mercy every morning || (part 2)

[the wormwood & the gall(stones) || part 1] 

I’ve never understood why some people hate making New Year’s resolutions. Even if they come to a fail, you can always try. And at least an effort toward your goal is totally worth it, right? Not trying seems like the worst kind of failure to me. Relinquishing my usual practice of claiming a huge and completely unrealistic batch of resolutions in 2016 felt like a huge sacrifice. With limited support and two small children, especially that baby who didn’t read those books about how much babies should sleep, choosing a survive-every-day plan was the right thing to do. The circumstances forced me to live in the tension of believing that raising a child is one of the most productive endeavors and that it can also feel like you’re wasting your life. Yes, the children need more of me than I thought possible and that matters, but how could I have basically no other direction for my hopes and dreams in life? Did I not want to get anything done or become My Very Best Self Ever? Honestly, it was almost embarrassing. 

If you don’t like New Years Resolutions, you’re probably shaking your head at all of this. But really, whether you have an overly optimistic series of goals or don’t resolve for anything (and I guess whether February finds you powering through or in despair over broken resolutions), the problem with New Year’s Resolutions is not that some of us think too much of January as a “fresh start.” It’s really that all of us don’t think highly enough of the mercy God makes new for every day.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day and the darkness he called Night.
And there was evening, and there was morning, the first day. – Genesis 1:3-5

Creation poetry might be my favorite part of scripture. I love the consistent whisper of hope: there was evening and then there was morning! The first day. There was evening and then there was morning! The second day. It happened again! And again! God’s specific and general self-display all confirms this: Light comes out over dark. Then day comes out over night, plants come out over dirt, order comes out over the void, all pointing to the truest poem of the resurrection, when life comes out over death. This is breathtaking, but it almost seems ironic for me: these days, mornings can be very hard. For a long, long time we lived in the tension of desires to consistently train the kids to stay in bed until a reasonable hour and not let that morning’s protester (because you KNOW they trade off like that) scream long enough to wake the other one. So when we sing “Holy, Holy, Holy” with our kids most nights, that line “early in the morning/ our song shall rise to Thee” is a little haunting. Every time, I wonder: exactly how early are we talking here? And is this just once, or many different times? Just as those little people start sleeping more consistently at night, they develop the ability to crawl out of their cribs and the morning training takes a whole new set of strategies.

Mornings can be hard for other reasons, too. It’s a gift that in sleep, you are removed from whatever hardship you’re facing. This is true of daily tasks and difficulty alike. In sleep we are all leveled the same. But then eyes open, you remember where you are, and the task of the day comes over you.
My body is dirty and my belly is empty.
My child is poking my eye and the baby is crying.
My job is waiting, where I must face my own inadequacy or pour myself out for someone else’s benefit. Also, my boss is a jerk.
My relationship is broken – either I am in the wrong or I must forgive someone, or both.
Maybe my dream is crushed, or someone I love is gone, or whatever.
In waking we must eat, shower, tend, work, reconcile, grieve. Even the very best mornings, especially with my small children who can’t do any of this themselves, require a lot of faithful making: make the coffee, make the bed, make an effort to write, make the eggs. This year’s resolutions, even when I rejoiced to make them, have a way of condemning me with my failure to produce, and I think about that in the morning these days, too. It is in these early re-rememberings that God shows he is also in the business of faithful making, with new mercies that come every morning afresh.

