Friday, November 11, 2016

I Didn't Need God

My favorite author, Shauna Niequist writes in her book Cold Tangerines, "When I write, about half an hour breezes by usually, and then it all screeches to a halt like cars crashing. I get stuck, convinced it was a bad idea to even start. Start where you're stuck. That's what my (genius) therapist , who is also a writer, told me." And, as I read this I nod, because it's true. I have been stuck since mid summer. I have revisited my blog a couple times to type up a line or two, only to abandon them quickly.

I've been stuck on how this move has affected my kids and me. At first all I could see was all the hard, the ugly, the somber aspects. I'm not going to lie. There is still sadness at times. There is still frustration. There are still hard facets.

God is moving in this place, though.

"God is jealous for your love, Mel." a friend kept saying to me. At first I was really resentful. I didn't want to hear it. "Great, so He keeps yanking everything out from under me? He keeps taking away everything I love?" was all I could think. Every time I thought I was making a new friend something would happen and that friend would either move away right as we were getting to know one another, or we would join different groups causing us to not see one another as often. My friends at home started to form new groups. So many times I've found myself feeling so alone, so absolutely heartbroken.

"My life has not turned out the way I thought it would." I said with wry humor, "I'm starting to think that's true for everyone, though." This was at my weekly bible study yesterday. My remark was met with laughter... from everyone. They totally got it. Everyone there. The women who were in their late seventies, the women in their fifties, and the women in the throes of raising little people.

God doesn't work within the confines of our lists or our plans and it's SO hard to understand. In the moment, it is literally almost impossible to wrap our brains around it. He really wants us to trust Him, to rely on Him, to know that what He has for us is so much better and bigger than what we think we need.

His gifts aren't necessarily neatly wrapped. God doesn't do things the way we do. He uses the bad for good. Sometimes His gifts at first glance look messy and uninviting - but when they're opened... discovered... wow.

Michigan was so easy for me. I had everything I wanted. I didn't need God there.

Is that an awful thing to say? Maybe? Yes. But, the truth is that due to my level of comfort and the ease of my life despite the fact that I professed to love and know God I wasn't actively pursuing Him.

In small ways, baby steps our family is treading closer to God than we ever have before. That's not to say anything bad about where we were living before. But, in my loneliness, in my sadness, in the midst of this God is giving me the greatest gift. He's giving me the gift of teaching my kids scripture passages because we've joined an Awana program, watching them study the Bible because we've become apart of Community Bible Study. He's gifting me with friendships that are stretching me. He's using this discomfort to draw me close.

My life is not how I envisioned it five years ago. Not at all. But, I'm starting to realize that despite the hard days, my life being different is not a bad thing after all. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Growing Pains

I have often surmised that God is this hard-to-reach unfathomable being that I am only able to see when everything is right and beautiful. He's a master artist and he brings us glimpses of His glory in beautiful sunsets, mountains that tower large and impressive, and oceans so vast and deep that they take your breath away.

But, God isn't only found in the impressive, the beautiful, and the unfathomable. He isn't only found in the happy moments. God isn't only found when our world feels right and good. He is also found in the moments of despair. He is found in the ugly, the dark places, the tearing, the bleeding, the stretching, aching, lonely places. He is immersed in all of our difficulties. Responsible for them, no. There in the midst of them, yes.

God doesn't work the way we do.

You see, I like things to be perfect - I'll bet you do too...  I like situations to work out; I like things to sail along smoothly. I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment when I do something and it goes off without a hitch. It feels really good... easy.

Lonely isn't easy. 

Growth isn't easy. 

Hurt isn't easy.

Yet, somehow God uses these things for our good. These painful, uncomfortable, hurtful situations that we'd rather not experience, rather not face down God is there through them

I'm sure you've heard the saying, "God never gives you anything you can't handle." The thing is God never gives you anything He can't handle. You're not alone in this situation. You're not handling things by yourself. God doesn't leave us in dark places and say, "Good luck! See you later!" He sits there next to us and guides us through the hard junk.

Getting to know God in this place of uncertainty and loneliness has been one of the most beautiful things I have ever experienced. When everything is ok and life is status quo it's easy to think you don't need God - that He is merely an accessory to your already full and bountiful life. Knowing God is what makes life full, though. 

