Thursday, April 13, 2017

Bland vs. Grand (And Perhaps Some More Mopping)

Here shortly, I will celebrate nine years of marriage to my husband. We are not quite newlyweds, and we are also by no means seasoned experts. We are stuck somewhere in the middle where you ask each other what you want for Christmas and you get a table top grill and a workout DVD for the total damage of $40. (True story.) For Valentine's Day, I got my husband a bag of "Big Hunk" candies that I randomly spotted at the grocery store, and I put them on his pillow for, I don't know...creative flair?? (Why, yes. He is one lucky, lucky man.)

It's not that the romance is dead so much as we are finally becoming comfortable enough in our affections not to have them influenced solely by the calendar date. It is so nice, and easy, and good. And did I mention easy? (Easiness cannot be overstated here.)
Sometimes, romance really is as easy as making time to sit on the front porch together for some drinks and conversation, or pouring a couple glasses of wine while you cook dinner together, or even having a hallway dance party while one of you holds a laundry basket. (True story again.)

I worry about our culture's desire to make everything be grand.

Do you know how I got asked out to prom? In the hallway, leaving the cafeteria, like this:
Boy: Hey Liz. Would you like to go to prom together?
Me: No, sorry. (True, and HA!)

Do you know how I announced my pregnancy on social media? One sentence, no picture: We're expecting another baby!
Gender reveal? Called my mom and dad on the phone. Told all the other people who asked when they asked.
My proposal was pretty nicely done, I won't lie. But immediately afterwards? Dinner at Bennigan's. (Not sure if those even still exist.)

None of these moments in my life were any less special for having been done simply.

I wish I could say that I am still that person most of the time--that given the chance to do these things all over again I would have the same sweet, simple expectations. And yet, I know I wouldn't. I, too, am a victim of the siren's call to always showcase my best. The appearance of grandeur has gotten the best of me.

I strive all the time to make my life seem like more. I put unnecessary pressure on myself for things to appear effortless. I set unrealistic expectations for things to always go perfectly. I cling to an unfounded belief that if I make my life appear just a little more special, then I will somehow actually be just a little more fulfilled.

This always sets me up for disappointment, because while life is beautiful, it doesn't always read as being grand.

And here's the kicker, folks. It's not SUPPOSED to be grand, and we're not supposed to *want* it to be.

-In 1 Thessalonians we're told to make it our ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind our own business, to work with our hands.
-Jeremiah 45 asks "Are you seeking great things for yourself? Don't do it!"
-Proverbs 13:7 says "A pretentious, showy life is an empty life. A plain and simple life is a full life. (MSG translation)
-Solomon, regarded as the wisest man on earth except for Jesus, shares this happy nugget:
"This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them-for this is their lot." (from Ecclesiastes 5)

Y'all, I'll say it... This is depressing.
Not fabulous.
Not Facebook-worthy.
Not at ALL what I picture when I think of abundant life.

I know I just wrote a blog about mopping and you're tired of me talking about it, but housework has to be done--and it ain't grand! Neither is disciplining children. Neither is taking care of sick people in your home. Neither is paying the bills, or driving your kids to and from school and ALLLLL the activities, or making all the meals, or having Saturday be "more laundry day".

These little moments may not seem like a whole lot, but they were never meant to stand alone.

The finest grocery store candy on a pillow is not enough on its own to be a seed for romance. (Shocking, I know.) But when it's paired with all the other memories and efforts and laughter and tears it somehow adds up to nine years of really good stuff.

That's how life goes. These little bitty, totally lackluster things that we spend life doing-when stringed together-make marriages, parenthood, friendships, community, homes--which are some pretty neat things! And then these things, when put together into the same story, make something grand.

That's all our lives are ever intended to be: single threads, seemingly unpresumptuous, but being woven together in God's grand story. It's not our tapestry, but we get to be a part of it. Our highest aim is to become humble, strong threads, made more beautiful by the multitude of all the others above and below and beside us.

We're making things much harder than they have to be. If a showy life is an empty life, then I have no business chasing it. Truly, if my lot is to eat, drink, work, and be happy then that ain't a bad life!! In moments where I want more, I think it takes me two hot milliseconds to realize how much I have, how good I have it, and how content I ought to be. Maybe even to the point of OVERWHELM. Jeremiah 45 says to me, "Do you seek great things for yourself, Liz? Don't do it! because your heart will literally burst with gratitude and awe and you'll just always be a sobbing mess."

Are you striving, friend? Don't.
Stick to your corner. Do your work. Love your people. Be content.

*I promise you don't need to impress me, because I already think you're pretty grand.*

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Adventures in Mopping

Friends, can I publicly admit once and for all what I have only recently been able to say out loud?

I love Austin. I love it a whole lot. I think it might be the best city in America, and I don't care what kind of an Aggie it makes me to think that. Urban living meets cattle ranching. Texas barbecue meets taco trucks meets locally-grown everything. Outdoor adventure FOR DAYZZZ meets live music capital of the world.

Y'all, there is a microbrewery + dog park here. I cannot get over it. It is so wonderfully weird, and I'm completely smitten.

Every time the Army decides to move us anywhere, I go into research mode. Normal people research houses and schools--and I do my share of that too--but the one thing I really get into is trying to figure out where the adventure is in a new place. What are the must-trys? Where do the locals go? What's the main schtick for getting tourists to come visit? I'm pretty sure that I searched for five days before my brain BROKE from all the choices here. I was so excited. We were going to do all the things! We would never be bored! Adventure forever!!!

You know what I forgot, friends? Life is full of like 98% have-to-get-done's and 2% adventure. My kids have to go to school, my husband has to go to work, and I am NOT good at driving in traffic.

