How to Wear Courage in Your Right-Now Life {a personal post + a wearable reminder}

courage

No matter the art — be it painting, dancing, mothering, writing, counseling, teaching, or design — we grieve when we can’t seem to find our voice, our place, or our offerings. Joy and discouragement live too close in our hearts and we can’t reconcile our desire with our constant disappointment.

Emily P. Freeman, The Next Right Thing Podcast, Episode 5: Offer Your Work With Hope 

I began this post (for at least the third time) after I anger-folded the laundry. My sock-matching companion was the kind voice of Emily Freeman on her podcast, The Next Right Thing. As she offered a prayer at the end, I stood over the mismatched socks and cried as my anger dissolved into its true self — grief.

My last post here was July 3rd. I’ve been writing on the internet for about 9 years and this is by far the longest lapse I’ve ever had between one published post and another.

The truth is probably what you’d expect. My plate is full. Like most of you, I’m busy juggling good gifts like a home, a marriage, children, dinner, relationships, community, a steady job, some freelance work.

A lovely art print of Ecclesiastes 3:1 sits above my desk, a daily reminder to receive the gifts and callings of each season.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. 

I feel like I’m in a better place than ever about receiving this season of my life with acceptance and gratitude. Until I’m not.

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Where is my best life?

A couple of weeks ago I talked with my friend and fellow writer, Kimberly.

She spoke of how hard it is to feel like you’re constantly living out of your weakness and lack instead of your strengths and gifts. In response, I offered rambling words of hope and encouragement in the face of heartbreaking disappointment she’d recently experienced. I talked about how living out of our weaknesses keeps us dependent on Jesus, how it keeps us in a posture of humility and grace. Saying these things to my hurting friend — it sounded simple and right.

Little did I know that a few days later, I’d be yelling through tears {at my blindsided and bewildered husband who just was trying to leave for work} that I want to live out of my strengths and gifts, that I’m tired of operating from a place of weakness, from a place of cluelessness, from a place of frustration and anxiety.

The truth and perspective I shared with Kimberly had up and vanished.

Whether it’s mothering or running a home or work I don’t know how to do or balls I keep dropping, the voice in my head has been crystal clear:

You, my dear, are not living your best life.

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Kimberly and I spoke of our shared disappointment, how the writing life that we envisioned isn’t eagerly extending an invitation to us. Her circumstances are different than mine but the outcome is the same — we long to make a certain kind of art and offer it in a certain kind of way, but limitations seem to have the last word. It’s a silly lament compared with the real tragedies of hurricanes and family fracture and cancer.

But desire is a stubborn thing. It will not stay quiet just because the limitations tell it shush or because the problems could be so much worse.

To be sure, there are gifts in the disappointment of closed doors. Like the very best girlfriends who show up with ice-cream after a bad breakup, Grace and Acceptance have shown up on the doorstep of my angsty heart as I’ve sought to live faithfully, albeit messily, in the tension between my hoped-for work and my right-now life. God has handed me unexpected joy and satisfaction in my present callings, even the ones that don’t come naturally to me.

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Still, sometimes you find yourself folding t-shirts on an everyday Monday and you begin to cry.

Even when you have a beautiful life, even when you’re grateful for all the gifts, the sadness that arises from longing is still there, lurking just beneath the surface.

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the courage to wait

I call it “receiving your own life.”

Almost everything I’ve written over the last 9 years passes through this filter. Receiving your own life is about living in the tension between your actual life and your hoped-for life. Sometimes the backdrop of this tension is a marriage that’s a disaster, a kid who’s gone off to the far country, mental illness, or financial ruin. Sometimes it’s sickness, unemployment, addiction, or an unrelenting discontent.

I’ve lived against more than one of those backdrops, so I know from experience that learning to receive your own life with trust and gratitude is a fight. We use words like “contentment” and “letting go” and “acceptance,” all of which convey a gentle, graceful surrender.

But that’s not what it’s felt like to me.

I’ve been trying to land on a fitting word that helps me die to my own agenda and receive the life that’s right in front of me.

It’s courage.