"For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it."
- Matthew 16:25

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Authentic Friendship

It was the third time we'd eaten over at their house since moving. While our kids ran around together exploring, laughing, and having a great time she and her two oldest kids made a variety of food. Our husbands talked in the next room. It was impromptu. They'd invited us over for the afternoon - but it turned into a dinner invitation. I was apologetic - not wanting to overstay our welcome, but she assured me they were happy to have us. 

After dinner we got up and I went to the kitchen and started to wash the dishes and unload the dishwasher. "Oh you don't have to do that!" she said. "I want to though!" I said as I continued to wash. That's when she made a remark that struck me. "In our hometown my friends always helped me clean up - but here, nobody even offers. I don't expect people to clean up of course, but it's interesting. It's different." 

I was bewildered. Helping with the clean up was literally the least I could do after this sweet friend had so generously provided a meal and good company to us.

I'm away from my family out here. Most of the time I'm doing it all with just the help of my husband and kids. Being able to step away from my house and have dinner at another person's house was a huge blessing to me. It was a blessing - not only because of the meal, but because of the conversation, the friendship, seeing my kids run around enjoying themselves with other kids, and hearing my husband laugh and talk with a new friend. It was priceless.

I think we all like to be entertained and to do fun stuff - but life isn't only fun and recreation. It's in the work, the hard stuff where real connection is often obtained. Working together is one of the stepping stones to authentic friendship.

One of my very best friends always had her children pick up toys at the end of our play dates. She and her kids would walk around the house picking things up, putting things away, making sure that my house looked nice when they left. I always assured her that she didn't need to pick up, but the knowledge that she cared about me and my home was so heart-warming. I knew that she loved me, because of this repeated act of friendship. 

When I was moving my best friend - a mother of seven came over almost every day to help me clean and to do whatever I needed to get my house ready to sell. She folded laundry, cleaned my bathrooms, held my baby, took trash out, helped me get kids to bed - all in preparation for our upcoming move. Even though we were both heartbroken that I was leaving she pushed up her sleeves and did all the tough laborious parts of getting me ready to leave. She administered to me in my moments of tears and grief, putting her feelings on the back burner. She didn't indulge in self preservation and stay away - she got right into the thick of it and carried me to the finish line. 

The saying goes, "Treat your friends like family and your family like friends."

Family works together. When a family works as a unit it brings everyone closer in the knowledge that they are a team, they are for each other and with one another.

Friendship works in the same way. Being for your friends, with your friends, life-giving, loving, regardless of circumstance - these are the markers of true and certain friendship. 

To you, my friends, I love you, I appreciate you deeply. Thank you for being my other family. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Ugly Feeling of Jealousy

Sharing good news with people is fun. Sharing a new pregnancy, the purchase of your first home, your graduation, a new job. It's fun to celebrate! That's why we have parties. We like to share in one another's joy. I mean, it is kind of about the food too... but mostly about the shared joy!

Except when it's not.

Four years ago my son participated in a Pinewood Derby race for Scouts. In the end he got second overall out of 17 boys. My husband and I were euphoric! I honestly think I saw unicorns and fairies dancing with one another on the horizon. It was like magic, until we noticed our son was not smiling... at all. Not only was he not smiling, but he was actually... crying, pouting. Up there at the head of the crowd while accepting his ribbon for second place he was wiping tears from his eyes. 

Confusion cannot even begin to describe the reaction my husband and I had. Here we were happier and prouder than we could hope to explain to him, ready to celebrate, and yet he was devastated that he hadn't gotten first place. He was six. We had a talk about sportsmanship, he came to understand that second place was pretty awesome, he stopped being sad. End of story.

Sometimes it's difficult to tell someone good news.

After a couple years of trying to get pregnant, I met up with a friend for a play date. As we were leaving she stopped me and said, "Hey Mel, I wanted to let you know privately because I care about how this will make you feel... I'm pregnant." I was happy for her, but so sad for me. I appreciated her telling me in private so that I didn't have to find out in front of other people, but I was embarrassed that when she told me I immediately started to cry. She gave me a hug, and some encouragement. I told her I was happy for her and went home. I truly was happy for her, but I couldn't shake the pang of sadness I felt at not having what she had.

