Real Life in Real Time

Sometimes our Daring Adventure rattles me more than I’d like to admit. Like at bedtime when I hug my teenager. I ask if he’s ok. He tells me he just wants to go home, but we don’t have one. Or when my YWAMer tells me he’s not going to be sticking around when he comes back to the US as long as I hoped.

Sometimes our hearts are bruised and everything hurts because we can’t tie this thing up with a pretty bow and roll the credits. This isn’t an episode of Fixer Upper where all the demo and renovations take place in an hour. There are no edits, no retakes. This is real life being lived out in real time.

Then there are reminders of the past reading like an encyclopedia of all the times things didn’t turn out the way we hoped they would. We don’t like to repeat mistakes. This is where we have to make the decision to step over the facts and invite God into our hurts and frustrations. It’s not our normal. Our normal looks more like me hiding in a bedroom with my journal and a box of Kleenex while he flips between Food Network and HGTV. Normal hasn’t been getting us anywhere so it’s time to try something new.

On this particular day we drove out to the church where we were married twenty-one and a half years ago. Parking in the hundred degree shade next to the cemetery where my grandparents are buried I opened my bible to read a few scriptures from Isaiah about God leading his people and making all things new. Let’s be real, I have no idea how to do what we’re doing but I find comfort knowing we’re not the first people to feel this way.

Once upon a Christmas Eve eve we made promises to each other here. We were courageous adventurous dreamers. Everything was possible. Our poor parents must have thought we were out of our minds for packing up and moving all the way to east Texas a few weeks after our wedding. Knowing what I know now, they were right! Let’s just say our Texas adventure didn’t go anything like we hoped it would and in many ways we’ve been playing it safe ever since.

Sitting in the car together we invited Jesus to sit with us. I recounted our wedding day to him (as if he needed a replay) and asked for that kind of courage again. Confessing fear and doubt, I expressed how my heart was hurting for my sons. It was quiet for a few minutes, then it was Matthew’s turn. Raw, honest, vulnerable, desperate cries from desperate people.

So now we wait. We rest in HIS goodness and HIS faithfulness because HIS track record is way better than ours. Our hearts and our lives are in good hands.

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. Philippians 4:6-7 The Message



You Need Beauty

One son is away at church camp. The other son has driver’s ed in the mornings. My husband is at work. This means I’m home alone for THREE whole hours. I honestly cannot remember the last time that happened.

Still trying to remember.

Nope. No wonder I’m so giddy.

Instead of filling this time with chores, I’ve been trying to fill it with what I actually need. This means slowing down and thinking about what it is that I actually need. I know exactly what everyone else needs. For starters, they need clean socks. They need, they need, they need.

What do I need?

I say a little prayer while driving in the car where I practically live these days.

Lord, what do I need today?

You need beauty.

Ah, yes. Beauty. I know how peaceful I feel when I’m surrounded by beauty. I know I never get enough of it. I crave it and yet…it’s not exactly on my daily to do list.

John and Stasi Eldredge explain the need for beauty in their book Captivating:

Beauty is essential to God. No–that’s not putting it strongly enough. Beauty is the essence of God. Scripture says that the created world is filled with the glory of God (Isaiah 6:3) In what way? Primarily through its beauty.

Nature is not primarily functional. It is primarily beautiful. Stop for a moment and let that sink in. We’re so used to evaluating everything (and everyone) by their usefulness that this thought will take a minute or two to begin to dawn on us. Nature is not primarily functional. It is primarily beautiful. Which is to say, beauty is in and of itself a great and glorious good, something we need in large and daily doses (for our God has seen fit to arrange for this).

So I decide to go home and change into my walking shoes. The dog gets very excited whenever she sees my shoes because she thinks I’ll take her for a walk. I have let her down so many times, but today she is going to get her wish.

I take the dog leash off its hook as she thumps me with her thick tail. She is beside herself. The back of the SUV lifts and she leaps into the car like a young pup.

We back out of the driveway and head toward the county park. It’s beautiful there. As we get closer I start to wonder if it will be busy. My heart starts to race and I feel fear.

