First of all, Happy Memorial Day! I woke up this morning with a grateful heart for all of the men and women stationed around the world who defend our freedoms each and every day. Freedom to worship. Freedom to dialogue openly about issues that are important to us. Freedom to vote. Freedom to live without fear. And the list goes on and on. As a kid whose dad graduated from the United States Naval Academy, I grew up with a built-in awareness and gratefulness for those who defend our freedoms. I am so thankful for the reunions and visits to the USNA campus that gave me a small understanding of the cost of the freedoms I regularly enjoy.
A couple of years ago, Jason, myself, and my two oldest girls accompanied my parents to Annapolis for my dad’s 50th football reunion. As we sat in the Navy-Marine-Corps Memorial Stadium and watched Air Force and Annapolis play, I was struck by the words around the stadium – all battles where the Navy and Marine-Corps had fought to defend our freedoms – and how those playing on the field now would go in just a few short months or years to fight in battles that were yet to be displayed to a watching world.
For the full story of our trip to Annapolis and that game, read here – Playing With Heart.
But suffice it to say, today, and every day, I am thankful. Thankful for the great sacrifice that has been given so that you and I can walk in freedom.
(Believe it or not, that’s me on the far left, along with my friends Holly Casserly and Joanna Dawson, as a 19 year old visiting my dear friend, Edd Hendee, at the end of his plebe year at the Naval Academy.)
But in the midst of Memorial Day, and the great pause this holiday provides for us at this time of year, like I talked about last week, this time of year can be crazy for moms, and I mean downright crazy. I am not exaggerating when at times I think I might be about to lose my mind or not make it past the minute if I do not slow down, sit down, or lay down in the prone position for 48 hours at one time. I would think I was abnormal and really start to worry if I did not know that every other mother I’ve talked to this week feels exactly the same way I do.
It’s because our culture is nuts. Absolutely nuts. We are expected to go, be, do, and think in 100 different directions all at the same time. We are supposed to check our texts, keep up with our emails, coordinate everyone’s carpools, help everyone with their homework and projects, have dinner on the table, look presentable, exercise and workout to keep svelte and looking suave for swimsuit season, spend quality time with our children while planning playdates, future prom dates, and extraordinary Friday afternoon activities, all the while maintaining deep, quality friendships of our own in all of our spare time. And, oh yeah, be a great wife. My poor husband. Quality conversation consists of him patting my hand at the end of the day as I read or watch something on Netflix because I simply don’t have anymore words for anyone. They were all used up by four kids and end-of-school madness by noon earlier that day.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I just want to learn how to enjoy a day, one full day in its entirety, without panicking or having an anxiety attack about all that I’ve left undone. I just want to be fully present wherever I am with a mind fixed with great peace on the Lord, confident I’m doing exactly what He has asked me to do. Nothing more and nothing less.
But it’s amazing how everything in our culture – and I mean everything – pulls us away from spending steadfast time with the Lord. And while I am talking about time spent with an open Bible, pen, and paper in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other, I am also talking about steadfast thoughts throughout the day. A mind fixed upon the things of God.
I will be minding my own happy business, enjoying a solitary moment with the Lord in prayer when WHAM! All of a sudden I cannot shake thinking about the shoes I saw perfect for summer and if they have my size. Or I have visions of all the summer camp forms with packing lists and health forms still waiting to be filled out floating around on my desk or in my inbox. Or I know I have exactly one hour before I have to pick up carpool, my little one is down for her nap, and I have space – restorative space – to read, pray, rest, or write, and all of a sudden, I hear my phone buzz. Ten texts and thirty minutes later, my time is whittled down to half of what it could have been, and I am anxious and stressed about the to-do’s I just read on my texts.
But Isaiah 26:3 says this, “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in you.”
This verse has calmed my heart many times through the years, but a few weeks ago, I was curious about the definition of certain words in the original Hebrew language. So I looked up the word stayed in my WordStudy Dictionary. Here’s what it said, “A verb meaning to lay on, to uphold, to sustain. It indicates placing or laying something on a person or animal, often in ritualistic or legal setting; a hand on a sacrificial animal…to lean against a wall with one’s hand….It has the sense of supporting or sustaining someone….In its passive participle, it describes a heart that is supported, sustained (Psalm 112:8).”
