But I . . .

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI have never cared about holiness. When I read Scripture, sang songs, or heard conversations about God’s holiness, I felt wholly unmoved. It would probably be a stretch to characterize my reaction as unimpressed, but there was probably a little bit of the Makalyla Maroney face inside of me when I’d contemplate the concept of holiness.

Over the years, my reaction bothered me. Why did other Christians feel so awed, moved, and inspired by God’s holiness–while I felt nothing at all?

My personality type typically leads to a more analytical, critical approach to everything, including spirituality. So I tried not to hammer myself too harshly for my lack of sentiment. But regarding other aspects of God, and in other areas of my relationship with God, I experienced plenty of light bulb moments, ahas, and spiritual awakenings. I wanted to understand this holiness thing, too.

This year I decided to embark on a journey to “get it.” I studied root words in Greek and Hebrew. I devoured Scripture related to holiness and specific stories in the Bible which grabbed my attention. I also started reading A.W. Tozer again, an author I’d tried out in early adulthood but hadn’t found captivating at that point in life. I had too much drama swirling in my life at that point pulling my attention away from what really mattered. 15 years later, I’m able to concentrate. And I guess what they say is true–when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. This time, God has shown Himself to me through Tozer in spades.

I’m finally grasping that the power of understanding anything about Who God Is lies in contrast. When I see who I really am, and compare who I am to Who He Is, then I understand the value in Who He Is.

This sounds simple, but it’s not easy for those of us who’ve struggled with playing God. Trusting God is difficult, particularly for those of us who’ve experienced trauma that  seems to demonstrate that God is not there for us, that God does not come through for us when the rubber hits the road, and that we must rely on our ourselves or be thrown to the wolves. We begin to develop our own plans, a sturdy sense of self-reliance, and an ego akin to a tumor whose mass increases at an alarming rate.

Therein lies tension.

But all is never lost when God’s in the mix. The beautiful thing is that while it’s true that what we’ve been through is often beyond horrific–and many of you reading this will not relate, and that’s okay, because many of you will, and you will find hot tears falling down your face as you read this just as mine are sliding into my coffee as I write this–it’s ALSO true that what we have been through is not who we are. Let me say that again so you can whisper it to yourself.

What you have been through is not who you are.

We often allow what we have been through to define us. That’s called spiritual warfare.

If we’re not what we’ve been through, then who are we? Ah, the journey really starts here. For some of us, we never knew who we were to begin with. For others, it’s a return to a better place.

Regardless, when I honestly and objectively look at who I am today, even on my best days and after years of diligent spiritual work, I can guarantee a few things. I’m broken. I’m incapable of total consistency to principles, excellent decision-making, perfection, or any other concept or spiritual practice/discipline. As much as I want to be, I’m not self-sufficient. I need help–I need God, and I need other people (mentors and accountability partners). I’m not going to last forever–I’m going to die. I wish I could say I know everything, but I don’t; I’m not that wise, and without Google and the library, I’d be pretty lost. And admittedly, I try my best to love others, but I don’t like several people. I attempt to be kind, gracious, and generous, but there are many times when I’m just going through the motions (and if you knew what was going through my head, you’d give me coal in my stocking next year for Christmas).

That’s just the honest truth about me. And it’s the honest truth about you, too, because we are people. If you believe those things are not the truth about you, you are likely incapable of being honest with yourself, and that’s another problem entirely (and another blog post for another time).

And here is the honest truth about God.

He does not need us, but He wants us. He is fully self-sufficient, but He loves to see/hear us serving and loving–doing God-like things which honor Him. God lasts forever, and God just IS–time as we know it isn’t the way God operates. God is not malleable; He doesn’t change, so He’s completely consistent and reliable. God knows everything–which isn’t the same as saying God causes everything. God is completely faithful, and is the only One we can depend on wholeheartedly no matter what. God really is good, just, and loving 100% of the time. And He is holy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGod is the absolute antithesis of who I am. Because God is God–and I am not.

I have been rereading Isaiah. This morning, I got to chapter 49. I stopped at this verse and began imagining other ways God might speak to us similarly. The first portion is Isaiah 49:15-16. The rest is from me.

But I . . . 

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?

Though she may forget
I will not forget you!

See, I have engraved you
on the palms of my hands.”

Though they interrupted,
I hear you.

Though you were invisible,
Now you are seen.

