Thursday, June 21, 2012

the sometimes woman

several years ago, i took a personality test while attending a weekend seminar at our church.  it was a test designed to figure out "my gifts."  a well known test (however, the name escapes me at the moment--apparently remembering things wasn't one of my gifts).  but what i do remember about this test is that after page after page of questions,  and after question after question of analysis,  my number one defining personality trait was determined to be (drum roll please...) efficiency!  efficiency. really? not mercy or justice or compassion or kindness or gentleness or holiness or even cleanliness...but plain old, boring, unromantic, ho-hum efficiency.  this test declared that the thing i valued most was being efficient.  now, efficiency isn't a bad thing, but for me, it is right up there with remembering to floss and balancing my check book.  i remember sitting at the round table with my test results and wanting only to slink out of the small group discussion.  my husband sat next to me, and like an embarrassed school girl, my hand moved to cover my score. my word. my answer. my label. my verdict. i didn't even want this man, the man who knew me better than anyone, to see. 

i have no idea if this test was particularly accurate or not.  maybe i was just in the middle of crazy motherhood and what this test was truly declaring was that i simply wanted to be more efficient.  like every frazzled mother, i desired efficiency.  maybe it was my high and lofty ideal for that moment, that weekend, that particular season of life, mostly because i was thinking about the blazing chaos i had left behind a few hours earlier in my home -- the dishes piled high in the sink or the floors unswept or the multiplying piles of laundry. maybe this test was only capturing the wishful woman i was deep inside, at least for that weekend.  a woman secretly hoping the housecleaning fairy might show up while she was negligently spending her saturday at a seminar trying to figure out who she really be.

i don't know.  it is all so interesting to think about, isn't it?  i don't mean my personality test, but who we are and what we should be and how God has designed us.  i think i mostly live in the world of sometimes.  i am sometimes organized and sometimes chaotic.  i am sometimes brilliantly efficient and sometimes incredibly inept.  i am sometimes a cleaner, purger, deleter and sometimes a clutterer, hoarder, holder. i am a sometimes woman. i bet this fits you as well. what i've learned this far in life, is that we are all a great big mix of messy contradictions, and between you and me, i'm kind of thankful.  i cannot imagine how boring it might be if we all lined up in neat little rows or sold ourselves as perfect little packages.  i know people try that, but it's not for me.

i mean, don't get me wrong, i've tried.  and i certainly like when people happen to catch me on a good day.  i'm not one bit opposed to someone noticing a (rare) put together kind of perfect moment.  but then there are other days as well, aren't there?  not too long ago i had a woman approach me in the grocery store.  she had heard me speak at our church's women's retreat last year and she wanted to tell me how much she enjoyed it -- that was her amiable intent.  however, as our carts came closer in the canned goods aisle, i am sure what she heard was two of my children bickering -- loud and ugly -- and a third child (with a dirty face), secured in the basket, whimpering and whining uncontrollably for more fruit snacks.  what she heard was their mother doing her angry-but-i'm-in public,-mother-thing.  you know what i'm talking about...when we are forced to use low growls and clenched teeth and hard stares to get the attention of our children in public places.  the kind of parenting which implies: oh blessed child of mine, you'd so be disciplined if i wasn't gathering taco supplies for tonight's dinner in a busy supermarket.  that look.  that sound.  this nice woman was attempting to say all of these sweet things to me and for a brief moment, i considered abandoning my three children and the cart of taco supplies near the rows of canned corn,  and instead accompanying this delightful woman and her clean children around the rest of the store.   i wanted to hear the lovely things she had to say, i did not want to be pushing around my cart of unruly children and unhealthy food.

