January 22, 2013

The Joy Dare

I have been deeply ungrateful. I bet you have too.

Consider this:
Every time you or I complain about anything, we're really saying, "I'm not thankful for what you've given me in this moment, Lord. Take it back. I don't want it." Even though He says in Romans 8 that He works all things together for our good, to conform us to the image of Christ, we're ungrateful for the refining fires. I've written before about my struggle with discontentment; it is, at heart, a struggle with ingratitude.

I'm not thankful for the weeks when we don't know how the rent will get paid. I'm not thankful for diseases that afflict the people I love. I'm seriously not thankful for the painful moments of being the only woman in the group who can't join the conversation about toddler trials, when all I ever wanted was to mother a houseful of children and start young at it too. I'm not thankful for hospital bills, broken washing machines, or midsummer car rides with no air conditioning.

My heart says: These parts of your plan, God they're a mistake, clearly. They'll never work for my good. Take them far away from me. 

I can spend so much of my energy being ungrateful that it sucks the joy right out of me. I become like the Israelites in Numbers 11, who had miracle-food from God's hand spread all around each morning; yet they lost the wonder of that mysterious entrée and complained about missing out on the spices and side dishes of Egypt.

Have you ever been there?

In 2011, I ordered a little book called One Thousand Gifts. While that neat brown package was on its way to my mailbox, something was eating away at my newlywed husband's insides. We had no clue until extreme pain drove us to the emergency room on a Thursday night and kept us at the hospital for two weeks straight. In those two weeks my husband had a major operation, was laid off from his brand new job, and began a very dark road to recovery. As he lay in the intensive care unit, monitors of all sorts softly beeping while he slept,  I started reading the book that had arrived the day we went to the hospital.

The book spoke of God's goodness even in the hard times, even in death and loss and pain. It spoke of that joy that comes with knowing God is good, and that His plans for me are all gifts meant to make me more like Christ. Ann Voskamp writes, "When I realize that it is not God who is in my debt but I who am in His great debt, then doesn't all become a gift?"

It was hard to view as gifts that hospital stay, that lost job, those dark months that followed. But if I deserve nothing no life, no moments, nothing precious to me (which one must have in order to feel loss or pain at all) then wasn't every moment and every thing a gift?

So on Easter Day 2011, in a clinical, pale blue hospital chair that had become my desk-sofa-bed, I took Ann up on her Joy Dare. I started writing in a gratitude journal, recording "gifts" from God that I didn't deserve. Skillful doctors' hands. Being allowed to stay by Steven's side in ICU. Beeps from monitors that kept me awake all night but reminded me he was still breathing. 

Almost two years later, I'm still not thanking God profusely for every trial. However, the discipline of daily recording His gifts to me forces me to confront my ingratitude and practice thankfulness. It helps me give thanks for gifts I would've overlooked otherwise.

Groceries. An extra hour of work this week. Truth that does not change. Lunches at home with my husband. Fresh eggs in the hen-house.  Purple blooms on front-yard weeds. Early morning rays through fog. 

At the beginning of 2013, I started over with my journal. I want to be more consistent in listing gifts every single day of this year. I want to end up with over a thousand gifts recorded in my little book. So every day I write down at least three. No repeats allowed.

Fingers digging in soft, cold garden dirt. Vegetable seeds not yet sown. Sun-soaked white towels on the clothesline. Routine. Soap. The ability to read. 

I'm currently at #112. One hundred twelve separate undeserved gifts God has given me so far this year. And it's only mid-January.

January 10, 2013

Five Ways I Want to be Like My Mama

This blog is all about my journey toward living purposefully, with the result that home is a pleasant place. My mama does that better than anyone I know. 

For months, there's been a blog post sitting in my drafts folder titled simply "My Mama." It contained a few disorganized thoughts on things I love about my mom. That draft drew my attention recently, because today is my mama's birthday. I'm not revealing how old she is; but she probably wouldn't mind if I did. She's the kind of lady who would gracefully tell you her age if you asked, and she'd add that she's thankful for every year. (Granted, it's probably easier to respond that way when you still look as angelic as my mama does.)

