Poor Sofia started throwing up. She went to bed around 8ish and woke up just before 10:30 with an upset stomach. She threw up all night long, in 20 minute intervals, (my husband was watching the clock). Our poor girl was so miserable. I could hear her in between moments of sickness, moaning in discomfort. Our amazing “Loulie” (as we love to call her), has so many brilliant qualities until she’s sick, tired, board or hungry and then it becomes embarrassingly obvious that she’s also inherited my worst ones. My parents love to remind me about how growing up, I used to handle being woken up so poorly. When I was a kid, there was never a right side of the bed or sofa for me; only the wrong one. I would angrily wake up looking for something or someone to whack at. Through the years I’ve learned to temper my irrational hostility but my dear little apple has fallen right next to her tree; unreasonable and mildly violent from time to time. And this was the case throughout her moonlit sickness. In her discomfort she spoke loudly at us and bordered on tantrums over us denying her water. We tried explaining that more water would likely only add to the amount of fluid leaving her little body, but that was all nonsense to her.
Of course Sofia would have to get sick the night before we were planning on seeing Jackie Chan speak in the park. Ok, yes, seeing Jackie Chan speak to a crowd, in a park does sound a little peculiar. It was actually going to be Francis Chan. I’ve had so many Freudian slips with Francis’ name. Strangely, it’s really difficult for me to remember ‘Francis’, but ‘Chan’ sticks, which leads me straight to ‘Jackie’. So by now, this ridiculous little slipup has happened so many times that it’s become a running joke between me and Adam. We now intentionally call Francis, Jackie Chan just to be silly. Anyway, I was kind of looking forward to hearing him speak.
As it turned out, I was able to watch him live, streaming straight into my living room. Aside from my little sickly one, the setting was pretty ideal. I didn’t have to shush any pint-sized people or think about where they might be wandering off to. It was casual, and entirely void of the usual northwest church distraction of the man leggings! To give a little context, (For those who haven’t experienced this phenomenon) it seems that the Northwest man is a proud wearer of insanely/inanely skinny spandex-ish pants (of course more in some circles than others). For males between the ages of 13 and 35, It’s apparently stylish, slightly edgy and Christian (??) to don this style. As TOMS were a decade ago, so the skinny pant (minus the cause) is today: the mark of a young, wholesome, Christian boy/man. Every time I see those…man jeggings, I literally thank God that it’s also “Christian” to wear a super long tunic/shirt that protects me from viewing what I should never feel so close to glimpsing. There is one bright spot to seeing these extra-extra slim pants, it’s that I’m instantly taken back a decade to a fabulous memory I have of my husband, just a couple of months after we got married. We thought it would be funny to try on each other’s pants. It was funny…and ridiculous! (Sorry babe for spilling our little secret). That image, burned forever on my brain of my Adam wearing MY stretchy jean-looking pants feels all too familiar when I’m surrounded by shrouded yet HIGHLY accentuated man legs.
So, while I was watching my distraction free, live stream of Francis, I was impressed by the simplicity of his message. It was stuff I’d heard thousands of times before, but I was captivated by the passion he had for basic spiritual truths. It wasn’t deep and it didn’t require a theology degree to discern. He spoke of the beautiful reality that we ALL have access to God; not just to encounter God but to interact with him on our own, and it’s amazing! We can read his words in the Bible and we can pray to God and he actually hears us, and periodically he’ll speak back.
Seeing Francis’ passion for simply opening up his Bible and reading, highlighted the fact that I’ve really neglected to hang out with God through his word. It’s been right there at my fingertips; an arm’s reach away but I’ve struggled to pick it up. My verse a day (sent from my Bible app), is my pathetic attempt. Truly there have been days where it’s all I was able to muster, and that was entirely OK, but most days I’ve just given myself excuses and options. I’ve hauled myself to church empty, hoping for another filling and wanting the encounter to last me a full 7 days. I’ve made time to analyze and think and pray because all that stuff happens easily for me and I can do it while washing dishes, folding laundry, daydreaming and sometimes in the midst of screaming at my kids, (yes, sometimes I scream). And I don’t ever just sit with him. Maybe that part I can feel ok with excusing myself on slightly. In my reality, I get absolutely no time to myself and even less time that includes peace or quiet.