it was much later when i was able to laugh about that embarrassing exchange at the market.  muchmuch later.  it seemed to sum up the paradox of life -- at least of my life.  sometimes together and sometimes a mess.  why can't i just embrace that this is how it works?  this is how God made me. we don't need those cute little labels the world tells us to pursue.  that's not living for Christ, it's living for others.  i love talking about this topic with kids and teens, but it is just as true for those of us who are a little more wrinkled and worn.  we care deeply about what other's think.  i know some people say they don't...but, personally, i think we are all a little wired that way. well, perhaps not my dad.  he just says whatever comes to mind whenever he wants, wherever he is...and after being his daughter for 43 years, i'm pretty sure he isn't too worried about what others think.  

but unlike my dad, i've always cared a little too much about how i was viewed and if i was valued.  i can remember even back in grade school, my friends and i used to make up little paper note surveys.  you probably did too.  using our notebook paper and pencils we would write out the following:

do you think i am:
check all that apply.

half vulnerable and half excited, we would hand these out to our peers --  to our best, reliable girlfriends and to those awful, wonderful, unpredictable boys.  and nervously we would wait for the results to return.  we'd wait with sweaty pre-teen palms and heady, hopeful hearts. we'd wait to find out what people thought of us.  we'd wait to find out who we really were.  as if these little notepaper checklists would determine our worth, our measure. but in my seventh grade mind, those check marks meant everything. they meant the world. i remember shedding tears over a boy who failed to check pretty and thought me only nice.  nice?  oh how average. oh how utterly devastating. 

the Potter has shaped us and poured into us exactly what He wants...exactly what He wants us to be, and yet, for some crazy reason, we are often more intent on the check marks of others to figure out our value. why is this? though i haven't made an awkward little survey like that since middle school, i still do it.  even at age 43, there's something inside of me still wanting to pass out little papers and ask my most affirming friends to please check all that apply.  i might do it differently now:  a little more articulate.  a little more elegant.  a slight bit more cool.  but in my own grown up version, there's no doubt, i do it.

“can I not do with you, israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord.
 “like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand." ~   jeremiah 18:6

i know God is the potter and He's shaping me always, but it is sometimes hard to resist molding myself to the things and ways of the world.  the natural sin in me works like this, whispering into my ear about what i should do or who i should be.  spinning evil thoughts about what i should be more of or less of.  other's opinions have always been kind of important to me -- even back in middle school. especially back in middle school.   but truly, i am no different now in my midlife. just last week i was shopping (therapeutically shopping, that is) in tjmaxx when a piece of art work caught my eye.  it said, BE  and then listed all these words which it was encouraging me to BE.  i considered it for a minute: could i take it home and hang it on my wall?  no. no, i just couldn't.  it was all very nice, but as i stood there reading over those words, i felt the seed of anxiety begin to take root deep inside,  i didn't want something on my wall telling me what i needed to BE.  i already felt guilty enough about what i wasn't BE-ing and certainly didn't need a piece of bold-lettered canvas reminding me of my shortcomings. no, this was one maxx for the minimum i would just have to pass up. i didn't buy the wall hanging, but, for some reason, i photographed it.  i'm not exactly sure why. anyone watching might have thought i was BE-ing, at the very least, a bit strange.  

here's the deal though, all of these bits and pieces of who we are have come from that slimy chunk of clay God carefully selected before the beginning of time.  and from that clay He will shape us and use us for His glory.  He alone determines our worth, our value, our results.  we are all of these things as His hands choose to allow -- as His hands mold and form and smooth and refigure.  we are but spinning clay in the hands of a steady, loving potter.  and He puts in and pulls out that which He wants us to be -- nothing more, nothing less. no doubt, it is messy, dirty work. have you ever seen the hands of a potter? they are working hands:  clay encrusted fingernails, stained palms, crackled skin.  when God has His hands on the spinning wheel of our life, He isn't afraid to get dirty.  it is messy, but without doubt, the highest calling of art. He has created us, after all, in His image. and this sometimes woman, sometimes forgets that.  

