Motherhood + Marriage
Grace for the Middle Years
March 11, 2018 at 7:25 am 0

A Sunday reflection

  I commented the other day that we're in the middle years; though we're nearing the end of our thirties, and by all standards still fit into the "young" category, it feels like we're right in the middle. And though "middle aged" has a bunch of connotations about grey hair and going all in for a red sports car, there is something both mundane and beautiful about being in the middle. We're past the baby-rearing stage, and we glimpse the teenage years barreling towards us. Our parents will have health flare-ups but we're not yet sandwiched between launching children and caring for parents. But the years of going to weddings and baby showers have slowed. We don't spend our weekends traveling for parties or attending themed galas. We've been married long enough to know that there will be cycles of intimacy, distance, and clinging to one another for grace. That, as our marriage grows and deepens it does so in the normal day-to-day activities of making each other coffee, sacrificing our whims for the good of the other, for planning date nights and sex and learning to be silly when the weight of the world feels like it's on your shoulders. These are the small ways love looks in the middle. I've fought the middle for a long time. The way it feels so predictable and boring. Raised on Disney stories and my own idealistic and unrealistic expectations about love, marriage, parenting, and friendship, I thought the thrill would never leave. What I'm finding is we have a choice in the middle years: will I yearn for the early years when everything was fresh and full of promise, or will I patiently practice love in all the intervening small spaces of self-sacrifice? Will I try to make someone (a friend, a child, a mate) into someone they're not or will I love them as they are? The middle can be boring. It's often unsexy. It lacks the thrill of the beginning when all was new. But it hasn't yet arrived at the warm full-bodied sense of glory that's waiting at the end. I want other people's stories of life in the middle. I want stories that will seep into my bones about the goodness of the gospel in the ordinary, daily moments. I want stories about people, places, and things -- nouns that show us that living a life of faith is possible right in the ordinary. Today, I'm living in the middle. Of course it's lost its sheen, but that is not the point. We are headed somewhere together and all good journeys take a deep breath and dig in for the middle. It's in the middle where you really catch your stride. It's in the middle where a stalwart confidence and deeply grounded sense of self grow. So I make coffee for my husband as he leaves early to set up for church. I'll pour cereal for my children and teach Sunday School. I'll reach out to new faces at church and stay to welcome them, and I'll know my children can play unattended for a bit in these middle years. We'll come home and rest our bodies and I'll cuddle up with my big boys for movies. This is the bodily language of the middle and it, too, is a gift.
Faith + Vulnerability, Motherhood + Marriage, We create
Have years of making PB+J meant I’ve lost the woman I was?
August 23, 2016 at 6:00 am 1
Have so many years of making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made me number to mystery, to beauty? Ashley Hales: Motherhood and Mystery I had a few hours completely alone the other day. I felt torn between working out, sleeping, cleaning and writing. I settled on writing -- the others I can take children along for the ride while doing them. It felt blissful, quiet, with a cup of coffee I didn't need to reheat 20 times in the course of the day. I turned on my favorite Spotify writing playlist and let the notes sink in in ways they hadn't done in awhile. Suddenly I wondered if I was still the woman that could be moved by notes struck on the piano. In college I'd had a CD of Beethoven that accompanied me (along with a Starbucks baroque playlist) on my studying sessions. I'd procrastinate from philosophy and English essays by writing poetry, about musical notes and meaning and depth. All those things that as a mother, I find harder to come by. I wonder if that woman is still in me somewhere. I spoke with my husband the other day about this whole mothering business. That it feels impossible some days to even keep the house in any semblance of order. That my days are spent in the space between children, monitoring homework, breaking up sibling fights and bickering sessions, returning the stolen toy from an offended sibling, and sitting in my daughter's tight embrace while she sits on the potty (apparently, I've turned into her lovey). That it all doesn't play to my strengths. Sometimes I wonder if I exist amidst all the chaos. Or if I'm simply the frayed rope holding it (often hopelessly) together. I tend to explode in a pile of mess (my own and theirs). The emotions become too much, too loud, too rich, too chaotic. I dream about coffee, or the glass of wine, or the quiet home when they're all old enough to be in school at the same time and my days aren't spent in an endless loop of drop-off to pick-up, circling in my minivan. I'm the frayed rope and they all have a hand on me. But in those rare moments of quiet, can I get to that part of me whose soul soars with music, with a well-turned phrase, with the quickness of the Spirit of God? Or has she become numb to mystery after too many years of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, diaper changes, and children's extracurricular activities? Some say those things can usher us into the presence of God. I hope beyond all hope that they're right -- that doing the dishes will help me become more contemplative, that cooking and cleaning will increase my gratitude, that wiping bums will help me to take myself less seriously and learn empathy. I hope. I pray. But I doubt, too. Because I'm just a bit tired of taking on the emotions of my familial world and running alongside them like a parent running next to her child on a two-wheeler for the first time. There's elation, fear, and relief as we carry the sorrows, cares, and anger of those we care about. It numbs sensitive souls, but perhaps it's more useful. Less self-referential. How do I crack open those deep, seeing parts of my being when I'm swirling in chaos? How do I soften myself from the hustle so I can hear those notes again? Beauty is a painful muse and I wonder if I want her enough to have all my self cracked open to her touch. Or, if it's just convenient and comfortable to use my circumstantial chaos to push her away. Maybe I -- maybe you -- are scared to really feel and know what goodness and truth looks like. Maybe. When we crack ourselves open, who knows what can happen? Who knows what can get in.  
