February 26, 2012

From middle class to masterpiece

My middle gal is in a phase.

I don't know for certain because my oldest sailed through these years with yes mama's and a lot of tenderness. But lately, when the middle one most needs a hug, she is more likely to throw an elbow. And I haven't read the book on elbow throwing yet ... though I recently picked up 'The Young Peacemaker."

She doesn't feel heard and she has trouble with patience. She takes what she wants by force: hitting, wrecking, grabbing ... then crying popcorn tears right on cue. Life has been a bit dramatic lately. She needs to make her presence known and she is a middle child. I could be mistaken, but I think I am watching textbook play out in real time.

We remind her to use her words, tell us what she needs. Maybe it's my job to know so that she doesn't have to ask? No one reacts as quickly as she wants when her heart has been hurt: her middle voice unheard and her middle height overlooked.

There is a blue-eyed boy who still needs a mama to pick up and hold. There is a tall, firstborn who needs help to piece letters into words, decipher b's from d's. The littlest needs my help and the oldest  is the helper and the middle one with fair skin and full cheeks ... she is known to wander a bit.

Todd and I stay up late and ask question over handfuls of peanuts, black coffee.

"How do we make her feel special?"

"How do we encourage her heart, how do we 'fill her love tank?'" 

"How do we teach her right behavior, not crush her little spirit?"

We have guesses, inklings. But who really knows? We land on the way of extravagant love.
"We just need to love her well," he says.

I think on my kids from work, how their most desperate attempts to separate were often the loudest cries for closeness. I think on my own life and how the anger and the pushing-away can grow right out of the heart-hurt.

A soul cry can look a lot like throwing an elbow. 

It's late in the evening and dad should be walking through the door any minute. The glass storm door usually creeks first and this is the hint that he is just seconds away ... bigger door separating father and the waiting few. Sometimes the wind pulls the glass door open just a bit and then lets go again. The kids are tricked every time, running for dad who isn't really there.

On this day, my middle one is aimless and she has ostracized herself from the two, no longer welcome. It is six o'clock and I have to choose: damage control or dinner. 

I see her in limbo and four year old shoulders can slump low like my own. I stop the doing and sit on the kitchen floor. At the foot of the fridge I scoop her into my lap, ask if she wants to read a book, play a round of Connect Four. Really, she just likes how the red and black pieces spill loud with one slide of the lever. She will fill and spill, fill and spill, laughing each time. She shakes her head no and she doesn't know what she wants.

I think about Peter. He was a semi-disaster and Jesus loved him well: called him a rock until he became one. Peter had to learn who he was, had to be told before he could grow into his name.

Truth spoken right into his skin. Words entering marrow.  
Someone did this for me once and who says four years old is too young to start knowing?

So I tell her she is wonderful company even though she just pulled hair. I tell her she is so fun to be with even though she just wrecked block cities. I tell her she is a wonderful big sister even though she runs with toys overhead while the smallest screams wild.

The  moment shifts and her face softens and she settles sideways into my chest. The words begin to come easy and suddenly I have a lot more to say. I tell her Truth. She listens while taco meet sizzles and the glass door creeks. The other two yell for dad and four little feet sprint.

My middle child doesn't budge and and this is how I learn it.
This is how we have to love this girl.

We have to call her loved until she knows it deep; we have to call her loving until she acts it out. I pray into her sandy strands right there on wood planks and we, just for a moment, ignore dad.
She hugs my neck and she kisses my cheek soft, doesn't bulldoze.

I think how I, too, have been loved this way for years and years ... Someone calling me lovely even though lovely is but a vision.

I hold this middle child in my lap and I let go of middle-child fears. I cling, instead, to the hope of  what and who she will be, who she really is ... because He is speaking it into her already.

He is speaking it over her today.  

February 14, 2012

Some rambling on the mystery of love ...

Ten years have passed since we gulped back tears and barely whispered "I do." For ten years we have shared space within these walls, under these sheets, trying to work out and understand what we uttered that day. We have had to fight for this always-growing-closer love.

And the dailiness of loving a person can wane. The reality of what it really takes to love can take its toll.  There is a cost to this together-living. This messy, gut-wrenching, mirror-imaging, love.

This man, this marriage, these children -- they are all wrapped up in love and the not-knowing.
Do we ever really know what we are doing ... if we are loving just right? How to really let love in, how to really make it grow? I have come to the same conclusion year after year:  this love is a mystery.

We crash and we burn and little souls rub up against big souls and each soul in this house is just a singular disaster living among other disasters, always trusting the One who makes masterpieces out of mess. We need extra grace to make this love-life work.

We have spent ten years learning how to say "I'm sorry, will you forgive?" Ten years learning how to fight well, fight for US and not for self. Learning not to say "don't worry about it," but say instead, "You did hurt me and I do forgive." Ten years learning a vocabulary of respect within a dance of grace. Ten years learning how to take inventory within these walls, courageously throwing out what must go and fighting, at all costs, for what must remain. 

Ten years learning that love isn't a feeling but, on many days, is a sheer act of the will. We get busted up in this school of love. It can be brutal at times.

Ten years realizing that the word 'submission' is not passe, not cause for cringing; this handing over, this getting lower, is cause for cheering really. Because what is true love without the laying down of a life?

I find it so very uncomfortable to be vulnerable, so scary to be exposed. And sometimes it is easier to fall into love under covers than it is to cry real tears, say real apologies, speak true words.

We have found that the soul-naked can be the scariest kind of undressing. Wide open for rejection, disappointment, the walking away. 

