Simplicity

DSC00919Things are typically easier said than done, right? I know. Everything I’m writing about today is strictly theoretical for me, and I’m in NO way suggesting that this will be an easy shift to make. But – I need to make a shift. Are you ready for it?

Everything should be simpler. That’s right, I said EVERYTHING.

Take parenting, for example. I was listening to a TED Talk a few weeks ago by Jennifer Senior, a wife, mom and writer, who spoke about the challenges of modern parenting. Recent studies have shown that, statistically, the role of a mother in the Western world is one of the least desirable roles that a human can have due to the perceived amount of stress and anxiety associated with the role. Through a series of interesting and insightful talking points, Senior attributes a significant portion of the stress of modern motherhood to a goal-setting problem.

Senior explains that many modern, Western mothers (consciously or subconsciously) make their children’s happiness their goal, thus running themselves ragged by taking responsibility for something that is beyond their control. She contrasts modern/Western motherhood and its endless list of “should-do’s” to motherhood in the agricultural era when a mother’s role was, essentially, to teach her children two things: morality and work ethic. Her simpified argument is that, when taught morality and work ethic, children are equipped to choose well and live “happy” and fulfilled lives, but if our GOAL as mothers is that our children are happy, we are bound to emotionally crash and burn inside the realization that ultimately, their happiness is out of our control.

More than anything, listening to Senior inspired me to evaluate my own goals as they pertain to raising our three kiddos, and what I realized over the last few weeks is that I am making complicated what is meant to be simple. Not only have I un-knowingly made their happiness a personal goal, I’ve even decided (subconciously) that I can’t be happy if they’re not happy. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the definition of co-dependent powerlessness. The saving grace inside of this discovery is, if I acknowledge the problem and choose to fix my eyes on Jesus, then He will show me how to love in the areas of my life where I’ve partnered with fear… fear of the kids struggling, fear of the anxiety that’s incurred when hardships come, fear that I will forever lose part of myself to stress if they don’t end up alright, and on it goes…

And fear truly is the problem. When I make subconcious agreements like, “I’m only ok if they’re ok,” I put someone else in charge of whether or not I can thrive. That leaves me a victim to circumstance rather than powerful and free.

Maybe setting for my kids a foundation of core values and teaching them good work ethic aren’t the only two important goals to set in parenthood. But what I do know is that if I set unattainable goals and sit in powerlessness, I will not be able to teach them the most valuable lesson of all: how to partner with love, not fear, in all things. I think that if I could simply make LOVE my goal in every situation (I know. Easier said than done.), life would simplify in every area: family, relationship with God, work, rest, creativity, recreation, dreaming, planning for the future…

So I raise my glass to the simplicity and infinite mystery of love, knowing that if I give myself to Love Himself, fear will be cast out, and I will live in the freedom of my own imperfection, made strong and able to lead well.

Resurfacing

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Wide-brimmed hats are so in right now, and for that I am grateful. It’s my accessory of choice today as I try my best to sneak back in to this little space of mine, tucked away in my tiny corner of the World Wide Web. Maybe the brim of my hat hides these shy eyes, sheepishly peering out to see if you’ve noticed that I’ve been completely MIA for the last four months.

My oldest boy ever-so-encouragingly declared at the start of my blogging endeavor that I’d never be able to keep up with it like I intended. (Wow. Thanks, pal!) It turns out he was right. Monthly posts haven’t happened like I’d planned, but let’s just all acknowledge that this is entirely his fault! I mean, if he wasn’t being SUCH a teenager all the time, I’d probably have way more energy and space in my schedule to write! And don’t even feel bad for him because I’m outing him right now… he knows! Oh, he knows.

Just, please… please forgive me for being gone so long, and indulge me a little by pretending it’s my adolescent son’s fault that I haven’t been more diligent about setting time aside to do the things that are in my heart to do.

Ok, thank you. I’m done being powerless. The demands of marriage and motherhood and ministry and grocery shopping can’t get me down!

[Dramatically pulls off and tosses wide-brimmed hat to the side, shaking hair free.]

I haven’t written in months. It’s that simple. I’m over it. Stay tuned.

Surrender

Peace flows easy, like a river, calm
And steady as the rising dawn.
I smile.

Strength and confidence abound.
Mine is clarity of sight and sound,
Visibility for miles.

I set out to work hard and run fast and play,
And on bright sunny days we laugh the whole way.
I give all.

I finish strong and settle in,
My mind filled with images of the day’s has-been.
Night falls.

I rest in the shadow of the Almighty, Most High,
But when darkness comes and covers my eyes
I freeze.

My faith seemed unstoppable, unshakeable, real!
A chill rushes in, my peace to steal.
The breeze

Knocks me over like a hurricane gust
That sends me spinning in irrational mistrust.
I breathe

Deeply, in and out, reciting the Truth.
My whole mind, body and soul beg to see proof
Of relief.

Pressing me thin, and from every side
I scramble, looking high and wide
For an out.

I sink down under the weight
Of hopeless exhaustion and threats, like bait.
My mouth

Utters prayer and desperation cries
Into the darkness of night’s disguise.
I bend.