For a while now, I’ve excused my lack of spiritual energy. I’ve been exhausted or short on time, or my house has looked crazy and my 4 kids are crazy too, but in the end I’m more tired of feeling empty than I am tired. For years, I called my lack of regularity “freedom”, and I think for a while it was in a sense. I needed to get free from the lie that in order for God to want me and to interact with me, I had to perform for him; meaning that I needed to spend “x” number of morning minutes with him a day. Departing from the traditional style of spending time with God allowed me to see that God and I were going to be OK regardless of what form my time alone with him took on. And missing a “quiet time” here and there showed me that God still wanted me and even more than that, I hadn’t committed a sin. Some may gasp at the thought that not reading ones Bible for a specific number of minutes a day, at the start a day, could be considered sin, but in some circles it’s heavily frowned upon; leaning toward guilt/shame behavior modification…I promise.
Completely rejecting structured time with God and instead interjecting it, wherever and whenever, brought life back into that relationship, and it allowed me to feel a sense of ownership that I craved. I resented feeling like others were manipulating my spiritual growth and taking pride in it. I wanted to be the one pursuing God in my life. Process has been my joy stealer, and for me it cracks opens the door of spiritual performance which quickly leads to a fear of being rejected by God. But rejecting structured time with God is no longer bringing me greater levels of freedom and ultimately I’m operating from a place of fear there as well.
I’m searching for the middle ground; the place where freedom and growth collide. In my longing for more I’m taken back to what “Jackie Chan” said. I'm just going to allow myself to grow in awe and passion for the God of the Bible; the God who wants me and wants to hang out with me regardless of how, when or where; without barrier or boundaries. Because I know that when I let go of my fear he’ll be there and even if I hold onto my fear he’ll be there too.
Some days we have no words. Today I have no words, and then I got a text message from my husband with this link attached. I'm holding tightly to this song today. I thought it might be possible that I'm not the only one who could use a massive supernatural hug this morning.
A Casualty of Store
My family is a really huge blankie family. Each of my kids has their own and they’ve had them from birth; the treasured “doot-do”, as my kids call them. It’s an unintelligible baby word that has been passed from kid to kid and still holds its own against questioning neighbors and visiting friends. We all love the name “doot-do” because it’s distinctly us; part of our Smith culture. But my husband and I especially adore it for a second reason: every time we hear it, we’re reminded of our son in baby form. Christian was the creator of the name way back before he could speak properly. He captivated us and to this day our vocabulary if full of Christian-isms. Way back when all of his words were just sounds that sounded almost nothing like actual words, Christian had his “doot-do”.
For the first few years of each of our little lovies’ lives, doot-dos have accompanied us through daily life. Through major life events like ER visits or menial tasks like running errands, we’ve had that little cotton/polyester friend. For Nyla, our nearly 2 year old, her doot-do has been dragged through dirt and parking lot grime and donned more business doorways than any Smith doot-do before it.
A Traumatic Event
Saturday started out like nearly any other for our family. We relaxed a bit; cartoons and family breakfast and then we set off to accomplish something. Agenda item #1 and only: shop for our first family camping trip EVER. Preparing for our big adventure (just a couple of days away) was thrilling. While the older kids were having fun throwing both essentials and non-essentials into the cart Nyla was slowly unraveling. By the time we arrived in the frozen food aisle, she was a frazzled mess. Nyla caught one glimpse of the bagged ice (she LOVES ice) and threw herself down onto the supermarket-grade linoleum floor in pieces. As her doot-do miraculously emerged from the stroller along with her beloved binky all her tears turned to joy and her tiny broken heart was instantly mended. Knowing our shopping would grow more painful by the moment, we quickly navigated our way through the checkout line and out to the car.
