The Metamorphosis

Brown and furry
Caterpillar in a hurry;
Take your walk
To the shady leaf or stalk.
May no toad spy you,
May the little birds pass by you’
Spin and die,
To live again a butterfly

~ Christina G. Rosetti

 

I’ve been thinking about butterflies a lot lately.

Not the ones fluttering around, flitting from flower to flower… No, I’m thinking about the ones trapped in a chrysalis. The ones who aren’t who they were but also not who they’re going to be. The ones who are surrounded all around by a protective shell while they liquefy…

I’m thinking about the ones who are becoming who they will be.

We have all seen caterpillars. When I was a little girl I was enraptured by the tent caterpillars that occupied (and subsequently destroyed) sections of a tree in our yard. I would go out with my glass mayonnaise jar with the holes poked in the lid, and harvest a couple from the tree. I’d prop a stick in the jar and drop a few leaves in there. And I’d watch them for a few days.

caterpillar close up hairy insect

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My mom told me, “Why do you want to keep tent caterpillars? They’re useless, they’re destructive.” I said, “I like them, I want to watch them. They’re caterpillars, Mom!”

So she sighed and indulged my fascination.

But I never stayed fascinated for long. After a couple of days I’d drop them in the yard and set the jar aside. A few days later I’d repeat the operation, but never stuck around to see what the little striped crawlies grew up to be.

In science class our teacher told us about butterflies and moths, and immediately I was glued. Then I was surprised. You see I thought when they cocooned themselves and hung from a branch maybe they shrank and then grew wings. I never knew that in the process they became, effectively, DNA soup.

dna soup

What the caterpillar once was completely died. No, it was still alive, but what it had been was unrecognizable.  According to the Scientific American in its article “How Does a Caterpillar Turn into a Butterfly?” the caterpillar in its silk cocoon (a moth) or hardened protein chrysalis (a butterfly) begins by digesting itself.

How odd. How counterintuitive — what good can come of something DIGESTING itself? Well, if it’s going to mature, it’s got to. In this mystery, certain cell groups survive and become aspects of the grown butterfly (eyes, antennae, wings, etc.). Submitting to liquefaction releases enzymes that digest all the butterfly’s existing tissues. Funny thing is, even before the process begins, certain caterpillars walk around with tiny wings inside their bodies, completely invisible from the outside. No one would know that buried in that earthbound creature is the means of flight. Now some species keep aspects of their original caterpillar form, such as muscle structures and bits of the original nervous systems. But, effectively, what emerges from that chrysalis after the set time passes is nothing like what went in.Butterfly chrysalis translucentIn the mystery inside the butterfly chrysalis, rapid-fire cell reproduction is occurring, fueled by the protein-rich DNA soup they’re in. Cells increasing a thousandfold, by the end of metamorphosis, these creatures could be named new creations.

close up of butterfly pollinating flower

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Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.
The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
~ II Corinthians 5:17

And what was bound to the earth spreads its wings and flies, flits, soars — sometimes traveling for miles and miles. What the caterpillar could never do, the butterfly is uniquely equipped to accomplish. And we marvel at its beauty and amazing qualities. We’d never see this coming if all we saw was the munching, crunching caterpillar, traveling over branches, eating every leaf, seedpod or flower in its way. Who would ever imagine wings on those adorable creatures? And who would even want to change a caterpillar? Aren’t they perfectly acceptable as they are? Why would we even need them to become butterflies?

Here are some fascinating facts I’ve discovered about these flying works of art:

  • There are 20,000 species throughout the world
  • They live one to nine months
  • Depending on the species, they migrate north to south, or south to north
  • Most butterflies lay their eggs on plants that will be eaten by the caterpillar when it hatches
  • They smell through their feet!
  • They are food
  • They are pollinators
  • Some adult butterfly species eat rotting fruit, carrion and other waste (acting as little trash disposers)
  • Their presence or absence is a predictor of whether an ecosystem is healthy.

