Be My Island

poolday 011

Last summer we had a priest friend over for dinner and some swimming. We all had a lovely time, but as he was leaving he remarked that he was a little surprised at how exhausting swimming with a bunch of small children could be.

At the time we had three kids in the category of “Almost a Swimmer”. They could swim, but had a tendency to get overwhelmed easily if they were out in the middle of the pool. Their strategy is, of course, to grab on to the most solid thing they can – anyone swimming close by. And since Fr. H was the fun new guy, they all flocked to him and did their best to nearly drown him.

I can swim pretty well. I can’t do any nicely formed strokes for lovely efficient laps, but I feel confident in the water. But when I am in the middle of the deep end and suddenly I have 3 little bodies hanging on me to keep them afloat, if can really become a struggle to keep my head above water.

When I thought about it, that kind of sums up being a parent, especially to a bunch of little ones. My family is depending on me to keep them above water, and well, sometimes I am in over my head.  but my best strategy in the pool is to always stay where my feet can touch the ground, then I can support the rest of them.  In real life, that means I have to be realistic about what I take on – there will be no amazing accomplishments from me. Most days keeping up with the dishes AND the laundry at the same time is enough. Because if I take my eyes off these little ones so that I can do something great – something that is out of my own reach right now, all of use have different reaches – we can all get in over our heads pretty quickly. I need to focus on the task at hand, supporting my children and keeping their heads above water until they are strong enough to do it themselves, because that is amazing all by itself.

And as for the ground that I stand on – that is another post.

Broken Links

While I’m updating the website, most of the links will be broken. I’m sorry. If you are in a hurry and need to see something send me a tweet (on the side) or comment here and I’ll get it to you straight away! Most of the broken links are for forms that can be found on the Printables page. Just look at the top and click on “Printables”.

Thanks for your patience!

Jars: Part 2

I turned 40 last year.  It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, but the importance of that is growing on me as the year passes.  (And oh, it’s passing too fast!)  I’m not what I once was.  I’m still me, don’t get me wrong, and a better me at that.  But in my younger years, it seemed like maintaining good health and more importantly, a healthy spirit, came so naturally.  I didn’t have to work to really take care of myself.  Maybe I should have done more then, but I didn’t and I could slide by okay.  Now it seems like I need a whole lot of maintenance.  I need to make sure I eat right and get some exercise, or I can barely drag myself out of bed. I need to journal my thoughts and feelings, read delightful books, create beautiful things, and talk about what is bothering me or I find myself getting bitter and depressed.

These certainly aren’t new activities for me.  But they have moved from things I do when I have time or a little extra energy to things that I can not live without – can not thrive without. Which brings me back to Jars.In part one of Jars, I shared the story of the Widow and the Oil and talked about how God will supply what I lack when I offer Him those things that are important to me and ask Him to fill me up through them.  I listed my children, my husband, my home, my toys.  But I’m pretty important to me too, although sometimes you wouldn’t know it from how I drag myself around.  God is using all those other things to fill me up, but it’s not just up to Him. The next passage I ran into with jars in it was the story of the 10 Virgins.

Matthew 25:1-13

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps. Since the bridegroom was long delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight, there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise ones replied, ‘No, for there may not be enough for us and you. Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.’ While they went off to buy it, the bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him. Then the door was locked.  Afterwards the other virgins came and said, ‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us!’ But he said in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

 

The foolish maidens ran out of oil.  I feel so often like I am out of oil. I scramble around on Sunday to get everyone ready for mass, only to arrive and realize that I forget to get myself ready – in spirit – for mass.  So all the grace that is poured out on me seems to just spill all over the floor since I wasn’t prepared to catch it. Some days the kids are whiny and needy.  It feels like I break up one fight or tantrum after another.  They need me to pour out God’s grace on them, into their little empty jars, but I am empty too.

The Widow was blessed for providing empty jars, and the foolish maidens were left out of the wedding feast because they ran out.  So how can I stock up on oil so that I am prepared for a long wait like the maidens had?  How can I be ready to recieve the oil that God provides?

