In The Messy Middle

This post has been a long time coming. A little over 3 months, to be more specific.

I have sensed the Holy Spirit calling me to write for a while now. But I didn’t want to, plain and simple.

I can give it a bunch of names and some pretty good excuses, but at the end of the day, no matter how dressed up I make it sound, it is disobedience.

And believe me, that is really hard for this recovering perfectionist to admit. I chose poorly. I chose my own self-protection and laziness and agenda over the Lord’s, and I have carried the weight of that since.

I thought it would be easier to not talk about things. I thought that I could just process things with the Lord in my own way, that I didn’t need to see in black on a white screen the pain and confusion I was feeling.

And I forgot that when He calls me to do something, it is for my good. Whether I understand it or not, there was something for me in this processing, the laying down words on “paper” that so often in turn opens up my eyes to a great understanding of what the Lord is doing. I believe it’s a place the Lord prepared beforehand for me to meet with Him, where in His gracious nature He chooses to speak and shine a light on what is going on in my heart and mind.

(Have you identified your place like that? A place, a hobby, an activity, where you seem to intersect with the Lord on a deeper level? A place where you leave feeling more like joyful, a little bit more grounded, a little bit more fulfilled, a little bit more like you?

If not, I really encourage you to pray and ask the Lord to reveal it to you. When I have gotten away from writing, or pursued other things that I thought would offer the same, He has been faithful to remind my heart of how He has shaped me to connect with Him, and for whatever reason, writing is one of those sweet places. Our personal spot. And it’s important for me to know that. So I encourage you to find your place, too, and hold on it and guard it.)

So 3 months late, here I go.

I’m in the messy middle.

I’m in the messy middle of a season of transition and change, of struggle and heartbreak and new strength and hope, of loss and new gifts.

I don’t often want to share when I’m in the middle of something. I like those pretty red bows, the ones you see a lot of this time of year that will wrap up my situation nicely and neatly, explaining the whys and hows of the sequence of events we have just walked through. And that usually signify a little less pain in the telling.

I was hoping December would offer me my own red bow.

But it hasn’t.  I’m still very much in the middle. No full circle moments yet to share.

But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have something to share.

And that is something else I forgot.

That there is beauty and value in sharing in the raw, vulnerable times, if I will let myself do it.

We all need those completed stories, the Bible passages where we can read how God moved in the beginning, middle, and end to accomplish His purposes. But I also believe that we need to hear from people while they are in the middle.

Because it’s really hard on the other side of things to remember what it was really like in the suffering, in the waiting, in the unknown. Some of that sticks with you, but often, it’s easy to forget some of the vividness of those emotions. Time allows those feelings to fade a bit, and we forget that some of it was biting and knock-the-breath-out-of-you hard. And when you’re in it, it’s really nice to know that someone else has been there, too.

I know I have been on the receiving end of several courageous people that have been willing to share while life was happening, right smack in the core of it. I have been blessed and encouraged and strengthened by others who were willing to lead in vulnerability, from the middle.

And oh how I have resisted the middle most of my life. I have wanted to race through God’s preparation and processes to get to the end results, all the time. I struggle with trusting Him when I can’t see progress or change.

But He is opening my eyes to the beauty and value of the middle.

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Really, isn’t that what all of life is, on this side of heaven, the middle, the process of the transforming work of our Creator in our lives, if we invite Him in to do it? And so rushing through to try to collect my bows is really just forfeiting a lot of what He has for me right now, in the moment. The bows will come. He is faithful to bring clarity to what we need to know, and healing and He is a God of redemption, there is no doubt about that. But there is also something really sweet that the middle offers us, but we have to be aware and open and vulnerable to receive it.

It was in the middle that God has given me one of the best gifts. (But more about that later.)

And if this is true, that life is all just ‘the middle’, then that frees us up to share, openly and honestly, and find those ” me too’s” that we so desperately need to hear, because there is no shame in being in process. Definitely still offer your ‘bows’ to others around you, how the Lord came through and did the miraculous in your life! But let’s also share how He is still that same good and Faithful God in the middle, too. Trust Him for the bow, whatever that may look like, but also trust that what He is doing today is just as important and valuable and necessary, and someone needs to hear it!

So I’m going to start my journey of sharing about the past few months, what the Lord has done and is still doing in my life and in my family, and it’s going to be hard. But I believe that God will bring healing in the telling, encouragement in the sharing, and freedom in the releasing of my words. And I really encourage you to join me! Whether or not your middle looks like mine or not, let’s choose to proclaim God’s goodness over the pain and sorrow and confusion, the lack of answers or finances or community, and cling to the truth that He is moving on our behalf in it.

Much love.

My Truth Is…

I entered the kitchen this morning to find my daughter sprawled out on her back in front of the refrigerator (not unusual), and my son standing next to her. Our little white tower fan was to his left, now pulled out into the middle of the floor instead of its normal spot next to the wall. Now, the kids know not to touch the fan, this is not a new thing. So my first mistake, perhaps, was asking who moved the fan. In retrospect, I am sure there is probably a way I could have rounded up some information, done a little sleuthing to get to the facts with them unaware of my intent. But it was morning, and I’m not a morning person, and I’m trying to navigate through the kitchen, avoiding various obstlaces placed along my path, hindering from my search for coffee.

