By the end of the school year, I feel like a roast. As in, put a fork in me…I am DONE. Done with school work, homework, lesson plans, or get-in-the-car-and-go-anywhere-plans.
Since my girls finished school last week, I kicked off summer with a celebratory nap. I asked the girls if they would give me thirty minutes of quiet, thinking I would need to close my eyes for twenty minutes or so and then be good to go again. An hour and forty minutes later, I opened my eyes…and told my girls they had given me the best gift for which a mom could ask!
But while I started off summer on a good, restful note, the temptation for me is where there is margin to nap, or rest, or read, or simply do nothing, I start packing in more. Signing my kids up for one more camp. Inserting more activity into slow, lazy afternoons. Making more lists of what needs to be done instead of enjoying the fullness of what’s in front of me.
At our end of school assembly last week, our head of school, Neil Anderson, gave us permission to do less rather than more over the summer. Less activity. Less screens. Less hustle and less bustle. Because margin doesn’t just happen on its own. You have to plan for it, make room for it, and be willing to embrace it…even if it feels like missing out.
In my case, I needed someone to give me permission to make room for margin. I needed someone to stand up and tell me, “Woman, rest. Resist the temptation to fill up the margins and give God room to speak and your family the capacity to listen.”
So this summer, I am giving you the same gift that someone gave me – permission to rest and permission to insert margin instead of more activity. Yes, do some camps, kick some soccer balls, make a few popsicle stick projects at VBS. But at some point, give yourself permission to purposefully and thoughtfully slow down and listen to the One who is waiting to speak into the spaces we give Him.
Here are some ideas for creating margin in your summer:
Insert some margin into your time with the Lord.
I have found summer to be a great time to linger longer over my prayers. To really learn to pray and process through things with the Lord with a pen in one hand and a Bible in the other in a way I cannot often do during the school year when everyone has to be out the door by 7:30am. Resist the temptation to sign your kids up for too many camps where you have to be out the door every morning at an early hour. Give yourself margin to linger long with the Lord.
Here are some devotional ideas:
- I just finished an excellent study on 2 Corinthians by Kelly Minter called All Things New. I enjoyed every moment of digging into the pages of the study and the chapters in 2 Corinthians. I found great principles to help guide me navigate the realities of living real life alongside of real people.
- If you battle fear or anxiety, a friend of mine, Margaret Austin, who has guest written on this blog before, recommended a study called When I Am Afraid, by Ed Welch. Summer is a great time to allow the Lord to work on some those hard to reach places in our souls that often are pushed to the side during seasons of busyness.
- And here is my personal favorite: the second edition of Waiting on the Lord. You can pre-order your copy on Amazon now, and it is due to be released on June 11th, just in time for summer. Waiting on the Lord is not for the faint of heart. This is a study that helps peel back the layers of disappointments, hurts, and make-shift bandages in our lives and enables us to see there is a God standing in the shadows, waiting to heal and fulfill the deepest desires of the human heart. If you are in a place of needing to hear, see, and taste God in places you never thought you would see Him, then this study is for you. And summer gives you the margin you need to do it. What’s great about this second edition is that the teaching sessions are on video format and can be accessed at susannahbaker.com by June 11th as well. They are perfect to watch or share with a group if you would like to walk through the study with others.
Insert some margin into time with your family.
- Have one night a week where you all cook dinner together. Include even the youngest members of your family by letting them “help” by decorating the paper napkins with stickers or artwork or put a chair by the sink and let them pour water from one bowl to another while the rest of you prepare the meal. During the school year, dinner time is usually such a time of hustle that I look forward to making a meal together we can all enjoy without me saying, “Hurry up!” one time.
- This idea came from Neil Anderson as well, but after dinner, clear your plates off of the table (or, if you are like our family, throw your paper plates in the trash can), and make time to create together. Paint, color, draw, play the guitar or piano, write a poem, or a write a story. But use your time together to let each person’s creative juices flow in the way God has gifted him or her.
- Be creative with your family devotions. Sometimes it feels like our devotions are about as dry as a mouthful of dirt. As parents, we are tired of talking, and I know our kids are tired of listening. So a few nights ago, instead of talking about a passage in scripture, we drew a passage of scripture. I read Psalm 37 about trusting in the Lord, spent a little time dialoguing about what that meant, and then let everyone get out paper and markers and go to down. Everyone created something that helped them process the Psalm. The results were so great, they have been hanging up on our book shelves ever since.
- Remember to enjoy simple, outside things with your family. I know we hear it a thousand times, but it’s true – kids don’t care what we do. They just want to be with mom and dad. So get outside. Take a walk together. Go swimming, and moms (myself included), get your hair wet. Sit down and just watch them play instead of responding to texts on your phone. Ride bikes together. But whatever you do, be fully present in the moment, in the margin, enjoying your children, and allowing them to enjoy you.
- Pick a book to read aloud together this summer. I saw this new edition of Hinds Feet in High Places, and it looks amazing. This might be our new read aloud book this summer.
- Go to the library…often. Visit used book stores and make it an adventure. There’s an amazing ice cream store right down from the Half-Price Books we like to go to, so they know if they pick a book, they also get to pick their favorite flavor ice cream.
So there. Permission given to rest. To make room and margin for less, not more. And the irony is, by the end of the summer, I have a feeling that in the “less,” we will have found more than we could ever imagine.
Holidays are full of expectations, Mother’s Day included.
Over the years, I’ve learned the hard way that it helps to pay attention to my expectations before the actual day arrives and try to line them up with reality as much as possible. That way I’m not disappointed and the day goes smoothly, even if things don’t go exactly the way I was expecting them to.
Like it or not, embedded within our hearts are certain expectations that we, as mothers, will feel honored. Appreciated. Given time off to take a nap, get dressed for church or lunch at a leisurely pace, avoid any and all food prep at any cost, and given a gift that is handmade or homemade from our kids and appropriately thoughtful and economical from our husbands. Something not too extravagant but not too cheap either. I’m just saying. Like it or not, these expectations are what’s in our heads, even if we know how slim the possibilities are that any of the above will actually occur.
I’ve learned over the past twelve years on Mother’s Day that life with kids is still life with kids, no matter what day on the calendar it is or what kind of expectations the day holds.
The reality of getting four girls (five, including myself) dressed, fed, ready for church and out the door by 9am on Sunday morning is simply summed up in one phrase: damage control. Someone will stand in the bathroom crying about her hair, someone will stand in front of her closet upset about her dress, and someone will scramble in the car missing a shoe. This is what happens on Sunday mornings.
Food prep in the kitchen will most definitely occur because let’s face it: feeding four kids who need to eat three times a day (can’t they ever just skip a meal every now and again?) is easier to do within the confines of your own home than out in a restaurant.
And the chance of getting to take a nap is 50/50. If my daughter wins her softball game and is still in the playoffs come Sunday, she will have an hour and a half of practice. There goes my nap. (Is it terrible to say I wouldn’t be too sad if they lost, and we were done for the season sooner rather than later? She is only seven…)
And let’s talk about another expectation for a moment: in Houston, where I live, embedded within church culture is the expectation that all mothers and daughters should look especially pretty on Mother’s Day. Your dresses need to color coordinate. In fact, let’s back up. Everyone should have on a dress, your hair should look especially non-greasy, your makeup should be done, and a pretty, relaxed, happy smile should be on your face when you walk in the church doors. Oh, and you should be holding the hand of at least one of your children.