The answer to the second question is the easiest – and the hardest.  How can I be ready to receive the oil that God provides? I need confession.  My sins fasten little lids to my jars.  My selfish attitudes, my carelessly spoken words, and my fallenness ensure that nothing gets into my jar.  No grace, no oil.  When I see myself for what I really am, just some crazy, messed up, fallen sinner, and remember that Jesus looked at me in that very state and decided to die for me and take all that on Himself it becomes a little easier to relinquish my strangle hold on how I think things should go. I reorient myself towards Him and reconcile with Him through His beautiful sacrament of confession. The lids on my jars are removed and I am ready for Him to pour the grace into them.  Confession itself is grace, but it also prepares us to store up more grace by being open to Jesus by reconciling with Him.

Now the first question: how can I stock up on oil so that I am prepared for a long wait like the maidens had? I started this post talking about that sort of thing.  I need to take care of myself.  I need to gather up the jars to be filled by journaling out bad thinking, getting some exercise, enjoying the beauty around me, and (the hard one!) getting enough rest. More important even than those is prayer.  I am still learning this and am quite the beginner in really understanding what it even means.

What that means for me right now it that I set aside a half hour in the first thing in the morning for prayer and bible study, and some time later in the day for some other spiritual reading and prayer.  On the few days that I have missed spending this time, I have regretted it most of the day.  I feel unsettled all day and often can’t put my finger on what is wrong with me.

The more I spend time listening, the more I really sense God speaking to me, guiding me, and filling my jars. I have a lot of work to do – or rather He has a lot to work on in me. But day by day He is reminding me that He is walking right with me.  “He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.” And He helps me keep my jars full too.

My Morning

Since early last summer, I have been waking up early. Well, with all these kids, I have been getting up early for years, but this year I made it an intentional time of bible study and prayer, as well as planning my day so I could act on it instead of falling into a pattern of reacting to whatever life threw at me. It’s an idea I have tried many times in the past, but the book Maximize Your Mornings helped me find a way to make it work this time. Summer was easy. I set my alarm and even if the kids woke up, they could just play while I had my time with God and planned my day.

When school started I tried to have my time at nap time. But since real nap time is a rarity around here, that fell flat quickly. Morning was chaos, since the baby would wake up as soon as I got out of bed. Finally, desperate to find the time, I asked my husband if, when he didn’t have to work super early, he could handle the kids until 6am. He was happy to help!

When I first read Maximize Your Mornings, I dismissed it as something that just wouldn’t work for me. She just had no idea what my life was like. But slowly, I was able to integrate some her ideas into my day in my own way. I changed some things, because nobody else’s plan is going to completely fit someone else’s life. My plan probably won’t fit yours. But that is not a reason not to try something. Maybe you do far more than I do, and my plan looks like preschool to you… no matter, we are all on this path, trying to grow closer to the heart of our Lord.

Here is how my morning goes (or tries to):
5:20am – My alarm goes off, I put my thermometer in my mouth and head to the bathroom. I get my coffee, say my morning offering, and sit down at the table with coffee, notebook, kindle, and bible.
5:30 – I’m all set. I start my bible study, depending on the day I am working either on the Sunday readings or a topical bible study. Read, underline, pray, make some notes… I try to fill one half sheet of paper with notes, using some worksheets I made to keep me on track:  SOAP/Topical Half Page .
5:50 or so – Planning time. I check my Weekly Overview and fill out my Daily Page. I put my daily page up on my clipboard on the wall, so I can read it and check things off through the day.
6am – Start getting the kids up are ready for school. I aim to get my shower in between 6 and 6:30, but it depends on how much help the kids need at this time.

One thing this plan hinges on is that I have filled out my weekly overview ahead of time, so my planning time in the morning doesn’t involve really doing the planning so much as reviewing it. I fill out my weekly overview on Fridays for the upcoming week. I confess that I am addicted to that little piece of paper. There are always mornings that, as I do my planning, I know that something is going to have to change – I might need to schedule a doctor appointment and not know when we will get in for example, but when I plan, I know to leave plenty of space for possibilities.

