It’s okay to be happy…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then the A/C stopped working…8:23 am.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When life gives you lemons, squeeze the heck out of them…

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

Lent: Day 37, 38 and 39…

37: garage sale 

Our neighborhood held its annual garage sale this morning.  The streets were packed with cars and bargain hunters.  We were on the lookout for two armed chairs to complete our dining room table set.  We never found any, but we did come across something we didn’t even know we needed…an old school desk.  Once we brought it home, it was immediately put to use by the kids.  Who knew we needed this desk?  I guarantee that this buy has already been used more in one day than the chairs we were looking for would have been used in an entire year.

I think of all the times I am searching and praying to find particular objects, circumstances, or opportunities, and God has something completely different in mind for me.  Sometimes I wonder why I even look to begin with if I’ve got the wrong shopping list in hand!  But if I had never gone perusing down the block for dining chairs, I’d never noticed the desk.  I think God gives us desires to get us simply out of the house.  He places things on our hearts to just get us off the stinkin’ couch, only to lead us to the things we really need and can truly benefit from.  I don’t know if I’d gone through all the trouble of navigating the busy and congested streets of our neighborhood for one old schoolhouse chair.

I wonder what other special finds God has sitting in someone’s driveway for me…and you?  We’ll just have to keep our eyes peeled.

 “The Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.”

Psalm 146:8

38: celebration

Today we celebrated my niece’s First Communion and the wedding of a dear friend.  It was a day full of celebration.  What a wonderful thing to add to Lent.  It’s not too often that we associate celebration with Lent.  However, today was also Palm Sunday, a day marked with joyous celebration.

When the people waved their palm branches as Jesus entered the city, they had no idea how their hearts and cheers were going to shift in a week’s time.  Did that lessen their praise?  Did Jesus hear, “hosanna!” and think to himself, “yeah, right, just wait and hear what you’ll say to me on Friday…”?  I don’t think so.  I think Jesus lived in the moment.  I think He received the praise and honor from the people.  I think He knew what was coming, but He also was riding on that donkey fully taking in every face He saw, every song He heard.

I tend to worry through even the good times–worrying about what’s to come, never fully taking in the moment. Even at this wedding full of good friends, beautiful weather, and yummy cake, every time I paused to consider what a great time I was having, I immediately thought of the 3-hour drive home and the early morning battle to get to school on time.  It was such a joy-kill.

I pray that I learn to live in the moment with joy and celebration.

 “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

Psalm 16:11

39: bad math

So I realized today that somehow my Lenten math is off.  I thought today, Monday, was the 39th day of Lent.  Then a google search revealed that the official 40th day of Lent is Thursday, April 2nd.  I’m totally boggled about where I went wrong!  Oh, well!  I will take this as a gift from God.  Now, I’ve got till Thursday to write the my last Lenten post.  Thank you, Jesus!  Because honestly, I’m tired and have a cold, and all I want to do is sleep. There’s really no point in hiding it.  We all feel apathetic and tired at some point.  His grace covers even those emotions, and it it sufficient for them.  There’s no need to feel guilty or to bear shame because I’m not feelin’ it today.

Thank you, Jesus, for releasing me from guilt and bad math.

“For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”

John 1:16 

Watch me fail…

Yesterday was game day: my daughter’s debut on the middle school basketball team.  As most sports enthusiasts know, girls’ 5th-grade basketball is where it’s at.  The NBA has nothin’ on the drama of a 20-minute scrimmage of tweens.  The NCAA can’t compare to the fast pace surprises and amazing display of developing talent.  It truly was a memorable evening.

The three mini-games played last night were purposeful.  Most of the young women participating were only just beginning to learn the rules of the sport.  So, the shortened matches were a chance to learn by doing.  (Sort of a toss the baby in the swimming pool approach)  Dribbling a ball down the court in practice alongside your teammate only requires one set of skills.  However, maintaining control of the ball while a ponytail covered in spirit ribbons whips you in the face is another.  Practicing lay-ups and working on jump shots provides some building blocks of the basics.  But, remembering which basket to aim at in the midst of screaming pre-teens and enthusiastic parents, now that’s an essential lesson all of its own.

A friend and I were laughing as we watched.  Some of the athleticism in unintentional plays was awkwardly unreal.  In the split-second of receiving the ball, the ability to chunk it towards the side wall as if it were a football (or a soggy sock) takes amazing muscle reflexes.  The agility required to scramble on the floor over jump ball after jump ball is not qualitative.  We both agreed that we probably couldn’t imitate was we saw, even if we tried.  And if we were to attempt such feats, there’s no way we’d last a full 20-minutes.

Thankfully, my daughter has wisdom beyond her years.  She was telling us before dinner the night before about this upcoming match.  With great excitement she said, “Ya’ll have to come!…Come watch me fail!  We are horrible!  There’s no way we will win, but you have to come!  It will be great!”  Oh, my sweet, sweet, girl.  I love that she held excitement in the sport, not in the hope of winning.  I love that she didn’t merely want to play the game, but moreover wanted us to enjoy simply watching her play it.

photo 3

“Come watch me fail…”  

Wow.  She has more self-confidence and security than most adults, including myself.  I don’t know if I’d invite any of y’all to be spectators at an event in which I was assuredly going to bounce my own ball into my own face.  She could have pouted.  She could have turned red in embarrassment.  She could have cried from the uncomfortableness of her awkwardness.  Her hope, however, was not placed in points or winning.  Her aim was to learn and enjoy the game.

Many of us are in situations or circumstances that likely require us to learn.  I’d argue that none of us is beyond spiritual growth, for sure.  2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”  But how do we approach the opportunities to grow set before us?  How do we approach our transformation?  Do we listen to the Spirit to even discover chances to mature?