Where is my faith that once seemed real?
I’ve hope for tomorrow’s seed but not today’s meal.
And then

Deep from within, the Truth bubbles up.
Love and a sound mind, my portion, my cup.
I AM.

I Am is King, and in Him we win.
Fear is illusion and darkness, sin,
It breaks.

On high ground I find my rest.
My body gives way to the beat in His chest.
It wakes

All my senses to the truest dimension.
Heaven on earth, in tension,
Released.

Fear nothing – not wolves, not arrows, not sickness.
I stand untouched, and He spans the distance,
West to east,

To save and set free, to render us undone
By the love of a Father who gave up his Son
To reconcile.

So quick to forget but there’s grace to remember.
To win this battle, I must only surrender.
I smile.

Convergence

IMG_3553The first piece of property I owned in Denver, Colorado was about fifteen square feet. It was humble, but more than large enough to host all my imaginative exploits. I was four years old, and the space under my grandparents’ basement staircase was hot real estate. I had the monopoly on the market since my cousins were all younger, and I spent formative years of my life down there… taking care of my babies, answering important phone calls, organizing dishes, and experimenting with my fashion sense as it pertained to party dresses and princess shoes.

On Mondays, my day at Grandma’s, I really only surfaced when the plastic pizza slices and fake orange juice didn’t satisfy my mature palate, demanding that I dine out. Grandma made the BEST peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in town. And from my booster seat in her kitchen I’d quickly update her on how the kids were doing and what time tea would be that day if she wanted to stop in later.

When my parents moved our family to South Carolina in the summer of 1990, I decided to rent rather than sell. I trusted that my younger cousins would at least keep the place up… you know… make sure the lightbulb got replaced if it burned out… that sort of thing. My parents said we’d be gone two years… just long enough for Dad to finish his program at the Medical University of South Carolina. But that was twenty four years ago, and at some point along the way we all stopped referring to Denver as “home.”

Life is funny the way the twists and turns seem to overlap, so much so that you feel as if you’re going backward sometimes. I remember the month I spent living with my grandparents after college. Denver is a logical mid-way point between South Carolina and California for a girl who’s decided to take a cross-country road trip, but it was more than that for me. That month I spent living, once again, in the basement of my grandparent’s house was about cappuccinos and conversations about family history with my grandma. It was about exploring the city where my parents both grew up and fell in love… the city where my life began. It was about standing in the doorway of my once-magical land under the basement stairs, the landscape of my early childhood adventures where my wildest daydreams had been within reach, in order to see just how much I’d actually grown. I remember sitting, rather uncomfortably, in the tension of feeling like I’d come so far in life only to end up back where I began… unsure of what was more than a few miles ahead.

Seven years later I understand that sometimes, the only way forward is to retrace our steps. I couldn’t have known then that my journey back to Colorado, the place where I first learned how to dream and imagine and explore, would ultimately lead me forward towards all that my life is about today. I live in California now. I have a husband, three step-kids, and dreams that are too big for that little closet. Dreams to influence cities and nations through the power of Love. Dreams to equip a generation to walk in health and wholeness and hope. Dreams that are starting to materialize.

I turned twenty nine this past summer, and it marked a significant season-shift for me. I had been head-down and focussed on figuring out this whole wife/mom gig for the past few years, but something changed this summer. I felt the grace to lift up my head and look forward and dream broader. I felt permission to spend time outside of the four walls of our home… confident that we had built a solid family foundation capable of handling me building and growing on more than one front. Doors began to open and opportunities began to arise for me to step into more of what I know I was created to do. I even received an invitation to travel out of state and speak at a school on subjects I’m passionate about. I just returned from that most recent adventure. The people were amazing, and the time we shared was rich. I taught on building healthy relationships and establishing foundations for a community of thriving, whole people… all things that I love.

And guess where I happened to go… Denver, Colorado.

And guess where I slept… My grandparents’ basement.

There’s something profound and sweet about going backward in order to move forward. It keeps us humble. It keeps us honest. It keeps us grounded in the reality of who we are and where we’ve come from… a heart-posture of purity that sets us up to spring forward into destiny.

Novemblues

IMG_3352Despite the extra hour of sleep, I have always preferred spring-forward to fall-back. Here at the top of the Sacramento River Valley, autumn does its best to ease us into the depths of winter, making palatable the shorter days and colder nights with its spectacular display of golden light shining through amber trees. But the fiery leaves fall and the days get even shorter, and the nights get even colder, and I can feel it coming. There’s something cold and dark about the cold and dark, and I can’t quite put my finger on it.

Aside from the underlying ache of impending winter that began with the oh-so-annual end of daylight savings, November is #winning ! My parents came to stay for ten days, and I delighted in what every-day life would be, if only we lived in the same town instead of on opposite coasts. Having mom and dad here left me feeling strengthened and motivated to march on in my wife/mom duties! For I could do all things now, having read “A More Effective Way to Hard-Boil an Egg and Other Priceless Lessons Mom Teaches You When She Visits.”

