The Beauty of Being Messy

This past summer I tended to what had been a longtime neglected part of my yard, a “garden” on the side of our house.  My enthusiasm quickly turned to dread when I realized the mess it had become.  Weeds so high they went up to my waist.  A rose bush that had grown out of control.

I needed something productive to do while I was off work for a few weeks, so it seemed the perfect summertime project.  It was painstaking work…and I mean literal pain.  Being a novice gardener, it never crossed my mind to use gloves as I pulled weeds.  My vigorous pulling and tugging must have numbed my hands.  It wasn’t until I saw blood running down that I realized there were cuts all over both hands.  Blood mixed with dirt.  Messy.

With time, patience, dedication (and yes, the purchase of gardening gloves), the mess became something beautiful.  I didn’t think to take a before picture, but at least my family can appreciate the transformation.

That messy garden was a reminder of my own mess…those parts of me that my inner circle sees and those parts that only God can see.  I saw potential despite the weeds.  I envisioned something beautiful.  God is the same way with us.  He sees beyond the mess to the beauty deep within.

I spent years agonizing over the messy me.  I didn’t like who I was, and I was convinced God was running out of patience with me.  All the focus on what was “wrong” with me stood in the way of not only recognizing but enjoying the process of change.  While I certainly enjoyed the transformation of my garden, I hadn’t done the same with the transformation of my heart and mind.

There’s a line in one of my favorite movies, “Trains, Planes and Automobiles,” in which John Candy’s character says, “I like me.  My wife likes me.  My customers like me because I’m the real article.  What you see is what you get.”

I’ve learned to adopt the same kind of mindset about myself.  It’s not that I have a cavalier attitude about my messy parts.  God knows there’s still a whole lot of work to be done in me!  But I don’t dwell on them as much.  I have hope because there’s a history of transformation in my life.  God has done and continues to do a work in me.

Oftentimes when I seek God’s forgiveness, I give thanks according to Philippians 1:6:  being confident of this, that He who began a good work in me will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

I’m so grateful that He continues to pull the weeds in my life.  I’m so thankful for the mixture of dirt (my sins) and blood (His poured out for me) that is working toward something quite lovely.  A day is coming when all that is messy will truly become beautiful.

 

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A Holy Interruption

My firstborn, Type-A personality doesn’t do well with interruptions.  When I’m in the middle of doing something, I’m on a mission and want to get it done.  I greatly dislike what I see as an intrusion on my time.  That doesn’t fit so well with my job as a secretary in a K-8 school.  Because if I had to define my job using one word it would be:

INTERRUPTIONS

Constant interruptions from a ringing phone, front door buzzer, and people.  Staff.  Parents.  Students.

  • Questions
  • Needs
  • Wants
  • Complaints

Needless to say, this job has been a huge growing experience for me.  I haven’t always done it well, the whole acceptance of constantly being interrupted, but I’m growing in this area.

I’m reminded of Someone who dealt with interruptions on a consistent basis.  Jesus.  Fully divine, yet fully human as He walked this earth.  People  surrounded him all the time.  They had questions.  Needs.  Wants.  And yes, even complaints (remember Martha complaining about her sister Mary not helping?)

Just when He would finally get away to pray and to seek His Father, people would show up. Crowds of people.  Jesus never got frustrated.  He met the need with grace.

As difficult as my silly interruptions at work can be, an even greater challenge is when it happens to your life.  When plans or dreams are interrupted by an unexpected (and oftentimes unwanted) circumstance.

What if the thing you see as an intrusion is really a holy interruption?  My definition for a holy interruption is one that appears to be inconvenient, unwanted, or frustrating and yet becomes something quite sacred.

One of the best examples I can give are the circumstances that made me a grandmother. Definitely an interruption and not in my plans was my 17-year-old daughter getting pregnant. That was just the start to what would become a fairly long season of interruptions to my life.

My granddaughter was born the day after my father died.  I can’t even tell you how “inconvenient” and disruptive that was to my grieving process.

Fast-forward a few months…all plans for my daughter and the father of her child to have this big happy family (including moving out) came to a halt when he decided to back out of the relationship.  Oh my.  It was not in the plan to help raise my granddaughter.