we don't have to define ourselves by the world's labels or test results or 7th grade surveys. we don't have to spend our days trying to BE all things perfect.  God has created us in His image. and though we are a sometimes-kind of people--sometimes this and sometimes that--we are consistently being shaped by an always, always-kind of Father. we are constant clay in constant motion, with the touch of a constant Father's hands.  and that is one label that fits me well and one test result i won't cover up.  i don't always know what i am, but i can always know whose i am.  in His image.  i am His.
"yet you, LORD, are our Father. we are the clay, you are the potter; 
we are all the work of your hand."  ~ isaiah 64:8

Friday, June 15, 2012


when did i go from a girl eager to get up on the high ropes course, to a woman relishing a quiet house and a week of organizing closets?

when did this happen?

this week, all but the oldest child, are at summer camp.  tyler and sarah were dropped off at a christian sports/wilderness camp in the north georgia mountains, while connor and bella are attending a sports/wilderness day camp at our church.  except for the 16 year old, who comes and goes at her own pace, my house is empty from 9am to 4pm every day.  i am pretty sure, since entering the realm of motherhood, i have never had a week quite like this.  i certainly have never seen my house so quiet and calm and clean (oh yes, so wonderfully clean!)

the first day i scoured the kitchen from top to bottom, and when i came back into it an hour later -- it was still clean!  i'm not kidding, the room was still spotless. can you even imagine?  i stood there, mouth gaping and then slow smile spreading--oh the simple pleasures of summer children well-occupied.

this week, i have discovered some truth:  summer camp isn't intended for is actually designed for parents needing to catch their breath.  can i get an a-men?  i had to fight the urge the first day to tidy up the whole house and then spend time just walking serenely around it, taking in its pristine state,  basking in the unwrinkled beds and unsticky countertops.  you think i'm strange?  come and live in my home on a normal day, and then you'll know just why i might revel so oddly in a brief moment of serenity.

it's not that i haven't missed my children.  i have! without fail, i've checked the camp website every evening for updated pictures of my boy and girl at sleep-away camp.  i have delighted in their obvious fun, enormous smiles and muddy clothing.  they are clearly having the time of their lives and i can't wait to pick them up this weekend and hear their stories.  i know my sarah will talk non-stop, all the way home.  and each day at 4pm, when it is time to pick up connor and bella, i am always excited to see them running towards me:  faces flushed and energy spent, smelling of the outdoors and sunshine and sweat.  i wasn't sure if bella could handle this all day camp thing -- but it's clear, she has adored being there.  she is the tiniest camper by far, i've been told, the counselors all take turns carrying her around, like the camp mascot or babydoll.  each morning when i wake her and tell her it is time to get ready for camp, she responds with a big "yes!"  i guess she has handled it just fine. the first day on the way out the door, she stopped and said, "oh no, mom, i forgot my pajamas!"  and she turned to run back inside.  i burst out laughing and explained, "honey, you aren't sleeping at your camp.  you don't need your jammies. you'll be home in time for dinner." not one bit of concern or worry from this kid -- day camp or sleep away camp, she's all in!

so what does a woman do when her house has emptied of children?

the night before they all left, i posted on facebook that i was waffling between two plans for my week alone.  plan one: cleaning and organizing my entire house.  plan two: emptying several cartons of ice cream while catching up on all the movies i've missed in the past five years.  everyone who responded to my post, encouraged the ice cream and movie thing.  my middle girl even told me if i did that she'd be very proud of me. but those of you who know me, know there is nothing i love more than puttering around in my house -- uninterrupted.  i did watch puss and boots one night with connor and bella, but other than that fine film, i have forgone the call of ice cream and couch.