And there’s so much more! But I think the most important reason we have butterflies is for God to show off His creativity and to make the world we live in breathtaking. They, like all of creation, exist to display His glory. Would any of this have happened if they had stayed caterpillars?

rainbow butterfly

And displaying God’s glory is also why we’re here. We start as tiny, helpless babies, growing in the environment into which we are born. We’re hapless inheritors of all the good, bad, and ugly our parents gave us. This, the same stuff they got, combined to form the original us. We begin in our origin stories, for better or worse, and do the best we can under the circumstances.

At some point, though, we sense a stirring deep inside. We hear our Creator’s whisper, and we respond. Some push away the Voice, sometimes for years. Some are wise and turn to Him immediately, but either way the Voice persists. At a point of decision, we realize we have the choice to say Yes and follow Him or No and walk away. When we say yes, the metamorphosis begins. If we say No, the Divine Pursuit persists.

This original Yes sparks a moving from glory to glory,  and it’s a lifelong process. Now of course all analogies break down and while the caterpillar is only once in its chrysalis, our lives progress from chrysalis to chrysalis. Our many liquefactions produce more and more of our Creator’s image, displayed more remarkably each time we crawl out.

Now unlike the butterfly, we have a choice:  stay earthbound, voracious caterpillars ever eating and never becoming anything but older and more like ourselves in our dysfunction… Or we submit to the painful process of dying to all we were before. This means lying helpless at times, cooperating with our Creator each time for however long it takes to become the divine being we were made to be: The splendid creature hiding inside all along. The glorious one who ever submits to each chrysalis time to display more and more of our Daddy’s stunning allure.

child with butterfly

You make everything glorious and I am Yours —
what does that make me? ~ David Crowder

We discover these transitional metamorphosis times are at times excruciating. The refinement often dredges up painful memories, sometimes flashing in so suddenly we are crushed, bleeding and crying out for relief. Other times we simply receive revelations, pouring liquid light into our aching hearts. In this submitting to every God-ordained change we learn what we would never know were it not for the liquefaction times, when all we knew of ourselves has passed away. This precarious, terrifying stage where we know we weren’t who we were but aren’t quite who we will be. It’s scary being soup.

And to submit to entering the chrysalis whenever Dad says it’s time.

But the good news is while we’re helpless on the inside, outside we’re surrounded by an impenetrable shell each metamorphosis time. We are completely cupped in our Daddy’s strong hands.cupped butterflyI cling to you,
and your hand keeps me safe.
~ Psalm 63:8

As we emerge all weak and quivering, drying our wings, we try our new selves on for size. Clinging to Him, we absorb living Light and strength for whatever is coming. We gaze into the beams of overwhelming Love, aware of a stirring deep inside. Excitement builds and bubbles out — we know whatever’s coming it’s going be amazing. It’s going to be impossible for who we were but totally doable for who we’ve become. We know we’re going to look back on the helpless time and say without a doubt…

It was worth it.

It always is.

And as we feel our wings dry, they begin beating in time with the breeze around us…We feel ourselves pulled from the branch where our former home hangs, shriveled.

And we take to the sky and soar!
We laugh up into our Maker’s face because the updraft is Holy Spirit wind.  And underneath are Daddy’s Everlasting Arms.

blue butterfly cloudy sky

 

 

 

A Changing Voice

close up of wire against blurred background

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“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
~ C.S. Lewis

I’m not who I was five years ago.

Five years ago. The downward spiral was at breakneck speed. I refused to take communion that day, the first Sunday in February 2014 because I thought I wasn’t a Christian anymore. The biggest lie had settled and rooted in me, rotting my understanding: I had become unsaved. A month later I would do the bidding of the voices in my head and attack my husband. I would sit stunned in a cell in Chester County Prison.

Five years ago I clutched out desperately in what was left… confusion, terror, constant visions of carnage, my own guilt. Mental illness, breakdown. Down, down, down. Yet held in strong, invisible arms. It wouldn’t get to the point of no return. But I didn’t know that yet.