The next several months would include a lengthy and expensive custody battle.  Mixed in with that was a lot of drama and stress involving the father of my granddaughter and his new girlfriend.  Frustrating is not a big enough word to describe these experiences.  I remember thinking often how I just wanted my life back.

These snippets of interruptions to my life don’t appear to be holy.  Oh, but they were…because the culmination is a little girl that has completely changed my world for the better.  What’s more sacred than life?  Not only that, but God did a whole lot of work in my heart.

This little girl was most definitely a holy interruption to my life!

I’ve seen other types of interruptions to peoples’ lives become something so sacred.  It’s in those moments when things are uncertain and we feel afraid and it seems nothing makes sense that God is behind the scenes putting together something quite wonderful.

Holy interruptions come into our life and sometimes turn things upside down.  They oftentimes don’t make sense.  In the moment, we may not see the sacred but in God’s timing, He will reveal it.

The next time your life is interrupted, consider that God may be doing something deeper than what’s on the surface.  You just might be in for a holy interruption.

I’m Not Controlling…I Just Wish You Would Do Things My Way

My only comfort in writing this post is knowing I’m not alone.  Any fellow Type A personalities out there???  Firstborns?  Structured Germans?  Or just someone who spent her formative years having no control over her life experiences, that she determined she’d never be in subjection ever again?

It would be easy to justify my struggle.  To blame my personality, my place in the family, my nationality or my childhood.  Yet there comes a point when you have to take a really hard look at yourself and stop making excuses.

There was a time when I denied being a controlling person.  The newlywed years when I threw a fit every time my husband wanted to do something without me.  It wasn’t because I was controlling…he just wasn’t doing things my way.  Or when my children were younger and I lashed out at them.  It wasn’t because I was controlling…they just weren’t doing things my way.

If everyone would just cooperate with me (family, friends, coworkers, even strangers), it would all be fine.  Looking back, I’m embarrassed by some of my behavior.  The need to control became greater than forging or maintaining relationships.  It became greater than other people’s feelings.  And it most definitely ruled my emotions.

God has brought me really far in this struggle.  Part of that included healing from my past.  It also meant learning how to release my grip on people and circumstances, allowing Him to have full control.

Sometimes I will find myself sliding back into those unhealthy patterns.  But I’m quickly reminded of the consequences in being a control freak, which I would like to share for others who may struggle.

The first consequence is that it hurts you.  I’m the most stressed when I’m trying to control others or what’s going on around me.  As a result, I’m short-tempered, easily irritated and constantly frustrated.  Stress can literally make you sick.  Migraines and depression have been some of my worst enemies during these times.  The ironic thing is that in our attempts to control, which we’re convinced will bring contentment, it does the exact opposite.  As a result, we lack peace.

The second consequence is that it hurts relationships.  Marriages can’t survive very long with a controlling spouse.  Children with a controlling parent will pull away.  Friendships won’t last when based on control.  The need to control others creates friction and sometimes, irreparable damage to the relationship.

Lastly, another consequence in being a control freak is that it diminishes your faith in God.  In fact, it becomes more about faith in yourself…as a wife, parent, etc.  If we truly trust Him with our circumstances and the people in our lives, we won’t find it necessary to seek control.

I’m guessing there are others out there who have denied having control issues.  You’ve reasoned that if only people would do what you want…or circumstances would go the way you want…there wouldn’t be a problem.  It’s time to admit that the only real problem is your need to control.  But you don’t have to fight this battle alone.  The more you trust God…the more you release people and circumstances into His hands…the less need to control.  The greater the realization that God is in control, the more peace.

Dear Depressed Christian

Everyone else seems to have it together.  Why can’t you just get yourself together?  It doesn’t even make sense to feel this way.  You have no real reasons for feeling down but no amount of praying takes it away.  That induces guilt.  Because isn’t prayer supposed to take it all away?  Sometimes you even question if your faith is real.  Because if it was, then you wouldn’t be struggling so much.

The truth is that you’re not alone.  There are others silently suffering as well.  Not sure it will make you feel any better but know that depression strikes people from all walks of life…yes, even those who have faith in God.  I bet it’s an even bigger problem than you think because the enemy has people right where he wants them—feeling alone.

