Things & Time

I took down the long curtains in the dining room and let the light pour in.

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A few weeks ago, Nick and I pulled 4 black bags of Things from our room. We both remarked later that if we had to suddenly pack up our room, we would each only need one large box. Our room feels restful and simple now, like us.

Two days later, I went through every cabinet in our kitchen and gleaned two full bags of Things from the shelves and drawers and cranies. I took every single appliance off the counter except for the coffee maker (because let’s be honest). I gave real analysis to if I’ve ever used the nut chopper, or if I always just mulch through them with a sharp knife (consequently, I got rid of the nut chopper, and many such “conveniences.”)  Nothing stayed just because a kitchen should have one. Because of the open counters, clutter-free shelves and easy cleanup, cooking is much less frustrating–and even sort of relaxing–these days. It looks like me.

A few more days later, I emptied 10 black bags of Things from Aly’s room and the back room. I realized I had been unfair with Aly: hard on her about a clean room, but filling her room so full of Things that the job was often overwhelming and complex. She says her room is now much more fun and she sleeps better (and it’s now fair for me to set a standard for her tidy room).

This week,  I took 2 full bags of Things out of the boys room. Theirs was least neglected, because we painted last fall and I set up some good organization for them at that time. However, I removed toys that it was time to admit we were never going to find the pieces for, and even one expensive toy whose annoying clicking noise put Nick and me on edge every time we heard it. I threw away books that had been torn or damaged. Clean up is now a snap, and even Tyce can do it.

I went through a big armoire in our dining room that was used for storing Things and quickly determined we did not it–the entire piece of furniture–at all. Some of the stored items were decorative, which I put in a yard sale box. Some were kids games, which I found another recently-emptied drawer for. Some was filing and paperwork, which I found a convenient new (and smaller) place for.  Oh, and our common theme: 2 black bags of Things. We’re going to remove the entire piece of furniture from our home and bring our digital piano up from exile in the basement to take its place.

I took down the long curtains in the dining room and let the light pour in.

I removed all the decorative items from my big farmhouse table. I was surprised to realize how much they factored into my use of the table. Before, the cute little green topiaries sat right in the middle, and mentally divided my table in two. I was less likely to spread out a simple task on it because in my mind, the table was in two small pieces, divided by decor. Silly–but I just didn’t realize how my mind works. Now, I have really enjoyed my table that much more–spreading laundry, paperwork and groceries out in quick easy sorting.  (The kids’ legos, too, stress me out less because there’s nothing for them to shove off the table or mess up).

Last night I did a really important clean up–my phone. I deleted 50% of the apps off my phone. The idea came from my sister Steph, and after some thought, I realized my phone, too, was cluttered with Things. I kept a few recreational apps that I enjoy, but I put them all in a folder labeled “Time.” Every time I go to them now, I see that word Time and it causes me to pause: do I really want to give Time and my mind to this? Am I on autopilot? Is this really where I want to go?  Sometimes yes, its a good moment. Other times, I become aware of the quiet moment, and reach out differently, into my heart and into my Father.   All of my phone apps now fit on one screen, and I lay it aside much more regularly.

We have more places and Things to dig ourselves out of. The basement, ugh. The garage. The back porch. The bathrooms. But it’s not overwhelming anymore to grab a box of trash bags, a broom, and a canister of Clorox wipes and begin. It’s becoming exhilarating to excavate our family home from Things. As I get better at it, I’ve begun to give things away or prepare a yard sale box, but in the beginning I was overwhelmed by the task before me. So it was important just to begin. I couldn’t comprehend donation boxes or give aways (though Nick did take 2 bags to Goodwill). I decided just to begin where we could, as we could, and let ourselves gain strength.

This morning, alone and walking back from Aly’s school drop-off, I pulled out my phone by habit. The app I wanted was tucked there neatly in a sparse folder labeled Time.

