When Summer Fell Flat But They Got Awesome at Minecraft

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Hi! How was your summer?

That’s great!

How was my summer?

I plead the 5th.

Nothing — and I mean nothing — about this summer is what I expected it to be. I got awesome at sweating and stressing and my kids got awesome at iPad apps and watching Minecraft videos. My boys now know that you can actually get rich playing video games professionally and posting YouTube videos about it.

This is information I wish they could un-know.

A week ago I ate dinner at 12:30 in the A.M. So technically, I skipped Sunday’s dinner and ate a way early Monday breakfast of lukewarm beans and rice. I share that random bit of trivia because it’s sort of a barometer of life as I’ve known it lately.

Summer was moving right along and then we decided in early July to get our house ready to sell. We hadn’t planned on it. But as we considered the future and took a squinty-eyed look at some things, we decided that yes, we could actually try to sell our sweet abode and perhaps move closer to where much of our living takes place so that my primary place of residence is not a crumb-laden, high-mileage Toyota Sienna.

And so we said yes and hired some stuff out and worked our fingers to the bone and that’s when Crazy and all her relatives decided to show up and prop their grubby feet right up on the coffee table. Major appliances broke. Minor appliances broke. All sorts of things that are much bigger than appliances also broke. Things like plans and expectations and budgets and having a clue. And in the process, my sanity and confidence broke a little bit too.

Apparently so did my sweat glands because I felt like I lived in a state of perpetual perspiration. It’s like menopause swooped in for the summer and stole my deodorant just to show me how fun life is going to be in about 10 years.

I’ve cried nearly every day of the summer. Because stress makes me cry but so does nostalgia. I’ve lived longer in this house than any house in which I’ve ever lived. Some of the best days of my life happened in this house and also some of the very worst. It’s a mixed bag but it’s ours. This house and this ‘hood have been our home for 9 years and when I visualize another place, it feels like I’m cheating on this one.

When the house finally listed, I couldn’t bring myself to put the sign in the yard for two days. I couldn’t even talk about it.

And all of this is why I haven’t been able to write or blog or think. The loudness of life has drowned out the quiet and numbed my ability to listen. Rest has seemed laughable. Stress has skewed my perspective. I’ve insulated and isolated and not exercised and eaten an array of new Ben and Jerry’s flavors {win}. My clothes don’t exactly fit and my nerves are rather frayed and I’ve told myself that I’ll put this old girl back together again once the kids start school.

Because how do you make a house look not lived in when five people live here? How do you make needful headway when three children and a dog are home all day and they need things like food and water and band-aids and baths and a nice mom?

I wouldn’t know. I have simply survived. We all have. We’ve also helped that sector of our local economy which specializes in prepared food that passes through windows.

And all of this has a way of making a mom with hopes and expectations for the summer feel like quite a failure by summer’s end.

Summers can be the best of times and the worst of times. I doubt our foremothers were wrought with as much expectation as we modern moms. They were too busy canning vegetables and not getting sucked into the internet. Meanwhile their children were milking cows and then playing unsupervised until dinnertime. They didn’t have Pinterest and blogs and social media vacation photos to make them feel like their lives didn’t quite measure up. I kind of envy those pre-internet moms.

All I can see is the good and the fun and the plans left undone.

All I can ask for is forgiveness and redemption.

Yet in the midst of the crazy and the dashed expectations and the disappointing outcomes, God has been here and He has been so good.

He has sent such personal help and kindness. He has reminded me of who He is and what He can do, usually in the midst of very broken moments. He has been my God here in what feels like Chapter 197 of “The Unfixable Life.” He has kept loving me even though I’ve chosen badly on any given day and I don’t always know if I’m making the right decisions and I feel overwhelmed and so much of life seems “off.” He has seen what I lack but reminded me to be grateful. He has shown me some messy truth that I’ve needed to see even though it’s hurt and I’ve wanted to look away.

He has sustained all of us even though our little world has felt flung into chaos.

I keep coming back to this verse in Hebrews:

and he upholds the universe by the word of his power…

Each time I read it, my shoulders loosen and I exhale the deep breath I don’t even realize I’m holding. I let go of the control I never had to begin with and I know that I have one real job to do. And that is to trust.

