Dust and Shadows

9 years old and it is simply amazing what she can accomplish. I know that little girl inside and out, her strengths and limits, how she ticks, and what she can accommomplish. 

Summer days are our contradictions. Each day can be the extreme opposite of another. In order to defend myself in what I am about to tell you, I will first say that we just returned from a week’s vacation at the beach. There was nothing except play, family memories, and fun to be had the entire day. 

And then there was yesterday. Yesterday, my girl woke up to a list. Beside her list was my list. The two of us worked pushing out speed, racing the clock, accomplishing task after task after task. She is 9 years old and what she accomplished is impressive!  Get herself ready for the day, make bed, read two chapters of honors reading book, feed fish, give water to gecko, walk around the house and clean up any mess that belongs to Madison, practice piano, pass 1 level of rocket math division, read one more chapter, make a birthday card for Nana, a Father’s Day card for Grandaddy, vacuum, mop, set the table for dinner, and read another chapter from her book. 

And why do I make her do it?  Don’t I love her?  Am I not older?  Could I not accomplish these tasks with greater speed?

She is quickly catching up to me, but there have been nine previous years where I took double, triple, 25 times the time to involve and teach Madison in the daily chores that need to be done and the lessons that need to be learned. And why?!  Why would I have a three year old help me carry her laundry to the washing machine?

And you all know the answer. Because it is good for her. Because it is my job to teach her to be an independent adult. And that baby girl is going to make one amazing grown woman one day!  Because as she works, she learns to love work. And this is what Madison’s typical day looks like. But then sometimes, as happened yesterday, she puts a cherry on top and she goes above and beyond. Lastnight, Madison made a homemade apple pie for the family. (Not on her list) and then she picked up another book and asked her Daddy if she could read a chapter to him. (She did.)

And my day to day can be such a struggle. My spirit is willing but my flesh is weak. But sometimes, at the end of the day, I get a little glimpse of the woman that all her hard work is raising her up to be. And in these moments, I get a little “ohhhhh, I get it.”

Why does God make me work so hard every day?  Why do I hurt and suffer?  Why can this life be so tiring and painful?

Because he is making a list for nine year old Caroline and look at all the things I can accomplish because he is teaching me how to help this world. Once I was three years old and my tasks were so little as I did them with my Father. Now he expects more. And now I want to bake an apple pie for my family. I want to share the gospel wherever I go. I want that to be my priority and the center of my life. I want it to dictate where I live, what I say, and how I spend my time. 

My little girl is starting to dream. God has big huge plans for her. If you asked her today, she says when she grows up she wants to train dolphins. Give her time and she starts throwing in other animals that she wants to train as well. Point is, she has some big dreams. And if you ask me, she is firmly on track. 

What do I want to accomplish?  Is it to have lots of influential friends that like me?  Is it a newly remodeled wow inspiring home?  Is it finances of extreme comfort in the bank?  

Is it to welcome homeless people into my home?  Is it to be put in harm’s way so that I can help when emergency strikes?  Is it to tell other hurting people, no matter what the cost, about the amazing love of God their Father?

Oh Holy Spirit, I long so much for your presence. Give me hurting people in my path so that I can show them your love. Guide my steps so that I can serve the church. And then I will be a mature Christian, finally maturing into who you made me to be and then I will have intimacy with you as you accomplish the impossible in me. 

Everything else is dust and shadows. I will not settle. I will grow up one to do list at a time. 

Screw Up and Move On

Roast and potatoes were simmering at a low temperature in the crockpot, a fire burning and sending a glow through the room set off the cold weather outside in a perfect comfort of a home that was my dream come true. The floors glow freshly mopped and the last load of laundry has been put away. Madison’s homework is completed to perfection and a little ahead of schedule. We slide into the newly refinished chairs with an afternoon snack and time to spare for a game of Chess. This is my perfection. More so than the winter ice that quickly melts with the change of season, I wish I could freeze and live in this moment forever and ever. An eight year old daughter that still needs me to style her hair in the morning, a husband that will walk in the door after a hard day of work at any moment, and the general good mood that I let determine way too much of my world. 

Literally, the only difference was laying down for a night’s rest. I slept hard and my dream wasn’t over when the alarm clock yelled at me, rudely interrupting my comfort.  As soon as I get started, I am running late. Madison is grumpy and complains about the uniform that she has to wear every day. I am grumpy that James has not brought me a coffee yet. My clothes are not complementing me like I want them to and my hair looks hideous. I stumble past the unmade bed to the kitchen with a sink full of dishes and an overflowing trash can. Where in the hell did this mess come from?!  My good mood is gone. 