 

Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall!
My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. – Lamentations 3:23-25


Mercy is interesting, especially when you’re thinking about hardship and restarts, because I don’t know if we always talk about it rightly. I’ve heard the word used many different ways lately: “Traveling mercies.” The mercy of a quick death.  The severe mercy of loss. The mercy of a parent passing over a child’s punishment. Sometimes mercy is supposed to mean divine protection, or healing, or sovereign guidance. I always think about the older translation of Psalm 23: “Surely thy lovingkindness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,” and the dictionary tells me it’s a compassionate forbearance usually shown towards an offender. Let’s be really frank here: Compassion sounds great, but it means “Suffering-with” when we would rather pretend like hard things aren’t there. And then mercy meaning that compassionate forbearance there is “towards an offender”? I don’t like the implications of that last little part very well, either. But this is God’s solution to affliction. It’s not that we can ignore it or that he will necessarily remove it. We have to call hardship what it is to know the fullness of God’s love for us, because maybe this is how we know it doesn’t interrupt His care for us. Fresh mercy for every day means that in any state of sin or sorrow, whatever hits me when my eyes open each morning, God meets me there – no holding back, no matter what. It means I have to show up to whatever difficulty comes to me or I’m going to miss what God is doing for me in it. And it means that in any state of disarray, from my bed to my brokenness, God is faithfully making these messy and hard things new. 

Twins… “psych!”

miracle

Twins has been a surprising word theme for this summer and fall.

Three times in these recent months we have had friends secretly share surprise joy with us – not one, but two little babies on an ultrasound screen – with no explanation but amazement at the rare gift of an extra baby that God tends to give about once in every hundred fruitful pregnancies. Three times we have rejoiced to the best of our ability. Sometimes I’m giddy with joy, but sometimes I just try to ignore the shriek in my soul asking what maniacal mystery it is that some people get two of them at the same time?!  It got to the point that we joked everyone must be having twins. The fresh awkwardness has worn off somewhat, and we grieve that these three twin pregnancies are only resulting in five expected babies now, after all.

Very often I have contemplated Jesus’ disciple Thomas, whose name means “the twin,” the apostle who had to see, with so many unknowns for the future. We were rapidly approaching Aaron’s graduation date without any clue about what the coming year beyond graduate school would bring, and not knowing how to dream for the future. Do I have to leave all my piano students? Will it ever feel okay to dream of good things for a life that doesn’t include having the baby this spring? Is it even worth thinking about having kids anymore? I like to know things and found a great challenge in wrapping up Aaron’s season of grad school with these big questions in such limbo. 

Very often, like Thomas, I have felt that war between the twins of belief and doubt inside myself.

And then sometime this fall, we sensed our original ideas about where to live and what to do falling apart. Time for some re-dreaming. We began talking and thinking very seriously about the Twin Cities in Minnesota, where Aaron was invited to complete more research after graduating in December. This was the sort of job he hadn’t looked into, in a location we hadn’t considered before, and an income level we were not initially drawn toward before. In short, it was not on the list of options I already gave God. But as the details came to light, we thought and prayed, and before long it was clear there would be peace in no other path.

For years we have anticipated moving forward, living closer to family, getting smart phones, maybe going on trips(!!!), first-hand clothes, a big house with plenty of room for children and guests, and staying put wherever we were. Instead, we are moving to Minnesota at Christmastime, which alone indicates we must be crazy, and we are only committed for three years. This act of assumed insanity also requires selling this little house we love to get one even further away from our families and figuring out how to embrace the possibility of a temporary location again, though smart phones and a real guest room are pretty much non-negotiables for the next stage. (So plan on visiting, please. We will have room for you to stay with us and fancy gadgets to assist our sight-seeing navigation.) 

Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more
See Lord at thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder, at the God thou art.

I am not like Thomas, wounds I cannot see,
But can plainly call thee Lord and God as he…
– St. Thomas Aquinas

This doesn’t offer a solution for everything I’m working through right now. There are still questions. I knew there would be. But for now, we’re walking (running!) bravely through the open door to a new adventure in Minnesota, and I get the impression God still hears questions there.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. – 1 Corinthians 13:12

Of course, this surprising turn of events spurs many interesting conversations at home. (Aaron is very hilarious so it doesn’t take much to induce an interesting conversation, I suppose.)
Me: “We always pray and pray, and when we finally make plans, the total opposite thing happens. What do you feel like God is trying to say to us?”
Aaron:  “He’s totally got an animated look on His face, delightedly exclaiming, ‘PSYCH!'”

