A Little Post About God: Constant and Consistent

I don’t know about you, but consistency has been a theme I’ve wrestled with a lot in 2020. From the way we have been advised about Covid-19, the public policies that have been <arbitrarily> enacted and revised, the election and political debate we are ensnared in, and even the strange rhythms of life… where is there any consistency? And why do I long for it?

There are some verses that have been swirling around in my head recently that are, at the core, about God’s consistent character. I’ve been using them as mantras in the last few months when I feel anxiety start to build. I wanted to share how they intersect and why they matter to me.

“The Father and I are one.” John 10:30
I’ve been thinking of this one in tandem with the way God showed himself to Moses and Elijah. Those guys were the big miracle players of the Old Testament and some of God’s biggest demonstrations of power were accomplished with them and through them. In both cases, despite the big miracles, these men were exhausted by their circumstances. God knew when they needed tenderness, and not just another demonstration of power, so he allowed Moses to “see” him (Exodus 33:17-23) and he ministered to Elijah with food and the gentle wind (I Kings 17 and 19). I am mesmerized by God being intimate, reigning in the mighty to be gentle. It’s almost more awesome to harness power than to unleash it. So in John 10:30, when Jesus says, “The Father and I are one”- that means Jesus is the same God that comforted Moses and Elijah. He mirrors that same tenderness and power. He demonstrated it when he commanded the wind and sea to calm for his disciples (Mark 4:35-41). His actions were consistent with his words.

“Jesus is the same yesterday, today, tomorrow.” Hebrews 13:8.
If Jesus and God are one, and he has the same power and tenderness that was demonstrated to Moses and Elijah and to the disciples on Sea of Galilee, then that is also available for me. For today. For tomorrow. ALWAYS. It’s consistent eternally. The powerful and tender character of God is constant over the span of hundreds of Biblical years between Moses, Elijah, and the disciples. This verse tells me that it is still true.

“God can be trusted.” I Corinthians 1:9
I came across this one today. I was reading the first chapter of Corinthians, and the first and last bits of Paul’s letters are not always theological, sometimes there’s just a long greeting and some administrative stuff, so I was skimming until this jumped off the page at me: God can be trusted. Many translations use “faithful” instead of “trusted,” and they’re both meaningful words. Trusted means “proven to be true,” and it lines up with the two previous verses and the message God has been teaching me. God has always been trustworthy. Always faithful.

When nothing is consistent; when the circumstances don’t seem to line up in any pattern that makes sense, when the people that I love and care about act in ways that depart from what I thought was true of them, when I’m rattled by the tension of decision making and little seems constant and true, those are the moments I seek God. I am desperate for an anchor that hasn’t changed and isn’t changing and won’t change. He is constantly consistent. He is consistently constant. The God of creation is the source of remarkable power and tenderness. He has proven to be so for generations. And he can be trusted today, tomorrow, and always.

I don’t know what I don’t know…

Back in 2011, we were living our best life in our happy little bubble of suburbia when my husband called me to tell me that “We had an opportunity.” If you are not familiar with the nomadic life that certain professions (like heavy civil engineering) afford, an “opportunity” meant we were moving. And it was likely not to a destination where I had dreamed of living, or else this conversation would have gone more like: “Babe- guess what? We’re moving to Fiji!” That’s an important distinction, because “opportunity” meant, “This is likely going to suck, but hopefully it will pay off down the road.”

But, I think I need to go farther back and give some context.

About a year earlier, Paul came home from work and was doing a mental dump of his day. The kids were small and playing nearby while I was cooking dinner. Something was clearly weighing on him even after he had told me all the things that had happened that day. Finally, on a long exhale, he brought it up. He had to send a group of engineers to a job in Newfoundland. Most of them, and their families, had a lot of reservations. I quickly and indifferently snapped back, “Well I guess they’ll need to get over it.” That felt as awful coming out of my mouth as it does to look at on the page. As Paul moved out of the kitchen to go play with the kids, the still small voice in my head asked, “If it were you, what would you need to feel safe, informed, and valued making a move to another country, climate, culture? What would your kids need?” Obviously, lots of information. I called out to Paul, “They’re going to need a book.” He came back into the kitchen, “What do you mean?” I thought for a minutes, “They need a manual. If you’ve only ever lived in the southeastern United States and you have to move with your kids to Newfoundland, you need a guide book. How are schools set up? Where do you register for school? What vaccinations do you need? How do you register your vehicles? What documents do you need for a drivers license? How do taxes work? …” The questions were falling off my tongue faster than I could think them. Paul agreed that the manual was a good idea and he would put some people to work on it.

