Friday, December 31, 2010

Backstory for 2010

It's the last day of the year.

And in light of my last post and my thoughts on being transparent, I thought I would take a step in that direction with you. I want to be transparent with you about where I'm coming from, recently.

Because it's tempting, probably, to wonder if I have it all together. It's tricky to look at my last post on Cake & Cotton, my other, less serious blog, and think I have always been pouring out crafty goodness. I haven't been, for the past few years. Yes, I've wanted to...and I've had some outlets. But I haven't had the room in my heart to be all I was created to be. I was in too much pain.

To be frank, my husband and I are coming out of our hardest season yet. We've been married thirteen years, and suffice it to say that the first half of 2010 was not good. Neither was 2009. Or 2008. It's been a while since I've consistently felt something other than striving to keep my head above water, emotionally.

And I'm taking a risk here, since even those closest to us haven't really been inside our doors. Right? No one really knows what's going on in your home, in your marriage. Do they? And now, as a family, we are experiencing a new, heavenly normal, by the sheer grace and power and work of God. I cannot emphasize enough that it is all Him. It was Him in the beginning, and in the middle, and in the end of our trials. (But of course, we never really reach the end, until heaven.) Always Him, at work.

I feel like I'm rambling. There are so many directions I could go with this post. So many thoughts, lessons learned, and ways I could sum up my year with words. And I am starting to cry because there are so many ways I could have gone in my pain too. Through those many trying months, I was alone in my own home, in my own marriage. My husband and I seemed to be in very different and conflicting universes. There was so much strife and we rarely found connection.

Here's the thing. I tried fixing it in lots and lots of ways. Good and right ways. For a long time, I hard. My love and commitment for my husband wasn't enough. All the while, God kept whispering this phrase to me: Let me do my work. Oh, but didn't He need a little help? Surely He didn't want me to stop "trying". And surely I could make it all "work" more quickly. All my efforts were such a failure, which led me to a phase of frustration and feeling so ineffective. I had all this pent up anger at not being able to change anything. I wasn't angry at my husband, but I still wanted to punch something. I wanted to hit a windshield with a bat. I desperately wanted to make something move.

Still: Let me do my work. At this point of pain and frustration and anger, I know most people medicate. Whether it's TV or pills or overcommitting so nothing stops spinning long enough to really feel.....But I've never been big on the effects of chemicals in my body, and everything else just leaves you so empty. Everything but Jesus makes it worse. And I knew that.

I finally stopped trying. I was too empty, too hurt, too alone. I was past prayer. Way past prayer. I had nothing else to ask for. In fact, I had no more words at all. I was, as I so often use the phrase, at the end of myself. All I could think to do was posture myself on the carpet, like I had read Elijah did in I Kings 18. The Bible says that when he wanted God to send rain during a famine, he "bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees" (v.42). It doesn't say whether or not he prayed. It simply describes a posture of utter humility. Elijah knew he couldn't make it rain. He did it seven times before his friend saw a tiny cloud in the distance.

I brought my pain to the carpet, weeping silently as I'd learned to do after all were in bed,. Night after night, tear after tear, my nose smelling the cheap carpet fibers, my body sort of in Child's Pose. It was a horrible season, and at the same time, it was where I found my life. I can't describe what happened, actually. I can't put into words what healing feels like when it's whispered in the wee hours of the morning in the core of your soul. I can't list out the ways God became so real to me, met me over the course of many months, told me that I was His beautiful bride. I can't describe how it was more than everything I needed, and somehow more than I'd ever had. You have to experience it. And I have a feeling that you have to get to a really awful place first. Empty out before you can fill up.

One thing I can say is that worked. Whether our marriage had come around or not, bringing all my emotion and need before God was finally the right choice. After all the trying and working and talking - gosh, the hours of wasted talking - my heart spread out all over the carpet worked. Isn't it exactly what He wanted all along? It wasn't literally being on the carpet, of course. For me, it just happened that my body reflected where I was on the inside. The posture, utter humility. And unfortunately, I was there because I had no other recourse. In the future, I pray I'll go there with my pain a lot sooner. Like first.

