all I ever have to be

Library of Congress, Dorthea Lange, 1939

I really am deeply grateful for my life. But there are moments, seasons when discouragement gets the upper hand.

Frankly, I’m amazed at how quickly and easily I am discouraged.

I’m more fragile than I would like to think.

I started out the morning feeling sorry for myself. Sorry about myself.

A look in the mirror, a step on the scale, a careless word remembered, the pile of books and laundry and things I should do that fills the chair I love but haven’t sat in for weeks,  failure to meet a registration deadline . . .

I am learning to do battle against discouragement with gratitude . . .

Thank You God that my husband loves You so much. That he works hard to provide for our family. That he fought hard against addiction and defeated it with Your help.

Thank You for four healthy, beautiful children who have blessed our life.

Thank You for a loving extended family. For precious friends.

Thank You for my cottage near the sea, in spite of the tiny living room, mossy roof, musty carpet and sulphery water.

Thank You for the sun burning through the marine layer, reminding me of the hour and that it’s time to go to work. Thank You that I have a job to help supplement during these stressful economic times.

Thank you that we have food to eat, gas in the cars, a roof over our heads and clothes to wear.

Thank you for fresh strawberries, and homemade ice cream . . .

So much to be grateful for.  

But I’m hardly ever — maybe never — grateful for me.

For who I am. For where I am.

I am impatient with my own imperfection.

I want to clean myself up before people see me.

I beat myself up for being socially awkward. For not sharing more of my life with others. For being a self-absorbed parent. For the thirty pounds I’ve put on in the past four years. For not calling. Not inviting. Not going. Not being.

This morning, it’s that.

There are days when the years creep back in.

The days, the months, the years I should have been . . . patient with a child, encouraging to my husband, reaching out to a friend or loved one, inviting people to come over, writing a book, exercising, eating right, keeping up photo albums, paying off debt, saving for a house of our own . . .

I’m pretty sure discouragement is what keeps an addict in addiction.

Shouting down the internal voices that call you out on every mistake . . .

The past weighs heavy.

It’s easier to not try to change at all.

Bend down, O Lord, and hear my prayer; answer me, for I need Your help . . .
Give me happiness, O Lord, for I give myself to You . . .
Teach me Your ways . ..
Grant me purity of heart . . .
. . . for Your love for me is very great . . .
Give Your servant strength . . .
Send me a sign of Your favor . . .
Psalm 86

Today, after I read the Psalms and pray, it’s an old song that lifts my spirits . . .

. . . a song I’ve known since I was a teenager trying to figure out who I was and where I was going.

Like Sue Heck on The Middle, I was the girl who enthusiastically tried everything and failed — cheerleading,volleyball, the hurdles, choir, piano — you name it.

I lost that courage somewhere along the road of life.

At some point along the way I realized I was totally uncoordinated. That I had no sense of rhythm. That my heart felt like it would explode and I would pass out if I had to play the piano in public. That I couldn’t carry the harmony unless my friend Angie was standing next to me . . .

And then I grew up. Got married. Had children. And settled into a habit of comparison: If only I was . . .

Today, I woke up doubting. And it’s taken two hours to pray, read, and write out my feelings. To greet the day with joy.

I will make a new list of gratitudes. Not of what is on the outside, but on the inside. What God is doing in my heart.

I know I’m growing. I can’t give up just because I haven’t arrived.

So the song. The one I’m singing this morning:

All I ever have to be
Is what you’ve made me.
Any more or less would be a step
Out of your plan.
As you daily recreate me,
Help me always keep in mind
That I only have to do
What I can find.
And all I ever have to be
All I have to be
All I ever have to be
Is what you’ve made me.

— Amy Grant

Everyone, no matter how old or how accomplished, battles seasons of discouragement. How about you? 

a life as unmanageable as my hair

I will always remember a dear friend’s words. I had three little ones and so did she. Once, when I apologized for not calling her, she said, “That’s okay, Deb. We all know when you have a baby you disappear for about six months.” I loved her so much for knowing me like that. Better than I knew myself.

When I finally saw her again, in the course of our conversation she asked me, “So, Deb, what ARE you doing with your hair these days?” (Only the closest of friends can get away with this stuff.)

Maybe you’ve noticed? I haven’t returned your call or text . . . answered your email.

I’ve dropped off the face of the earth . . . and  let my hair, apparently, go to seed.

* * * * *

I’m not sure I could pinpoint the exact reason for my reclusiveness and coiffure neglect these days. But I know it has to with overwhelmed.

The kids are growing up fast. Our oldest will be a senior in high school this year. Every conversation is tainted with a bit of desperation. What have I missed? What do I need to teach you?

Add up the hours at work, the chores, the activities and appointments that come with four teens and preteens, hitting that age where I must eat right and exercise or I will gain 4 pounds a day, trying to write . . .

* * * * * 

So, I’m reading the Psalms.

I love them because they remind me that the greatest king ever — renowned for being beloved by God — had powerful emotions. He wrote and sang about his misery, his joy, his anger . . . and his overwhelmedness.

Beautiful poetry. The best, really.