Beauty in the Mundane
Choosing faith
October 10, 2014 at 6:00 am 3
I think I "accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior" at least four times as a child -- just to make sure it stuck. I sat in a tiny red plastic chair and "accepted Christ" to make the lady who was witnessing to children feel better. Church was doodling on welcome cards in "big church" with my name attached to my latest crush's; then it moved on to relevant neon Bibles and neon highlighters and WWJD bracelets, and lots of big feelings during "worship events" and Christian CD's.  It meant being a "good girl" and following the rules. Even attending a Christian college, where we heard words like shalom and learned theology, I still operated practically out of a sense that if I knew the right answers and acted the right way, that I'd be saved, and safe, and right. Early years of marriage to a seminary-student-turned-pastor meant we were learning more and more about historic Christianity, and Christian doctrine and how to communicate it. We even had a few "Aha!" moments around our hand-me-down coffee table as we studied the book of Galatians with friends. It was a movement into an adult faith that was my own, different from my emotion-driven middle-school variety; and like me at the time, it was intellectual and rigorous and theologically correct. And so I just drifted in and out of closeness with God over the next several years. Showing up to church week-in and week-out, feeling the power of weekly liturgy, baptizing my children, leading small groups...but I felt like I wasn't close to Jesus. Of course part of this was probably due to several moves across an ocean and continent, and having babies and therefore, never sleeping, ever.  So the idea of waking up when it was dark out to read my Bible because that's what the holy people did was pretty much never going to happen. I wanted the closeness I used to have but felt I couldn't muster a return to my emotionally driven faith. All I had to go back to was either my experience of faith or my intellectual understanding of what faith was.

Credit: Melissa Peach

For the past several months, my husband and I have been going through a program called Sonship (designed to help you take the truths you know and apply it to your life through a mentored relationship over approximately 9 months). Jack Miller developed the program and he says in a lecture, "If you look to your experience rather than to the promise of the gospel, it will continue to be that way [powerless]. Faith does not look at appearances but it hooks itself into the promise of God." I love that: "hooks itself into the promise of God." And do you know what the Bible says about you? It says that you're beautiful, beloved, that you bring God great delight because you're his kid. It says that when he looks at you he sees the perfection of Jesus. He doesn't see your sin or your shame or your inability to pray or read your Bible. He smiles on you, he "rejoices over you with singing" (Zeph. 3:17). I'm tired of pretending that this Christianity thing is true and yet not seeing lives changed (mine included). I'm tired of assenting to Christian doctrine but functionally trying to prove my worth through what I weigh, or how many "likes" I get, or if I'm working or not, or how pretty my house is. I'm just tired. By throwing my lot fully on Jesus, I'm saying, "I can't do it. I need help. I'm angry and a perfectionist and nothing is going to change through the latest book or program." And in both a radical and yet totally workaday way, I'm choosing faith all over again. Instead of a list of rules or of being the perfect Pinterest mom or a good housekeeper, I'm choosing to put my trust in Jesus. That means, that I struggle and falter and say shit a lot. It means that I resist the urge to get down on my kids' level and really hear them when I have things to do. It means that my faith is messy and sometimes ugly and full of doubt and fear and shame, or even just ignored. But it also means that I've decided to really, really throw my lot in with Jesus. Not in a way that means I just show up to church and have an emotional experience during worship. Not in a way that I feel guilted into serving homeless people and then feel good about my sacrifice. Not in just being the good girl. But in a way where grace blows the doors off of my goodness and shows me such a startling combination -- both that my heart is deceitful and self-serving and also that I'm adored as a daughter of the high king. I'm choosing to believe this day after day after day. Choosing faith isn't more work or effort or legalism, it's choosing air to breathe; it's choosing delight and movement and story and wonder; it's choosing to see my ordinary as beautiful; and it's choosing the now over the past's regret and shame or thinking the future will just make me better. It's choosing to rely on Someone much bigger and kinder and more gracious than myself to tell me who I am and what matters. And it happens not in blinding light but in little moments -- choosing to open my Bible and read (even just one verse), choosing to direct my attention in prayer, choosing to see even the hard things as gifts, too. It's giving up and knowing who to run to, saying, "Where else shall we go, for you have the very words of life?" (John 6:60). -- flower photo1 This is the tenth post for the Write 31 days challenge, where I’ll be writing every day through the month of October. I’m excited to see what comes of this daily practice. I’d love for you to comment, pin the above image, share posts and subscribe to receive posts to the right in the sidebar as we work through these things together. Posts in the series are all linked to from the first post.
