On saying “no”

The phone rang during the bustle of the dinner hour. The case manager on the other end was requesting emergency respite care for a 3 year old and 4 year old. They needed two nights and two days.

I said no.

And felt very guilty.

It is scrawled across the black board in my kitchen, “Live generously and graciously.” How was I being generous or gracious to turn down this need? Wasn’t this something that I “should” do? What kind of horrible person was I to turn away this need?

But here is the thing – there are always needs. And it is impossible to meet every need. Every single minute of every single day we are surrounded by needs that are important and critical. It is the nature of a sinful world. I can drive myself crazy thinking of all the needs in my town, in this country, around the world. I can work myself into a tizzy thinking that we need to sell all our possessions, adopt a hundred orphans, never buy anything new in a store again, move to a different country. None of those things are wrong, but none of those things are what God is calling us to do right now. In this age of internet and blogs I can constantly be comparing myself to others who are living more “radically” and find myself falling short and feeling guilty when I say “no” to something.

So, not to justify myself in a self-serving way, but here is what my no is making possible:

– Time and energy to work at the church office. Sure I get paid, but it is part of my day and part of how I serve because the work always bleeds over into my personal life and I usually put in more time than I get officially paid for.

– Time and energy to serve in the little pre-K class where every week I show the love of Jesus to a gaggle of little ones.

– Time and energy to go to a VBS planning meeting and start the preparations for our church’s summer VBS program.

– Time and energy to help out at the city Easter Egg Hunt, helping with the logistics as our church tries to be present and loving in our community.

– Time and energy to continue our home schooling, an activity that is more than just educational but relational too.

– Time and energy to spend with my husband, encouraging him. His days are exhausting as a teacher of middle schoolers who have challenging behaviors.

– Not to mention time and energy to remain loving, generous and gracious as the wife and mother I am currently called to be.

Could I have time and energy to do all those things if a 3 and 4 year old were at our house for the next couple of days? Sure I could. I believe that God equips us to do the things He calls us to, and sometimes those things are challenging. But I also know that He made me, and I am learning my limits. And the needs of a 3 and 4 year old in the next few days would be beyond my limits.

So this time I said no. While I struggled with the guilt I reminded myself that God loves me, no matter what. He is not disappointed in me for saying no. He has given me other things to do in these next few days. Ultimately, His love for me is not dependent on what I do, or don’t do. While I thought these things joy returned. I don’t have anything to prove. I don’t have anything to fear. I can serve with joy. I can say no without guilt.

Advertisements

Looking for light

The mantra that has been floating around in my head the past few weeks has been “Look for the light!” A few years ago I discovered that one of the ways I can keep fear and panic at bay is to have a phrase I can repeat. When my husband lost his job a few years ago it was “God, you are good.” When I was paralyzed with fear about the adoptive process it was, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.” When I was struggling with sickness and exhaustion it was “Lord, I receive what you give. I give thanks for what you give.” Recently it has been, “Look for the light!”

I have always been drawn to the imagery of light in the Bible. And in the past few weeks I have been challenging myself to look for the light. Some days it is bright and brilliant. Some days it is more illusive. But the promise in the Bible remains true: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:5

IMG_0492

The light behind the banks of grey clouds during one of my afternoon runs. As I ran I was praying for my friend and feeling sadness and grief over her situation. I looked up and saw slivers of bright blue piercing the clouds and felt my heart lift. Even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you. – Psalm 139:12

IMG_0449

Morning sun on our living room rug. This rug was in my grandparents home as I was growing up and is now the centerpiece of our home. I love the memories that warm me when I look at this rug. I love the morning sun as it shines into our living room, it warms and uplifts. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. – Genesis 1:3&4

IMG_0503

Light filtering through a waterfall on an afternoon hike. Peace and life. I am thankful for a body that feels healthy after a few years of struggling with illness.

DSCN8741

Setting sun lighting up a blooming bush. One of my favorite things is evening sun in our yard. As evening falls and the light softens I feel peace descending and contentment settling. This little house in this little town may be old and imperfect but it is ours.

IMG_0552

Bright morning light as my boys skateboard before we settle down to do school work. These boys are growing fast. Sometimes their maturity and independence takes my breath away.

DSCN8752

Light in our neighbors flowering trees. My view from our back deck as we wrap up our school work for the morning. I am grateful for these morning hours with my boys. We are doing more than just getting school work done, we are building relationships that I hope will give them roots.

And there it is. In all of the mundane moments that make up my day, even in the midst of days that feel long and dark, the light is shining whether I choose to look for it or not.

All Things New

Four weeks after her stroke and my friend is back at church, sitting with her family in the back row holding her babies and hugging her friends.

Four weeks after her stroke and my friend and I had an in depth conversation over lunch, sharing laughter and letting tears fall.

Four and a half weeks after her stroke and my friend is at home caring for her home and kids, by herself, for the first time today.

Four and a half weeks after her stroke and my friend is returning my text messages and calling me to arrange details for our kids field trip.

I am simply amazed. In awe of God’s healing power.

I will admit that I have had some rough days. I have had some hard conversations with God. I am aware that this story could have ended very differently and yet God would have still been good.

But today I am full of wonder.