Evening slowly descended and bedtime swiftly followed. As each Smith kid prepared for bed and snuggled up to their doot-dos one question floated in the air through all the rooms of our house, “where is Nyla’s doot-do??” We searched everywhere it could possibly be as well as all the ridiculously impossible places, still it wasn’t found. As each additional minute of looking produced nothing, one enormous fear grew in my mind…what if we left it at the store?
The store had become our last hope. We all said a prayer as Adam drove off in search of doot-do. To kids who consider their prized, most precious earthly possession to be their doot-dos, a loss of that magnitude could only mean a sinister and meticulous theft. Terror filled Christian’s heart as he imagined someone breaking into our home and taking only Nyla’s doot-do. He ran quickly through the house so to not be caught by the lurking intruder. He was confident that this bandit remained somewhere in a nook or cranny. Nyla was oddly satisfied by our plethora of backup blankies. She waded through them all and quickly fell asleep with my reassurance that’d I’d be searching for her first love. Meanwhile, our Mia was broken hearted over her sister’s loss. She lay in her bed and sobbed, “Nyla will be so sad. Doot-do is what makes her happy.” This was beginning to feel like a death in our family…for all of us.
After comforting each little face I sunk into the sofa and sent out a discouraged text question, “Anything?” The answer was equally discouraged, “Not yet…” I began imagining how rocky the next few days minus doot-do might be for Nyla…and us all. I prayed again for this silly, yet priceless doot-do and waited.
Meanwhile, Adam had carefully searched the entire store and parking lot but had come up empty. After speaking with the manager and a couple of employees he decided it was time to head home. Getting no more than a few steps into the parking lot, his phone rang. Someone had just found Nyla’s precious and had turned it in! It was like all the missing pieces of our family were now returning to their proper place.
Yes, it’s all fairly dramatic. But for this blankie loving family, the temporary loss of Nyla’s doot-do felt like a death. The recovery of this dearly loved thing felt miraculous. As soon as I received the amazing news I speed-tiptoed up our stairs to share it with Mia. After a few nudges she smiled faintly and slipped back to sleep. By morning the whole ordeal was beginning to feel more like a hazy dream, as doot-do took its place in Nyla’s arms again.
We could have easily chalked up finding doot-do to lovely happenstance or good fortune, but one of my favorite scriptures kept rolling around in my mind (below).
Would any of you who are fathers give your son a stone when he asks for bread? Or would you give him a snake when he asks for a fish? As bad as you are, you know how to give good things to your children. How much more, then, will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
Matthew 7:9-11 (GNT)
A Plaguing Question
With the intensity of our church search beginning to wind down, one particular question with a whole bunch of tentacle filled arms has been whirling all over my mind. Honestly, I’ve been subtly aware of it nudging at me for the past few years, but over the course of the last few months, it’s taken on the appearance of a flashing neon sign; demanding my attention.
So, the colossal unsettling question is: (Deep breath) How much of “church” is really God?
I can’t even read that question out loud without running through it at chipmunk speed and then nervously sliding low into my seat. I’ve been a part of communities that might consider this sort of thought rebellious territory and giving it permission to leave my lips or pen/keyboard might be labeled as un-submitted. But for some reason it’s like a car wreck in my mind that I just can’t look away from. Because as scary as the question is, I think it’s one we all should be asking as we stroll through the doors of our churches and slide into the pews (even though they’re not really pews anymore…OK, some of them are).