So when our move to Ontario came the next year, as hard as that “opportunity” was, I had a small framework on which to build. As I grieved the loss of my happy American suburban bubble and came to wrestle with my new Canadian reality, an uncomfortable reality became obvious: I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

Not knowing what you don’t know is an uncomfortable status that most of us try to avoid at all costs. There’s a fear or suspicion that hovers in the back of your mind all the time that maybe you’re missing something that you didn’t know you were supposed to do or have, and that lack of knowledge will have repercussions later. Think taxes for example. We’re five years repatriated back to the USA, and that’s still a specter hanging over us. But I digress…

The crazy thing about not knowing what you don’t know is that it forces you to be vulnerable. I mean, you could choose not to be vulnerable, but that’s a quick trip to shame, anger and loneliness as you try to navigate territory that you know nothing about whilst making all kinds of mistakes. Vulnerability, while totally awkward, leads to community, humility, and empathy. Those were the things that sustained me during those four years in Canada.

Paul and I were taking a walk yesterday. I asked him if he thought we would have normal school this fall. “I don’t know,” he said. “If you had told me back in February this Chinese virus we were starting to hear about would have me wearing a face mask in the grocery store, I would have told you ‘the hell it will.’ We don’t know what we don’t know.”

I smiled, “We used to say that in Canada all the time. Unfortunately, we had the advantage that we could just go ask someone. Or check the manual. No one knows how this will all end. Or what’s going to happen next.”

“Why do we think we need to know how it ends? The tension of not knowing what you don’t know means that the end, the timing, the next new thing will just have to be managed as it comes. Not many people are comfortable with that, which is why there’s this low simmering rage on the surface of everything right now. People want formulas, end dates and simple solutions tied up neatly. That part of COVID-19 is scarier than the actual disease for most people,” he replied.

I think there’s truth in what he said. As I’m wrestling with all of this, I know I’m personally fighting the desire to wrap this disease up and move on. I don’t like masks. I don’t like cancelling events and plans. I don’t like hybrid school plans. I want it to end.

But I don’t know what I don’t know. I don’t know what it would feel like to lose a family member to this disease while the world holds a public debate about masks. I don’t know what it would look like to have my kid unknowingly infect their class or team. I don’t know how I would manage the logistics of traveling and then getting quarantined somewhere away from my family. I don’t know any of those things. I likely don’t know even more. But I’m willing to be vulnerable. I’m willing to listen when you complain about your uncertainties, frustrations, and fears. I’m willing to be empathetic to the fact that no matter where our feelings are on all of this- we are all wrestling with not knowing what we don’t know. And since there’s no manual, I guess we all deserve some grace.

What Does It Cost Me

What does it cost me to admit I have no idea what it is like to be black?

What does it cost me not to reply Blue Lives Matter or All Lives Matter when I see the words Black Lives Matter?

What does it cost me to refrain from saying “I don’t see color” or “I’m not a racist” in conversations about race?

It costs me NOTHING.

What do I gain from shutting my mouth and listening? From reading and learning and paying attention to the experiences of people of color?

Wisdom and empathy.
And maybe… hopefully, the courage to speak up to injustice.

It’s pretty simple.

My Mother’s Hands

When I was a little girl, I was fascinated by my mother’s hands. She has lovely hands. Her nails, never polished, are well shaped without much effort or maintenance. She never wore lots of jewelry, just a white gold wedding band and a simple diamond engagement ring. Her hands were sun tanned from working in the yard year round. They were capable of so many things.

I remember sitting next to my Mom in church when I was a small child. After doodling on the bulletin and flipping through the hymnal, I would often lean against her and pick up her hands from where they rested in her lap. I would study her hands. I wanted hands like hers when I grew up, attractive, strong, and capable of miraculous things like untangling delicate necklace chains. Sometimes those church sermons went long and I would release my Mom’s hands and my head would rest in her lap instead. And then her hands would do their most amazing feat, they would gently comb through my hair. There is no calm in the world that compares to being a child, resting on your mother while she gently runs her fingers through your hair. There are times in my adult life when I am in need of comfort and my mind takes me back to that church pew and the soothing rhythm of my Mom’s fingers gliding through my hair.

My Mother’s hands are gardener’s hands. She developed a love of plants from her parents, and she had an amazing garden. I remember stacks of Organic Gardening magazines around our house that she would consult. She was in that garden for hours every day. It wasn’t something she taught us or showed us, and to be honest, it is not anything I aspire to learn. It was her therapy. A way that she worshipped God. It provided food for our family for the year, and she froze, jarred, jellied and jammed everything in that garden. My mother’s hands can also cook!