But not courage in the sense of heroics or bravery or bootstrapping. The real architecture of courage is actually quite different.

The Latin root is “heart.”

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Living courageously means that we live vulnerably and honestly. It means we live with a confidence that’s grounded in the truth of things, even when we’re afraid, even when the truth of things is not what we wish for.

I recently did a word study of courage from the Bible. Of everything I studied, this verse still floors me:

Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord! 

Psalm 31:24 

Do you see that? It takes courage —

to wait. 

To wait for what the Lord is going to show us and do for us and do with us.

God did not say, let your heart be patient, all you who wait for the Lord!  He said to let your heart take courage.

There is a strength, a fight, a trust required to wait for the fulfillment of desired things.

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when you miss your real life because you fear you’re missing out

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Like I said, I’ve walked some legitimately painful roads in my 40-something years, so writing about the difficult intersection of waiting and art and desire sounds dramatic and ridiculous. Still, we cannot always rationalize our way out of grief. We can find perspective. We can live from a place of hope. We can trust in a timing that’s filtered through God’s love. But we grieve what we grieve and I’m tired of letting my inner critic bully me about this.

Courage helps me wait.

And as I wait, I learn that the waiting room is not merely an interlude or pit stop; it is its own worthy destination. The waiting room is a place where I’m stripped of ambition and given the opportunity to commune with God in my disappointment and doubt. It’s a place where I can stop and breathe and receive this dazzling life of mine, imperfections and all. Waiting rooms have a way of helping us see what really matters, even as we wish that certain circumstances were different.

Though Twitter is a terrible way to start your day, I happened to be awake at an ungodly hour one morning last week and came across this quote from author, Shawn Smucker:

In my limited experience, letting go of the things I wanted the most has allowed me to see the real and wonderful life in front of me.

Story of my life.

I’ve had a number of turning points across the last twenty-something years, moments when I let go of personal ambition like a child lets go of a helium-filled balloon. First the panic and the pang. Then the acceptance and eventual peace.

It’s terrifying to let go, even when we know it’s the right thing to do.

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We can only speak of courage in the face of fear. And isn’t fear our greatest foe when we’re fighting to receive our right-now lives? We fear that an opportunity will pass us by. We fear that we’ll misspend our lives. We fear that we’ll regret not giving more to our families or we fear that we’ll regret not pursuing vocational opportunities. We fear that God won’t answer our prayers in the way we want him to — or even that He will answer our prayers in the way we want him to.

We fear that we’re getting it all wrong.

Everyone else is supposedly out there living their best life and what are we doing? We’re crying on laundry day and wiping our noses with dryer sheets.

Cue the courage.

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what the professionals aren’t telling you

There are so. many. “experts.” They bombard us with “good” information every day, persuasive messages rooted in helpfulness. But I can’t help but wonder if the sheer volume of it all is dulling our discernment.

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Has self-help gotten too cozy with Jesus?

A curated life — aka a life that mostly lines up with our unique strengths, gifts, desires, skill sets, etc. — well, I’m just going to say it: That is not necessarily the way of Jesus, even if it seems to be the way of Christian Self-help (which we sometimes confuse with Jesus.)

I’m not saying we shouldn’t problem-solve or climb out of pits. I’m not saying we haplessly pitch our tents in the land of misery and call ourselves more righteous because of it. And I’m definitely not saying our unique gifts don’t matter.

I am saying that every death, big or small, is a two-fold opportunity:

To reject pride and self-sufficiency and the idolatry of our own agenda. 

To receive God and grace and unexpected gifts.

The thing about Jesus is that He always tells the truth, even if it’s not the cozy truth we want to hear. Sometimes his words sound like crazy talk. He says that you gain your life by losing it, that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. The Jesus Way is upside-down and inside-out and even those of us who follow Him — well, we forget because the Jesus way gets mixed up with ambition and comfort and success and your best life.

I’m not trying to be preachy. I drink the Kool-Aid too.

This is already my longest post ever, but I’m going to go deep and dramatic for one last moment. Stay with me?

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A courageous life may not look like your best life.