Church almost makes it worse.  You know you should go, even those days you don’t feel like it, but then you have to pretend that everything is fine.  You paste on the smile and respond with “Great!” when asked how you’re doing.  What would be the worst thing to happen if you finally got honest?  There’s that fear of rejection and of judgment, I get that.  Yet what if by sharing your struggles, it opened up the opportunity for someone to pray with you?  To show they care?  To be that person who stands by your side?

Then there’s the whole shame thing.  How can you even call yourself a believer?  Where is the joy of the Lord?  Yet our faith isn’t based on our strength.  In fact, it’s in our weakness that God makes us strong.  Shame is a lie.  The truth is that you are an imperfect person who is being sanctified day-by-day.  Becoming holy isn’t an event…it’s a process.  Don’t let shame become bigger than God’s grace.

Remember that while your struggle might be depression, others have their own vices.   We’re all sinners.  We all face challenges.  We all live in a fallen world.  Your issue isn’t worse than someone else’s.  You’re not any less a Christian than the person sitting next to you in the pew.  Don’t let anyone tell you different.  You might feel depressed but God hasn’t counted you out.

Depression doesn’t have to be a life sentence.  You can gain freedom.  Jesus is the key that unlocks the prison door.

You Have to Let Go…to Be Let In

One of the most difficult parts of parenting (at least for me) is letting go.  When my children were younger, each new stage of their lives brought difficulty in loosening the apron strings.  In the teen years, it was learning how to cast away fear and truly trust God with their lives.

I’ll be honest…it hasn’t gotten much easier now that my children are adults.  Add to the mix a grandchild and another on the way, well, let’s just say I’ll be learning how to navigate this tricky terrain of letting go for quite some time.

While this may not be the case for every parent who struggles in this area, I’ve come to realize that for me it’s an issue of needing to be needed.  It had actually become my identity, so it was a frightening prospect to lose that part of me.  Yet the reality is that the more we try to hold onto our children—yes, even with all the right intentions—we risk our child pulling away from us.  And if we’re not careful, to the point we lose him completely.

We can’t barge our way into our children’s lives.  We can’t demand they invite us into their world.  Instead, we have to let go before we can be let in.

Coming to discover this about myself and then trying to break free from it has been a downright gut-wrenching, painful experience.  One made more complicated by seasons where my children have lost their way spiritually.

While my instinct is to thump the Bible over their heads and voice my thoughts on all that is wrong in their lives…I’ve had to restrain myself.  Experience has taught me that when I do those things, the door gets slammed in my face.  My child stops sharing.  Our relationship starts to deteriorate.

Instead, I have to remind myself that my children know the Word.  The seed was planted.  It’s in their hearts.  They were raised in a home and church that taught truth.  No matter what they do, their choices are never more powerful than what God can do in their lives.   Isaiah 55:11 is a verse I hold onto:  So is my word that goes out from my mouth.  It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

See?  I don’t need to thump the Bible over their heads because God’s Word is already in their hearts.

It also doesn’t do much good to constantly voice how I feel about choices being made.  As parents, we have a responsibility to correct our children when sin has become an issue.  But at the same time, we have a responsibility to point them toward the One who can break that sin in their lives.

I’m not advocating to stay silent.  Our children must know that we’re not okay with their wrong choices, but we have to leave room for God’s conviction.  We can’t cajole or convince our children to change their ways.  They need a transformation that can only come through the work of Christ.

Letting go means putting our faith in God’s purposes and plans and not our works as a parent.  Letting go is trusting God to do what we’re unable to do.  Letting go is showing grace in spite of their choices.

I would much rather stay close to my child in his state of sin.  There is a greater chance of being invited into his struggles.  Our children are more likely to let us in when we have learned to let go.

The God of Leftovers

I’m about the only person in my house who will eat leftovers.  I don’t like wasting food and certain kinds taste even better the next day (like spaghetti).  Besides, I tend to think that God is a fan of leftovers.

leftovers, God

I encourage you to read Matthew 14:15-20 on your own.  But for now, here’s a summary of the story.  Jesus and His disciples had been surrounded by crowds of people all day.  It was getting late, just about dinnertime, and since there wasn’t a Chic-Fil-A nearby, the disciples encouraged Jesus to send the people away.  In other words, dinner was on their own.