So the second half of 2010, God brought heaps of healing between my husband and I. Once God got me under control, He DID do His work. Heaps and heaps of healing and blessing and refreshment have been ours. And a magical thing has happened; I've been perhaps more free than I ever have been to be me. In all my gifts and inspirations and passions, I want to show God off because He has made my cup overflow with....I can't even pinpoint it. Joy? Life? Love? All of the above, and more.

To wrap up, I thought it was fitting with my story to share a portion of Oswald Chambers' words, from his daily devotional My Utmost for His Highest, on the last page of the year:

Our yesterdays present irreparable things to us; it is true that we have lost opportunities which will never return, but God can transform this destructive anxiety into a constructive thoughtfulness for the future. Let the past sleep, but let it sleep on the bosom of Christ.

Leave the Irreparable Past in His hands, and step out into the Irresistible Future with Him.

In 2011, help me remember to let all my worry, hurt, anxiety, and loss - past and present - sleep on the bosom of Christ.

Because that works.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Seeing right through me

Christmas break is so fun. We are truly enjoying it. We've been visiting family and friends the last few days, and are now back home, ready to organize and regroup. But yesterday, we went to the California Science Center in L.A. This place is amazing. (And possibly the most amazing part is that it is totally free.)

One of our favorite stops was the Ecosystems exhibit. The balmy Desert Room housed tortoises and staged flash floods. The chilly Polar Room had a giant polar bear pelt, one wall made of ice, and a snowmobile (a.k.a. "little boy magnet") you could sit on. But my favorite part was the underwater exhibit. Large aquarium tanks held bizarre fish and morey eels and sand sharks. Small tanks held all sorts of other beautiful creatures, some creepy, some breathtaking.

The tank housing these guys stopped me short. I grabbed my son's camera from his neck and snapped these.

They are Aurelia Aurita, or Moon Jellyfish.

What I instantly thought: "What if God made us completely transparent?"

We watched one jellyfish take in particles of food, and then we could see those same particles on its insides.

Total transparency. Think about it. What if everyone else could see what we took in? Not just food...I mean what we took into our minds and our hearts, what was churning around on our insides. What if no one could hide anything?

Then my mom-in-law pointed out something very interesting. It looked as if only a few jellies were in the tank. But no....a closer look revealed that perhaps twenty or more were in there. We could only clearly see the ones that floated up toward the light at the top of the tank. The rest swirled around, waiting their turn to float upward, in the total darkness below. And when they did float up, it seemed as if they were materialising out of nothing. It was quite mesmerizing to watch.

And memorable. Late that night, when the rest of the house was still, my husband, mom-in-law and I, with tea and PJ's, talked about the strange jellies. We talked about transparency. We talked about what happens to a human life when it moves toward the Light, this time meaning the exposing truth of God.

Nothing can be hidden from God. When we finally decide to place our lives into His hands, we must surrender to total transparency with Him. There, our true selves become more clear, though it can be an uncomfortably revealing process. He sees everything churning around inside of us, and it's never all pretty.

For me, there is no alternative to being transparent. With Him, and with you. I try to push up, up toward His light because I don't want to float around in the darkness. That's not life. In the light of the Lord, I can see myself and my purpose the most clearly. He reveals me. He shows me beauty in myself I know I could not otherwise see. Even if everyone else is gawking through the glass at how odd I seem, in His light is where I am me.

This passage from Psalm 139 speaks to our transparency before God so well. Is anyone else a little uncomfortable at this intimate knowing God has of us? Oh, thank goodness He has also made it clear that love is intertwined in every phrase.

O Lord, you have examined my heart
and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand!

I can never escape from your Spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
if I go down to the grave, you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.
I could ask the darkness to hide me
and the light around me to become night—
but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
Darkness and light are the same to you.

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.