My Mother’s hands can sew. Her Dad taught her to sew. She made many of our clothes growing up. We spent much time in fabric stores, pouring over McCalls, Butterick, and Vogue pattern books. My Mom doing the fabric math on her scratch pad before sending us loose in the store to pick out materials for our new clothes. She did tailoring for our neighbor. She made curtains, throw pillows, and even reupholstered a sofa and chairs for our first homes.

My Mother has beautiful handwriting. She would be the first to tell you what she does wrong technically according to her penmanship teacher from elementary school, but I always admired her signature on every document I had to take to school. And when the time came to learn cursive, I had no care for that the quick brown fox jumping over the lazy dog or that I was holding the pencil too tight against my ring finger. I wanted my signature to look exactly like my mother’s.

My Mother’s hands turn pages. She’s a reader. She loves to study the Bible for herself. The soft worn pages, highlighted and noted, bear witness to time spent with God. She loves Scripture the way that her father did. This is one way that my hands are like my Mother’s. When people ask me why and how I learned to study for myself, I can say, “This is what I watched my mother do.”

My Mother’s hands can hold cards. They can throw dice. They can spin a wheel. My Mom loves to play games. We played a lot of cards and games when we were growing up. She plays cards with her grandkids now. They all associate Nana’s house with games. Her hands are a legacy to her family to take time for play.

My Mother’s hands serve. Maybe because they have done so many things over the years like comforting, cultivating, sewing, creating, cooking, writing, and playing. These are the hands of someone who has lived and loved so well, and when a heart is that full, it directs the hands toward others.

My hands will never do all the things my Mother’s hands have done and I don’t wish it any different. She is uniquely gifted by God for the life He called her to and I am in awe of that calling. I’m simply grateful I was raised by the remarkable hands of my remarkable mother.

Romanticizing

Paul and I were at the ocean the other day, seemingly hypnotized by the relentless surf reclaiming the beach, when a thought burst into my head. How much time will pass before we start romanticizing this Strange Time we are in? I’ve already seen the memes on social media celebrating this idea of families gathered around the dinner table each night, kids playing outside and all the busyness seemingly stripped away so that relationships come first. But we who are here now, in this moment, we know it is much more complicated.

It’s natural to romanticize our memories, isn’t it? We lived in Canada for four years. I complained about the weather every single day that we lived there. I missed my family back in the States. The expat experience was one in which I didn’t know what I didn’t know and it frustrated me regularly. And yet, that experience was so good for our family. We learned to rely on each other and to enjoy each other-just the four of us- in ways we could have never learned back home in Georgia. The kids attended an amazing school. We built community and lifelong friendships. And now, I only remember the good. Sometimes I will comment, “I miss Canada so much.” My husband will smile at me indulgently and remind me that winter was a 6 month affair and I am a person that needs a blanket when the air conditioner is running. All true, but I do miss the good things.

I hear people wax nostalgic for bygone eras. Simpler times, they say. Simpler maybe, or maybe just innocent or naive to the weight of what was going on. I think of the 1970s of my childhood as “simpler” times, yet the country was polarized from racial tensions, the Vietnam War, Watergate, energy shortages, high inflation, and high unemployment. That didn’t touch me personally because I was a child, completely cared for by loving parents and not in any way directly impacted by the heaviness of the world outside my small town.

All of these ruminating thoughts ran through my head because I want so badly to process this experience in such a way that I can hold the tension that there were good things about this global pause, AND there was also restlessness, grief, fear, anger, and uncertainty. People lost jobs. Milestones went uncelebrated. We collectively held our breath for the vulnerable in our society left in tenuous situations. That has to be lamented as much as any silver lining about playing in nature and family suppers.

Later that day, I picked up a novel, The Book Charmer, by Karen Hawkins. It’s a wonderful book, but this exchange between the protagonist, Grace, and her foster mother, Mama G, seemed to speak right into the vacuum of my thoughts.

Grace had to laugh. “I suppose things were different back then.”

“You have no idea.” Mama G sipped her hot cocoa, a faraway look in her eyes. “It’s odd- when you look back, things seem simpler, but they weren’t.”

“Really?”

“When it’s a memory, you already know the outcome, so we believe it was an easier time. Looking forward is much more uncertain, and so it feels more complicated. But I don’t think it is. Not really.”

The Book Charmer. Karen Hawkins Gallery Books 2019 page 268

I’m not a psychologist but I would imagine that retaining good memories is what keeps us going forward into the uncertain. It has to be a component of the resiliency of the human spirit. As we go into the future, unsure of the outcomes that lie before us, we rest in the confidence of our personal history that whatever happens, there will be good with the bad. We need only to look back and remember that it all, somehow, worked out ok.

