Busy & Blessed

Hannah's Mustache

(My Prayer Partner, Hannah, with an AWANA mustache!)

Oh boy. It’s THAT time of year, isn’t it? Or is it just me? My whole life long. Student. Teacher. Ministry leader. Mom. Fall has been the season of back to it.

And it’s always abrupt. One day you’re sitting in a lawn chair with a book by the lake, and the next day you’re pulling out flannels, doing life at full sprint.

Yes, I know. Some of you love it. Since the middle of August you’ve been anticipating sweatshirt weather and pumpkin lattes and the rhythm of fall. And who, besides me, truly enjoyed that weekend of 90’s in mid-September? I kind of get it. There was a day when my children were younger and back-to-school had a special appeal.

It’s the mental ping-pong that really gets me. I described it to Kyle as we met in passing earlier this week. The kickoff of everything and pages of lists and it’s guaranteed I’ve forgotten something, somewhere. One of our pastors explained it this way in our Tuesday meeting. How it’s scientifically proven, there’s a chemical in our brains overproducing when we’re multitasking and it causes foggy thinking. No kidding.

My brain is buzzing. I can actually feel it. I feel it especially when I fall exhausted into bed at night. My whole body craving sleep but my mind fully wired and I can’t seem to shut it off. So I remember a podcast I heard about bravely defying the enemy of sleep by praying instead, and it’s what I’ve been doing. One night especially, this strange combination of whirring head and peace within.

Peace in the midst of the whirlwind, and I remember a favorite author saying it this way. You’re bound to have seasons when life gets busy, but you don’t have to have a busy heart. And God gives rest just when I need it. Not sleep, quite yet. But a sabbath of sorts. Friday’s plans change and the weather, too. Clouds giving way to autumn sun, my porch swing in the perfect spot for soaking in warmth and silence, and I find myself. Refreshed.

Life might be busy, but there’s plenty that’s sweet. This morning, Sunday, it’s Dedication and Prayer Partner Café and in the midst of my coming and going there’s a little girl. Graci. She’s in the fourth grade and in my small group for AWANA. (A new ministry, added this year, wondering last week if this might be the tipping point of crazy.) And then this morning I see her at church, ask if she remembers me. She’s got this smirky little smile, and of course she remembers. And then, I don’t even know why she says it, but she tells me about her brother, Jack, and how he used to play drums for the middle school band, but now there’s a new worship leader… And I say it was my son, Luke, the guy who used to be there, and Graci’s smirk gets bigger. The guy with the Zach Williams voice? I laugh out loud, and say I’ll be sure to tell him. And I love her for that. Can’t wait ‘til next Tuesday.

And all week long it’s these kinds of stories. Two young gals with new babies, new to church, met through dedication and then again at MOMs, and they’re friends already. A middle school mom, and she’s new too, at the Parenting study I lead on Wednesdays, our hearts connecting. Another gal stays after class to tell me how years ago God gave her a vision to pray for my son. And then there’s Elaina from Special Needs, and her brother, Andrew. They ask about The Covenant Story, if I’ve published my book. I tell them, no, the truth is, I’ve put it on hold. No time, or no courage. I’m not sure which, but God’s been prompting since Elaina’s question, and I can’t ignore it.

Do you see the pattern? I give and I’m given. Serve and served back. Blessed to be a blessing – and it strikes me just now, this is how it is with Jesus. Like loaves and fishes. Wine at a wedding. You can’t out-give Him. Busy life. Maybe. Full heart. You bet.

Poets

Sunset on Green Lake

I had a dream last night. I was sitting at a massive farmhouse table, surrounded by young women, teens maybe, and young adults, or maybe both. And there was brokenness at this table. I knew some of the stories, and I’d seen the scars. The pain was deep. I was trying to say something, and I knew it was important, although now, awake, I can’t remember the exact phrase. Something like, His beauty will save you, and as soon as I said it, the girl on my left, the one whose scars crisscrossed her legs, broke into sobs, weeping and wailing. I knew, in my dream, these were the tears of one whose healing would come. And then I woke up. 

Poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.*

I watched The Dead Poets Society earlier this week. Maybe this was the source of my dream. I don’t know. It’s one of Luke’s favorites. He said so the weekend he was home with Ali, and we all sat on the deck chatting after breakfast. We went around the table and talked about our favorite movies, and I put August Rush in my top five. It’s Robin Williams, too, which of course is bittersweet. I thought then, and maybe said it out loud, I should go back and watch them. It’s been a while. The Dead Poets released the summer before I was married, and I’m not really sure if I’ve seen it since. And then a few days ago, after work, I stopped by the public library to pick up a book, glanced at a display with this month’s features, and there it was, on DVD. A timely reminder.