instead this week, i did some serious digging into the house --  my own version of wilderness camp. closets and cabinets and drawers -- oh my!  i am amazed at what was unearthed --  perhaps appalled would be a better word.  we have a lot of stuff.  too much stuff, in fact. and so i've spent the week creating piles:  throw-away, give-away, keep.   i've done this room by room, closet by closet, drawer by drawer.  music blasting and woman singing, i've moved with a mission around my home unhindered.  most of the time i have enjoyed my little, self-imposed project.  i've enjoyed not having to fight off kids who are certain they "couldn't-possibly-part-with-this-thing-a-ma-jig" (this thing which they haven't touched in a year).  i've enjoyed the sense of accomplishment, the paring down, the purging, the utter orderliness of it all.  though i have to admit, there have been moments at the end of the day, when i am a little weary of sorting game pieces and playing cards and legos and lint, and i find myself just staring crazily at it all and considering running an ad in the newspaper (or on facebook!) and announcing a big "cash and carry! - everything must go sale!"  can you imagine rick coming home from his work week in minnesota and finding us sleeping on carpets, eating from take out cartons.

i hit that point yesterday when i got to the garage.  (mind you, i should know better than to ever go to the garage).  i pulled down bin after bin of random stuff.  pieces and parts and unidentifiable objects all mixed together in this great cacophony of junk -- the work of my husband and sons who don't exactly share my love of labels and order.  it was late in the day and i was tired.  one last box to go: our collection of  extension cords.  i don't know why, but after 22 years of marriage, we have almost a thousand extension cords.  okay, maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but we do have a lot -- an entire, extra large bin full of them.  brown ones, white ones, green ones, orange ones,  long ones, short ones,  indoor ones, outdoor ones.  you name it, we have it.  in fact, we probably have some of yours if you're by chance missing one or two.   but as i sat there on my dirty garage floor and began to untangle them, i suddenly felt like the project was too much.  they were too tangled.  the harder i tried, the more tangled they became. some had knots, some had greasy smudges and rough edges.  i wrestled for quite a while with these cords before the tears came.  but come they did.  seriously, jody, are you going to cry over a box of tangled extension cords? i reprimanded myself.

but my tears had less to do with the tangled extension cords and everything to do with our tangled lives.  you see, as i was trying to fix this mess, i started to think about how much our family is tangled up in this place we call home.  i started thinking about how woven we are into the fabric of our school and church and community.  i started to think about how tangled up we are in the lives of people.  and just like this box of extension cords, i wasn't sure how we'd ever unravel ourselves from the big knot of those we love.  okay, perhaps i was just tired. perhaps it was the garage fumes getting to my silly head.  perhaps i am stretching too far with this one, regardless of what this was, i sat there a big old tangled mess on my dirty garage floor with my box of many cords and my many, many tears. 

but funny enough, God meets us even in the dirt and grime and mess of our garages.  in the midst of all that , a tiny sliver of clarity found my brain, and i took the big old mess of interwoven extension cords and heaved them back into the box.  why did i need to unravel them?  i didn't. i did not.  no, they were fine just the way they were and they could move with us in this very box without any unravelling taking place at all.  and the same goes for our family.  we don't have to unwind ourselves from this life.  just because we are moving a 1000 miles away doesn't mean we have to unravel ourselves from the people we love.  we can pack up the big old tangled mess of our relationships and take them with us.  we can.  God isn't asking us to sever, He is asking us to further sow.  sow new friendships and new relationships.  sow new seed, but all the while, continuing to grow with those we love.   maybe sitting on my garage floor in the middle of extension cords, was a strange place to learn a lesson, but it was a good lesson to learn. and i am thankful even in my messiest places,  God chooses to whisper His truth. 

we aren't untethering, we are continuing.  we aren't unravelling, we are reaching. we aren't extinguishing, we are extending.  last week we met some new friends while in minnesota.  my new friend, leslie, sent a picture of me with these ladies.  attached to the photo she wrote, "make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other's gold."  i was a girl scout many moons ago and i remember learning that little song.  i was probably ten or so when i first heard those words, how could i have ever imagined what they would mean to me in all these many years of loving and leaving and meeting and growing with people.  true words.  beautiful words. 

so this week, my kids were all off to wilderness camp. while they were up on the high ropes course,  while they were out on the river, while they were in canoes and kayaks and rivers and lakes,  their mother stayed home and cleaned out closets.  but maybe, just maybe this is my own version of the high ropes course.  i know what we are doing is an adventure.  my survival skills will all be called upon in these next couple of months of uncharted territory.   of course there will be some wild, wild wilderness out ahead-- i'm sure of it!  but i am even more sure of the God who leads and whispers and makes a way in our (clean or messy, organized or disorganized, smooth or tangled) wilderness.  

"behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert." ~ isaiah 43:19

charting their course down river

boys praying with counselors before their kayak trip

girls backpacking trip -- a grand adventure!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

a room with a new view

i climbed into bed well after midnight.  littlest girl asleep at my side.  two more children had dragged in covers and pillows and favorite stuffed animals and were asleep on my floor, at the foot of the bed. my midnight bedroom was busy with the snores and sleepy sighs of my youngest three children -- they wanted to be close.  i wanted them close.  my older kids and i had just arrived home from a quick trip to minnesota.  emily, tyler and i had flown north on thursday, meeting rick and taking care of all sorts of new life business:  new schools and new home and new friends... that kind of stuff.  a whirlwind visit to this place we will soon call home. but saturday at midnight i was back in atlanta, curled up with small sleeping children. and this was home. 

before turning out my light, i decided to check out my daughter, emily's, instagram account (an online place to share pictures).  i was told she had posted some photos from our trip and thought i'd take a peek before bed.  i knew what the past few days had felt like for me, but i wanted to view it through her lens, to see what she was thinking and posting and saying.  i had a good idea -- we had spent quite a bit of time talking over these past 48 hours.  it was sweet having just our two teens with us.  we even rented a small car -- talk about strange!  though we missed the younger three very much, it was kind of cool hanging out with the older kids.  good conversation.  funny memories.  relaxed meals.  not to mention we could do everything fast and more focused.  while we were in the airport waiting for our return flight to board, i watched a big family stagger by:  a mom, a dad and five kids in tow.  everyone lugging some piece of luggage.  everyone, even the very smallest child, sporting overstuffed backpacks.  a tiny airport parade of chaos, one which i knew quite well.  all of them looking a little frayed around the edges, a little blurry in the eyes...clearly they were on their return trip home.  emily and i sat calmly sipping our starbucks, texting on our phones and chatting casually with tyler. the big family stuff is all too familiar, but for the moment i was only in charge of teens taller than me...and it was easy.

or was it?  is it really easy? when i did pull up my daughter's instagram photos i came across a picture which she took while we were visiting our new home in minnesota.  it is a rental house on lake minnetonka. an amazing house that we stumbled upon in february and are fortunate enough to rent for this next school year.  it's not a house we could afford to purchase, but it will be a wonderful place for our family to enjoy in these next many months.  kind of like a little bit of vacation as we figure out life.  at least the idea has helped all of us with the transition.  yes, we will vacation ourselves into minnesota life -- or at least until the first snowfall!

this was the photo em posted and
my view
her caption below read,  "my view." sitting there in my midnight hour, i felt some emotional splintering occur in my heart over that simple picture.  her view.  her view.  her new view. you see, i know the view is incredible.  magnificent, in fact.  but i also know that our morning spent at this rental house, wasn't entirely about breathtaking views.  emily is really struggling with this move.  she is grieving the fact that she will be leaving her friends and her life here in atlanta.  i found her sitting on the front steps of this grand house in tears earlier today.  it's a terrific house.  charming and romantic and lovely.  but for my 16 year old, it doesn't come close to making up for the leaving of those she loves.   in her tears she said to me, "it's not that i'm not grateful, mommy.  i am.  i am so grateful for this house and the new school and new friends...but i'm so sad."  and what's a mother to say?  i know.  i feel the same way. i do get it.  i think minnesota life has a lot to offer...i know God has a purpose and plan for this move...i believe that He is already going ahead, making connections and laying the foundation for a new life.  but...but...but...leaving is hard. so hard.  16 or 43.

