What We Have Left Undone: God’s Grace in Exhaustion

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. – Hebrews 4:14-16
 coffee cup 1
(It took me four months to write this post, during which time I fell asleep at my computer five different times.) 
My new baby is six months old. He and I are still getting a lot of quality time together after the sun goes down, and without fail there is always something happening with the dog or my toddler on his better nights. (One time he slept seven hours, but Aaron was out of town so I had to respond when the dog threw up on the carpet and my daughter woke up screaming about her incoming teeth twice. This is just how it goes sometimes.) This is a tough thing to talk about. We learned quickly last year, even with our “good” sleeper, that mentioning a bad night in the wrong company could lead to an awkward well-intentioned lecture about parenting philosophy, because if you had read the enlightening book they loved your baby would be sleeping already. People just want to be helpful, and there really is supposed to be a lot you can do to help your baby figure out sleeping, but receiving sleep evangelism is not helpful when all you want is a fist bump …and maybe an extra cup of coffee.  However, I have also read all the books with all the different theories and have concluded two things: First – they were written about other babies, not this one. Second – there are gifts latent even in long seasons of flat-out exhaustion.

The Bible offers me some mixed messages about sleep. God causes people to sleep, like in Genesis 15 when Abraham fell asleep and was under deep and terrible darkness. Wisdom literature indicates sometimes people who sleep are lazy, and sometimes they are receiving a gift. In the gospels falling asleep is almost always a picture of a person’s spiritual state, like when the disciples fall asleep in the garden instead of praying for Jesus, and the apostles urge readers to stay awake (spiritually) instead of falling asleep. Sleep covers a lot of ground in scripture, and I have tried to pull these different things together into some cohesive theological point I could hang on to here. Maybe it’s there, but I’m too tired to figure it out right now.

It seems like my life would be easier if I did not need to sleep. Really, as much as I want to blame this all on sin, scripture mentions rest occurring prior to the fall. God called darkness “evening” and the coming of light “morning” from the very start. He worked for six days and rested on the seventh. He even caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep to remove a rib and create Eve. (Supposedly prostitution is the oldest profession, but I see scripture clearly pointing to anesthesiology for that honor.) These things all happened before sin entered the picture, and I’m struggling to figure out how something that was designed in perfection -my physical need for sleep- can seem like such a crutch.

After every long day of loving my very small children in my dated house-that-still-doesn’t-feel-like-a-home, with unanswered emails, ignored blog, unread books, disorganized basement, and unexercised body, I set up my coffee maker to brew at 6:00 am and groan quietly while walking down the half-painted hallway to collapse in my bed: think of how much I could accomplish in the next few hours if I didn’t need to sleep!  The insomnia I experienced after my miscarriages was similarly exhausting and paralyzing, but this has been longer and more intense, and it’s teaching me that I have a really bad attitude about my own need for sleep. In a stage of life that seems full of limitations, I am annoyed (no, I am offended) that my day wraps up with another reminder of things-I-can’t-do. I believe, secretly, that I will find peace to comfort me through the significant daily demands of my so-small children if I can type out the thoughts in my head, or paint the walls of my living room, or maybe even just get the house clean.

I have always had a lot more ideas than time, but even though the current imbalance feels suffocatingly huge, I’m hardly the first stay-at-home mom to articulate that my life is full of big responsibilities with very little immediate “accomplishment.” As I face the end of each exhausted day with the alarming sense that THERE IS STILL A LOT THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN, I keep thinking about the opening worship litany from the Book of Common Prayer:

“Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against thee
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved thee with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we earnestly repent…