Do you think that when Jesus was dying a humiliating public death, the people in the crowd were thinking, “How successful he is! What a legacy. We should find out his best practices.” Of course not. They pitied him, they hated him, they called him a liar and a fool and a fraud. “What a wasted life,” they must have thought.

Though they stripped Him of his clothes, they could not strip Him of courage. Jesus-courage isn’t rooted in bravery or self-actualization or crafting a perfect life. Jesus-courage is rooted in vulnerability and humility and sacrificial love and a future glory that is not of this world.

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My words may not be as inspiring as the messages from your favorite experts, but I can’t write about real courage without bringing Jesus into it. Because He knows what it’s like to live in the ultimate tension between the now and the not yet. He lived and died in that tension. He wept in that tension. He was forsaken in that tension.

And this means He is a kindred companion to those of us who also live in the tension, who die to our hoped-for agenda on a daily basis, who lose our lives to give it away as we fold the clothes and braise the pot roast and wipe the tears and help with math homework and grade the papers.

He’s with us when we set aside our fancy degrees and personal giftedness to do something less visible but more significant.

After all, He came to earth fully man and fully God. He had the “skill-set” to call down the angels, to display his true power, to climb down off the cross. But He humbled himself and remained a servant. For us. And for the joy set before him.

This is the same Jesus who is with us today. He understands. And because He was and is the perfect incarnation of all the things we lack, He offers us courage as we wait because He offers us Himself.

He is our courage.

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FOR YOU! : )

Still here? I know. Could this post be any longer?

Yes it can.

Because I made something for you.

I know what you’re thinking. “Marian, you just said you have no time. When did you make stuff?” And the answer is, many months ago and with help from a creative soul sister. The timing wasn’t right to offer it but now it is. Yay!

A year and a half ago, one of my dearest friends gave me this courage necklace for my birthday.

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I didn’t know how much I would need that word but Jesus must have known because I have worn courage (literally, on this gold cord) almost every day since.

This necklace doesn’t have magical powers, nor will it slay actual beasts or fold your laundry. It simply serves as a visual reminder that you need courage every day and all you have to do is ask for it.

  • Courage to receive your beautiful, messy, right-now life just as it is, even as you wait with hope.
  • Courage when Fear is a bully and calling all the shots. 
  • Courage to say yes, even though you don’t know what you’re doing. Courage to say no, even though the opportunity may not come again.

Courage is ultimately a person who gives us strength to wait, to trust, and to hope in better things than what we can even imagine.

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UPDATE: The necklaces have all been spoken for. Thank you so much for your kind and supportive responses! I may offer additional pieces down the road so if you enjoy wearing meaningful beauty like I do, make sure you’re subscribed to marianvischer.com and you’ll be the first to know. I’ll also keep you in the loop on Instagram @marianvischer, so you can follow me there too!

Here are the details:

I have 32 of these.

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I’m offering them for $15 each and that includes shipping. These necklaces are a sweet, creative labor of love. Each hand-cut, hand-stamped, “hand-hewn” (yep, we actually cut and filed these babies) comes with a gold cord that gives you about a 16-inch drop. I’ve had mine for a year and a half and it’s still just as lovely. The cord makes it light and casual and simple to wear with anything. And it’s super easy to layer with other necklaces.

You could also put it on a different color cord.

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Or a short leather choker tied in a bow in the back. So many possibilities!

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I am too lazy to be high-tech about this so here’s what we’ll do:

  • If you’d like a courage necklace for yourself or as a gift, simply leave your Paypal address (the email you use for Paypal) in the comments section.
  • MAKE SURE your current shipping address is updated with Paypal so I send it to the right place.
  • If you don’t feel comfortable with that, you can send it in an email to marianvischer@gmail.com. Use “necklace” in the subject line.
  • I’ll invoice the first 32 people who reply with a Paypal address.

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I hope this will be as meaningful a piece for you as it has been for me! Feel free to leave any questions in the comments.

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Thanks for sticking with me. Now that I’m settling into a fall rhythm, I hope to occupy this space a bit more regularly.