Listen, some of my girls are in full-blown adolescence. There will be no hand holding walking into church. Someone will be mad at someone else, someone will hate their dress, and someone’s hair will not be doing what it should be doing. There will be tears. There will be pouts. There will be all kinds of “I’m not walking with you, mom; I’m walking behind you” business going on this coming Sunday morning.
And somehow, the cute, spring dress I bought several months ago in anticipation of the expectations of this day will just not look as cute on my body as it did on the hangar. I know this from experience. My husband is a wonderful man. In fact, he does a fabulous job of filling my cup by letting me know how pretty I look in his eyes on a regular basis.
But last year on Mother’s Day, he made the mistake of telling me that my dress looked like a bathing suit coverup as we were heading into lunch with his family. A bathing suit coverup. On Mother’s Day.
I think it’s taken a year’s worth of “You look really pretty, babe” compliments to get him over that one.
And let’s finish talking about expectations by talking about gifts.
Men, I mean this. I really mean this. Whatever card or gift or homemade creation you hand your wife on Mother’s Day simply needs to reflect that you thought about it. In advance. Meaning, for more than a panicked few minutes before the gift-handing-over moment. As moms, we care more about the thought behind the gift than the actual gift itself.
My favorite gift-giving expectation from Mother’s Day happened five years ago.
Several months before Mother’s Day, I started dropping hints, laying the groundwork, prepping the soil of my husband’s heart, if you will, that I wanted…an iPad. I know, I know. It was a big ask. And I was fairly certain the heart of my husband was not going to be moved in the general direction of an iPad when what he had in mind was probably a gift certificate for a new pair of workout pants.
But it was worth a try.
I even enlisted my sister-in-law, Cara, who is the master of persuasion, to help me in my cause. And even she failed. Something she was not too happy about.
Mother’s Day morning came, and went, and no iPad. Flowers, yes. A card, yes. A smaller, more appropriate token of his affection, yes. But not an iPad.
But then came Mother’s Day evening.
His family had come over for dinner, and at the end of the evening, we were in our driveway walking everyone to their cars when Jason noticed our cat pawing at something in the street. He walked over to check it out, bent down, and came up holding…a snake. A twelve inch long twisting, wriggling, curling around his arm snake.
And out of nowhere, Cara, Jason’s sister, said, “I dare you to eat that snake.”
Now I think it would be entirely appropriate to pause here for a moment and ask, “What kind of a person sees another person holding a snake and immediately thinks, ‘I should ask that person to eat that snake’?” Probably a person who grew up as the only girl in a household with three brothers. But even then, her question gives me pause about a whole lot of things concerning my sister-in-law.
And as quick as lightening, Jason came back with, “I’ll eat it. But only if you buy me an iPad.”
“Done,” Cara said.
And in that moment, time froze. The ten of us standing in the driveway stood there with our mouths hanging open as Jason opened his mouth and then shoved that whole writhing snake inside.
Children started crying. My girls were screaming because they thought their daddy was going to die from eating that snake. Cara’s children were crying because they thought they were going to have to give Uncle Jason their iPad. My mother-in-law who thought she had seen it all in raising four children stood there with her mouth hanging open, cleaned out banana pudding dish in her hand, watching her son in horrible fascination. Even neighbors turned on their lights, opened their shutters, and came outside to see the cause of the hubbub we were all making.
And through it all, Jason chewed that snake. And chewed. And chewed. And chewed. He stood there for five minutes chewing that twelve inch long, wriggling thing with his sister beside him the whole time saying, “Open your mouth. Let me see. Nope. It’s still not all down. I said all of it.”
And every last bit of that snake disappeared into his mouth down into his stomach. I didn’t kiss the man for a week. But guess what I got for Mother’s Day?…an iPad. Thank you, Cara. Thank you, Jason. And thank you, Mr. Snake.
So, like I said, Mother’s Day is full of expectations. Some of them don’t always turn out the way you think they will. Sometimes you get the gift you want; sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you look cute in the dress you bought; sometimes you don’t. Sometimes your kids behave and hold your hand walking into church; sometimes they don’t. Sometimes your husband eats a snake; sometimes he doesn’t.
But no matter what happens this Mother’s Day, I want to remember is this: expectations are fine to have, but real joy, real life happens in the mess. It happens in the car-crying moments and in the snake-eating moments. It happens in the gift-giving moments or the not so great-gift giving moments. It happens if I get a nap in or struggle on through the afternoon.
Because Mothers’ Day isn’t so much about being celebrated as a mother as celebrating those around me who make life sweet, children or no children. iPad or no iPad. Nap or no nap. Lots of food prep or no food prep. Finally, twelve years in the making, I am learning to delight in the people He’s given me to fill my cup, my plate, and my life, no matter how the events of the day unfold.
And by all means, if you see a woman this Mother’s Day who looks like she has a bathing suit cover-up on, and her children are all standing about ten feet behind with tear streaks on their faces, give that woman a hug and say, “Good job, momma. You look great in that spring dress of yours. I hope you get a nap this afternoon, and a free iPad by dinner. And if your husband ever needs to know how to eat a snake, I know someone you need to call.”
For those of you who live in Houston, I have an exciting opportunity. For three weeks in June, I will be teaching a Bible study at Houston’s First Baptist church on prayer. We will be using my prayer guide and journal called Secure, due to be published and released right before the study in late May. There is no need for you to register beforehand; just come the first night of the study ready to enter into a time of learning how to securely attach to a good Father who loves to connect with His children through the daily habit of prayer.
The study will be the first three Tuesday evenings of June, June 5, 12, and 19, from 6:30-8pm in the Reception Room at First Baptist. The address is 7401 Katy Freeway / Houston, TX / 77024.
I hope to have the privilege of seeing some of your faces and meeting you there!
May is upon us. It’s here, breathing down the necks of all moms whose kids are in the final throes of the end of school. Paperwork piles up on our desks. End-of-year teacher gifts haunt us in our waking hours and the treats we forgot to take up to school for the hundredth very special end-of-school-year-party haunt us in our dreams. And in the midst of all the mayhem, playoff games, recitals, and final exams, we are expected to still have routine things like dinner on the table every night and groceries in the fridge. True confession: tonight, I am making tacos for the third time in seven days. My family just might refuse to eat them, but I don’t care. At least there is some sort of resemblance to food on the table. Any and all margin for creativity in my brain exited the building when the month of May entered.
May is tough. It’s fun, sort of, but it feels more like jumping blindfolded off of a cliff rather than finishing the end of a long school year race.
And there’s just no way to do this part of the year perfectly. I am learning this. I am learning this when my daughter’s research paper was typed and ready to be turned in to her teacher (the paper I spent all weekend helping her type), and she forgot to turn it in. And we got points taken off. Wait, did I just say “we”? I mean she. Sort of.