This same grace is what I need when there is too much to-do-list left at the end of my evening. Though the things I’m not doing are not generally in the category of sin by omission, they can be offered to the Lord with the same humility of this prayer. My inability to accomplish what I want, whether because I set something aside in order to sleep or because I cannot focus well enough when I have time, reveals more and more of my need for God. His grace faithfully offers solace to the burden of unfinished projects I have surrendered for the sake of caring for my family.
When exhaustion prevents me from accomplishing tasks of any size, from installing curtain rods to remembering where I left my keys, my comfort is that Jesus fully sympathizes with my weakness and graciously provides his mercy over all of the many, many needs I deal with – for the kids, and for me.
…For the sake of thy Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in thy will,
and walk in thy ways,
to the glory of thy Name. Amen.”
(I would also like to mention that our out-of-context theme verse for this year is 1 Thessalonians 5:6: “So let us not sleep as others do, but let us stay awake.” )

a year afresh

“The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective.” – G.K. Chesterton

Living far away from family means most of my major holidays are spent running around to see loved ones, sleeping on different beds, living out of suitcases, and coming home exhausted (a 24-hour round-trip with a baby and a dog will do that) to a house that was left in a rush. When returning, there is much to catch up on — mail to sort, clothes to put away (is this shirt clean? Did I wear it? Should I wash it anyway because it was folded right next to these pants that are certainly not clean?), groceries to buy, leftover errands to run, and the gargantuan task of loving so many people in different places while settling back in to life here, where we are. With all that in mind, I told Aaron we had to reclaim some semblance of celebrating the holidays for ourselves and get in the groove of our own personal traditions. Since skipping extended family celebrations every year is not practical or desirable, this year we decided to try celebrating the real 12-days-of-Christmas, which starts on Christmas day and ends on January 6. This has extended our celebrating after a winter holiday season that included two trips back to Michigan. Back in Minnesota we’ve been drinking eggnog coffee, singing carols, and turning on the Christmas tree lights with gusto around here this week. It’s been good. 

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(This is not our house and certainly not how I imagined Max looking — ha!)

 

Every year I pick a phrase or stanza from a Christmas carol for our cards, and this year it was “the weary world rejoices,” from O Holy Night. There was much weariness in 2014 – moving, pregnancy, a new baby, an insanely demanding job for Aaron, many long road trips – but much rejoicing. I only think of the joy, really, but the hints of weariness are present in all things. And honestly, 2015 may have plenty of reason for weariness as well. Aaron is still gone almost all the time, we will probably need to replace some vehicles, we may have any number of family funerals, and we could open ourselves up to the possibility of weariness (or…. heartbreak…..) as Annie grows and we start thinking about more children. Who knows how God will work this year to give us new souls, new eyes, new backbones, new selves? We certainly don’t. And that’s mostly the point. So the words of St Paul to the Galatians are very timely:

Let us not grow weary in doing good, in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. – Galatians 6:9

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The end of Christmas mostly means I have to take down our tree today, so I’m enjoying one last day of “real” Christmas carols and preparing for a new year — with many unknowns and responsibilities, but much joy, I’m sure. (And with a new computer that doesn’t take 10 minutes to start, hopefully it will include more writing, too. Thanks for hanging in there, friends!)

eager patience

Well, a month of radio silence here… I just thought you should know I have not fallen off the face of the earth nor have I had the baby and kept it a secret. I also have not experienced complete mental atrophy, since I have about 20 blog posts half-written.

Mostly…
party… I would probably feel like this every day even if I wasn’t pregnant, but coffee makes my feet swell three times their normal size, much like the Grinch’s heart overlooking Cindy Lou-Who at Christmas, so I can’t really do anything about it.

Caffeine issues aside, I’m not really reading anything, which is probably the biggest setback to writing efficiently. Between the responsibility of caring for energetic Max and a new baby coming any time now,  I’m not expecting to sleep much in the next several months so  this reading situation is unlikely to improve. I need to jump back on the audio book bandwagon very soon, which will at least start recalling the brain I know I have somewhere. It might even be the preventative measure that protects against committing some of the tackiest common mom-offenses: saying things in person or online (1) about bodily fluids to anyone other than the child’s father or grandmothers, and (2) claiming the “victory” of “keeping the kids alive” all day to anyone, ever, at any time.