In the meantime, if this post resonated with you, you may also enjoy these posts and resources:

Posts

How to Pursue Your Hoped-For Work in the Midst of Your Right-Now Life {a series}

How to Waste Your Life and Call It Beautiful 

How a 92-Year-Old Woman Taught Me the Real Value of My Right-Now Work

Books

A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live by Emily P. Freeman

Creating a life of meaning is not about finding that one great thing you were made to do, it’s about knowing the one great God you were made to glory — in a million little ways.

The Gifts of Imperfection by Dr. Brené Brown — I love her transformative work on courage!

8 Favorite Resources to Make Your Hoped-for Work a Possibility in Your Right-Now Life — some of my favorite, encouraging, balanced, grace-filled resources on this topic

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10 Ways to Receive Your Summer Life with Less Envy and More Gratitude

10 ways to receive summer life

Last summer I wrote a post called “How to Receive Your Own Summer Life.” I bared my struggling summer soul, which has a way of overflowing with envy and discontentment during the season that’s supposed to be the happiest, most easygoing time of the year.

I’d love to report that I have matured a year later. Alas, I’m fighting for acceptance and gratitude all over again.

In the midst of this struggle, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it looks like at street level to receive my own summer life instead of pining for opportunities and experiences that aren’t mine to have. This post could be an instructive piece about the evils of envy and how we should instead be grateful and realize how #blessed we are.

And this is true. Envy is bad. Gratitude is where it’s at.

But if the truth doesn’t travel to my heart and make a home there, it’s all just knowledge. I need truth to link arms with me in everyday ways so that what’s in my head can sync with my heart and overflow with love into my real life.

Thus these 10 tactics or suggestions or considerations or whatever you want to call them. They’re helping me in my quest to receive a summer life that does not include an Airstream, a fancy vacation, super lazy days, or even our annual July trip to Michigan.

If your summer feels ordinary or less-than, if you’re fighting to receive your summer life too, I hope these truths set you free to embrace the summer you have, even if it’s not the summer you want to have.

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1. Don’t compare your sink full of dirty dishes with someone else’s summer highlight reel.

Imagine this moment: The day has just begun. You wake up to a headache, last night’s dishes, and children fighting over the iPod charger. You pour a cup of coffee and open Instagram or Facebook, only to see friends on an anniversary trip, skipping through the blue waters of Tahiti. They are so #blessed.

Suddenly your life is the worst.

messy kitchen

You do not appreciate your home, your night of sleep, the food in your pantry, or the fighting children. Because Tahiti.

But real life is not lived in highlight reel moments. When we receive those moments, they are worthy of celebrating. But the mundane moments matter too. And to begrudge them because everyone else seems to be living their best summer life now, well, it makes a mockery of our beautiful, ordinary lives.

 

2. Disconnect if it helps you stay present.

I know, I know. Being “present” is such a buzz word right now. But guess what? We’re still not doing it.

From time to time I simply have to go off social media and the internet. My emotional responses while scrolling through Instagram are almost always a barometer for the state of my soul. Judgmentalism? Envy? Eye-rolling? Anxiety? When those familiar companions show up, it’s time for me to walk away for a while.

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Whether it’s the envied experiences of others or an attention-grabbing post we just have to read, the truth is — we don’t have the capacity to handle all the input that’s catapulted at us day in and day out.

Last Saturday I left my phone on the kitchen counter and went for a walk in the hottest part of the day. I didn’t care; I just knew I needed the space to disconnect. As I walked and sweated and prayed, my head cleared and my soul breathed. An hour later I returned with peace and perspective, feeling more at home in my own life.

We’re the only ones who can put up boundaries and choose what we let in. Each one of us has different thresholds, but here are some things I’ve noticed about myself:

  • When I walk away from the online world, I’m more attentive to the little world that’s right in front of me.
  • I notice the gifts of my own life and feel content to tuck them away in my heart, just for me. 
  • I pay attention to the people who matter most. 
  • I’m more engaged and focused.
  • My mind feels less cluttered. 

I’m not hating on the internet or on social media. I became a writer because I started a blog ten years ago. I earn a living creating online content. I love Instagram. Some of my dearest friends are those I met through the blogosphere. But I’m learning when and how to draw boundaries that help me receive my own summer life instead of feeling like it doesn’t quite measure up.

