When Summer Gives You Crazy & You Give It Right Back

chacos

A week ago the Facebook page for my blog sent my an automated email that said, “Marian Vischer your fans are missing you.” I died laughing because a} Fans? 2} I doubt it. 3} I’ve got bigger concerns.

But it was a subtle jab to the gut that life is too chaotic to write {which makes me angsty} and also that I really can’t do anything much about the writing and the “fans” and whatnot.

Let’s just say that summer has thrown me a few curve balls and that one day last week I ate McDonalds for lunch and Chick Fil A for dinner. My kids would call that a win. I call it pathetic. And also kind of gross.

Right now I’m surviving on steady doses of grace, a tolerant and loving husband, too much screen time for my children, stellar headache medicine, and an arsenal of essential oils. {I’m hunkered down at my desk as I type this with the door locked and a diffuser that’s wafting lavender into the air. Thank you Jesus.}

Ben and Jerry have also been loyal companions.

I can’t exercise. {Because my gym membership expired and I haven’t been able to run since March because my back is dumb and old and still injured and that means I’m in physical therapy.}

My eye is twitching. {Stress.}

The Lounge finally had to be hauled off to charity. {Yes, we’re grieving.}

Life transition stuff is on the horizon. {I’ll tell you about it later.}

And there’s this unexplainable itching when I feel stressed and ruminating thoughts that I have inflamed skin patches growing tentacles. I so wish I was joking about that one.  {#marianiscrazy}

Worst of all, my friend’s cancer is back which makes me want to kick all of the walls in my house and cry when I’m in the shower and when I’m sitting on the floor of my boys’ room as we pray for her healing and I attempt to answer their questions that are still actually my own questions too.

I wish I could tell you I’m coping with All Of The Things by reading my Bible at 5am for two hours and praying without ceasing. There’s a little bit of that…but a whole lot more pretend online shopping.

In all of the unexpectedness and uncertainty, in the little stresses and the big sufferings, I’m reminded that control is an illusion and trust is a choice.

I cling to God’s sovereignty and love.

I rest — or attempt to rest — {which sounds like an oxymoron} in His faithful and undeniable promises.

This summer there seems to be one message ringing loud and clear above all others. God covenanted long ago to keep his promises to his people despite their weakness, waywardness, unbelief, and outright rebellion. He said He’d be with them in the chaos and trouble, in the good news and the bad news, in the times of obvious blessing and the times of obvious suffering. He promised to love them with an everlasting love.

He promised redemption.

He has proven, time and time again, that it’s about his faithfulness and not ours. I mean, let’s be honest, in whose track record of righteousness would you rather place your hope? Yours or God’s?

It’s times like this summer — times when I’m swimming in stress and flailing about like a fool — when I am painfully aware of my inability, idolatry, immaturity, inconsistency, and idiocy. And it’s times like these when all I can do is fall on my face and cry, Jesus please help me. I can’t bring anything to the table right now but weakness, neediness, hormonal imbalance, and repentance.

But the good news {that I still struggle to believe} is that it’s okay. It’s actually enough. Why? Because He’s enough and that frees me up not to be.

Not in the “Oh, I’m just going to embrace all of my sucky-ness so that grace may abound” but in the “Quit striving and accept where you are today and rest in the unbelievable enough-ness of Christ.”

This is the Gospel.

Jesus didn’t come for those who are well. He came for those who are sick and weak and in need of healing. I don’t have to get it together first. He makes me worthy because He was counted worthy for me. He calms my anxious heart because He is Peace incarnate and He lives in me…even when I am spewing short-tempered ugliness at my hyperactive children who could use a bit more structure this summer.

He reminds me of his promises in myriad ways, even on the days when the only spiritual effort I can muster is the two-word prayer, Help me.

Maybe your summer has been pool and beach and fruity drinks with umbrellas. Or maybe it’s been a little bit okay and a whole lot cuckoo. {Like mine.}

If you are in Christ, you can rest. You can free-fall into the arms of Jesus who is enough for you and for me and for this great big groaning world. 