And the movie is SO Luke. Captain, oh my Captain, and wouldn’t he love to be one of those students. Or maybe it’s the teacher he’s destined to be.

Or maybe the teacher is me.

That you are here — that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.*

I think I missed this the first time watching. I was Luke’s age probably, or a year or so younger. Relating, most likely, to the too-good kid, scared to death of being in trouble. Not enough freedom to be the poet. But now. Now I’m fifty years old, and I wonder sometimes if I’ve ever been this much child. This free to be.

The past couple of weeks I’ve been thinking. If I ever got a tattoo, I know what I’d want. Not that I’ll do it. My mom would be horrified, my husband probably, too. But lately it’s been the talk of my boys, so it’s got me wondering. What I’d get if I did it. Poiema. That’s it. That beautiful word. I am His poem. This prayer on my lips as I start each morning. “I am your handiwork (your poiema) – created in Christ Jesus, to do the work you’ve prepared me to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)

We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion.*

And I know this passion. Two years ago in October I was in California, with a team from my church, and I had an experience that wrecked me in the sweetest way. I’ve probably written of it before. We were at this conference and a seminary professor described three types of ministers. Three perspectives of pastors and teachers, and I’d never heard it this way before. Strategic, Relational, and Symbolic. The first two seemed obvious, but the third was new, and it awakened something in me. The symbolic minister cherishes story and beauty. And the way the professor described it was so true of me, I was completely undone. The next hour, alone on a bench in a prayer garden, of all places, and I couldn’t stop crying, repeating, “Thank you, God, thank you,” because somehow He’d helped me to see who I was.

So earlier this week I watched this movie and it all comes back. This sense of purpose. Poiema. “Artfully made.” It was this scene where the teacher, Keating, sees the potential in this terrified kid, and he won’t let the boy go until the poem inside him finally erupts. And it’s a movie, I know, but I could do this. I know it. I was meant to do this. The teacher in me.

That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.  

And so I pray and I wonder. What will my verse be?

 

*Quotes from The Dead Poets Society; “That you are here…” is from a poem by Walt Whitman

Ten (Explained)

College Grad

My Aunt Bonnie is a faithful reader of this Boy Mom blog, the only person who has ever snail-mailed a handwritten note to thank me for these stories I share. This week she sent her comment in an email: Again, boymom.me is like a gift in the midst of life! Your recent entry, however, left me unsure of the definition of “ten.” And so, for Bonnie and others who could use more explanation, here is the rest of that story…

A year or two ago our church embarked on an initiative to raise the “outreach temperature” of our congregation. One of the ways we’d do this is through staff accountability. Every few weeks for the past several months, our staff has gathered to tell outreach stories, and to rate ourselves on a one-to-ten scale. From the beginning I was honest. I hate number scales. I hate them when I go to the chiropractor and I’m asked to rate my pain. I hate them in surveys. And I especially hate them in the context of spiritual practice. And so, the pastors I work with let me off the hook. No need to give numbers, I’m free to simply tell my stories. Great. Except for one thing. The number scale has already taken up residence inside my head.

I have long been, for better or worse, a straight-A student. I graduated from college Summa Cum Laude. And it was on purpose. It was THE GOAL. If there was a grade, I would achieve it. I couldn’t seem to help it. This was just me.

But this is not healthy. I’ve known this now for a very long time. Sometime in the midst of my 30’s God allowed me to look at my soul in a mirror of sorts. He was sweet about this, but the truth was real. Perfectionist. People-pleaser. Performer. Pride. I call them my P’s – and if you’ve been reading, you’ve heard this before. And then, during a long and exquisite season, stretching across a dozen or so years, God in His mercy not only showed me these P’s, but He radically and wholly set me free. It was the very best thing that has ever happened.

Fast-forward. Years have gone by, and I’m in a different season of family and ministry and time-of-life. I’m just a bit weary. Stretched thin. Vulnerable for some reason or another to the old-me reality. And then. Again. God in His mercy comes to my rescue. Last weekend with His whisper of Ten.

He called me a Ten. Sunday morning, early, before church and the last sermon in our IDENTITY series, which was wholly important. Important, too, that I read that book just before bed, basking in this sense of Being the Beloved. Important the next morning, as I sat on my porch, sweetly surrendered. Not striving. Not preforming. Not thinking about numbers, or what I could do to achieve perfection. Just delightfully aware of what it means to be HIS. And it was right then He called me a TEN.