According to this definition, we are to place or lay our minds upon the Lord…and leave them there. The only way I know how to actually do that is to deeply trust whatever my mind, or hand, is leaning up against so that I don’t pull it away in times of distraction or panic.
In the same verse, the word trust means this: “to attach oneself, to trust, confide in, feel safe, be confident, secure; to be careless…The basic idea is associated with firmness or solidity. The word expresses the sense of well-being which results from knowing that the ‘rug won’t be pulled out from under you.’” I love that definition. We are to lay our minds upon the Lord confidently, safely, securely, knowing that the rug will not be pulled out from underneath us. In other words, we can deeply trust and rely on the God we serve and upon whom we lean.
How that practically plays out in my day is this: in the mornings, I must go to Him regularly, dependently, not needing anything from Him – not trying to get a lesson out of Him that I can teach or a Bible study I can write or a word I can share – but simply go to God for God’s sake. Because He is my good Father and in His presence, I experience great peace.
It means that during the day, when I pause to pray about a choice I need to make or a scheduling decision, I pause to hear His voice…and then I obey it. I don’t do whatever I want to do or makes sense in my logical, rational mind (although sometimes I do), I simply follow where He leads and trust that He has His highest and my best in mind.
It means that when I have a choice to follow along the path of the regular restorative rhythms I have set in my days and week, I follow it. I don’t check email. I don’t check texts. I pray. I listen. I write. I visit with a friend. I do the things that bring peace and joy and not just accomplishment.
And it means that when I blow it (which is often), I turn to embrace grace instead of condemnation, forgiveness instead of shame, and love instead of self-hatred from a God who is steadfast even when I am unstable and is there to catch me every single time I fall.
I am learning slowly, ever so slowly, that the steadfast mind doesn’t rely upon self but on the Steadfast One, no matter how uneven the ground, slippery the slope, or exhausting the season is. And there is a God whose love never fails and whose steadfast arms never let us go, as our minds choose to fully rely and lean upon Him.
“There is a way which seems right to a man,
but its end is the way of death…
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path.”
Proverbs 16:25; Proverbs 3:5-6
Last week Mia Grace (our cute-as-a-button 2-year-old adopted daughter from China) and I were at her weekly Occupational Therapy appointment with “Miss Julie,” my new favorite person on the planet. Julie Ploetner runs PolkadOT Pediatric Therapy, and her office is pure heaven for Mia Grace. The minute she walks in the door, she heads straight for the rice pool (literally, a blown up plastic pool filled with rice and tiny plastic treasures of all shapes and sizes). She slips off her little shoes (sister wears a size 6-9 month shoe…her feet are TINY) and slips in the rice to play and pour and sift and sort to her heart’s content. After she’s had her fill of rice, she heads on over to a massive cushion with plastic frogs and turtles on top to see how many she can carry in her hands on her way down the massive “mountain” of fluff. It’s always good times in Miss Julie’s office. It’s amazing what spending time on pillows and swings and in rice tubs can do for one’s body and soul. I’m thinking adults should try it more often.
But as I sat there by Mia Grace, watching her sift rice through her little fingers, I was (very unconsciously) holding tightly onto a plastic necklace made up of stars and hearts. I would squeeze it with one hand, and then pass it to the other hand. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. All of a sudden, Miss Julie looked at me and said, “Is that comforting to you to hold on to that necklace? I’ve noticed each time you are in here you like to hold things in your hands. You must have a lot on your mind.” Wow. I’m pretty sure I looked at her like someone had caught me with my hand in a cookie jar.
“Well,” I said, “I’ve never thought about it.”
“But now that you say that, yes, in fact, it is very comforting. I always like to have something in my hands or I feel purposeless. Ungrounded and anxious about just sitting still.”
True confessions in PolkadOT Therapy. I considered right then and there if I needed to slip off my shoes and climb in the rice next to Mia Grace for a little therapy myself.
But Julie got me thinking, all week in fact. This time of year for moms can be downright stressful. Saying goodbye and finishing anything well always is. And saying goodbye to an entire school year with your kids takes a lot of time, focus, and energy. On top of that, the new season of summer looms on the horizon, and a blank slate stares at moms in the face, waiting to be filled in whatever way we think our family needs. No pressure.