Though no one applauded for years,
Here I AM, rejoicing over you.

Though they said ‘stop crying,’
I weep with you.

Though he stripped you of dignity,
I vindicate.

Though frailty ravaged your frame,
I make all things new.

Though dreams atrophied,
I restore years the locust has eaten.

Though cacophony and chaos cluttered days,
I still waves.

Though they’ve proven liars,
I will always be true.

Though they are,
But I AM.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2017 gift list

Christ child 2017 giftsStill and reverent, I lay in bed Christmas morning before the sun reappeared. I listened to heart-stopping versions of my favorite carol, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and enjoyed hot coffee, wrapping my extremities tightly in blankets. The piano keys and cello sang out with my spirit.

Nietzsche once said, “Everything matters. Nothing’s important.”

Each year I make a list of gifts received. This morning I reflected on the year’s gifts, Nietzsche’s words, and another key phrase.

Either Christ is everything, or He is nothing.

Charles Spurgeon and Hudson Taylor both echoed this sentiment—and both lived as if He were everything.

The entire year bore gifts.

gifts daughter father

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I held my mother’s shaking frame, soaked in tears, while she struggled to let my grandma go Home. I talked to my mentors for hours via video conferencing, on the phone, and face-to-face over the best hash browns I’ve consumed. I meditated on Truth while sipping fresh coffee every single morning, fueling my spirit and becoming better. I cradled countless kittens. I watched, panic-stricken, as my daughter barreled through a riding barn on an agitated racing horse at full speed. I rejoiced when I realized she and her little friend were holding one another in the saddle, God going before them and planning in love. I wiped away Maggie’s snot while she told me she wanted to keep riding, the bravest soul I know. I nearly skipped out of the breast specialist’s office, celebrating benign results. I applauded my tiny angel, proudly parading up the church aisle during the Christmas pageant. I walked away from my daughter’s preschool classroom for the first time and returned to find her too happy to leave. I led clients to greater joy. I shed tears. I shared silence. I waited for justice. I listened. I caressed my husband’s weathered crow’s feet, solidly at home. I stroked my cowgirl baby’s smooth forehead as she slept, whispering comfort and love in her ear, the most important part of my day.

Each night, as I tiptoed out and stumbled for my glasses atop piles of bedtime stories, I marinated in Light.

Christ shone beside me all year and carried me through.

Let me perceive You in every matter.

All clear

Does anyone actually enjoy visiting their gynecologist?

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At my annual exam, August 2017

I didn’t think so. I dread this annual visit more than I detest dental checkups. The waiting room is always painfully still. Peeing in a cup isn’t my strong suit. The exam rooms feel pretty frigid. And then there’s the actual exam… At least my gynecologist is an old college friend whom I totally trust.

This August, when my annual exam popped up on my calendar reminders, I decided to approach it differently. I knew what to expect–I’d wait a while, feel uncomfortable because of the blasts of air conditioning, and move from anticipation to anxiety until my gynecologist walked in the exam room. I decided to do my best to take care of myself and ease my discomfort–and prevent whining.

I brought along coffee (AKA life juice), a daily reader/devotional book, and my old standby: my 12 year-old standard blue Snuggie. That’s right. I’d wear my Snuggie during the exam over the thin gown. Perfect.

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What I read moments before my exam, August 2017

It’s amazing how just a few tweaks can adjust my attitude. I felt nearly peppy when my doctor entered the exam room. We chatted about kids and life during the short exam.

Suddenly my doctor became quiet. Her eyebrows furrowed. Having seen that expression before while I birthed my daughter–during a time of distress–my mood moved from pleasant to ominous.

“Have you felt this before?”

She was conducting my breast exam.

“Um, I think so. But honestly I’m not very good about doing regular exams, so I didn’t know…”

I felt waves of death, chemotherapy, and “you will never see your daughter again” roll over me.

“Well, I’m going to order a diagnostic mammogram. I want to have it looked at.”

After that, I couldn’t muster up conversation. My mind hovered over the expression on my doctor’s face and the notion that I needed a diagnostic mammogram. Fear ate my lunch.

I held it together pretty well until I walked into my home. My husband was caring for my daughter (since I had a scheduled exam); they were enjoying an afternoon on the White River. The entire house was holding its breath. I let go and basically bawled for half an hour. I emailed my mentor and asked for prayer. Then I sat down and did the only logical thing a mom on the brink of cancer would do: I recorded a 30-minute long video of myself singing all my daughter’s favorite songs (just in case, you know).