Oh, my.

[image HERE]

[image HERE]

Sickie Blogging – Happy Fall!

Nothing inspires a thought such as, “Oh, I guess I could update my blog after a month to reassure people I’m not dead,” like being in bed with a nasty fall bug and a series of exhausting half-finished projects taunting me while I am home ill.

What has life been like in the past weeks? Busy. We remodeled the bathroom entirely. Our family had another wedding in Michigan, making it my fourth trip back-and-forth across the midwest this summer.

Aaron is feverishly working on his dissertation. My piano studio is keeping me so busy that I have a waiting list of students who would want to take lessons if I had a slot available. We have been working very hard for years, and these successes are marvelous gifts. In a way, this feels like we are getting that second burst of energy at the end of a race, as though the light at the end of a tunnel is blindingly bright.  We’re also doing some re-dreaming about the next phase of our life after he graduates, and discerning how to walk best with our desire for a family, our location, and our vocations. I’m pretty sure it’s not going to look like we had planned, but God has been very gracious to close and open doors in a way that takes some of the agony out of making these big decisions. A saving grace in some of these hectic days is that we have sold a significant amount of our stuff online, which streamlines some parts of life while we’re settling into a Fall that’s turning into a whole new kind of adventure.

autumn

Autumn is my favorite season, bringing the delights of soups, sweaters, candles, plaid, roasted acorn squash, hot wassail, and bonfires to accompany the witness of nature: God ordains a lot of beauty in seasons of ending and loss. I’m really thankful that is true.

it takes courage

I’ve never thought of myself as a writer, really. A musician, an artist, a creator? Yes, but not much of a writer.  During my senior year of high school I had a tutor for my college entrance essay assignments, and I remember confessing this frustration during an editing session. Nearly every other form of creative expression came easily for me. I could write a song, arrange a collage, perform a piano solo, lead in a musical, knit a scarf, or decorate a room with confidence, but every time I tried to write, I questioned myself and was consistently unhappy with the results of my hard work. She listened patiently, and then suggested that frustration about my challenges as a writer might actually be a cover for the fear that my ideas weren’t valuable. Writing doesn’t have to come naturally to matter, she assured me, and good things are worth working for. I didn’t really understand what she meant for several years, and I rarely thought of this conversation after it happened. (I can recount this now because, in a move that is admittedly ironic, I recorded her comments in my journal, which is my long-standing habit after all thought-provoking conversations.)

Though I got plenty of challenging writing assignments once I started college (thank you, Dr. Freeh, et al!), I spent most of those years surrounded by absolute geniuses in every variety of written communication – literature analysts, poets, journalists, scriptural exegetes, curriculum editors, and columnists of every sort. I’m sure my writing competence sharpened significantly during this time, but I never felt like I was even close to average abilities. My insecurity might make even more sense if you know that I was tight with these writers: I married a scholarship-winning journalist, one of my wedding bridesmaids has now published a book, and several other friends from that life are in graduate school or regularly writing things read by people they don’t know. Spending my life with people who were beyond my own mastery in this one area was a fertile breeding ground for that long-held fear of inadequacy, the nagging sense that I just didn’t have much to say. I didn’t realize this was exactly what my tutor meant yet by then, or even in the following years when I would escape boredom at work by maintaining frighteningly voluminous email correspondence.

I finally remembered the admonition about writing-insecurity hiding my idea-insecurity again at the end of our recent Michigan vacation when I was packing up a box of my belongings from my old bedroom in my parents’ house. It’s been four years since I “officially” moved out after graduating from college and marrying Aaron, and we own our home so I don’t have many things left there. This final load was a collection of my journals, now chronicling over half of my life. There were twenty-five notebooks that I brought home, with dates stretching back to 1998. I was twelve years old then.

