Friday, July 1, 2016

When We Try to Bubble Wrap Our Lives

Living is really messy.

Maybe you don't need to have four kids to tell you that, but this is part of what having four kids has taught me.

And its not just the kind of messy where little fingers leave peanut butter and jelly prints all the way down the fridge and across the wall and through the woods all the way through the house they go kind of messy or the the kind of messy that produces piles of dirty laundry or dirty dishes or dirty floors or dirty cars.

Living is also the kind of messy that means hurt feelings, disagreements, failure and heartache.

This year, I've tried, like, really tried to organize the physical messiness out of life with chore charts, organization and schedules.

Somewhere in this attempt at organization, I had also implemented tight regulations and protective boundaries to minimize further chaos.

Let me honestly tell you that this whole organizing the mess started as a survival thing because of the need for high structure in bringing home our two adopted daughters and the shear crazed schedule that went along with that; four kids at three different school environments with various therapy and educational needs and no bussing help and me being the tether holding it all together meant we did honestly needed more structure and organization in our life in order for life to work.

But somewhere in all of that organization and keeping the structure standing, I got a little lost and I stopped just short of bubble wrapping and securing with duct tape all of the kids.

Sometimes the line between organization and controlling the chaos is so thin we find it impossible to walk without tripping face first into control freak.

As my efforts at organization morphed into attempts at controlling the chaos, I found that my joy flat out fizzled beneath the weight of it all. As did the joy of the other people in our house. It was a miserable month.

I was fortunate enough to have a friend speak hard but truthful words into my life, reminding me that we cannot take the potential for messy out of life without also taking out a lot of the potential for joy. Really living includes experiencing a full gamut of emotions and learning to navigate all of them, even the unpleasant ones.

More simply, really living is the kind of messy I am finding I cannot organize the mess out of ... At least not without great cost. There is great cost in trying to control the chaos that is life, and try as I may, I've been finding that I just cannot bubble wrap feelings, emotions or experiences without ending up just completely deflated.

Feelings are going to be hurt, and this can't be avoided without avoiding relationships or staying shallow in them because the risk of being hurt is a function of being in relationships comprised of different people sharing different thoughts, ideas and feelings.

Being known and loved because you're awesome is awesome.

Being known and loved because you are you in all of your awesome imperfectness is called unconditional love.

Mistakes are going to be made, and this is part of learning, growing and just being plain and simple human.

Ideas are going to fail, and this is part of the process of succeeding because in order to create we must innovate and try new things, of which many won't quite work.

While I haven't given up my chore charts and I'm stopping just short of implementing spreadsheets because oh, dear God, is nothing sacred to me anymore, I'm finding myself learning to recognize more and more what kinds of boundaries and organization are good and life giving and life sustaining and joy bringing

and which ones are just flat out life sucking.

Having four children has taught me a great deal about the difference of living in the fullness of joy and just barely surviving.

It's taught me organization has its place.

And it's taught me that, yes, living is really messy.

But more than all of that it's taught me that really living is worth the mess.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Best Call I Never Would Have Made

My family and a team of six others from our home church recently returned from several weeks spent in Latvia. During our time there we served at a local church's Kids' Camp. Here is a story from the last day of Kids Camp in Karaosta at Light of the Gospel church, one that's actually really humbling to share, but alas. 

I couldn't understand it at first.

What would draw a teen boy to attend a church's Kids' Camp?

Was it the guaranteed two meals a day?

A friend?

A girl?

It just seemed so odd to me that he would come day after day and engage in the stuff of smaller children.

Even so, it was a joy to get to slowly know him and the other few teens who attended the children's camp through Light of the Gospel and HIM in Karaosta, Latvia.

It was a joy to be with him and sit next to him day after day and together explore the word of God through creativity.

My disappointment ran deep Friday morning when I didn't see his face at morning exercise and breakfast; maybe he'd had enough of the activities.

Around 10:15, though, he came into worship late and promptly gave me a high five as he walked toward his friends. Jelena, the youth pastor's wife, noticed he came in late and served him breakfast.