To fault, I am an idealist and a perfectionist. My realist husband lives in this same morning as me and he sees (or doesn’t even see) the mess and interprets, “This needs to be cleaned up.”  I see:

I am a failure. My life is awful. I am a horrible wife and mom. Why can’t I wake up early and make eggs and bacon for my family?  Why does this world have to start so early?  It is my fault Madison is grumpy. Where is my coffee?  It is James’s fault. He must not love me. 

It take two cups of coffee for me to move on. But as this same scenario plays in my world almost EVERY SINGLE DAY, I am starting to learn that failures are what matter. Weird, huh?  Here is what I mean:

When I am grumpy, am I a yeller?  When Caroline doesn’t get her way, that determines if I am a selfish or giving person. When Madison’s homework is stressing us to the limit, am I patient?  When James tells me “no” to something I want to purchase, how do I take it?  It is the hard times, not the “my perfect world” times that determine who Caroline really is. 

How can I make a mistake and learn from it?  When I sin, how can I ask for forgiveness?  How can I give my life, all of my life, the good and the ugly to serve my family and others?

When my schedule is packed full, Lord, send me someone for me to help.  When my budget is tight, Lord, show me someone that has less than me that I can strengthen. Oh God, I want those in dire need right in my obvious path!  Because this is the meaning of giving.  That is service. When it hurts, when I am grumpy, when I lack energy, that is when it is not me because I can not do it. That will be God in me. 

I Want New Shoes and She Has Her Daddy’s Smile

As a mom, as a woman, as a human being, I always have a million billion, a hundred things running through my head at one time.

We are out of milk. Go to Publix. We also need turkey, apples, and new shoes.

My head is a constant check list. I check my calendar and add those events to my dry erase board. Make the beds. The laundry had babies. Triplets. Practice piano. Homework. That is not for me. It is for her. She has her Daddy’s smile.

My phone chirps and I don’t have time to check it. I still need to put on mascara and brush my teeth. I want another cup of coffee but brushing my teeth says no to another cup.

She is growing so quickly. Eight!  Eight is almost nine. Dear Lord, I pray for her husband. I pray for the father of a little boy that will one day be her husband. Dear Lord, make him a man that will be a godly model for the boy that will grow to be her husband.

I want new shoes. I saw a pair in the mall. Super cute, no cute is not the right word, hot. They were hot shoes!  But I’m saving for piano lessons.

I’m a mom. It’s not about me. Yes, I want to be one sexy Momma for my husband. But he wants me to stay in budget. I’m on my way to the grocery store. I think I’ll bake a little treat for them. The hot man I call my husband and the little girl that I love more than new shoes.

may I suggest http://freeditorial.com/en/books/spiritual-flesh-and-blood

My Dog and I

Today, our home underwent a little renovation. The screened in porch was knocked down, opening up a patio to the backyard. I am pleased with the change. James and I sat rocking on the patio and complementing the recent change, Madison and a friend giggled while they jumped on the trampoline, and Tucker ran around the trampoline barking, believing he is one of the children. 

Suddenly from the bright blue sky, an intense boom of thunder shook our world. The girls screamed and began their sprint to the safety of the house. But with a look that he had just been spanked with a bolt of lightning, Tucker took off with the fastest hot lap that I have seen performed, running for his life. 

The hilarity was in watching his determined face as he passed the open patio…open patio…open patio, where he could have entered with ease, as he high tailed it to the spot where the old screened in door used to hang and he entered where that creature of habit has entered since he was a wee puppy and he first became house trained. 

And I realize that doggie and I have something in common. WE ARE CREATURES OF HABIT. I like a BBQ sandwich with cole slaw on top, because that’s the way I’ve always eaten it. Don’t try to keep me from my Sunday afternoon nap. Christmas decorations are hung the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Don’t even think about straying from the traditional turkey and dressing on that day of ️thanks. And if my side of the bed gets switched, I am bound to wake up on the wrong side, if you know what I mean. There is a certain way that our culture talks and acts and does life and if you get too weird on us…well, we don’t like it. Why?  WE ARE CREATURES OF HABIT. That’s not how we do it. 

And then there is the part I like to keep a secret. Shhh, don’t tell anyone. When my house is messy, I am grumpy. When I get mad at my husband, I get quiet. When I mess up, it is hard for me to let go and move on. I value comfort much too much. And I judge people that judge people. (Hmmm)  I am a creature of habit even when it comes to my sins. 