The last time I took the dog to the park for a walk without my husband it ended badly. A grandpa type man yelled at me and my children. He threw the f bomb around and threatened to get a gun. Because of my dog. Because of me. Because I couldn’t control her and he thought she was going to hurt his small dog. She would never. She’s just a big dumb lab. He was out of control angry and I was afraid. He even followed me in his car out of the park. I thought he was going to follow me home.

That was five years ago.

I park the car and look around. There are only a couple of people out in the field. This shouldn’t be that big of a deal so I open the back hatch and let Mocha out. She is so excited that she can barely stand still long enough to put the leash over her head, but I am afraid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mocha wants to sniff and explore and pee and I am holding on for dear life because I am afraid.

I look around and see no one. There are no bullies here.

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I bend over to remove the leash and set her free.

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She darts ahead and sniffs her chocolate heart out.

She is free to run ahead. I allow her some distance and then test her by calling her name. She comes running back to me. This is progress.

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She’s not the same dog she was five years ago. She’s mellowed a bit and I see that even as she runs ahead of me she stops to make sure I’m not far behind. She’s looking out for me too. Suddenly I’m not afraid. I’m able to look around and take in the beauty that Jesus wants me to see.

Everything is green. The ground is soaked from the storms. Birds soar and wildflowers sway. Frogs and insects sing their song. My lungs are breathing in the sweet fragrance in the air. It’s gorgeous. We follow the bend in the trail and come to a fallen tree. I have to decide whether to turn back or keep moving forward.

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I see that it’s possible to go around and I try not to think about the ticks hitching a ride in my hair as I go off the trail. Mocha is having the time of her life while I coach myself out loud. You can do this, Nic. Going off the trail is not the end of the world. That’s big news for a girl like me. Going off the trail is not really my style.

A few moments later I make my way around the tree and I’m back on the path. Mocha is still in the thicket sniffing out deer and God knows what else. I stop and notice above my head are red, white, and purple berries. I don’t know if they’re edible and I don’t care because I don’t eat fruit that doesn’t come from the grocery store. They are lovely.

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A few steps further the path becomes swampy and my feet are soaking wet. It dawns on me why we are the only ones at the park today.

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Still, there is beauty all around me.

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We allow things to grow here in the wild that we don’t allow to grow in our yard.

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My heart is pumping harder and there is mud on my calves from tromping through the soaked ground. It’s time to follow the path toward the car. I take a deep breath and thank the One who invited me back here to this place today. I thank him for beauty. I thank him for keeping the bullies away. I thank him for helping me around the obstacles on the path and for keeping an eye on me and those I love every single day.

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I’m not the woman I was five years ago.

I needed to come back to this place today to experience this beauty from the lover of my soul. The One who knows me best loves me most. It’s good to be loved.

Jesus, thank you for loving us enough to invite us to experience the beauty all around us. Thank you for calling us back to places marked by fear and regret to redeem us and set us free. Thank you for trusting us in these wide open spaces to hear your voice and come running back to your open arms time and time again. You are beautiful, Jesus. We love you.

 

The World’s Worst Compassion Blogger

A few years ago our family began sponsoring a child through Compassion International. I was at a concert sitting in the front row feeling particularly blessed that night and even though I had heard the Compassion pitch no less than 15 times at other events, this was my night to respond. My husband agreed, and since we had NEVER been on the same page about sponsorship I took it as a sign. We chose a girl since we had sons. In my mind it would go something like this: I would supernaturally mother this daughter from another continent with my generous monthly support. We would pray for her and write her letters every month. The boys would come to love her like the sister they never had and the Glory of the Lord would shine around us day and night, night and day. Um, yeah. Not so much.

Our sponsor child was removed from our family after the first month. Compassion International sent a letter explaining why along with information about another child in case we wanted to continue with sponsorship. It was bizarre. I felt obligated to continue sponsorship because we were blessed and I had received two CDs at the concert just for signing up. I’m responsible that way.

So we began corresponding with the new girl. (When I say “we”, I mean “I”. That’s how we talk around our house.) At first it was sweet. I read about how she loved going to school, and loved washing the cups, and loved Jesus. She thanked us and told us how much she loved us. Instead of feeling blessed by her letters, I felt guilty because my children hate school and we most certainly do not love washing the cups. No we do not. I read her letters to my boys hoping to spread a little guilt and make them realize how blessed they are to be educated (by their mother!) and have a dishwasher to unload. I might as well have read the letter to the wall.