After arriving back in Iowa, I organized this small library by date and added my other recent journals, which brings the total number to thirty-four. While setting things in order, I thumbed through a few books and recalled God’s kindness and my growth with laughter and cringing. I’m glad I don’t have to go back to middle school… or high school, for that matter!

And maybe it’s a sign of that same kindness and growth that in the middle of this project (besides wondering where on earth I am actually going to keep these) I couldn’t help but think: It’s probably time to stop pretending I don’t write. And I should stop being afraid of my ideas, too.

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.
– e. e. cummings.

customer service

[Image via emilymcdowelldraws on etsy]

Last week marked one full year since I finished my old job so I would have more time for my music studio to make a living teaching piano. We have both learned a lot this year, and I am overwhelmed with thankfulness that the life I had turned into the life I have now.

I worked at a bank for three years, and somehow I think I’ve blocked out most of my bad customer service memories. It was especially amusing when people tried to lecture me about bank policies, as if they were training me or I could change anything about it. Word to the wise: in almost any business, that first person behind the counter has 0% power and deals with 90% of the complaints. It’s a grating position to be in. I loved many of the customers I worked with, but it’s hard to deal with difficult people when you can’t enforce healthy conversational boundaries. The negative interaction that tops them all came inside my first six months there. It began when a customer came in flustered and crying. In addition to expecting me to approve of some dangerous financial practices, my role became difficult when she explained that she just found out her 30-year-old son in the military was being sent to Afghanistan. She didn’t understand why his Commanding Officer wouldn’t change the orders – or give her the time of day – when she called to complain about it.

I had to say something like “Oh, that’s too bad. That must be frustrating,” when I wanted to say “HELLO?! You can’t make a phone call to get your son out of fulfilling his duty to the country just because you’re mad about it. Nobody wants to send their son to war, but he wasn’t forced to enlist. And, by the way, he’s 30!”

Perhaps because my supervisor was standing right over me, I didn’t mention my own experience in this area: I’m a military wife, my husband was deployed (dangerously so) while we were dating, and I’m working here in the midwest because additional deployment scheduling conflicts meant we moved to Iowa instead of southern California after our wedding. Apparently my lack of pity for her helicopter parenting was evident, and she finally wailed, “Well, what am I saying? It’s not like YOU’VE faced any hard times so you’re probably too optimistic or naive to know what I’m talking about.”  Well… not quite.

I have been thinking the combination of people becoming ruder and standard customer service practices are a bit dehumanizing to the people who work behind cash registers. Self-employment is not quite as easy as it sounds, but I’m grateful for the freedom to do things I’m good at and the flexibility to decide who I work with.

Recent Reads

We’ve had our first rhubarb harvest, every other dinner’s salad is fresh from the garden, and last night’s bike ride included nine bunny sightings. It’s not that warm yet, but summer has definitely started! One of the best parts of summer is… Well, who can pick just one? I like it all! But right now I’m excited about summer reading. I just finished a great Bible Study program that ran through the school year, so my regular book reading diminished drastically since September. This summer my work load is decreased a bit, and while I hope to maintain consistent study of scripture, I’m excited about extra time for real books, too. So I can’t say I’ve been reading two books a month like I did last year, but I’m going to blog about the past year’s worth of literary edification now in case you want to pick anything up for your own summer reading list. My natural bent is towards devotional, historical, nerdy, or “self-help”-ish books, but I have been richly rewarded by some intentional fiction reading, so I’m hoping to be more balanced with reading stories and “real life” in the future.
(These are listed here alphabetically by author.)