We don’t get to witness this often – a physical reminder that God is making all things new. I feel like I should savor it. I keep turning over in my mind all the ways that we have seen the Light pushing back the darkness in this situation. I want to set up an altar somewhere, a pile of stones to point at and say, “Remember what we saw God do?!” I light candles instead, holding vigil. The very air seems to shimmer with holy light. I walk tenderly through my days aware of my frailty yet also aware of eternity.

IMG_0524

I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good – tears gone, crying gone, pain gone – all the first order of things gone.” The Enthroned continued, “Look! I ‘m making everything new.”
– Revelation 21:3ff (The Message)

generous…gracious…kind

It has been a gray, rainy, wet few weeks. Life has settled back into a routine of sorts and as usual the return of routine brings some settling, some calm. We are in a busy stage of life but I am choosing to not complain about the busy. I do not want to spend my days sighing and complaining about the good things that fill our lives. I get to choose my perspective.

This week we read these words in Luke 6:

Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind. (The Message)

The words rolled around in my head for the rest of the day – live generously…graciously…be kind. They became my prayer for the rest of the week – live generously…graciously…be kind. I wrote them on our chalkboard wall in the kitchen so that they would be visible. I am not by nature a generous, gracious, or kind person but the Holy Spirit was at work in me this week and I found myself being generous with my time and attention, gracious in my reactions, and finding ways to be kind to those around me.

Saturday was a rough day with one of the kids. The whole day was a constant battle with disobedient and disrespectful behavior. I have not always handled that well in the past. But Saturday I kept saying the words like a mantra – live generously…graciously…be kind – and I think our interactions with the child displayed that. As this child was headed for bed I felt the desire to hold him close. I pulled him down on the couch next to me and gave him a hug. I stroked his hair and said, “I love you. There is nothing you could ever do that would make me stop loving you.” Did that immediately fix everything? No. But it calmed my heart. It reminded me that I am loved, even at my worst.

Sunday the sun broke through and the air warmed. We headed out for a hike.

We stretched our legs. We felt the sunshine on our faces. We marveled at the world around us. We laughed. We talked. We were renewed.

And I saw that child who can be loud, dramatic, and wild can also be soulfully still.

IMG_0516

 

 

What I Can Do

As I was running yesterday afternoon (how I came to love running is another story for another time) I was thinking about how regular I am. In this world that calls for radical living, great sacrifice, important acts of bravery, and over-the-top achievement I really am just a plain ole normal person. In one of my papers for a counseling class in college I wrote about how average I was – I can sing well but not amazingly, I am not ugly but I am not a great beauty either, I can write well but not with any kind of stand out talent. Recently I am enjoying running but will probably always plod along at a slower pace. Basically I feel like I am generally competent at a lot of things but not really specially spectacular at any one thing.

I was actually thinking yesterday afternoon about how I am coming to accept that about myself. More than just accept it, I am learning to embrace it. I used to think that unless I was specially spectacular at something my life wouldn’t really count for much. Through no choice of my own my childhood was unique (and I love that) and I felt like I had to continue that uniqueness into adulthood. But I am learning to love the normal side of me. The side that likes routine and being snug at home and taking things slow and having time to breathe. I am learning to be happy as the person that God made me to be.

Last night we had a visitor at our home. A little boy needed a place to sleep for the night. He was dropped off around dinner time his blue eyes big as dinner plates and his eyelashes a mile long. I was given 5 minutes of his story in a quick conversation with his case manager in our driveway. Just 5 minutes of his story revealed hurt and rejection and deep rooted needs. My gut reaction is to fix. To blame those who didn’t stick with him. To come up with a plan. To promise to be the one to take away his hurts.

But I know now that I cannot do any of those things. I used to be wracked with guilt about all the things I could not do. I used to agonize over the needs I could not meet.

But here are the plain ole ordinary things I can do:

I can feed him a good warm meal. I can give him a safe and loving place to play for a few hours. I can give him some of my attention. I can give him a comfy bed to sleep in. I can give him breakfast in the morning. I can drive him to school. I can give him a hug and tell him it was nice to meet him.

There is joy and peace in doing the plain ole ordinary things that I can do.

Quiet

Lent continues. I am learning to let go of the idea that I will do anything perfectly or completely, but most mornings find me lingering over the prayer cards available from Ann Voskamp’s website. They sit in the middle of the dining room table visible and present. Thoughts and prayers flicker through my mind throughout the day. Some days I take up the suggested fast. Other days just pass as normal.

IMG_0317

The days have been wet and grey. My spirit feels dry and grey. I go through the motions but feel no passion. I am learning that is okay. Since when did we decide that we had to constantly feel passion and fire to believe that the Spirit is working? Can God not also work in the quiet, cloudy times?

IMG_0368

Yet this Lent is shaping me. Quietly. Subversively. I feel more of my hard edges slowly being softened not through dramatic circumstances but through daily mundane acts of surrender. I feel stirrings in the quietness of my spirit. I lean into the work and mystery of nearly constant imperfect prayer. I lean into being present with the people I am with. The longing in my heart for the coming of God’s kingdom grows in quietly increasing daily yearning not in technicolor passionate bursts.

DSCN8690

It is a quiet time. There is much to be learned in quiet.