I am learning this when my daughter gave her big history presentation, and I left the written portion of her project on her clipboard at home. And I got a text from her teacher. A very kind text, but still.
I am learning this when there isn’t turkey for lunch boxes in the deli drawer and there is literally nothing to pack in their lunch boxes. Not even an old, expired can of spaghetti-o’s. I am learning this when I show up to a field trip in sweats and everyone else is in big people clothes with makeup on. I am learning this when I am late on writing deadlines, my inbox is overflowing with emails, and I feel like I can’t manage to stay on top of even simple tasks.
And when life becomes full to the point of overflowing, my tendency is to become taught, my nerves stretched thin, and all of a sudden I snap, pop, or break at the slightest provocation. Or, really, what I’m learning, is I snap at the slightest hint of failure. Failure at staying on top of my kids’ school schedules, failure at staying tuned in to my husband’s needs, failure at fitting in to a certain group of moms that have achieved “perfection,” whatever that means.
But last week, a really wise person told me something that is helping me handle the imperfections of May with a little more stability. She said: “What matters is not the fact that you are broken or have failed. We are all broken, and we have all failed. What matters is the thought that immediately follows your failure. You need to learn to follow your brokenness with this statement: ‘Yes, I’m broken and far more of a failure than I ever dared to realize…BUT…praise God, my value and worth, my significance and beauty, is not tied to my failings but to the perfect, whole, completing love of Christ.'”
Or…”Yes, I blew it today and forgot many things…BUT…I rest in the hands of One who never will forget me.”
Or…”Yes, my glory is fading and life is imperfect…BUT…God’s glory is secure and heals my past, gives grace to my present, and ties my future to His perfect home.”
I’m learning, in my brokenness, to give less importance to my failures and more value to the thought that immediately follows my failures. Are my thoughts full of shame and condemnation, and a subtle, or not so subtle, beating up of self and others around me? Or are my thoughts full of the grace and redemption that is promised to unravel all of my failures and renew every single one?
Paying attention to my thoughts and aligning them with the truth of God’s Word rather than the hopelessness that whispers in my heart is helping May be a little bit more manageable. Not perfect. Not flawless. But manageable. And I’m learning to think in all of my failings, there is One who is perfect who holds me together and follows up my brokenness with His perfect, redeeming love.
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:3-5
Several weeks ago when I posted a blog about depression, I learned that several readers were struggling with a very specific kind of depression – postpartum depression.
And as soon as I heard those words, I was taken back – back to the rocking chair in our nursery, back to the feeling of grey that hung over my heart for six months after the birth of our second child, back to the feelings of dread from having to do simple tasks like unloading the dish washer. It was just about all I could do to get food off of plates to go into the dishwasher, much less try to unload the whole darn thing.
If postpartum depression is something you are struggling with right now, or know someone who is struggling, I want to offer you hope and encouragement today – hang in there. One day, the fog will lift. One day, the veil of grey will turn into vivid colors. One day, you will feel like you can manage every day life again.
But until that day, just do one step at a time. Don’t look for energy or grace to do the whole day, or the whole afternoon, or all six feedings for the baby that stretch out before you. Just do the next thing.
I have two very vivid memories from my season of postpartum depression.
First, I remember standing in my kitchen with a toddler at my feet and a baby in my arms. I had gone to the grocery store that morning, and the kitchen island was strewn with grocery bags all waiting to be unpacked. The dishwasher was open, full of clean dishes waiting to be unloaded, and dirty dishes crowded the counter tops around the sink, crusted with the remains of scrambled eggs, waiting to go into the dishwasher once it was empty.
It seems simple, right? Unload the groceries, unload the dishwasher, and wash the breakfast dishes in the sink. But at that moment, climbing Mt. Everest seemed about as realistic as doing the tasks in front of me.
And I just stood by the kitchen sink…and cried…and called my mom.
And here is what she said: “Get help.”
And so I did what she said. I got help. I asked a precious young woman who loved me and loved my kids to come over and help me on Monday mornings and Wednesday mornings. Because I realized that while Mondays were hard in normal life, Mondays were especially hard when walking through postpartum depression. After the weekend of Jason being home to help with the girls, put food on the table and dirty dishes in the dishwasher, and simply reside as another adult, supportive presence in the house, once 7:30am on a Monday came, he was gone. And the whole emptiness of the week with a two-year-old and a newborn stretched out before me, and all of life seemed covered in a fog.
So on Monday mornings, my friend Sarah would come over. And here is what she did: she held the baby. She held the baby while I unloaded the groceries. She held the baby and colored with Lillian while I unloaded the dishwasher. She held the baby and talked to me – adult, normal, healthy conversation – while I put my kitchen and my Mondays in order. And her presence in my home was a lifeline that pulled me through the pit of postpartum depression.
Some people might need the reverse. Maybe help in the afternoons is what will pull you through. (That was what my neighbor Kendall was for – I would show up at her house at 4pm with a baby and a toddler in tow and sit in her kitchen while she was trying to do homework with her two older sons. I am sure she was thinking, “You showed up at the WORST time possible!” and was counting the minutes until I herded up my crew and headed home. But she never made me feel that way. She always welcomed me and my girls with hugs and a huge smile. She was another lifeline during that season.) Or maybe you need someone to come in and do the dishes and unload the groceries while you hold the baby and play with your toddler. Because I knew I was wired with a need to see a few completed tasks at the end of each and every day, I knew that cleaning my kitchen and getting my bills paid and week in order while someone else was loving on my children was a depression lifter for me. You just have to know yourself and know what is going to give you the help you need.
But if you or someone you love struggles with postpartum, please listen to the same advice my mom gave me: “Get help.” Talk through your needs and low points in your day and week with your husband, your mom, or a friend, and then trouble shoot those areas. Remember, postpartum isn’t forever. It is just for a season until the grey lifts.
Here’s the second memory I have from my season with postpartum: I was sitting in the rocking chair with my four-month-old daughter, and I could the greyness and depression descending as I fed the baby. As I fought back tears, I started to think through ways I could get the depression to lift. I could stop nursing and see if that helped. I could talk to my friends and see what kind of strategies or remedies they would offer. I could call my doctor and ask him to prescribe medication. But through my thoughts, I heard these quiet words spoken to my heart: “Susannah, you’ve never asked Me to help and heal you.”
The Holy Spirit’s gentle voice broke through the fog and reminded me of the invitation I always had from God Himself to ask Him to heal me.
I don’t know why it had never occurred to me to ask the Lord for His help in setting my body and hormones back to normal, but it hadn’t. I had only thought of asking for help from everyone else.
So as I rocked, I prayed, “Lord, You say in Your Word to ask You for healing. I know the invitation is not a promise that healing will always happen the way we want it to in the time we want it to, but I ask You – please heal my body. Please align my body with the hope of healing and the promise of Your presence You hold out in Your Word. In Jesus’ Name I pray, Amen.”
And as I prayed, I felt peace descend from the top of my head to the soles of my feet. It was as if God’s healing began to flow through every cell of my body and hope began to flood my heart.
