Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Joy of the Lord is your Strength

Early last year the Lord gave me the phrase "Work smarter with a heart at peace." It spoke to the season I was in of needing to prioritize life and ministry in order to survive and my desperate need to embrace the peace of Christ that surpasses all understanding in the face of life's constant transitions and anxieties. I still have so far to go in these areas but the practice of using this phrase as an encouragement, rebuke, and guiding principle for the year fostered so much growth.

I didn't intentionally choose a new focus for this year, but in the past couple of months the Lord has been unmistakably speaking to me of joy and its connection to my strength for the day. 

I'm in a tough season of life for me personally: a task-oriented introvert deep in the chaos of young children and homeschooling, with a newborn arriving imminently and household and ministry responsibilities leaving a growing line of check boxes that glare at and goad me with their emptiness. 

Most days I feel like I am just surviving. I get frustrated and angry and resentful and feel so alone...and yet NEVER ALONE. Deep, pervasive joy is hard for me to imagine in the face of daily monotony and zombie exhaustion. Oh sure, there is joy in listening to my kids' laughter or seeing the Lord do a mighty work in a ministry event but the strength to meet each moment of the day with determined joy? It seems an impossible dream. And then I worry that by my example I will teach my children that following the Lord is a joyless and impossible task, and parenting is a burden best just gotten through--neither of which are the truth. 

And then one day a few weeks ago the Lord brought to mind Nehemiah 8.10 - "The joy of the Lord is your strength." I felt the words rush in and settle down through my body and into my soul and I felt desperate for the hope of it. 



Yes. I instantly recognized the deep need for these in my life.

And so, in the weeks that have followed--being 8 months pregnant, moving, homeschooling, mothering a challenging toddler, and stepping into new life and ministry responsibilities--I have found myself breathing this verse out as a desperate prayer and life-saving promise when I have felt too inadequate and burdened and exhausted to conquer the task at hand. It is followed quickly by the prayer, "Lord, teach me what that even means" because it is clear that I don't understand it yet.

As I meditate on this verse throughout the year I'm asking the Lord to show me what it means to live into His joy and to be able to look at the future (whether it is the hours, months, or years ahead of me) with strength and joy instead of panic and discouragement. 

I trust that He will answer my request because He is a good Father. And, so, I am going to rest in the knowledge that this isn't just one more thing I have to do this year, but something that can, and will, be poured into my weary self as I draw near to the Lord.

With that, my few precious moments alone are drawing to a close and as I get back in my van to drive back to the responsibilities of the rest of the day I am tempted to feel discouraged, but instead I will repeat "The joy of the Lord is your strength."



Sunday, August 7, 2016

Hope for the Introverted Mother

The thing about being an Introverted mom is that you spend nearly every waking minute with people, and not just any people, demanding, needy, little people who have no care or concern for personal space. Almost every moment of the day drains you, even the amazing moments. Motherhood in general, and Introverted mothering in particular, can often leave you feeling poured out and spent and yet feeling like everything you gave still wasn't enough. It's easy to lose yourself because where you know yourself best is in the space of the internal you and, let's be honest, who has the time or energy to focus on that when all day is "Mom, Mom, Mom, Mama....!"

Personally, I find this leads to the indulgence of mind-numbing behavior in the rare moments I have to myself because I don't feel like I have even an ounce of energy left to pour into the development of my internal emotional, mental, and spiritual development. My investment in spiritual growth wanes and my pursuit of things that energize me gets put on hold, and slowly I begin to drift, feeling lost in the sea of my exhaustion and suddenly a stranger to myself. It is then that I become full of guilt and resentment and impatience.

I've found myself drifting again recently, feeling empty and without the emotional reserves needed to respond to the challenges inherent in the day. We've had a few really awful days at our house recently and I've felt like a caged beast (an exhausted and insane Momzilla) trapped with other little caged beasts just trying to survive. Today, however, I ran out the door to Panera Bread as if my life depended on it, leaving my husband and children waving on the porch, to whom (I guiltily realized later) I didn't even turn and wave to as I sped down the block.