In some ways it seems such a waste to set aside some of the struggles in order to hold onto a silver lining narrative. These are strange times, and there is much to be lamented. The history books will hold the facts about the science and policy. It will be up to each of us, collectively and individually, to hold the bitter and the sweet together, and allow it to shape us as we go forward.

Sunrise Season

{I wrote this piece a few months ago but I never shared it because I wanted to get better sunrise pictures to include with it. School has been suspended through April 24, and that could possibly extend to the end of the year, so it seems more important than ever to celebrate Sunrise Season.}

I’m becoming a bit of an outdoorsy girl in my older age. Don’t read into that too much. I can’t skin a buck or run a trout line, but I do like a long walk and I love a sunrise. A morning person by nature, I love the visual of a new day erupting across the sky in glorified splendor. The Scriptures say God’s mercies are new every morning, and the sunrise seems to confirm that truth.

I have always driven my kids to school. I love doing it because the best conversations happen on that morning commute. I take Lindsey to school first and then come back for Stephen, as the start time for high school is later than middle school. Lindsey and I are usually in the car by 7:20. In time for sunrise.

I’m not sure when I started pointing out the sunrise to her, but we talk about it every morning. As we turn off our street, we see it cresting the top of the hill. By the time we cross Lake Peachtree, the vivid colors are streaking out their reflection across the glassy perfection of the water. We always pay attention at that point. Conversation stops and we take it in.

We had a rainy winter. Lots of fog and dark clouds, and many days there was not much of a sunrise just a subtle brightening of the grey sky. One morning mid-February, it cleared out and Lindsey walked to the end of the garage and looked out. The sky gleamed golden and pink at the top of the hill and she stood transfixed and said, “Look Mom. It’s coming!”

It was beautiful. Perhaps made even more so by the absence of that majesty over the recent days. As we enjoyed it there on the driveway I realized: This is a season. My Sunrise Season with Lindsey. Next year, she will go to high school. The sun will be up when she leaves. Her brother (God-willing) will probably drive her to school.

Seasons change. It makes me feel… not sad, but maybe wistful. As I pause to futurize the nostalgia I will one day have for this time in our lives, I’m grateful. Grateful to God for painting the sky for our delight and wonder. Grateful for this beautiful girl who notices the creation around her. But mostly, grateful that I was paying enough attention in the present moment to realize that I had been gifted with a Sunrise Season.

February Reflections

Delight

I took coffee to my parents a few weeks ago. We tend to do sit-down visits around beverages with my family. It’s always interesting the direction those conversations will take. My parents always want a full report on how the kids are doing, but once we had covered that, we moved on to books and movies.

I was telling them a conversation I had recently with Stephen concerning World War II and the Cold War. Stephen is an avid reader about those topics and I had recently posed a theoretical question to him and was astonished by how thoughtful his answer was. Quite honestly, he had probably already considered the question because the answer he gave was detailed and nuanced. He knows more than I do about that topic.

As I was telling this story to my parents, I could feel myself getting excited and I concluded with, “I think this is my favorite part of parenting… when they start to integrate everything they’ve learned, draw their own conclusions, form their own beliefs, and you look at this person and think, ‘I may have had a role in making you, but you are becoming wholly your own person.'”

My parents were just smiling at me. Indulgently. Wistfully. My Dad nodded and my Mom said, “It is the best.”

I think the way they looked at me will stay with me forever. In the moment, I saw us as parent and grandparents both proud of this kid we loved. It was only later, scrolling through Instagram, that I saw this meme and my thumb halted.

When I saw this picture, I saw the father in the background first. I saw his face. I saw the delight in his son. And I remembered the faces of my parents looking at me as I gushed in pride of my son. And I knew. The look on their faces wasn’t pride in Stephen’s knowledge of history. It was delight in their daughter being a mother.

It made me realize this gig of being totally in love with your kid doesn’t end when they graduate, get married, get a job, or whatever. I will be dazzled and delighted by them until I draw my last breath. I also realized how blessed I am to be the delight of my parents. Everyone deserves at least one person who thinks they hung the moon.

Further Thoughts on Delight

I’ve also decided I’m just going to start delighting more. I’m going to delight myself in some things. We had sunshine for the first time in what felt like months and I took my time delighting in that sunshine as I walked to the mailbox. I delighted in the birds singing. I delighted in the power-half-hour nap I took on the couch at 2 pm. I delighted in the sunset on the way to volleyball practice. Mindfulness is teaching me that I can engage my emotions in the small moments of the day where beauty and nurture show up and it will color the whole day brighter.

What I learned on the Roku

The Roku portion of my February is a tribute to the shows we watched or finished this month on Amazon Prime and Netflix.