To trust the Universe Holder with everything from rioting cities and broken people to the houses we live in and a summer that desperately needs redemption. To trust Him with their school-year that feels scary and my faith that seems fragile. At best.

To simply trust Him with all that has gone before and all that is yet to come because He upholds it all.

And therefore we don’t have to. We simply carry on, one day at a time, knowing that we can plan our way but it’s the Lord who establishes our steps on this spinning globe. When I really believe that, it changes everything.

Seasons end and new ones begin.

Disappointment fades a bit as acceptance and hope take root.

I count the gifts of all that is good and right. I look back and choose to see the lovely days and moments in the midst of the messy ones: finishing our two-year journey together with Harry, Ron, and Hermione; watching my boys play golf; precious visits from far-away friends; spending time with family; eating too much ice-cream; sleeping in…oh the sleeping in.

I accept that big decisions can heave our everydays into stress and chaos from which we feel like we will never return. It happens. It’s hard. But it is temporary and we’ve all been in it together. It may not have felt like “quality time” but it was time together and that matters more than we think.

I especially acknowledge that children will see these summer days far differently than I probably see them. And that my boys may well declare the Summer of 2014 as the Summer of Minecraft Domination / The Summer I Decided to Give My Life to Professional Gaming / The Summer I Quit My Brain. / The Summer of Win?

We can only go up from here.

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I loved this post yesterday by Gina Detweiler: For the mom who feels like she failed summer.

And then there’s this classic post from last summer — Worst End of Summer Mom Ever {A Sequel} — by Jen Hatmaker that’s so worth re-reading {while not sipping a fizzy beverage because it will surely come out of your nose and burn your mucous membranes while you are laughing and crying in agreement.}

Moral of the story? You’re not alone.

As much as we’re all ready for the freedom from schedules and routine by the end of May, most of us are equally desperate for the order and structure of a new school-year and the consolation that formal education will save our sweet children from a future of professional Minecrafting, lucrative though it may be.

So if you see me at my local Starbucks today, eyes glazed over despite my second macchiato, just pat me on the back and say, “You made it through the summer, soldier. Now go take a nap. You’ve earned it.”

5 Things I Learned in April

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How is it the end of the April already? And why do we ask non-sensical questions about the passage of time like that? I’m waiting for someone to say, Well, it’s the end of April because the vernal equinox is ten degrees closer to blah, blah blah, and then actually explain from a scientific perspective how it is the end of the month or the end of summer or whatever. Also? I have no idea what the vernal equinox is and it if has anything to do with seasons. But you know what I mean — this spring seems to have flown by and it’s the end of another month and that means it’s time to share the things we learned in April. The What We Learned posts are hosted by Emily Freeman as a “monthly community link-up to share the fascinating, ridiculous, sacred, or small.” Mine is usually just ridiculous. Want to know more of what I’m talking about? Go here. In no particular order, here are things I’ve learned in April.

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1. @HistoricalPics is one of the best things on Twitter. I’m not really on Twitter very much but I’m a huge fan of these pics, probably because I taught American History and used loads of photos and other images in my courses. They post everything from pop culture icons in their more candid moments to Kennedy family photos to Ronald Reagan. In sweatpants. On Air Force One. You’re welcome for that one.

Here’s just a recent sampling of their pics.

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Beauty product ad from 1891. And now everyone is wishing it was still 1891.

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On the set of Star Wars. It’s almost like a cast selfie. Maybe Harrison Ford is holding up a camera in his right hand?

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MJ and Mr. T. I pity the fool who doesn’t think these pics are totally awesome.

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Ronald Reagan wearing sweatpants on Air Force One. Words cannot express how much I love this picture. I die every time I look at it.

2. Having a 13-year-old on social media means that I have fewer secrets. I recently posted this photo on Instagram with the caption: “The jar was full yesterday.” #irony.

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Three minutes later my daughter came busting into my room asking for Jellybeans. Moms, be careful when posting photos of treats you don’t want to share.