I took my Bible and my laptop and claimed my favorite back corner booth to slowly start to row for shore. I read in Psalm 73 where it says, "How good it is to be near God," and admitted to myself and God that I wasn't drawing near and I hadn't been filled with that feeling of goodness. Usually I feel guilty and sort of helpless as I try to muster the strength to change, but today God reminded me of mercy. In Eugene Peterson's A Long Obedience in the Same Direction he writes that we can come to God as children who are loved. Even though we can't comprehend the fullness of God, we never have to draw near to him wondering what we will get in return, for "We know very well what to expect, and what we expect is mercy."

He is a good and merciful father--my father. I am his child. Too often, in the face of the draining list of my children's (and the rest of life's) needs, I forget that I have a father to whom I can bring all of my needs, who never grows weary of hearing "Dad, Dad, Dad...."

The hope for the Introverted Mother is the mercy of God, our heavenly father, our refuge in the onslaught of constant sibling bickering, our strength to answer one more "Why?" and our grace when we feel we are running on fumes for the bedtime routine. He is our shelter in the never ending chaos, a calm place where we can once again find the self he made us to be. It is good to be near God, a position, which if we let it, will gently pull our exhausted selves deeper still into enough mercy to cover it all.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Work Smarter with a Heart at Peace

You know the feeling that you are doing everything, and yet, nothing well? It's born of a season of too many plates spinning, too little attention paid to what really matters, and it leaves you harried, anxious, lonely, angry, maxed out, and stressed.

My INTJ-crave for depth and competency makes me a bit intense about life. So people are assured of my competency and dependability, I often say yes to things when I should say no. I ignore what's going on in my heart and what is happening to the relational threads around me in favor of my to-do list.

Sowing this pattern in my life means I have cyclically reaped seasons of extreme burn out and loneliness. I hit the low point of this repeating cycle a few months ago.

No one is meant to do everything, but while some personalities thrive on activity, INTJs are wired for focus and depth. The life of a working, homeschooling, mom of two little people is not a life that lends itself to focus. But, since it is the life God has called me to, it also shouldn't be filling me with anxiety and anger and burnout.

In the past few months the Lord revealed to me the pervading lack of peace in my life. I came face to face with the story of Mary and Martha where "Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to [Jesus] and said, 'Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.' But the Lord answered her, 'Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her'” (Lk. 10.40-42).

Honestly, as a "doer," this story has always bothered me. I mean, someone has to get things done, right? But when I read it this time I didn't read Jesus rebuking Martha's to-do list. I read him seeing a "doer" in the state she had worked herself into: a heart that was "anxious and troubled about many things." He was gently calling her out of anxiety and striving and into a heart at peace.

In a recent meeting we were asked to come up with one thing, that if we did it well, would cultivate success in ministry and family and life in general. I wrote down "Work smarter with a heart at peace." After I wrote it, the weight of what God has been speaking into me resonated deeply and I have decided to adopt this saying as a rule of life during this life-season.

I can't just work harder--there aren't enough hours in the day. I have to work smarter. I need to attend to the things that are most important and I need to have a pulse on where my heart is in the midst of life's craziness. I can't say yes to everything. It is OK to do less in order to do it well. It is necessary to place peace at the center of all life's striving.

Working harder without peace brings anxiety, helplessness and resentment. I know these feelings well, so I have claimed Philippians 4.6-7 as an operating guide to live out a heart at peace. It says that the peace of God comes through prayer and thanksgiving and it will guard my heart.

As a "doer" and as a working, homeschooling, mom of two kids my heart can use some guarding. When I feel anxiety working it's tired wheel in my head I have been trying to replace it with a short prayer for the need I feel squeezing my chest and a "thank you" for whatever it is that I feel so deeply about. I know myself and this will probably be a life-long journey but little by little I have felt peace seeping into my soul and the wisdom and strength to re-prioritize my to-do list. Perhaps one day I will be able to "work smarter with a heart at peace" with more ease but for now I am taking each step in the right direction as a victory.