How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
They cannot be numbered!
I can’t even count them;
they outnumber the grains of sand!

Psalm 139: 1-18 

{Today I'm linking up with Ann's blog for Walk With Him Wednesdays, a collection of posts on simple ways we can draw closer to Him}

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Still unwrapping

Christmas is winding down. In 59 minutes, the day will will be officially done.

I took a little post-Christmas inventory at one point today. It was a slur of thoughts, really, pouring into my tired head. It went something like this.

Whew. OK. Man, am I tired. I didn't realize I'd been powering it out until it was over and now I want to sleep for three days. But did I do enough? Did my kids "get" it? Did we read the right passages, talk about why Jesus came, and focus enough on selfless giving? And what about how they'll remember me? Was I happy and joy-filled enough to outweigh my stressed, busy and distracted moments? Did I read them the books, do the crafts, bake, and create a magical season for everyone in my home? 

Kinda silly, right? It didn't take me long to realize hear in my Spirit that Christmas wasn't at all over.

Christmas isn't a thing wrapped in shiny paper only to be ripped open, enjoyed and then tossed aside, like every other gift.

It is for every day. Emmanuel was born on Christmas. But His birth was only a beginning, of course. And I am only at the beginning of learning how to receive His gifts.

Truly receive them.

It's hard. Sometimes I shove them away. Peace? No thanks, I think I can handle this on my own. Forgiveness? Not today, because I really feel more comfortable punishing myself a while longer. Rest? Who has time for that?

And sometimes I just leave them under the tree. Unopened. I'm sure there are times I don't even notice the gifts from Jesus sitting right in front of me. I can't list them out because I don't know what they are. I'm just missing out. Neglecting my relationship with the Giver.

So I wanted to tell you this. It's not over. Christmas is a beginning. Perhaps you need a fresh one. I say take it. Run over to the tree, slide down onto your knees, grab it with both arms and shred that paper like a five-year old on Christmas morning.

Some of you have a mental picture of exactly what that looks like. Embrace all He wants to offer you today. There are no gifts more valuable than His love. His forgiveness. His companionship. Oh, do you know what it's like to be His friend?

Tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, I want to be a child at Christmas, still unwrapping.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Pick me, Pick me

OK, It's voting week on My First Kitchen.

If you want to vote for my "Cookie & a Story" you can do so HERE

You have to find my name, Leslie, on the list about three-fourths of the way down.

You can vote once a day until next Tuesday. Cool, huh?

Thanks guys & have a merry day!

Not what I was gonna say

I sat down to write about something else. I had some thoughts about Christmas and how we rightly prioritize telling the "story of Jesus" to our kids, but how He then gets contained to being a character in a story instead of being described as a real, living, person who wants us every day. I have a post about this I need to write.

But I totally got hijacked in my heart.

Ann did it. She has this blog where she hijacks me alot, alot. Her words are crazy, what they can do.

And I just read this post of hers which happens to be on words, and our responsibility to them.

I am stopped in my tracks right now because she echoes a prayer in me that runs so deeply, I cannot ever escape it. I have this thing with words. They are my blessing and my curse. My use of them is, at different times, both the source of my greatest fulfillment and my deepest shame, depending on how I use them. Or rather, who's in charge of them. And so that deep-running prayer is more than that; it's a plea for God to grow me in such a way that I build others up, instead of tear them down.

God's words: “When you talk, do not say harmful things, but say what people need—words that will help others become stronger.“ Ephesians 4:29 (NCV)

Ann's words: Mamas make strong.

I read all these words - for heaven's sake, read the post - and my heart is beating the familiar rhythm of my plea.

My words: Please Lord, help me make strong.

It's not Please Lord, help me be strong. I want to make (others) strong.

A whole lot of thoughts are circling about how it happens, the making strong, as a mother and as a woman. So many pieces are in that puzzle. But I do know it is impossible to do alone. I need Jesus for this, helping guide and shape my words. I need friends for this, influencing my vision, offering grace. And first I need to realize that I need so much more than I am.