Cheer

This Six-part series on Netflix was so good. We are not cheerleading people by any stretch of the imagination, but that is not necessary. Cheer is a a documentary about Navarro College’s competitive cheer squad. There are so many underdog stories to root for, but the entire series was such a reminder not to compare your daily life to someone else’s. So many of the kids on that squad were dealing with pain- physical, mental, and emotional. In all their brokenness, they came together for two minutes and performed a near flawless routine. Hooray for glossy perfection, right? Except the beauty of the whole show was in the brokenness, the hard stuff they were pushing through and battling. Those were the reasons they were worth cheering for. We don’t know the hard stuff people are facing under their performance any more than we know the beauty God could be forging out of our own brokenness. We could be on the cusp of our own “Daytona.” Whatever the case, the real story is in the journey.

Downton Abbey

I know. I’m the last person in the universe to behold the beauty that was and is Downton Abbey. There’s so much to love about this show. The costumes. The setting. The humor. The history. The heartbreak. The cast. Dame Maggie Smith, for the love of God. Has a better television character EVER existed? I could write a book about this show, but I think it boils down to this: there was something magical about the writing and the actors that made me care so much about the characters. Call it kismet. The villains were redeemable. The heroes were flawed.

There was a scene in one of the later episodes when Mrs. Baxter’s kindness to Thomas completely changed my opinion of him. I had hated him, with (at best) minimal sympathy over the course of the show. He had been wretched to just about every character including himself. But Mrs. Baxter saw goodness in him. And if she saw goodness, there was goodness to be found. How we treat people can give them the dignity it takes for others to see their value as well.

I will never get over Downton Abbey.

Books

From the stack at the top, I did some nonfiction reading on the real Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle with Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey. It was interesting to see some of the parallels to the show, particularly the history around World War I. Interesting fact, the Carnavons of Highclere bankrolled Howard Carter’s excavation of King Tut’s tomb.

I also read up on the Vanderbilt family. The time period paralleled Downton Abbey, but of course it was defined by their rise (and fall) during the Gilded Age in the United States. Fortune’s Children is family history to Arthur T. Vanderbilt II, and this book is well written. He highlights different time periods through the lens of one family member. It reads like easy fiction- this family knew extravagance and disfunction, in spades.

Self to lose- Self to find is a faith based look at the Enneagram. I’ve been diving into the Enneagram recently and this was a good resource. I’ll probably have more to say on that in the future.

The Unhoneymooners was my fun fiction for the month. It had some Pride and Prejudice themes in it, namely, what we assume about people when we first meet is not always accurate. The Elizabeth Bennet character comes from a large Mexican American family living in Minnesota. The dialogue was very funny.

God with Us by Glenn Krieder is a book I have had for ages and finally decided to read. It was an exploration of the presence of God throughout Scripture, not just at the arrival of Immanuel Jesus. My biggest takeaway from this book was that so much of what we know about God in Scripture is anthropomorphic. We ascribe human trait to God because that’s the only way we can attempt to understand him. God has condescended to us and allowed that because He wants a relationship with us. But that means that it is not the whole picture of who He is. We see through the glass dimly. We have to hold tension to the mystery that He is infinitely more. Even the language we use to describe Him is not sufficient because language is anthropomorphic.

The last book I “read” is a screenshot from my Audible app. The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After Happiness is a beautiful memoir about a family’s journey through childhood illness. A daughter is born with an unknown blood disease and the fragility with which Heather Harpham writes is akin to the condition of her daughter at birth. This quote at the end is a keeper:

“Between us was the future. Who we would become as we grew older, as the kids left home. And also the future of the two small people we loved most, our aspirations for who they might become, the revelation of who they already were. All of this reverberated in the gaze we held for a long time. Brian lifted his wine. We clinked and pressed glass against glass, globe against globe. ‘To the end,’ Brian said.

And the beginning.”

Asheville

We took a trip up to Asheville. The Downton Abbey Exhibit is at the Biltmore through April, so it seemed a good time to revisit this city. We were last there fourteen years ago, when we lived in Tampa and a mountain vacation seemed the right thing to do in the summer. Traveling with teens as opposed to an infant and a toddler is infinitely easier. But still, I have fond memories of both trips. In the picture below, we had just bathed those babies in the antique claw foot tub at the B&B we stayed at. I was feeding Lindsey and Stephen was playing with a truck. Paul had put Harry Potter on the television. We were happy and cozy in our vacation digs. In the recent picture we had just checked in to our brand new hotel. We were about to walk to dinner, where we would enjoy a leisurely meal that did not feature chicken nuggets or toddler tantrums. These pictures tell me that I have loved every stage. They tell me I will love whatever comes next.

