For all of you mommas at back-to-school time! Or for anyone who has a lot of balls in the air…I hope this encourages you in that dance!
This cookie cake sums up our weekend; it turned out to be…not exactly what we envisioned.
Mary was going to write her name in cursive and it was going to say “Jesus loves Mary” in a fancy font just like you’d see in a bakery. We were going to serve it to our entire family gathered together on the eve of her baptism.
As her parents, Will and I were thrilled when she decided she wanted to be baptized. We were baptized almost seven years ago on a somewhat spontaneous trip to the Tennessee River. As friends who had been instrumental in our coming to know Christ looked on and cheered, it was one of the most special days of our entire lives. We felt so alive coming out of that water.
So naturally, we had high hopes for this Sunday, February 10th, as our oldest daughter was ready to take that exciting plunge.
The church video was ready, the family’s plane tickets were booked, the outfit was laid out…and then it hit our home like a freight train. Oh, yes it did—the flu. Anna came down with it first. It was a curveball for sure, but not a total knockout. Then John came down hard. Not only flu, but croup. Our house became a hacking war zone as Will and I ran around with Lysol trying to stay alive. One after another, the family members cancelled their trips.
While we wanted to share Mary’s faith with our loved ones who were ready to cheer her on, we did not want to share the flu with anyone who came near us on this special day. It just seemed all wrong.
This opened the door for a challenging conversation with Mary. We talked about how comforting it is that some things never change, like God’s incredible love for her, whether or not she is even baptized. We talked about His unchanging character and the miracle of our unchanging status with Him in Christ. Then we talked about the things in life that do shift. We wrestled with the fact that sometimes things just don’t make sense. But when we don’t understand why things go wrong, we can trust God and know He must have something better in mind.
Mary agreed to postpone her baptism until May. She was born on the first day of spring and it seems only fitting that our first-day-of-spring baby would be baptized in the spring. Her birthday and baptism date will be tangible reminders that winter ends and new life comes. I don’t know what other parts of the story will unfold or what other details will be tied up, but I do believe it will be just what it should be! There’s a freedom and peace knowing we can’t mess up what God has for her and nothing can increase or decrease His love for our girl.
We spent the morning in our pajamas watching church online and celebrating other people’s baptisms from afar.
The message was about how we often come to God to change our circumstances but He responds by meeting our deepest need: He changes our hearts from the inside out. He offers us grace…and it’s a grace that is sufficient.
The only thing Mary requested is that we still make that cookie cake. We laughed as the blobs of pink icing poured out. And we talked about how just like the cookie cake, our lives are imperfect, downright messy and not exactly what we envision sometimes.
But Jesus says to taste and see that He is good (Psalm 34:8). And through twists and turns and changing plans and letting go of how we may have written the script, I believe He delights in showing us—He is even better than we thought.
Will and I visited family in Knoxville for the 4th, and we went on a jog along the “crazy path”. It’s a running path that winds along the Tennessee River in a beautiful area of ball fields and rolling hills. The locals call it “crazy” because it circles a place that was once an insane asylum. It is also crazy because there is a ridiculously, steep, long, winding hill at the end of the four miles. Before you can spot the finish, you battle the crazy.
This path has its unique challenges, but all races have the same elements. The start is hopeful, the middle is steady, the finish is awesome adrenaline, but the stretch right before the end is the hardest part. It’s when endurance and perseverance are tested.
It’s the “already, but not yet”; the place right before the victory. The place of struggle right before the captive is set free, right before the addict comes clean, the stretch of night right before dawn, right before the breakthrough. It’s where doubt takes its final jab at you before it loses you forever. It’s the place of process that paints the promise. Your flesh is weak, your mind is strong, your faith is secure, the finish is absolutely guaranteed, but you’re not there yet. And in that place is the fight.
In many ways, it’s where we all are. Jesus has redeemed our souls, called us out of darkness and into his marvelous light, made us brand new, perfected our spirits and guaranteed the finish with him free from the presence of all sin and death. But, we are here living in our flesh in this broken world. We are citizens of heaven, but not there yet.