I'm not talking about an endless striving to be better and more, which is the instinct we women have to fight against. I'm talking about giving up the illusion that we are self-sufficient. Surrendering the burden we place on ourselves to keep everything smooth. The opposite of striving, really. And letting Him in to be the Word.

Ann reminds me of the scripture: the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  This is what Christmas means, and from the beginning, Jesus was called the Word.

The Word nurtures and fills and breathes into me everything I need, when I let Him, and only then do I have words to make strong. But if I am deluded into thinking I can run on yesterday's strength, I better keep my mouth (and my keyboard) shut. Because I believe this: 

(more of Ann's words, from her profile page:) The only words that really matter are the ones I live.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Raining, inside and out

Today we're in a downpour. If we lived in a state that actually recognized winter as a season, it would be snowing and beautiful and fun for kids. But instead, its just cold and soggy and miserable. I don't like the rain. I look out my window and feel grouchy and sad.

But I woke up thinking This is the day that the Lord has made...I will rejoice and be glad in it.

And joy has been raining inside my house.

Giggles from kids playing, not fighting, sprinkled down for hours.

My husband, adorable in his knit beanie and PJs, made a fire in the fireplace, then made chocolate chip pancakes with the gigglers.

I sat making more gifts, working fabric and needle, watching a stream of stitches trickle with a therapeutic rhythm.

Mulling spices misted above the stovetop.

Chai tea spilled into white cups.

And Christmas music continued to pour fourth its blessing, one album after another.

This song, Eternal Gifts, by Leigh Nash is quickly becoming one of my favorite Christmas songs. Listen. It will warm your heart today.

And tonight, we were to have a party. An outdoor one. Thirty people, our friends, were coming. I am disappointed that it needs to be postponed.

But maybe, God has something else in store for this rainy night.

He loves surprises. He loves to rain down on us the thing we aren't expecting, until our cups overflow. We can never predict when He'll reach down, sweep our plans aside, and ordain a silent night. A holy night.

All is calm. All is bright.

Friday, December 17, 2010

My Cookie and A Story

Today, my "Cookie and a Story" entry is posted on Kendra's blog, My First Kitchen. Yay! 

There are 20 other finalists besides mine (each has been posted for one day this month), and voting for the favorite will begin on Dec. 22nd. The winner wins a bunch of awesome stuff for their kitchen. So I hope I win! Next week, I'll remind you to vote for me if you have a minute.

For now, you can check out my recipe for Italian Anise cookies along with a little story about my family heritage here.

This recipe has withstood much. Immigration. The Great Depression. And the passing of several generations of capable hands.

And perhaps one day, my little aspiring baker (shown above) will make these cookies for her own family.

* Wishing you a sweet Friday *

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lesson from the antique store globe

I feel kind of ridiculous.

A bunch of holiday-related responsibilities are spinning around in my life; they are mild sources of stress, taking up all my time and energy, and I want to complain. I want to list out every annoyance. All the stuff and people and jobs and food I have to buy and wrap and make and manage. Too many extras on my plate and I start to get annoyed about it all.

So a while ago, I'm staring at the globe on my desk. I bought it at the local antique store strictly for its cool colors. All shades of turquoise. I love turquoise. And it is hard for me to stop my mind which is bathed in annoyance long enough to remember that the globe is a representation of something. I tell myself to remember that it's not just a pretty, turquoise picture wrapped and pasted onto a sphere. All the squiggly lines are outlining countries. Real countries, filled with real people. I keep staring.

Most of them don't celebrate Christmas.

It's the same today as when Jesus was born. The world kept on turning. Hardly anyone noticed the baby. Even given the smaller population of the world at the time, the birth of Jesus didn't turn more than a few heads. Today, fewer and fewer people, it seems, acknowledge Him at Christmas.

And I feel ridiculous. I feel like complaining about so many trivial things, when I am celebrating the birth of my Savior. It's like I know the combination of the lock on the safe that holds everything I've ever needed, but I keep getting distracted by a pebble in my shoe.