When it was time to respond to these letters I would sit at the computer and stare at a blank form on the monitor ready to share our lives with her. However, my fingers would not type. I couldn’t think of anything to say to her because I could only think about how our lives were so different. We were spoiled rotten Americans living in a house with more stuff than we know what to do with. We were a Dave Ramsey nightmare with debt up to our ears dreaming of trips to Disney World. She lives in a hut in Uganda. What would I even say?

My letters were about our weather, the crops in our region. “Hey, we grow corn in Iowa just like you do in Uganda! Isn’t that great?” I’d think of some scripture to write and tell her we were praying for her blah blah blah. Then I’d upload a photo of my family and hit send.  It was pathetic.

Her letters would come in the mail and I was busy. So I’d set them aside in a pile with mail that needed to be dealt with and filed. There her letters would sit unopened. If I didn’t read her letters, I wouldn’t have to write her back and then I wouldn’t have to feel so guilty about being an American.

As if all of this wasn’t pathetic enough, I began to pray about discontinuing our sponsorship. I mean, we are really bad sponsors. Sure, we have the monthly donation automatically deducted from our checking account, but that wasn’t enough for this girl. She wanted letters.

I made the mistake of reading one of her letters last summer. In it she wrote about how she prays for my family. She loves us. She thinks about us every day. I am her best friend. She hopes I will one day visit Uganda. And just for fun she hopes that she’ll be as fat as me when she grows up. I threw the letter on the counter and tried to wrap my mind around the part where she wants to be as fat as me. Hello! I know I’m fat, but it’s not polite to point it out. I didn’t want to think about the fact that maybe she was just so hungry all the time that she couldn’t imagine having a little extra meat on her bones. It was time for God to let me off the hook. I couldn’t respond to her letter. I could not. I could not get past how it made me feel about myself. Me, myself, me, myself, me, myself…you get the picture.

Finally, I confessed to someone who loves me that I’m a really bad sponsor parent. I told her what had happened and she listened and we laughed together about some of the funny stuff. I wanted her to give me confirmation that I could end the sponsorship. She did not. Instead, she encouraged me to just sit down and write this little girl a letter and move on. I made my case for how I didn’t connect with this girl at all. Our lives are just too different for me to have anything worthwhile to tell her. Why can’t Compassion International have an option for people who can afford to give, but not afford to write letters? Surely there are letter writers we could partner with?

Later that day I prayed and asked God to help me because these letters were haunting me and I needed to be free of them. What do I say? What do I do? Instead of picking me up and shaking me until my narcissistic head rattled, He gently whispered, “What did you need to hear when you were 12?” I tried to remember who I was at that age and how I felt about myself. Then I began to pray for her. I prayed that God would bless her. I prayed that she would know she has value, that she is beautiful. I prayed that she would know that God has called her to do something great for His purposes and she can do all things through Him. I prayed that she would be protected from harm and that the enemy would not succeed in his evil schemes. I prayed that her hopes and dreams would draw her closer to Jesus every single day of her life.

This girl says she prays for me. She prays for my family. She has not given up on me. It’s not her fault that I’m a spoiled rotten American and can’t quite get my act together enough to get over myself to sit down and write a dang letter. It’s not really about her. It’s about me. It’s about me needing to grow up and get outside of myself and what makes me feel good or not so good. Jesus is not letting me off the hook with a mindless donation. Honestly, $38 a month is a drop in the bucket for my family. Truth be told, I spend more than that at Starbucks every single month and we are still a Dave Ramsey nightmare, but we’re working on it.

Yesterday I wrote a letter, attached a family photo of our chubby selves and hit send. As pathetic as all of that sounds, it was a breakthrough. I wanted to run through the house cheering like I do for my boys when they do something I know they were afraid of doing.

Writing a letter doesn’t make me a missionary. I’m still the world’s worst Compassion blogger. I still don’t want to visit Uganda. I still feel guilty about being an American. I’m still pathetic, but there’s hope. There’s always hope. 

“I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers, you did for me.”—Matthew 25:40 NIV

Do you sponsor a child? I’d love to hear how your family does this. Thanks for stopping by.

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