I waited for a few days before calling my doctor to check about scheduling my mammogram and ultrasound. They’d told me to expect to hear from them and to call if I hadn’t. I try to follow orders. When they checked with the hospital about scheduling, the soonest available date was one month away.

That didn’t feel good. Initially I just jotted it down on the calendar and returned to business as usual. But I’ve learned from my mentors how to take care of myself and see that my own needs are met. The next day, I still felt uneasy about waiting a month. So I called and asked for help. My doctor’s billing director pulled some strings.

The mammogram and ultrasound experience was much less stressful than an annual gynecological exam (for all you ladies dreading yours). When the radiologist read the results, she told me I had nothing to worry about and that I should schedule another mammogram in two years when I turned 40.

My stomach knotted. How could my doctor and I have obviously identified an “area of concern” if there were no area of concern? I knew I couldn’t accept that as the final word. I drove immediately to my gynecologist’s office and asked them to help. Once again, they did. Bless those ladies. They scheduled a visit with a breast specialist. The knot loosened.

But the visit with the specialist only made matters worse for two reasons: I felt a creepy vibe, and he didn’t review my imaging results. I felt I’d been tortured pointlessly for another hour of my life. I was frustrated. I also felt exhausted emotionally.

For one month I thought about the follow-up visit with this specialist. Every time it came to mind, I prayed for God’s will, and I simultaneously felt sick.

One month was long enough to convince me to take the bull by the horns again. Once again, my wonderful gynecologist and her staff came through for me. They scheduled me with another specialist.

Last week when I visited the second specialist, I knew I was in better hands (I know, I know… pun intended). This doctor did an ultrasound immediately in his office and shared the images with me right away, explaining that he identified not one but two cysts.

Cysts.

That’s right. Not cancerous lumps.

“You’re fine. You are going to be fine. Come back in three months to see if my recommendations help with reducing your breast density.”

I could have kissed him, but I refrained. I floated out of the office, attempting to contain my joy since I was surrounded by patients whose results didn’t mimic mine. I recorded their faces in my mind so I could pray for them.

I was so thankful for clarity. I felt blessed with a caring, serious gynecologist and breast specialist. I understood that a decade ago, I would have been unable to advocate for myself properly, and I was grateful for the timing of the whole mess. And best of all, I knew God had me–the whole time.

When I closed my car door, I wept. This time, there was no bawling. I recorded no videos. I envisioned nothing.

I drove out of the parking lot, my soul’s gratitude expanding, and smiled.

I lived my life.

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My beautiful life, November 2017

 

Important

Maggie’s obsession with carousels began six months ago when Nettie, her grandma, brought her a coloring book with sketches of horses. The cover featured an intricately adorned carousel in Tennessee. Maggie was hooked. She began begging to ride carousels and asked questions about them daily. I blamed Nettie for that.

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Maggie’s first carousel ride was a little anticlimactic; the carousel, a rickety three-horse ride at Wal-Mart, wasn’t working properly. We deposited coins while she giggled and shouted with glee. And nothing happened.

Maggie kept riding, though. She pretended the horses were whinnying, kicking, and dancing. She sat atop that broken carousel for at least five minutes while we watched, amused.

A few months later, she rode an antique carousel at the zoo. I’ll never forget her face while the breeze caught her golden hair, her eyes closed and tiny teeth shining in the June light.

part0_13 (1)Nettie brought Maggie a toy carousel a few weeks later. The carousel’s status surpassed that of her “snowballs,” globes swirling with white plastic specks, sparkling glitter surrounding Baby Jesus and his mother.

I knew Maggie loved her carousel, but I barely noticed it. When she pushed a red button, the Christmas-themed figurine played electronic carols. I couldn’t make it through two of them without distracting her to play with something else or leaving the room to finish loading the dishwasher.

Until last night, I had never heard all the songs the carousel carries. We lay in bed together, the three of us, watching the mirrored column in the center of the ride scatter its green and red lights around her bedroom. She showed me which horse she loves most on the carousel and explained why. I hummed along to the tunes and held her soft, squishy hand and rubbed her warm, smooth back.

Six months had passed, and I’d never heard the music.

How much beauty in small places do I miss?

I often ask myself, “How important is it?” I typically prioritize big, urgent, prominent things. Work. Marketing. Chores. Meetings. Writing. Scheduled events.