Some resources that have helped in my journey:

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Calming the Storm

I'm such an internal processor. It's not that I won't talk about just about anything with anyone if asked, it's just that it takes me so long to make sense of my thoughts and feelings that I don't offer up much until I've wrapped my own brain around things. Sometimes this can be a problem when I'm in a prolonged season of internal mayhem.

I'm sort of in one of those seasons and thus, I am pretty silent on the outside. It takes so much energy to keep up with my swirling mind that I retreat even further into myself. It's not intentional; it's an instinctive survival mechanism. The past couple of years have been hard, heck, the last near decade have been hard, and every once in awhile the craziness of life and the unintentionally stored up mental baggage collide and my life explodes. OK, maybe it doesn't actually explode, but it sort of feels like it. My body starts falling apart (This time it's random weird breathing problems and strange nerve issues in my leg, among other things.), I have sleeping problems, and I succumb to self-indulgent mental anguish.

I find myself in the metaphorical place of the disciples, in the face of the crashing waves of life and the whipping wind of my mind, and I cry out, "Lord, don't you care if I drown?"

Dutch Boat in a Storm, Titus Lunter
Sometimes I give in to feelings of defeat and other times I try to "fix" everything myself, which only adds more pressure and guilt. But, when it comes down to it, even though there are healthy practices I can put into place, it is only God that can completely heal. I have proven over and over that I am not capable of calming the storm. Jesus on the other hand can stretch out His hand and say:

Quiet. Be still!

Someone recently reminded me that praising the Lord is the best weapon for just about anything. Praising the Lord takes the focus off of myself, my anxiety, even physical distress. It doesn't let me take a victim's mentality to life's assaults.

Life is stressful and often full of pain...we weren't promised that it wouldn't be. But our God is good. He is powerful. And, He is worthy of praise.

I certainly don't have all the answers right now, or ever. I can't control life and I can't heal the wounds of the past by myself. I'm trying not to desperately focus on my need for peace, scheming all the ways I can force it into existence, and focus instead on the Prince of Peace Himself.

It's a life-lesson in process, a slow process, but in process none-the-less.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Ugly Truth

Honestly, life's been kicking the pants off me lately. We're busy, like lots of people, and I tend to be a really focused in too many things at one time makes me a crazy person. Lately, I've been a crazy person.

Being task driven, this means that I still get a lot of work done, but, as I always remind my eager-to-please-people husband, "When you say yes to something, you are saying no to something else."

Well, I like to say yes to tasks. I like to feel a little bit of pressure pressing down on my shoulders--to know that I am taking on a challenge and feel the satisfaction in its completion. I love crossing things off of my to-do list and can get lost in the job for hours on end.

But, saying yes to tasks means I have to say no to something else. Often, what suffers is my relationships, because I only have so much extroverted energy to go around. So, on the outside I'm burning through task lists and on the inside I'm one big ball of ugly.

Usually it's the husband and child that catch the brunt of this. I'm snippy and impatient and lack a generous spirit. This week, the ugly leaked out beyond the confines of the family. It's hard to hide the truth when that happens.

This week I came face to face with the ugly, unloving, and impatient me that has built up inside of my outwardly productive body and this truth smacked me in the face (for what feels like the thousandth time--apparently I'm a very slow learner): It's not OK to trade productivity for love. In fact, its not only not OK, it's completely antithetical to everything I want my life to be about.

1 Corinthians 13 came to mind as I have been processing my inner ugliness:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
In other words: If I finish all my tasks and work countless hours in a day, but have not's all a waste of time. It's humbling and re-prioritizing.