 

3. Fight back with gratitude.

Apparently Ann Voskamp was on to something when she started that one thousand gifts thing. Here’s a little story from a few weeks ago:

I was in a beautiful place with people I love. But for two days, all of it was shrouded in gloom because I wasn’t getting my way about a few things. There were experiences I wanted to have and none of them were working out. For a while I clung to my resentment, miserable though I was, because there’s a sick sort of satisfaction we get from entitlement. Thankfully I got fed up with myself.

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“Fine!” I said to no one in particular. “I’ll start counting the gifts.”

By the time I’d named even a few things I was grateful for, the entitlement began to melt away and thankfulness took up residence in its place. Self-pity and  resentment are powerful emotions. But here’s the good news: gratitude is a powerful emotion too. It’s like Ann says, “Fight emotion with emotion.”

It works.

 

4. Remember that selfishness never takes a vacation.

It’s why families still fight at Disneyworld, the happiest place on earth.

This ever-present brokenness is something it’s taken us years to remember and to plan for. But summer, with its more relaxed schedule, special travel plans, and happy expectations, is one of those seasons when I subconsciusly expect all sunshine and no rain. Ironically, some of our worst marital conflicts have actually been on vacation. And some of our kids’ ugliest moments have also been on vacation.

Also, these lazy days of summer seem to bring out the worst sibling squabbles. IMG_4531

Knowing that brokenness travels with us wherever we go and accompanies our families in each and every season — it’s strangely helpful. When family togetherness goes off the rails, we don’t fall into a shock-induced despair. We know that we’re messy people living in a messy world. We look to God to fill us up with grace for ourselves and for our people.

Which is the perfect segue to my next point.

 

5. Lower your expectations.

I have an honorary doctorate in high expectations. This applies to myself and to those around me. Bless us all.

But when I allow for my life and my people to be messy, for things to not go as planned, we’re a much happier lot. I call it “expectational margin.” This point about low expectations may sound dismal and lazy, but I like to think of it as grace.

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I will forever love this photo of my niece. Is she depressed that she’s swimming in a rubbermaid container on Aunt Marian’s driveway and not at a beach resort? She is not. Tiny Tabitha has delightfully low expectations and is just happy to be here. #blessed

 

6. Know that every day doesn’t have to be a memory maker.

Raise your hand if it feels like there’s a lot of pressure to make all the summer days special-ish. We live in a Pinteresty, Instragrammy culture of bucket lists, of moments we can hashtag, of documenting every adorable experience. And while that can be fun, the cumulative effect is that it makes our everyday moments feel like they’re not measuring up.

My kids tend to remember summer not for all the special things we’ve done but for the break from school, the later bedtimes, the relaxed schedule, and watching TV together as a family. That’s how I remember the summers of my childhood too.

Summer is its own stand-alone kind of special. This reminds me that the pressure’s off.

 

7. Remember that the free stuff is often what we remember most and best.

My boys found a bunch of wiffle balls at the park and it was like Christmas.

My youngest son is watching dog training videos on YouTube.

My daughter and I are partaking in the glorious Ministry of Netflix again this summer.

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I was reflecting this week on what I loved most about summer as a kid:

  • Playing with kids at the church softball field and how the water fountain leaked enough for us to make mud pies in the red Carolina dirt
  • Riding my bike down to the creek and the freedom I felt
  • Watching the Sunday night ABC family movie
  • Having picnics in the living room
  • Catching fireflies

 

Childhood is its own sort of vacation.

 

8. Celebrate summertime with story time.

Novels, audiobooks, read-alouds, movies. Summer begs us to slow down and get lost in good stories.

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Even if I’m staying at home all summer, a good book or evening movie feel like ridiculous luxuries. Especially if there’s ice cream in the house.