For the sake of transparency, here is Liz's real life schedule:
Saturday-more laundry

(Adventure erryday, folks!)

Friends, can I publicly admit once and for all what my brain has only been allowed to think just recently?

I love my life, but I thought it would be more. Do you ever feel that way? I honestly believed that if I worked hard enough at school and did the right extracurricular activities and checked off the right boxes and achieved enough that the doors to success were just going to magically open up for me. I didn't know what job I wanted, but I didn't think it was going to be a housewife. I didn't know what I wanted my Thursdays to look like, but I didn't think they were going to be "mopping days."

I've been talking to God a lot lately, asking Him to show me where He wants me to be and how He wants me to work. My prayers are something along the lines of: God, I know you moved me here for a reason, and I know you have opportunities for me here. Point me where you want me to go. Show me. Open up those doors.

And meanwhile, as I wait on those doors to open...
He keeps putting dust on the furniture. He keeps putting laundry in the basket. He keeps putting dirt on the floors.

Has God ever answered a prayer in a way that didn't feel "grand enough" for you?

A few days ago I was reading a story in the Bible where an enemy soldier who had leprosy went to the Israelites looking for mercy through a miracle of God. The prophet Elisha sent him a messenger telling him to dip himself in a river so he'd be cured, and the soldier became angry. He said, "I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn't I wash in them and be cleansed?"

I thought surely God would have a position for me in Austin. Are not there more opportunities here than there were in any of the other cities He has sent me? Isn't there something that I'm supposed to be doing outside of this house? Is there not some bigger adventure I am supposed to be living here?

After the soldier's ungrateful, self-important temper tantrum, his servants went to him and said, "My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, 'Wash and be cleansed'!"

You guys, if someone would have offered me a job last month--any job at all--I would have taken it and thought that I was doing a better thing somehow.
I'm here to tell you that sometimes God tells you your job is to mop the floors.

Don't misunderstand me. Sometimes the door that opens is grand and glorious for sure, but more often than not, the door that opens seems very humble and small. It is just God's style.

It looks like a woman who won't leave her mother-in-law to suffer and gleans scrap from a field.
I looks like a red ribbon tied in a window.
It looks like a shepherd boy's sling and stone.
It looks like walking circles around a wall playing a trumpet.
It looks like an outcast family and a baby in a barn.

Who am I to say that it doesn't look like mopping floors?

In light of eternity, in the very small corner of God's story that I get to be a part of, there is no telling what my job is and what it means. I am just too finite to ever know. God simply tells us to be faithful with what we're given.

And today He has given me dirty floors, in a house that I share with the most wonderful family anyone could wish for, in the most amazing city in America.

Adventure erryday, indeed!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

On Broken Bones

I am quite the expert at breaking my body parts. I have always been one of the world's better klutzes, and I suspect I always will be. I've endured many a broken bone, surgery, stitches, sports injuries, mystery ailments...(Major shout out to my parents and Blue Cross Blue Shield.) I'm pretty sure that I am, in fact, the Million Dollar Man, just slightly less bionic-y.

As someone who has experienced injury so often, I am very familiar with the idea that the whole is the sum of its parts. As much as you wish that a broken ankle would not affect your arms, it does. The work of the hands is incapacitated because they have to carry the crutches. The comfort of the underarms is compromised because of the constant friction created by the rubber rests. While not rendered completely useless on its own, your other leg works much better and faster with a partner. The stomach feels better without pain meds upsetting it. Even after the ankle is healed, the head doesn't fully trust its strength and overcompensates on the other side to protect your ankle from re-injury---and this constant misuse and misalignment destroys your back. It's a whole thing.

The same is true in a church. When one ministry struggles, the rest of the work is slowed as we scramble to cover down for it. Follow me in this:
When a children's ministry is short volunteers one Sunday, someone else has to step in--this could be a door greeter, or a information desk clerk, or a mom of young children who was really just hoping to sit down and focus on the message today. None of these people had the curriculum beforehand. None of them were prepared. The kids are now getting a glorified babysitter instead of a Bible lesson. Meanwhile, new visitors who would have been welcomed by the greeter or directed by the desk clerk are now navigating the church alone and feel like outsiders instead of valued guests. A mom who needed a message missed it and is likely going home more overwhelmed than when she came in.
This is a stretch, I know, but not without truth. When one part loses its efficiency, the other parts lose their effectiveness. Something's gotta give. Something is sacrificing, somewhere.

This happens with the individuals within our churches, too. When I am broken for whatever reason--sadness, despair, worry, guilt, shame, anger, jealousy, secrecy--I slow down the Lord's work. Because God is God, and His Will will be done, He calls other believers to pick up my slack. But now they are doing their work and mine. Now the extra pressure and burden is on them while I take time to repair myself. If I am broken enough to take some real time to heal, the friction that I created for my fellow believers will start to injure them, too. It could be a while before "the Head" (which is Christ) trusts me to do His work again.

That is why it is so important to work on wellness, to strive toward maturity, and to grow together in unity. Ephesians 4:16 says, "From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." It's a whole thing.

But friend, even well bodies are not completely immune to sickness. We will most certainly all fall short and require people to pick up our slack. Your pastor is a human who will struggle in his faith. Your brothers and sisters are humans who will grow weary, falter, and stumble into temptation. That is why in Ephesians 4 Paul also tells us to "[b]e completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love." Men have a tendency to want to fix what's broken, but only God can do that. Christ tells us to bear each other's burdens, lovingly, while He heals them.

So to the brother or sister who is feeling the rub from carrying someone else's load, rejoice! Know that with every extra effort, Christ is saying to you "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your Master's happiness!"

And to the brother or sister who is broken, accept the grace that is sufficient, the strength that is made perfect in weakness, and let Christ heal you.

Then, get back to work.