The God Who Wastes Nothing

I woke up at 6AM to drag myself out into the kitchen. David wanted French toast. Sometimes he gets what he wants; other times, I doze off on the couch while he gets ready, before waving him out the door with a kiss and another “Bad Mother of the Year” badge.

Today, I won another badge. My head was killing me. My nose was stuffy, my body ached, and my boy got nothing but a weak, “Have a good day…”

I had a day full of important meetings with important people. It kills me to call in sick, but for reasons a little less than honorable. See, I still think that the world will stop spinning without me. Sick days are an indictment of my mere humanity.

What a wretched soul I am.

Regardless, not much of a battle ensued. I felt terrible. I sent a quick email and a few texts, took a handful of aspirin and crawled back into bed.

As I type, the day is long over. I am still in my pajamas; my teeth have yet to be brushed, much less my hair. It was that kind of day – purely nothing.

But so much happened while I did nothing.

I slept and rested through the morning and awoke with a brighter demeanor and less of a headache. I recalled the words that lingered from last night, as my husband prayed over me. He asked for guidance, for help. The opportunity for an answer to that prayer was in front of me, so I read.

I journaled.

I cried.

I sat in stillness.

I listened.

I finished the first section of Anne Lamott’s Help Thanks Wow and accepted the simple theology therein. I need so much help.

And then I picked up Rob Bell’s Drops Like Stars and took in the delicious, abstract, beautiful truth that came with a lot of empty space and ridiculously opulent colors. A gift from friends, I’d treasured the card but set the thing aside; it’s the size of a coffee table book and the heft discouraged me.

But it’s what a sick day seems made for; “Oh, look, here’s a book that’s probably too long and wordy to read on a normal day let’s just take a look.”

And there was this page, here, with this photograph. And on the facing page, these words:

When I’m meeting with my counselor and I use words like “mistake” or “failure” or “waste”, he stops me. 
He then reaches into his desk drawer and pulls out a sign and holds it up so I can read it – again.

And it is this, these words in the photo – Hebrew letters, first, and then the translation, which looks oddly sterile and somehow stripped of their power – but still ring true.

The God Who Wastes Nothing


And I burst into tears. Right then, right there, completely unbidden. Overtaken by surprise and sobs, holding my face in my hands. Sorrow.

What?

What is this season I am in? For the past decade, I have been The Girl Who Wasted Everything – and yet found redemption and restoration. I was enveloped in grace and it moved me forward and into ministry and fueled my passion. Like some superwoman, “Grace Girl” – it was my calling card and my truth.

My identity.

A few days ago, I watched a bit of a message I delivered about 18 months ago; I was talking and preaching and singing and telling and the passion was real, the Biblical truth buttressing the experiential truth of my grace-filled life.

These days, I live in that grace, still. But.

There’s more.

Or less.

Less drama, maybe. I am happily married, glad for the quiet moments in the company of my husband. Happy to be home in the evenings with my sons, content cooking soup and washing the dishes.

I have arrived someplace.

I’m not sure where I am.

And regardless of the fact that I feel I have “arrived”, I still wrestle with my humanity, with my weaknesses and my failures and the million times each day I think I’m getting it wrong. I worry I’m getting it wrong. I don’t know who I am trying to please, but daily, I feel as if I am coming up short.

And maybe that’s it.

Maybe I’ve gotten it in my head that since I’ve arrived someplace, that I’ve now worn that SuperGraceGirl cloak long enough; that it’s high time I ought to Have It All Together and be still and know he’s God a good bit easier than I seem to.

Maybe I think I ought to be a little less broken by now.

Maybe I’ve forgotten that forward motion, new joy, security and real love don’t really ever negate the need to ask for help. Anne Lamott says,

“There’s freedom in hitting bottom…relief in admitting you’ve reached the place of great unknowing. This is where restoration can begin, because when you’re still in the state of trying to fix the unfixable, everything bad is engaged: the chatter of your mind, the tension of your physiology, all the trunks and wheel-ons you carry from the past. It’s exhausting, crazy-making. 

Help. Help us walk through this. Help us come through.  

It is the first great prayer.”

I have forgotten this one thing, that the pivotal point in my life ten years ago secured me to a tether that held me upright while my help came. And the trajectory since then has been filled with other pivot points, thumbtacks in the map tacked to the wall of my life, stringing a path of ups and downs and all over the place moments of mistakes and disease and death and tears and joys and loss and gain.

That place of great unknowing can be my soul, every day. And God knows there is so much around me that needs fixing…starting with me.

Help. I need that tiny miracle.

Today, I got my hands on it, and it felt good. Soft and warm and taut with potential.

And my headache went away.