 

9. Consider each summer season’s pros and cons.

Every season of parenthood has its summertime pros and cons. When my kids were little, taking them to the pool felt like an Olympic sport. {Guess what I don’t miss? Swim diapers.} But then those exhausting cherubs came home exhausted. They took naps and I had time to also take a nap or read a book or paint furniture or write. Bonus: They went to bed earlier and we enjoyed kid-free evenings.

These days they can get dressed and take showers and fix food ALL BY THEMSELVES. It’s glorious. But I’ve been crazy stressed because summer hasn’t felt relaxed. I’ve been driving people to and from places. A lot. And it’s a challenge to find long stretches of time during the day to get my work done.

It’s a busier summer because the people who live here are older and have more scheduled lives.

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They no longer go to bed early. (Boo!)  But we can all stay up late watching movies together that aren’t animated. (Yay!)

Each season has its own gifts and its own burdens. Being mindful of this reality helps me receive this current summer season with more grace and optimism.

 

10. Take time to nourish yourself.

I did an Instagram post a couple of weeks ago about how fixing myself a proper breakfast mid-morning changed the emotional trajectory of my day. I had been up half the night for no particular reason. Which meant I slept through my alarm. By the time I woke up, the kids were fighting and resistant to responsibility. I’d lost precious early-morning work hours, and I commenced to stressing and hollering.

My default is to grab coffee and race downstairs to crank out some work. But I went against my instinct. I slowed down. I cooked an actual meal for myself. I read for a few minutes. This 30 minute time-out nourished my body and my soul. It’s hard to be kind to others when you haven’t been kind to yourself.

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I really do love summer, but each year it’s an adjustment. This introvert mom has frayed nerves by the end of the day. Because I work from home but my kids are also at home, it gets a little cuckoo around here. Nourishing myself in small ways, like a real breakfast {or that ombre pink drink from Starbucks}, feels like kindness.

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I’d love to know how you receive your summer life. You can share in the comments, shoot me an e-mail, or leave your thoughts on social media.

Happy ordinary summering, everyone!


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I’m all about helping you recapture the possibility of your right-now life. Each post provides courage, companionship, and resources for life lived real. If that sounds like something you need, sign up in the box below to receive fresh hope and possibility delivered to your inbox a couple of times a month.

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How to Waste Your Life and Call it Beautiful

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There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.”
― Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

 

When the baby of our family was born over nine years ago, I had a seven-year-old and a four-year-old.

With seven plus years of motherhood under my belt, I’d learned a few lessons about letting go, chilling out, and realizing that it’s all going to be okay. In light of this hard-won Zen version of myself, I decided to enjoy my third baby like nobody’s business.

I would not fret. I would not pursue unnecessary work or projects. I would bask in this last brief season of babyhood and love on my darling boy whose very name means “mercy.”

Mercy. That’s what he meant to my husband and me.

For a very long season, I assumed that I wouldn’t have another baby. My marriage had almost ended. I was working full-time. Life was terribly messy.

And then, it wasn’t.

God breathed compassion into our story. Our third child represented the underserved gift of new life for our family and I resolved to enjoy his babyhood in a way that my angsty, younger-mom self wasn’t able to do with my other children.

Today he is a curly-headed, third-grade boy with a perfect sprinkle of freckles across his nose. He’s much too big for me to carry and he talks like a teenager, compliments of his older brother and sister.

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I’m sure his babyhood seemed like a long stretch of time when we were in it — short nights, ear infections, teething, smeared pureed food in his hair. I can barely remember those episodes now. What I do remember is that I received that short season of my life as a gift.

I devoted myself to adoring him.

Much of my life’s work up to that point seemed irrelevant. My education, my career, all the books I’d read, the ambition I’d cultivated — I didn’t technically need any of those things to be an adoring mother.

Sometimes I wondered if I’d wasted the gifts I’d so earnestly stored up.

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I’ve been many different moms over the last sixteen years. Grad school mom, part-time working mom, full-time working mom, homeschool mom, stay-at-home mom, work-from-home mom, single mom.

I don’t feel like I’ve ever gotten it quite right.

As I look back across my story as a mother, the one chapter that feels most “right” to me is the one I just told you about — that one to two year season when I cherished my last baby with lavish intention. I did not call it wasteful. I called it beautiful.