Natalie immediately replies, informing me that it’s my son’s fault. And he replies in similar form, shifting blame onto her.  This also is not a new thing. We’ve been ice-skating around ownership of poor choices for weeks now, especially with my daughter. However, in this situation, I felt inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt, as her current position didn’t really lend itself to moving the appliance into its current location.

So I bend down and start to ask my son for the truth of the situation.  In natural form, he sticks with his story. My kids are nothing if not stubborn and convinced that their approach is the best way. We do not have a problem with confidence in our kids when it comes to knowing all.the.things.

Peter continues to insist that he had nothing to do with the fan.  And so he was sent to his room to think about his choice to lie to me, and until he was ready to tell me the truth.

A little time passes, Peter sitting in his doorway, periodically yelling out how he has been wronged in life and trying to rally up support, I guess from the furniture and any other inanimate objects around him that he can find. Again, my kids are committed in pretty much any choices they make, for better or for worse.

Meanwhile I jump onto the computer, messaging my husband to pray for wisdom. I mean, how do you teach your newly 3 yr old about truth vs lying. How much do they understand about this? How can I handle this in a way that is appropriate to his level but also expresses the importance of the issue?

After a few minutes, when he has settled, I come over, sit down in front of his doorway, and try again.

“Peter, are you ready to talk to me about what happened with the fan.”

“Sissy moved the fan.”

“Peter, Sissy was laying on the floor. She didn’t move the fan.”

“The computer moved the fan.”
(whaa…)

“Peter, the computer did not move the fan.  Are you ready to tell me you moved the fan?”

“But, uh, the fan wanted to walk to the bathroom.”

“Peter, do you want out of this room?”

“Yes.”

“There is only one way out of this room. The truth. You know how Jesus came to die for our sins?”

“Uh-huh.”

“He is the only way we can get to heaven. He is the truth. He is our only way. And just like Jesus made a way for us to be in heaven with God, there is only one way out of this room. The truth. You gotta tell Mommy what really happened.”

“The truth is I grabbed the book with two hands.” (He is now choosing that this is time to confess that he had taken a book out of the bookcase, just outside his room in the hallway. He knows that he’s not supposed to have anything when he’s in time-out.)

“Okay, well, we’re not supposed to touch books while we’re in time out. And when you are ready to talk to me about the fan, you can call for me.”

I get up and head to the living room to play a game with Natalie. And as I sit down, I hear him say,

“well, my truth is…”

Yeah, that was exactly what is was. His truth. What he felt like sticking to, no matter what opposition was coming his way, what story he felt would provide the most protection from trouble. But that’s not how truth works, and I think this is his season to learn that we don’t just create our own truth. There is Truth and He is a Person. Fully God. Fully Human, Jesus Christ, Who came and met us in the truth of our sinful, broken situation to save us. And in the same way, today, Peter needed to choose truth to be free. He needed to admit that he had made a mistake and then hid from it.

 

 

Peter, caught up in his defense story and unwilling to relent to me, doesn’t even know what he is missing out on.  Once he admits the truth, he gets to come out. AND get the vanilla yogurt that I was going to offer him when I was headed to the kitchen in the first place (after my coffee, of course). There is no other punishment. He doesn’t understand that all he has to do is confess. And then he doesn’t have to earn the yogurt. I’ve already bought the yogurt. I bought it for Him. I want to give it to him and I know that he loves it.

So for a while my son decided to stay in his room. I could hear him rearranging things. And that’s just what we do, right? We stay where we are. We settle for staying in our sin, trying to make the best of things, thinking that we’re fine where we are. But I knew that eventually he was going to get hungry. Eventually he was going to get tired of just being in that one room, his current prison cell, and would want to experience more. He was created for more than just being in that one little room. There is only so much it can offer him.

And sure enough, after a little while, he started to cry. Maybe out of frustration. Maybe out of loneliness. Probably not because he was truly sorry for what he had done. But I went in and we rocked and we talked about his choice.  He finally confessed that he had moved the fan. We talked about how God sees every choice we make, and so there really is no hiding, even if Mommy or Daddy don’t know what really happened. And I just held him and hugged him and told him I loved him.

And y’all, this is new for me. Honestly. The Lord is doing something new in my heart regarding actively, affectionately loving them through the discipline process. Before, it’s been about discipline in the form of time-out or spankings or losing thing they value for a time (stuffed animals, tv, etc.) But with that, without me really consciously acknowledging it, I was also throwing in a relational break, a withdrawing of my affection during this process. And sometimes on top of that, adding a dose of shaming and guilting. It is ugly and I don’t like to admit it. But it’s true.

But the past few weeks, as it has become SO apparent that I cannot make my kids obey, the Lord has been showing me what I can do. I can tell them the truth. I can show them what options are good and inline with God’s Word and ways, and I can give them consequences when they choose otherwise.

But I can also choose to be in it with them. I can choose to continue to hold their hands and hug them and affectionately love on them in the middle of the messy disobedience, showing them that their ability to choose well is not what secures my relationship with them. And it never will. They may lose animals or special trips to Tutti Fruiti, but they will not lose me.