But something was different inside of me. The morning air was strangely crisp and friendly, and I felt clear and light. The breeze nipped at my hair. A song drifted through my heart that I hadn’t heard in a long time. The swirling morning hum of things I need to do, remember, and think about seemed neatly compiled into manageable and even inspiring categories. I felt the perpetual furrow in my brow relax. And this moment–the 3 minute walk from Aly’s school to our house–was all mine.

I didn’t see just three minutes. I saw three whole minutes.

And there stared at me the reminder, in my hand. Time, and a mind open and free, unencumbered by piles of old Things. I tucked the phone back in my pocket and strolled easily home all those three minutes not caught in a cyclone of voices. Just me, a simple morning walk, and three whole minutes.

When I got to the house, the quiet inside of me continued. Even with the boys there playing, I still felt wrapped in peace and I relished it.

The peace is coming from inside of me now.

The End of Treason

The noise is designed to capture my fascinations, and I don’t notice the invisibility cloak by which the sounds of hell are disguised.

I don’t know how to begin, except that I must.

I cannot get away from these words from John 15: Abide. Abide in Me.

It’s been cycling around in me for weeks. Months. Abide in Me.

Eventually, it has become obvious that I am double-minded and full of hypocrisy. And frankly I still need help accepting what I have been trying not to hear: that the reality of my life is short of what I say I’m after.

I’ve developed a hybrid life that seems holy but isn’t. I like it because it allows to me keep all the things I don’t want to overcome, and lay claim to an shell-game inheritance that requires little from me. What’s more: few challenge me on it, because my half-life validates theirs–and there we commune, teetering jovially between love and death.

Abide in Me. Unless you abide in Me, you cannot bear fruit.

Recently, some friends—beautiful Jesus lovers—shared with me a decision that cut me deep, because their choices were so detrimental. And yet they were indifferent, even defensive, of their sin. Didn’t they realize how expensive their callousness would be? I raged inside, hurting and sad, until the Father’s Spirit cut me wide open: Are you so different?

Abide in Me. I’ve been saying it to you, over and over. Abide in Me. I am Home. I am Source. I am THE Bread of Life. There is no other. Abide IN ME. I am the Standard–come higher!

It’s not that I’ve been involving my life in some sort of deeply terrible activity, or that I’ve got a dark secret. I don’t have a skeleton to expose. But once the Spirit calls you out of a thing—anything—to stay in it is sin.

And I had stayed far too long in silly things that were going to keep me from everything I’ve been longing for. I have been double-minded in my repentance and resented that love would constrain me. If it was really Freedom’s voice, wouldn’t I like its sound?

No. Freedom’s voice is always sandpaper if the son has grown sleepy.

Abide in Me. If you abide in Me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done…

But the smorgasbord of the earth is wide and glittering. An entire world system screams for my attention and lures me with entitlements and distractions. It numbs my heart and seduces the euphoric release of my opinions, fueling division and anger and belittling righteousness. The noise is designed to capture my fascinations, and I don’t notice the invisibility cloak by which the sounds of hell are disguised.

The more time I spend in there—in the matrix of it all—the more I think like them. I share their perceptions and limitations. My relationships encounter foolish and tragic wounds. I spend my money in their systems and expand their influence. I adopt their fears and worse, I adopt their false identities. I give life to something that is destined to be destroyed. Eventually I begin to negotiate my rebellion, trying to justify a living that by definition can never be Life.

Jesus, forgive Me. I was blind, but now I see.

And it’s all like sugar–once we are addicted, it’s incredibly difficult to pry the mind free. The taste buds become numb to what real bread tastes like, and frankly, our spirit develops a layer of fat and falls out of shape, completely unable to scale the mountain of the Lord.

Abide in Me. Every branch that does not bear fruit, He takes away…

I’m sitting here writing and it’s abnormally hard. I think that’s because I’m writing to you instead of doing the thing I’d rather be doing. The void is obvious. The empty habit is nagging the mind for attention, and the spirit has taken a stand, allowing the craving to continue. It feels cruel, but also, right.

Abide in Me.