3. And speaking of that book in the picture? Apparently I have a history of fuzzy and even non-existent boundaries. This explains a lot. I also wish I’d read this book about ten years ago. That’s all I’m going to say about it for now but maybe I’ll do a little review of it when I finish. It’s good but I’m not gonna lie, it’s messing with me a little bit.

4. There is always cash in the attic. I’ve been keeping my eye out for a “new” sofa for a while. And by “a while,” I mean about three years. I needed a deal but I didn’t want to scrimp on quality. A couple of weeks ago, I came across a listing on Craigslist for a $1,000 Rowe sofa priced at $150. I knew it was too good to be true. I was wrong. The sofa was just one of many lovely furniture items sitting in a gorgeous lake house. The couple was moving and getting rid of their extra furnishings. Needing to pay cash and being a bit short on it at the time, I sold a coffee maker, a mirror, some stamping sets I never used, and a collection of cookbooks. Junk in my attic = a new sofa in my living room. It’s been a good reminder that there are always things we can let go of in order to reach a goal.

Here’s a cell phone pic of the new sofa {and a bunch of junk I need to clean up.} I am all kinds of giddy. I’ve snagged some sweet deals in my life but this one may be the winner.

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5. Spinning is not just something I did as a child on the merry-go-round. It is also not for babies. I mentioned in my last post that I haven’t run in six weeks due to an injury and how I reluctantly joined a gym in an effort to restore my mental health and add some civility back into my disposition. So far I’ve done some weights and the elliptical machine. This morning I did a spin class customized by a friend of mine, a fellow runner who swears by cross-training. I’m not sure why people make such a fuss over waterboarding and stuff like that. Just have the not-in-shape prisoners do some weights and take a spin class. They will spill all their secrets and then beg for mercy.

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So there you have it, the life-changing stuff I learned in April. Now I’m going to go look up what the vernal equinox is so that I can feel dumb. On top of feeling sore and wimpy.

What about you? Anything amazing, life-changing, or ridiculous you’ve learned in April?

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The Real Jesus. Part 2: When Wounds Take You So Low, You Can Only Look Up

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This is the second part in a three-part series this week. If you missed the last post, The Real Jesus. Part 1: The Unfixable Life, you can read that here.

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It was about three years ago. I remember sitting on my beige {formerly off-white} sofa. The old one that sags in the middle, worn and well-loved and with our family’s very DNA pressed into its fibers. My husband sat across from me in the plaid overstuffed chair. In the most passionate, compelling, and authentic way, he was trying to point me to Jesus.

But it just didn’t resonate with me and I couldn’t manufacture what he had. He knew Jesus in a way that I didn’t. His own journey had brought him face to face with the Jesus I couldn’t quite touch yet. There he sat, encouraging me with the gospel of grace and I couldn’t grab hold of it. His brokenness and humility had taken him to the cross in a way that was so very real and life-altering. I envied him.

Don’t get me wrong. I knew Jesus. I loved Him. I believed in Him. Intellectually I knew that my faith, my worldview, my hope — they were all anchored in Christ.

What I finally figured out and admitted to my husband that night in the living room was this: Jesus seemed like an abstraction. I didn’t know Him in the needful and desperate way I longed to know Him. Yes, it grieved me that He suffered and died on my behalf, on the world’s behalf. And yes, I was so very grateful. Of course. How could I not be?

I don’t want this to sound sacrilegious but I don’t know of another way to explain it. I liken it to a soldier who died for my life and my freedom or my family’s lives and freedoms. If the soldier was my husband, my brother, my son — well … the sorrow, the disbelief, and the deep-down gratitude would obviously flow too deep for words. It would change everything. But if the soldier was a man I never personally knew, perhaps someone I’d only read about in the newspaper, I would be sorrowful and grateful but in a more detached way. That’s because I didn’t actually know him and love him and need him; I merely appreciated him and what he’d done for me.

And that’s sort of how I approached Jesus, with intellectual knowledge and detached appreciation.

I had grown up in church. Jesus Loves Me was probably the first song I ever learned. At the age of eight, I sought a personal relationship with him. Yet here I was, 37 years old, telling my husband that Jesus was an abstraction to me.