After spending three weeks of hearing “You’ll go in to labor any day now! I mean it! You’ll have a baby before your next visit with me!” from the doctor every time I see him, I’m planning to go all Buddy-The-Elf on him if I get to the next appointment and haven’t had the baby yet.

With what seemed to be a medically-indicated earlyish arrival on the horizon for weeks, it’s been a new thing to wake up every morning and say, “If the baby is born tomorrow, what do I want to have accomplished today?” instead of working every day towards some extreme list of weekly/monthly/annual goals. This is good discipline for a planner like me, and every day is a new lesson in eager patience as we wait. And somehow at the same time, the latest possible day she could be born still seems extremely soon compared to all the waiting of the past. Part of me feels like I’ve been (emotionally) pregnant for about five years, so what’s a few more weeks compared to the past half-decade?

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. – Romans 8:22-25

 

Minnesota beginnings

When we decided to move to Minnesota, I didn’t have a lot to go on beyond vague notions of what it might be like. My college room-mate occasionally visited Minneapolis, and she always told me how cold it was. Because she was raised in Alabama and had one of those old-fashioned ear-flap bomber hats lined with real rabbit fur for Michigan weather, I didn’t take that warning very seriously. Ahem. Instead, the biggest frustration was that living in Minnesota would require even more driving to spend time with family in Michigan. The compensating consolation was the excellent water access, which was notably absent in Iowa. We often said, “It doesn’t have much of the Great Lakes, but it has a great number of lakes.”

Other than that, while Aaron got excited about researching Cassava and I started freaking out about moving for a temporary job and feeling so behind in life, I clung to the positive associations I had with Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion (because breaking into bluegrass songs and wry comedic sketches during regular life would be a dream come true for me), and Caribou Coffee. Now I admit I actually enjoy the specialty drinks at Starbucks better, but I appreciate the idea of Caribou’s celebration of pioneering and The Wild over Starbucks’ hip affluent consumer vibe. Folk music and antlers helped me get used to this idea, you could say.

Then, on a beautiful October afternoon, I waited in a coffee shop near St. Paul (neither Caribou nor Starbucks, and not particularly noteworthy either) while Aaron interviewed with his new team, and the sun beat warm through my window. After months of praying, with the “high” of recently selling the house fueling our sense of adventure, I wasn’t really waiting for a text from Aaron telling me how it went or if he had an answer. I knew moving was right even though it didn’t line up with any of the things I had wanted for years. We were doing it.

While I sat at that little coffee shop, God may or may not have spoken to me through an American Idol song. (When we get outside of scripture, I’m not really sure how that works always… It’s safer to avoid taking a firm stance.)

Settle down, it’ll all be clear
Please pay no mind to the demons – they fill you with fear
Trouble might drag you down
When you get lost, you can always be found
Just know you’re not alone
I’m gonna make this place your home. – Philip Philips, Home

These are things I want to remember, because if I thought this story started a few weeks ago when we moved here, I’d be wildly disappointed to find I had missed my chance to cash in on the big (only) thought that comes to mind:
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(It’s so cold in Minnesota that someone beat me to the punch and already published a book about it!)

 

three, cubed

Since I teach algebra this year, I’m getting a kick out of the fact that my birthday means I’m “three-cubed” instead of the straightforward twenty-seven! Last year I made a list of things to work on before turning 30. In the meantime, I’ve accomplished a few things and decided a few goals need to be revised, but it’s good to know there’s still plenty of living to get in before that big milestone!

Sometimes April is hard for us. We pass lots of dates this month that recall God’s faithfulness in all circumstances. My 25th birthday in particular was one of the most difficult days of my life, and we’ll probably always feel a bit of a void for some little birthdays we wanted to be celebrating this month. In a few weeks we will celebrate Aaron’s Iraq homecoming anniversary – a special memory that is connected to lots of ugly, hard experiences, too. I love that the Northern Hemisphere weather reflects the church calendar so well, that nature is full of little green buds sticking off branches and new life coming out of the ground to remind us the Resurrection is real.