In Jesus. Dwell in Him. Allow His bread to be the answer to every void that is pried open by the Spirit. Trust Him to perfectly satisfy me.

It seems extreme, that I would cause Him to become my source. No one really does that, do they? 

But this is where I am, in the purest, most unreligious way I can express. I cannot let go of the invitation…Abide in Me! I am the Perfect Context and Fulfillment for everything that is in you. If you have appetite for someone or something you can’t find in Me, look again. Look again! I am laying My chest open to you.

It seems drastic to depart from the hypothetical, where I could still convince myself of a realm in with all things are permissible and beneficial. But I was made for kingdom life, and that appetite for treason carries the now-repellant hiss of death.

It’s a little hard, sometimes, to eat “Bread” I can’t touch, and “Abide” in a place I can’t see. It feels unnatural to choose invisible over tangible. But I think it seems hard because I have spent more of my life training my physical senses than my inward spirit. But I have pursued the sugar-laced factory food long enough to gag at its smell. Invincibly, things of Him just for me bubble up that are priceless and perfect and transformative. The pure fruits of the Spirit etch themselves upon my soul.

So these days I am learning to allow all my appetites to lay in front of me, examining each without loyalty. What is it seducing me to want? Where will this hunger lead me? Is it as harmless as it appears? Is it more expensive than it would ever allow me to recognize? Am I commanding the stones to be made into bread?

Will it fuel life, or will it leave me sleepy and fat?

Because I AM climbing the mountain of my Father. I hear Him calling for me.

Tyce is 2.

He’s inquisitive, into everything, outgoing, determined, endearing and finally learning some words.

The best part? He’s healthy.

I haven’t posted about Hirschsprungs in a long time, largely because he began to thrive and we were mercifully able to allow it to sink into the background of living.

We have experienced another bout with enterocolitis in December 2015 (when he was 13 months old) and this time we ended up admitted to Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital. We were there 3 days, total. We get incredible treatment there and he overcame the infection after some consistent IV antibiotics and routine irrigations.

tyce1

We were informed that the likelihood of infection decreases measurably after age 2, and though we keep a faithful eye, we have found that he does indeed seem to be less susceptible. Before age 2, with any fever or sickness, we found he seemed to tend toward a slower colon. The hospital gave us a standing prescription for Flagyl (because we live at a distance), which we only used once. On that occasion, we saw warning signs that another infection was developing (the odor of his stool triggered a sensory warning in my instincts, he was lethargic, less appetite). On their own these symptoms can be circumstantial, but together and in a Hirschsprungs baby, they are cause for alertness. After a day or two of oral antibiotics, we found those signals to have subsided (though we completed the prescribed course). But this winter, he seems to be stronger, in general.

Really, Hirschsprungs is sort of old news for our family, but that might be beautifully therapeutic to hear if you’re just beginning on journey of your diagnosis and treatment. And while every story and case is different, let me offer this: allow yourself to stay at peace. Allow yourself hope and vision that extends beyond the sick baby. Keep everything in proportion and carry it gently, with calm. Teach your soul to be still.

Here is a hand to hold from across the valley you have to walk through: there is healing. It is abundant and thorough for your child, and for your heart as you carry your child and family. It’s in you, and you can do this well. Just one day–one hour–one moment–at a time. Worry will lend you nothing but emptiness.

Tyce will potty train soon. He’s slowly starting to signal interest. On that day, I will be taking a me-day. I will take myself to lunch, get a manicure, take a nap and do a selfie-dance through the diaper aisle. It will be a day worth celebrating, and I promise to come back and post again, as another beacon in the night that your Hirschsprungs baby can too.

Dax

This morning, while the bedroom windows still flowed in twilight, he came. Though my back was to the door, I heard his familiar steps padding across the floor. In a moment he stood in front of me, his belly button level with my head on the pillow.