First I felt ridiculous, and now I feel convicted. I know the combination. And all those people.... and all these people, meaning not just those in distant lands, but on my own street. These, right before my eyes, they need the combination and they don't even know it. I have it. They need it.

And it's Christmas. Hardly anyone is noticing the baby.

I have to ask again, Lord, open the eyes of my heart. Let my life, my love, and my every way point to the baby like a star in the midnight sky.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Wish I had a river

Joni Mitchell's River is another of my all time favorite Christmas songs.

I know, I know. I may have some opposition here. It's not really a Christmas song at all. It's more of a winter song. Not even a nod towards Jesus and the story of Christmas. But just bear with me; it's spiritual, under the surface. And actually quite moving to me.

If you haven't already gathered, or happen to be reading this blog for the first time in your life, I am a melancholy girl through and through. I find beauty in not only the beautiful things in life, but the bittersweet and sad as well. To me, there is something poignantly lovely about the human experience from its splendor to its grief. God created all our emotions, not just the happy ones, and for His good purposes. That's why a good cry can feel so good. And hitting our limits forces us to look outside ourselves for a Savior. It is in the plea, when we're at our end, that we can find that which is truly life-giving. Personally, my moments of deepest grief, deepest pain, have resulted in the most beautiful seasons in my heart. I've met God more intimately in those moments than in all the other pleasant ones combined. What isn't completely lovely about that?

Back to River.

It's comin' on Christmas.
They're cutting down trees.
They're putting up reindeer,
Singing songs of joy and peace.
Oh, I wish I had a river that I could skate away on.

You know this song? Isn't it depressing? Before I listened closely, I thought, but why? Why is she so down on Christmas? The song rambles through a few verses of winter-themed commentary, but we don't get an answer to the question of "why" until about halfway in:

I wish I had a river that I could skate away on,
'Cause I made my baby cry...

I'm so hard to handle.
I'm selfish and I'm sad 
Now I've gone and lost the best baby
That I ever had.
Oh I wish I had a river that I could skate away on.

There it is. Brokenness. Loss. Remorse. Hurt. The Plea.

And this plea - whether Joni Mitchell's herself, or merely an invented character - is not so different from ours. Hard to handle? Check. Selfish? Check. Sometimes sad? Check. Doing my share of damage to my loved ones? Check and sigh. Sometimes I plain hate the sound of my own voice by the end of the day. 

But the woman in River makes an unfortunate, though very human choice. Her plea causes her to decide to retreat. Now, I've had these days. Sometimes weeks. I stop offering my true self. A relationship gets messy and hurtful and maybe I don't deserve more. Maybe the damage is irreparable. Maybe I'm alone. I start to believe there's only one choice.

Just. Skate. Away.

How many of us are way down that river in our hearts? How many of us have tried that route of managing our brokenness? Just skate away. All of us. Every one.

And you KNOW now why this is a Christmas song at its core. This messy, unpredictable, hurtful life spinning around us is exactly why Jesus came.

In His immense love for us, He became Immanuel, God with us. Not because we deserved it, but precisely because we didn't. When we were way the heck down the river, He came to save us. He came to be with us when we were sure we were alone.

In my life, I can tell you from experience, He continually works at melting all my rivers and quieting all my pleas. He gently reminds me that my plea, my yearning for healing and that abundant life, needs to turn me towards Him, not toward an icy path of resignation and retreat.

In River, again one of my favorite Christmas songs, Jesus whispers, I'm here. I've got this. So you can untie the skates.   


Wednesday, December 08, 2010

100 words for my 100th post

{These 100 words, for my 100th post, speak for themselves. They are from some more Christmas songs, and are infused with the meaning of Christmas for me.}

Fragile fingers sent to heal us
Tender brow prepared for thorn
Tiny heart whose blood would save us
Unto us is born, unto us is born.