My healing was not immediate. I still struggled with greyness and feelings of depression for several more months, but every time I sat in the rocking chair with my baby, I asked God for healing, and He would give it, little by little, step by step, day by day. A season that had been a burden now had the blessing of daily dependence on and expectancy of God’s healing presence. And while I wouldn’t want to go back to relive all parts of that season, I wouldn’t trade the nearness of God’s presence during that season for anything. I just wished I had asked for it sooner.
And sure enough, one day, one step at a time, the depression lifted and my season of postpartum depression ended. I woke up one morning when Lizzie was about six months old and felt like the “real me” was back. The grey had lifted and life felt manageable once again.
But it had taken help, it had taken prayer, and it had taken asking to get me through. So if you or someone you love is in a season of postpartum depression, encourage them to ask – ask for help from others and ask for help from the Lord. And the grace of God and the peace of God will flood their hearts and circumstances and give them what they need to take one more step.
Several weeks ago, a friend of mine shared a song with me that has been on repeat play on my phone ever since. The song is called One Day by Christa Wells.
The words and imagery present in the song gave me the reminder that I am not alone – others have seasons of struggle as well, and what gives encouragement and hope isn’t the thought of having to finish a 26.2 mile marathon, it’s the promise of God’s grace and sufficiency for one step more.
For those of you I know are struggling with postpartum depression, I am praying for you. Rest in the help God brings and the invitation He extends to lean on His presence. His grace is sufficient for you…and your baby…and your toddler…and your home…and your heart…one day more.
For the past week, my daughter Caroline has been conducting an experiment in science involving seeds. She planted two seeds in a cup and placed them in the dark, and she planted two more seeds in another cup and placed them in the light. And over the course of a week, she tracked their growth through drawing pictures and making written observations.
So, before we talk any further about the seeds, let’s be honest here: as a part-time homeschool mom, some of the disadvantages to having your children at home include more than normal greasy mom hair days (because, let’s face it – who has time to wash their hair when math is calling your name?), the ability of your children to invade your personal space and ask for your help all of the time, finding the drain in your bathroom sink clogged because it’s filled with orbies:
And, my personal favorite, finding papers like this behind the spelling tab in their binder:
This is the real world, people. Don’t have any false homeschool ideas in your head like children are fuzzy angels on a cloud smiling and saying, “Yes, ma’am” and perpetually blessing your name as you drill them on math facts. Picture kids crying, pencils breaking, moms yelling, everyone stinking. Both literally and figuratively.
But there are advantages to being a homeschool mom as well. Advantages like finishing up spelling while sitting outside together on a beautiful day, taking nature walks, reading good books, and watching seeds grow.
And as I’ve watched Caroline’s seed grow, I’ve been reminded of how much our life in Christ is like this planted seed.
Nothing has happened above the surface. All of the activity has gone on down below. And what looked like one ordinary, solitary, shriveled seed contained the material to produce an entire root structure in just one week.
And here’s what I’ve been challenged with – I spend most of my time looking on the surface.
I spend a lot of time looking in the mirror and deciding what kind of woman I am by the appearance of the reflection staring back at me. Greasy mom hair that hasn’t been washed in four days, tired bags under my eyes, and melasma spots on my face from pregnancy and too much time out in the sun equals a woman not significant enough to be noticed, much less thought beautiful.
I spend a lot of time looking at my past and deciding the trajectory of my future by the poor decisions I made. A missed opportunity of going to graduate school, a passed up opportunity to go on the mission field, a late start as a writer, and not enough discipline or go-get-’em attitude equals a woman with a future ahead of her as dim as her past.
I spend a lot of time looking at my present and deciding what kind of harvest I’m going to yield by the size of the tasks I am accomplishing. Homeschooling four kids around one scratched up kitchen table, remodeling a house that has taken (thank you, Hurricane Harvey), almost a year and a half to complete, and spending more hours than I can count organizing other people’s schedules, play dates, and piano lessons, equals a woman whose harvest is small, not large, ordinary, not radical, and mundane, not risky, daring, unique, bold, or exciting.
That’s what I see when I look on the surface.
But God is teaching me to look at the roots. To trust that underneath the layers of the soil in my life, there is growth going on under the surface, growth that would amaze even me if only I had the eyes to see.
Last week, someone passed on a podcast to me that was eye-opening. The podcast is about forests, trees, and a tree’s system of roots. And it’s about what’s going on beneath the surface of things that we simply cannot see. (Click here to listen.)
But here are a few take aways that God has been using to encourage me ever since I listened:
- In a forest of trees, the tallest, strongest, oldest trees are the most connected. Their root system connects with many other trees in the forest, giving life, receiving life, sharing information, strengthening the weak, and receiving strength when they themselves need it. (And if you think this sounds too much like sci-fi, just listen to the podcast. It’s amazing.)
- Underneath the ground in the root system of trees are two things: fungus and tubes. The fungus lives and thrives because the trees give the fungus sugar, and the fungus gives the trees minerals they need to survive. How does this exchange process of sugars and minerals take place, you might ask? So glad you did…it’s through a tree’s roots and a highway of hundreds of miles of hollow tubes, tubes so tiny that they measure 1/10th the width of a single human hair. And through the tubes, the great exchange happens: sugar for minerals, minerals for sugar, and the forest grows, thrives, and is happy.
- Through these tubes, when one tree is sick or damaged, struck by lightening or being eaten from the inside out from a fungus or mold, it shares information, warning others trees of what’s ahead. Strong trees share sugar with weak trees, and weak trees passing along whatever sugar they have before death.
- And if that isn’t strange enough, scientists say that there seems to be one “intelligence” that controls it all. Yes, I promise. Just listen to the podcast. Like a brain, in the soil, under the earth, directing who gets what, knowing what lies ahead, warning, encouraging, strengthening, sharing nourishment and information.
What I just described can only mean this:
In his book The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien was closer to the truth than we ever dared imagine, and his walking, talking, intelligent trees are closer to reality than what we’ve ever dared to believe. There is intelligence underneath the soil; and that brain is either a freaky, white and green glowing mass that should make us never want to tread in the forest again…or…it is the wisdom of God Himself directing and speaking to His creation in places we cannot see.
I’m going for the second option.
And I’ve thought a lot about how that applies to life.
When I shared last week about my depression and the ways I am learning to hand God the map of my life, trust His leading, and feed on His faithfulness, your responses were overwhelming. You took cups of courage and poured them into me, helped me see I wasn’t alone, and held out the hope that this is many of your struggle too. I don’t need to be embarrassed or ashamed because I am not alone. So thank you, thank you for that encouragement – it meant more than you’ll ever know.
And what I’ve realized this week is that in the midst of seasons of depression, or anxiety, or struggle, or hardship, we are not to walk this journey alone. The strongest trees are the most connected. We are given what we need for each and every struggle, each and every day, through God, His Word, His voice that speaks and creates and nurtures and gives life, and through one another.
How beautiful is that.
And life is not found or measured by what we can see on the surface of our lives. We are to peel back the layers and look underneath the soil of our lives, trusting God is doing more than we could ever ask or imagine through our roots.
