What you need to know if you want to stop complaining

I learn a lot about myself by paying attention to the first things on my mind and out of my mouth in the morning. Those are the thoughts and words that have steeped in my subconscious, and they bubble out first thing, before they’ve been polished up and passed inspection.

Some-glorious-times, my first thought is Jesus and a song.

Other times my pillow is too hard and sleep was too short; the coffee’s not ready and my body refuses to be younger. I wake up with complaints. Discontent. Grumbling.

no time is ever wasted when I’m with the God who is with me.

This week it’s a stiff neck, among other things. My first words Sunday were about how sore my neck was and my husband heard them. Later, as we pulled into the church parking lot, I turned stiffly to look at him and say something, and he asked if my neck was sore.

“Yes,”  I said. “If you’d listen to me I wouldn’t have to complain so much!” It was funny but not funny, because my heart just came out of my mouth and I’m the one who always says just because you have a thought, doesn’t mean you need to say it. 

Sometimes I fail to filter my thoughts.

I sing during worship but I dread leaving for Sunday School because of what I’ll miss in service. I dread that I will spend the next hour with kids who’ll be rowdy and the sun is shining outside and they’ll come with handfuls of cookies for extra vigor and I just want to sit and be fed.

I dread that I said yes. I dread that I dread this serving that I know is no service at all, but duty spoiled with complaining, and I’m spoiling everything I touch today.

Complaints breed like rabbits and funny how everyone has them, but not funny how my complaining spoils the silence we’re trying to keep about our grievances.

I have a stiff neck, and if you’d just pay attention I wouldn’t have to complain so much. 

This stiff neck makes my eyes watery during worship and don’t I wish that the room were just dark so I could blubber like the idiot I need to be right now – the one who starts the day complaining and goes to church complaining and wants someone to pay attention so she can just. stop. complaining. already.

You are worried that I am not present in that classroom; that I am only here in this sanctuary and not with you and with those kids and glad for your service. You are worried that you won’t be filled or fed or refreshed in serving Me; that you are missing out on something better.

I suppose that’s it. And those probing questions I heard during worship extended beyond Sunday School, because my complaints were about so much more.

Most complaints are a stiff-necked desire for something “better”. 

Most complaints are a fear that there is a better way to spend our time or energy or resources.

Most complaints are a desire for justice or compassion - and all His wounds have already brought all our healing; all our peace really comes from His punishment on our behalf. What more can He do to show us compassion? What kind of justice do we really want?

That thing I don’t want to do, the pain I don’t want to feel, the thoughts I don’t want to think and all the complaints I want to be sure are heard – they all can *disappear* when I acknowledge that Jesus is my place of perfect peace. 

I am His first thought, so to speak; and this God, this Immanuel always with us, is present in every place.

What I really need to know is that drudgery is a place for glory to shine,

pain is a place for me to learn compassion, and

no time is ever wasted when I’m with the God who is with me.

(Sunday school was a tremendous blessing, by the  way – just so God could prove His point.) 

 

Sharing this post at Imperfect Prose and #TellHisStory

Uncontrolled Presence

We’re all still trying to comprehend that it’s April.

We’ve repeated “30 days hath September…” and surely there was a day lost here or there; surely, we must’ve been over zealous in the changing of the clocks and turning of the calendar.

Somebody accidentally ripped April clean off the calendar when they removed March, and it reads May now. It’s not good, how time flies and two months go in the garbage.

My youngest has been telling me weekly what he wants for his birthday dinner – which is in October, which is months away, which makes me itchy. I don’t want to think about October and my baby turning double digits. I also don’t want another child so eager to be older and so bent on the future.

What happens now, today, in this hour before the sunrise and the daybreak – can we take the time to think about this time?

the future is uncontrolled presence

The meditations of my heart are often like my son. The future needs planned, the meals laid out, the cupboards stocked and the floors mopped and all the boxes of the calendar, filled. 

No, he’s not thinking those things - but his longing for his birthday, making sure I don’t forget anything, and getting all his requests in for the cake and the dinner and the gifts - his nature and mine are so alike.

Our nature pushes us forward to what-ifs and what-fors. The little boy who longs for control, longs for his Special Day when he is center, longs for another year on his calendar and another rung on the ladder of command; he’s really planning against all the heartbreak and taking of orders that a youngest child feels. He’s waiting for a special day when he is the big boy who controls what he can’t control.