I've got some changes to make, and the first one is recognizing my constant need for Christ. My independent nature eventually always makes a mess of things and reveals that I cannot live my life in a way that matters without Him.

Praise God for His forgiveness and grace, and especially His love. May He give me those things in abundance so that I can live a life pleasing to Him.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Four-year-olds Speak Interogation

**In the spirit of full disclosure, I am writing this blog from our spare bedroom, where I have called sanctuary. The lights are dim, the white noise is on and I am trying to recover from an Extroverted overload.

Living with a four-year-old is like living with a member of Homeland Security. The questions are ubiquitous and unrelenting. In fact, I'm quite certain that Homeland Security is missing out on a powerful asset. Seriously, Four-year-olds speak Interogation!

Walking right up behind me when I'm sneaking a quick snack, "What are you eating?"
Don't worry about it, I say.
"Are you eating a cookie?"
No! I sit on the couch and he comes over to sniff my mouth, "Chocolate?"
Sigh. Yes.
"Can I have some?"
Knocking on the bathroom door "Mama, what are you doing in there?"
Still knocking on the bathroom door "I didn't hear you wash your hands!"
"Mama I want to leave now!"
We will leave in 10 minutes, I say.
"How much is ten minutes? Four?"
No, TEN. Count it. It's more than four.
No. TEN.
"One, two, three, four, ten?"
I'm going to take a break from answering questions now!
"What does that mean?"
It means I'm not going to answer any more questions for a little while.
"No more questions?"
I nod.
"Yes or no?"

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday, Mama Style

I like depth and meaning. I need time to process things and I imagined on this day, Good Friday, I would have time to be filled with solemn gratitude for Christ's sacrifice on the cross.

Instead, I woke up in a bad mood. Then I had a couple of errands to run, so I decided to take Little Nut to Starbucks so he could read and drink apple juice and so I could try and squeeze in a devotional time, since I failed to get up early this morning. Four-year-olds just aren't good partners for deep thinking, even well-behaved ones.

One thing I did take from my time was that in the craziness of motherhood I might only be able to focus on one thing. And, today that one thing should be "Thank you, Jesus."

After several bathroom breaks, one emergency run for napkins, and numerous strangers interrupting to comment on Nut's "cool" new sunglasses, which he refused to take off while indoors, I closed out my scattered devotions and said, "Thank you, Jesus," and went to the store.  In the produce section I reminded myself to say "Thank you, Jesus." I then proceeded to take longer than I intended grabbing things and left some of my groceries at the bagging station (every time I use self-checkout it's a bad experience!), arriving home short on cauliflower and time! We inhaled some lunch and were out the door again. Ugh. So much for a day of holy contemplation, but "Thank you, Jesus."

Then we rushed, to our staff's Good Friday service and I sat down feeling harried and scattered and shallow. Yet, as our service unfolded I found my mind relaxing and my heart settling. With my husband present my attention was more focused on worship and the message and less focused on managing The Child. It was a lovely hour-and-a-half reprieve. It gave depth to my "Thank you, Jesus," so that the next time I said it there was more humility and gratefulness behind it.

By the end of the day I actually had two things I learned from this Good Friday! Depth comes through repetition as much as it comes through long contemplation...we moms of young children can take solace in this! Even if I can only snatch enough of my mind back from motherhood to eek out a heart-felt "Thank you, Jesus," I can cultivate an awareness of His presence, and Jesus' presence never leaves one unaffected. Secondly, we all need the Body of Christ, especially us moms. I was walking home with Little Nut and true gratefulness for the service swept over me. I needed time to have my mind forcibly lead toward Christ and it helped to have the extra eyes on my child.

As I close out the day, still more scattered than centered, I am truly grateful to be a part of God's people and in the words of a hymn we sang today:
"Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned He stood; sealed my pardon with His blood, hallelujah! What a Savior!" -Philip P. Bliss
 Thank you, Jesus, for today, an awfully wonderful day. What a Savior.