After my parents left, I travelled to Nashville to visit two of my best friends! We spent four days together, the three of us sipping coffee and reminding each other that we’re still cool like we were in college, and even more cool for having survived real life for seven years! We even attended a women’s conference together where the theme was “Discovering Calling,” and so as it’s only the fourteenth day of the month, I’d say November is off to a great start!

Yet in the “back to life, back to reality-ness” of this week, the familiar and slightly anxious feeling in the pit of my stomach reminds me that winter is coming.

A few nights ago, my husband and I were driving home after running a quick errand. It was six o’clock and pitch black. If it were summertime, we discussed, we’d still be out by his parents’ pool watching the kids argue over floaties. If it were summertime we’d still be sitting on the back porch, spitting watermelon seeds into the garden and waiting for our steak to come off the grill while our youngest shared stories of the day’s sweaty adventures.

Instead, we were headed home to finish the school-night routine. I was headed home to clean dishes and give homework instructions and make sure the youngest took a bath… hopefully all before eight o’clock so I could have a few minutes of alone time before I got too tired to watch that episode of Parenthood that I had missed last week. As we drove home in the dark, I envisioned the fluorescent-lighted kitchen of our rental home. I could see the crumby countertops and mail strewn about and the pots left to be cleaned under those lights. I wanted to avoid it all. I wished we had different lights in the kitchen… something warmer. Then I wouldn’t mind the crumbs and the mail. If only it was warmer in there.

I said to my husband as we drove, “If God created these colder months, surely there’s a way to enjoy this season as much as we love summertime.” And then I began to think…

No matter how uninspiring it is to me at the moment, I cannot avoid the coming season of winter. Not only is it unavoidable, but my core belief is that God actually has good things for me in ALL seasons of life, so why can’t I just embrace it? What’s my problem? Why the knot in my stomach as the sun fades and the air turns crisp? After all, winter means holidays and family and peppermint-mocha syrup in my coffee and crowds at the mall (I actually like crowds at the mall during the holidays). Why do I feel so unsettled?

Just thinking about the summertime gives me that warm, fulfilling feeling of fun and freedom. Yokes are easy and burdens are light… in the summertime. Creativity comes easily and perspective is clear… in the summertime. Hopeful expectation is my normal… in the summertime.  Where’s my sense of adventure now? Why do the burdens feel heavier, and why is hope so easy to let go?

Perhaps it’s because, unlike summer, winter calls me home. “Real” life seems to bow to the heat of summer and you let go of what’s going on inside to be out! Swimming and farmer’s-marketing and vacationing and… then the cold sets in. The days of playful distraction and outside-til-late nights are over for a while. If I don’t like “home,” these winter months will leave me feeling trapped and restless for change. And the truth tonight is, despite how I feel about my fluorescent-lighted kitchen on a chilly night, the only place I have to go right now is home! And I think I’m on to something… I think the key to enjoying the winter season is embracing home.

Don’t get me started on the list of things I’d do around here if we owned this house. As you can probably guess by now, those seizure-inducing kitchen lights would be the first to go. Painting the 80’s-oak kitchen cabinets and ripping out every square foot of carpet would happen seconds later. But I do actually love our house. How we landed here is a testimony of God’s provision in and of itself. I’m more than grateful for this house. In fact, if we could, I’d buy it and stay awhile! So when I say “embracing” home, I mean more than covering the awful traffic-stained carpet with a cozy area rug and lighting a few pumpkin pie candles. Because I’ve done that. And still, the uneasiness of the season.

Sometimes I’m uneasy about these dark cold months because they draw me into a space where I have to be at home with… myself. It has little to do with lighting and the color of my cabinets and much more to do with me. The evenings are long and full of real-life, often-mundane, tasks and to-do lists. Homework and laundry and cooking and cleaning. Lots! And we’re all here in this little space… all five of us! And they’re getting so big and taking up so much room with their voices, alone! A hot shower is my sanctuary. And it doesn’t feel like I’m living in the prophetic words and promises spoken over my life – the ones I was reminded of last week at that conference. And we have yet to receive that breakthrough I have felt is coming! Surely it will come in the spring when new growth takes place and new life is born. We’ll experience freedom and longer days full of LIGHT! Why, winter, whyyyyy… [Insert dramatic, open-mouth-crying emoticon here.]

Why winter? Because “to everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, NKJ). Winter needs to be embraced for what it is. An invitation home. An invitation to rest in the simplicity of who God is, who you are, and who He has put within the reach of your throw blanket that’s made for sharing. Why winter? Because we need time to build up our inner man who requires rest and quiet and times of shelter. It’s the season in which roots grow deep, deep, under the soil, even when there’s no evidence of growth on top. And when we spend the winter seasons wishing for spring, we are devaluing an essential part of the process that is our life.

When I fear the dark, cold months, it’s because there’s no escaping the reality of what’s inside. Any truly satisfying warmth I can find comes from within, and unless I’ve been stoking that fire and caring for my heart, home is dark and cold. Taking ownership of my heart and allowing my “home” to be loved and tended to is to set myself up for the coming season of promise-fulfilled. To embrace home is to stoke a fire, to find The Comforter in the long, quiet nights…

And to light a pumpkin pie candle.

Photography by Lucas Sankey Photography