But there is pressure. And that’s what Miss Julie picked up on. I often travel through life, especially this time of year, with a low level of continually burning stress. Through every appointment or conversation, I am present in body but my mind is running a million different directions sorting through every list on my desk and in my head. I constantly fight feeling behind or like I will never catch up. So at rare moments when I am just sitting, like I was doing during Mia Grace’s appointment, to focus my stress, to help my out-of-control feel more in-control, I hold things in my hands, or in this case, press the heck out of a plastic necklace.
There has got to be a place for our stress to go that doesn’t have anything to do with plastic necklaces or what we can control with our hands. I am learning, more and more, that I have got to leave things in God’s Hands, especially during times of the year when I am more prone to stress.
My husband, Jason, was teaching on Sunday morning about taking big risks for God. Taking risks to love other people well, to forgive when you don’t want to, to reach out and bless someone with a kind word…because people are dying all around us for a touch, for a word, and for us to be risk takers in this area of love and kindness in the Name of Jesus.
My tendency when the word “risk” is mentioned is to start thinking about risking all of our finances and giving everything away to the poor, risking all of my community and moving to India to share the Gospel, or risking my life and moving to the Middle East. But in the quiet of that moment in Sunday School, the Lord whispered to my heart, “What about risking all of your stress and putting it in My Hands? What if your greatest risk this week began with really trusting Me?”
Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying – I think God does want us to risk big things for His Name when it comes to our finances and our time and our very lives. But I think He wants us to start with risking our hearts and who we really choose to trust.
The words of Jeremiah 17 came to my mind, and I’ve been thinking on them all week: “Cursed is the one who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the Lord. For he will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes, but will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitant. Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is the Lord. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit” (Jeremiah 17:5-8).
So this week, when I’ve been tempted to press something with my hands, I’ve been working on pressing the words of Jeremiah 17 into my heart. I’ve been working on practicing the presence of the Lord and the presence of people He puts right in front of me by trusting Him with my lists, my time, and the plastic necklaces I hold in my hands.
I practiced it last night when we celebrated Jason’s birthday and the girls made him silly cards and wore silly hats.
I practiced it when we pulled out the dvd player and watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens in the middle of the week for a birthday treat instead of answering emails and checking more things off my to-do list.
I practiced it by going up to the friend I never see in the grocery store and talking for ten minutes instead of ducking my head and praying we didn’t catch eyes simply because I didn’t have time.
I practiced it when Lizzie asked me to slow down this morning and scratch her back instead of getting on with fixing breakfast.
I practiced it by letting the girls enjoy cake pops this morning as a “last day of homeschool” treat instead of doing our usual routine.
And I practiced it this morning with an open Bible in one hand and a pen and paper in the other, recording all the ways God has been faithful to us this year, even when I have been faithless.
And I’m going to continue to practice it throughout the days ahead by intentionally trusting the Lord, putting all things into His Hands, instead of holding them so tightly with mine.
This morning when I saw my friend Brandy and we were laughing about the craziness of the end of school, she said, “It’s a good thing this is our last week because they either need to shut school down or send me away. At this point in the year, those are the only two options!” Amen, sister. But until the last day of school, the last homework assignment, the last teacher gift, and the last packed lunch, let’s continue to encourage one another to keep our gaze on the One who holds us all together, even our plastic necklaces, with His Hands.