Last night, I saw the world through Maggie’s eyes once again.

From now on, my response to that rhetorical question when presented with moments like this will be “Top priority.”

 

Seeing love

The minute I start thinking about how much work I’m getting done, whether I’m accomplishing enough in my business, if I’m on target to complete my goals for the month or year, or how clean the house is, I’ve lost the ability to exist in the present moment with my child. Worry robs me of enjoying life with Maggie. You’d think that acknowledging that would be enough to permanently rid me of obsessing over work, future plans, past failures, or to-do lists. But no. I still find myself wide-eyed with locked jaw, focused on matters which I know will not matter one single bit in 10 years… maybe not even in one year.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs we inch closer to the day she starts preschool—she’ll only go three mornings a week, so it’s not like she’s walking out the door and never looking back, but it still feels big to me—I am reminded that we’re turning a significant corner as a family. Every time she asks me to go sit on the porch with her in the evening to watch her turtle, a little box turtle my husband found for her, which she named, “Said,” I don’t want to say no. But I hesitate, knowing I have a client waiting for a resume. I hesitate because a friend is coming to stay with us for the weekend, and the house is far from clean or even sanitary right now. But I try to leave my worries behind and play anyway because I know I don’t say yes often enough.

There are too many times I’ve hesitated in the past or said no. And I have carried regrets for all of those times over the past few years. I refuse to carry regrets with me related to saying no to my daughter and her requests for my time, love, and attention. Will I say no to her when she asks for material possessions, demands freedom to explore unsafe areas of the world, and permission to push boundaries which are in place to protect her? Absolutely—I will always say no if it’s in her best interest. But I will say yes, yes, yes if she’s begging for more of my love.

I once heard a speaker say, “Whatever the question, love is the answer.”

The other night I was feeling pushed to my limits with Maggie. She had a hard day that day, and I’d had one, too, dealing with repeated frustration with her demands and defiance. I took a breather and stepped out of the bathroom while she finished her bath. I glanced at the wall and saw an old portrait my dad gave me years ago hanging on the wall.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAScripted on the portrait were the words, “I asked Jesus, ‘How much do You love me?’ And Jesus said, ‘This much.’ And He spread His arms and died for me.”

I took a deep breath and went back into the bathroom. Maggie splashed around in the water with her bath crayons happily and asked if I wanted to see the pictures she’d drawn of imaginary sea dragons, birds with their mothers, and Mama, Maggie, and Daddy. Of course I did.

I needed to see that portrait. I needed a reminder of just how much God loves me and my little Maggie, and to be reminded that there’s nothing I can do to mess that up. I needed to be reminded that there’s nothing Maggie can do to ruin my love for her and that’s all she needs to hear and see from me every day is a reminder of that Great Love, the kind of Love that holds out its arms all day long for us.

Gumberries

My love for crimson clover started my senior year in college. I’d never really paid them much attention before then. Every spring since, I’ve waited expectantly to see them blooming on the side of the road and in yards all over Arkansas in April. They have never failed to appear. Their grassy, earthy smell reminds me of everything alive and good in the world.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen we added two small rooms onto our house last year and repaired septic lines, the dirt work necessitated ruining most of the grass on one side of the house. My husband’s ingenious solution was to spread crimson clover seed across the area. His solution not only covered the muddy, ugly mess in the side yard; it also created a blast of color this spring for me to enjoy.

I’m not the only one who’s enjoyed the clover. Maggie loves learning names of plants and animals. She asked for the name of crimson clover, and then quickly rejected it, dubbing it “gumberries” instead. Gumberries it is. Maggie has frolicked in the gumberries almost every day since they appeared, chasing butterflies, listening to bumblebees buzzing, and picking select gumberries to share with our neighbor’s horse, dubbed Mr. Gray, when we walk down the road on sunny afternoons.


If the video isn’t playing properly click here.

I recently recorded her chasing butterflies in the gumberry patch. While watching the video later, I expected to be mesmerized by the clover brightly swaying in the breeze, the birds calling to one another, and the yellow butterfly gently resting atop tiny gumberries. Instead, I was captivated by one short moment in the brief video when Maggie clutches her belly in rapture, squealing in glee, “Dragonfly!” The joy in her heart took my breath away.