So today, stop looking at the surface of things. Stop fearing the scrawny harvest that can only come from the solitary, shriveled seed of your life. Every seed was made with the capacity to grow tremendous roots. To connect with an entire forest of trees. To give nourishment and receive nourishment. To hear the voice of the Master Creator who does far more underneath the surface than we could ever imagine up here on the wrong side of the door, the wrong side of the soil, the wrong side of here and now. One day, the soil will be split open, the door will be flung open, and we will be able to see. Not what we falsely imagined but all that is radically, really true because of the Man who hung on a tree to pay the price for all of our sin.
Hang all of your hopes on that tree, on the seed of that death and resurrection, and I promise you, you and I both will not be disappointed.
“…and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” I Peter 2:24
Sometimes I struggle.
Well, let’s be honest. A lot of times I struggle.
And my struggle doesn’t always make sense. Meaning, there’s nothing in my life I can look at and say, “This is a really hard situation or circumstance.”
But sometimes I wake up feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders and a hundred pounds on my chest. I look ahead at the events of the day and think, “All of those things are up to me. If I don’t do them, who will? If I don’t stay on top of it, turning and churning out tasks, how will I keep everyone and everything from falling through the cracks?”
And if I’m honest, the struggle behind the struggle is that I feel like it’s all up to me to make God pleased with me – to blog a certain number of times, to wake up at a certain hour, to use my time in effective, wise ways, to run my household in a God-honoring way.
And I recognize about myself that I have a lot of expectations in life. I expect and demand great things from myself as well as from those around me. I really have to work hard at resting…taking a deep breath…believing God is pleased with me not because of my efforts, which are never enough, but because of His grace, which is more than enough.
But I have also come to realize that some of my struggle is due to the depression that is a very real factor in my life. I have struggled off and on with depression for almost as long as I can remember. And while for many years of my life, I have seen depression as a tool of the enemy, something dysfunctional, faulty, something inherently wrong and broken in me, something to wrestle into submission and beat into obedience through changing habits or mindsets, I am coming to see it as a gift from God.
Because it just hasn’t gone away. Yes, there are moments, or days, where it is better, but for the most part, depression stays with me, and I wake up every day with the burden of keeping it at bay.
But no matter how many Bible verses I memorize, or how many times I change my routine, or how long I spend in prayer, God has allowed seasons of depression to remain. So lately, rather than despise it, and beat myself up about it, I’ve been trying to embrace it. Meaning, I’ve been trying to see it through a different lens.
Because I am a wandering soul, a soul bent on pride and independent goals and living when left to my own demise. I despise dependency and weakness. I want to hold the map of my life in my own hands and navigate the course my own way. And the prospect of handing the map over to anyone else, choosing to follow their lead, is a terrifying thing.
But what if depression is God’s grace-disguised tool in my life to force me to hand Him the map? What if it’s His way of saying, “Baby, I know you want to walk your own steps and tell me where you’d like to go, but I can see far ahead, and that is a path of certain destruction. I’d like to take you a different way that will lead to certain blessing, love, and life, but it’s a way where you are going to have to learn to follow. To be dependent. To trust. To pry your hands off the map and take hold of my hand instead.” What if?
So this season, I am using my time to learn to pry my hands off of the map. That might mean going to see a doctor. That might mean going to see a counselor. That might mean sleeping and resting more and checking fewer things off of my list. That might mean handing over my map. (Scary. Very scary).
But one thing I do know – it means feeding on His faithfulness.
Because check this out – I’ve read Psalm 37 hundreds of times in my life. It’s been one of my favorite Psalms to pray for years. But I’ve never noticed until a few weeks ago that while verse 3 says, “Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness,” the literal translation of the verse is, “Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and feed on His faithfulness” (emphasis mine).
In other words, it’s not up to me to cultivate or produce anything – a happy heart, a joyful attitude, a bounce in my step, productivity in my day, or success in my plans. My job is just to feed on His faithfulness. Faithfulness that has gone before me and stretched out in front of me like nourishing, green pastures ready to fulfill the deepest of needs and longings in my heart.
What about you? Are you like me? Carrying around the weight of a thousand pounds on your shoulders? Trying to pull it together enough every day just so you or someone you love doesn’t fall through the cracks? Trying to put on a brave enough face so that someone, mainly God, will be proud of you?
Sister, put your load down. Take a seat right next to me here on my bench in a green pasture. And feed on His faithfulness. On what He has accomplished for you, done on your behalf, every step of your path through life. Your job isn’t to chart out your way; it’s to hand over the map and follow the One who is the way, the truth, and the life.
I don’t know what your particular struggle is – it can be a tough marriage, a tough friendship, a tough child, a fresh wound or an old one that’s been a thorn in your side for years. But whatever it is, stop fighting it, and surrender by handing over the map and seeing the circumstances and struggles of your life as pastures in which to feed on God’s faithfulness.
It’s not up to you to have to beat back the thorn or wrestle it into submission; it’s up to you to surrender to the sufficiency of His grace that comes precisely because of the thorn He’s allowed.
This morning I got up early (thanks, babe, for leaving the bathroom light on and door open at 5:00am), and spent some time in God’s Word before listening to one of my favorite songs of all time.
I’m warning you – the song is old school. It comes right out of a 1950’s Billy Graham crusade. But I cannot listen to it without crying. Because the words are all just so true. More than I want my depression lifted, more than I want fame, more than I want wealth, or a life that looks or acts exactly like I want it to, more than a map that gives me the path I want to take, I want Jesus. Because He is the fullest expression of God’s faithfulness that this heart has ever known, and without Him, I am lost. And you are too.
So take a moment and listen to an old song with a timeless message. Tell Him more than you want the thorn out, you want His grace pressed in to help you feed on His faithfulness no matter the circumstances.
Then take His hand, follow Him along the path, and feed in His pasture. A journey with Jesus that surpasses your greatest expectations is waiting. You’ve just got to hand Him the map you’re holding and trade it for His hand in yours.
“Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light
And your judgment as the noonday.”
Perhaps the question I am asked the most often by others is, “What’s going on in that head of yours?” Because I am always. Thinking. Lost in the thoughts in my head, much to the wonderment of those around me.
It’s annoying, really. I wish I could just turn off my brain at times and stop thinking, delving, turning things around me from all angles. But, for better or for worse, that’s just the way I am wired. So, this week, I thought I would let you know what I’ve been turning around in my head – and, brace yourself, it’s the high and lofty topic of scars. (You’re probably never going to ask me again what’s going on in this head of mine.)
And I have to confess, I love a good scar.
Ever since I was a kid, I used to hope that the scratch on my leg or cut on my arm would turn into a scar. That’s so weird, I know. And there’s probably some scary psychological reason why I like scars. But on a surface level, without giving much more thought to any deeper layers, I like scars because I like good stories. And every scar tells a story.
My most notable scar is on my right knee. I was a freshman in high school and decided to run track. Hurdles, to be exact. And my very first track meet was at a school with an asphalt track. The black, tarry kind of track with the little black rocks that get stuck in the soles of your tennis shoes.
