consider this:  If your child was being bullied by a young neighbor down the street, or a predator was stalking your teenage daughter, relocating for the sake of their safety wouldn’t be that much of a stretch.  So if the culture I am living in and submitting myself to encourages me to neglect and be disappointed in my children because they are “in the way”, then are my kids really safe with me—in my home?  So what dramatic changes will I need to take if we find ourselves living in the neighborhood of busyness, impatience, fear, and neglect?  I have to at least be willing to consider that changing something might be the right thing to do, not just for the children, but for all of us.  If it upsets my comfort, is an inconvenience, or requires sacrifice, than I’ve got to remember that I am the only one who can be asked to take such drastic measures for my children.  God has entrusted me and my spouse with them, called me to care for them and teach them, to facilitate their growth into little men and women of God.  (Deuteronomy 6:7)  I can’t get out of this one… (sigh).  I can’t look to the Sunday School teacher or the swim coach to take over this responsibility.  Am I willing?  Will I be willing when even more is asked of me than just “Family Rehab?”

This is a really hard question to honestly consider.

[silence]

Yep…that’s about as far as I let it sink in for me, too.  It’s a hard question to consider until we are at the crossroads of the sacrifice and the decision to follow-through.  My prayer is that for all of us, when we are asked to deny ourselves and pick up our crosses and follow Him, that we will find the courage to do so.  I pray that God will give us all a clear enough picture of the destructive drugs we are being asked to run from that when sacrifice is required in the fleeing, there is no doubt that giving them up will be worth it.

We can incorrectly assume that life after rehab means all the hard work and incredible sacrifice is over.  But it’s not.  There will always be more opportunities to refine who we are and adjust our thinking and priorities.  There will be new drugs, new temptations, and new addictions.  The humbling thing is that God in His mercy provides joy in the midst of sacrifice.  That joy is the overflow of a thankful heart that sees and recognizes the mercy and grace of the Father.  The temptation to “just get through” the day instead of invest in those with whom you share the day, the drug-like highs of productivity, busyness, and stress that cause a back-lash of hurtful behavior towards the ones we love, the culture that lures us into lazy and slothful parenting—God lifts our heads above these things.  He gives us hope to overcome these things, because He already has and He simply just cares that much.  He rescues us from the entrapment and slavery of these things.  For that, we have reason to be joyful, to give Him praise, and to worship Him.  Even if we are asked to sacrifice time or comfort, or even neighborhoods, knowing that we have been freed up to be freed from our addictions gives us thankful hearts and joy in the midst of sacrifice.

“And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord” (Psalm 27:5-7).

Man, this is hard.  I knew it would be and people warned me, but man, this is hard.  Yesterday, we not only struggled to regain motivation from the long Labor Day weekend, but we ran out of M&Ms.  We also had to be flexible and work around getting Gideon to and from his first day of pre-K.  Our wonderful routine we grooved to so well last week was now all over the place.

I tried to be creative and planned on hitting the library after dropping him off.  But the library didn’t open for another 30 minutes.  So what does the Goeke family do when we need to kill some time?  

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Eat doughnuts.

(I’m noticing a theme here…we better be careful, or we are going to have to take the next year off to go through weight loss rehab.)  And eating doughnuts is fine, but that 30 minutes could have been spent getting math done or something else.

It just seemed like the day was wasted away.  And when we returned home, all the binder work seemed overwhelming because there just wasn’t enough time left in the day to get it all done.  The girls were understandably upset.  I had a headache.  I hadn’t had breakfast or lunch for that matter.  And though I didn’t realize it at the time,  I spent the whole day wearing my contacts flip-flopped in the wrong eyes.  To top it off, workers were outside hammering away at the neighborhood street, keeping baby Judah from sleeping during his nap time, and the house seemed to be absorbing every degree of the 100+ temperature outside.

I texted Paul at 1:50 as we left the house to get Gideon, “This is not working for me.” We had only made it through half of a folder the whole time he was gone to school.  This was supposed to be our most productive time because he was going to be gone.

After we made it home, Paul and I wrestled with the reality of our world.  It seems like every free moment is planned and the pace at which we frantically run to complete those plans or meet with those people is unstoppable.  There has got to be a way to do life differently!  Or something is going to give… and it looks like it might either be my waistline or my blood pressure that pops first.

Certainly Jesus did not need to sit down with his disciples or with his mother, Mary, and pull out his parchment scroll calendar and schedule in family time.  Surely, he didn’t have to live by the “at least one evening at home” rule.  He and his “family”- his disciples and all – went with him from city to city from lake to lake from crowd to crowd.  When he tried to rest, he usually couldn’t.  But, when he ate a meal, he reclined and lingered with every bite, investing in meaningful conversation with the people he loved at the same time.  When his plans changed, he found a way to flexibly stretch and adapt.

I think the difference between how Jesus “managed” His day, and how I “manage” mine is a matter of control.  Jesus was GOD.  G-O-D!  And yet, He surrendered his earthly control over to the whisperings and ever-changing winds of the Holy Spirit.  He relied on knowing that His Father was in control and working a bigger picture for the love of ALL his people, not just His Son.  Man, if I worked from that knowledge and trust- that God is working for ALL his people, not just me and my plans, I might view having to waste an extra 30 minutes eating doughnuts, as gaining an extra 30 minutes of time with my girls talking.  Or gaining an extra 30 minutes of time investing in the doughnut shop lady.  (not just gaining a pound or two) If I listened to the urgings of the Spirit, even when those winds seemingly blow against the flow of my plan, I might end up in a bigger, deeper, and wider river of His blessing.  Ugh…Man, I want to emotionally and spiritually “get it” through my thick-skinned heart, and hard-headed brain!