About a week ago, I was reminded of a story from the book of Exodus in the Bible. In this story, the Israelites are wandering in the desert when God says to Moses that he’s going to give HIS people their Promised Land; everything they’ve pleading for, but that HE himself wouldn’t be going with them. Moses’ response is this:
“And Moses said to the Lord, If Your Presence does not go with me, do not carry us up from here! ...Is it not in Your going with us so that we are distinguished, I and Your people, from all the other people upon the face of the earth?” Exodus 33:15-16
What an incredible reply!! Every time I read these verses I feel something inside of me shift and align with the proclamation of these beautiful, pristinely pure words. Every part of me wants to shout out, “YESSSSS, me too!!” I could just fall on my face weeping with how deeply I want these verses to mark my life! But how many times have I been willing to forfeit HIS presence for that “thing”. How many times have I longed for value and respect and influence and joy or love, only to find myself wandering away from the one who gives it definition?? Truthfully…far more times than I wish to admit.
And I wonder how many times we’ve done this with church; where the pursuit of our visions have walked us right out of the presence of the Almighty God and into our own self-constructed promised lands. I wonder how many of our ministries have been authorized by God but are entirely void of him? I don’t want to get so far down the road of chasing my dreams, even my “God-dreams”, that I haven’t stopped to notice that I’m alone.
What would church look like if we allowed God to pick and choose all the elements of the service and also gave him permission to scrap the rest?? I’m not sure that I have the answer to that question. But I hope I don’t ever stop asking.
"How Can It Be"
The lyrics of a simple yet profound song keep playing over and over in my mind.
“You plead my cause
You right my wrongs
You break my chains
You gave Your life
To give me mine
You say that I am free
How can it be
How can it be”
-Lauren Daigle, “How Can It Be”
As I sit in front of my house on this darkish misty morning, I can hear the chorus playing over and over in my mind like my own personal broken record. Normally, not being able to get a song out of my head might kind of irritate me, but this morning it's reminding me that I’m loved regardless.
Many days I can easily come up with a few fistfuls of points to chip away at my perception of this truth. My performance as a mother, my messy house, my kids and their attitudes, my own attitude about my kids' attitudes, my split ends (I know…that one is sort of lame, but it’s been festering). These things don’t generally all weigh me down from the moment my head lifts off my pillow, but as the day carries on, they creep in one by one and pile up on each other. By the end of my day, as my house slowly grows quiet, I’m left with my untrimmed hair and self-doubt.
So truthfully, today started out as is one of those days; picking up right where the day before it left off. It all began with an innocent peek at an article about being a successful blogger. As it turns out I’m not following nearly any of the recommendations for success in blog world. I ended my educational read feeling deflated and overwhelmed. Everything inside me started screaming, “What am I doing?? This is crazy! This is sooo HUGE and I'm just me”. I suddenly felt paralyzed by fear and the paralysis hung around a bit. To be honest, I guess I kind of wallowed in it.
I’ve spent years working on embracing and then re-embracing this one enormous piece of information: I'm loved regardless. Some days it’s nearly impossible to digest. Other days it completely rips through me and my walls. It’s just a couple of words yet it carries such profound significance for me. The thought that I might be cherished and desired even when I’m not lovely (inwardly or outwardly), even when I'm gripped by fear and insecurity…it changes everything! Sitting in quiet, alone with this song, I feel my little grey cloud lifting.
For years this sort of love seemed like a thing of fairy-tales to me; devastatingly impossible. Imagining it as reality was terrifying. I would only sort of give it an aerial glance; a mere fly over. I couldn’t allow myself to land there. I was convinced that this supernatural love source offered only a distant sort of parental love; an obligatory, required but not desired love; a love that lacked freedom on either side.
And then it happened…the moment that changed everything. In the midst of my lowest low, I felt it! The love I was convinced couldn’t exist, reached out and touched me. I was unraveled and stitched up all in the same moment. Did all of my problems miraculously disappear?? No…I wish. But they didn’t look the same. Nothing looked the same.
Even though I've experienced it, I still don't understand. The song says it perfectly: "how can it be?", but I'm so thankful that it is!