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry
I’ve had Wendell Berry on the radar for years. In college I frequently babysat for the children of a Berry scholar (as in, wrote a real book about it), and sometimes I thumbed through the books on their shelf. But I didn’t get anything read start-to-finish until now, and I am kicking myself for taking half a decade to get around to it. This author is gently profound, and his prose beautifully marries an understanding of God’s dual revelation (in scripture and nature) with an uncanny knack for describing the human condition. Berry “gets” God, and he “gets” man. I will say that I found it especially intriguing that a confessing Baptist would write a story where the main character spends much of his life in confusion about faith and veers sharply off the path of orthodox Christian belief at the end, but I would still highly recommend this book as a story about loss, grief, growth and redemption.

“This grief had something in it of generosity, some nearness to joy. In a strange way, it added to me what I had lost. I saw that, for me, this country would always be populated with presences and absences, presences of absences, the living and the dead. The world as it is would always be a reminder of the world that was, and of the world that is to come. … I am a pilgrim, but my pilgrimage has been wandering and unmarked. Often what has looked like a straight line to me has been a circle or a doubling back. …The names of many snares and dangers have been made known to me, but I have seen them only in looking back. Often I have not known where I was going until I was already there. I have had my share of desires and goals, but life has come to me or I have gone to it mainly by way of mistakes and surprises. Often I have received better than I have deserved. Often my fairest hopes have rested on bad mistakes. I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley. And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led — make of that what you will.” -Jayber Crow, by Wendell Berry.

***
When God Talks Back by  T.M. Luhrmann.
This is a huge volume based on an anthropologist’s report of spending years in two different Vineyard churches throughout the country. I feel like I’m cheating because I actually returned this to the library before I finished it, but I would like to finish it sometime, and I still recommend this to anyone who is intrigued by anthropology or curious about the psychological study of prayer. Which would be… probably no one. I’m okay with being a little nerdy here: I thought it was really interesting. And I truly appreciated that a non-believing author managed to write a book about evangelical prayer without an overwhelming air of cynicism. Though I don’t necessarily agree with some of her conclusions, I appreciated that she took people seriously and wanted to figure out how the human side of prayer works. My biggest beef with what I’ve read so far is that Luhrmann keeps using the word “evangelical,” while most evangelicals probably wouldn’t call the churches she visited mainstream. But, whatever. The evangelical Christian movement is almost impossible to narrowly define, even in a book that’s 300+ pages like this one.

***
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Gilead is a beautiful story, told in letters from an elderly minister near death to his seven-year-old miracle son. (While every child is a miracle, one who is seven when his father dies of old age is more likely to be referenced as such, I suppose.) The San Francisco Chronicle said Gilead “explores big ideas while telling a good story,” and I would recommend this for anyone who has thought about God’s will, singleness, marriage, childlessness, parenting, grief, disappointment, ministry, or the meaning of life. Which means, everyone. I liked this so much that I listened to the audio CD a few weeks after reading the book, and I was so excited to share this novel with some friends that I recommended it to several people right away. Then I found out most of them had read it already. So I feel like I was late to the party, but you should read it now, because this is one of those things that isn’t worth missing!

“I don’t know exactly what covetise is, but in my experience it is not so much desiring someone else’s virtue or happiness as rejecting it, taking offense at the beauty of it.” -Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson.

***
Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis by Lauren F. Winner

I have loved several of Lauren Winner’s other books, especially her conversion memoir “Girl Meets God,” so I was very curious about “Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis.” Written out of the spiritual torment she faced grieving her mother’s death and doubting her faith in a difficult marriage resulting in an (admittedly) unjustifiable divorce, Winner tells her raw story of doubt and faith. Many times, it seemed that her “journal-entryish” writing (like CS Lewis’ “A Grief Observed,” but a bit more organized) left me feeling emotionally brutalized along with her – doubt is a painful thing, and it hurt to read about, too. In both knowing personally that Christian marriage is not all picnics and rainbows, and walking alongside a dear friend in the aftermath of marital dissolution, I have a hard time feeling sympathy for the trauma Winner faced after leaving her husband. I don’t know the whole story behind that, but I do know she reflected on those grave choices with honesty and renewed faith. It’s not as though she can go back and change it, and I am grateful God meets us where we are instead of where we should be. In many ways, this book reminds us that life is tough and God, though sometimes hard to understand, is good. Winner writes with a haunting narrative voice and her words are thought-provoking in some ways I didn’t expect. For that reason I think it deserves mention here.