There have been many other times I've been jealous of people's good fortune. There have been many other times where I have felt that, perhaps I deserve what they have more than they do. In my innermost thoughts I have surmised that I have worked harder, done better, been more patient.

"A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot." Proverbs 14:30 

Jealousy the wildfire that sweeps over relationships and burns through bonds. It's not a garment that looks attractive on anyone. It is never pretty, but there are times you can find yourself clothed from head to toe in it.

Love, patience, kindness... cannot easily sit alongside jealousy. Where there is jealousy there is often not room for much of anything else; jealousy easily fills every gap until it comes pouring out cloaked as gossip, dissension, and malice.

There will be times when we don't get what someone else has. There will be times when we will wait, and wait, and wait some more only to find that we are still not where we thought we would be or where we want to be. Sometimes it will seem unfair - especially when others have what we want and don't appear to appreciate it.

Yet, we cannot know. We cannot know that maybe, perhaps we're being saved from something, or for something. Perhaps those who have been given what we want are also being saved from something, or for something.

I ended up going on to have 4 more babies rather quickly. I cannot know what life would have looked like for me on the other side of these 4 children. I know there are women who have prayed longer and harder than I ever have to have just one baby. Just one.

I know there are people who have only wanted their marriage to survive and have watched it disintegrate into nothingness. 

I know there are people who have just wanted a good job, a reliable car, good relationships, health. 

The feeling of jealousy doesn't sit right in the soul. It feels gross. It leads to destruction. 

Unfortunately when your sole focus is on the thing that you want - and nothing else you tend to see how everyone else has it. I have found that shifting my heart's focus to what God wants for me and not what I want for me helps give me a different perspective.

Thinking about what I have instead of what I don't have, focusing on what God has given me and His plan, the direction He is taking me - not someone else is a balm.

The thing is... You're only poor when you want what you don't have. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Darker Side of Moving

I had never stepped foot in California until we arrived here to live. The whole way out I asked my husband, "Is this what California looks like?" A while later, "Is THIS what it looks like where we're going to live?" I had no idea. So, when we got closer and my husband said, "This is what it looks like around our house." I remember feeling hugely disappointed. Everything was brown. Everything was dead and at the time driving along the expressway all I could see besides the dead grass and dirt was garbage lining the expanse of road.

I didn't say what I was thinking, because I didn't think I could bear the hurt look my husband would give me.

The only thought swirling in my head was "This is ugly. Brown, dead, and... ugly."

Why in the world had we come here?! We'd left Michigan in the throes of Fall. It was beautiful and the leaves were every color you can imagine. There were so many trees and here all I could see were scraggly bent trees (?) atop brown dirty looking hills.

I had hoped that the mountains near our new home would look somewhat like the Rockies, or perhaps like the mountains surrounding Salt Lake City. Then, we went through the Sierras and oh my goodness, it was gorgeous. This, though? This was a parched dry desolate looking landscape.

And you know what? I didn't want to be here, I didn't want to like it.

I think it's important to note that we all have these moments. Call it what you want, childish, sinful, rebellious. All three perhaps. I'm not going to hide behind a facade and say that I did my best and that my thoughts, feelings, and actions were admirable. There were moments of complete despair and completely weakness, and complete and utter frustration at what I felt was the death of a dream.

It's human to have dark moments. 

The last several months I have wondered if writing about my experience moving and being 100% honest about it is good... or not. I have wondered if there is any value in it at all.

I remember watching a particular show with my husband and the story line kept getting more and more dismal. I liked the show, I thought it was interesting, but at a certain point I thought, "Really? I thought they couldn't make this story worse and yet it just got even more awful..." I ended up looking up the narrative on Wikipedia because as much as I liked the show I didn't feel like I could sit through another episode if there wasn't going to be any redemption in the end. Turns out the story got worse, and worse, and worse. I decided to stop watching.

I truly believe that telling the difficult aspects are an essential component of a good story. The hard parts are often what make the ending so much more profound.