Lately I’ve been enamored with the phrase unfailing loveAll the love I can muster is so weak. I fail at love.

Unending mercyLovingkindness. Over and over in the Psalms. A study of verses about God’s unfailing love brought me here:

O my Strength, to you I sing praises,
for you, O God, are my refuge,
the God who shows me unfailing love.
Psalm 59:16-17

O my Strength. A name for God.

Strength. I have none. He is.

* * * * *

I try to avoid the appearance of helplessness. 

I hold my cards close. Measuring each play.

But overwhelmed forces my hand.

The whole mess — thrown down on the table for everyone to see.

And it forces me turn to The One who is Strength itself.

When I finally give in — admit my overwhelmed, confess my independence — prayer and quiet times grow longer. Morning prayers become vital. I draw my strength from His well. Reluctant to leave.

Lord, You ARE my Strength. I cannot do this thing you’ve set before me. Help me!

* * * * *

Overwhelmed is a feeling I know too well. Babies. A husband who struggled with addiction. Jobless. Homeless. Poor.

If I’m honest, my overwhelmed today doesn’t hold a candle to the past.

This overwhelmed is different.

Alongside the Psalms, I open familiar and well-worn books written by women who poured out their hearts on the page decades ago. Long before blogs made this laying down of our cards a thing.

Their words strengthened me in days of hopelessness and are still comfort today. The quotations are long and full of archaic phrases and words, but if you are overwhelmed, they are so worth the read:

His thoughts said, I can no longer.

His Father said, Thou canst. Thou canst do all things through Christ which strengtheneth thee. Is tribulation a new thing to any child of Mine? Shouldest thou expect to be without pressure, batterings, toil, tears, discouragements, disappointments, ingratitudes, obloquies? All my servants had these in abundant measure. Look and thou wilt see their footsteps in the dust of the road. But they had strong consolation and so hast thou. Not to be pitied, but happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God.

Doth the burning sun distress thee? There shall be a shadow from the heat. Art thou beaten by the storm? There shall be a covert for thee from storm and from rain. Or is it that thou art too weary to know why thou art so weary? Then come to Me and I will refresh thee.

— Amy Carmichael, His Thoughts Said

When I speak of burdens I mean everything that troubles us, whether spiritual or temporal. . . The greatest burden we have to carry in life is self. The most difficult thing we have to manage is self. Our own daily living, our frames and feelings, our especial weaknesses and temptations . . . these are the things that perplex and worry us more than anything else, and that bring us oftenest into bondage and darkness. . . You must hand yourself … over into the care and keeping of your God . . . He made you and therefore He understands you and knows how to manage you, and you must trust Him to do it. Say to Him, “Here Lord, I abandon myself, and to make myself what I know I ought to be, but have always failed. Now I give it up to Thee.”

— Hannah Whitall Smith, The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life

* * * * *

I got a haircut this week. A desperate attempt to manage the unmanageable. A fail. It was much easier to pull it back into a barrette.

I will never have perfect Nancy Drew hair. (You may not have noticed, but in the books, she always threw on her jeans, pulled a sweater over her head, ran a brush through it and was ready to go, looking amazing.) My crazy, out-of-control-in-this-humidity hair will always keep me from vanity.

And I am reminded that my overwhelmed, as much as I dislike it, breaks down my independence and pride.

Ah! This is the place of humility God wants for me.

To fold. To confess I can’t do this life on my own. It’s not in me.

I’m not self-sufficient. He is all-sufficient.

He is strength itself. He will give me strength.

Realize I’m not God. I admit that I am powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong thing and that my life is unmanageable.
“Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor.” Matthew 5:3
— Celebrate Recovery, Principle One

What about you? Are you trying to manage the unmanageable on your own? Have you come to the end of your strength and found His? Leave a comment. Anonymously if you wish. 

Happy are those who hear the joyful call to worship, for they will walk in the light of  your presence, Lord. You are their glorious strength. It pleases you to make us strong. Psalm 89:15 &17

there is beauty in detail

Jane and I walk the road that leaves our little town and wanders along the shore. Snow-capped mountains to the west shine in the morning sunlight. Sailboats sleep on the glassy bay. We spot a heron, three seals and two coyotes on our walk. We are blessed to live in this place.

I stand in a farm field in the warm afternoon. The fragrance of strawberries rises to entice me. A glistening red catches my eye and I eagerly bend to add another to the heavy bowl.

I wander the beach below my house. At my feet, a thousand sand dollars. I stoop and stare into a tide pool of life: inhabitants blissfully unaware of exposure.

There is beauty in these points of finery. Footnotes of love from the Maker of all things.

On cold, gray Puget Sound days that fill most of the year, we remind ourselves there is a piece of heaven all around us. If only we will wait. We will see this glory.

* * * * *

We moved to Washington in July ten years ago.

The youngest of our four children was just a few weeks old. I spent the weeks before his birth packing our house in California, praying that this was the right thing.