I just spent my weekend celebrating at a breathtakingly romantic wedding. It was outdoors with views of distant rolling green and yellowish pastures and twinkling lights strung over the dance floor. It was the sort scene that awakens the memories and feelings of young love full of limitless possibilities.
I’ve always loved weddings. Even as a little girl, I can remember attending weddings and feeling excitement and hope. I’ve always been a romantic; always wanting love to prevail and overcome all obstacles. As a little girl, those obstacles usually took shape in my mind as angry imaginary step-mothers, relatively harmless yet hostile kidnappers or warring kingdoms. The wedding always sat at the other side of the obstacles like a finish line. After the couple had fought valiantly for their love and conquered all of life’s difficulties they are rewarded with a wedding. In my young mind real struggles didn’t exist after arriving at the finish line/wedding. Here is where all of us married people laugh till we pee at the absurdity of my childhood illusion.
I entered my marriage with an entirely distorted view of how life might look post-wedding. I married an incredible person. Adam is kind, generous, thoughtful, fun and a constant gentleman. Our wedding was amazing. There were some beautiful similarities between this weekend’s wedding and my own, including a very young bride.
When I got married at the under-ripe age of 22, I was still unaware of which of my experiences had burrowed themselves into my heart leaving a hole. I was remarkably unaware of the pain that I carried. I didn’t know that I was a terrible communicator, completely passive aggressive and a bit manipulative. I didn’t know that I was broken inside and that marriage wouldn’t fill my emptiness. I was blissfully oblivious.
Our life together started out like a fairy-tale in certain ways. We traveled the world and lived in unique places. We had adventures and each other. Then, just after our first anniversary we found out I was pregnant. It was a huge surprise. My 4 year plan was reduced to 1 over night. I say “my” 4 year plan because truly it was mine. Adam was always happy with life in random without structure or plan; a constant adventurer. For me, motherhood brought with it a storm; a storm of emotions and self realizations that I didn’t understand and had no context for. All the questioning and self doubt brought me constant guilt and depression.
I’ll spare you the nail biting suspense and reveal that we didn't just survive, but we're strong. We’re not perfect nor are we beyond all our potential hurdles, but we have a real love story. Not a fairy-tale but reality, where our wedding was the mere starting line and then came the hurdles. Truthfully, there were times I was so tired and empty that I didn’t feel like fighting for us. But when I lacked the strength, Adam found it. My marriage has been a journey. I’d share it all, but I might fill up a year’s worth of posts. For now I give you the short and tidied up version.
This weekend's wedding made me realize that it’s not all romance and bliss for me anymore as I watch a stunning bride walk down the aisle. I have a sober understanding of what a meaningful marriage requires of a person; of what my precious marriage has required of me. As I look back, I can declare with certainty that the pain and struggle was all worth it for where we are today!
So as I watched that young bride, I couldn’t help but wonder if she was more grown up (on the inside) than I was. I wondered if she’d taken a deep look inside and sifted the unhealthy from the healthy in her life. I wondered if that bride and groom will travel down a road similar to ours as they “grow-up” together. Yes, all these thoughts are a bit of a wedding downer, but it's true marriage beyond a wedding.
Here's a peek into my healed up marriage plus kids: this weekend my husband and I stepped out onto the dance floor and got exactly 30 seconds and 2 kisses into our own romantic moment before being interrupted by our 2 youngest daughters. Two became four. It wasn't ideal but it was fun. Sometimes Adam and I have lovely pieces of time to ourselves, but for the most part our romance has had to evolve. It’s taken the shape of long kisses stolen in the midst of dish washing as kids play loudly around us. I love feeling noticed by my husband in the midst of our chaos. It's in these moments when our daughter Sofia will shout, “family kiss!”, which means that instead a normal 2 person kiss we must now try to squeeze our whole family’s worth of lips into a circular kiss so that no one is left out. The number of people included in our romantic moments has changed a bit. No, there are no extra adults, just little people looking to share in our love.
Writer and fellow traveler on the road of life.