And then it is busy, busy, busy the rest of the day. But having this time in the morning gives me a little more resilience to make it through and helps me to keep my focus on God and making my work a prayer.

I’ll tell you more about what I do with my bible study worksheets in another post. I’m also working on a page to list all these resources and others I use as well.

Jars

Jars of Clay

I have mentioned before that this year has been a little overwhelming, although I am starting to think that this is just the new normal for us.  With nine children, that gives us eleven people worth of possible drama and crisis in the family. So even if only a few of them are doing their share of it, that keeps us hopping.

With the idea of just dealing with this as our normal life, I realized that I needed to build myself up a little, strengthen my coping muscles, and make sure I was ready to deal with a little extra – not just running on a nearly empty tank all the time. I wasn’t sure how to do that, or even how to start.  Then I hit what seemed to be a theme in my bible study: Jars.

Here’s my disclaimer again: I know I am no scripture scholar, and even my husband thinks I’m a little crazy to tie some of these particular scriptures together.  I think his exact words were, “You know, not every bible verse is speaking directly to YOU.”  Hmph. But I bounced these ideas off of a couple other moms and they seemed to understand. So take it all with a grain of salt and see if it makes any sense to you.

The first instance of jars I ran into was the Story of the Widow and the Oil. 2 Kings 4:1-7

A certain woman, the widow of one of the guild prophets, cried out to Elisha: “My husband, your servant, is dead. You know that he revered the LORD, yet now his creditor has come to take my two children into servitude.”Elisha answered her, “What am I to do for you? Tell me what you have in the house.” She replied, “This servant of yours has nothing in the house but a jug of oil.”  He said, “Go out, borrow vessels from all your neighbors—as many empty vessels as you can.  Then come back and close the door on yourself and your children; pour the oil into all the vessels, and as each is filled, set it aside.”  So she went out. She closed the door on herself and her children and, as they handed her the vessels, she would pour in oil.  When all the vessels were filled, she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” He answered, “There is none left.” And then the oil stopped.  She went and told the man of God, who said, “Go sell the oil to pay off your creditor; with what remains, you and your children can live.”

At the time I read this I was feeling completely spent just about all the time. Just as I met an urgent need in one child, another would have an even greater need. I was bouncing from one thing to the next, with never quite enough time to plan ahead, rebuild my strength, or anticipate which direction I would be spinning off to next. I was reduced to pinball mothering. After reading this passage, this verse became my prayer, I even wrote it up above the changing table so I could read it multiple times a day:

She replied, “This servant of yours has nothing in the house but a jug of oil.”

She asked for help. Then she offered all that she had, (much like another little boy had done) the only thing of value she owned, one jug of olive oil.  And then what did Elisha tell her to do?  Get more jars!

God filled up as many jars as she could provide. All He asked of her was everything she had.

Now, I am not this widow, and I have plenty of olive oil.  My life is not a biblical miracle. This isn’t about my own importance in any way. Time and again in scripture, God asks for our all and when it is freely given, He blesses it and makes it more than we could ever dream.  What spoke to me here was the way that He multiplied her resources.  He required her to gather jars.

I was left with the question: what are my jars?  I knew I was pretty much on empty, but I wasn’t sure just what I was needing to be filled. I was willing to go and gather jars to be filled if I could just figure out what my jars were supposed to be.

The key to this was found in what that one jar was to the widow.  It was all she had of value.  Or, to flip that around for myself, it is all that I value. She freely offered that one jar, and I need to look at all the things I find important and offer those up as well. My children, my husband, my home, my toys (iPhone and kindle come to mind), my projects and plans, my hopes, my prayers, and most especially my time are all my jars.

One at a time, I am handing each one to Him and asking Him to fill them up.  Slowly, day by day, instead of being drained by the things I value, I find that I am more likely to have a little left over.  A little time, a little sanity, a little energy… never an excess, because it is still real life and God really isn’t interested in making me into some kind of non-sleep-needing superhero. But there is enough. And that is what I needed.