And this nakedness has never been easy for us. We have paid our dues here and we have claimed a stake in the ground: we won't let it take us down. Not if it kills us. We sit against our wills, knee to knee with hands together. We have needs and we need to pray. There is often a  long pause and I notice only the quiet. He smiles sweet like the college boy I married and he tells me he is nervous. He cant say why ... just knows the feeling mirrors that feeling of 'being too exposed.' And sometimes upstairs when the pursuit is on, the same risk of exposure can stop us dead in our tracks. This is the stuff that can kill a moment.

I spent too much time in the early years believing this union was faulty ... just couldn't seem to get it right. The money, the fighting fair, the whole "let the man lead" fiasco ... and the intimacy. We would whisper hope to ourselves and each other- would someone else just go ahead and raise the flag first!? Admit outright that it is hard for them too and confusing and a whole lot of work? It seemed like everyone had cornered the market on marriage ... had it all figured out. We were living our own little enigma, this other-worldly love placed in the hands of two messed up folks.

How in the world ...?

Now, in those awkward, too bare moments we decide to pray anyway, even though it is awkward and intimidating. We choose to soul-expose for the sake of this one-ness we know is our good. We push through. And in one act of vulnerability we align our wants and our needs and our fears and our hopes. We come together under the One who created this covenant love -- this love meant to draw us close, not tear us apart.

We want the mystery and so we risk the uncomfortable.

In the end we are unified, on a love-high with a heavenly twist and we talk about it; we think it odd that the two most unifying acts in a marriage are also the most risky, most vulnerable, most exposing. How we can dress up love making and tidy up our words in order to stay all covered up ... shielded from the very exposure that unifies, refines, literally grows love.

And we were twenty-three and thought we knew it all when we exchanged platinum. Perhaps the only thing we really knew? He would somehow be the model for this long life of loving. We have read our fair share of books, studied  marriage with a small crowd of friends.

But it is the soul undressing of this life, the constant and purposeful drawing near, the risky business of being exposed ... this is the stuff of growing love. This is the way of its Maker -- the invitation to be fully known and fully loved.

In ten years, I have held my breath here with this husband-man under my roof. He has witnessed the flaws without shifting his gaze. And he has modeled this God-love, always drawing closer rather than turning away. In ten years I have found safety in the real ... shade under strong oak trust ... being fully seen, with all of my imperfections alluring somehow.

This is the way of unconditional love. 

And in the end, a few conferences, books and small-groups later, we decide it is all too much to understand. We are content to embrace this mystery. We sigh a bit of relief, believing that He who created this work of love takes great delight in the slow revealing.

So, we too, will delight in the slow discovering.

February 12, 2012

For your Sunday...

Hoping your day includes some sweet rest, a quiet knowing that you are loved, and perhaps an all-star dance party ... well, just because.

 Be blessed today, friends.


February 3, 2012

My Year of Jubilee

When I stumbled over words and explanations in my kitchen, she stopped me. She set down her tea and looked me square on. Somehow she worked right through my circuitous speech and awkward fidgeting ... hit the target dead center. She asked gentle:

Why do you feel the need to explain yourself so much?

It was a fair question, really. There I was, explaining myself away the way I tend to do. I told her I felt frivolous and aloof for having big desires, big hopes. I told her how the old tapes play loud some days,  confirming in my ear the dressed-up lies of old. You are flaky. You are a mess. You are not capable. I told her I that I need to hear assurance that my ideas are not crazy, that I am not crazy. I told her I feel uneasy sometimes, 

on the verge of crashing and burning, always one poor decision away from re-entering the land of the lost.

And when you've been lost before, you can be found and still live afraid.

Afraid of the falling. 

This life is full and difficult and tiring. Beautiful and ugly and taxing. I suppose I would just like a guarantee that I won't crash hard, won't end up in regret. Regret and lost time can team up and cackle at me from the corner; tell me I am only good at wasting time, building up storehouses of regret.

I wear the burden to make up for what I can't get back. I am capable of living in gratitude for what is and in fear of what might not be and I know this isn't right. I know it.
But I have looked wasted time, ugly sin-self in the eye. I've looked square into her soul.

Across my table, this wise woman speaks truth and love and she tells me what I know but don't always live. 

You are not that girl anymore.

No, but she just rears her ugly head now and then ... taunts me like a shadow.

And while she's not the real thing, I quickly forget that I've been facing the Light for quite some time.

Shadows are only remarkable when the back is to the sun. Face the light and, well, that shadowy-girl may as well be invisible.

I don't tell her there in my kitchen because I haven't quite figured it out. But the truth is this:
I don't think I trust who I've become.

And rightly so. Without the One who cradles the fall, sets me upright, I'm just a wispy kid on a high wire; the crashing and the fracturing are inevitable.

This new gal who lives in my skin and speaks free and dances unafraid at weddings and eats a 6-inch sub in four minutes flat-- she was saved by One who likes to cradle the falling. And she shocks me on occasion and it's only when I start thinking I had something to do with the catching that I get all nervous.

I start thinking this whole show depends on my balancing act and perfect execution.
And sometimes the veil between standing firm and crashing hard is so thin that I quake.

I feel the need to check in, pine a little for some assurance. Wait for others to be my mirror. I tell my friend how I can affirm freedom in women, speak truth that builds up, but how I still hold the past over my own head. When it starts to look too good,

I get busy heaping on the coals.


This is slavery at its very best, I know. I know.

I can live out some terrible theology. Twisted pride: thinking so highly of myself, thinking my story is bigger than His. I can talk about freedom while I live indebted and whisper up a worn out prayer:

Lord, make up for the time I squandered. Make good on what I messed up.

Sometimes I can hear Him responding with loving exasperation, I am, child, and I already did.

I read in James about the person who asks and then doubts, how they are like a wave in the sea. Tossed about. Unstable. I can identify. But this woman I've come to love relaxes at my table and says it in passing as if I know what she means.

Ab, I think this may be your year of Jubilee.