And you can also go to McDonald’s and Chick Fil A in the same day.

 

When Life is a Broken + Beautiful Mashup

girls lake

Periodically I call a truce with my silent personal war against Facebook and for the sake of the easiest way to share photos with family, I upload lovely pictures of our time together in beautiful places with our beautiful families. Places I love. People I love. Traditions I love.

Being behind the lens helps me capture that which I’m prone to take for granted. My soul craves the snapshots of beautiful moments and soul-stirring places — the low-country Carolina coast in June and the otherworldly greenness of the Michigan summer in July. I binge on these 4 x 6 reminders that my children will have ridiculously amazing memories of cousins and sand and turquoise water that has bathed and buoyed our family at its homestead for over a hundred years.

My soul needs the reminders of beauty because there is a rock-bottomness to July. It happens every summer but you’d never know by looking at the photos.

For me, photos don’t paint a false reality. They simply unveil the gifts in the midst of the mess. If I don’t gaze upon the beauty, I drift toward despair. If I ignore the gifts, I’m prone to shut down in bitterness at the sin and brokenness and complication that is no respecter of place or beauty or persons, that dive-bombs even the most pristine settings and perfect plans and normal familes.

If I got to choose, I’d compartmentalize the good and the bad, the joy and the pain. I’d bask in the beauty and then put on my armor to do battle with the ugly. I would most definitely not entertain them both at the same time or on the same day. Who wants brokenness wrecking up all the beauty?

But no one asked me. So that means that we don’t get to live with our experiences boxed up into tidy compartments, unwrapping each one when we feel ready or fit or in the right mood. We don’t get to do life on parallel tracks, jumping to one or the other but never tangling them up together. We don’t every really get a vacation from hard things.

I’ve told God that it’s too much sometimes.

Having to smile on the outside when your heart is anxious and overwrought on the inside.

Receiving the loveliest gifts of this life when your soul is too heavy to really enjoy them as they should be enjoyed.

Loving people when you also loathe them in any given moment.

Working through gut-level emotional stuff when you feel too weary to stand up to it, let alone work through it.

Appearing serene and confident when you are actually battling fear and intimidation something fierce.

Meeting the challenges and responsibilities of the everyday when circumstances make you want to run away.

holding hands beach

We want days that are either / or.

Instead, we get a days that are both / and.

It’s the mashup that’s hard on our souls. The ridiculous volatility. The necessary duplicity. The conflicting emotions. The simultaneous broken + beautiful experiences.

It’s the mashup that threatens to shut me down altogether because my soul doesn’t know where to land and so it just flutters about frantically, searching for peace and consolation.

In times like this, I have to find solitude. For some of us, that’s a necessity and not merely a luxury. Clarity doesn’t come amid noise and people and activity, not for me.

I also have to seek Truth. I have to boss my frantic, fluttering soul about and tell it to land on what’s certain. Truth brings consolation and a measure of rest to my spirit.

And this clarity has a way of seeping into my soul in the form of tiny sermons that I preach to myself.

It’s okay to live in this tension. Jesus lived in this tension and He’s with you in yours.

Solitude is necessary. Isolation is dangerous. You must live in community. Don’t forget that.

Nothing comes into your life that has not been first filtered through the hands of God himself. Rest in his sovereignty. Rest in his love for you. Rest in his goodness, even when you’re overwhelmed by the world’s badness.

You’re tempted to despair, to give up, to give in, to covet, to condemn yourself and condemn others. Don’t fight temptation with your own will. In the end, you’ll lose. Fight it with the Gospel. Jesus overcame for you; therefore you can rest in what He’s already done and continues to do on your behalf.

single flower

Perhaps middle-class Americans struggle with this broken + beautiful tension more than other cultures. We think it’s supposed to be all fun, all beautiful, all success, all upward mobility, all happy-clappy posed cuteness and perfection. All the time. And that’s just rubbish. Behind every beautiful family photo is a string of late-night marital fights and job stress and children who don’t always tell the truth and manipulative relationships and a million things that didn’t go as planned.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not still a beautiful family photo. And it especially doesn’t mean it’s not a beautiful family knee-deep in the trenches of possibility and redemption.