Distraction

Writing this has been a little ironic. Phones ringing, kids running back and forth, needing a drink of water, spilling water, peeing pants, give me a ride, Mom can I…, Mom he just…, {crash), {waahh}, or the worst – silence.

I have spent the spring trying to bring myself back to some normal level of bible study. I started in February with a 21 day study of women in the bible that I found on my kindle. If all goes as planned, I will finally finish it up this coming week. 21 day study… 4 months to finish it…

Anyway, one of the days was, of course, the story of Martha and Mary. Instead of skimming like I usually do with stories I know (why do I do that, I always still get something out of the story when I slow down… must be distraction), I slowed down and read it. Let’s read it now.

Luke 10:38-42 As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary [who] sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

Wait, that’s not what I read… in my study I was reading an NIV version and the wording was just enough different to wake me up a little. In that v 40 says, ‘But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”’

Martha was distracted.

She was focused on all the preparations and lost track of who and what the preparations were for.

But for me, when the distractions pile up, how can I keep and kind of focus? I am Martha, resentful of Mary, burdened by all of the stuff to be done. Someone has to do it! When is there time for Martha to be with Jesus? It’s all very well to say that her work is her prayer, is her worship. But it still feels a little bit unfair.

So I jotted in my notebook: Focus on who I am doing the work for, not on the work itself.

Which is a nice idea in theory, putting it into practice is not as easy. I’m still distracted and little bit resentful. And so my days of pushing myself through this study continued until one day just this past week when I felt like my prayers were just bouncing off the ceiling. I thought, “I’m trying, Lord. Why aren’t I getting any closer to you through this?”

I took a deep breath. Prayer. Just what is prayer?

And I remembered the image of just lifting my heart to God. Maybe I am struggling too much over the words I am reading or in trying to find the right words to say here. What I need to do is just lift my heart to God.

Okay, so what is my heart?

The picture that came to mind here was the junk drawer in my kitchen. My heart is full of junk. If I picture lifting that messy box of stuff above my head… a box full of things I don’t even know what to do with anymore – broken bits of this and that, things I am not sure what their purpose is, not sure what is important to keep or what to toss, and so it’s all there, in the way, unusable…

These are my distractions.

If I lift the whole thing up over my head, I can ask God to pull out the useless garbage (worldly attachments), the broken items (bad thought processes and other sins), and put the rest in order. Because when I am looking down at this mess, I can’t look up to Him.

So I have to lift my heart / messy drawer to Him.

As is.

He can sort me out.

So back to Martha. “‘But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” Martha made it possible for Mary to be there, for Jesus to sit and teach. Martha got stuff done. For me, maybe the distraction isn’t so much the exterior noise around me, but my interior reaction to it. By my resentment and jealousy I am creating a dust storm of distraction that can’t even be calmed down when I do have a quiet moment.

I remember another mom telling me that her mothering during mass was her prayer. “Mothering in the pew”. That simple idea changed mass going for me. It wasn’t about hearing the homily or readings anymore while hissing violently at my children to BE QUIET. It became about gently leading my children through the mass. (Not that it always works, but in general I am a little less stressed out by it.)

I’m sorry to say that I don’t have any grand advice to give about the distractions our family and the world throw at us during prayer. In my state of life there is very little I can do to calm those down, they are ever present, and if they aren’t, then I need to be sleeping, it’s as simple as that.

But I think we can all work towards calming down the internal distractions. The clutter and noise that we produce ourselves or allow in to our minds and hearts can be identified and cleared out. Some of it we can do, but I think it will take some help from God to find it all and clear it all out.

Dear Jesus,
Please show me what is distracting me from the inside.  I give you full permission to weed out the junk I carry around with me.  Heal me of the hurts and show me how to help the process of healing. Take away my attachments to broken ideas and habits and show me how to guard myself against them.  Put my heart in order to I can meet you there in peace, without extra noise or distraction.  Help me to find the things that keep me from focusing on you.