But the future is uncontrolled presence.

We write in the boxes but a whole month can go in the garbage with all its plans unfulfilled, so what’s the point?

The future is uncontrolled presence and we are trying, always, to control the present until it leads us there – to the future we’ve planned and with the will we carry like insurance. We plan against the need for obedience or surprise or unpreparedness.

If we make all our own plans then we obey all our own wills.

We think that making plans will bring safety and control, but the future is beyond our control and His presence in it is our only guarantee.

This present, this gift in today and all the unexpected and unplanned things that will break and spill and bless you…how about if we each live that.

If I determine to live in the present, without control, maybe I can invite more of His presence. Maybe my future can rest secure in what I can’t ever control anyways.

His uncontrolled presence is insurance and assurance enough.

*****

I saw April in the garbage can. Her boxes didn’t intimidate me and there was no temptation to retrieve her, staple her back in place. I can let time fly and welcome the Presence; because a lot of important things will happen in April but none of them are beyond His control.

*****

Do you have a command from the Lord?

Hasn’t He given you instructions?

Be strong and of good courage, then.

Where can you ever possibly go, and not be with Him?

What could the future possibly hold that He doesn’t?

Keep His words then.

Keep them in your heart till they flow as abundance – out and over and under every question.

The future is Uncontrolled Presence and you will not contain it, control it, or outplan it.

But He is it.

Alpha and Omega.

{Joshua 1:8-9 || Psalm 139:7 || Matthew 12:34 || Revelation 1:8} 

 

Linking with #SheSharesTruth

Keeping the Clock Wound

So we must daily keep things wound: that is, we must pray when prayer seems dry as dust; we must write when we are physically tired, when our hearts are heavy, when our bodies are in pain.

We may not always be able to make our “clock” run correctly, but at least we can keep it wound, so that it will not forget.

Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water

The other day I confessed to a small group of moms that I was just plain burnt-out with homeschool at the moment. They were all considering their options and looking for encouragement to homeschool, and there I was – with the big yellow bus in my eyes.

They may have been relieved to hear it, the way we all like to hear that our secret struggles are common to man.

I treat my spiritual life too much like my physical one.

I sometimes feel like I am supposed to be perpetually excited about certain things, and I don’t have the energy for that. I can show you snapshots of excited and glimpses of it in notebooks and fancy timelines, but the everyday looks different. I can run hard for awhile and then I need a break.

I really should pace myself better, but I float with my feelings and lately I’ve been feeling Done.

Admitting to homeschool burn-out is really not a very big deal. 

What seems bigger is the dryness in my bones as I read the inspired Word of God; or when I come before His throne, privileged and loved, and I get bored with the conversation, distracted, vacant.

Those are the yucky confessions.

I’m coming out of one of those seasons now (which sounds smug and very Christianese, but I can’t think of another way to say it). Just this morning I thanked the Lord that He was my first thought today. And my guilty conscience berates me that it isn’t always so.

*****

planting peas

Winter has been too long (isn’t it always?) and we had this teaser of spring – a small string of sunny, clear days where the grass grew and the tulips bloomed and we got the peas in the ground.

Then cold.

Now rain.

It’s always that way though – too hot, too cold, too dry, too wet. We are foolish to complain about seasons that are too long when we have this promise of seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer.

We complain anyways, and we are fools who forget that God made seasons.

But what we do in the Good Seasons

(as if one were better?

as if you could even have one without the other?

as if all the seasons didn’t have purpose and design to work together for good?)

and how we live in the Bad Seasons might just determine the length of each. 

I’m tempted to think we store up in the good season so we can scrimp by in the bad.

*****

My husband has always been self-employed and his employment has always been seasonal – times of feast followed by a season of famine. Not famine reallyyou know, because we live in America; but times when pickings were slim and pennies were scraped.

Obviously, in the feast times you set aside funds for the famine to come; but there is also a temptation, after the season of famine, to go a little berserk and splurge and feed the flesh that you’ve been denying for so (sarcastically) long. 

Buy All The Things and stock the shelves.

During the famine, you don’t do things like go to the movies or buy fancy food or take big vacations. You plan ahead, conserve, reserve. And I know this one – you blame a lot of attitude problems on the things you can’t afford. 