Wordlessly, he climbed in beside me and shifted for a moment till he found his spot. I was still in a sleep fog but I slid one eye open. When had this child gotten so long? He was strong and yet still soft, his sweet cheek inches from my nose and his legs draped over mine. I could tell from his breathing he was awake, but he leaned in and soaked me up, his arm curled around my head.

We laid like that for longer than I thought it would last. Then, finally, he rolled out of the bed. “Thank you,” he murmured, eyes mostly closed. My heart wrenched. His heart was so pure.

“I love you,” I whispered back, as only a mother can. “Love you too,” came the hushed reply as his back faded from my drowsy, lidded view.

He is getting bigger. They warned me it would happen. But I can tell if we keep loving him well, he will be both steel and velvet.

It is one of the great honors of my life, to witness his rising.

The Conflict: Lovemaking

The conflict inside, or the conflict outside: it rages in response to oneness attempting to take ground.

Conflict is really important.

Really important.

I wouldn’t say I love conflict–but I’m old enough now to have experienced countless times that my relationships were made deeper, more genuine, more open and solidified because we walked through conflict together.

So I don’t crave conflict, but I do get suspicious if I go long periods of time without encountering it among those I consider close to me. It means my connection to that person has weakened, or at best, plateaued. As one who craves for depth, this is personally important to me: to know that those who love me in spirit are also encountering my reality.

So conflict for me is a good benchmark to know if we are truly continuing to engage one another. To me, this is peacemaking, not peacekeeping. 

These conflicts are not always expressed between the two of us; sometimes the conflict is inside of me–a valuable invitation to discover my identity, what is hiding it, and what must be expressed.

But paradoxically, I have also lost my appetite for conflict, and even more, I am easily wearied of it, when it smacks of superficialities or redundancies. Love is patient, and so too am I, though I’ll be honest enough to say that one time around any particular topic is enough for me. Twice is sometimes profitable, and three times sometimes necessary. But after that, I have trouble engaging.

Like you, I have been repeatedly flogged with expectations that are not in alignment with who I am, and those have been a struggle for me to forgive. I am not saying I have not forgiven; I am saying I have been saddened to see how slow my heart sometimes is, far past my will to make it so. So conflict for me is a crapshoot: it is often hugely profitable, but it may come, again, with a need to forgive.

I cannot tell you how many times I pray for a pure and open heart. Create in me a clean heart. I repent for what was mine. Make me so deep in grace and justice and forgiveness. Give Your love in me such courage and real-ness…

All that to say this: Sons must allow conflict to expand all the way to its borders, but never past them. Conflict must never be allowed to sever the loyalty and loving-kindness by which the people we love remain 100% confident of our commitment to them. It must never be the scale by which we weigh out the value or honor we give them. It must never blind us from active, faithful participation alongside the very people with whom we are embattled.

This alone is a deep and high lesson that love in conflict will embroider in us.

Those of us with strong sibling relationships understand this phrase: I’m allowed to mess with you, but no one else is.  (Obviously this doesn’t mean we get sole rights to abuse others), but rather it’s an expression that, to me, says, I love you so much and I know you trust me. And I trust my heart about you. I’m protective of you, no matter how ugly you and me looks right now. I’ve got your back. I love you enough to engage you so that we keep encountering each other more deeply–and I’m not going to fake anything with you–but that doesn’t mean it’s me versus you. It’s always going to be us together, going after what we see.

The deep bond this develops is critical to much of what we hope for, and what we’re going to see in of the Father in the earth. It starts with us being willing to allow our relationships to walk through (not around) conflict, instead of withholding truth when it’s obviously going to combust. It’s looking at people who conflict with us and teaching our hearts to see their friction as friendship, and the fight as lovemaking.

There is no love where there has been no conflict; the Spirit often encounters the flesh with some sort of explosion, however mild-tempered the combatants might externally appear.

The conflict inside, or the conflict outside: it rages in response to oneness attempting to take ground.

Whether or not we stand bravely and allow it to refine us, to prove us and to deepen us: that is up to us.