And help me, Lord, to make my daily work its own prayer to you.  You created me and gave me my vocation.  Let it mold me into who you mean for me to be.

 

Where am I now?

Writing that last post left me with a lot to think about.  God is WITH me.  I really felt the need to just spend some time with that idea and let it sink in a bit.  What does that mean to me in my life?  What does that mean to me today?

So instead of moving forward, I decided to just let that one simmer in my prayer life for a while and not force any more writing about it for the time being.  It was a good place to start the summer and it led me to a deepening of my Faith, I think.  But then time began to tick by and I wasn’t moving much beyond that, and lost  my momentum a little bit.

You see, I have struggled a little bit with this pregnancy.  As much as we were open to life and even expecting to be blessed again before too long, it happened awfully fast this time, and that left me reeling a bit.  As I looked forward into the rest of the year (always a dangerous thing to do), all I could see was an unending line up of exhaustion and work to be done.  It just looked so daunting.

Instead of marching around Jericho, I took a little break to crawl around in the mud and feel sorry for myself.  How could I ever keep up with all this?  How could I do any of the things that I wanted to do like write or read or make rosaries while under this extreme work load?

Are you seeing some of the Control and Surrender issues I have been trying to write about crop up here anywhere?

Yes, the reason I haven’t been able to take this blog topic any farther is that God isn’t done nailing it into my skull yet.  He’s working on it, though, and hard!

Then I remembered one of those little Mary Engelbreit prints:

I figured that it really was as good advice as any at this point.  I had to start from somewhere and usually, starting where I am is the very best place.  So this is my life.  Time to take stock, be thankful, and continue the journey.  Slowly, one step at a time, one prayer, one messy little kiss, one dinner cooked, (and just now – one more horrendous poop mess cleaned up) and I started to lighten up and remember that *this* is blessing.  Not some random future time when things run smoothly and “it all gets done”.  No, the good time is now.  All I have to do is keep circling around Jericho and the Lord is with me and I am molded into something I never knew I could be.

I was blooming.  Still pouting a bit, but mostly blooming right where God put me, right where He knew was the best place for me to become closer to Him and to let go of myself.  But He wasn’t done…

There was a little snag on the horizon.  I spent nearly a week in the hospital, very sick and am now just trying to get back on my feet.  It is going to take quite a bit of time and rest for me to feel like myself again.  Thankfully the baby is fine and still growing well, and I am recovering.  Family and friends have come forward to help us with meals and rides for the kids and work around the house.  I am so thankful for their help!

But I have to laugh just a little as Control is completely out of my hands once again and all I can do… in fact the best thing I can do – for myself, for my family, is to utterly surrender and just let this unfold.

To answer the question I began with: Where am I now?  I am starting again, trying to remember to bloom where I am planted (which is currently firmly on the couch) and feeling, at least for now, a little more comfortable with my lack of control.

I’m not giving up on my series on Control and Surrender.  I will continue that as the school year gets in swing and I have more time (ha ha!!) for writing again. After all, I have had such a handy refresher course on it…

Control and Surrender, Part 2

It’s Sunday again, and if you read Part 1 of this series, then you know how I am feeling. There is so much I want to get done this week, and I am feeling the need to sit down and schedule it all out. I have great new books to read (I Believe in Love: A Personal Retreat Based on the Teaching of St. Therese of Lisieux, God’s Smuggler, and The Night Is Far Spent to name a few), some adorable newborn cloth diapers that could use some new elastic, writing that I have set aside as I worked on this retreat, I would really like to get back to the Y and get moving again, and there is that housekeeping challenge that I began but never finished. Not that I have any problem with to do lists or planning out accomplishments, I just know that I have to be careful about HOW I plan them. If I had absolute control of my time, a simple list would make sense. But I am somewhat at the whim of 9 other people (at the very least!) and they are my real job. The other stuff I get done may be of benefit to them, but I have a lot of things to keep in mind.