when we had first arrived at the house emily was enthusiastic, moving quickly from room to room, taking pictures and notes -- taking it all in.  she quickly staked her claim on a pretty bedroom with soft greenish-gray walls and wooden floors.   we talked about what we would do with it and how we might make it work for her.  we looked at the other bedrooms and began to formulate a plan for the rest of the children as well. tyler having no need or interest in figuring out bedrooms,  headed immediately for the water out back.  the owners were with us for the first hour...touring us around and showing us the unique features and tricky things which accompany every home.  the house is almost 100 years old.  it was built in 1920 by a wealthy family in the elevator business.  as the owners, shirley and jim, walked us through the house we were given bits and pieces of its history. while in the basement, shirley showed us a storage room where the wife of the wealthy elevator mogul had been locked up when kidnappers attempted to hold her for ransom.  can you imagine?  emily, tyler, rick and i stood there and kind of gasped.  truly?  add to that a secret spot behind a bookcase and the setting is complete for the nancy-drew-wanna-be in me. it is a romantic house, with lovely views of the water from most every window.  i think i will have no problem sitting in any number of places with my morning coffee and my writing or reading.  spoiled.  that's what i felt like looking at this place.  how in the world did we end up with this as an option?  i know my children will enjoy it immensely, and i know even my 16 year old is grateful.  grateful for a home with a beautiful view.  grateful, but sad.

and so much of it is about our view.  i don't mean the view of the lake.  though i will never grow tired of staring out at that --- summer, fall, winter. winter. winter. and more winter. i think so much of what we are going through right now depends upon our view -- how we view this transition, how we look at what God is doing with us, even how we view our relationship with Him.  it is easy to get caught up in everyone else's view.  so many people seem to have them.  since we announced to friends and family our plans to move, we have had no shortage of opinions on the matter.  these are loving friends who don't want us to go...but sometimes it is difficult to talk about it with so many.  for a while i started to avoid social gatherings (rather extreme, i know) because it was too hard and too tiring to talk about.  "the move" became it's own, stand alone, phrase in our home.  at one point, not too long ago, emily kind of blurted out, "can we please stop talking about the move for awhile?"

but now here we are, just a summer's throw away from it all.  though we will be back and forth a bit with sports and things in july, officially, all seven of us will board a plane on july 29th and head north. we are still choosing to view it all as an adventure.  God is expanding our borders and increasing our territory.  He is giving us a chance for a new view.  not that we were looking for a new view, but how about a broader view? a bigger view? isn't that a little bit how life is supposed to be lived? though we all know that doing something new can be a really good thing for us, we still want to control it.  for me it goes something like,  i'll do THIS new thing, but not THAT new thing.  i'll take THIS step of faith, but not THAT step of faith.  maybe you don't do that, but i sure do! i'm okay with a new view, as long as i feel God has left me some measure of control.  well, it doesn't work that way does it? He can change how our life looks in an instant.  one day we don't have cancer, one day we do.  one day we have a marriage, one day we don't.  one day we have money in the bank, one day it's gone. one day our child is running through the backyard, and one day she is fighting for her life.  our circumstances change all the time.  and if we decide to let our circumstances dictate who and how we are -- we're in deep water...lake view or not.

last night as we were driving home from the airport, i was listening to a little snipit of interview from the lead singer of tenth avenue north.  he was explaining that the song "love is here" was written from a place when he realized he, "needed to stop looking at my circumstances and start looking at the cross."  i was driving home kind of worn out from our busy few days, but those words just kept rolling around in my tired brain. stop looking at the circumstances and keep your eyes on the cross jody.

when the new house doesn't feel like home.  when the teenage daughter sheds tears.  when the little guy has to walk for the first time into a brand new school.  when the middle daughter feels lonely.  when we can't find the grocery store or the post office or the coffee shop.  when we take the wrong turn off the highway.  when we stand awkwardly in a room not recognizing a single soul.  when we long for the things and people we left.   keep our eyes on the cross, family. keep our eyes on Jesus.