In the process of finally accepting my bi-polar diagnosis and taking medication I began to see I was still in my Daddy God’s arms. I was accepted into the Mental Health Program at Chester County Prison. Moment by moment I began to breathe life in again. I was emerging from death thinking and living, and after five and a half months behind bars, walked out into the sunshine again.

Over the last four years or so since, I was protected like a little baby, snuggled close and rocked, fed, cared for. When the shame of what I’d done knocked me sobbing to the floor, I quickly recovered. I wrote and gave my testimony several times. I felt vibrant and free.

But in these past few months a new paradigm is pushing in. I am being set down on my feet, learning to walk. I’m beginning to feel the pain of growth, the emotionally excruciating process of enduring flash-backs. Instead of trying to push them away and shove in happy thoughts and feelings, I’m being asked to experience the torture. Press in and let it sink down deep. Feel it in a safe place (usually on the floor of my room, crying, worship music playing, a friend — or several friends — praying while I sit alone but not alone). I write and write in my journal, crying till I’m spent.

woman crying, pain

I see that like getting an abscess sliced open so it can drain, submitting to God’s work in this makes sense. I don’t like the sting of it, but if that’s part of the process I’ll grit my teeth and say Do it. Even when He tells me I won’t have anaesthesia this time that I’ll experience every stab, pang and spasm as it’s draining out — so be it. I choose to trust You. Do it.

I say Yes to God because as a Christian this is what I signed up for, not to stay in  dysfunction till it kills me from the inside-out. You see, much as I don’t want it to hurt, way down deep I really want to grow. To see what is actually going on inside. Then to move forward from right here as I am. To face what I did five years ago and to finally heal. To build on what has been happening all my life, accelerated these last few years, especially these last few months. The upheaval of what I had inherited in my family line – all this perfectionism, this inferiority/superiority, this I need correction, who are you to correct me?

And I realize I am so new at all of this and I feel so small, so incapable. I want to get better, though. So with shaking hands I hold the flashlight to see into the darkness of my heart. What is there, what is really there?

I’m waiting for revelation. Because as I begin seeing shapes gelling and forming images, how do I interpret them? And I’m so tired, I just want to sleep, to escape but somehow still move forward. Instead I press in. Feel it. Feel it some more. Yield, give in to the work that is where I am right now, the reality of the pain I carry. I can acknowledge there is a cause even as I have no idea the shape of it.

All my life my  modus operandi has been some form of Flail, Flight, Flee. I am learning now how to fight, to stand for myself. To know myself and accept what I see there. I am learning I am a created wonder, also hand-crafted (it’s not just others who are “special and God loves you very much”). I have inherent value and am worthy because I am born of God. This mind I was given (bi-polar and all), this body, this set of life happenings… my years of skillset-making — all have value.

I reach out to Ka’en, my best friend. A part of me resents that she is farther along, but what is that? She is farther along, this is such a treasure. She is showing me where she has been and it looks a bit like where I need to go. So I choose to humble myself. For foolish pride is like banging my own head with the shovel in my hand instead of using it to dig to the deeper life. To find the hidden path and to follow it, I need the light of one who has walked it before me. She shows me and I learn. We need each other, for where I have been is a new path to her, too. This intertwining of lives is what we were made for. Not in a co-dependent way but a divine integration of lives that builds up, strengthens, reaches out and loves as alone we could never do.

couples sitting in while facing mountain

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And I see that divine intertwining in my marriage. For this oneness is what we have in Christ, a dim representation but the best there is on this earth. So I choose to press in deeper, to see what can be learned here. In this world of marital disintegration, ours will shine as a beacon. There is hope. But where I am right now I don’t see the how of it. But I choose to submit to the path that will take us there. Whatever it takes.  I am willing.  Lord, I trust You for the next steps. That even now You are working in my husband’s heart, too. That he is feeling the pressure to change, too. That when the time comes he will be ready. That we will both be ready.

I am scared, honestly. I don’t see the way and all of this is so new. This generational junk busting, this icebreaking ship that is me, that is pushing forward for there is hard (good) work to do.