So personally, if I have a giant to do list, it becomes my failure list at the end of the day. Things like holding a crabby toddler through her nap or taking the toddler potty 83 times a day never seem to make the list, and always push aside several other more quantifiable items. Flexibility is key for my vocation at this time and for my personal sanity.

The next part of our Control and Surrender Retreat is to explore some others who have dealt with not being in control and surrendering to God’s will and how they handled it. We will start with one of my very favorite Bible characters ever: Joseph (of the Technicolor Dream Coat).

We will be tackling Joseph’s life in several parts, it is just so eventful.

As a disclaimer: I am no Bible scholar, I am taking these stories mostly at face value and looking specifically for the issues of circumstances out of their control and surrendering to God.

The first part of his life we will cover is Genesis 37:23-28, 36 and Genesis 39: 2-5

So when Joseph came up to them, they stripped him of the long tunic he had on; then they took him and threw him into the cistern, which was empty and dry. They then sat down to their meal. Looking up, they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, their camels laden with gum, balm and resin to be taken down to Egypt. Judah said to his brothers: “What is to be gained by killing our brother and concealing his blood? Rather, let us sell him to these Ishmaelites, instead of doing away with him ourselves. After all, he is our brother, our own flesh.” His brothers agreed. They sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. Some Midianite traders passed by, and they pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and took him to Egypt.

The Midianites, meanwhile, sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, a courtier of Pharaoh and his chief steward.

But since the LORD was with him, Joseph got on very well and was assigned to the household of his Egyptian master. When his master saw that the LORD was with him and brought him success in whatever he did, he took a liking to Joseph and made him his personal attendant; he put him in charge of his household and entrusted to him all his possessions. From the moment that he put him in charge of his household and all his possessions, the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; in fact, the LORD’S blessing was on everything he owned, both inside the house and out.

Sold into slavery by his own brothers!  According to Gen 37:2, he was about 17 at the time.  I can’t imagine being taken from all I know in the world and carted off to a life of… who knew what?  Could he even have any idea what to expect at all?

But Joseph didn’t despair.  He got right down to work.  The Lord was with him, just as I think He is with us.  God’s blessing doesn’t always mean success, as we will see as we get further into this, but sometimes it does.

I think that Joseph had to be leaning on the Lord and open to His whisperings, as well as just putting in the elbow grease to get the job done.  That is a reminder that I need from time to time (or all the time).  In the middle of my freak out over my inability to get a handle on our money perfectly or to “keep up with the house” (whatever that means…), I need to lean heavily on the Lord, listen to Him (Oh, that would mean some prayer time, right?), and get my butt in gear and get moving to the degree I am able.  Even in the face of lack of control, we still have a life to live and our God to love and honor.

Somehow there has to be a way to balance crabby toddlers (and other little people) with prayer time.  Often even sitting down to consider the possibilities is enough for chaos to break out.  That is the part that leaves me feeling out of control.  I really think I am missing the primary step – that reminder that the Lord is with us (me!) and having trust in that.  So my journey towards really surrendering something that I don’t have control of in the first place will continue.  It’s a bumpy ride with steps forward and backward as a forget lessons I learn as often as I learn a new one.

It’s a good thing I have so much opportunity to practice how to deal with being out of control!

Control and Surrender, Part 1

I gave a retreat this past weekend, my first, and my writing for this has been such a journey, it seemed worthy of including here.  It certainly has been a part of my wandering in circles around my personal Jericho.

I try to live my life in a prayer of Mary’s Fiat – Let it be done to me according to your will. But sometimes I feel like what God actually heard was something more along the lines of, “Bring it on.”

As mothers, we have so much to manage and keep going. Children to teach, the family to feed, a husband to keep up a relationship with, school and church work, our “real” jobs. Keeping control seems like the only logical way to do that. But leaning on our ability to control things is slippery and deceptive. The control we exercise can be taken from our hands at any moment. So we need to find a way to keep a responsible grip on the management of our families and jobs while balancing that with surrender to God’s guidance and will, and trust… that in one of those moments when control is taken away entirely – we are still securely in His hands.