Lest you think I’m someone who believes motherhood is my highest calling and the one thing I was put on this earth to do — I assure you, I am not that person. Though I’ve always longed to be a mother and I was over the moon about each one of my babies, reconciling family with personal ambition has been one of the greatest struggles and missions of my life.

Since I was ten years old, I wanted to attend law school right after college. I majored in the right things. I took the LSAT. But at the age of 22, I arrived at a painful conclusion — a career in law didn’t seem very compatible with raising a family. Not for me, anyway. And just like that, I veered from what I’d always wanted to do. It’s hardly a tragic story. Instead of law, I pursued and enjoyed college teaching.

But I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Sometimes I’m still sad I didn’t go to law school. That doesn’t mean I regret not going. It simply means that my heart continues to beat strongly for the kind of work I would have loved.

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Over the holidays I was at a retirement party for one of my husband’s colleagues. I had the loveliest time chatting with an acquaintance of ours who’s been a happily-practicing attorney for many years. I asked question after question about his work — why he loves it, if he’s glad he went into law, etc. I told him that I’d always dreamed of being a trial lawyer. He told me I should still think about it, that it’s not too late.

The whole way home and for weeks afterward, I did think about it. I’m still surprised at the way that longing can show up unannounced and just linger for a while.

But the reality is this — I have chosen other things.

Though I have worked and still currently work, I have chosen family over full-time work and my own aspirations — even though family life hasn’t {and still doesn’t} come naturally, even though motherhood doesn’t pay well, even though it sometimes feels like a waste of intellect and resources, even though others may say it’s the less than sensible choice.

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Recently I came across a story about another woman who made a less than sensible choice, a woman who “wasted” the resources she’d earnestly stored up, a woman who devoted herself to adoring someone in a way that confounded the more knowledgeable people around her.

The setting is a dinner party. And after the dinner was over, this woman took a pound of perfumed oil and anointed the honored guest, going so far as to let down her hair and wipe the man’s feet with it.

That honored guest was Jesus. The woman’s name was Mary. The imported oil in an alabaster jar was worth a year’s wages.

Can you imagine the awkwardness? An awkwardness that was quickly followed by scoff, scorn, and even contempt. Sure, it was an expression of love and honor but did it have to be so wasteful?

roses

Other guests made the point that the perfume could have been sold and given to the poor.

My own knee jerk reaction was that it could have been rationed out more sensibly. Surely Mary could have saved it in order to provide for herself and for others.

But Jesus didn’t say any of these things. Instead he asked the others to leave her alone and he called her offering “beautiful.”

Whether Mary realized it then or not, Jesus would die in a matter of days and this was her one opportunity to honor him with scandalous devotion.

As she was pouring out the perfume and wiping his feet with her hair, she was actually anointing her beloved Jesus for his burial.

My throat caught as I read this commentary on the story:

God’s people are expected to remember the poor … But Jesus came only once in history to die for his people. Only on this occasion would there be this opportunity to honor Him as He should be honored. 

This moment was not about the poor, it was not about Mary’s rights, and it was not about human sensibility. It was bigger than what anyone could see. Mary’s sacrifice and devotion was part of God’s purpose for her life, for Jesus’ life, and for the redemption and renewal of the world.

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receive my life bracelet

Though I’ve given up on law school, I still long to pursue full-time work that overflows from the core of who I am. And maybe one day I will.

But my real life in this season of teenagers and sports and three different schools and community and work — well, it looks like delivering left-behind lunches, supervising math homework, avoiding the laundry, lamenting the dailyness of dinner, refereeing, running a taxi service, cheering from the sidelines, teaching life lessons while driving my minivan, and giving up on any semblance of work-life balance.

At my worst or even at my average, I can begrudge all of this because a.) it’s mundane and repetitive, and b.) it can feel like a misspent life.

I really did not want to write that last sentence because it sounds awful. But it’s where my human heart can land on any given day.

And that’s why, when I read the story of Mary and Jesus and the perfume, I came a little undone on the inside. Truth and beauty lodged themselves within my spirit and I’ve walked a little askew ever since.