Back in those days of college-striving, I remember hearing something that stuck with me from a particular class. I was learning to be a teacher, and there was this phenomenon called “Self-fulfilling Prophecy.” People tend to become who you tell them they are. A teacher points out a student’s shortcomings, and the child becomes more of the same. Or the teacher sees a student’s potential, brings it to light, and the child shines. I’ve wondered lately if this is the meaning of Ten. Like Bonnie, I realized I wasn’t exactly sure of the definition. Is it self-fulfilling? What I believe about myself will eventually be true? Or is it a goal? He calls me a Ten so I can do something ten-ish?

Honestly I think it’s even better. Here’s what I picture. I am created by my Heavenly Father. He knit me together in my mother’s womb. Everything He did He did on purpose. I was no bigger than little Maisy, and God already knew the me I was going to be. He knew my Myers-Briggs and my top 5 Strengths and my Enneagram score. He knew my hopes and dreams and the ways I’d love. And all of this, He said, is very good.

But I entered a world wildly broken, and I was broken, too. Sin and weakness and limitations, they’re all a part of this earthly existence. Which is the reason for Jesus. Jesus came to repair the curse and to redeem the broken and make all things new. Including me. Shalom and Salvation and the Holy Spirit. Jesus in me is A Perfect Ten.

Which means. Don’t miss this. The Ten is REAL. It’s not just in theory, or a wish for the future. Not self-fulfilling or the ultimate goal. Not a college diploma or a title I earn. There’s no striving or achieving or getting it right. This Ten is a Gift. A Miracle. Grace. It’s Jesus in me. His Holy Spirit.

He is perfect in me, and I’m perfect in Him.

This is TEN.

Ten

yosemite-102

(Photo taken by Kiana a year ago at Yosemite)

The sweetest thing happened Sunday morning. It happened before church. Before I arrived at the auditorium and was handed the nametag. Hello my name is… It happened before the sermon when Pastor Greg talked about Identity and read the list of names, of who we are in Christ. Chosen. Adopted. Holy. Loved.  

This happened earlier, before any of that.

I hadn’t slept well. A houseful of people the night before, celebrating Luke and Ali and their upcoming wedding. It was wild and fun and overwhelming, and I went to bed all wound up, and I couldn’t rest. When morning came I stayed in bed an extra hour, made my coffee extra strong, headed outside.

Beloved. It was less a word and more an impression. A memory, lingering, beneath conscious thought. I was too tired to think. I opened my Bible and started to read, the blessing of Word like the morning breeze, soft against soul. Too tired to do much more than sense it’s presence, it came again. Beloved. Rain fell lightly, mist cool beneath my cover. Another whisper. Ten.  

I knew then, what it was, and why it was happening. Last night, late, the last guests said good-bye. I worked my way through stacks of dishes, remains of food. Wiped down counters, took out garbage, ran a quick vacuum across living room rug. Kissed my husband and patted the dog. Good-night to boys and to Ali, TVs still on. I’m ready for bed, but my brain is still busy, so I pick up my book. It’s nearly midnight, too late for reading, when I come to the chapter. Being the Beloved. The author tells her story, and she’s tired, too. She tells it like this.

I walked toward God with empty hands and heart… and for the first time I understood what I had always believed: that God loved me anyway. It was a message I had heard in churches all my life. But it had usually been followed by something – a but, an and, a so... In the mountains of Chiang Mai, I finally understood, both mentally and emotionally, the sentence didn’t need anything added. God loved me. Full stop.*  

Now it’s Sunday morning. I’m at the end of a row filled with family, worshipping together. When was the last time? Luke is leading, Nils on electric. Ali sits next to Kyle, Jimmy’s Sidney is with us, too, and Felipe, next to Brian. And I’m still numb. Part sleep deprivation, part stunned.

Last week the Word was Greek. Pastor Greg was teaching then, too. Poiema. We are God’s handiwork. His poem. I wrote it down. I am His. Poetry. (Ephesians 2:10)

A week later Greg finishes the series, and I know exactly where this is going. The little sticky nametag tucked into my notes. My identity. My name. Greg gives us a list, but I don’t need it.

Ten. And I know what it means. A year or more of worrying over a number on a scale. Am I enough? A long season of knowing my limits, aware of my need. Is this who I am? Last week, exhausted and muddled, spent. And now this morning, sitting weary, on my porch. Nothing to offer but full surrender. And there. Unsolicited. Unexpected. He answers my question. 

I take my pen and I write it. Ten.

Nothing else. God loves me. Full stop.

 

*Dangerous Territory by Amy Peterson