One tendency is to approach the court in fear.  There was another sweet girl on our team who avoided the ball at all cost.  I don’t think this was intentional, because she was happy to be there, she was glad to be a part of the team, and she had some occasional hustle.  However, at one moment in the game, as she stood next to a fellow teammate, the ball was passed in her general direction.  As it barreled towards her, she dodged to the side, in an instinctual response to avoid fast-flying objects.  The girl next to her reached as best she could to cover for this young lady’s evasiveness, but to no avail, the ball hit her elbow and bounced off.  Like a pinball machine the orange ball of danger was directly boomeranged back into the poor timid girl’s arms.  She caught the ball squarely in front of the chest, as coach had taught. But, as if it were an intense orb of fire, she immediately flung it in the air…into the arms of the opposing team.  Without hesitation, she turned her face to the coach and mouthed with distraught wrinkled brow, “I’m sorry!”

Our fear in situations can cause us to rely on instincts that are better reserved for real-life-danger.  Is it really necessary that I react to my children as if they were an attacker mugging me in the parking lot?  Is it really necessary that when confronted with conflict I hide in a back room as if an axe murderer was hunting me down in my house?  These reactions, while they seem completely rationale in the moment, only deprive us gaining wisdom and strength through trials.  Rather than soaking in and absorbing wisdom, we repel it like water on a duck.

We can also deflect the scary ball of responsibility onto others, but the lesson is for us.  It always ricochets back.  They have their own issues to deal with and their own path of maturity.  Only we can deal with our ‘stuff’.  Do we receive the hard things as opportunities of growth?  Do we instinctually fling them into the air?  Even if our acknowledgment isn’t as quick as the young girl’s, we will eventually feel regret that the opportunity to grow was lost.

Another tendency is to over-analyze the situation and our position.  There were some young athletes who really took to heart their defensive positions, that even after the ball had moved cross-court and was now in their team’s possession, they were still defending their territory.  They got so lost in their assigned job, that they missed the larger lesson and flow of the game.  There was no acknowledgment or rejoicing that their own team had the ball!

Man, I do this every stinkin’ day.  I get lost so easily in my tasks or seemingly designated position (usually self-appointed) that I miss the larger picture and the goal that Jesus is working me towards.  I can over-think what I should be doing and how I should be doing it, that I miss valuable play-time.  I forget that the purpose and plans to which God has called me are also ordained and controlled by him.  I can become very self-focused on what I feel is a valuable priority, that unknowingly I am left standing alone, in a very defensive position, with only my check-list in hand.  Meanwhile, the Spirit is yelling and pointing at me to get down court and help.  Your team has the ball!

Lastly, the tendency I observed in my daughter is the one that I hope to learn from.  This is the tendency to joyfully engage.  She was puzzled most of the time.  She kept up with the team and when the ball came to her, she dribbled a few times and then passed it off to someone who had a little more experience.  Over the course of the three-game evening, I saw great improvement in her understanding and her skills.  She never perfected her skills, nor did she ever fully understand what was swirling on around her.  She did, however, slowly transform from nervous and timid, hands glued to her sides, to quick feet with spurts of trying to steal the ball from the opponent.  I watched as she fervently sought out the coach and his instructions throughout play.  And, thankfully, she has a great coach, who is teaching the girls through encouragement and support.  He could have gotten worked up about the lack of points on the board, the number of turn-overs, or the amount of double-dribbles.  Instead, he guided each player only in a way that resulted in joyful participation.

photo 2

We left having lost, won, and tied at least once.  My daughter, though she expected to walk away a “failure”, left with new knowledge, confidence, and deeper joy.  I am thankful that she engaged the challenge of flying balls and twisted feet.  I pray that I learn from her to have the same joy and courage when it comes to potential failure.  I pray that I have the guts to invite others to come alongside me and witness my weakness and inability.  I pray that just like her I find my value in something other than winning, gaining points, or being impressive.  Instead, I hope to score steadfastness and maturity.  James 1:2-3 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”  Every time a hurling challenge flies my direction, I can respond with thankfulness, knowing that the opportunity for joy and a strengthening of faith awaits…I just need to have open hands, elbows out, palms forward to receive it.

After the game, we went to a sandwich shop for dinner as requested by our star-player.  My jersey-wearing-girl ferociously downed her meal.  She said, “Man, playing basketball is a good workout!  I could eat two of these.”  When we also engage with the circumstances laid in front of us–when we don’t run or hide from the difficult and sometimes intimidating things to which God has called us–we get a good workout and a healthy appetite as well.  Our bodies and souls, while fatigued, become stronger and more steadfast.  Our desire for Jesus and His word intensifies.  We look less to unhealthy escapes or quick-fix wisdom because it just doesn’t sound good anymore.  We’d rather be fueled through these hard times by the healthy life-giving and recharging Word of God and His encouraging Spirit.

Thank you, God, for 5th-grade girls’ basketball.  Thank you for the awkwardness, the confusion, and the spirit to confront fear with the best of friends.  Thank you for my daughters invitation to watch her fail and for the safety she must feel in our relationship to take that risk.  Thank you for coaches that speak words of encouragement and refuse to let us quit.  Thank you, God, for the sovereignty of Your plan and Your testing through any circumstance.  Thank you for opportunities to grow and to enjoy having a position on Your team.  Thank you for gratitude and the joy that quickly follows.

photo 1

Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
make melody to our God on the lyre!
He covers the heavens with clouds;
he prepares rain for the earth;
he makes grass grow on the hills.

Psalm 147:7-8

He prepares all things for our growth.  What wisdom and beauty He is.  To Him be all glory and thanksgiving!