“The enthusiasms of my conversion have worn off. For whole stretches since the dream, since the baptism, my belief has faltered, my sense of God’s closeness has grown strained, my efforts at living in accord with what I take to be the call of the gospel have come undone. …And yet in those same moments of strained belief, of not knowing where or if God is, it has also seemed that the Christian story keeps explaining who and where I am, better than any other story I know. … I doubt; I am uncertain; I am restless, prone to wander. And yet glimmers of holy keep interrupting my gaze.” (‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’ John 6:68, esv.) – Still, by Lauren F. WInner.

I have a few things on my summer reading list already (Eric Metatexas’ Bonhoeffer biography is in progress, Return of the King by Tolkien, the Huger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden, and Great Expectations by Dickens), but I’d love to hear more suggestions if you have any to offer!

a dream (is a wish your heart makes?)

I had the weirdest dream last night. I had fasted all day, which I do about once a week. I am a huge fan of fasting as a spiritual discipline. But more on that later. By nightfall, I was very hungry but also very aware of the Holy Spirit. I suppose this means it could have been the Lord speaking to me very powerfully… or my brain could have been expressing its own hunger … or maybe it was just my way of processing the week’s events, which included discussions with two sets of friends about their unnamed daughters in utero.

In this crazy dream, Aaron and I needed to adopt triplet babies. Like the babies were suddenly there with us and we needed to take care of them. There were two boys and one girl. They were all caucasian, which isn’t a big deal except that all the conversations we’ve had about adoption usually refer to children from Haiti or Ethiopia. My expectations of potential adoption for us always include little black boys, but who am I to say what kind of children God could send us?

Back to the dream: I was freaking out about what we would name them all, because I didn’t want to give away my favorite names in case the babies were taken away later.  I was in this hallway with a bunch of people rushing around who had backpacks all over the place (much like a middle school) holding the baby girl and trying to figure out what her name would be. She had a large red birthmark on her jaw and dark hair. I wouldn’t put her down because I couldn’t figure out her name. One of the boys was originally named Carter and he had big blue eyes. No offense to any Backstreet Boys fans,  but that is not the sort of name we picture ourselves giving to any of the little Hummels.  The two boys were in a double side-by-side baby carseat. They don’t even make carseats like that for babies anyway. I don’t think that would be safe. Anyway, we weren’t in a car so that was the least of my concerns – remember, baby girl still had no name. Then Aaron and I were in a dressing room in a big house. The house overlooked a lake or river. Yes, it is definitely a dream of mine to live in a home with big windows over a body of water. And while we are at it, of course, a dressing room would be fabulous. But it had paneling, so, ick. I would have to redecorate in real life. There were piles of clothes everywhere, kind of like my bedroom right now. And the three babies were in their carseats. I needed Aaron to help me, so he picked up one of the boys and held the whole carseat (the little guys had their own at this point) and asked me why the clothes weren’t put away yet. I was wearing baby girl with a wrap. It seems my fascination with attachment parenting practices does not suspend in dreams.

Then we went back to the middle school, where I was late getting in to some sort of presentation at the school auditorium with clunky seats. Also, I had the three babies with me.  Clearly this was a very awkward entrance. All my friends and my sisters were sitting in one aisle. I grabbed a seat next to them and started passing the babies down so everyone could see them. None of the babies cried at all during this dream.

Then I woke up. And now I am writing about it here.

Maybe it will sort of come true someday and we can all marvel at the work of God the creator (“who still guides us on to the end of our days”) in our lives. …Or maybe someone else will think it’s as funny as I do and get a good laugh out of it right now.  Ha!