I watched this moment repeatedly. I felt so lucky to have been there to see my daughter amazed by something so small, something I rarely even notice. Almost immediately, I simultaneously wondered how many times I had overlooked magical moments like this because of my obsessions with being on time, minding our manners, learning the alphabet, or crossing items off my own to-do list. Don’t get me wrong—those things matter, and running a business while staying home with Maggie is more than a full-time job. The laissez faire approach sounds great, but at the end of the day, if no one’s being the Mama, Mama’s business, Maggie, and the household are pretty amuck. I have to be quite the juggler to manage work projects, keep in touch with clients, and provide Maggie with a fun, balanced, semi-educational day. Oh, and keep the house moderately uncluttered and clean, too; my expectations of perfection long since vanished. Then there’s the list of things swimming in my head that simply never get accomplished… exercise, grocery shopping, vaccinations, painting my nails, etc… :).

But nothing matters more than living.

I needed 60 seconds recorded–so I can watch them every time I fret over the list of things I never get accomplished–to remind me to open my eyes, turn on my listening ears, and dig in the dirt. To notice the dragonfly, the beetle, and the eight kittens growing stronger every day, which we’ll soon share with other families. To be where my hands are with my own little kitten, who is four-and-a-half-and-don’t-forget-the-half-part, while she’s here.

Word of the year 2017

In early December, it grew bitterly cold in Arkansas. I stoked the wood stove full day in and day out, wore my fuzziest pajama pants, and only went outside to feed and water the chickens, pups, and cats. The icy wind tunneled through Duncan Hollow, determined to freeze the fresh water I’d poured for the animals the moment I poured it.

Sometimes the weather matches my mood. It did then. My father-in-law died the first week of December. A few days later, every leaf clinging stubbornly to the tall oak trees in our woods fell silently. In my grief, I didn’t even notice them falling. One morning as I drank my coffee, I glanced out the glass door in my office, overlooking the trails where the old barn used to be. A week earlier, some of the trees held onto their crunchy brown jackets in stubborn refusal to let go of autumn. That morning, I was met by bleak winter.

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Gulin, China–One of the images I focused on 

During that cold, bitter time, God came to me through images of smooth lakes, calm water, and iridescent moonlit walks I took when I lived at my old house. He came to me through a specific song I’d long forgotten but dearly loved, a soothing song I listened to repeatedly when I first loved it and listened to again this December while meditating. I pictured my father-in-law beckoning me to follow him to a still, quiet, joyful place when I felt overwhelmed by grief. Christ came to me through a story of a group of very manly men who were scared to death by a storm, so scared they couldn’t help but wake up their Leader and ask Him for help in the middle of the night. Christ spoke to me by sharing a specific word with me which, for two months, I thought was my focus word for 2017, a word which tied all these things loosely together.

But I never felt solid about writing about this word or sharing specific details about these things on my blog. So I didn’t. I’ve grown to write less and less for my personal blog, partly out of necessity for lack of time, and partly because what matters most to me is deeply personal, so personal and spiritual I’m unwilling to splay it online unless I feel compelled.

I also hesitated to land on that word because its meaning, for me, denoted a lack of color and life. And while I knew I’d needed that word desperately during December and January, while grieving deeply and walking in quiet, solitary pain, I was ready for more.

Last weekend, I walked a labyrinth with my friends at a spiritual retreat and let my feet fall into rhythm, purposely following an earthen path countless others have trod in an effort to find 30 minutes of peace. Afterward, I chatted with two ladies while the afternoon sun warmed our faces on the way back to the lodge. One of them shared with me about the growth of her small business. This peaked my interest since I opened my own business less than one year ago. I can’t remember exactly what she said, but she shared something about one of her associates mentioning that it was important to let things happen. I wish I could remember the exact words; maybe I’m not supposed to, and maybe those words don’t matter.

What matters is in that moment, God gave me my focus for this year.

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Ozark National Forest

I walked to the creek running beneath the bridge we crossed to return to the lodge and looked down. The water shone. Several bright yellow leaves lay in the water below.  Some of the leaves seemed still, and others moved at varying speeds in the water below, some in the current and others on the outskirts. Those leaves were not concerned with the temperature, the wind, the light, or the people around them. They weren’t concerned with the other objects in the water, not even logs or wild animals, because the water was powerful enough to maneuver the leaves around objects, even if it took a little time. They were simply being carried by the water, and they kept moving wherever the water carried them.

I am a leaf. He is the Water.