We weren’t created for a world and a life that’s a broken + beautiful mashup. It’s why we fight it and run from it and numb it with every distraction under the sun. This mashup goes against our divine DNA. For me, that’s consolation that I’m not crazy. Rather, I’m a person just like every other person who is living between paradise lost and paradise recovered, a person living between the shadows of what was and what is yet to come, a person living in “the mashup middle.”

And so I get to choose. So do you.

A. We can choose to refuse the beauty altogether.

B. We can go the other way and choose to deny that the mess and pain exists and bow down at the one-dimensional altar of happy distraction.

Or we can choose a third way. It’s called acceptance. We can choose to receive the beauty in the midst of the messy relationships and volatile emotions and complicated contexts and stories we wouldn’t have chosen and futures that seem especially uncertain. We can live full anyway.

It comes down to the question I’ve asked myself over and over again in so many of these posts across the years:

Will I choose to receive my own life?

folded hands

On a whim, I decided to look up the definition of “receive.” I shouldn’t have been surprised by the ironic, three-pronged definition:

1. be given, presented with, or paid (something).

2. suffer, experience, or be subject to (specified treatment).

3. greet or welcome (a visitor) formally.

To receive one’s own life is to live with the both / and tension. It means that we celebrate the obvious gifts of our life and that we also suffer, experience, are subject to, and welcome that which life tosses our way.

{Insert deep sigh.}

This inevitable tension — between that which we welcome and that which we want to kick out the door – it is also an invitation. We can refuse the unwanted characters and story-lines with resentful bitterness. Or we can receive them with reluctant grace…which can even turn into gratitude.

This is the heart of my own story, the one that’s made up of a hundred verses of the same song. It’s not the one I’d have chosen to write in this exact way but it’s the one I can choose to receive anyway. And just when I think I’ve sung every possible verse and can finally close the book, a new but strangely familiar line writes itself onto the page, invited or not. Apparently I am not as far as I thought along the journey of acceptance.

Perhaps this tension / invitation feels true for you too. Perhaps you’re weary and bitter and resentful that brokenness keeps colliding into what should only be beautiful. I get it.

Each day and each season ushers in its bitter and its sweet, often disproportionately. But time has shown me that we can still choose life, even when it’s falling apart. Or even if it’s just tattered around the edges and we’re feeling kind of raggedy about the whole thing.

On the days when you taste far more bitter than you do sweet, hunt down beauty as if your life depends on it. Because in a way, it does.

So grab the camera and shoot. Stick more favorite pics to the front of the fridge. Pick flowers from your yard. Or in my case, pick leafy stems and put them in vases anyway. Slather on your favorite lipgloss. Gaze into well-loved faces. Pinch chubby cheeks. Make delicious food. Or get your favorite takeout. You decide. Go to Starbucks and spring for the venti iced macchiato. Which is the yummiest and prettiest drink of summer.

Do it all anyway. And don’t let brokenness have the last word.

Make your declaration of beauty and goodness and scatter the reminders all about.

There is beauty here. And I choose to see it.

This is my life — untidy, messy, tangled web of joy and sorrow though it is. And I choose to receive it. 

 

flower w text.jpg

 

P.S. That pretty photo above? I snapped that years ago on a spring day during one of the darkest seasons of my life. It’s one of my favorite reminders that brokenness doesn’t get the last word, that beauty blooms anyway.

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Fighting for Peace When Everyone Else is at the Pool

photo (13)

I would sell my soul for a body of blue, chlorinated water right now. And really, that’s about what I’ve done on any given day recently.