I AM FREE FROM SIN!  Jesus paid the debt. The chain is broken. Satan is defeated. I do not have to worry about this world and comfort and what others think of me!  I am a blink away from eternity. The movers are called and I’m packing for my mansion in glory!

I am like a prisoner with the prison door open and I still sit upon my cot. I am holding the shackles that have been cut off my arms. I am eating the crumbs under the table when the feast was prepared for me. And I am dressing in old rags when a designer dress was ordered and the party was planned for me!

Sinner of habit, the whole patio is open!  Stop running from the storm and chasing my old habits!  The race is won!  The price is paid!  Jesus loves me. NOW LIVE!

Creatures of What Comes Easy

I am an overall healthy eater. When I first read about the military diet, I was a sceptic. “Lose up to ten pounds in three days,” was translated, to me, that if you are a hundred pounds overweight and live off cheeseburgers and coke, then you could possibly lose ten pounds. Living my life sugar-free and limiting the grease, I figured I had already made those changes. 

For some reason, I kept reading the article and I confirmed, “no way!” One slice of toast and a boiled egg for lunch?  Not the diet for me!  That sounds….HUNGRY!

But I have this problem, it is called a human body. I want to be healthy and I want to look my best in summer clothes, and as the days get warmer and warmer, I wanted to make some improvements. I needed something extreme. What is more extreme than the military?

So, I gave the diet a second glance and considered it. (I preface diets by saying that I believe in a lifestyle not a diet, per say, but sometimes I do believe in a cleansing to boost to the next level. So, from now on, read the word “diet” as “cleansing.”) I gave the diet a second glance and I took it to the expert….my sister. 

So, Ellie and I decided:  Three days?  We can do anything for three days!  

Here we are, two days down and on the last day of the military diet. And I have already lost FIVE POUNDS!  Five pounds in two days ain’t too shabby!  I am spending the last day crying and starving with my sister…I mean laughing and talking about how easy this diet is. 

When those extra five pounds poke through my outfit and torture me day after day and month after month, WHY IS A THREE DAY DIET SO HARD?!  Because I LIKE EASY! 

I like the easy road, the life of comfort, the all you can eat buffet and the fat wallet!

But the older I get (and I’m not THAT old yet) or the more mature I get or the more God graciously gives me a little more wisdom, I see that that Easy Path ain’t going where I want to go. And when I look at what I want my finished product to be, I’m talking of the physical and spiritual, it is a little bit of an upward climb.

So, here is to one more day of not eating what I WANT to, and just a little bit of that, and here’s to thinking of something other than what I WANT, because honestly the here and now desires most often lead astray. 

I want to be healthy more than I want comfort. I want to give more than I want to receive. Give me eternity vs. the here and now.  And I value a challenge more than fading pleasures. 

I Am Wrong

Somewhere around five years ago, James and I set our minds on buying a leather couch. I had a little bitty budget that I wanted to spend and unrealistic expectations on what I could get. Routinely, I scanned Craigslist and was discovering that I had set the bar a little too high.  Perhaps, our old couch would have to do for a while longer. 

And then it happened, like the ad was shining and glittery and playing angelic music, I found it. The couch. It was exactly what I wanted for exactly my budget. It had to be a typo or a scam, it was a little too good to be true.  But I am a sucker for these kind of things, so I gave the number a call.

Nope, it hadn’t sold yet. Yep, he was available that afternoon. So, a few hours later, I loaded up toddler Madison and dragged along husband James (poor guy with a logical brain that falls in love with a dreamer like me.)

On the short drive, Madison fell asleep, so we were the kind of dorks that do things like this:  James “went in” first to scope out the safety situation and returned to watch the baby. Next, I knocked on the door to give the fashion approval.  James would return to break the deal. That is pretty much how we operate. 

Well, approximately two minutes later, I return to the car decorated in a huge silly grin, “I bought it.”

“Huh?”  I had overstepped boundaries, James is the final deal maker.

So I explained the situation:  the couch was perfect. In fact, it was a practically brand new $1,500 couch and the guy was asking $400.  Yes, I was going to buy it. I was already thrilled about the situation. But just because I am American and good enough is never good enough, I just have to ask, “Will you take anything less?”  And I waited for the guy to tell me to leave for being rude, insulting, and ungrateful of a good deal when I see one.