The gun went off, and I started my race around the track, only to hook my back leg over the top of the hurdle and eat it, knee first, into the asphalt track beneath me. I had to be carried off the track with an oozing wound and little black rocks stuck in my knee, and that ended my career with the hurdles. The only good thing that came from the fall was a scar that healed over time and makes a good story to those who ask.
My husband Jason uses a scar on his back to tell small children that he was bitten by a shark. (He wasn’t, but the way the scar healed sure looks like he was, and now there are dozens of small children all over the city of Houston who believe Mr. Baker was bitten by a shark. They also believe that he ate a snake in order to win an iPad, which is actually a true story, one I will have to tell another time.)
But in addition to the stories they tell, I think I also like scars so much because they are a reminder in a world where we are so darn fragile, tiny, and small, that while we are destined to fall, we are also made to heal and live to tell our story. And if our skin can heal in amazing ways, then perhaps our hearts can heal as well.
I was reminded of my affinity for scars recently when a friend of mine’s little girl was running through a hallway and split her forehead open on a doorknob. The wound turned out to be worse than was initially realized, and after an attempt at gluing the cut, several trips to the doctor, and then finally, stitches, my friend was having a hard time with the whole experience. She wasn’t upset about the fact that her daughter fell, or needed stitches, or even the pain involved; she was upset that she had not known how to handle the situation correctly from the get-go. She was grieved that she had caused potential harm to her daughter by not taking the right course of action from the beginning and could have caused her daughter a deeper and more serious scar.
As we talked through it, we both realized that the incident with the doorknob wasn’t even so much about the scar as it was about the story the scar told – that as parents, we don’t always make the right or perfect decisions for our children. That we can do things that cause them to hurt. Or fall. Or carry a scar. And that is just plain, downright terrifying.
Because if there is one thread that unites all mothers of the world together, it is this: we never want to do anything, intentionally or unintentionally, that causes our children to carry a scar. We shudder at the thought of scars of the flesh or scars of the heart caused by…us.
But let’s face it: there isn’t a person in the world who hasn’t ended up in the ER or on a counselor’s couch because of a parent’s imperfections. And just to be clear – I am NOT talking about trips to the ER or wounds inflicted because of physical abuse. There is never an excuse for abuse – physical, emotional, or verbal. But I am talking about the kind of wounding that occurs just because we are broken, fallen people who live in a broken, fallen world and cannot always know how to make the perfect decisions for our children.
We are all, all of us, going to fail our children on some level. And that’s a tough pill to swallow.
But here’s the thing: our scars tell our stories. And if we let them, our scars remind us of the lessons we have learned from the great teacher and tutor of pain and the healing and redemption we have received at the hands of our Great Physician.
Because our scars make our stories stronger, not weaker. And they make us relatable to other people. They enable us to look at another hurting soul and say, “You have a wound like that too? Let me tell you where and how I found healing.”
Take Mia Grace for instance. She has a scar that runs from the bottom of her nose to the top of her lip, a scar that was made because of the surgery for her cleft lip and palate. And because of her cleft lip, she is destined for more surgeries and more scars in the future.
As a cute-as-a-button four-year-old who knows she is cute, her scar has never bothered her. She has never once looked in the mirror and said, “I don’t like that scar or how it makes my face look. I hate that scar.”
But I’ve spent some time thinking about how that scar will affect her when she is fourteen. Or twenty-four. She might not be so blind to or casually dismissive about it. And her scar might have the potential to harm her self-image, depending on the story she chooses to believe.
The first story, the true story, goes like this: “Mia Grace, you were born to a mommy and daddy in China who were unable to care for you the way you were meant to be cared for. When they saw you had a cleft lip and palate, they thought the government could do a better job caring for you than they could, so they took you to an orphanage where you would have the surgery you needed and hopefully be adopted by a family who had more resources than they did to care for you. The very thing that gave you a scar gave you to us, your adopted family. God used that scar for His redemptive purposes in your life, and I, for one, am more thankful for that scar than you could ever imagine. Your scar is part of what makes you and your story so beautiful to me.”
But there is a second story, a story she is going to have to work hard not to listen to, and it goes like this: “Mia Grace, you were born to parents who did not want you and abandoned you at birth. You were left at a government orphanage because of your cleft lip and palate, and your scar is a perpetual reminder of the fact that you were un-wanted. Un-desired. Un-beautiful.”
You see, our scars tell us our stories, but we have to choose what story we are going to listen to. But, when we know and are known by the Lord Jesus Christ, we have to learn how to let Him tell us the story of our scars through the lens of the truth – through the lens of His redemption, adoption, goodness, glory, and grace.
And as parents, that’s what we must trust about our children’s scars, even the scars we inadvertently make. They are holy ground upon which the Lord loves to tread, and they have the ability to tell our children something true, right, and beautiful about their past, present, and future as the children of God.
Today, or this week, consider writing out the narrative of your scars or even your children’s scars. Like I did for Mia Grace, write out two different narratives – the truth and then the lie you are tempted most often to believe. And then listen, actually listen, to the narrative of the truth that has the ability to set you free and heal you from the inside out as you look at your scars.
Because while we would love to set up ourselves and our children for a life without scars, we must remember that there is always life in our scars, beginning with the scars bound up in our Healer’s hands. For the Hands that hold us are scarred as well, scars caused by a good Father who allowed His One and Only Son to be crucified so that we could find life in our own scars every time we look, and listen, to the One who works all things for our greatest good, and His greatest glory, even through, and especially through, our scars.
If you are anything like me, walking through this week has been a little dreary. I don’t know if it’s the dreary skies, or the thought of tackling the dreary tasks sitting piled high on my desk, or having to do the same-old same-old daily routines when all I want to do is get on the next airplane to a sunny beach somewhere, but I’ve just been itching this week to get out of the drearies and into something exciting, fresh, new, or grand.
But this time of year, after Christmas has passed, after the newness of New Year’s has come and gone, and before spring steps through the door and we take a break from our daily routines through spring break or Easter, we just have to keep walking and keep stepping through the drearies. We have to look back at all the things we purposed to do in January, the resolutions we made and now, just a few weeks later, need dusting off, and keep stepping in the right direction, trusting that a fresh wind is coming and going to blow right through the dreariness of February into the newness of March.
This week, I was invited to write a guest post on my friend, Marian Ellis’ blog, and since she is one of the women I love, admire, and respect most in this world, I eagerly said, “Yes!”
For over fifteen years now, Marian has stepped up to the plate of taking the gospel to college-aged women, using her story of redemption to invite a generation into tasting the goodness of Jesus.
She is a gifted speaker, author, and one of the most authentic people I know, so after you read the blog, check out other parts of her website and ministry and get ready to be challenged and encouraged to step out of your dreariness into the goodness and excitement of what Jesus is doing all over the country and the globe through Redeemed Girl Ministries.
Here is the link to the post for this week – www.redeemedgirl.org/how-god-measures-success
May it encourage you to keep stepping and keep moving, knowing the Lord has just what you need to battle the dreariness and hold out hope that the newness of spring is on its way.