This I know:
The self-protection has to go.
The fear of exposure has to go.
The clinging to what is familiar at the expense of going forward into the unknown has to go.
The inferiority I mask with judgmentalism, with I’m better than you when inside I’m self-doubting – has to go.
Unteachableness has to go.

arms up surrender

What will fill its place? For we were made to be full of good things. We were made to embody all the Fruit of the Spirit…
Love:
sweet acceptance, openness, desire to draw out the godly in others, in me; gentle guiding, chiding, encouraging to grow, encouraging the God-seed in them.
Joy:
deep-down bubble in the midst of pain, a steady undercurrent of insight – for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  The settled calm of a weaned child with her mother. Smiling up at her Father, open and free.
Peace:
the all-is-well of understanding, placid sister of joy, the undergirding steadiness. Fruit of trust, I know my Dad is over all and in all. I can rest.
Patience:
I can wait, I can stay here as long as needed, for it will all come to fruition. I am settled in who I am so I can be tolerant, accepting of others. A sweet sister fruit of love, for love compels me to come alongside you and walk with you – however long it takes. Love is patient, love is kind.
Kindness:
sweet flow of patience, I see from others’ perspective and love them as they need in the moment. I give, I speak the very deeds and words of Christ, seeing Him in others, overflowing with hope of glory.
Goodness:
gentle purification, this Holy Spirit work scrubs my inner being till I shine with God-glory. A oneness between motive and action for the good I do pours from the good I have become.
Faithfulness:
Godlikeness looks like this. I don’t give up, never give up on others, never give in to the darkness but cling to my Jesus no matter what. I choose to honor Him and others regardless. I am in it forever. Perseverance is its little sister, its partner here. Unshaken.
Gentleness:
Selflessness breeds gentleness. I can treat others with tenderness in         speech and action. Honor treats with a soft hand, whether from a higher or lower station. A way of preferring them above myself, a stepping aside, a way to express love.
Self-control:
Gentleness flows from self-control. My impulses and urges surrendered, my controlling controlled by Holy Spirit, I can release the one in front of me from my desire to emote. It shows me the way I am to go in harnessed power. Meekness looks like this.

sliced fruits on tray

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A bellyful of sweet fruit, more and more as I am filled again and again – abundance, enough to share. A treasure trove of sweet water, pure and holy, straight from God’s throne, bubbling in my belly up to eternal life. Bucketsful for me and for the thirsty in my way.

Trials are to be embraced and rejoiced in. Counterintuitive, but isn’t that how this paradox works? So I embrace the pain and I decide, here and now, to let it do its work – all of it – in me.

Never done, there’s always a next level, a higher becoming. For becoming like Christ is becoming like God incarnate, and I am not anywhere near there yet. But where I am now is where I’m supposed to be. No condemnation, no shaming. Jesus took my shame on the cross. How horrible, how beautiful. How loving in excruciating illogical agony. You are love and this is what love looks like.

I seek truth, not to be cocooned in any self-deception, in seeing with human eyes only. Dazzle my eyes with what really is, and I will reel in freedom. Living in divinely-revealed reality is what I need. This is what true Christianity looks like and I want the Voice of Jesus to radiate out of my very being.

So I lay down on the surgeon’s table and close my eyes. I know however much it hurts I’ll emerge more like my Savior. It’s so, so worth it.

lioness lying on grey dirt near grey rock

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Friendship in the Trenches

heart shaped red neon signage

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“What does love look like?… Arms wide open, a heart exposed.”~ Misty Edwards

I was tempted to do it again the other day.

I sat next to Ka’en in church, minding my own business, when my mouth decided to make a cutting remark. I had a cold but thought she was overly concerned about my being contagious, so I said something like, “I don’t care about people being contagious, I just strengthen my immune system.”

Just like that her face fell and I didn’t even realize at first what I had done.