The Highlight Reel

Lindsey plays club volleyball. This year one of the Dads on our team created a YouTube channel where he posts video of all the tournament matches that the girls play. He also condenses each match into a 20 minute highlight reel of all the best plays. Think SportsCenter Top Ten, but with 14 year old girl’s volleyball. It’s been fun to re-watch the games because we catch things we didn’t notice during live time. Lindsey sifts through all of it after a weekend tournament and breaks down all of her mistakes so that she can practice more productively on the things she struggled with. Sometimes, she has a match, day, or tournament when she knows she played well, and she loves to watch that highlight reel. She counts all the “kills” and “good ups” she had, and she will savor her small victories.

I’m happy for the highlight reel. We all need a moment to bask in a job well done. I think it’s natural to want to enjoy success. It’s important to remember though, that it is only a snapshot in time. The fact of the matter is, you don’t learn much, if anything, from watching the highlight reel. It produces all the temporary endorphins, but it doesn’t instruct the future. What I’ve learned from observing Lindsey watch these videos is this:

The raw unedited video is better for instruction.

The raw unedited video shows all the mistakes.

The raw unedited video shows all the stoppages when inerrant balls enter the court, when a timeout happens, an injury, a substitution, a conflict at the scoring table.

The raw unedited video shows discouraged shoulders and facial expressions.

The raw unedited video follows the ball and not one individual person.

It takes a lot longer to observe the raw unedited video.

The raw unedited video is life. The highs and lows. The mistakes and miscues, the accidents that change our trajectory, the rests along the way, the hurt, and rejection. The times when emotions got the best of us, good or bad. It is the unadulterated truth that this world is not just about us.

Who we are becoming matters more than any highlight reel. That’s not a volleyball or sports lesson, that is a universal truth. We learn from this life what we take the time to observe, practice, and correct. Enjoy the highlight reel, but don’t forsake the unedited footage of our lives, because that context is often what makes the next highlight reel possible.

I will go up to the lookout tower

Our Life Group at church has been going through the Bible chronologically. It’s been a great learning experience, there are so many stories I had forgotten from childhood or never really learned because they did not translate well to a felt board or puppet show in Sunday School. We recently covered the book of Habakkuk, three small chapters towards the back of your Old Testament.

Habakkuk doesn’t get a great deal of press, because it’s small and because the message isn’t something we cross-stitch on a pillow or post as a meme on Facebook. It’s a back and forth dialogue between a little known prophet and God that basically goes like this:

Habakkuk: God, why do you allow so much bad stuff?

God: Yeah, it is bad. It’s actually going to get even worse. And soon.

Habakkuk: Are you crazy? You are God. Do some good stuff.

God: Well, after the bad stuff happens, I’m going to do some restoration, and then something amazing will happen. You won’t live to see it on this earth, but trust me, it will be GREAT!

Habakkuk: You are a loving God. Whatever happens, I will be glad you are my God.

This synopsis is not seminary approved, but that’s my own in-a-nutshell version. For the record, I do not have these kind of conversations with God. Most notably because God does not dialogue back and forth with me but also because I’m not sure I would be so accepting of God’s good character right after He has told me things are about to go from bad to worse. I respect Habakkuk for getting there so quickly and I hope one day my default thought process is to Praise God Anyway. We’re all a work in progress, so it’s not out of the question.

But if I struggle with the content and I don’t relate to the response of Habakkuk, what pulls me in to this tiny book of the Bible? It’s the first verse of the second chapter:

“I will go up to the lookout tower. I’ll station myself on the city wall. I’ll wait to see how God will reply to me. Then I’ll try to figure out how his reply answers what I’ve complained about.”

That verse comes right after God has told him how much worse things are about to get and Habakkuk has questioned if God realizes what He is doing. I love the posture he’s taking by going up to a watchtower, high above everything, where he can see from a wider perspective. In other words, I’m not going to sit insulated in the problem, I want to see this the way God does. I want to get outside my own head, above the smallness I’m focused on and see something Bigger, Wider, Greater. I think that verse is the linchpin to getting to the song of praise at the end of Habakkuk.

In life, there are so many things that get my laser focus. They become the Big Deal that consumes my efforts and thoughts. Sometimes this focus is necessary in order to complete a task or a season of life. I’m just not sure it is the best modus operandi for a whole life. Right now I am coaching my kids about personal responsibility and how to handle conflict and confrontation. We have had many failures and setbacks in this process. When I dwell on the setbacks, transfixed in the small world of only the problem, I can become depressed, worried, or angry which leads me to act in ways that are not particularly healthy. My spiritual life can consist of (mostly) whining to God that the current situation sucks and He needs to show up and FIX IT.

Or.