When I first began praying, Jesus, make yourself real to me, the prayer I’ve prayed for the last three years, I actually thought something crazy and supernatural might happen right there in my living room. A vision. An overwhelming flood of the divine. An angel sitting next to me on the dilapidated sofa.

I wish I was kidding.

Desperation makes us crazy sometimes. I naturally have the heart of a skeptic; belief has never come easily. I needed something undeniably real and I half-heartedly hoped {and feared} that He would answer me in a powerful way. And quick. I was that anxious for Him to show up in an unmistakable way. I longed for a savior and a friend and a healer in my everyday unfixable life. Having Jesus for eternity seemed fine and good but let’s be honest — when the heavy pain of the everyday is bearing down on us hard, it’s not easy to cling to an abstraction or even to eternity. We want flesh and blood real.

And that’s exactly how He showed up.

It wasn’t immediate. It wasn’t a formula. It definitely wasn’t a vision in my living room. Rather, it was a slow knowing over months and years, a knowing that came to me through many different means of grace:

Scripture

Prayer

Counseling

Deep and honest community

Rest

Counseling others who were hurting

Listening to sermons {“The Wounded Spirit” by Tim Keller is a particular favorite.}

Reading books written by other struggling saints

Journaling

Conflict

Silence

Time

Practicing gratitude 

As weeks turned to months and months turned into years, I realized that Jesus was becoming more real, more touchable. He really was answering that simple, desperate prayer: Make yourself real to me.

His flesh and blood real life began to show up in my flesh and blood real life.

Scripture says that by his wounds you have been healed. Here’s what I know about wounds. They leave scars. In my quest to find relief and healing, I was strangely fixated on the concept of scars and how we resent the marks of imperfection they leave on us, sometimes staying with us forever. But early on in this journey, I was struck by the fact that Jesus chose to keep his own scars and the irony of Jesus healing our woundedness with his very own wounds.

I’m going to talk more scars in the next post, but for now, here’s what we need to know about them. We can be raised to new life and never lose our scars, our keepsakes of redemption.

And while there is more grace and hope and “beauty from ashes” than we can fathom, sometimes we’re still left to grapple with the consequences and to suffer through them day after day. Sometimes the consequences we face in this broken world full of broken people keep us from being able to fully bask in the beauty because we’re so smeared with the ash.

We’re gripped with fear and set off by triggers. Our physical and emotional health unravels. We see good things we can no longer have and we gaze upon once beautiful gifts now tainted. Relationships break. Dreams shatter. Things fall apart. Loved ones die. The innocent suffer. People hurt us. We hurt others.

I used to fixate on the overwhelming nature of the unfixableness of it all. I may always be prone to wrestle with the pain of this world more deeply than most people. I’ve always been wired this way.

But here’s the tenderness of the Father. If I didn’t have all of this brokenness, I’d run to Him less. If I didn’t have these still-healing wounds, I’d have little need of his balm. If my problems were manageable, well, I’d be managing them all by my capable self.

On my not-so-good days, I’m still prone to stew in resentment. I want to hide myself and my story. Sometimes because I’m prideful. Sometimes because I’m overwhelmed. Sometimes because I’m scared. But then there are those days of unmistakable grace, those day when I remember that in all things I can give thanks, that for those who love God all things work together for good, that in Christ we are a new creation, and that in Christ there is now no condemnation. On those days, I can see my brokenness as a gift and I can even dare to give thanks for all of it.

A dear and wise friend has reminded me more often than she knows that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. It was the very theme of Jesus’ earthly ministry {in my non-expert opinion.} This is the best news and it’s really the lens through which we see the Real Jesus.

Cluelessness and neediness and brokenness take you low, to that low place at the foot of the cross. When you’re there, bowed low in humility and dressed in emotional rags, you just have to look up. You have to.

Because you can’t help but notice what’s happening there. You see — hurting friend, will you please see — that the only perfect man who has ever lived — perfect in compassion, in love, in justice, in mercy, in power, in wisdom — He has dared to sink even lower than you because of his great love. He came to save you from your broken and bruised unfixable life and He did it by dying for you. He broke himself to redeem a broken world filled with broken lives.