I should have been home, actually. I was sick with some sort of cold virus-y thing, but wanted to be in church to give her a little gift I’d bought.  I pushed myself to be there and at first so far, so good.

Then out came the zinger. Now it wasn’t a big thing but enough to hurt her, the last thing I wanted to do to my best friend. But I basically told her she was wrong and that I was better than her. As I realized what I had done, my first reaction wasn’t to apologize.

It was to retreat. To hide. To self-condemn. I slid a little away from her and folded myself into a little self-protected box, mere inches from her but pulling away more and more.

Immediately after the service she confronted me about what I had said. As I acknowledged what she said was true, I was wrong, I suddenly just wanted to leave.

What the heck?

At home I immediately lay down, exhausted from overdoing it, from going out while still sick. But mostly hiding. I thought, What would happen if we stopped being friends? I began playing the scenarios in my mind, killing the best friendship a person could want by neglect. By hardening my heart toward her I could simply pull away…

I felt sick inside suddenly, more than from any virus, so much more.

Why would I want to throw away this gift? Why would I go back to the way things used to be where as soon as a friend got too close, it got too hard, I’d run away? I never had to change, to grow that way. As soon as things got beyond surface level and she saw who I really was under the facade, I’d withdraw. I’d be too busy to get together, making excuses till she stopped trying and the so-called friendship starved. Died.

Oh, I’d gotten quite good at it and I though I was okay. But one day I heard someone ask, “Who, besides a family member, could you call in the middle of the night if you were in trouble or just needed to talk?” I reviewed my puddle-deep friendship list and found — no one.

Why did it matter? I could call family, right? I had a best friend growing up, the best friend a person could ever want. But life pulled us apart and I hadn’t had that kind of friend since. I did have a few sort of close friends. Wasn’t that enough?

No, not if you want to be like Jesus. Jesus opened his heart to those who opened their hearts to Him. He made himself available to those who wanted to be close and let them in. All the way in. Even Judas. When Judas approached him to kiss him as a close friend, signaling to the mob that this was the man they wanted, Jesus said, “Do what you came for, friend.” Friend? He had just predicted Judas’ betrayal around the supper table with the disciples a few hours before, with Judas sitting right there. Jesus wasn’t fooled. But He kept His heart open even then.

Jesus gave the ultimate definition of friendship when He said, “the greatest love you can have for your friends is to give your life for them.” (John 15:13). And then He proved it by dying for them and for His enemies alike. My mind can’t take it in, it’s so powerful. But I want that kind of love

Being like Jesus means I am willing to set my own life aside and be there for my friends. To see them as the treasures they are. And even to die for them if necessary.

Being like Jesus means I love wide open, from the heart. And when I do, I experience the love of God Himself. I become a channel of that love, His love ignited by my openness into a depth of compassion I’d never have otherwise. God is love, so to give myself completely to His love and to loving others, I become love. Like Him.

I asked the Lord, Please help me to be a friend like You, to go deep and stay when I want to flee. Be that friend through me and teach me Your way of friendship. One by one friends came in and when my mask fell I gritted my teeth and hung in there. While some friendships were only for a season anyway, most got deeper,  better and better. Closer and closer. Without fear of exposure, for all was known. To know and be known is the most freeing thing I’ve ever experienced.

friends girl blonde portrait

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To be in a friendship is to choose to love another person. Seems simple, doesn’t it? But what does that look like?  I believe all loving relationships have a friendship component.  I Corinthians 13, the famous Love Chapter, could be rendered using the word Friendship in place of Love…

Friendship is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceited or proud; 
Friendship is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable;
Friendship does not keep a record of wrongs;
Friendship is not happy with evil, but is happy with the truth.
Friendship never gives up; and its faith, hope, and patience never fail.
Friendship is eternal.

This is the kind of friend I want to be.

And I know it’s not going to be easy. Any time I open to Jesus His work always goes deeper than what I think I need. He wants to uproot old patterns and behaviors by getting at the what and why of them. What has plagued me all my life — a feeling of superiority to cover my deep inferiority around people has created walls between me and them. I can’t be the friend Jesus is to others till He takes me through the process of healing in this area, layer by layer.  He’s so kind to take it step by step, one area at a time. And to continually build from there.