Better is open rebuke
Than love that is concealed.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend,
But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy. (Prov 27:5-6)

Doing It Right.

I tell this story fairly often, but it’s a good one.

When I was 13, I was “hired” by the farm to begin feeding calves. I was paid a small but fair daily rate. Looking back now, this was a big deal for my dad to essentially entrust me with the “babies” of his herd. Calves get sick fairly easily sometimes but thrive under good care.

But you need to understand: I was not “good care.” I hated the job, I hated getting up early before school and trudging out there again in the afternoons after school. Dad and Mom will testify how TERRIBLE I was at this. Especially in weather like today: I hated the cold. I hated the way my face would chap in the wind and the way my hands would burn when I came in. Plus I’ve never met an alarm clock I did not despise with the heat of a thousand suns.

Many many days I took whatever shortcuts I felt like I could get away with. I knew Dad and his men were busy with a million other things; I didn’t really understand how devastating my lack of good work could become for our family.

One winter, when there was 8-10 inches of new snow on the ground and the cold was abnormally brutal, I got up before school to feed the calves. I hurried through my work and did the bare minimum, ignoring any idea of the standards I had been taught. In my mind, it was not fit for man or beast out there and my selfishness blinded me to how the animals in my care were also suffering. All I could see was how taking care of them would delay my own warmth.

I was back in the house before the sun was fully up, cleaned up and tucked in my bed, warming through all my bones. School had been cancelled and I drifted off to sleep. But suddenly there was a voice at the bottom of the steps: Dad.

“Diane, get up. You’re going to come out here and you’re going to do your job right.”

I heard his steps cross back out of the house and the screen door clapped behind him.

I’ll remember his sound in the pit of my stomach for my entire life.

I knew it was a big deal that Dad had left the momentum and weight of all his work out there to come all the way to the house, to get me.

In my heart, I respected my dad and wanted to earn his respect. I realized I had been exposed–my halfness now the measure of my honor. I remember being teenager-y disgruntled at the time, but I bundled up again–my barn clothes now wet and melty from being frozen. I held them disgustedly between pinched fingers for a moment, but gathered my resolve and trudged back out.

It took me over an hour to complete the things I had skipped. Frozen water buckets had to be emptied and re-filled so the calves could drink. Frozen grain needed to be dumped and full, fresh scoops given. Straw bales had to be rolled down from the barn (bigger and heavier than me, but the standard was that I was strong and capable), so the calves could lay down on warm beds that were not sheets of ice and slop (imagine these poor cold animals that I had selfishly neglected). I discovered several sick calves that needed medication.

That day was a turning point for me. I didn’t immediately transform, but I did change direction from a kid that always embraced a shortcut to a teenager that began to enjoy the feeling of good work. I remember being surprised that I actually even enjoyed the work. I felt my heart invest, and there was deep satisfaction when I finally and legitimately finished. Ironically, I was toasty when I walked to the house, and I strolled in with a sense of satisfaction, my body warmed through by my work.

I had an experience this weekend where again, I didn’t want to do a good job with something that was laid before me to do. I began the task with every intention to do the bare minimum of what was needed, mentally laying out my excuses should someone challenge my results. But I always think of the calves and their frozen water and icy beds. I still face the quitter inside that feels victimized and justified to phone in an 80% performance.

But I find now–that hard 20% that went undiscovered in me until that morning on the farm is now the internal benchmark that now signals to my spirit when I have given myself fully and excellently, to my best capacity and ability. It is the best sleep I know of, the deepest satisfaction I have felt, and the point by which I know I have given in a manner worthy of my dad (now, my Father). Until I meet that 20%, there’s no going home.

I am so thankful Dad loves me enough to haul my butt out of bed and introduce me to my 20%.

I think its important for us to identify places where we have become comfortable and obsessed with phoning in at 80%, calling it complete when it is not. And then go back out to the work, turning our hearts and our full attention to the thing that is made for our best investment. It is then we can stroll home, warmed through by our work and deeply satisfied to have explored what it is to truly finish.