So, after rationalizing putting some folders off until the next day, and giving the kids free-time to play, Paul and I talked and prayed.  Our schedules have not lightened up, our home project list has not dwindled, and our clocks have not miraculously gained 4 more hours.  But what did happen was a something that went on our “Count Your Blessings” Chart.

After the kids were in bed I went to put up our new bible verse for the week…which we all together skipped earlier that morning.  See, I just have the location of the verses written in my planner.  So I’m not always familiar with what the verse is until I look it up to write on the board.  And when I saw the words that Jesus had for us that morning, that I didn’t even take the time to hear, I was humbled and grateful all at the same time.

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“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  If only I had that on my heart and mind when the baby was crying and pulling on my hair in a hot house while the girls found every distraction possible to avoid doing their math.  That was NOT what was on my mind…I really shouldn’t write what was on my mind.

And so, I was reminded that Jesus does live in me, and that it is Him living in me that works out His strength in me.  I may have missed it in the morning, but I was willing to take heed to it last night.  I spent time being thankful for the change in plans.  For seeing those moments as minutes gained, not lost.  I found the strength (from Jesus) to make some monkey bread for the morning so as to allow for a slower more well-prepared pace and to make sure we made time for our bible study before anything else.

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Another blessing that seemed to come out of nowhere was that while the kids got ready for bed, I was able to fully prepare the school work for the next day, and Paul was able to do a long awaited and much needed household project.  By 8:30, all the kids were in bed, our work was done,  and we got a chance to talk and connect in good quality time.  That hasn’t happened in a very long time.  Somehow, our prayers from earlier were answered at least for that day.  Our lives were not immediately transported to a deserted tropical island with no responsibilities or cares.  (I did silently pray for that in my head.)  Nor did we receive a million dollar check from Publisher’s Clearing House.  But for those few hours yesterday, life slowed down and without much effort of our own.

This morning, as the girls copied the verse from the chalk board to their notecards, I told them about my thoughts and feelings yesterday.  How the crazy day made me feel like there was no way I could do homeschooling.  And how this verse, even late at night after a day of discouragement, had been able to give me strength to make monkey bread. 🙂  And that today we can get more done with Jesus than we can plan to get done on our own.  What we get done might look different, but if it’s done because the Spirit has lead us there and our hearts and actions have glorified God in the process, than it’s minutes gained, not lost.

update on today:  it’s already 11:31 and we are still working on folder number 2.  We’ve had snack time and recess… and lunch is right around the corner.  We have 4 more folders to make it through and now the supply of chocolate chips has also drastically dwindled in an effort to make “taking away” in subtraction a little more tasty.  Knowing that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” doesn’t perform a miracle and make everything better.  But, it does transform my heart and mind and renew my spirit.  Jesus is still good and lives in me.  We will be ok. 🙂

Yesterday was a rough day.  On two different occasions both girls were in tears.  They were tired, overwhelmed and the work in front of them seemed insurmountable.  This was the part of our family rehab that I was dreading.  And I was tired, overwhelmed, and the dramatic emotions of the two girls in front of me also seemed insurmountable.

In the moment, I looked up and saw our memory verse for the week: 

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I needed to be watchful.  I needed to step back and take a look at the bigger picture of  what was at work here.  I think the enemy was at work to discourage our hearts and to give us those feelings of hopelessness.  We were under attack.  But we did not need to respond in fear.  We needed to look at the verse some more.

In response, as the verse points out, we needed to “stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.”  I reminded myself and the girls that we are not alone in this.  First, of all we have each other and we were all experiencing the same emotions.  None of us were alone in this. Then I took responsibility for the fact that I gave Ava way too much math work for one day, and I trimmed back her assignment.  

Then, I reminded them (and myself) secondly, but more importantly, that Jesus is with us too.  He cares for us and our hearts, and because He lives in us, we can do more than we think we can.  His Holy Spirit does great things in us.  If the same Spirit that raised Him from the dead also lives in us, then we are unstoppable!  Even when it comes to 4th grade math worksheets, and having to write sentences to accompany a 2nd grade storyboard.

Next we needed to buck up a little.  As three females, it really did help to think about acting like men.  We needed to stop crying and simply pick up the worksheet, pick up the paper and plug through.  I’d like to write that this happened immediately, but really we aren’t men and we needed some motivation that only a female could really relate too…

Chocolate.

So, we wiped away the tears and I grabbed the M&Ms.  Next to each math problem and each picture on Helen’s story board I placed an M&M.  When the problem or the sentence was written, they could pick up the M&M and eat it.  Let me tell you, that work was all of a sudden complete and they were asking for more assignments. 🙂

I could have easily gotten mad and frustrated, yelled a little even, and the girls would have still completed the work.  But it’s the Holy Spirit that prevents me from acting on instincts and in the flesh and empowers me to “let all that I do be done in love.”  And love = chocolate sometimes. 🙂Image