Valentine’s Day is just one day away, and while it isn’t categorized as a “major” holiday like Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter, it is still a holiday. And holidays have this strange ability to highlight in our hearts all that we’re not as opposed to all that we are, or all that we don’t have as opposed to all that we do.
For instance, on Christmas, we can tend to focus on all the gifts that we don’t have as opposed to all the gifts we do. Or on Thanksgiving we can dwell on who isn’t around our table as opposed to who is. And on Valentine’s Day, we can focus on the ways we aren’t loved instead of the ways we most certainly are. And you don’t have to be intentionally or unintentionally celebrating Valentine’s Day to feel this way. Certain feelings just pop up uninvited, in untimely places – like passing the card aisle at the grocery store. Or overhearing a conversation about what so-and-so is doing on Valentine’s Day and comparing your ho-hum schedule. Or listening to how so-and-so’s husband brought her a card, flowers, and a gift while cooking the whole family a special dinner, while your husband forgot the whole darn day even existed.
But let me offer a word of hope and encouragement for the day of the celebration of love that is just one day around the corner. While romantic love is a part of the celebration of Valentine’s Day, it certainly does not make up the whole. It is simply a side course to the main course of the all-consuming, life-creating, soul-sustaining love of God.
It is a love that enables us to walk confidently through any and every life circumstance, no matter if our hearts are rejoicing or breaking. And that is the love I want to focus on this Valentine’s Day.
When I was in college, my grandmother sent me a bookmark with these words on it: “You are a fragrance of God to those who are in need and a sweet aroma of the one of God in this place.” The words are a paraphrase of 2 Corinthians 2:14-15 which read, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.”
It is a bookmark I still have and use, and the words on it hold a special place in my heart.
But while I have had the bookmark for over twenty years now, the words took on new and special meaning a few weeks ago.
My daughter Caroline, the same daughter from last week’s blog (click here to read more), came home a few weeks ago and said, “Mom, I’ve made a new friend, and I told her about Jesus, but I don’t know if she has a Bible. Can I get her a Bible and give it to her?”
After saying “Yes!” as fast as I could, I drove Caroline to the store and helped her select a Bible for her new friend. As she brought it home and time wrapping her gift, I thought, “Why don’t I do this myself more often? With my friends, with the people God brings across my path on a day in, day out basis, why am I not more bold and purposeful about sharing and spreading the beautiful fragrance of Christ?” Because, really, let’s face it – is there any other fragrance sweeter, any other expression of love truer, than telling our friends about the ultimate love that will hold them and ground them and never let them go, no matter what in life they will walk through?
Several days after Caroline bought the Bible and journal for her new friend, I went to a store to return some perfume I received as a gift for Christmas. The saleswoman in the store could not have been more helpful or kind. She spent time with me helping me select a new fragrance and then showed me how to apply it so that it would last. First, she had me wash my hands, then she applied the scent to my wrists and tops of my hands, and then finally, she massaged lotion onto my hands that was the same scent as the perfume. The lotion, she explained, was the key that would lock in the scent. (Who knew there were so many steps to applying perfume?!)
And she was right. The rest of the day, every time I used my hands to gesture, emphasize, “speak,” or serve in one way or another, a sweet fragrance greeted my nose. I have never enjoyed the scent of my hands more. And it was a scent that lasted all day.
And I thought, “Isn’t this how my life in Christ should be?” Every time we use our hands in His Name, there is a fragrance, a scent of His unfailing love. Every time we “speak,” a scent wafts up to the nose of the one who is listening, and we have an opportunity to “speak” of Christ, simply by the fragrance of our hands.
So here is my challenge to us this Valentine’s Day: instead of focusing on all that we’re not, let’s focus on all that we are. And if you know Christ as your Lord and Savior, two things are clear: number one, you are loved with a love that will not let you go. And more than that, you are Christ’s beloved. Because as we all know deep down in our hearts, it’s one thing to be loved, but it’s another thing to be someone’s beloved, cherished as the apple of their eye. And in Christ, we have that confidence: we are the beloved of the Lord Jesus Christ.
And number two: as His beloved, you are His fragrance. And wherever you go, you spread the sweet aroma of Him, His fragrance in every place.
So here’s the practical part of my challenge: after knowing who you are, purposefully go and be that fragrance in someone’s life. Because someone in your path today, this week, needs the Word of God, calling them, reminding them, telling them that through relationship with Christ, they are Christ’s beloved too. So like Caroline, as an expression of great love towards a friend, give someone a Bible, the greatest love letter of all time. It might feel awkward, it might feel weird, you might wonder if your relationship with that person will ever be the same, but why would you and I ever withhold a fragrance from someone’s life that can change them forever from the inside out?
Isaiah 55:10-11 reminds us, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 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.”
God’s Word does not, in fact cannot, return void or empty. It will accomplish the purpose for which it was sent. Caroline gave her friend a Bible like this – it’s a great option for adults or children. And if you aren’t sure who in your life to give God’s Word to, just ask. Ask the Lord to show you exactly who the person is, and wait on His perfect timing this Valentine’s Day. I think you will be amazed at just how specifically and clearly He answers.
And as you wait this week and give your hands in loving service to be the fragrance of Christ to someone else, that same sweet fragrance will come in and refresh and restore your own soul every time the are not’s and the have not’s hit you unawares.
The law of the Lord is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is pure,
The decrees of the Lord are firm,
and all of them are righteous.
They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the honeycomb.
By them your servant is warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
Happy Valentine’s Day to you, our Great, Good God’s beloved.
With Valentine’s Day coming up, I’ve been thinking about all different kinds of love – love in marriage, love in friendship, love in relationship with God. While we often spend lots of time thinking about love within marriage or in our relationship with God, past the age of about twenty-two, we don’t usually spend much time thinking about love within friendship. It’s a topic often relegated to our younger years.
But friendship is an important topic because it is such an important part of our lives. And recently, no one has taught me more about friendship than my daughter, Caroline, and her constant compadre, Tess (also known as “Dr. Phil” when it comes to relationships in Caroline’s world – click here to read about that from last week’s blog).
Tess Tredennick, affectionately known as “Tessy” around our house, is one of my favorite people on the planet. She’s about four feet tall, has a tangle of blonde curls that always look like they may or may not have been brushed, wears cute purple glasses, and never does anything without a leap, skip, laugh, skid, or cartwheel.
Like my daughter Caroline, Tess is seven years old, and for as long as I can remember, Caroline has called Tess her “twin.” Whenever her sisters try to correct her (and trust me, lots of correcting goes on over here with two big sisters because what in the world would we do without their wise and insightful direction in our lives?), Caroline says with passion (she doesn’t really say things without passion), “Tessy IS TOO my twin! I’ve known her since before we were BORN, and I LOVE her!” Obviously, Caroline has a lot to learn about the birds and the bees, but for now, to her, being a twin means knowing and loving someone since before they were born and loving them still just as much seven years down the road.
Caroline and Tess celebrated their first birthday together along with their friend Gray, and they have had almost every birthday party together since.