Because that is what Jesus did for me.

AND if that wasn’t enough of a reason right there, it also frees me up from getting caught up in their choices, as if it’s a reflection of who I am or my ability as a parent. God never intended for my kids to be any source of my worth or value or any measure of my abilities. This ’embracing them in the mess’ allows me to focus on them, where the need really is, and ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom in each situation as to what they need in that moment. Do they need the firm hand and a little space? Do they need to be hugged right through this temper tantrum until they get it out? Do they need me to show them mercy, choosing in this moment to take away the consequence and show them how sometimes we don’t get what we deserve, and PRAISE God for that. Because I don’t know. He knows my kids better than I do.

So to wrap this up the best I can, this is teaching me that in the same way my kids need to know that I am for them, that I am sticking around despite their mistakes or outright defiance, because I love them and they are family, I need to know that my God is for me. He doesn’t bail when I get it wrong, even though I ‘should’ know better. I need to know that He chooses to hold me through the tantrums, not withdrawing His presence from me. And He also firmly guides me to admitting the truth, the truth about me and my situation, but also His truth over my situation. That because of Jesus, He has already made the way for me to walk out of my prison cell. I don’t have to stay there, and I don’t have to return. And there are GOOD things for me outside of it. And because of Jesus, there is no condemnation. I don’t have to go earn back His favor. I may need to apologize to some of His other kids, like Peter had to apologize to Natalie for blaming her, but ultimately I have His forgiveness no matter what. This is the truth that has to make its home in my heart for me to really be able to extend it to my kids.

He is so faithful to give me what I need, not just for me, but for them. He equips me for every good work, and they are definitely His good work. He has mighty plans for these stubborn littles and by His grace He is going to get them so committed to His truth that nothing is going to shake them. In Jesus’ Name.

Embraced In The Middle

Just this week the Lord showed me in an intimate way how He loves me in the middle of my disobedience. It was a week where it seemed my kids had lost their minds, forgetting every rule we have ever had in our home, and finding new creative ways to act out (sneaking out of bed and playing at 10pm in the living room, playing a stellar game of hide and seek at 6:30AM, only forgetting to clue us in on the game. I could go on, and this is just the youngest).

I found myself taking it so personally, as a direct indicator of my effectiveness as a parent, and a direct assault against my authority. In essence, their disobedience was about me.

In the Lord’s graciousness, He spoke gently to my heart and reminded me that my job is not to procure or enforce their obedience, but to love them through relationship while speaking truth and teaching them His ways. He is the only One that can change a heart. I cannot control their obedience out of them. (Ugh, even as a type that, it sounds so yuck. But that is what sin is, totally missing the mark.)

And I want to take a minute to call out some of the other lies in the statement above. One being that others’ choices are not an indicator of anything about me (my identity and worth/abilities/etc are in Christ). My kids’ disobedience is an indicator of their fallen, sin nature. They are little sinners. Cute, but sinners. It doesn’t mean that I am a total failure as a parent because my kids choose poorly, most of the time. And it doesn’t mean you are either, if you find yourself in a similar situation. It is just a really great reminder, if we allow ourselves to view it this way, of our need and their need of a Savior.

And lie number two, parenting is not about my authority, but about stewarding a God-given authority that is ultimately about pointing my kids to His authority in their lives. The goal is to not raise them up in my image or whatever image I perceive their need to resemble, but to raise them up in the Lord, to look  and live like Jesus. And when I put these explicit terms, it becomes apparent really quickly that that is not a task that I can achieve on my own. Once again, the Holy Spirit has got to do that one, too. (I’m picking up a theme…)

And then, as He usually does, the Lord took it a step further and reminded me that He has embraced me and loved me in the midst of my worst rebellions and when I wasn’t the least bit interested in His glory, but solely focused on my own. He loved me through it. He did not leave me. He didn’t shame me. He even sent His Son to ensure there wouldn’t be a relational break between us. (He does not withdraw when I get it wrong! He doesn’t leave when things get hard. He holds on all the more because He knows that what I need most is Him.)

 

“It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.” Ephesians 2:1‭-‬6 MSG

I love that version of this passage, especially the part “with no help from us!” I can trust Him with my kids. I can trust that as I do my best – not perfection, but my broken best – at obedience, He will do what only He can do.  And I can rest in that, and find myself with ample opportunities to have the privilege of just loving my kids through this life, relieved of the pressure of needing to save and ensure their obedience. It’s not my place, and definitely not something I can do, not even for myself. I will let Him be God in their lives, and I will let Him by God in mine, by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

What areas, if you were completely honest, do you find yourself trying to control that God has never meant for you take ownership of? It’s subtle, this lie of control, this taking on responsibility that was never given to us to steward, and that tricks us into missing what we have been called to do – surrender, trust, extend grace and forgiveness, take responsibility for our own actions.

Will you join me in confessing any areas the Holy Spirit reveals to you, and choosing to rest in the finished work of the cross of Jesus and the amazing implications that means for our lives? I know that this tired mama can sure use some rest, real rest.