This new area of work began couple of months ago, when I asked God to help me with my mouth. At times I  want to correct those around me (usually friends and family), to set them straight (“help” them) if I think what they’re saying or doing is wrong. It’s like a compulsion, and if I don’t say anything I’m inwardly judging them. They’re not as good as me or they wouldn’t do or say ______________.  I had done this basically all my life, but in the last month or so I’ve started to actually see it for the ugly habit it is. Ugh. I see at last how my words cut, dagger slashes to the heart. It hurts the ones closest to me most of all.

I’m finally sick of it. I want to be free.  For years I’ve wanted to accept everyone as the God-created beings they are. That I’m no better — or worse — than anyone else. I want to live in settled confidence coupled with realistic humility. Now, placing a trembling hand in Dad’s warm, strong hand, I’m willing to do whatever it takes. With sudden clarity I realize I only want one thing:

To love as Jesus does.

And I realized lying on my bed that Sunday afternoon — it was too late. The work I’ve longed for had already begun. I’d never be that person anymore, the one who made and threw friends away like they were disposable. I’ve got a treasure trove of close friends now and am finally becoming the friend I’d want to have. Open. Honest. Loyal. Brave.

Because it takes bravery to stay in it when it gets hard, to seek and find forgiveness. It takes courage to face what is under that cutting remark,  to submit to the training our Heavenly Dad has for us, whatever the cost.  To press past the guilt and get free of the shame. To see as He sees, and to learn how to be an overcomer here, too. Whatever it takes.

When we had some facetime that Sunday afternoon Ka’en encouraged me to go deeper with Dad, to see the how and why and the what of the  superiority/inferiority I struggle with. And to bravely follow the path to healing. She will be there for me.

I will be there for her, too. No matter what. For this war zone we were born into isn’t getting any better, and there are fierce battles ahead. Linking arms with her, with ever-deepening friendships, with others determined to call each other out of darkness into light…

With our Commanding Officer blazing the trail ahead, sword raised — we will persevere. Shouting into battle, his light within us  — together we will overcome the deepest darkness. And laugh, victorious, with our comrades-in-arms afterwards, gazing together at the face of the One who made it all possible. Our great Friend. For true friendship gives us our best life — it’s designed to last into eternity. And it’s worth laying down our lives to gain the kind of love only God can forge in our hearts. Then we truly love like Him — arms wide open, hearts exposed.

israeli women soldiers

Dear friends, what can you do today to make openness and depth in friendship a priority? What is keeping you from being completely open to God’s work in this area? Where is He challenging you to change so you can be the friend He wants you to be? Are you willing?

Envy’s Wrestle

christmas home house light

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 “Let not your heart be troubled. You are trusting God, now trust in me.  There are many homes up there where my Father lives, and I am going to prepare them for your coming. When everything is ready, then I will come and get you, so that you can always be with me where I am. If this weren’t so, I would tell you plainly.”
Jesus, as recorded in John 14:1-3

It’s early January and I’m sitting in the room I had envisioned for us, for our family, for our school room. It’s simply furnished, neatly organized, sweetly welcoming. Sun beams through a side window, just enough. Sturdy shelves, busy bulletin board, map of the world, art supplies stacked neatly in a rolling cart. An analog clock quietly ticks on the wall opposite the butterfly chart.

Perfect.

Theirs.

We are in the midst of our 23rd year of marriage, 21st year of parenthood, 17th official year of homeschooling. First born is launched, living happily in Denver, Colorado. Second born is back to classes at Cedarville University, in the cornfields of Ohio. Third born is an active eleventh-grader, busy with studies, social life, and a job at Chick Fil-A. Last born dances through each day, busy avoiding school work, busy doing it anyway.

I shepherd, I guide, I do my domestic duties, provide taxi service, meals, food for meals… general mom stuff. In the comfort of my mother’s house.