Here’s the real truth. Whether all is well or all seems lost, we’re all born into an unfixable life. We can’t help it. There may be seasons, maybe years on end, when things are so swell, we forget how broken we actually are, how broken the world actually is. Give it time. None of us walk around on this spinning globe for long without shards of its brokenness leaving scars.

But it’s the gaping wounds, the ones we can’t bind on our own, the ones that if left unattended will make us bleed out altogether, it’s those that bring us crawling to that low place. And it’s there on that sacred, scorned, blood-soaked earth that we find both our Kindred and our Healer, the One who has suffered with us and for us and who heals us with his very blood.

We see that He’s got a gaping wound too — lots of them — and we see that He bled out even to the point of death so that we don’t have to.

It’s at the foot of the cross where things get real because we see that Jesus — fully man, fully God, fully perfect — bled out his love all over us.

This is the Real Jesus and this is where He becomes real to us. This is where He became real to me.

He is not some haloed, abstract, first-century saint printed on a Sunday School poster or painted on a tacky interstate billboard. He’s not simply someone we are supposed to believe in and ask into our hearts because He’s a ticket to Heaven. We don’t cash Him in like that.

He is our life. Our life forever, yes, but that’s really too much for our mortal minds to comprehend. He’s our life now. Today.

This unfixable life of yours and mine? He came to fix it but not usually in the way we expect. And He came with a generosity so big, He dares to promise, I came to give you life abundantly. Not in a prosperity gospel sort of way; He’s not cheap and slick. He is our abundance and if we have Him, we really do have all we need. We have a Counselor who has given us a way to live through His spirit at work in us and through his Word. We have a Savior who not only saves us from our sin {that broken, unfixed state we can’t help}, but who also saves us from ourselves, from what we think we want, and yes, even from an eternity spent apart from his presence.

But here’s the one that really speaks to me on those particularly unfixable days. We have a Kindred Healer, one who was tempted in every way, one who has hurt in every possible way, one who has been wounded, forsaken, falsely accused, put to shame, mocked, and ignored. One who knows what it’s like to lose the person you love most. On a real day in history, a real Jesus died an actual death on a real cross. God the Father turned his back on his beloved Son to make us His beloved. On the cross, Jesus — an innocent, bleeding man — cried out to his Abba Father, My God! Why have you forsaken me?

On that cross every single sin in the history of the world — every murder, assault, violation, theft, and lie; every illicit behavior, perversion, and selfish act; every impure thought, malicious desire, and unspeakable indifference to the oppressed — was all laid upon a perfect man. He died with it, descended with it, and reckoned with it.

And then he came back without it. He came back without it. 

Oh bleeding, wounded friend, do you know what this means? It means we can be rescued from the power and penalty of the brokenness too. In believing and receiving this truth, this person who is Truth — it saves us in both the eternal and the everyday sense. Jesus as Savior means He’s our Rescuer. Our Rescuer in an eternal sense, yes, but also our personal Rescuer as we put one foot in front of the other through each and every unfixable day and in each and every unfixable situation.

Jesus, as Kindred Healer, comes to you when you’re bowed low beneath the shadow of the cross and He tenderly lifts your face to meet his gaze. He sees what a mess you are — the bleeding wound here, the twelve-inch scar there, the heart that has been broken a hundred times too many, the conscience that is seared over and over again with shame, the mind that is clouded with doubt or confused by deceit or rattled by dysfunction. He sees you in that seemingly unfixable state and He comes to your rescue by journeying with you.

Sometimes the only thing that’s really changed is the company you keep.

And as you journey together through the Unfixable Life, you finally realize that He is Real. And He is all you need.

By his wounds you have been healed.

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Friday I’ll be back with the rest of the story. We’ll hear more about the journey through the healing process and the real truth about our scars. I’ll also share a few resources through which I’ve found comfort, truth, healing, and the Real Jesus. Thanks for grace as I offer this series that’s so very different than my usual fare.

May your own journey this Holy Week lead you that low place at the foot of the cross.

The Real Jesus: Part 1. The Unfixable Life.

The Real Jesus: Part 3. Why We Keep Our Scars

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