On a less thoughtful note, Aaron asked what I wanted for my birthday, and I felt really upset: “I don’t want more stuff! I want less stuff!” I don’t think he’s going to clean out my closet for me or anything, but my parents will be visiting this weekend and I think my mom will be a more willing participant in that project.

Thankfully, I haven’t accumulated any major new griefs or extra material possessions this year. I did, however, treat myself to a drive-through latte this afternoon as a “thank-you” to myself for finishing our taxes on my birthday.0412131316(I used a Christmas gift card, of course.) I’m so thankful for the gift of another year of blessings and growth!

a look at our life as a WAHC.

As the typical use of the English language degenerates rapidly, probably in inverse relation to the availability of social networking, those of us who read things online often see acronyms that succinctly describe a person’s current state, such as SAHM for Stay-at-home-mom or WASP to describe White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestants. Honestly, I don’t understand why these four-letter titles are such a common part of web lingo, since other than texting or twitter most technological communication doesn’t have a word or character limit. (I might also argue that over-using these things reveals a limit to one’s moral character, my own included, but that’s not the issue here.)

Those objections aside, if this is how people are talking these days I suppose I can’t completely beat it. So I’m coming to terms with the facts: this week we have been a DINK (Double-income-no-kids) WAHC (Work-at-home-couple). The first title seems less glamorous when I clarify that these incomes would keep us well below the poverty level if we only had one of them.

As a change from his usual 70-hour researching work week in the lab, Aaron is laboriously writing for a deadline at the end of this month. As if this doesn’t sound hard enough on it’s own, scientific research publications look like another language. Working from the couch at home is a small comfort in the midst of this task.

And when I’m not changing the world one music lesson at a time, my grand central office is in the kitchen. I hear stand-up desks are all the rage these days. The location is a bit torturous because I keep getting distracted and trying to clean things.
As apparent in our pictures, we have been drinking copious amounts of fresh french-press coffee.

This DINK WAHC status allows opportunity to observe the shiny nose of our deer in it’s temporary home above the fireplace,

and check out the guppies in our new fish tank to see if they will be popping out babies under our careful watch.

…but the biggest benefit of this is coming up with ridiculous inside jokes. This morning, it’s that I shout, “I am (You are) being summoned!” in a British accent when one of us get a text message.

We were just talking about how we’re spending years in a stage of life neither of us really imagined being in for long. Of course graduate studies are demanding, but this PhD program is strenuous and it feels like it’s taking forever, and we’re uncertain about how many “roots” to put down where we live, childless, pinching pennies by necessity… It is very, very easy to feel like we’re just in a holding pattern, waiting for the rest of life to get here. So on the surface life usually feels quite stagnant, but we’d be missing out on so much if that is all we focus on. It often seems strange to settle into this DINK WAHC life, but it’s what we’ve got. Of course we look forward to things being different, and it can be difficult to balance contentment now and hoping for what is ahead. Weeks like this are such a gracious reminder that what we’ve got now is good, too.

Who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience… Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
– Romans 8, esv.

sweet will be the flower

It’s a lovely Sunday morning! We’re dogsitting for Chip‘s older brother, Baker, and I must have been a sight to see outside earlier. I filled a thermos of coffee from our french press and grabbed our camera, sure I would find something lovely in the park. Then Baker took me for a walk. I imagined a serene, contemplative morning and I was, instead, juggling a camera, a thermos of coffee, and a large dog that wanted to run when I wanted to be still and stay (or, um, pee all over everything) when I wanted to move.

So the little adventure went differently than I expected, but, of course, the woods were still beautiful. As the landscape displayed spring coming out of the dull grayness of winter, I kept thinking of a hymn from Scotland called “God Moves in  Mysterious Way.”

God moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; the clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break with blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense but trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence, he hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding ev’ry hour
The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan his work in vain;
God is his own interpreter and He will make it plain.
– William Cowper