before we left this rental home yesterday, rick and i sat down in one of the rooms with our two oldest and talked.  we had just experienced an emotional moment with em and we needed to come together for a few minutes before closing up the house and heading for the airport.  we wanted to give the kids a chance to verbally process the weekend a bit.  one of the things the four of us discussed was how blessed we felt to be moving from one community of believers to another community of believers.  each one of us agreed that we couldn't imagine making a move as a person or as a family who didn't have Christ as the anchor.  i cannot imagine what that would feel like to just get up and go and not have Him as the connecting point between two cities, two lives.  now i don't know if it would be quite as scary as getting kidnapped and locked in the cellar, but it could be.  without Christ and the fellowship of His people, what would bridge the gap? what would carry us through? i am sure looking at the view without the lens of Him and His faithfulness would be most overwhelming.  and yet this is how so many people go through life.  no anchor. no bridge. no lens.  just themselves and their "i'll make it work" attitude.  no thanks.  no mam.  uh-uh.  this crazy mother of five would crumble in a day.  if there is one thing i am certain of, it is that i am not strong enough, calm enough or steady enough to do this on my own.  as i hugged my sweet daughter on those front steps of our soon-to-be-house saturday morning, i was more sure than strength alone is not nearly enough.  

and whether our view is a lovely lake or a cement wall or a daughter in tears or a hospital room or a dirty kitchen (like mine right now) prayer is that we see it -- whatever it is -- through the lens of a loving God. 

. . . . . .

funny thing, when i was 16, my family made a big move too.  and though it wasn't across the country, i did change locations and schools.  ironically enough, my new address was 137 lakeview lane.  

i see morning coffee here...even if i have to wear a parka and boots!

this lawn slopes down to the water - looks like a good place for a party.  who's visiting us?

i know the lake is cool, but i'm looking forward to these beautiful hydrangeas everywhere!

there's a little playhouse on the property -- a perfect spot for bella!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

what we come back to

my number is 3, 281.  what's yours?

that is not my sleep number.  it is not my house number.  nor is it my daily caloric intake (at least i don't think it is).  that is (no, scratch that-- that was) the number of emails in my inbox at summer's start this week.  ridiculous? excessive? clutterer? keeper? hoarder? holder?  i am not exactly sure what this number says, maybe nothing at all.  maybe just that i am busy mom, in a busy season,  who looks at a lot of different pieces and parts in her life and says, "i'll come back to that."  that's what i think it mostly says.  "i will come back." sure i know how to delete.  i can purge and refine.  extract and remove.  but mostly, i am a woman who wants to come back. to revisit. to return.

maybe it is tied to my inability to let go.  i have lots of things which i find difficult to part with.  an odd assortment of items stored clandestine-like in my home. you wouldn't know it from a mere scratch of the surface,  it would require a friend to go deep. but that's the beauty of life:  to truly know and be known, you must make the effort and assign the time for some old fashioned digging.  i like my countertops empty and my refrigerator pared down, but if you go looking, you'll find who i really am:  a woman who holds things.  perhaps not from first glance, but once inside, you'll meet a collector and keeper of treasure -- or at least her version of treasure.

you might disagree with the things that i keep.  there's something to be said for the old adage, "one man's trash is another man's treasure."  indeed.  i am always fascinated by the things people hold on to.  if you ever choose to leave me unattended in your home, be advised, it is quite possible i might do some looking.  my manners will keep me from opening up doors and drawers, but i do want to know what's on your shelves --  what's displayed on your end tables and bookcases and walls.  the unique bits and pieces of you.  what do you keep? what things do you hold?

i am a keeper of ...