I didn't want to move here. I had a really hard time at first. There has been a lot of trial and error. There has been a lot of disappointment. There has been discouragement, tears, and depression. It's a process and not one that moves quickly. But, the thing is I'm experiencing redemption. 

It's not ugly here - at all. It's absolutely stunning. God's got this... and me. Something is changing in my heart, He's refining me bit by bit, softening my edges and showing me the beauty of His plan.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Today Sucks

I think it's important to be honest. Most days are really good. Most days are full of good and beautiful things, and I can't help but wonder how my life is so incredible.

But today sucks. 

Can I say that? Because, sometimes it feels like I can't. Everyone is always talking about being thankful for everything and focusing on the good - and mostly I do.

But today just sucks. 

I woke up at 6 am because my daughter couldn't find her pacifier. The pacifier that I have tried to take away 5 separate times now, but then she always manages to find a stray one. So... the cycle continues. It's because it gives me peace. Peace in the chaos. I probably need that pacifier more than her. But, I digress... She came into my room at the crack of dawn crying loudly and likely would have woken her baby sister if I hadn't stumbled out of bed.

We're out of half and half. We're out of milk. We're out of protein bars and I'm on a diet. I rely on the protein bars to get me through until the next meal.

Today sucks.

I had to tell my daughter to do her chores 4 times. I had to tell my son to finish his Math 10 times. I had to clean up pee off the floor... twice. Someone has had their fingers pinched in a door.

Today... sucks. 

I went on Facebook to mindlessly scroll because the noise and the chaos were making my blood pressure rise. I needed just a minute to look at something other than my messy house. All I saw were to-do lists completed, pretty pictures, and other beautiful things - which is WONDERFUL, but today my life doesn't look like that and for some reason it didn't help.

I found myself wondering why can't I get my to-do list done? Why haven't I taken a picture of a flower and posted it with the caption that "Life is all good things."

My coffee cup has been reheated too many times. There is a craft that has migrated from the table to the floor. I haven't taken a shower. It's been 7 months since we moved and I still miss my mom and dad... desperately. I miss my friends and I'm still grieving despite the fact that it's getting better bit by bit. But today? Today I especially miss everyone and everything.

Today sucks.

This is not my every day. But you know what? Today I'm going to admit it. I'm going to let go of my expectations. I'm going to go take that shower. Hopefully it will help.

I'm going to admit that some days I'm not happy. I'm not even nearly as happy as I should be. I don't get done the things that I need to. I don't sit and read happily with my kids. I don't have the attitude I want to have.

Some days suck, and it's ok to say it.

So, here's to the sucky days. They're going to come and they're going to... well, suck.

I know I'm not the only one.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Power of Prayer

"...Jesus told them. "I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it would move. Nothing would be impossible." Matthew 17:20

"How can I pray for you?" She sent this same text to me every week. The first time I received the text I was surprised. I barely knew this other mom and she cared enough to spend time in prayer over me? 

"We've been praying for you." The woman in the nursery said. Again, this was someone I had just met who had heard about our move through a mutual friend. They had been praying for us for weeks. 

"You guys are missed, so very much. I will pray that God places people in your path that can lead you to a beautiful fellowship."

"You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers, Mel." 

"I've been thinking about you and praying for you today! I know how hard it is to be away from family..." 

I can't even keep count of how many people have literally wrapped my family in prayer since we moved. The comfort of knowing that so may people have been sending up heartfelt prayers regarding our move, our adjustment, and our well being is indescribable.

"Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere." Ephesians 6:18

The peace I have felt the last several weeks feels almost unreal. Moving wrecked me in a way that I didn't anticipate. Being surrounded by people who loved me and my family and having to leave it all behind was excruciatingly painful. But, for weeks now I've felt not just a calm, but I've been given the freeing feeling that this was the right thing to do. I have no doubt that this has to do with prayer. 

I'm so thankful for all the prayers. I'm so thankful for the new and old friends who have loved us enough to pray - it has made all the difference. And most importantly I know that God is looking down on us in love. All the power in prayer is His. Everything will go according to His good and perfect will. 

"This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us - whatever we ask - we know that we have what we asked of Him." 1 John 5:14-15

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