I think what amazes me the most about these two is that they don’t seem to see or at least dwell on each other’s faults or imperfections. They see each other through rose-colored glasses, loving and accepting each other exactly as they are. And they have always been that way. I can’t remember a time when Caroline didn’t love Tess and Tess didn’t love Caroline. And when they are together, I never have to intervene or referee and blow the whistle or pull one aside and have “the talk” about how one needs to include the other one. They always seem to be completely content in each other’s presence. And when Tessy leaves town, well, life just isn’t quite the same…
That amazes me. I think partly because I remember having a best friend like that when I was little – a friend who could do no wrong, and every available second I wanted to spend in her presence. And partly because somewhere along the way as women, we begin to see each other through jaded, green, envy-colored glasses instead of rosy, I-love-you-just-the-way-you-are kind of glasses.
I’m not sure why or when that transition happens, but it’s a transition that I’ve been trying to undo or fight against now for years. Because as women, our natural, sin-cursed inclination (thank you, Eve) is to see what people are not doing, or not saying, or not being as opposed to embracing exactly who they are, where they are, and with what they are able to offer.
So the past few years I have been taking lessons from Tessy and Caroline and working on trying to come alongside my friends, instead of standing from far off envying, coveting, and viewing life through the lens of a closed circle instead of an open one (click here to read more on that).
Caroline and Tess have also reminded me in a season of life where the needs and wants of family seem to take up every waking moment that friends are not “icing on the top” reserved for dessert and special occasions, but my friends are the necessary stuff of everyday life. The course that goes in the plain, smack-dab middle instead of reserved for special occasions or time at the end. They have given me permission to stay present and enjoy and delight in my friends when there is always the possibility of choosing to complete one more task instead of practicing the presence of people. And that’s been a necessary lesson for a task-driven, tight-margin momma like me to learn during this season of life with four young children.
None of us have time or space for playdates and sleepovers like we did when we were little, but all of us need to be reminded of the necessity and delight of weaving our friends into the everyday fabric of our lives. Because in modern times, friendship, as CS Lewis writes in his book, The Four Loves, has become “something quite marginal; not a main course in life’s banquet; a diversion; something that fills up the chinks of one’s time. How has this come about?…Friendship is – in a sense not at all derogatory to it – the least natural of loves; the least instinctive, organic, biological, gregarious, and necessary. It has least commerce with our nerves; there is nothing throaty about it; nothing that quickens the pulse or turns you red and pale…Without Eros none of us would have been begotten and without Affection none of us would have been reared; but we can live and breed without Friendship. The species, biologically considered, has no need of it…but few value [friendship] because few experience it.”
In other words, friendship doesn’t cause anything warm or fuzzy to rise up in us like romance, or give us anything back like the love of a child. Friendship requires you to give the most with the least likely promise of reward or return. In other words, friendship requires risk. But friendship also offers great reward.
“Friendship, unlike Eros [Romantic love], is uninquisitive. You become a man’s Friend without knowing or caring whether he is married or single or how he earns his living. ..In a circle of Friends each man is simply what he is: stands for nothing but himself. No one cares two-pence about anyone else’s family, profession, class, income, race or previous history. Of course you will get to know about most of these in the end. But casually. They will come out bit by bit, to furnish an illustration or an analogy, to serve as pegs for a anecdote; never for their own sake. That is the kingliness of Friendship…Eros will have naked bodies; Friendship naked personalities” (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves).
In friendship, we have the opportunity to love and be loved simply for who we are, no strings attached. Not because of what we can give someone or what they can give us. But simply because we stand side by side and and see and love the same truth. “You will not find the warrior, the poet, the philosopher or the Christian by staring in his eyes as if he were your mistress: better fight beside him, read with him, argue with him, pray with him” (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves).
And as we live and fight and read and pray side by side, friendship also teaches us to love not for the sake of getting anything back but simply because in doing so, we are loving others in the way Jesus Himself loved us: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lays down his life for his friends” (John 15:13, emphasis mine). And in laying our lives down, we finally are able to take our eyes off of ourselves and become the people God has called us to be while encouraging and beholding the image of God in one another. And as we do so, “each member of the circle feels, in his secret heart, humbled before all the rest. Sometimes he wonders what he is doing there among his betters. He is lucky beyond desert to be in such company. Especially when the whole group is together, each bringing out all that is best, wisest, or funniest in all the others….Life – natural life – has no better gift to give. Who could have deserved it?” (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves)
In light of the knowledge of the gift that friendship is and because of the strong, steady, life-giving friendships God has given us, Jason and I are constantly encouraging and reminding one another: pursue your friends. Not because we are such great friends, but because we can tend to be such poor friends. It’s easier to check something tangible off of a list than sit in connection over a cup of coffee. Yet over the cups of coffee is where our souls are known and valued and loved for who we are rather than for the things we do. And in those places of total transparency, vulnerability, and friendship, we are free to let our guards down and let others in to walk alongside of us, imperfections and all, on the road before us.
I wish making time for friends was as easy as an adult as it was as a kid. I wish someone would come in with a pencil on my calendar and schedule playdates and birthday parties and sleep overs for me and my friends just like I do for my girls and their friends. But those days are over, and now it is my responsibility to have intentional time with friends who see the same truth and challenge me to lay my life down and grow more into the person God has called me to be. And it is when I weave these times of friendship into the main course at the table of life instead of the dessert at the end, that I am most whole, balanced, full, and richly blessed.
Lewis closes his essay on friendship with this: “[I]n Friendship…we think we have chosen our peers. In reality, a few years’ difference in the dates of our birthdays, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another, posting to different regiments, the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting – any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances. A secret Master of the Ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples ‘Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,’ can truly say to every group of Christian friends ‘You have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.’ The Friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of all the others….At this feast it is He who has spread the board and it is He who has chosen the guests. It is He, we may dare to hope, who sometimes does, and always should, preside. Let us not reckon without our Host.”
When we understand that God is the one who has set the table of our friendships and brought specific people into our lives for “such a time as this,” we begin to fight for our friendships instead of against them. We take off our prickles and put on grace. We set aside our tasks and pull up a chair at the feast of transparency, accountability, and love. And we begin to delve into the feast of friendship, if we are seven or seventy-seven years old.
This Valentine’s Day, as I look at the table God has set before me of Godly, strong, humble, kind, wise, beautiful women, I am astounded and humbled that I have a place at their table. And each time I sit down in their presence, I encounter a Christ-like love that shapes me into a better wife, a better mom, a better teacher, a better person, a better friend. And, let’s face it, they give me the necessary tools of laugher and permission to eat as much chocolate as I want or need to make it through one day, one week, one season, one year at a time.
This Valentine’s Day, take an honest evaluation of yourself as a friend and the table God has set before you. Are you a good friend who loves others for who they are, right where they are? Or are you always standing off at a distance waiting to be asked in instead of being brave enough to day in and day out simply walk alongside? Do you make enough time for your friends to really speak into and shape your life? Not just an occasional lunch or cup of coffee, but true iron-sharpening-iron, a true love that stands the test of time and can speak truth and hear truth because it is spoken in love?
If not, don’t despair. But take off your jaded, green, micro-managing, task and time driven glasses, and put on lenses that see through the rose color of love and grace that true friendship offers one meal, one conversation, one encounter at a time.