Sundays are always my hardest day. Between Jay’s masses, and trying to get ready for another week while keeping everyone fed and cleaned up for mass I am left with little patience and always find myself thinking that if I just planned it well enough and executed it perfectly then the day would go smoothly. I grasp at control and scribble down a list of things to finish up that day and reminders for next Sunday. I berate myself and think that I could bring peace to my family if I just had enough control over the day. But in spite of any elaborate planning I do, Sundays slide from my grasp – sometimes its a sick child, a busy Saturday that leaves me playing catch up, my own exhaustion, or even just setting aside what needs to be done for time with family. I simply cannot control all of the variables and get a hold on Sunday.

I’m not sure if control brings peace or just the illusion of peace. Sometimes I think I would settle for an illusion of peace!

There are two moms I know: One is always in control. Her home runs like clockwork, her kids never eat sugar cereal while being rushed out the door in the morning. And yet her children are always shuffled out of the way to keep things running smoothly.

Another has told me smilingly that she never feels overwhelmed. She has several children, and she enjoys them all greatly, making time for them as much as possible. She is not what I would call out of control, but her grasp on it seems to be a little looser.

So it occurred to me one day, that maybe this overwhelmed, scrambled existence is where I am supposed to be right now. Maybe this, in itself, is the medicine my soul needs to teach me to really lean on God’s control instead of my own. Because really, when it comes down to it, how much do we really have control of? Our lives can change in a moment.

What is the difference between being out of control and living a life of surrender?

Surely there is a difference. We mothers have to do our due diligence in caring for our family and not just toss in the towel and quit trying. But I have to have that continual reminder that it is not my will but His that must be done. Frustration with this does not equal lack of surrender.

Preparing for this retreat has been an exercise in surrender in itself for me. Just as I began to work on it, I found myself in the throws of morning sickness, then Jay’s hand injury ( he lost a portion of a finger in a work accident) tossed our life into an uproar, then a series of sicknesses in my kids that kept my hands busy with laundry and my lap full at all times. Truly, my time was not my own and I couldn’t work on it at all. I had to chuckle and God’s sense of humor, and wished that maybe I had been led to a different topic for the retreat – then I wouldn’t be getting this tough lesson.

But it wasn’t until last weekend that it really came to a head in our household. For months, I have been diligently following Dave Ramsey’s financial principles, trying to get a working budget and get us out of debt and living within our means. Every penny is spent on paper before the month begins. I made progress for several months, even got some bills paid off. But the business Jay works for is struggling. The paychecks have been coming, but they have been getting later and later. Finally, this past week, we went a whole week without a paycheck. Between that and the mounting medical bills (For Jay’s hand injury and Molly’s hospitalization) I just completely fell apart. I had one of those moments of staring over a cliff, seeing the darkness that was out there without faith, but feeling like my best efforts had failed me entirely. I wasn’t chuckling at God’s sense of humor anymore. I was angry and tired and very tempted to despair.

If I had worked so hard to control all of our money, but it really wasn’t in my control at all anyway, what was the point? Just like cleaning the kitchen only to come back in and find it wrecked entirely… it seemed like it was all futile. Still, as we will go over in part 2, I remembered that really Holy people have just kept doing their jobs in the face of loss of control. But how is it possible to do that without falling over that cliff and succumbing to despair when over and over you see your hard work crumble like a sandcastle getting hit by a wave?

After much weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth, I realized that it really is the outcome that matters, but not the outcome I was looking at.

My work is to be a good steward of my money, to love and teach my children, to love and encourage my husband, to care for our belongings and fill our home with love.

But the outcome of those things – the real goal I am aiming for is not:

  • a balanced bank account
  • perfect children
  • a husband whose needs are always met
  • a clean home with dinner on the table, laundry in the drawers, and a place for everything.

My real goal is to love God and to bring my children and husband closer to Him as well. My real goal is Heaven and an eternity with Him. That is the outcome that matters. The rest of it is the means that will help me to get there.