So wrap our injured flesh around you
Breathe our air and walk our sod
Rob our sin and make us holy
Perfect Son of God
Welcome to our world


Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.


Silent night. Holy night.
All is calm, all is bright.

O come let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

O Come O Come Emmanuel, Part 2

I spent some time alone this past weekend. I didn't plan to or really want to. Friday afternoon, I drove for three hours, and then waited for three more before I met up with a great friend whom I don't get to see often. I happened to be in an unfamiliar city while a beautiful Christmas parade was about to take place. I bought a hot tea, and determined to watch the parade, enjoying all the holiday revelry, alone.

I was trying to be a big girl, delighting in the cool air, wrapping my scarf a little more tightly, and smiling at sparkling-eyed kids watching the parade. It was enjoyable. To a point. But mostly I was keenly aware of my NOT being with someone and the way that made me feel. I stepped outside myself, observing my feelings of discomfort, and found that it was hard to be familiar with my alone self.

I wasn't a mommy, for the moment, which is my ever-present definition most hours of every day. I wasn't even a wife or friend or daughter to anyone present. I was just me, under the stars. My heart searched for a comfortable, settled understanding of just me, like when I lie in the sand and need to wiggle my own form into it first.

While I sorted through this state of being alone, I realized, again, that we were made to love and be loved. Relationship is stamped into our very being. It is a thread of need that we cannot remove. The thread can only be severed, leaving loose ends, and the sting of a promise broken.

But Jesus, Emmanuel, whose name means "God WITH us," came to us when we were alone. And in need. And stinging and broken. Our mistakes kept us severed from God. The earth shuddered with a plea: O Come O Come, Emmanuel. And His love for us welled up into a great crescendo of the cries of a laboring mother, and a birth. He came. To live and die, in order to heal our thread of relationship with Him.

When I am alone, under the stars, with no one else to define me, Emmanuel does. My relationship with my Father is what defines me. And not just when I'm alone, but that definition supersedes all the others, every day, when I let it.

Phillipians 2:6-7 is not often considered a Christmas passage, but it's message certainly is:

Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.

I don't think I would have made that trade - divine privileges for human flesh. In fact, I can't wait to trade in the opposite direction, when my days here are finished.

But He loves us. And so there is no where Jesus wouldn't go to be with us.
Grocery store, or parade, or cross.
No where he wouldn't go to be with me.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

O Come O Come, Emmanuel, Part 1

This is my favorite Christmas song.

The lyrics speak something new to me each year, and this year is no different. I am reeling in thought over the words already.

Two days ago, its messages started seeping in, as I searched for a version of the song to add to my mixpod (my little blog iPod thing on the right).

O come O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.

O come. It starts with a plea, repeated and desperate. The melody is gilded with mystery and something ancient it seems.

And then a call, by name. Emmanuel means "God with us," a translation I will talk more about in another post. Our God came down to earth to be with us and to be us in nearly every way. That means he gets it. Anything I have to bring, he gets.

That pleading finally reached my center tonight. It became my plea, without my realizing it at first. I had a rough last couple of days as a mom, feeling blanketed with shame hearing the sound of my own harsh voice to my children. I finally brought my mess before Emmanuel, the one who understands because he was and is with us, and there is no human way I am able to hold back tears when I reach the point of the plea. I wonder if I can even plea at all unless I am crumpled up in need first.

A plea is not just asking for him, if he'll take a peek into my life. Check things out. It's not polite or careful. It's at the end of pretense and cover and excuse. And pride.

I am pleading, raw. O come, O come, Emmanuel...into my mothering and into my home and into my words. Please.

I sat on the couch in stillness for a few moments, wiping tears. Then something in my spirit responded, a quiet, gentle reply.

I'm already here. It is you who needs to come to me.

So. I'm doing my part. Moving my heart towards abiding. Again. It's so easy to get thrown off course, especially in busy seasons, sick seasons, weak seasons. And it's so easy to forget that it is more important than ever during those seasons to not just bring ourselves and our issues to our Emmanuel, but to stay put.