You live smaller in the famine.

And during the feast, maybe you splurge but you are careful and mindful of the next season – so you still live a little thin.

I treat my spiritual life too much like my physical one.

I want to run headlong into the storehouse and hoard and gorge on the goodness of the Lord when I feel like it - because I know the day will come when I don’t. I am too seasoned to think that this honeymoon will last and while I may be enjoying myself and gorging now, in the back of my mind I know famine is coming.

I want to cut back and live small and conservative when my spirit is dry: don’t expend too much; don’t take leaps that your quiet time can’t back up; don’t ask for more than your faith can handle. 

Thankfully, the Lord doesn’t depend on my faithfulness to influence His. He is ever faithful; I am sometimes faithful - which may be the biggest oxymoron ever.

There is always a feast available. Always.

I’m working on keeping this clock wound – doing the things I know to do and expecting to see the goodness of the Lord. 

What Could It Hurt?

A large part of creating and doing and living like I want to is just simply psyching myself up - up being the operative word.  

Psych Up

Too often I psych myself out of things –  a sort of self-preservation that I dub “being a homebody” or an “introvert”. I have good intentions but they require moving past my comfort zone. I have the desire to do good but this flesh is too clingy, too comfortable in my safe harbor and too aware of the possibility for mistakes or disappointment.

I psych myself out of a lot of grand ideas because they’re so far removed from what I think I can do, or should do. Always the shoulds.

I need weeks to think about things.

I need days to prepare.

And I’m distracted from doing the difficult or uncomfortable by all the easy and brainless things – check email, sweep the floor, start some laundry, wash the counters. I piddle away perfect opportunities by cleaning things that will be dirty again in 30 minutes.

So I psych myself up and give little pep talks.

*****

My word for the year is encourage and I practice it on myself – fake it, take it like vitamins and so much spinach. I tell myself things I know are true and good for me, but they are words I don’t often swallow deep into my soul. It seems I’m more wired for lies and fault-finding.

Lately, one of the best pep talks I give myself is this: What could it hurt? 

What could really be hurt by inviting that person over? What could be hurt by leaving the dishes and taking your camera and kids out the door for an hour? What could go wrong with taking TWO weeks for spring break instead of one? And what could it hurt to put your name down on the sign-up for the Easter drama? (They could be so desperate they pick you, that’s what.)

The usual outset of things is with excitement and motivation, but The Long Haul and the Carrying it Out are what strike fear or discontent. It seemed like a great idea has to be turned into excitement again.

Often, the only thing hurt is my pride or my comfort.

*****

If it seems like I’m a constant mess of good intentions and second guesses – I am. I am learning to hear God in the good intentions, though. 

I learn again and again that my fears are mostly pride, because obviously I need to do everything perfectly or do nothing at all. When doing nothing at all doesn’t seem like an option, I’m hearing God say to be willing to be imperfect. So I psych myself up for that, too.

This is how it looks in my real life:

I put my running clothes on first thing in the morning and psych myself up for a run.

I invite moms over to talk homeschool and psych myself up to carry on, to keep it up and find endurance.

I find my voice inside a thousand doubts and psych myself up to hit publish on numerous posts that are safer in a journal.

I psych myself up to spend a day tackling a project, and let go of the housework and normal daily routine because it really can wait.

Psyching up is less about finding the strength within myself, and more about convincing myself of the strength of Christ, in me.

*****

This is the start of our second week of spring break and I fear that I might piddle it away. I am slow by nature but always feel a strain to produce, and this week my prayer is to embrace both – to enjoy the slow routines, and break them up with some projects and events that take more guts than I have on my own.

On Hunger, Doubt, and the Quiet Voice

She offers me half her raviolis and pesto for lunch.

We’ve just arrived at the home we’ll share with three other sisters for the next few days – a beach house hours from family. The rain is gusting sideways and we are setting ourselves up for a cozy recharge inside the three-story house facing the Pacific.

Sometimes you don't realize how hungry you really are.

I’m still full from the oatmeal date bar she bought me this morning on our commute up, so I thank her, but no – I will probably be just fine without lunch today.

I put water on for tea and arrange my 14 bags of books and projects, locate my yoga pants, and take up residence in the living room with my first book of the weekend and a heavy sea-foam green blanket.