I still remember the day my best friend looked at me from the back of her mom’s station wagon and said with wide open eyes, “You’re going to write books – lots of them!” We couldn’t have been more than seven or eight years old at the time, and to this day, I’m not exactly sure where that comment came from or why she said it. But it’s a comment I’ve carried with me in my heart through a lot of long years of waiting. Most of the time, I thought she misspoke. I’m turning 40 this year, and book writing isn’t something I have listed on my resume. It’s hard for me to sit down to write a blog much less a book. But more than time, I think it’s been fear that has held me back. What if I don’t have anything to say? What if no one wants to read it? What if I fail and this is a total flop? What if it’s not perfect? (That’s a statement I have to push past in my head many moment of many days.) But finally, this fall, I did it. I pulled the trigger, contacted a publishing company, and started the process of putting my book, Waiting on the Lord, into print. It’s been an exciting process, but it’s also been a tough process. I’ve had to face, head on, my fears about perfection, about writing in the margin of my life being enough, about my loathing and feelings of absolute intimidation of all things related to social media. It’s just one more avenue where I can fail, fall flat on my face, not keep up, stay up, or put up the right things or the right words or respond in a timely way. So on my desk, on top of my book edits, sits a sticky note with these words from GK Chesterton: “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” I’m still not totally sure it’s true, but it sure has helped when I want to avoid the computer because I don’t feel the “perfect” words coming on or the “perfect” time to write in front of me. And Waiting on the Lord certainly won’t be a perfect book or Biblestudy. The final manuscript is due on Monday, and I am still thinking in my head about all the things I would like to rewrite.
But I’ll tell you what helped me pull the trigger and finally just go for it. First of all, I’m not getting any younger. I know, I know. 40 isn’t old by any stretch of the imagination (in fact, the older I get the younger it seems :), but the fact is, time is running out. Every day, I am one day closer to when I have to stand before the Lord and give an account for the gifts He gave me and how they were used. Perfectly or imperfectly.
The second thing is, Jason and I have a friend, Ralph Borde, who heads up a ministry called As Our Own. As Our Own is in the business of rescuing little girls out of the red light district in a large city in India and raising them as their own daughters. The girls’ mothers are sex slaves in the booming sex slave industry and trapped in prostitution. But their little girls aren’t. Not until after the age of three anyway. So Ralph and his co-workers do everything they can to build relationships with the moms, let them know they have a safe place where their daughters can be raised, and those mommas do the bravest thing a momma on planet earth can do. They give their daughters to another so they can experience freedom in a way the mom herself never can. They trust the raising of their girls to someone who promises to raise them as their own. And Ralph makes good on that promise. His ministry provides one caretaker for every two or three children, hands on training for their caretakers at a Masters Degree level on how to love and connect to children from traumatic backgrounds and places, and gives the girls not only a loving, Christ-centered community in which they are raised but a stellar education in a country where education is everything. Basket weaving and jewelry making is not an option for these girls. But engineering, seminary, and medical school is. They are given the exact same opportunity as your very own children are. And Ralph’s heart is to transform orphan care not just in his community, his city, but all across India.
Three years ago, I had the opportunity to go to visit Faith Home and Grace Home in India where these little girls are growing up, and the fact is, some of these girls aren’t so little anymore. They are graduating from high school and going to college with high honors. And Ralph is a dad to over seventy girls, girls who have questions about waiting, about marriage, about healing, about becoming a parent one day. And he came to me and asked if I would please put into a published form that he and his staff could use with the girls to help them wait on the Lord.
Well…at that point, imperfections and objections and feelings of imminent failure fly out the window. Yes, I will give you what I have. Yes, I will publish Waiting on the Lord. Yes, I will get over myself. Yes, yes, and yes. Anything to help your beautiful girls.
So while I worked on edits in the fall, I actually taught the Biblestudy this past Spring. My friend, Jenny Venghaus, opened her home, and about forty of us packed into her living room on Wednesday mornings for nine weeks to learn about waiting on the Lord together. I was able to use audio equipment to record the lessons that Ralph will be able to use in India and will also be available on this website to go along with the book.
I’ve waited a long time for this to happen. Ever since Holly uttered those words in the back of her mom’s car so many years ago. But, as always, God’s timing is perfect. If I had published a book when I wanted to so many years ago, I would have been so full of self, so full of pride, of no use to anyone but myself, much less the Lord. And He waited until I was over myself, over thinking in order to be someone great, I had to be of great use to God. Oswald Chambers says it this way in My Utmost for His Highest: “We have to get rid of this notion – ‘Am I of any use?’ and make up our mind that we are not, and we may be near the truth. It is never a question of being of use, but of being of value to God Himself. When we are abandoned to God, He works through us all the time” (February 21st). Slowly, slowly, God worked on rounding out the rough, wounded places in my heart, showing me my value was in the fact that I was known by Him, not because I was of any great use to Him. And out of that process of rounding, smoothing, loving, and patiently waiting, the Lord transferred my significance from the things I accomplished or did to deep, satisfying relationship with Him. And out of the relationship, Waiting on the Lord was finally ready to be turned loose into the Hands of the One who holds it all.