Jesus had a different idea.  He wanted the disciples to feed them.  However, they only had five loaves of bread and two fish…certainly not enough for the amount of people around them.  Jesus looked up to heaven, gave thanks and not only provided enough bread and fish for everyone, but there were leftovers!

He could have just made sure there was exactly enough.  Instead, there was extra.

The significance I find in this is that God provides above and beyond our needs.  We may look at the leftovers as something to store away.  But He wants us to enjoy His blessings to the fullest.  I’m not just talking about getting things, but receiving His grace.

Let’s face it…we mess up.  Sometimes more often than we should and to a level we shouldn’t.  Yet 2 Corinthians 9:8 reminds us that “God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may excel in every good work” (CSB)

It’s not just that He provides grace…He provides an overflow of it.  To the point we have leftovers.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to throw away God’s leftovers.  I’ll get every little bit of grace that I can.

No Sympathy for the Depressed

I’ve lived most of my life in denial when it comes to the issue of mental illness in my family.  Not that I’ve denied its existence, but I’ve definitely kept it swept under the rug.  Not exactly a conversation piece around the dinner table or at a party.

 

sympathy, depressedBesides, you don’t really get the same type of sympathy as those who have cancer or other serious health issues that run in their family.  Bring up the family members who have dealt with heart-related problems and you’re sure to get a sympathetic ear, perhaps even some great advice or encouraging words.  But talk about your grandma who was institutionalized because of schizophrenia or the several family members taking medication for some form of mental illness and there’s likely to be an uncomfortable silence or a quick changing of the subject.

Why is the level of comfort so different?  Not only is there is a stigma in the church when it comes to this delicate subject matter, but there seems to be no sympathy for those who suffer.  While others rally around you when facing a physical illness, it gets pretty lonely when you suffer with depression or anxiety.

I believe one of the reasons for the lack of sympathy is that some people see depression as nothing more than being sad.  When we turn it into an emotion, there’s a belief that we can do something about it.  That we have some degree of control over our emotions.  Depression is not sadness.  Yes, circumstances can contribute to depression but most people suffering from it, recognize there’s no real reason to feel the way they do.  They can’t choose to not be depressed.  Just like someone can’t choose to not vomit when hit by the stomach flu.

Another reason for the lack of sympathy, which is particular to the church, is that we should all be walking around with a smile plastered on our face and a worship song coming from our lips.  If you have the joy of the Lord, then surely you shouldn’t be suffering from depression.  The reality is that believers aren’t excluded from struggles.  Just because one person’s thorn is different from someone else’s doesn’t make it any less valid.

Perhaps a little more understanding (and sympathy) would eliminate that lonely feeling.  Those suffering from depression might be more willing to admit it’s a struggle and ask for help.  What better place to get it than the church?  Yet so often it’s the last place a believer goes to for help when it comes to depression.  Instead, they paste on their smiles and give a holy high-five to others in passing, while inside they’re hurting.

No one should suffer alone…especially someone who belongs to the body of Christ.

When Did I Stop Caring?

Getting ready to pick my husband and his cousin up from the airport, I was about to throw on a t-shirt and jeans.  Something made me stop and reconsider my outfit.  Maybe I should put more thought into my presence.  After all, he had driven 2,000 miles to deliver our son’s car to his Air Force base in California.  He had then flown back to Wisconsin and was surely deserving more than a frumpy wife greeting.

“When did I stop caring?” was my next thought.  Because quite honestly, I can’t remember the last time I was concerned with the way I look for my husband.

Was it after I “landed” him and no longer had to try?

Was it after my body changed from having our first child?

Was it when I lost touch with who I am because of the three little ones under my feet?

Did it happen after a few years of aging?

Did “life” just get in the way of us?

T-shirt was replaced with a cute top, my comfy pants with capris and tennis shoes with adorable black wedges.  I even put on some jewelry, makeup and fixed my hair.  I was warmly greeted by my very tired, jetlagged husband.  No, he didn’t seem to notice the effort I had put into my look.  But it really wasn’t about that.  It was something much deeper.  A determination to care not just about the surface stuff but the deeper parts of marriage.