glass jars. i love to take labels off pickle and jelly jars and store them for something in the future.  paint samples or homemade salad dressing or colorful buttons. something empty and clean for the filling of beauty or business, whichever comes first.
flowers.  i will press them before i will part with them.  once, i carelessly picked up my bible at a women's study and dried flowers fell from the pages scattering at everyone's feet. a friend sitting close laughed and asked, "what in the world, jody, do you have a garden hiding in there?" what a wonderful thing to say about my bible. yes, indeed, my paper-like garden. 
photos.  i won't even begin to tell you the number of albums in my home. i take pictures.  look at pictures.  love pictures. anyone who knows me, easily knows this.
ribbon.  i am pretty sure we have every color, style, width and variation ever created.  i remove them from my packages and store, save, reuse.  i keep meaning to clean out my ribbon bin (and i do mean bin), but there is something about it all tangled colorfully together --  a messy rainbow in clear plastic.
words.  it goes without saying.  anything and everything someone writes to me gets saved.  magic marker messages from my kids, the husband's quick reminders and love notes left by the morning coffee pot, emails and cards. quick notes. long letters.  i keep them, one and all. perhaps this explains the awful state of my email inbox.

you never know what you'll need.  we can't imagine what we'll have to come back to.  and murphy's law or my law, the truth is, as soon as we discard...we'll certainly be in need of that very item.  sigh.  it has happened to me three times already today.

i'm not saying it isn't good to pare down.  it is. we absolutely need to be saavy editors of the things which distract and clutter.  and let's be honest, there's nothing quite like a good healthy purge, a thorough spring cleaning.  but isn't it lovely to also have things to hold on to? things to come back to?  as i was deleting my way through my 3,281 emails this weekend, i came across a few messages from friends in these past two years. (yes..two years).  and in the middle of my massive extraction, i took some time to catch up, answer, reply and reach out.  these were items and people not expecting a further response, but i came back to them and it felt right to revisit.  that too is a treasure.  we can't do it always or often...but occasionally it works. and occasionally we feel rich with the opportunity to circle back around to something once sweet.

these things we keep and these places to which we return are an inexplicable part of who we are.  they are part of our heart, part of what makes us human.  and maybe it's the upcoming move or maybe it's just my own silly version of a lowly mid-life crisis, but there's a tiny bit in me who wants to know clearly what i treasure and what i'll come back to.  as we consider moving away from the things we've held dear, i cannot be certain that we'll ever physically come back.  of course, there's a deep part of me which might want this.  i felt the same way about ohio, when i left my childhood state 14 years ago.  we haven't returned with a mailing address or a local phone number, but we did come back.  just last summer i wrote a piece while visiting my parents for a few days up in ohio. (  and i am reminded of that this morning as i scratch out these same old, somewhat tired, thoughts.

but i do think God has designed us to return.  whether we be prodigal sons or unfaithful daughters.  whether we are busy moms or distracted fathers, God seems to always leave a window wide and a light warm.  even in the hardest of situations, i have watched God make a way to return. a return to health or peace or joy or places or people. a return to Him.  even in the midst of painful circumstance and passionate resistance, God is there working and wooing and creating a way.  God, the Restorer and Redeemer, oh how He loves a wandering returner.

"for I am about to do something new. see, I have already begun! 
do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. 
I will create rivers in the dry wasteland." ~ isaiah 43:19

and oh how i love that promise.  "I will make a pathway through the wilderness."  loved one, what is your wilderness?  i know we all have them.  hard marriages, damaged friendships, loneliness, financial ruin, compromised health, lost children, broken bits of life...God's open arms are for each of us, all of us.  God's promise is for those who journey in dry places.  "I will make a pathway through the wilderness."  not i might, but I WILL.  it is His promise to all who wander, to all who want to return. 

"for thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, “in returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”  ~ isaiah 30:15

i don't know if i'll ever get my inbox completely cleaned out.  i have been religiously deleting each day -- but it surely is a two steps forward and one step backward kind situation.  because this is the sway of life.  and though sometimes life feels like an, out and out, marathon, i prefer to think of it more as a dance.  two steps forward and one step back.  by no means a smooth waltz, but a waltz just the same.  a giving and taking.  forward and back. we come and we go.  we hold tight, we offer up. we gather, we give.
we leave, we return.

because we are His.  because we are held. because He is holy.