We think it’s usually the big stuff that challenges our faith and wreaks havoc on our contentment. But we’re only a few weeks into summer and I’m learning that anything — anything — can shove you down the slippery slope of woe is me. Even a pool.

Envy, self-pity, discontentment — they can lurk low and unchecked. And then all crazy breaks loose when you least expect it, like a sweet, sleeping mama bear hibernating through the winter and emerging from the cave, mean and ravenous.

I’ve been fighting against gratitude for a while now. To embrace all things, to count the gifts, to see the glass half-full – it feels like I’m waving the white flag of surrender and signing the treaty of acceptance. There have been things, important things and superficial things, that I’ve refused to accept.

Every day there’s this war. I know what I need to do and I see the yuck that’s floating in my soul and flitting about my mind. But my stubborn will keeps fighting. So I stew over it and stay mad about it. Internally I’m flailing and railing because I want someone to give me what I don’t have and someone to blame when they don’t.

From a theological and intellectual standpoint, I understand that no thing or circumstance or person can fulfill my deepest longings. I really do know that. But I don’t always experience that. And I definitely don’t want to embrace that. Embracing and accepting — they feel like giving up and letting go of desires, of the things I must have if I’m going to uncross my arms and unfurrow my brow and get on with living. Giving up feels like making friends with disappointment and failure.

I don’t want to let go of what I want in order to receive what I have.

And I am writing this as someone who is not so much on the other side of this battle but as someone who is still slogging through it.

The objects of my desire change with my season of life and the challenges I face. Essentially, I always have “a list.” A list of the things I don’t have but “need” to have, a list of the circumstances that “need” to change so that I can be content and free and fulfilled.

Right now, there are several items on the list. Some of them are deeply personal and actually important. And then there are the one or five that will just make me sound like a brat. Let’s just go with one of those, shall we?

Marian wants a pool.

I’m not asking for a pool at my house, though that would be fabulous. I just want a convenient and accessible pool for my kids to swim in. A pool with kids for my kids to play with. A pool that’s not plastic and 12 inches deep and sitting in my driveway, bringing down the neighborhood. {See the Exhibit A photo at the top of this post.}

We live in a weird locale that’s 15 miles away from the YMCA pool and 15 miles away from the co-op pool. For various reasons, neither of those are workable for us. Hardly any neighborhoods here have pools, ours included, which is bizarre since it’s warm enough to swim nine months out of the year. And there are no public pools in my entire county. Zero. It’s unlike any place I’ve every lived. It’s like a pool poverty zone. We have several friends or relatives with pools but you obviously need to arrange swims ahead of time and I always feel a little bit like I’m imposing, even if I’m not.

So every day I wake up and think about how I just want to go to the make-believe pool that sparkles in my head and how this pool will carry me away on a cloud of bliss.

With a frozen, fruity drink in my hand.

As Ingrid Michaelson sings all day in the sunshiney background.

And I read in the sun without sunscreen until suppertime because I possess special superpowers against sun damage.

And the bank keeps calling and interrupting my lounge time to say that our checking account is overflowing. Again. And would we like to open up another savings account for the overflow and set up automatic bank drafts to sponsor for 100 more children through Compassion?

The reality is, there are bigger obstacles to my happiness and ease than not having a pool. I promise you that. If my chief worry was not having a pool, I really would be the biggest brat in the universe and someone should burn my blog. I’m a normal person with actual struggles. The pool is just my ridiculous example.

You have your list too, don’t you? We all have our lists. The myriad things that are not okay and pushing us down and keeping us from the wonderfulness we think we should have. Also, my list could sound like a spoiled, dumb, baby problems list compared to your list. I don’t pretend for a second that my list even matters compared to the many other lists out there.

But back to the pool.

I’ve got this theory that maybe we fixate on one thing {or three} that would whisk us away from the legitimate issues on the list. It’s easy to focus on the little saviors in order to distract us from the real issues. For me, right now, it’s the pool. I’m fixing my eyes on the pool and how awesome that would make our summers instead of fixing my eyes on the bedrock truths of what I believe.