This reminded me of the story of the Man and the Rock.  I found a version and want to share that with you now:

Pushing Against The Rock – Author Unknown

There once was a man who was asleep one night in his cabin when suddenly his room filled with light and the Saviour appeared to him.

The Lord told him He had a work for him to do, and showed him a large rock explaining that he was to push against the rock with all his might. This the man did, and for many days he toiled from sunup to sundown; his shoulder set squarely against the cold massive surface of the rock, pushing with all his might. Each night the man returned to his cabin sore and worn out, feeling his whole day had been spent in vain.

Seeing that the man showed signs of discouragement, Satan decided to enter the picture – placing thoughts in the man’s mind, such as “Why kill yourself over this?, you’re never going to move it!” or “Boy, you’ve been at it a long time and you haven’t even scratched the surface!” etc. giving the man the impression the task was impossible and the man was an unworthy servant because he wasn’t moving the massive stone.

These thoughts discouraged and disheartened the man and he started to ease up in his efforts. “Why kill myself?” he thought. “I’ll just put in my time putting forth just the minimum of effort and that will be good enough.” And this he did or at least planned on doing until, one day, he decided to take his troubles to the Lord.

“Lord,” he said, “I have labored hard and long in Your service, putting forth all my strength to do that which You have asked of me. Yet after all this time, I have not even budged that rock even half a millimeter. What is wrong? Why am I failing?”

To this the Lord responded compassionately, “My friend, when long ago I asked you to serve Me and you accepted, I told you to push against the rock with all your strength and that you have done. But never once did I mention to you that I expected you to move it. At least not by yourself. Your task was to push. And now you come to Me, your strength spent, thinking that you have failed, ready to quit. But is this really so? Look at yourself. Your arms are strong and muscled; your back sinewed and brown. Your hands are calloused from constant pressure and your legs have become massive and hard. Through opposition you have grown much and your ability now far surpasses that which you used to have. Yet still, you haven’t succeeded in moving the rock; and you come to Me now with a heavy heart and your strength spent. I, my friend will move the rock. Your calling was to be obedient and push, and to exercise your faith and trust in My wisdom, and this you have done.”

Relax and Dance

The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.  Ex 14:14

This is one of my favorite verses.  I find it so comforting.  Keeping still is not my strong point.  Today it brought to mind two situations to help me to bring it into focus for myself.

The first is trying to get a 1 or 2 year old child dressed.  They have done this enough times that they know that they are supposed to put their hand in the hole in the shirt.  But they are not experienced enough yet to realize that they need to find the hole first before they go jabbing their hand in random parts of the shirt that are not sleeves.  Baby starts getting frustrated, I start getting frustrated.  If she would just be still and stop trying to help so much, then I could show her where the hole is and let baby push her own hand through, but she is so sure that this is where her hand goes she just pushes all the harder when I try to move her hand to the right place.

I know there are times when God is trying to get the attention of my bulldozer self and I am so sure that this is the direction I am supposed to be going to help Him.  If I could just take the time to be still, He could reorient me just a bit and I could get on the right track.

The second situation is a little different.  The other day our oldest daughter, who works in a restaurant/bar, was telling us about Salsa Night at her work.  She has seen some amazing Salsa Dancing on these nights.  She doesn’t know how to do the dances, but will occasionally dance with one of the more skilled dancers.  She told us how the really good dancers can lead so well that she doesn’t even have to know much about the dance herself.  During one dance she told one, “You make me feel like a pro at this, like I really know what I am doing!”  He told her that it was because she was so relaxed and was good at taking his cues and following.

Being a limp noodle wouldn’t help her to dance like that, she had to be relaxed but responsive.  She had to wait for his cues and act on them immediately and without thought.  That is what makes the dance.

If I could be so close to God that I feel His slightest cues…

If I could be relaxed, yet ready to respond without hesitation…

Then maybe this relationship with Him, this life He has given me, would be more like a dance and less like me fighting Him at every turn. Trying to get Him to understand what I think His will should be is a lot more work than being tuned into His will, and a lot more like a toddler insisting that the sleeve should be right in the middle of the shirt.