Where’s this house? It’s in southeastern Pennsylvania, the house I helped build, the house I lived in from age 11 through marriage at age 26, almost 27. It’s the house I’ve lived in off and on since then, fully on since our third born was about 15 months old. She’s seventeen.

It’s the house where my mom still lives and fills with her stuff, her personality. This place we called “Mom’s Dream House” while we were building it — her castle since 1980.

Where’s my house? Oh, yeah. That. We bought a serious fixer-upper back when fourth born (a.k.a. the Boy) was a baby, back in 2005. Built in 1906, the left side of a duplex, it turned out to be unlivable and remains so, at least for now. In the interim between buying it and now, my husband joined and left the Army National Guard, my Dad had a devastating stroke, and the kids grew up, almost all the way up, in my parents’ house.

Dad died in 2013, I had a mental breakdown a few months later that rocked our family and landed me in jail for a few months. The children struggled through that year, and we slowly rebuilt our lives, growing closer than ever. The House (the unlivable one) collected our stuff, a storage facility with a mortgage.

Over the years I watched my friends buy houses, build their families, settle in to happy life mowing their own yards, tending their own gardens, puttering in their own kitchens.

rectangular brown wooden table

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That last one really got me. Still gets me. I’ve always been a kitchen person. Our first apartment, a carriage house over a three-car garage, was my sweet little haven for two years. Its huge open-floor plan had a spacious kitchen, my domain. No children allowed there and severe post-partum depression following first born’s birth landed us at my parents’ for almost a year. When I was well enough we moved into a two-bedroom apartment, where we lived happily enough, which we filled to overflow with three kids.

Then we couldn’t afford our rising rent. We moved back in with my parents in 2003 and have been there ever since. 15 years.

15 years. I say it out loud and it feels strange in my mouth, a sourness spreading through my belly. 15 years of wanting what I’m sitting in now, this sunny sprawling house in quiet suburbia, my niece across from me drawing in her sweet little school room.

Envy has been my wrestling partner for a decade and a half. But there’s something about being in an 8’x15′ cell for a few months, owning nothing. There’s something about coming out of there to a spacious place where I could cook again and wear colorful clothes, even if it was my mom’s house.  My perspective shifted considerably in prison. Stuff doesn’t have the hold over me it once did, and I’ve found contentment everywhere I go.

But I still want a house I can live in. I want a place of my own. We are planning to whip the old house into some shape, moving out what no longer serves, making it livable — if not for us, for someone else, some other family to make their own dreams in.

And I know that someday I’ll have a place of my own, a home I’ll never have to leave. It’s promised by my Jesus, who always keeps His promises. He knows I want one here, that often I want it immediately if not sooner. When the wrestling match starts up, unseen hands squeezing my gut from the inside-out, I draw close. I call a friend to pray for me and with me, so I can make space for what I don’t want to stuff inside anymore. I crawl on Dad’s lap and cry for a while, letting the feelings wash over and through me. I grieve what I don’t have and may never have.  I accept what is and ask for wisdom for the next step.

The wrestle is not as strong as it once was, nor as frequent. But it’s still there. It must be faced and felt — then entrusted into the care of the God who, when all is said and done, is my home.

The wrestle threatens to pin me down, and sometimes it does. But the strength inside is stronger and together the Lord and I disarm envy. I look into my Daddy God’s eyes and find all I need, a shelter for my soul. My heart’s true home.

“Home could be the Pennsylvania turnpike, or Indiana’s early morning dew; High up in the the hills of California — home is just another word for you.”
~ Billy Joel, “You’re My Home”

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Drop Everything, Dear One

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While I’m tempted to do a bit about Christmas (i.e. the deeper meaning, the Christ child, the relative insignificance of gifts…) — I feel the Lord stirring my heart in a different direction. The direction I’ve never really been comfortable with. The direction of contemplation.