I can go up to the lookout tower. I can stop looking at the thing that I feel certain is about to destroy us, take a wide angled view of this life, and wait to see how God might be using this. I’ll try and figure out what He’s saying about the Big Picture. I’ll practice the praise of Habakkuk, and I’ll wrestle with the idea that even if there is hardship and struggle, He is still a good God. He will give me strength to get through it. He will help me walk along the highest places, where the perspective is wide and the view is beautiful.

January Reflections

Since my word of the year is Mindfulness, I want to build some self- reflection into my life and a month-in-review seemed the best way to do that. It’s also good accountability for consistent journaling when I know I have to blog it all at the end of every 30 days. This end of month blog may look different each month, but I imagine it will be a potpourri of the things I’m enjoying, learning, questioning, reading and laughing about.

Things I’m learning

1. We took a trip to New Orleans with my parents after Christmas. We wanted to show my Dad the World War II museum, enjoy the city’s charm, and eat amazing food. We checked all the boxes. On our way home, we were waiting in the airport and chatting about places we’ve been and the kids were naming all the places they want to travel. My Mom was listening and she said, “I don’t have a bucket list. I never really have.” I quickly blurted out, “Oh, I do.” I didn’t list any places though. I looked at my Mother’s face and the tone of her voice and just paused. Her comment was not passive aggressive, wistful, prideful, or hopeful. It wasn’t tied to any emotion. It was just her truth. It’s not right, wrong, well informed or ill informed. It just is. Values, dreams or methods are not assigned a moral value based on how well they align with others. My dreams, goals, lessons, and values are my own. They may not be for everyone, but they don’t have to be universal for them to right for me. No one is behind and no one is ahead because we are all on our own path- being equipped for our unique journey.

2. My husband was looking over my shoulder the other day as I was was scrolling through my emails. “What are all the purple flags for?” he asked.

“It’s my new system,” I replied, “Email triage. Not everything requires immediate action. Like at the ER, chest pain gets you taken back immediately, because it could be life threatening? Most ER visits are not life threatening. Most emails do not require immediate action. That’s how my inbox operates now. I have it noted so I come back to address it, but it’s not a 911.”

I think about how in the Scriptures, there is emphasis on THIS day. Give us THIS day our daily bread. THIS is the day that the Lord has made. I think we were made to live in THIS day. To put aside the demands of things that will live to be solved another day (or that might even resolve themselves) is to be fully present in THIS day. This is the day God made and suggested we enjoy.

Things that made me laugh

* Paul and I were telling Lindsey the plans for our 25th anniversary this summer and she said, “Why are you doing all that? Your marriage isn’t that great.”

* Stephen went on a service and educational trip to Austria with school. One of their experiences was worship in a multicultural church in Vienna. When he came home he told us he found his worship niche with Pentecostal African immigrants residing in Vienna, Austria.

Should be easy to replicate that experience.

* I grew up in a place where winter lasted 10 months. It was cold a lot. What I remember most about birthdays from my childhood was that kids born in July and August had it the best. Birthday parties could be outside and featured lawn games, picnics, and swimming. My January birthday parties were held inside my parents’ basement, playing pin the tail on the donkey and hoping the guest list wasn’t decimated by a blizzard or a flu epidemic. I live in Georgia now and it was 72° on my birthday. All day I thought about how I could have had a pool party.

A Quote That Made Me Think

“Nearly all the wisdom which we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But, while joined by many bonds, which one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern.”

– John Calvin

Institutes of the Christian Religion

It actually blew my mind that John Calvin wrote this because in my mind I always pictured him as a curmudgeonly old man (I might be projecting from the church people I’ve known who love to quote him) and yet, this quote seems so full of grace. I never stopped to ponder that self-awareness could help me understand God better and seeking God would help me understand self better. Mind blown. Well done, John Calvin.

Books I read in January

I set a goal this year to read 26.2 books, a marathon of reading so to speak. The problem is, I’m not sure exactly how many books I normally read in the course of a year. This could be a low bar or an unrealistic expectation. We’ll see where the year takes us, but at least there will be a measurement in 2020, and what gets measured can be improved upon. I read a wide variety of books. I’m all over the board so to speak with genres and my selections are not for everyone. I want to use this space not to review the books, but more to reflect on what I learned from reading them.