Yes. This is how I recharge.

She’s in the kitchen chopping things for our dinner. We’ll take turns preparing meals over the weekend and she’s starting us off with something wonderful. There is a methodic rhythm in the washing and chopping of vegetables. I can smell the cucumbers. I smell coconut milk simmering and spices blending.

The house is fully stocked with beautiful dishes and she sets the table for five, placing her fresh flowers in the middle between jars of seashells and candles. Each place has a glass of water, a square plate, a square bowl, all set on a thick grass mat.

The table is lovely. She is lovely, and in her element.

Why aren’t I lovely like that?  I ask. I’m asking God I guess, though I don’t expect a response. That’s how I am.

I sit and words pour out of my book and in through the windows of my soul, but my heart struggles to hear. Sometimes, I’m so full of nonsense that the Spirit’s living water becomes just run-off, funneled through gutters of doubt and unbelief.

This sitting and reading and even this retreat is lazy. am lazy. I should have a gift like hers – serving others and taking such care in it.

The house shakes violent in the wind.

I pray for focus, Lord let me hear You through the author’s words.

The author is Emily FreemanA Million Little Ways is her book on “uncovering the art you were made to live” and she’s uncovering layers in me. God is, actually and of course. Because I asked Him to.

I’m only 3 chapters in and she acts like she’s known my every thought. I can only conclude that we must hear the same voices – the one that tells me it’s lazy and unproductive to want to take words in and put words out. That voice might tell her lies, too.

And God is speaking, but He’s not loud. The voice in my head and the one in my heart don’t agree. Emily helps sort them out, like a good counselor, and I’m only 3 chapters in.

My friend in the kitchen is quiet while she works. When I visit the second story bedroom to get a pencil, the smell of our Thai dinner is already there. I suddenly realize that I am hungry – her gift awakens my hunger and my First Thought is that is how I recharge; that is my deepest desire. I want to write what people didn’t know they wanted.

To awaken hunger.

I remember that this very book is a gift in several ways – from the author that wrote her art, to the daughter that paid attention, that was attentive enough to hear me mention it and then, at 12 years old, to search it out online and order it for Christmas. 

My daughter is a giver. My friend in the kitchen is a giver. Emily is a giver. And everything good and perfect comes from God and who are any of us to stop it up? Or to want a different gift?

*****

I wrote this back in January. I finished Emily’s book the second day, and I can honestly say that the only other book I’ve underlined, hi-lighted, dog-eared, and otherwise marked up more, is my Bible.

I’m pretty sure it’s time to read it again, already. Not only because I’m forgetful, but because I want to get ahead of the cycle of doubt that clouds my mind.

*****

You have a gift that maybe you don’t know about. Or maybe you do, but you listen to loud doubts instead of quiet assurance. I’ve been reading through the book of Jonah this week and the thing that struck me this morning was God’s pursuit – someone else could have brought the message to Nineveh, with a willing heart and a little compassion. Jonah was the man for the job and God wouldn’t let him go.

It’s not really about what you or I are, or are not, capable of doing. It’s about what God wants to do and how He chooses to do it – and your Nineveh may be just as much a gift to you as to the people who hear your message.

What is God not letting you go from?

linking with Jennifer for #TellHisStory and Emily for Imperfect Prose

Building Temples {so… I entered a little contest}

buildingtemples

I believe there  is something creative each of us longs to do.

I believe God has given each one of us creative gifts  to use for the edification, or building up, of the whole body.  Whether we bake or sew or build or imagine or pray great beauty into the world, creating is part of our calling, part of how we glorify God.

So I entered a little writing contest this year at the Faith and Culture Writers Conference, based on this verse from Exodus. I wrote my heart out about creating and doubting and building temples – you and me. 

He is calling the artisans and it’s all of us in one way or another. The painter and baker and poetry-maker. The one with music in her head. The one with beauty in his heart. The one with hammer and nail and those who dream in wide swaths of color – purple for the curtains, gold for the fastenings. All the ones who see heaven and feel earth and endeavor with all their breath to write this life as a shadow of things to come, He’s calling.

The full essay is posted on the Faith and Culture Writers blog, and I’d be honored to have you click here and read it.

 

 

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