But he pauses and smiles at me like I am his daughter that he can’t tell no, “Sure, I’ll take $300.”  If I had the strength, I would have grabbed the couch and ran at that point, but the man is not done yet, “No…” And damnit, I should have grabbed the thing and ran while I could, sure he was changing his mind, but he continues, “No…I’ll take $250.” (!!!)

At that point, I felt a little obligated to explain Math to him, “Dude, you just dealt in the wrong direction.”

I smiled, offered my many thanks and walked away with the furniture I wanted and a little extra cash. 

I love the story, but I am just like that man, almost every single day. There is something that comes with proclaiming the truth, people want to debate. But it goes a little like this with me:

Person:  You call yourself a Christian?  Well, You are a sinner!  Me: oh yes!  The very worst!

Person:  Well, Jesus said to give all your stuff to the poor!  Me:  I know.  I should do that. I really suck!

Person:  Yeah?  Well, the church is a bunch of hypocrites!  Me:  oh, much worse!  They are liars, cheats, murderers….much worse than hypocrites!

Person:  I am my own god. Nobody tells me what to do.  Me:  I suck as a god!  Glad you have it all figured out because I am really screwed up!

Ya see, being a Christian is not about winning the debate or having a clean house or a new car or well behaved children or going to a Wednesday morning Bible study. It looks more like the outcast guy scraping the bloody man up off the pavement and taking him to the hospital, it looks more like the Mommy sitting with her eight year old for the tenth time in one day and apologizing that Mommy is a sinner, it is more like the woman dragged into the streets and having her tongue cut out by her brother because she rejected the family faith and gave her life to Jesus. 

So, in this debate, before you even say it, I confess I AM WRONG but the only hope is JESUS IS RIGHT. 

Love Does

“I used to want to fix people, but now I just want to be with them.

I used to think I had to act a certain way to follow God, but now I know God doesn’t want us to be typical.

I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I’m more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.

I used to think God guided us by opening and closing doors, but now I know sometimes God wants us to kick some doors down.

I used to think the best teachers wore tweed jackets and smoked pipes, but now I know they flip over and leak.

I used to think God wouldn’t talk to me, but now I know I’m just selective with what I chose to hear.

I used to think I needed to pick sides, but now I know it’s better to pick a fight.”  

Bob Goff, the author of Love Does.  This guy is insane!  He lives this life of giving and doing and saying things that are completely radical!  AND I WANT TO BE JUST LIKE HIM!

This is the book that I carry with me and read a sentence at red lights.  This book is the reason that I did not vacuum yesterday.  It is the reason that I was up a little too late.  And the reason I will be different from now on.  Above are a few of the chapter titles.  When the first chapter started, I was laughing out loud.  When the first chapter ended, I was crying.

I have a new aspiration in life.  I don’t want to just say I love people, I want to do it.  Love does.

What is Your Power?

I wake up with a lot of things running through my head:  Don’t forget it is picture day for Madison. There is a ton of laundry after the weekend and make sure, in particular, that M’s new green shirt gets washed. Call blah blah. Wipe down the bathrooms, make beds, empty the dishwasher. Go to Publix. We need more this and that. Swim team day. La la blah blah. I have to organize it.

I pull out a sheet of paper and a pen, write it down in an order that makes sense and then jot down the guesstimated amount of time it will take by writing beside that chore or event what time I should finish. Done. Check. This is my day. The list is made. I’ve got this.

Several hours later, I wrap up the vacuum cleaner cord, light a candle, and plop down on the couch with my girl to read Pollyanna. 

Strength. Power. Check. Those are my good days. And I’m pretty good at having good days.

I screw the top on my travel mug, sit down on the floor, leaning on the club chair, pull out my iPad and type away. My fingers can’t keep up with my mind:  repeat that. Emphasize here. Build up momentum. Bam. Ending punch.

Write. Repeat and emphasize here. Write. It is part of who I am. I find identity in my love of writing. I include it on my list of accomplishments. There is power in my ability to write. Hey, I struggle with enough that I claim my strengths when I have them. I am a writer.

Lover. Looking looking looking for love. Caroline is a lover. When I found love, we melted. It is not so hard to serve James because I love him. Ahh!  Chill runs up my back, shake my shoulders, I love him. There are so many fingers raised and point this out and mentions to be made but I am just going to stop there. No clarifications will be made. I am a lover!  I claim that man, he is mine and I am proud of it!  He is part of my completion and my identity. I am a lover.

What is your power?  What is your identity?