Beauty in the Mundane
The final letting go
October 6, 2014 at 6:00 am 9
"I told you last night that I might be gone sometime, and you said, Where, and I said, To be with the Good Lord, and you said, Why, and I said, Because I'm old, and you said, I don't think you're old."  (Marilynne Robinson, Gilead)
She's dying, maybe not today or tomorrow or next month, but soon; I feel it in my bones. With fluids leaking out of her, with her confusion mounting, she just wants to go Home.  With diagnoses that she keeps forgetting, with her body and mind slowly failing, she's just letting go as her body shrinks and her smile flickers in and out. I remember just this summer how she fawned over my baby girl's bright blue eyes and kept saying again and again, how she wouldn't miss seeing me and my children "for the world." I remember early childhood sleepovers with blue and white china and soft-boiled eggs and toast with marmalade and grapefruit with its special spoon. I never got why she always served grapefruit when I didn't like it. And her red Revlon nail polish staining cotton balls in the bathroom trash. There were days spent swimming the sand of the beach off into the pool, and the glistening promise of treasure that a giant brown marbled jar of pennies held out. There was the ordered line-up of rubber bands stacked on the gear shift of a Cadillac. Of new presents of twirly dresses. Of her starched white button-down shirts and red lips. I remember generational stories of the Anderson girls; of small Southern towns swelling with growth and of trains of handsome soldiers passing through for a dance. And then of one particular soldier, Johnny Bunker, a boy from California with a dashing smile and penetrating blue eyes. And stories of letters crossing the ocean as he was stationed in Europe, and I can see him now (my grandfather dead these last 23 years) in that dusty photograph of his exultant smile all decked out in a Highland tartan on leave. And that California boy married that Southern girl and they moved to Los Angeles, where she was overwhelmed with freeways and congestion and so many people. But she made a home and birthed three children and threw parties while her youngest fell asleep amongst the fur coats. She embraced the salty sea air of the west and yet, for her and in very Southern fashion, family was everything. She always had a weakness for little boys and when I had three of my own, thought each was perfect. IMG_1358.JPG Even as her mind goes, she's bright and beautiful and full of spunk. She still hides her dark chocolate and enjoys her indulgence of a bourbon and water; she laughs and gives "love pats" and wears berry-colored lipstick (even if it's a bit askew now). And when that spark flickers when she goes through patches of hospitalization, that's where it gets scary. For, who is this? How could this be my beloved grandmother who tells the silly stories again and again about how I have "manners my parents didn't even know I had"? Where is the beauty in the mundane event of dying? Because honestly death is frightening. It's a great becoming, one that we really don't know what do with. So disconnected from the daily rhythms of life and death these days, we approach death with the same trepidation with which many face birth. And what I've learned from my four births is that it is a great unveiling -- this magnificent pain of bearing through and down -- where you are raw to your core, where you cannot control it and that your body knows what to do. I assume it's the same with death: your body knows how to die, how to give up and that you cannot control it. And yet, in death, there all these people around you who are forced to let go, too. To walk a parallel path of grief and laughter and of letting go. But the beauty comes in little moments of release, of giving up. Isn't that what we're all learning along the way anyway? That it's about releasing who we think we are, relinquishing the power and control we pretend to have? The only hope that I have in this final letting go comes in the image of a lowly shepherd, whose thick staff and calloused hands provide reassurance in the dark of unknowing.  I love the stately and poetic way the KJV renders this gentle leading:  "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. [...] Thou anointest my head with oil, my cup runneth over...". So I guess we'll just walk, you and I, as I hold onto your elbow to steady you. We'll simply follow that great Shepherd of the sheep, picking our way carefully and slowly along the path -- you on the path to glory and me making meaning from the glorious mundane. --- flower photo1This is the sixth post for the Write 31 days challenge, where I’ll be writing every day through the month of October. I’m excited to see what comes of this daily practice. I’d love for you to comment, pin the above image, share posts and subscribe to receive posts to the right in the sidebar as we work through these things together. Posts in the series are all linked to from the first post.