We were leaving my dear family. The close friends with whom we had gone to college and walked together through the first ten years of marriage and parenting. A school and a church (our employers) that loved us. A pediatrician, so important to a young mom of four, who made me laugh and who assured me on what seemed to be a weekly basis that the sicker they are when they’re babies, the healthier they’ll be as children.

I packed in tears. But I also hoped.

The first serious mention of seminary had been on my 32nd birthday. But it was to be a year before we would move. A year we thought the world might end. Terrorist attacks, painful revelations, a surprise baby and awful sickness.

I had been as enthusiastic as Dave. I convinced myself that in the right place, our marriage and his health would be better. We researched schools. I made plans and budgets. We could easily pay off current debts in a year. We could do this.

But headaches and money problems had persisted. And anger crept back in.

After one particularly heated fight (during which I’d thrown an iron pot across the kitchen and dented the wall behind Dave’s head) I wrote in my journal: “Dave is not a fool. There was a reason deeper than just folly with money . . . at last he broke and said he had been running from what he knew God was calling him to do for 10 years . . . we cried and prayed and I knew right away that something had changed. . . he will be a different person from now on, I know.”

Seminary was supposed to be the answer. Dave had simply been running from God’s call. Like Jonah. That’s why the boat of our life was tossed and sinking.

(Years later, I read about how addicts in their downward spiral attempt to end their addiction by “geographical escapes.” But I knew nothing of that then.)

* * * * *

We arrived here in July of 2002. Jobless. Homeless. Optimistic.

Gracious cousins and friends took us in. Dave, me, and the kids who were 7, 4, 2 and a newborn. Six of us. Family and friends sent money to help us stay afloat.

Then came a terrifying car accident with all our little ones on board. Totaled our van. And a new back injury gave Dave an entree into any doctor’s office for pills.

I had picked up the habit for busy seasons of reading through the book of Psalms in a month, five Psalms a day 1, 31, 61, 91, 121 on the first day, etc.

Promises fill my journals:

By awesome deeds Thou dost answer us in righteousness, O God of our salvation. Psalm 65:5

Blessed is the Lord who daily bears our burden. Psalm 68:19

For every beast of the forest is mine. The cattle on a thousand hills. Psalm 50:10

But weeks of homelessness and unemployment turned to months.

The enthusiastic journal entries came to an abrupt end. Despair crept into the pages once again.

* * * * *

I am deep in discouraged thought. As he settles beside me on the back porch in the evening sun, there is a tone of comfort in my teenage son’s deep voice. He puts his arm around me and it takes me back a decade . . .

Three small kids and an unhappy baby, homeless, homeschooling the oldest, jobless, living only off the generosity of friends and family. Exhausted. Hopeless.

I took the kids for a drive in our new-to-us van and turned on the cd I’d picked up at a yard sale.

God will make a way Where there seems to be no way
He works in ways we cannot see, He will make a way for me
He will be my guide, Hold me closely to His side
With love and strength for each new day
He will make a way, He will make a way.
By a roadway in the wilderness You lead me
Rivers in the desert will I see
Heaven and earth will fade, But His word will still remain
And He will do something new today.

A deep little voice from the back seat interrupts my thoughts. He notices my tears.

“We’re in a wilderness, aren’t we Mommy?”

Yes, baby. We are.

He sings. What does he know of wilderness? He is four.

Out of the mouths of babes.

You have taught children and infants to tell of Your strength. Psalm 8:1&2

* * * * *

I think I’m going through a phase.

It’s possible that it’s just taking time for the cold and gray to unfetter me and allow me to enjoy the sun.

But I’m inclined to think it’s my age. And the number of and ages of our children. There is much about having teenagers that resembles the toddler years, I am sorry to say.

Constant activity. Difficulty making time for my friends. Peacemaking. Falling into bed exhausted at the end of the day. Unknowns that must be released to God. Soon I will be launching them into the world.

And then there are these words. I don’t have the time.  Work. Responsibilities. Self-consciousness. But they press on me . . .

The Psalms are once again my daily food.

* * * * *

Morning sun warms the new chair I placed next to my bed (another blessed yard sale find). I stop what I am hurrying about and sit down. Reveling in light, pleased by the unexpected.

God, help me to notice. These details remind me of Your love.

This morning, words from Psalm 71 are a message of encouragement:

My life is an example to many, because you have been my strength and protection. That is why I can never stop praising You; I declare Your glory all day long. vs. 7-8

“I will tell everyone about your righteousness. All day long I will proclaim your saving power, though I am not skilled with words.” vs. 15

“You have allowed me to suffer much hardship, but you will restore me to life again and lift me up from the depths of the earth.” vs. 20

It is a Psalm of telling. Even if it takes a thousand words.

* * * * *

God speaks in the details.

It is the way He spoke His encouragement to the patriarchs and prophets. In the water and wind, in the storm, the stars, the grains of sand. And to His disciples. Consider the lilies of the field. Are you not of more value than they? And it is the way He speaks to us now.

Images and words He writes on my heart. The still small, but deep, voice. A ray of sunshine, a lifting of my eyes to the mountains, a sweet fragrance, a child’s voice, a song, a verse.

Stop. Notice.

He is whispering His love.