Everything I'd written about my mom in that original draft was a quality I desperately hope to grow into. So I tried to fit those jotted thoughts into some order. Now my challenge is limiting the list to only these five.

1. I want to be courageous like my mama. 

    She comes across as a docile, easygoing woman; and she is. But there is a fierceness in my mama's loyalty to the people she loves. No number of miles can keep her away from a daughter or grandchild who needs her. No challenge stops her from nurturing the people in whom she invests her life.
    When I was a kindergartner, my mom was at the primary school with me every day, volunteering in my classroom. Then, before I started first grade, my parents believed that God was leading them to teach me at home. Back then, homeschooling wasn't popular. It wasn't totally unheard of, but it certainly wasn't the hip trend it has become in many circles of late. There weren't as many support systems in place as homeschoolers have now. I imagine that my parents met a bit of opposition from well-meaning people who didn't understand why any woman would take it upon herself to educate her children at home. But armed with the conviction that this was God's calling, she did it. She made learning fun; she made it lovable. She stuck with it during the difficult years. Twelve years later I graduated from home school high school. I continued to love learning throughout college and now enjoy working as an academic coach for college students. A huge part of my job is passing on the same love for learning that my mama instilled in me. What a gift her courage has given me!
   It took courage for my mom to dive into a pursuit so unfamiliar and so different from what society expected. I want to have that kind of courage. When I'm convinced of God's leading, I want to jump wholeheartedly into His will and pursue it no matter what.

2. I want to serve with joy.

   My mama sings around the house as if it were great fun to do the most mundane chores. If you saw her washing dishes, you would think she just loves standing there wiping away the grime while she hums a hymn. She doesn't just do what needs to be done; she does it with class.
  I can't recall how many times she told my young self, "Now, Missy, try to have a sweet spirit." By that she meant not to simply do the job; but to do it with joy. God loves a cheerful giver, after all (2 Cor. 9:7). He must really delight in a woman who folds her family's laundry with a smile on her face and a song in her heart. I'm still working on that.

3. I want to never complain; my mama doesn't.

    I've got a lot of maturing to do on this one.
    I can't recall my mom ever complaining about a long wait. I don't think she's ever complained about the weather. She doesn't complain about hard work, even on weekends. She definitely does not complain about my father. I certainly never heard her complain about finances or lack thereof. In fact, no matter how tight times might have been, she always told us children that our family was exceptionally blessed, and we believed her. (We were blessed with her. That's for sure.)
   When everyone else is complaining, my mama starts finding and naming all the good in the situation. If there's no good to be found, she might sing a song to lighten the mood anyway. There may have been times in my teenage cynicism when I would've labelled her a Pollyanna; but there are so many days now when I long for my mom's ability to pinpoint the blessings through the darkest storm.

4. I want to honor and respect my husband the way my mama honors and respects hers. 

    Both my mom and dad speak incredibly kindly to one another. My mama has always told us daughters that we have the best father in the whole world. The praises she offers him in front of the church members he leads are the same things she says about him in private. She speaks only highly of him and never, ever criticizes or belittles him. Growing up, she made sure we also spoke to and about our dad with respect.
  I've been married for two years now. I've discovered that even if your husband is amazing, the temptation to nag and criticize is strong. That's why there are times when the strongest thing a woman can do is keep quiet. My mom is a strong woman strong in the quiet way she honors her husband. I want to be like that.

5. I want to assume the best of people. 

   "Mama simply just loves everyone. I wish I could be like that." My sister and I both recently expressed this thought after a conversation about how our mom accepts and loves people. She thinks the best of them, even when others doubt them. Maybe it's part of her special gift for finding the good; maybe that extends to people, too. However she does it, my mom pure-heartedly loves people who I view with skepticism. When I'm judging, my mom is nurturing. I take my time and make people prove they can be trusted. My mom just loves 'em.
  I think this describes the way my mama loves people:
"Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."  1 Corinthians 13:4-7
In fact, all five of these imitable qualities of my mom's could be summed up in those verses.

Happy Birthday, Mama.
I want to be just like you when I grow up.