Over the next few months, as Waiting on the Lord is in its final stages of the publishing process, please pray that this study is used to glorify God and heal many wounded hearts in India. Pray that God gets it into the hands and hearts of the women He wants it to encourage and heal here in the United States, and in other places around the world. Please pray for courage for me to face my imperfections and risk doing something badly if it means doing something obediently. And pray about doing the study yourself when it comes out in the fall. My heart is to see women’s hearts changed, healed, and transformed in some of the most painful places and paths we walk through so that we are equipped to go out into a broken, hurting world that needs the beauty of Jesus through the hands, heart, and feet of the women He loves. Thank you for waiting and patiently walking with me through this journey of Waiting on the Lord. I look so forward to walking the path ahead, wherever God leads.
Most of my life, I’ve lived under the illusion that in order to do what I love best (in a creative sense here), I have to wait to do it in the overflow of life’s moments. Until I am full, serene, calm, sitting quietly somewhere on a beach or in a hammock or overlooking a vista of rolling green hills. And then, in the overflow of those perfect moments, I pick up a pen..and write.
And I feel like everyone else who does these things – or does them well – has so much overflow and margin in their lives. Like they go to their desk during a perfectly ordered and scheduled day and have this block of four to six hours to really write. Or study. Or create. Or think.
Now don’t get me wrong – I think some people really do have that. God bless them. They can go to an office or room and shut the door and put on their favorite jazz tunes and type away.
But let’s be realistic. When do I ever have time to sit on a beach or a hammock or in front of hills ALL BY MYSELF and write out of the overflow of all that is around me? Umm, maybe twice a decade. BECAUSE I HAVE FOUR KIDS. And so much of my margin to write happens with people pulling on me. Dinner plans mocking me. Snotty noses smeared on me as I say, “Please give mommy just one more minute.” I am writing while spinning six other plates at one time. Maybe I will get to the place in my life where I can go IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DAY and shut the door to my study and hang a sign that says DO NOT DISTURB. But I’m. Just. Not. There.
What I’m having to muster up the courage to realize is that writing does not have to happen under perfect circumstances. And I think that’s true even for people who can go into an office and shut the door. Writing happens in snatched and stolen moments, moments where you take the few precious moments you’ve got and squeeze all of the words from them that you can.
My challenge to you is for you to do the same.
For most of us, waiting to write or create in the overflow of life is just really never going to happen. At least not in the next 18 years.
If we are ever going to really create in the rich and beautiful ways God intended us to, sometimes we are going to have to make it happen in the two inch margin of life rather than in the ten mile overflow. That was sort of a tough pill for me to swallow, and it took years (a decade precisely) to get over myself and just pick up the pen and start writing out of the two inches. The toughest (and scariest) part of all was that I had to be courageous enough to forsake perfection. Perfection just wasn’t going to happen, with or without four kids.
So here we go. Here is learning to write, learning to teach, learning to dig down deep and create and LIVE from the margin moments of life. And I am learning that the margin isn’t so bad after all. There’s a lot more for me to learn and write about from a full schedule and four noses to wipe than none at all. And I’m pretty sure it isn’t perfection most people want. I’m the only one who seems to demand it from myself. Most people just want honest to goodness words that come out of the edges of a person who doesn’t pretend they have it all together.
So welcome to the margin of my life – you will find plenty of misspellings, missed commas, poor punctuation and grammatical errors. My hope is to write once a week and post a blog that is an encouragement and challenge to each of us to grow in the seasons of life right where God has us. And my hope is that in all of the imperfections, you will be encouraged to forsake perfection too and pick up your pen, or your spatula, or shovel, or paintbrush, or instrument…and create as well.
The margins don’t leave lots of room for fluff, or excess, or extras, but there is always just enough room to say exactly what is needed. So in the weeks ahead, come journey to the edge of the paper with me and let’s write on our papers together with exactly the tools, and the time, God has given us. I can’t wait to read what your margin has to say.