The Pressure’s Off : Breaking Free from Rules and Performance by: Larry Crabb

This book was outside my normal genres but I heard someone mention it on a podcast and I was compelled to give it a shot. I learned so much from this book. The basic principle he writes about and that we all fall victim to is the Law of Linearity. This law states “there is an A that leads to the B you want. Figure out what A is, do it, and you’ll have the life you most desire. The pressure’s on.” (p. 12) Can I tell you how subtly this creeps into your life? It affects me on so many levels but this book focuses primarily on the spiritual. I so often try to define God with this Karen-made system where if I do X, God will do Y for me. Or the reverse, if I don’t do X, God won’t punish me with Y. This is garbage theology because Christ came to set me free from unrealistic laws. I think the Law of Linearity is an unhealthy mindset even if you are not a person of faith because personal growth and setbacks are not linear. Life happens. One step forward and two steps back is a popular saying because it is a common enough reality. Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. Every single day.

I recognized that living under Law of Linearity meant I was wholly focused on my performance. God existed only to bless my good and punish my bad. That’s not a relationship with God, it’s a relationship with performance. Viewing God as Santa Claus or the Angry School Principal puts him in a small box where I deceive myself into thinking I can manipulate the outcome. It’s such a small way to live.

God will bless me. God will discipline me. These are both true. But I choose him not because blessings or discipline are a prize to be won or avoided. He alone is the prize.

The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by: Kelly Harms

I’ve decided this year I need to read more light hearted fiction, so I’m going to try for one per month. I am so often drawn towards tomes of history or the Great American World War II novel. 2020 me is being intentional and fun. (Sarcasm font)

This was an entertaining fast read about a single mom of two and the summer break she got alone in New York after her estranged husband resurfaced to make up for a long absence in the kids’ lives. The heroine has a teen daughter with a sarcastic attitude (totally relatable to my own child) and every chapter begins with a journal entry by the daughter. It also has a poignant moment between the two that sets up this quote on page 294:

” So the change you’ll see when we all get home is that I show you how creating an enjoyable life- not just a vacation but a life- is another part of being a mother, like serving vegetables once a week or lecturing your kids about slouching.”

I loved that! We get so hung up on teaching and nagging and demonstrating all the things to our kids we forget that modeling a life well lived and enjoyed is just as much a legacy as knowing how to separate light and dark laundry.

Warsaw 1944 by: Alexandra Richie

Remember when I said I was drawn to historical tomes? Well, here you go. I became fascinated with Poland two years ago when I read the novel Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly (highly recommend). It just weighed on me that this country was stuck between two tyrannical bullies. Their liberation came from their next oppressor and the rest of the world kept quiet because peace was more important than the freedom of these people. It’s such a human story and it was the Polish identity for most of the twentieth century. When we were in New Orleans at the World War II museum bookstore, I picked up this book and could not put it down. (I did pay for it, because while many things are permissible in New Orleans, shoplifting is not one of them)

The book is about the Warsaw uprising in summer 1944. The resistance in Poland tried to drive out the Nazis in the hope that the Soviets and (preferably) the Western Allies would lend support. Support never came and 170,000 Warsawians were killed and 520,000 were processed as refugees and sent to concentration camps, PoW camps, or to work as slaves in German factories and farms. The city itself was razed to the ground.

My favorite quote was from an editorial George Orwell wrote to the Tribune in September 1944 in admonishment for how the media, and the world really, was collectively turning its back on Poland (p. 537):

“Do remember that dishonesty and cowardice always have to be paid for. Don’t imagine that for years on end you can make yourself the boot-licking propagandist of the Soviet regime, or any other regime, and then suddenly return to mental decency…”

That is such a timeless warning not only for political entities, but us as individuals. Dishonesty and cowardice have a cost and we cannot ignore them without realizing the toll that takes on our humanity.

Happiness for Beginners by: Katherine Center

My friends at Amazon sent me an email, because they know me so well, and thought I might enjoy this book. I had a week left in January and three books already done, so I decided a short piece of fiction might be the thing. Apparently, no one knows me better than Amazon because I did really like this book.

It’s another piece about a woman’s get away and journey of self-discovery. This one is set on a wilderness survival course in Wyoming. There is a romantic storyline here too, but it’s more about what the heroine learns about herself. I really liked Helen Carpenter. Our lives do not have any circumstantial similarities, but I identified so much with her personality.

The Epilogue in this book is worth the entire book. It’s written in Helen’s voice and it’s such a beautiful reminder that we get to frame our own story. You can write it as a history of all the tragedies that have ever befallen you or you can frame it as a journey of overcoming. She says it’s beautifully on page 308:

But that’s not the story I want to tell. Those aren’t the moments in my life I want to dwell on. They happened. They mattered. They left their marks. But the things we remember are what we hold on to, and what we hold on to becomes the story of our lives. We only get one story. And I am determined to make mine a good one.”

How good is that? Fiction teaches me just as much as nonfiction.

That was my mindful January. As I read this back I see a few themes emerging. I’m grateful for all the things that converged this month and I’m excited to see just what I do hold on to.