While I may not have Jesus in the flesh at my dinner table tonight, He is always my companion. And He tells us that when we provide for the physical needs of those who depend on our care, we’re also demonstrating love and devotion to him.

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This isn’t a post about career vs. family. It’s not even a post about motherhood. Not really. It’s about receiving our right-now lives as a gift. And that looks different for each of us.

I’m learning that in each season, I have to prioritize the roles that only I can fill. Only I can be my husband’s wife and my kids’ mom. There are other things God also calls me to do right now but I always return to this question:

Who needs me more right now? {For someone who doesn’t love to be needed, answering this question is more discipline than it is default.}

Sometimes only you can be the one to earn a paycheck or contribute to your family’s livelihood. Only you can be the one to take care of an aging parent or an adult sibling. Only you can be the one to help your grown child through a long season of crisis. Only you can be the one to love a difficult student in your classroom or a neighbor who has no one else.

I write from the intersection of my own season and circumstances but this story could be told a million different ways.

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What sacred devotion have you been given for this season? Who needs to receive what’s in your alabaster jar?

Only you and your people can answer this question.

It’s easy to worship at the altar of public opinion or even at the altar of sensibility without realizing that you’ve been taken captive. Modern narratives can be sneaky like that. I’m absolutely guilty of imbibing what sounds good instead of drinking from Truth.

I’m also guilty of looking at what others are doing and then feeling like a failure by comparison. In feeling left behind, I sprint to catch up — only to find that I’ve left my own people behind in the process.

window

Straying from devotion probably comes naturally for most of us. For me, the key is coming back to the presence of Jesus and surrendering to the call of right now.

Today. These people. This season. This work. This devotion.

When we’re running hard toward our hoped-for life, we miss the sacred gifts of the right-now life.

Mary only had Jesus for a brief moment and she did the scandalous instead of the sensible. By everyone’s standards, she “wasted her gift’s purpose.”

Do you know what Jesus said in that moment?

Why are you giving this woman a hard time? She has just done something wonderfully significant for me. You will have the poor with you every day for the rest of your lives, but not me. When she poured this perfume on my body, what she really did was anoint me for burial. You can be sure that wherever in the whole world the Message is preached, what she has just done is going to be remembered and admired.  – Matthew 26:10-13 {The Message}

I don’t know what your life looks like today but I can tell you this. Jesus says your daily offerings are important even though they might seem wasteful by others’ standards.

I’ve lost many years’ wages. I’ve “wasted” years of education. But I only have this one window of opportunity to love my people well right now {while maintaining a semblance of my own sanity.} I’m learning that the teenage years require an availability and energy level that surpass the little years. I’m sorry if you don’t have teenagers yet and that sentence just ruined your day.

Like Mary, we have a brief window to overflow with the specific kind of devotion that each season requires. It probably doesn’t look like anointing someone with expensive perfume and suffering public humiliation in the process. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t costly. Service is costly. Forgoing your own desires in order to equip and love another person is always costly.

Maybe other people won’t get it. There will be days when even you don’t get it. Will you believe Jesus over public opinion and even over your own opinion? He says your right-now devotion is beautiful, that it’s a proclamation of the Gospel, that it’s a unique and sacred part of God’s purpose for you, for those you love, and for the world.

{And then will you turn around and repeat this truth back to me? Every day, I seem to forget all over again.}

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Earlier this week I was hustling out of the grocery store with bags of food that have since been devoured. The strangest awareness washed over me right there in the parking lot.

cheeseboard bfast

I get to do this. I get to do all of this. And it’s bringing me joy — not all the time, but at least for today. Dear God, only you could work this sort of miracle within my stubborn heart. Thank you. And keep doing it. 

One day I won’t be needed in this way but now is not that time.

I want to receive this fleeting season as a gift in the same way that I received the long ago baby season as a gift.

I want to look back on this one, merciful opportunity and call it beautiful.

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You may also enjoy:

How a 92-year-old Woman Taught Me the Real Value of my Right-Now Work

How to Pursue Your Hoped-for in the Midst of Your Right-Now Life: A Series


 

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