This isn’t the part of the post where I tell you and tell myself that I just need to suck it up and look to Jesus because all of my needs are met in Him. Even though that’s true.

It’s the part of the post where I tell you that honestly, I want the set my mind on a pool and more space in our house and less of a commute and other silly stuff on the list more than I want to set my mind on real truth. It’s the part where I tell you that Jesus will probably not buy me the superficial things I want like a community pool or more space in our house. At least not right now. And He may not choose to fix the soul stuff and the relational stuff in the way I wish He would either. Certain broken things may remain broken. Certain insufficiencies may remain insufficient.

And I fight that. Because having the unhaveable and fixing the unfixable — those are really the things I believe will save me right now.

The point is, my saviors are all out of whack.

And this post is mostly my confession of that. And maybe in the confessing, we’ll all find community and consolation, honesty and hope.

The life I have now — the one that’s not measuring up with its kiddie pool and cramped-ness — much of it was at one time the life I dreamed of. The husband, the kids, the house, the fulfilling work, the minivan {well, not the minivan} — these are all gifts that I couldn’t wait to have. Good things that I fixated on at one time in history and just knew that once these good things were in my life, all would be swell.

You know where I’m going with this, right?

There will always be a list. Even if I have a pool or a basement or a van that’s not accessorized with popcorn kernels and fossilized french fries from last year’s summer trip.

And there will always be Truth. For me, that Truth also a Person.

We have to choose. Hold fast to the list? Or hold fast to Jesus?

And lately, I’ve been choosing badly, fixing my eyes on the wrong savior. I love how The Message puts Colossians 3:1-2, the verse that talks about setting our minds on things above.

So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.

I’ve got this wadded up list in my clenched hand and it’s yielded nothing but misery, resentment, and envy. It most definitely has not yielded a pool. And I can actually admit that it’s a good thing because if it had, all of this junk in my soul would be flying under the radar and my sanctification would be vacationing in Aruba. And I’ve needed to do business with this junk.

I don’t want to become more like Marian. She’s a bit of a mess. I want to become more like Jesus.

God’s Word is true when it says we can’t serve two masters. Though this passage specifically applies to money, it still begs us to ask the question, What or whom is taking up the most space in my mind and heart? Personally, I’ve been paying lip-service to Jesus but bowing my knees on the hot concrete of the pretend pool and the other pretend saviors on the list.

The real Savior loves me too much to let me worship false gods.

Preoccupation with the the list is idolatry. It’s lovely, even needful, to dream and to wish. It’s wonderful to love beauty. It’s sheer joy to receive the bounty He gives us and to embrace the good things with wild gratitude. It’s hopeful to work toward goals and to say yes to the pursuits that make us come alive. This world is a foretaste of the unimaginable beauty and gifts that will one day be ours in abundance.

The problem is when we reverse the now and the not yet, when we try to live the perfect not yet in the broken now and we neglect the good we’re to pursue now in light of the not yet.

So where do we go from here?

Honestly, I’m reluctant to offer any actionable “steps” because I’m still fighting through this. I’m not an expert and I don’t feel wise enough or steady enough to speak with authority. But these are the practices I’m giving myself to right now so it seems fit to share them.

First, let’s be honest about where we are. Confession is really just honesty, baring the truth within your heart instead of ignoring or hiding or numbing. It’s hard but there’s freedom on the other side and hope that we don’t have to stay stuck in this place.

Let’s ask for new vision to see the junk in our soul for what it is and to see a holy God for who He is and how the two can’t coexist without the mediation and cleansing power of Jesus.

And speaking of Him, let’s ask for new thought patterns that help us fix our eyes on Jesus, the One who meets us wherever we are and shows us that the Gospel applies to everything, even the pool we don’t have. We need new patterns that point us to Jesus, the Real Jesus, the One who may feel like a long-ago abstraction but who is actually so very near and knows all about our misplaced worship and still loves us anyway. But He also loves us too much to allow us to stay mired in misery and idolatry.