 “As they continued their travel, Jesus entered a village. A woman by the name of             Martha welcomed him and made him feel quite at home. She had a sister, Mary, who sat before the Master, hanging on every word he said. But Martha was pulled away by all she had to do in the kitchen. Later, she stepped in, interrupting them. ‘Master, don’t you care that my sister has abandoned the kitchen to me? Tell her to lend me a hand.’

 The Master said, ‘Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it—it’s the main course, and won’t be taken from her.'”(from Luke 10)

Now those of you who know the story of Mary and Martha and Jesus’ visit may see a hint of where I’m going. Poor Martha left to do all the work, Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet, oblivious to all around her… and, indeed, that’s part of where I’m going. But really, we’ve been so hard on poor Martha. Some may even see this as an account of Jesus essentially throwing poor Martha under the proverbial bus for just trying to have dinner on the table on time.

But what was Jesus really saying (with incredible love and nary a smidge of condemnation)? Essentially: Martha, what you’re doing is important and I’m so grateful you want to give me a delicious dinner. I also understand you want it on the table in a timely manner so YOU can have a seat at my feet. But, dear one, sometimes the most important thing is to simply drop everything for me. And for your own heart’s sake.

Confession time: I’m NOT by nature a good at-Jesus-feet-sitter. I’m NOT good at dropping everything. I get an almost drug-like high from GETTING THINGS DONE. Ah, the glee of crossing off the checklist, occasionally writing additional things down for the pleasure of crossing them off! Ah, the delight of that tired feeling at the end of the day, looking back on a pile of things DONE and falling asleep exhausted! Ah, the coffee-fueled buzz of whizzing about the house with a clean path emerging behind me!

But what of my heart?

Ah, that. Well, who has time for that? Really, my heart is FINE, just keep moving forward, clicking off the To-Do list! If I have time at the beginning of the day (before the coffee spurs me on), I’ll check in with God. And at the end of the day I’ll pull away from my phone to heft my Amplified Bible. Let it fall open to — wherever — and start reading before my mood-stabilizer meds kick in and I fall asleep (usually a good 10 minutes). Isn’t that enough?

No. How I wish it was at times! I could get a lot more DONE if Holy Spirit didn’t keep nagging me about sitting down and just being with my Lord for a while.  Honestly, especially when the caffeine has me humming, the LAST thing I want to do is sit down. And when I do sit down, all I can think of is, When can I get up again and DO something else?

Now hold on a minute. I’m not talking about a religious I HAVE to do this An Hour a Day Keeps the Devil Away scripted Quiet Time. I’m talking about daily connection, taking time to be inwardly still, at least, before my God, loving Him. I’m talking about walking in the Spirit, as He leads, into daily delight. I’m talking about taking His hand and letting Him lead. About, as 12 year-old Jesus said so succinctly “being about my Father’s business.” This, for me, starts with stopping.

Deep down, way down deep where my heart is crying out I hear the call: Be still and know that I am God. He is calling me to connect. And that’s ultimately all my very being wants, to connect with my sweet Daddy and receive all the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control — He pours lavishly into me. Ingesting into my very being sweet Spirit fruit. But I rarely get this when I don’t stop. Acknowledge Him. Gaze into His sweet face and thank Him. I rarely get the gift of fullness in Him when I’m so busy on my own agenda I forget who — and Whose — I am.

My inner and outer whirlwind hears the Master’s voice:  Peace, be still. And Martha drops her dishrag on the counter, smooths her hands on her apron and simply stops. She gazes into those eyes and can’t resist the pull to sink at His feet, startled when He lifts her up, gives her a hug… and we sit together.

Soon we’re laughing and I find my mind awakening to deeper understanding. My soul is cleansed from the inside-out as fresh perspective washes away futility. My heart warms and I snuggle into His embrace. And I’m startled to discover, laughing at the improbability of this miracle in me! — I really don’t care anymore about what gets done today.

Because the most important thing has already been done.

Now, dear friends, can you relate? What strategies have you found helpful in connecting with the Lord? Let’s help each other by weighing in in the comments, below. Love you all!

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