Are you rolling in cash?  Do you have a singing voice to make me and the rest of the world jealous?  Are your legs fast?  Do you demand attention and get respect when you walk into a room?  Do your hands obey your eyes with surgical precision?  Can you listen and retain every spoken word?

This man, he can command the cells in human bodies. This man, the spirits obey him. This man can tell the stars to stay or fly. He knows thoughts, he makes animals, and he walks and talks with God.

Power?  No power is denied him.

He is laughed at. He is whipped. He is accused, rejected, denied, and abused.

Power, where is your power?

This man, He is found among the weak. He uses his power to heal the sick. His fingers make the blind man see his family for the first time. His words hang the shining sun over the white sandy beaches. His strength parts the sea so the running slave can taste freedom. He comforts the lonely standing at her husband’s grave.

That man, where is his strength?  How does he use his power?

He denied himself, hung on the cross, and declared his love for me. Rejected, he lifted me up. Condemned, he set me free.  Dying, I am forgiven. Loved, he used his power for me.

All I have is because of him. How will I use my gifts he gave to me?

Do it ALL and Let it ALL Go

There is so much I want to do and so much to be done. There is a philosophy of “how to be perfect” and a religion of “let it go.”  The judgemental wars commence, if your home is clean then you must not have played with your children and if you don’t pack a Pinterest lunch then you must not care about their little body’s health. 

LETTING IT GO TURNS INTO ONE MORE THING THAT I HAVE TO GET DONE!

Do I make the bed or have breakfast with the fam?  Do we go for a lazy walk around the pond or cut a fruit salad?  Will the ironing stack disappear or will the new puzzle be opened?  Is it more important to linger at bedtime and cuddle with my daughter or just sit on the couch and be with my husband that has been at work all day?  Will the floor get mopped or Shepherding a Child’s Heart be reread?

And I believe the answer is this: YES. Hmmm, rephrased:  Do it all, every bit of it. Clarified:  Don’t do any of it. Meaning:  none of it is important. Spelled out:  this is what life is all about. 

OK. OK. funny, funny. How do we know what to do and what not to do?  

Yes!  Spending time with our children playing SORRY  or Legos is crucially important but so is having dishes clean for dinner and clothes to put on in the morning. 

There are lots of little practical tips: Do it together. Invent cleaning games. Take double the time washing sudsy dishes with your two year old playing in the soap and “helping.” Be together. Do together. Include them in the things you have to do vs the games they want to play. Then they are learning and will soon be able to take over some of the chores. 

And there are the facts of life:  Work hard!  Life is not easy!

But still, HOW, WHY, and WHEN?  

And here is what I myself am still trying to learn and apply, the real answer is:  LOVE.  Make a perfect cookie cutter shaped sandwich and homemade cookies for a school lunch if it is showing love, scrub the floor and wash and iron the clothes to welcome your husband into a restful home, turn off the TV and play Monopoly, learn together, do together, DO WHAT IS BEST FOR YOUR FAMILY AND WHEN YOU GET JUDGEMENTAL EYES FROM THAT FREAKIN PHARISEE, LET IT ALL GO!

No. I think you absolutely definitely shouldn’t. Go for it, not yet. 

I want answers. I want to know what to do to be healthy, make money, raise a successful citizen, be a stellar friend, and how clean my house should be!  

When I said, “I do.”  I really meant I did.  But sometimes, more often than I want you to know, I looked more like I didn’t. I was, am, grumpy, rude, self serving, and just plain done. But I loved him. I still do.  

And when the nurse laid that 7lb 9oz miracle on my instantly smaller tummy, I cried and smiled and instantly changed, because she was everything, and meaningful, and poetic, and beautiful, and soft as beautiful. But sometimes, more than I want you to know, I get frustrated with a messy room, and stepping on pink Legos, and a sassy attitude. But I love her. I always will, even through the teenage years. 

When should I scrub and when should I play?  How many cups of milk should I drink in a day?  Should I sit on the couch and watch a show with James or read “Bringing Up Girls,” that should have been checked off my reading list six years ago?  Should I call up a friend or spend the day at home?  Is this the year to save or enjoy?  A bush or a floral beside the house?  When and how and where? Why?

Daddy, Father God, will you please tell me?  

Because it matters completely. I want to do and accomplish. But I have made mistakes. And I hear you whisper that yesterday does not matter. Right here. Right now. This very. 

One thing is the objective:  accomplish, do, succeed, but the greatest of these is love. Love.