For me it looks a little bit like this. When I have visions of blue water and resin lawn chairs, it means running to Jesus for fresh trust and renewed gratitude. When I’m feeling angsty about more space for my family, it means running to Jesus and telling him that I trust his timing and asking Him to please provide what’s best. When I’m tangled up in the knots of the unfixable life and twisting in soul-level stuff that may never be totally unknotted, it means handing it over Jesus, the One who is always beckoning and loving and cleansing and writing straight with crooked lines.

But I’ve lived long enough and failed big enough to realize that sheer discipline falls woefully short, that just writing those words about running to Jesus won’t make me actually do it in the particularly hard moments. Heart-change is not something we can manufacture. But it is something we can yield ourselves to. It means giving up the fight. It means waving the white flag of surrender. I get how painful this can be. It means letting go of the stuff you want but that you don’t have…which really isn’t letting go of anything when you think about it. You know, since you don’t actually have it. It means humility.

It means repentance.

It especially means that. The more I learn about repentance, the more I understand that it means rest. Scripture tells us that in repentance and rest is our salvation. Repentance isn’t what I used to think it meant. It’s not a bootstrapped about-face. It’s not steely resolution. And it’s not because you will only get it right from here to forever. It’s humble acknowledgement that you are a mess and entrusting that mess to the only One who can clean it up and being willing to let Him do it. And this is the sweetest kind of rest for your soul. It’s grace and it’s trust and it changes everything.

Sometimes you to have to sink to a rather pathetic and embarrassing state of misery before you realize that this is no good way for anyone to live. Sometimes it’s misery that brings you to repentance.

And sometimes you realize that you need this kind of rest and freedom more than you need the temporary bliss of the sparkling pool.

Gratitude, acceptance, trust, contentment — these are gifts and graces that more firmly take root and actually bear fruit because of the dreaded “d” word that I am loathe to embrace. Discipline. Renewed thought patterns don’t usually just show up. If I’m going to walk in Truth, I have to stay steeped in Truth. That means I can’t neglect time in the Word and in prayer and in worship and fellowship.

I’m coming to see discipline in a gentler sense rather than in a graceless, military sort of sense. Over time, practicing Truth by meditating on it and pursuing it becomes a familiar pathway to peace, a well-worn daily path instead of an overgrown, uphill trail.

For me, the prize is freedom, the freedom to receive with joy the life that I’ve been given. Yes, the life with all of its ostensible shortcomings and imperfections and unfixable parts. The one with the plastic pool. The one that is making me more resourceful in the art of squinting and searching and scraping for the hidden gifts that are ours to find and unwrap.

I don’t know what’s on your list, what’s keeping you in the fight instead of waving the white flag of surrender. But I’m learning to see the white flag as a different sort of symbol, as the white flag of freedom.

It’s when we finally give up so that we can really live.

Life may not be what you’d envisioned. You’ll likely still struggle with the list. That’s okay. The dailyness of the struggle is the thing that invites discipline. {Though my word-sensitive self still prefers “practice” instead of discipline.}

Though your pathway may not lead to a pool, it can lead you to the place of receiving your own life. And this kind of acceptance is a sweeter thing than simply crossing something off the list and resting in a pretend savior.

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Just this week, I’m made a new list. A list with frugal and free ideas and pursuits that can create a meaningful summer for the kids and me. Acceptance and repentance have renewed my resourcefulness and I’m actually looking forward to some of our simple plans. We’ll see how that plays out and maybe in a few weeks that will be a post all its own.

So do you have a list? And is there anything as embarrassing as a pool?

Also, just when I think I can’t get any more random — blue water and Ingrid Michaelson and fruity drinks and Jesus, all swimming around in the same post. I’m not sure how that happened.

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