And so, when I got to this place on that insane hill, I pushed hard. I was on fire thinking of writing an inspiring blog post on endurance through hardship (because I write in my mind while I run and have crossed many finish lines lately in the Lord’s strength) and as I headed up that quarter mile of crazy, something totally surprising happened…I quit. Runners were briskly walking downhill facing me and I could see their acknowledgment of my struggle. I felt it. Pride crept in, shame crept in, my legs gave out, and I quit.
I hung my head down and walked the rest of the way up to the finish line, defeated. Was my faith not strong enough today? Why could my mind not overcome my body? I knew the truth that I was strong enough to do it, and yet I fell short. The July heat added pressure and I buckled.
And then, in that moment as I sauntered to the end of the path in self pity, I felt God gently whisper, “Lift your head up, my girl…I love you just the same. Today is a part of the journey. I will never leave you. I will make you stronger. I will finish what I’ve started. You may have quit today, but I will never quit on you. My mercies are new each morning. My grace is enough. We’ll try again. Seasons will change, this heat will lift and we’ll come back to this same place, and to all the places, victorious. You’ll see.”
And, I can see it. I believe without a doubt, we will make it up the crazy hill. In my mind it has already happened…just not yet.
“But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high.”
Psalm 3:3 NIV
“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”
Philippians 1:6 NLT
Have you ever thought things were going to go one way and they ended up another? For those of you who need a laugh, I wanted to share this picture:
The title: “Nightmare at Salon SoVain.” It was indeed a nightmare! I didn’t intend to bring John and Anna on this long-awaited hair appointment, but my sitter cancelled and little John faked sick, something he has done a handful of times since getting a train table for Christmas. So, there we were. All three of us in a tiny, fancy space.
At one point, John was pressing his tongue on the fragile, clean mirror while Anna was bouncing up and down on my lap screeching. I wanted to hide under my cape. Then, when I went to get shampooed, Anna crawled up on my chest and stuck her fingers in the water. As I wrestled her down, John had a meltdown because his movie ended and he wondered where his mommy went. He had to be escorted back by another stylist, and there I was with both children on top of my chest during the shampoo. I held them and looked around and thought, “this just doesn’t fit.”
My expectations for what the salon should be and the reality of my experience collided in two very different pictures. I had a clear image for how this was going to go, and this was not it. And, as I held tightly onto my expectations for the day, they were making me crazy and literally wanting to pull my hair out! So I had a choice to make; keep fighting for them or let them go. I gave up the fight, stepped the reality of the day and gave myself grace to take a nap after the salon.
As a mom of three young kids, my days rarely go as planned. And I often find myself in this battle with the formidable opponent of expectations. Ones I put on myself and ones I (probably falsely) believe others put on me.
There are expectations for how much I can do in a day, how many people I can serve outside my home, how fast I can run after having three kids, how my house should look, how a “good mom” should parent her children, how domestic I should be, how quickly I can cultivate friendships in this stage of life, the list goes on. And in all of these, my expectations and reality paint two different pictures. When I insist on the first, I miss the real life in the other.
Expectations have a way of inviting the intruders of entitlement and comparison into the territory of thanksgiving and joy that has been won for us. When we hold onto them, they put an ugly frame around the gift of the present. They push away the honesty that ushers in grace. Expectations of who and how we should be lead us to pretend…pretend with God, others and ourselves. And this pretending blinds us to the grace that’s available to us in the present.
Expectations can be a prison and I’m learning to break free of them! Rather than holding onto them tightly, I am learning to hold tightly onto grace. Because expectations are about striving, and grace is about surrender. Expectations say “I’ll be enough when,” but grace says “I’m enough in Him.” Expectations are often rooted in fear, but grace is always rooted in love.
Expectations see “imperfection.” Grace sees “I’m perfection.”
Expectations come from the world, but grace comes from God. And He is teaching me how to freely embrace my messy life as it is. Rather than strive to change it, I am inviting grace in to change me. And from that scandalous grace in the midst of chaos and unmet expectations comes a peace that surpasses even the quietest salon experience.