I went over to sit by him as the others sang morning worship songs. 

He scarfed his breakfast and then suddenly he cupped his hand over his mouth and ran out the door.

What on earth?

I went to check on him and realized he had gotten sick to his stomach and breakfast didn't stay put.

For anyone who knows me well, you know my kryptonite is puke. I'm a sympathy puker who gets taken out of the game by anyone around falling victim. This also means I am not the puke parent in our home. The mere mention of it normally sends me into waves of nausea.

Thankfully Jelena helped him and got the bathroom cleaned and I thought for sure he'd be on his way back home.

But he just went over to worship with the others.

That was about the point where I realized the deep need camp was meeting for him, and this was also the point I suddenly felt the need to sanitize my whole body. 

Seriously, puke is just the worst for me, and I began being consumed by a deep fear of puking kids on the plane ride home as as virus slowly spread through our team of 13.

I could not even.

Judge me if you will because I know.

I know it doesn't make sense, and it's really dumb and ridiculous.

Aren't all of our fears when they stand next to Jesus?

I found myself praying for supernatural stomach strength when I worked with him during craft time. 

At lunch, he sat down and chowed on his food so maybe, I'd reasoned, it was a fluke.

But then almost immediately he rushed back to the bathroom.

No such fluke.

I made my way over to let Jelena know; certainly she'd have to gently suggest that he head home if he already didn't have that idea. Who would want to risk getting an entire group of campers sick, I'd rationalized.

Again, though, she just cleaned up the mess and he went back for final group time and worship and to wrap up the camp week with his group.

This was about the point I was so perplexed as to what I was missing that I went to one of the camp co-coordinators and asked her to please please please please help me understand why this is so different than how we do things at home? What about the potential for a rapid spread of stomach bug among the campers? 

She must have seen the desperation and the fear in my eyes because she took the time to reply in depth: What he's going home to would probably not be a great situation and at least here he is taken care of and fed not only physically but also spiritually.

Oh, I thought as the shear understanding of "what would make a teenage boy come repeatedly to a kids' camp?" came crashing down on me. Stronger than any allure of a girl, any pressure from friends, any thought of "this is for children" to a teenage mind, Jesus' love was bringing him back day after day after day.

He wasn't just being fed physical food; he was being fed the very Bread of Life. And he wanted more.

Plus, the camp co-coordinator said, Latvians have strong immune systems. It's not like in America when a whole class goes down from one virus. 

Oh, I said, rendered sorta speechless.

Having a better understanding of the situation, I shut my mouth ... but still prayed the virus wouldn't spread to the rest of the kids and our team.

God took care of even that part of my heart that was still seeking selfish thoughts when about two minutes later Pastor asked any kids to come up front so we could pray for them if they wanted to start a relationship with Jesus.

The kids began pouring into the aisle and walking toward the front ... And there he went.

At that point, I began crying the kind of hot tears that were a complicated mix of extreme gratitude and extreme sadness and embarrassment over the state of my heart.

Whereas I judged the decision not to send him home and selfishly hoped someone would so no one else would get sick, I was instead overcome with gratitude for Jelena's decision to welcome him to stay, her better decision.

Jelena saw what was better. It was better to care for his soul than get stuck on the hangups of the flesh. If he felt well enough to go back to worship, who in her right mind should stop him? 

As I thanked God for her better decision, I thought about how often I let not as important things take precedence over the more important things of life.

Everything from finances to relationships to life decisions have been influenced by pervasive popular thought of choosing what makes sense instead of what is right, what is bigger-picture better. I'm so tempted to let my fears determine my faith instead of my faith determining my fears. 

While we walked to the bus after camp ended, again I cried as I thought about my selfish heart and I repented of my fear of something so petty as puke. Stomach bugs come and go, and I want to love like nothing would stop me from helping others know the great love of our Creator.

As I've thought of this experience with my teenage friend over and over again, God has used something so vile to me as puke to remind me of His great love and challenge me into a new way of thinking: never forsake the eternal for the temporary.

I'm so thankful to have witnessed someone else make the best call I never would have made.