To not take my husband for granted.  To not forget we began this adventure with just the two of us, and once the kids are gone, it will again be just the two of us.  To take notice.  To make an effort.

To start caring.

I Got Issues, You Got Issues, We All Got Issues

Several years ago, I taught a workshop on marriage at my church.  True to my style of teaching, I was honest and raw.  I’ve never been much of a sugar coater, which can be uncomfortable for some people.  One woman, within earshot, made a negative comment to another woman about what I shared.  Apparently, she felt it was TMI (too much information).

issues

Despite hearing lots of positive feedback from others who attended the workshop, I was fixated on the one negative comment, which caused me to question what I shared.  Is there such thing as sharing too much information?  Definitely.  I don’t deny that.  But I had prayed about the message I would share and talked with my husband about the content.  I had peace and now a negative comment was threatening to steal it from me.

Thankfully I didn’t dwell too much on it because quite honestly, my philosophy is this:  I got issues.  You got issues.  We all got issues!

To me it makes no sense to pretend otherwise.  I think that some people try to hide their issues because they fear what others will think.  They portray the put together, super spiritual family…yet behind closed doors it’s chaos.  Others fear that it will blow their witness if people see a Christian family struggling.  All the while, they look more like hypocrites than anything else.

The world needs to know that I have issues.  It needs to know that you have issues.  How can anyone see a need for God when they’re convinced you have to be perfect?  How can they get a glimpse of grace when they’re not exposed to your struggles?

What better example can the world have than to know that you’re really not perfect, and your family isn’t perfect—but you have a Perfect God who will hold you up when you need the strength…who will forgive when you’ve messed up…who will see you through the storm…who will transform your mind, heart and soul.

Sometimes we feel alone in our struggles.  We’re embarrassed by our circumstances.  But the greatest testimonies come out of those times.  Don’t let fear stop you.  I got issues.  You got issues.  We all got issues.

Submission Is the Least of My Worries

Whenever I’ve been in a marriage class and the topic of submission comes up, you hear a lot of groans or chuckles.  For me it was never a humorous subject matter.  And it wasn’t even something that rubbed me the wrong way.  My only thought was that submission was the least of my worries.  I needed other kinds of help.  For instance, learning how to like my husband or how to deal with the side of his personality that only I was privy to see.

Although the church’s intentions were great when it came to marriage issues, I always felt like something was missing.  I don’t think they realized that not every wife sitting in that class had a husband who was “on fire for the Lord” or even remotely smoldering.  Yes, even those husbands who showed up at church.

Just as parking your butt in a garage doesn’t make you a car, neither does parking your butt in a pew make you a Christian.  But there always seemed to be this assumption that if your husband was in church, then your marriage just had to follow the Biblical mandates and all would be well.

I’m not going to lie.  The majority of my past, nearly 26 years of marriage, have been challenging.  Only in very recent years has there been a significant positive change.  We’re finally at a place that I don’t worry about us not making it.  But it’s been a long, hard road to get here.

Submission continues to remain the least of my worries but for a different reason.  We finally got this marriage thing together.  And it’s not because I learned how to submit or he even learned to lead.  We just learned how to do this thing together…with God’s help.  I’m not discounting the importance of submission in marriage, but I do believe that other work sometimes has to be done before you can even engage that kind of topic.

Maybe we need more classes such as:

How to Like Your Husband When He’s Gotten on Your Very Last Nerve

 

How to Bite Your Tongue When Your Husband Says Something Hurtful (or Stupid)

 

5 Ways to Desire the Husband Who Never Helps You Out Around the House or With the Kids

I’m joking (sort of).  Marriage is so much more than tackling the issue of submission.  Or even how husbands should love their wives like Christ loves the church.  These are ideal ways to flourish in a marriage.  But I think we’re missing some important steps before we get there.

Oftentimes couples are dealing with circumstances that don’t always get addressed…financial struggles.  Baggage from the past.  Addictions.  Problems with the kids.  Or even the differences between spouses when it comes to maturity in their faith.

Is it just me that thinks submission is the least of her worries in a marriage???