Nobody Is Spared Difficult Days

Thinking about this while I am folding laundry today:

“…if we think God is going to take away our troubles, we assume there is something wrong with us if He doesn’t. We assume we did something bad, or that God doesn’t like us, or perhaps even that God Himself isn’t good. To be sure, some of the hardships in our lives happen because we made bad decisions, but even in that we are given the grace of a God who is willing to discipline us in love and restore us. A careful understanding of Biblical stories reveals that every hero goes through difficult trouble. Nobody is spared.

In an age where we are taught through commercialism that there should be no struggles in life that the purchasing of a product won’t relieve, the Bible is incompatible. But the age of commercialism has let us down. Many have found their stuff has made life more meaningless. What we’ve forgotten is that every great story has to involve a difficult ambition, and must then travel through the land of conflict. The best stories have their protagonist wondering if they are going to make it. What scripture teaches us, then, is that God will be with us in that place, and will give us the strength to endure a hard thing.”

Think about that for a while. Whether you’re in the middle of a hard thing, or on either side of one, you can be sure it’s coming. None of us are exempt.
And there is help.
Read more here. Thanks to Donald Miller for his wisdom and his writing skills.

God And Dog

Of all the great things that have come out of today’s PCConline service, I think this might be my favorite. Not only because of what it is – which is incredibly creative and clever – but also because of how I heard about it.

A Twitter-er who goes by the g00g01p1ex tag watched with us last week. I’m not sure how she heard about the service, but she did. She came back again this week, and Tweeted me a link to this video in response to the grace-filled talk that Brian gave today.
Take a look; if you heard today’s message, do you see the connection?
Thanks, Leslie….

Why Your Spiritual Life Matters

“We like to make a distinction between our private and public lives and say, “Whatever I do in my private life is nobody else’s business.” But anyone trying to live a spiritual life will soon discover that the most personal is the most universal, the most hidden is the most public, and the most solitary is the most communal. What we live in the most intimate places of our beings is not just for us but for all people. That is why our inner lives are lives for others. That is why our solitude is a gift to our community, and that is why our most secret thoughts affect our common life.

Jesus says, “No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house” (Matthew 5:14-15). The most inner light is a light for the world. Let’s not have “double lives”; let us allow what we live in private to be known in public.” – Henri Nouwen

I believe this to be true.
The privilege of speaking on Sunday morning and revealing the truth about my past continues to resonate with me. Truth-telling is healing.
This process has been long; it began years ago and culminated in many ways with Sunday’s talk. But it continues still. Countless people have contacted me via email and Facebook to raise their hand, to say, “Me too!”, to get something off of their chest, to tell me about further conversation that happened in their family.
If you are one of those people, how I wish you knew how much company you had!
I continue to need to read words like Nouwen’s above, and to be reminded that every day must be lived with intentionality. Walking in the light is a choice.
HT to Cynthia, my blogging friend, who wrote about her weekend here.

With The Family

This is Dana (along with Syd and Shannon).

She was ordained to ministry today; meaning that her home church ceremonially confirmed that she is “called” to serve God with her work and her life, and that she is, indeed, doing so. Baptist-style ordination is a mixture of formal prayers and responsive readings and informal speaking by people who were significant in the life of the one being ordained. It was a unique day for Dana, where she was the center of attention, affection and affirmation.
It was a unique day for me, too. Dana had spoken with me to personally invite me to attend, and followed up with a written invitation by mail.
I accepted. I drove to Caroline County and walked into a beautiful, rural Baptist church. It was slightly awkward.
Slightly awkward because Dana and I have a unique relationship.
We’re both “Mrs. Brawley”.
Dana met and married Lonnie – my kids’ dad – last year.
As we have carefully and tentatively navigated the waters of interacting, managing kids’ schedules and figuring out how to communicate, we discovered something interesting: we liked each other.
I mean, I really like this woman. I respect her and admire her. She’s funny, focused on ministry and passionate. She cares deeply for my children. And she takes good care of the man who was once the most important person in my life.
I swear, I can’t sort it out. She and I both acknowledge that it’s very weird.
But it is what it is.
I came to the service anticipating that I would simply be a witness. I found a place in the next-to-last pew, in the very back of the church, planning to stay out of sight and out of mind, while still honoring the invitation.
But Dana sent Sarah back to get me. She had saved me a seat, up front.
With the family.
At the end of the ordination service, all those present were invited to speak privately with Dana as she kneeled at the front of the church. Church members, family, friends, co-workers, fellow pastors – for an hour, people streamed by to whisper a prayer, speak words of encouragement, offer a hug. There were many tears. As I watched others stream by, I considered what I should do.
In the end, I went forward and knelt before the woman who is now married to the man that I married almost 20 years ago. We shared words and a hug.
It’s weird. It’s awkward at times.
But more than anything, to me it’s a great demonstration of the reality of this statement:

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” Romans 8.28 (NLT)

And I believe it is proof that grace covers everything, if you just open your heart and let it in.
I don’t know if anybody has ever figured out what this sort of relationship ought to be like. I’m just gonna roll with it. It’s working, and it’s good.
And I’m grateful.